September 08, 2006

More on Rummy's Speech

A commenter writes, re: a previous post:

Rumsfeld's Salt Lake City speech is important and revealing in many ways. Historically, in times of crisis, the position of secretary of defense and its predecessor posts have been carefully kept above the political fray – a step important to maintaining national consensus with respect to the actual conduct of war. Having a secretary of defense who is simultaneously the most fractious and arguably the most partisan figure in the cabinet breaks with an old and very wise tradition and suggests that for this administration partisan politics is given a higher place than national security.

But the language of the speech itself is deeply disturbing. The themes of unity in the face of adversity, of silent obedience to leadership in a struggle against a foreign enemy, of a new morality which places a premium on this leadership concept and the security it promises – these themes indeed resonate very strongly of 1933. You cite a Hitler proclamation, but I immediately thought of the final passages of Martin Heidegger's Rektoratsrede given at the University of Freiburg in May 1933, which Rumsfeld's language echoes in the eeriest way.

Just exactly what is going on here? A speech summoning to nationality unity and resolve in a struggle against a "new type of fascism" that then intones each of the major images of fascist thought?! This is so preposterous as to defy belief. It's as if Rumsfeld were being set up for massive public ridicule. Whoever wrote this speech must be a saboteur intent on taking Rumsfeld down. And Rumsfeld himself appears almost witless.

Yes, just hearing Rumsfeld speak made me fear for our country's security. Primarily because he is at the helm of the greatest military force in human history, and he seems intent on smashing it to bits. It's enough to make me doubt the Founding Father's wisdom in providing for civilian control of the military. Surely this military would be much better off without its civilian leaders.

The final paragraphs of Heidegger's Rector's Address, a seminal moment in Heidegger's descent into the clutches of Nazism, are excerpted here:

Do we, or do we not, will the essence of the German university? It is up to us whether, and to what extent, we concern ourselves with self-examination and self-assertion, not just in passing, but starting from its foundations, or whether we – with the best of intentions – merely change old institutions and add new ones. No one will keep us from doing this. But no one will even ask us whether we do or do not will, when the spiritual strength of the West fails and its joints crack, when this moribund semblance of a culture caves in and drags all forces into confusion and lets them suffocate in madness. Whether this will or will not happen depends solely on whether we, as a historical-spiritual people, still and once again will ourselves – or whether we no longer will ourselves. Each individual participates in this decision even when, and especially when, he evades it. But we do will that our people fulfill its historical mission. We do will ourselves. For the young and the youngest strength of the people, which is already reaching beyond us, has already decided the matter. But we will only fully understand the magnificence and greatness of this new departure when we carry within us that profound and far-reaching thoughtfulness that gave ancient Greek wisdom the saying: τά µєγλα πάυτα έπιφαλη ("All that is great stands in the storm").

See too this Rumsfeld snippet, again from the American Legion speech: "The question is not whether we can win; it's whether we have the will to persevere to win. I'm convinced that Americans do have that determination and that we have learned the lessons of history, of the folly of trying to turn a blind eye to danger. These are lessons you know well, lessons that your heroism has helped to teach to generations of Americans."

It's true, there is a lot of talk about "will" these days, isn't there? Or faith too, of course. Neither constitute serious policy-making, however. More often, they represent merely aspirational fancy, or worse, propagandistic discourse. The former is not good enough, the latter dangerous.

UPDATE: David Rieff writes in:

You're absolutely right to emphasize all this 'will-talk,' Spenglerian claptrap that it is. As you doubtless recall, Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film for Hitler was called 'Triumph of the Will.' The other day, I found myself re-reading Isaiah Berlin's essay on perhaps the greatest reactionary thinker in Western history, Joseph de Maistre. This is how Berlin characterizes Maistre's view. For him, he wrote, "All [human] achievement was painful, and likely to fail, and could be accomplished, if at all, only under the hierarchy of beings of great wisdom and strong will, who, being the repositories of the forces of history (which to Maistre is almost God's will made flesh), laid down their lives in performing their task of organization, repression, and preservation of the divinely ordained order."

It's all there---albeit in the shoddy, 'chickenhawk' iteration of our masters both in Washington and in the blogosphere (no laying down of lives there, just stipends from AEI)---the Hegelian belief in the leader that incarnates the world spirit (guess who? and, lest it seem I'm exaggerating, look at those North Korean style paens to Bush from that fellow on Powerline), Bush's fantasy that God has ordained democracy as God's plan and America as its guarantor, and the idea that will trumps material reality and that, in a great cause, thinking practically is a species of cowardice (otherwise, how could the administration and its supporters speak of attacking Iran given what this will do to the Middle East and to Christian-Muslim relations for a generation?).

I've never been a big fan of the 'chickenhawk' appellation, frankly, but still I take most of David's points. The Powerline gang, for instance, it must be said, really haven't distinguished themselves lately with their adulatory great leader fare, I'm afraid--nor their tendency towards 'airbrushing' hagiographies (e.g. the recent one re: Rummy's stewardship of the Afghan and Iraq wars).

Posted by Gregory at September 8, 2006 05:27 AM

I'm assuming you've seen Yglesias's "Green Latern foreign policy" piece, but I note it just in case.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim at September 8, 2006 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JFK was always going on about the will of the American people in his speeches but I never heard anyone accusing him of using "images of fascist thought". Seem pretty silly, really.

Posted by: enowning at September 9, 2006 09:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JFK did not resemble a right-wing nationalist.

Rumsfeld does resemble a right-wing nationalist.

Posted by: NeoDude at September 10, 2006 01:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sh!t, the whole Republican Party is beginning to resemble Heidegger’s slide into the dark void that is right-wing nationalism.

Posted by: NeoDude at September 10, 2006 01:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the sleazy core driving the Republican Party talks like nationalists and fascists, but I dont think theyre really any more ambitious than crooks like Chalabi. They just use fascist or Nazi style speeches to gain power.

Posted by: hdean at September 10, 2006 03:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not sure how much to read into this.

After all, a lot of the American Legion members are older veterans with memories of WW II. I believe the speech was designed to resonate with that generation.


Posted by: Antonio Manetti at September 10, 2006 07:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

NeoDude, "beginning"?

Maybe you're just being polite.

The Bush Admin continues to defy the Consitution, the law, and the Courts in regards to detainees, surveillance, and Presidential authority - and continues to get away with it.

The GOP has announced that it's going to use most of its campaign money, and the next 60 days, to blanket the nation with personal attacks and fearmongering - of which the Scaife-backed "Path to 9/11," complete with a 15-minute speech from Bush, is just the opening cannonade.

The slide isn't beginning; it's already pedal-to-the-metal. The GOP isn't even pretending to offer anything but smear and fear anymore. That's all they have. That's all they are.

We've been tottering since 9/11/01. If the GOP is still in control after election day this year, then you can put a fork in us; we're done.

Posted by: CaseyL at September 10, 2006 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Footnote to that Greek bit at the end of Heidegger's speech:

The Greek is wrong, and the English is wrong.

The second to last word should be "panta", not "pauta".

The last word should be "episphalê", not "epiphalê", so the transliteration missed out a sigma.

And the translation is hopeless--what the Greek says is simply "all great things are liable to fall/slip/collapse".

It's a quote from the Republic--497d9--where Socrates is conceding that many difficulties stand in the way of the creation of the ideal city.

(Typical of Heidegger's arrogance is the fact that Socrates has just described it as "a city that engages in philosophy." Looks like Heidegger was cherishing some fantasies of the Third Reich being led by philosopher-rulers, such as, well, himself. Yeah, that's what Hitler had in mind--turning it over to the philosophers. About as likely as Bush turning it over to Tom Friedman and his ilk. And yet still the deluded dupes cheerlead for a regime that will trample on them when it gets the chance.)

Posted by: kid bitzer at September 10, 2006 07:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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