a common reader

Nineteen Eighty-Four revisited? Noam Chomsky’s Failed States.

· 15 July 2006 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: English texts · Nineteen eighty-four · politiek
· Tagged with:

This book by the reverend (not in the religious sence) Noam Chomsky looks like an exercise to present real life examples for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is all there: the superpower eternally at war with varying enemies, the cheating and lying by the government, the propaganda, the rewriting of history.

Chomsky argues that the USA have got all the characteristics of what is called a “failed state”. In his words:

[…] some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious “democratic deficit” that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance. [p. 1]

He goes on to show with many examples how the USA government (and not the people of the USA — because there is huge gap between both) complies with the three major conditions of the “failed state”.
And as to the last one — to suffer from a serious “democratic deficit” — Chomsky argues that from the outset democracy has always tried to protect the interests of substantial people (the rich) and collectivist legal entities (corporations). And democracy promotion, abroad and at home, follows the “[…] operative principle that Carothers describes: democracy is a good thing if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests.” [p. 152]
Democracy abroad is fine as long as the client state complies with American corporate wishes. Hence the outrageous support for Israel, or the overthrowing of a democraticly chosen president in Chile…

In short, the “strong line of continuity” goes back a decade earlier, to the Reagan years. In fact, far beyond. Democracy promotion has always been proclaimed as a guiding vision. But it is not even controversial that the United States often overthrew democratic governments, often installing or supporting brutal tyrannies: Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, and a long list of others. The Cold War pretexts regularly collapse under investigation. What we do find, however, is the operative principle that Carothers describes: democracy is a good thing if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests.
Putting aside doctrinal blinders, it is hard to disagree with Latin American scholar Charles Bergquist that “rather than promoting democracy” in Latin America, consistent and often brutal US opposition to struggles for reform of deeply unjust and undemocratic societies “has historically subverted [democracy], both at home and abroad ” while serving “the ‘security interests’ of privileged elites in the hemisphere, who have benefited most from the social status quo.” Serious mainstream scholarship has long recognized that “while paying lip-service to the encouragement of representative democracy in Latin America, the United States has a strong interest in just the reverse,” apart from “procedural democracy, especially the holding of elections — which only too often have proved farcical.” Functioning democracy may respond to popular concerns, while “the United States has been concerned with fostering the most favourable conditions for her private overseas investment.” Accordingly there is “no serious question of [US] intervention in the case of the many right-wing military coups” — except, one may add, intervention to support or initiate them — but matters are different “when her own concept of democracy, closely identified with private, capitalistic enterprise, is threatened by communism,” commonly a cover term for the threat of independent development. The record is not fundamentally different outside of Latin America, as one would expect from the nature of the institutions that set the basic framework for policy choices. Nor is it surprising that policies continue today, reflecting the same “schizofrenia.” [p. 152]

But also at home, within the US, government policy is chasing its own goals, miles away of or even opposing public interests. Chomsky highlights popular expectations versus political decisions about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Another sour point is

[…] the role of the media in undermining democratic politics, to the extent that by the year 2000 presidential elections had become a “travesty”, […] with a reciprocal effect on deterioration of media quality and service to the public interest. [p. 205]

I still recall Saddam Hussein — at that time still happily being Iraq’s dictator — offering to send observers to supervise the counting of the votes.
All in all, this is depressing reading, although necessary. The political marketing machinery continues to fabricate lies day after day. As we live in open and ‘free’ societies, it is possible to find some of the actual truths, but it takes an intelligent and dedicated researcher with private means to unearth them. We have to thank Noam Chomsky for his relentless attention to what really happens in these troubled times.


Comments are closed.