Casey Peterson, Cultural Marxism, and the Goliath of the Diversity Industry

For the past several weeks, Casey Peterson, an electrical engineer in prestigious Sandia Labs (one of the hubs of the federal military industry) has been risking his career to fight mandated ideological training that promotes the systemic racism conspiracy theory and requires from white employees to exorcise their “whiteness.” Pushed by “diversity” commissars from equity/diversity departments, this reeducation campaign based on the Critical Race Theory (Cultural Marxism) spreads like fire over our federal, state, and corporate institutions. Any objections to the mandated indoctrination are considered insubordination and involve disciplinary actions. Many intimidated employees of the Labs secretly showed Peterson their support. But the “diversity” commissars retaliated, putting him on an administrative leave and removing his security clearance. Peterson does not give up. Will he become an American Andrei Sakharov? This Soviet nuclear physicist put his career and elite privileges on line to challenge the suffocating communist ideology in the 1970s-1980s; the Soviets retaliated by removing Sakharov from his job, stripping him of his awards, and putting him under a house arrest.

Politically Incorrect Research: What Scholars Have to Say about the Diversity Propaganda Industry

The recent critical research of the diversity industry, which was conducted by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (2016), American and Israeli sociologists, has confirmed existing concerns about the corrosive effects of mandating this industry.  These scholars, who explored the mandatory diversity programs in 816 companies, came to conclusion that command-and-control diversity quota-oriented programs were counterproductive.  Set to reward, discipline, and punish managers and employees, these programs were in fact breeding fear, animosity, and distrust.   The scholars also stressed that, neglecting an individual merit approach, such mandated diversity amplified gender, ethnic, and racial “tribalism.”  The ultimate verdict Dobbin and Kalev issued was quite devastating for the whole multi-million diversity industry in the United States. 

Particularly, they stressed that, contrary to rosy mainstream perceptions, American experience in enforcing diversity miserably failed, and it could not serve as a policy blueprint for other countries.  The researchers have also suggested that the best possible option in this situation would be to “decentralize” the whole diversity machine and let people on the ground decide for themselves how they wanted to reach its goals.  My assumption is that in each university, corporation, school, and institution people should be free to choose and vote (by a secret ballot) on whether they want and need the “diversity” training.  From what we saw in the Sandia Labs, the employees had no say about the reeducation campaign the corporate diversity commissars arbitrarily imposed on them.

Although wrapped into a cautious academic prose, research conducted by a group of social psychologists headed by Leigh Wilton (Wilton 2018; Jacobs 2018; Good 2018) produced even more devastating conclusions, which in fact had been obvious to any critical-minded person.  For the first time targeting the entire multiculturalism ideology, the Wilton research team set out to explore whether the promotion of “diversity” reduced or enhanced a fixation on race on a popular level. Exploring two large groups of people (students and adult non-students), Wilton and her colleagues found out that making people think about racial and cultural differences on a permanent basis hammered in their minds the idea that these differences were central, vital, and crucial.  Obviously, to safeguard themselves, Wilton (2018) and her team included such disclaimers as “We do not mean to imply that multiculturalism should be universally discarded” and “Neither multiculturalism nor color blindness offers a simple panacea for improving diversity.” Still, they have been adamant in their conclusion that, as an unintended consequence, the engineering “diversity” from above enhanced racial essentialism and that “the primacy of Multiculturalism as a mechanism for prejudice reduction or racial inequality is not without question.” They also stressed that, in contrast to a color-blind approach that mutes the fixation on race, the whole “diversity” message amplifies group differences and may lead to negative inter-group outcomes.

One of the natural political side effects of the persistent cultivation of “non-White” identity, attempt to impose it on the rest of society, aggressive rhetoric against “white privilege,” and the promotion of the systemic racism conspiracy theory was the emergence of so-called alt-right White Power movement – a mirror image of the Black Power, Latino Power and similar identity movements among the people of “color.”  Left writer Anis Shivani stressed that by inflaming and empowering the racial and ethnic identity of the “underprivileged,” the cultural left opened the identitarian Pandora’s box, which naturally leads to legitimization of “blood,” “soul,” and “soil” agenda in American politics. Shivani, who became upset about the identitarian turn of his comrades, has stressed that under those circumstances, it is quite natural that “the rise of each group in terms of recognition encourages countervailing reactions amongst other groups, so that recognition becomes simultaneously self-inflating (breeding reactionism and irrationality) and an impossible ideal to attain. Again, the rise of white nationalism recently is a testament to this tendency, a natural corollary to the very logic of identity politics.”

Intellectual Sources of the Diversity Industry

One of the major intellectual sources of the mandated “diversity,” which has been superimposed on our society, go back to the frustration of the left about traditional class-based socialism that had occupied the dominant position in the old intellectual mainstream.  The ole left privileged the industrial working class (or proletariat, according to the traditional Marxist jargon) as the primary victim of and simultaneously the humankind’s redeemer from capitalism.  To the dismay of the left, Marx’s prophecy about the skyrocketing misery of the proletariat under capitalism miserably failed.  On the contrary, the Western labor dramatically improved its living conditions and lost its revolutionary vitality. 

For this reason, in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Western left were gradually ditching the industrial working class, finding instead new kinds of “noble savages” in the Third World and at home among such groups as people of “color,” women, gays, and later in the alphabet soup of newly emerging groups that too claimed a victimhood status.  Along with the Third World, these segments of population were singled out as the new victims of and simultaneously redeemers from the capitalist oppression. To be exact, since the 1960s, for the New Left it was not so much capitalism but rather the entire Western civilization that became the major culprit.  In contrast to the old left who were fixated on material progress, the New Left, on the contrary, came to criticize progress and materialism as spiritually corrupt to authentic and progressive lifestyles.  Such new attitude helped make an ideological switch from the class-based economic agenda to cultural issues.

Conservatives and libertarians have referred to that cultural turn among the Western progressives as Cultural Marxism.  The current mainstream left, who are frequently not aware of or do not want to be reminded of their genetic links with classical Marxism, object to the use of this term.  Instead, they prefer to operate with such broad expression as “Critical Theory” or with more specific definitions such as “Critical Cultural Studies,” “Critical Racial Studies,” “Critical Legal Studies,” and so forth. For the best critical review of the Critical Theory, its rise, and the present-day state of the woke left, see Helen Pluckrose and Jack Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody (2020). The Critical Theory, which claims the supreme knowledge, is notoriously uncritical toward itself; this brings to mind Vladimir Lenin, the chief of the Bolsheviks who once uttered, “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true.”

Since in the past the domestic people of “color” in Western countries and the Third World people were the objects of Euro-American racism and colonialism, progressive proponents of the Critical Theory (Cultural Marxism) take it for granted that such things as bigotry, racism, oppression are “white” Western phenomena.  As designated victims, the emerging Third World nations, domestic people of “color” along with sexual minorities are thought to be on the righteous side incapable of any wrongdoing. In other words, the cultural left created the “aristocracy of the outcasts.”  This explains, for example, why the left frequently downplay the brutal treatment of women and gays in Islamic societies and so-called hate crimes (and crimes in general) perpetrated by the representatives of the “victim” groups inside Western countries (for example, Muslim immigrants in France and Sweden or blacks in the United States). To the most ardent proponents of “diversity,” non-Western societies serve as carriers of profound spiritual wisdom and collectivism that serve to educate “rotten” and “materialist” West about better forms of life.

The Rise of the Diversity Industry and the Multiculturalism Ideology

By the end of the 1970s, American administrative and judicial system saw the emergence of “commissars of diversity” – a network of federal, state, and educational bureaucracies that were empowered by laws, institutions, and media outlets to police racial, ethnic, and gender representation both in public and private sector.  The regime of the racial segregation that had existed in the South prior to the 1950s offended American sensibilities to such an extent that both the congress and the “white” majority, driven by the profound guilt feelings, voluntarily accepted special measures designated to correct historical injustice and uplift people of “color.”  Little thought was given to the fact that to fight racism and sexism with racism and sexism was a flawed strategy and that well-meant and benevolent measures did not necessarily produce benevolent outcomes.

The system of job, business contract, and education quotas and preferences introduced in the 1970s through affirmative action programs were thought to be temporary measures that were to “upgrade” selected minorities.  Yet, as it frequently happens, the temporary measures were institutionalized and eventually became a permanent part of American polity, producing an overall corruptive effect on society.  It not only led to the emergence of the alphabet list of new groups that were eager to claim a victimhood status to secure moral, political, and economic benefits, but it also resulted in mass economic and educational fraud.  For example, thousands of dark-skinned immigrants began posing as “black” to fit in the officially established “ethno-racial pentagon” classification that was introduced by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) in 1977 for policy goals.

This OBM Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (“Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting”) pigeonholed Americans into specific racial categories, which people were encouraged to fit themselves in: white (WASPs), black (African-Americans), brown (Hispanics), yellow (Asians), and red (Native Americans).  The official goal was to standardize available statistics to conduct efficiently affirmative action and other race-conscious policies.  One can consider the year of 1977, when this directive was introduced, a symbolic landmark when “diversity” became the guiding light for the entire political and economic establishment in US.  Eventually, this ethno-racial “pentagon” system became so entrenched into American polity that it came to play the role of standard lenses through which both Democratic and Republican elites began to screen their decisions on all kinds of economic and social issues. 

At this point of our history, we already can talk about the existence of the mainstream multicultural ideology that crusades against Western values, and that is fixated on promoting group identity at an expense of an individual. This ideology uses the slogan of toleration to maintain itself as the hegemonic force (pardon my leftist jargon) in our society. Consequently, those who object that ideology and call for the treatment of people as individuals based on their merit are labeled as racist and intolerant people. This explains the reticence and fear both in society and especially among bureaucrats to question the dubious nature of the whole project.  By the way, that was precisely the niche that Cultural Marxists from BLM were able to use to wiggle themselves into the mainstream and to successfully intimidate a large part of American society into submission.  

The “diversity” machine and the multicultural ideology created by that machine by now acquired a life of their own. It is a vivid an example of how seemingly benign initiatives, which had been originally established to resolve an specific urgent problem, lead to unanticipated consequences. As such, the whole situation serves as the illustration of the old wisdom: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In addition to influential racial and ethnic lobby groups, this machine now includes a large apparatus in federal, state, university, and corporate institutions.  For example, by 2018, at the University of California, Berkeley, the number of diversity bureaucrats increased up to 175 people.  Many of them generate high salaries. Thus, a diversity chief at the University of Michigan makes $385,000 a year (“The Rise of Universities’ Diversity Bureaucrats”).  For this omnipotent bureaucracy, amplifying identity politics and dramatizing ethnic, racial, and gender issues became one of the major ways to stay in power and secure the continuing flow of finances both from government and private donors.

One can divide the institutions that promote the “diversity” creed in the United States into three large units.  The first is represented by watchdog institutions (Human Resources (HR) and Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) or equity departments) that gather statistics on how well major racial, ethnic and gender groups are represented in all walks of life.  HRs and equity offices are weaponized institutions that not only collect relevant data and set codes of behavior but also police and penalize bureaucrats and individuals who do not comply with prescribed ideological regulations and imposed quotas (Jeb Kinnison, Death by HR (2016).  The HR and equity/OEO desks share the job of supervision over personnel and its activities. Like HR, equity desks and offices exist in all American federal, state, educational, and in many corporate institutions. 

The second group of institutions is represented by various Multicultural desks and offices that are specialized in popularizing non-Western cultures and lifestyles by organizing, for example, various ethnic, racial, and gender festivals and fairs. These cultural events are usually focused on the valorization of selected cultures and their representatives, which are frequently set into the context of victimhood, oppression, and resistance.  For example, my first introduction to one of such festivals, which took place in Ohio in 1994, was a visit to a Latin American multicultural festival that was celebrating generic Latino legacy.  At the entrance, visitors were welcomed by a huge banner with the following phase, “Latin America: 400 Years of Resistance.”  To this, my Puerto-Rican colleague sarcastically remarked, “Why resistance? Resistance to what and against whom?”  A small example of cultural activism supported by those desks is a campaign of moral shaming of people for so-called cultural appropriation. For those who are not yet familiar with this most recent meme of the cultural left, I want to explain that any “white” person who publicly dons “non-Western” garb or attire (e.g. Mexican sombrero, Japanese kimono, Afro-American dreadlocks) automatically becomes a racist “colonizer” who “steals” and “appropriates” from the victims of “color.”  

The third component of the multicultural “diversity” ideological machine is represented by various identity studies departments such as Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Women Studies (Bruce Bawer, The The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the  Liberal Mind (2012). Pioneered in the 1960s as special university-based programs that were expected to inject existing college curricula with non-Western and female perspectives, many of them eventually acquired not only the status of regular university departments but turned into ideological units.  These programs openly declare that their major goal is not traditional academic pursuits but rather activist scholarship.  The latter heavily relies on the above-mentioned Critical Theory methods, which had been pioneered by Herbert Marcuse and like-minded post-Marxist writers

In other words, identity studies are focused on providing an ideological back up to specific racial, ethnic, and gender agendas. The practitioners of identity studies are preoccupied with the critique of what they define as “white” Western civilization and hegemony.  Simultaneously, they valorize non-Western cultures and lifestyles that they define as progressive and spiritually enhancing. From the partisan “diversity” perspective, the cultivation of ethno-racial consciousness and solidarity for designated “non-White” and “non-Western” groups is progressive and desirable, whereas a color-blind individualistic approach is treated as racist and reactionary. 

Moreover, for the past fifty years, mainstream humanities disciplines such as sociology, literary studies, American studies, geography, anthropology, social work, and especially education acquired a similar ideological “diversity” bent that one can find in abundance in the identity studies.  The social scholarship too heavily assimilated Critical Theory into its methodology and became fixated on searching for the signs of racial, ethnic, and gender oppression both in the past and in the present in all walks of surrounding life. 

The threat to our liberty comes from the fact that the greater part of the cadre, which now works in our government, law firms, and corporate world, are former college graduates who internalized memes and precepts propagated by the Critical Theory scholarship and made them the new normal. Many of them are sincerely convinced that they must change the surrounding life according to the ideological prescriptions of “multiculturalism” by promoting the group (racial, gender, ethnic) justice and arbitrarily dividing our society into the classes of the “oppressed” and “oppressors.”  The latter, according to Marcuse who was one of the founders of the Critical Theory, must be shut down and canceled by all means available.  This means that the core values of the Western civilization are now at stake (the rule of law, freedom of speech, checks and balances, and the very institute of elections).

On a final note, responding to the rising tide of mandated “diversity” reeducation programs, on September 4, the US Office of Budget and Management issued a memorandum to stop wasting tax dollars for all race-bating “training” that is based on the ideology of the Critical Theory and that is focused on bashing “whiteness” and Western values. Of course, it is ridiculous to assume that one can simply ban an ideology; it will take years and years to dismantle the “diversity” industry and its ideological apparatus. Yet, as a first step, that measure is essential for our entire political and economic system. The current administration has sent a clear signal to the “deep state” bureaucrats, who are opportunistic by their very nature, that the woke “repressive tolerance” of the cultural left will not be tolerated anymore. If we push further in this direction, there is a hope that we shall overcome.

Nightcap

  1. Attention, fashion, and false consensus Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. In praise of negativity Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
  3. My only complaint: this should be anti-Communist Party rather than anti-China Shashank Bengali, LA Times
  4. The Belt and Road Initiative as an anti-imperialist discourse (pdf) Ying-Kit Chan, CJAS

Semiotics in national dialogue: an observation

One thing the Notes on Liberty community may not know about me is that I worked for a while as a research (and writing) extern for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Because of my academic background in history and the arts, most of my work focused on historical communism, especially as related to propagandist representations from inside communist countries. The experience provided me with an opportunity to immerse myself in the documentation and wording of communism.

Most people know how the Soviet and Maoist propagandists portrayed their own people: the moral, brave underdogs who are hated and despised by rich, corrupt weaklings. Any of the sufferings connected to communism – famines, shortages, economic instability – these were all the fault of external forces. Except in the case of the Chinese, to whom Mao refused to offer explanation and simply told the people that their sufferings were glorious and were sacrifices to the revolution. Hua Yu in his memoir China in Ten Words conveys quite poetically exactly how “glorious” everyone’s sufferings were. Even today, we are still treated to a modern iteration in the form of Nicolás Maduro and his wild accusations regarding the cause of Venezuela’s collapse. Most of the time, the perpetrators are the White House and CIA, though in August 2018 he blamed Colombia and some unidentified Floridians and in December 2018 he threw in Brazil, along with the traditional “White House did it” trope.

What is less commonly known – outside of film and literature aficionados – about Cold War era portrayals is their representation of those who live on the other side of the divide, i.e. in capitalism. Across the board, the portrayals were fairly simplistic – the rich were evil, the poor were good. The premise was always that the former were useless and the latter were meritorious, belonging in a socialist workers’ paradise, instead of in a system that metaphorically chewed them up and spat them out. The propagandists were masters of imposing this interpretive paradigm universally, from traditional Western literature (or even their own traditional literature in the case of China) to news items. For example, the failed yachtsman and minor-league conman Donald Crowhurst became a proletariat hero in the Soviet film Race of the Century in which he is driven to his death by a greedy, capitalist sponsor (in real life, Crowhurst’s angel investor). The propaganda point being that in capitalism human life is expendable. One has only to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago to see under which system an indifference to human life was, and still is, ingrained.

There is a reason that Marxist and post-structuralist theory and criticism focus on the concept of “the other.” It is because communism can only arise from chaos and conflict. In order to justify its existence and explain its ills and failures, there must be an “other” which opposes it. The other can be the White House, foreign intelligence services, or foreign bankers. “Othering” can be imposed on practically any person or group of people, and the dynamic can be read into any relationship. If one wants to find an “other” in Solzhenitsyn, a very good candidate is Fetyukov from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. For a literary criticism standpoint, Ivan Denisovich Shukov’s contempt for Fetyukov is a case of the former “othering” the latter. “Othering,” while a development of Marxist thought, is not a domain exclusive to communist writing. Ian Fleming used the paradigm, consciously or unconsciously, in his James Bond series, with their black-and-white portrayals of who was the good and who was the bad party.

Study of the language and structures of Marxist thought and propaganda is both lacking and overwhelming today. Yes, on the one hand, our universities have been overtaken with grievance studies and criticism classes. But on the other, the tropes and thought processes of Marxism have subtly appeared in contemporary American dialogue. More insidiously, they are not coming necessarily from the overt socialists, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but from figures that identify as center and right. Ocasio-Cortez and her idol Bernie Sanders might be pardoned for regurgitating Marxist tropes, given that at least these politicians have had the decency to acknowledge their ideological leanings, but for “Conservative” [note the big “C”] intellectuals to do so is indicative of either ignorance or manipulation, both of which are unforgivable.

Consider what Michael Lind, a prominent neo-conservative, wrote in an article titled “Classless utopia versus class compromise,”published in American Affairs in summer 2018,

Democracy, then, requires strategically strengthening institutions that working-class people can control or at least influence. That means, among other things, defending the institutional independence of diverse religious communities, while sometimes favoring pragmatic municipal socialism. Whatever form an authentic grassroots working-class movement might take in the twenty-first-century United States, it is likely to look like historic precedents, including old-fashioned Milwaukee-style “sewer socialism” (municipal ownership of public utilities) and the Salvation Army. It will not look like the campus-based social justice and climate-change NGOs of progressive upper-middle-class professionals or, for that matter, free-market agitprop groups funded by the libertarian rich.

Lind has had a decades-old, well-publicized bugbear with libertarian thought, and to some extent his language reflects this. What is concerning about his words is the justification of localized socialism (history shows that this would not remain local for long) using the language of agency. The entire argument is built upon the fundamental Marxist assumption that the proletariat has no agency, wants it, and must collectivize to have it. In Marxist speak, Lind’s acceptance of the laborer-has-only-his-labor paradigm effectively “others” everyone on the other side of an indeterminate class line – upper-middle-class professionals (progressive or not), college students, free-marketeers, oh, and rich libertarians (one wonders where poor student classical liberals and middle-class libertarians fall in this equation).

In old fairy tales, a common theme is a beloved plant, usually a tree, that begins to wither away. The tree is externally healthy, and no one can discern a logical reason for it to be dying. After a long search, consulting of necromancers, and other typical fairy tale activities, the hero digs around the tree’s roots and discovers that there is a repulsive, venomous animal, usually a snake or a toad, living there, and it is the cause of the plant’s slow decline. Marxist thought and paradigms, not Marxism as an ideology, have become that snake for American Conservatism and center-right politics. Its poison is exacerbated by the fact that its acolytes and proselytizers appear to be unconscious of its presence as they argue that their only desire is to preserve the American Republic through preventing class conflict. But if they are doing is to hurl us faster and faster, more inexorably toward this very breakdown, as their ideas begin to overlap with those of the acknowledged far-left.

RCH: Cassius Clay as the “greatest American” of the 20th century

My latest at RealClearHistory:

It was also the heyday of the Cold War, a nearly 50-year struggle for power between the liberal-capitalist United States and the socialist Soviet Union. The struggle was real (as the kids say today). The United States and its allies were losing, too, at least in the realm of ideas. The Soviet Union was funding groups that would today be considered progressive — anti-racist and anti-capitalist — around the world. One of the sticks that Moscow used to beat the West with was racism in the United States, especially in the officially segregated South.

It is doubtful that most of the African-American groups who took part in the struggle for liberty were funded, or even indirectly influenced by Soviet propaganda. The clear, powerful contrast between black and white in the United States was enough for most African-Americans to take part in the Civil Rights revolution. Yet Soviet propaganda still pestered Washington, and Moscow wasn’t wrong.

Please, read the rest.

Nightcap

  1. The dark side of war propaganda Bradley Anderson, American Conservative
  2. Is internationalism liberal or imperialist? Arnold Kling, askblog
  3. Internationalism is federalist, Arnold! Brandon Christensen, NOL
  4. ISIS and Sykes-Picot Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon

Eye Candy: Japanese anti-Russian propaganda

NOL map Japanese anti-Russia
Click here to zoom.

This dates from the late 19th or early 20th century. The Japanese won the Russo-Japanese War, but a quick glance at the casualties suggests it was more a pyrrhic victory for the Japanese.

The Power of Propaganda and the Japanese Empire

Economist Kurt Schuler has a fascinating post on the various currencies that were used in mainland East Asia during World War II over at the Free Banking group blog.

Unfortunately, there are three paragraphs in the post that attempt to take libertarians to task for daring to challenge both the narrative of the state and the narrative of the nation regarding that horrific reminder of humanity’s shortcomings. He is writing of the certainty of the US’s moral clarity when it came to fighting Japan (the post was published around Pearl Harbor remembrance day):

The 1940 U.S embargo of certain materials frequently used for military purposes was intended to pressure Japan to stop its campaign of invasion and murder in China. The embargo was a peaceful response to violent actions. Japan could have stopped; it would have been the libertarian thing to do. For libertarians to claim that the embargo was a provocation is like saying that it is a provocation to refuse to sell bullets to a killer.

Then, in December 1941, came not just the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, but an attack on the whole of Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, what is now Malaysia (British colonies), Indonesia (a Dutch colony), the Philippines (scheduled under American law to become independent in 1945), Thailand (independent). In 1942 there followed the invasion of Burma, a bit of India, and a few of the Aleutian Islands, plus the bombing of Darwin, Australia.

With that history in mind, how can anybody think that the United States could have made a durable peace with Japan? It would have lasted as long as would have been to Japan’s military advantage, no longer. Japan was hell-bent on conquest. Nothing since its emergence as a major international power suggested a limit to its ambitions. It only ceded in the face of superior force. Even as Allied forces retook territory, Japanese fanaticism was such that the government did not surrender until after the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs. To ignore the long pattern of Japanese aggression as quite a few libertarians are wont to do is not just historically ignorant but dangerous, because it closes its eyes to the hard truth that some enemies are so implacable that the only choice is between fighting them and being subjugated by them. It took a prolonged U.S. military occupation to turn Japan from the aggressor it was to the peaceful country it has become. (source)

This is an unfortunate mischaracterization of what went on in World War 2, but it also does a fairly good job of demolishing some of the arguments that libertarians have come up with in regards to this debate. You see, the issue of World War 2 is one that is usually foisted upon libertarians as an example of the benevolence of the State: Washington crushed two powerful, evil war machines in one fell swoop and then stood up to a third evil empire for forty years.

Libertarians often get confronted with this interpretation of history and they get bothered by it. This argument gets under their skin. They often make up excuses for Japan’s actions, or they avoid dealing with what actually happened in the time period. This response is also unfortunate because the general principles of libertarianism – individual freedom, strong property rights, internationalism – explain the events of World War 2 well, but only once the facts are looked at clearly and thoroughly. The power of propaganda is immense. The fact that so many people believe that the United States was the good guy in the war against Japan is astounding, and I think the heavy weight that is placed upon the shoulders of those who dare to defy the standard account of the US’s war with Japan flusters the seeker of truth.

Even though libertarians get hot-headed on this issue and stumble, thus making Schuler right in a sense, his argument is absolutely wrong. What follows is an attempt to calm things down, and to explain why Schuler is wrong and what libertarians need to get right.

Tokyo did not want to expand beyond a certain point, due to the ideological consensus of the governing party at the time. The narrative of the governing party was that great civilizations had natural territories over which they naturally lorded. For the Japanese, this natural territory (which was, of course, entirely arbitrary and ahistorical) was called, amongst other things, the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It included the Korean peninsula, Manchuria, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, coastal China, Mongolia, Malaysia (including Singapore and Brunei), and a separatist region in India known as Azad Hind. Any territory beyond these lands were inhabited by – again according to the ideology of the dominant political party at the time – peoples who did not conform to the standards set by the Japanese people (and those ranked directly beneath them; the ones I just mentioned). These foreign peoples were treated accordingly, especially in Melanesia.

What this suggests is that, contra Schuler, the Japanese were not “hell-bent on conquest.” Rather they simply wanted to carve out a territorial space that has obvious parallels with the German conception of Lebensraum. This is not a coincidence, by the way, for the ideologies of the dominant parties in Germany and Japan were cut from the same racist cloth.

Hawaii might have been a target for the Japanese military eventually, due to the large number of people living there with Japanese ancestry, but even this is stretching the limits of generosity. Hawaiians of Japanese ancestry considered themselves to be Hawaiians, or Americans, before Japanese (this probably due to the fact that the Japanese government sent some of its citizens over to Hawaii by force, but that is another story for another day; hopefully you can see why loyalty to Hawaii and the US was a given to people of Japanese ancestry on the islands). A Japanese invasion of the US mainland is simply an incredibly silly notion, which is why I think Dr Schuler relies upon the irrefutable fact of Japanese lust for conquest. Can you not see where propaganda is at work here?

Now, obviously the Japanese were warmongering at the time. There is no doubt about this. However, it hardly follows that the Japanese were a threat to the American republic.

For instance, look at what the Japanese military ended up attacking:

  • European and American colonies (which were burdens rather than boons for both the colonized and the colonizing)
  • Thailand, a kingdom with a long history of playing foreign powers off on each other
  • and parts of China (which could hardly lay claim to much of its territory anyway)

If I’m not mistaken, Europe and the United States are thousands of miles away from Japan, and yet they had militaries occupying foreign lands in East Asia. Again, Japan was certainly an aggressive state in the early 20th century, but it seems extremely unfair to ignore the military occupation – by Western states – of Asian lands and the Jim Crow-esque political regimes that they enacted and enforced. Notice, too, that the military incursions of the Japanese Empire do not stray too far from the official ideology of the governing political party. This is also true of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It was also true of Soviet Russia, but for different reasons. The Soviets engaged in worldwide imperial ambitions (“spreading the revolution”) after solidifying their rule at home, and this imperialism was part and parcel of the dominant ideology of Leninism. I am digressing.

Japan did declare war on the US, so I think Washington’s war was just, but it hardly follows that Japan was “hell-bent on conquest,” or that its military would have invaded the United States, or that Tokyo’s decision not to curl up in the fetus position and simply accept US economic warfare was “unlibertarian.” Suppose Japan had conquered the US. What would its armies have uncovered?

Think of it this way: What incentive would Japan have to conquer the United States? Where were the plans to do so? Doesn’t it make more sense to look at Japan’s war on the US as part of its broader effort at creating and maintaining its hold over the territory it deemed to be the natural lord over? Why waste so many resources invading and occupying a territory dominated by people who were part of another race (as per the prevailing ideology of Tokyo at the time)? Oh, that’s right: Because Japan was “hell-bent on conquest.”

Propaganda is very powerful, but it’s also important not to label everything you disagree with as propaganda. That makes you sound like a crackpot. For instance, I don’t think anything Dr Schuler argues is driven by pure propaganda. Such an insinuation on my part would simply be garbage, and (rightly) treated as such in the public sphere. However, the notion that the US military stopped a war machine “hell-bent on conquest” is a product of propaganda. This notion is strengthened by personal and cultural narratives, and in time it takes on a life form of its own.

One last thing: Dr Schuler argues that the embargo Washington placed on Tokyo “was a peaceful response to violent actions,” but surely you can see how that policy was actually a violent response to violent actions. Whether that violence to counter other violence was a good thing or not is a question that cannot be answered in this already-too-long post.

(One more last thing: Here is an excellent essay on ideology in developing states that might be worth checking out; it doesn’t deal directly with the Japanese Empire but does deal with some of the concepts [especially nationalisms] that confront us when thinking about the rise of the Japanese Empire.)