The New Rulers of the World

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

John
Pilger's The
New Rulers of the World
,
a collection of four essays, with a new introduction, revisits
and expands on earlier Pilger material — on Indonesia, Iraq, the
u2018great game' of imperial and economic conquest, and the politics
behind the treatment of the Aborigines in Australia. But this description
is deceptive, because the book covers the full spectrum of human
life in the issues it raises. And what cements it together is a
depth of perspective which, crucially, places these subjects and
countries in their politico-historical contexts, and a passionate
indignation at the suffering and death caused by the u2018exploitation
of man by man.'

It
is a therefore a book which punches you firmly in the emotional
solar plexus. If you have any humane concern for the suffering of
others, you will need to sit down quietly for a time to recover
slowly from reading it, it is so heart-rending in its portrayal
of injustice, indifference and cruelty.

But
that u2018recovery' will be made all the more difficult for you by the
fact you are also likely to be very angry at what you have just
read. The fact is that, once you have read this book, there really
is no true and complete u2018recovery' possible — if by recovery you
understand a state of comfortable and carefree acquiescence in the
status quo, of getting on with a day-to-day u2018Western' existence
in a manifestly unbalanced world.

The
facts of the violence, the poverty and the suffering Pilger describes
are not really in dispute, so it is the way they are dealt with
— more often than not they are explained away, denied, or contested,
or else labelled as being "distorted for political ends,"
rather than openly confronted – which leads the reader to a reflection
on the real and the ideal world, on the frustration of u2018what is
to be done?,' and finally to a line of self-questioning which runs
something like this: is there anything you or I can do, when the
new rulers of the world, who are indeed all-powerful and increasingly
have the means and disposition to invade every area of your private
life and mine, do not want to see the things Pilger
describes, and what is more, do not want you – the
people – to see them either? In this respect John Pilger concludes
his introduction optimistically, saying:

"Contrary
to myth, people are seldom compliant. In a survey of thirty
countries, Gallup found that the majority opposed the bombing
of Afghanistan and military violence as a means of bringing
terrorists to justice. For all the propaganda of u2018news', the
attempts to turn state murder into a morality play, people remain
sceptical, at least. There is a critical public intelligence,
which journalists would do well to respect."

I
will come to this warning which Pilger gives his fellow-journalists
later. First it is important to note that the other emotions which
this book produces — anger and indignation — are generated by the
well-documented hypocrisy and condescension found in the rulers'
hired servants. In a variety of interviews and direct confrontations
which Pilger reports on in the book (often, incidentally, brought
to a premature close or only continued off the record by the embarrassed
interviewees), these u2018officials' put an Orwellian gloss on the facts
he places before them and us, and turn those facts upside down —
so that u2018bad' becomes u2018good,' war becomes peace and violence and
coercion are u2018morally right.' Above all, the indignation arises
on account of the "abyssal cynicism" revealed by the new
rulers' paid officials in the face of suffering and destruction,
such as Madeleine Albright in her now famous remark on the death
rate among the children of Iraq over the last few years: "the
price … is worth it."

It
is John Laughland, the European Director of the European Foundation
in London, a British Conservative think-tank, who, in describing
such remarks, has accurately used the words "abyssal cynicism"
in his recent review of Pilger's book, and they go well with the
thought that those who display this kind of cynicism will be u2018slaughtered
by history.' I would say that, with the way history is being accelerated,
they are being slaughtered already, as the example of Albright shows.

Laughland's
review can be found on the Internet inside the complete July 2002
issue of the European
Journal
, which is in PDF format.
In recommending to his presumably mostly Conservative – and
so broadly "right-wing" – readership that they pay
more attention to the point of view of a writer who is conventionally
labelled a "socialist" or "left-winger," John
Laughland does a valuable service in implicitly promoting writers
— of any persuasion – who discover the hard, and for many unpalatable,
truth of things, and in discouraging the knee-jerk reactions of
u2018leftists,' u2018rightists' or any others who reject out of hand the
truth provided by someone, merely because of u2018where that person
is coming from.'

Labels
are indeed a powerful and dangerous thing, not just something you
have to tame Microsoft Word to do properly. In the world of "consent
management" which is today's media and propaganda industry,
they are often used to disempower someone simply by creating in
the collective mind an association between that person and an attitude
or a world view which is not politically correct, or is outside
the mainstream of consensual or u2018approved' dissent. Such a technique
is used when the harsh and bitter truths spoken by that person are
not convenient to be heard and widely broadcast among the population.
As Pilger points out, such a technique is also used when labelling
as "anti-American" not only those from outside the US
who are genuinely concerned with, and scared to death by, the effects
of US foreign policy as implemented by those u2018new rulers,' but also
those true patriots who legitimately fear for the survival of their
republic conceived in liberty.

Labelling
in this way is usually more subtle than a smear campaign. It appeals
to latent fears and embarrassments, of the kind "do you really
want to be seen to align yourself with someone so wacky, so u2018wobbly,'
so eccentric, so out-of-line, so implicitly threatening to your
sober, or quiet, or respectable way of life, to your statehood?"
It may even be accompanied by a dose of condescension, of praise
mixed with an immediate put-down which deliberately cancels out
the praise — such as "so-and-so is a first-class journalist,
but of course he is left-wing …."

Such
is the case of John Pilger, who is lauded for his conscience and
bravery in the book's dust-jacket quotations, and has received many
journalism awards, and yet who cannot escape being labelled as coming
very definitely from the left side of the field. Laughland himself
describes Pilger's approach as a "straightforward socialist
perspective," and, even while recognizing, from personal experience,
the u2018tremendous humanitarian cost' of the American policy of full
spectrum dominance of the universe, condemns Pilger's attacks on
"what he sees as the evils of the United States and its foreign
policy" and on "a world in which multinationals collaborate
with powerful governments to pursue a policy of economic rapine
and rank imperialism," for being "vitiated by their single-mindedly
left-wing perspective."

Does
being labelled as left/right matter? Laughland goes on to imply
that the new rulers of the world are quite capable of dropping or
removing any long-standing ally or previously favoured ruler,
if they see benefits in putting another u2018guy' in place who will
more readily do their bidding, or if economic advantage is to be
thereby obtained. He concludes that it is therefore a mistake to
label US policy as "right-wing." What really matters,
for the new rulers of the world, is whether "their son-of-a
bitch…does what he is told." Pilger reaches much the same conclusion
when he reports on Thomas Friedman's writing in the New York
Times that what the US would like is an "iron-fisted Iraqi
junta," in other words, says Pilger, u2018another Saddam Hussein,
rather like the one they had before 1991, who did as he was told.'

Such
a conclusion is neither of the "left" nor of the "right"
but, some might say, an accurate, cynical and contemporary view
of the realpolitik of today. It is a conclusion with which
I concur, but one which leaves me unhappy, because cynicism gnaws
away at the human spirit and drains our lives of meaning.

What
was missing in this discussion, I suddenly felt, was a solid pro-liberty
and anti-collectivist perspective. Conservatives easily drop into
pessimism, and identify socialism and social democracy with the
collectivist mentality, but, as Rothbard reminds us, this is an
oversimplification:

"there
were from the beginning two different strands within Socialism:
one was the Right-wing, authoritarian strand, from Saint-Simon
down, which glorified statism, hierarchy, and collectivism and
which was thus a projection of Conservatism trying to accept and
dominate the new industrial civilization. The other was the Left-wing,
relatively libertarian strand, exemplified in their different
ways by Marx and Bakunin, revolutionary and far more interested
in achieving the libertarian goals of liberalism and socialism:
but especially the smashing of the State apparatus to achieve
the “withering away of the State” and the “end of the exploitation
of man by man.”

[from
Rothbard: Left
and Right
]

Pilger
does vehemently criticise the roles of powerful states, particularly
in repressing their own peoples, and libertarians can go along with
him all the way in this — but his introduction also contains a revealing
warning to those who believe that the power of the state has diminished
in the face of u2018globalisation:'

The
widely-held belief among anti-globalisation campaigners that the
state has u2018withered away' is misguided, along with the view that
transnational corporate power has replaced the state and by extension,
imperialism. As the Russian dissident economist Boris Kargalitsky
points out, u2018Globalisation does not mean the impotence of the
state, but the rejection by the state of its social functions,
in favour of repressive ones, and the ending of democratic freedom.'

Something
is not quite right with this, and alarm bells start to sound. Since
Pilger is clearly quoting Kagarlitsky with approval, we must deduce
that he is a serious believer in the "social functions"
of the state. Later on he describes "secular, redistributive
politics" as the greatest achievement of Western civilization,
and argues that that achievement is being undermined by the "imperialist
imperatives of the American Century." I take his phrase u2018redistributive
politics' to mean the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor,
and the use of the word u2018secular' as defining some objective, material
value which is resistant to sectarian or u2018theological' interpretation
and therefore somehow u2018universal,' — in the same way that some have
attempted to draft a u2018universalist morality.'

It
is, I would say, impossible for libertarians to align themselves
with u2018redistributive politics' — whether it be taking from the rich
to give to the poor or, as today's global debt politics goes, making
sure that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Forced removal
of wealth, for whatever allegedly benevolent purpose, is a coercion
and invasion of private property which cannot be condoned.

Some
critics of Pilger go on from this to claim that he would not hesitate
to invoke the power of the state if it suited him, and we may draw
on his comments above to say that he probably would do so, if state
power were to be harnessed to what he describes as "social
functions." This creates a problem if you believe, as libertarians
do, that the state should most definitely not be entrusted with
any social functions, for the reason that it will always make a
mess of them and, in the end, diminish, if not directly steal, the
wealth of our lives. It is also a problem if you agree with Simone
de Beauvoir in The
Second Sex
,
when she says that "There is no possibility of measuring the
happiness of others, and it is always easy to describe as happy
the situation in which one wishes to place them."

What
we need here as a corrective, I feel, is a little Rothbardian recitation
and rehearsal. The state is an apparatus which has the monopoly
on the use of organised violence and coercion. It has no money of
its own, so it must take u2018its' money from the people. When that
apparatus is hijacked by a gang of politicians, who are in effect
a professional criminal class – and especially when they are particularly
corrupt and oligarchic like today's u2018crony capitalists' – it is
to be expected that, if unchecked, they will use that power to nefarious
and violent ends, for their own profit, and for the exploitation
of others. This exploitation is not free-market capitalism, or true
globalism, but simply the use of the state's awesome powers of regulation
and cartelisation to further the private interests of u2018the gang':
it cannot be faulted in terms of self-interest, but it can and must
be condemned on moral and libertarian grounds, because it takes
the lives and property of others.

Pilger
does in fact make the explicit point that the actions of today's
powerful states are those of oligarchies or cabals — often with
sectarian, fundamentalist (in the true sense of u2018Christian fundamentalist'),
u2018theological' aims and ideologies behind them, but in this context
he perhaps does not focus sufficiently on how those individuals
have appropriated those powers to themselves and forced a mass identification
with them, and I believe he puts too much faith in the unlikely
(and historically mostly untrue) possibility that a state apparatus
could be successful in pursuing "social functions." Implicitly
such social functions are "redistributive politics," and
theft too has to be condemned on moral and libertarian grounds.

It
could be argued that, in the face of all the horrors Pilger describes,
none of this really matters. The issue is also tricky to deal with
when the alternative to having the state exercise social functions
is a private enterprise which is perceived of as being crooked by
default. But most libertarians accept that the state does have a
limited role as a guardian over the life and property of all the
people, and Rothbard would, I am sure, argue that a truly free system
of private enterprise has to be a moral system — a system where
individual moral responsibility prevails. Clearly, there is a severe
deficit of individual moral responsibility in the current system
of private enterprise, in large part brought about by the depredations
of a statist, exploitative and short-termist culture.

When
it comes to Iraq, and the suffering of its people, Pilger shows
he is quite capable of identifying the manifest error of lumping
all the individual people into the same boat as the state, as apologists
for the continued violence of the UN sanctions continue to do. He
quotes an official as implying that the people have to suffer simply
because u2018they are there.' Faced with breathtaking cynicism of this
order, and speaking personally, I can only express great admiration
for Pilger's book and for the way he conducts his journalism. Yet
in the heat of the indignation, it is vital to keep in mind the
commitment to the principles of liberty, and not to rush into the
precipitate action which always results from "we can't stay
still, we must do something," for what happens
is that we end up with the endless cycle of revolution, overthrow
and, as history shows, the corruption of the new rulers by power.

Today,
with the unitary power of the United States so far exceeding that
of any other state or entity, the revolution is more likely to take
the form of guerrilla warfare, but the pattern is always the same:
policies of terror and coercion will inexorably breed a new generation
of resistors — who will be labelled "terrorists" by the
rulers, but who to themselves and those who live with them will
be u2018freedom fighters' struggling for liberation from oppression.
I am fairly certain that, at every moment in the cycle, John Pilger
would be out there exposing the abuses of power of any new rulers,
of any new men and women of violence and coercion, and in the sense
that by his work he rocks every establishment boat and fights against
the covering up of injustice, this is both admirable and necessary
for the cause of liberty.

It
is also necessary if those who deny the facts are ever to come out
of denial. In a constructive sense those dangerous and much-abused
labels can be useful, because we ourselves positively choose them
to define our position on certain issues, and are not afraid to
use them with pride, and to give others an example of courage, as
Pilger does. So I hang my hat on the mast of liberty and say "I
am a libertarian. I am not u2018left' or u2018right.'" And so too it
is understandable and logical, like Joseph Stromberg in his excellent
recent series of articles on "Liberventionism,"
that we take others to task when we perceive that they are misusing
or misappropriating a particular label which we feel we understand,
and state unequivocally: you cannot be libertarian and interventionist
at the same time. Certainly, in a world where it is truly important
to "get your message across" — especially the libertarian
message – those whose label has thus been misappropriated express
a latent fear that they themselves will be associated with a world-view
to which they definitely do not subscribe, and from this point it
is too easy to get bogged down (let alone u2018blogged down' ?) in the
detail of semantic interpretation, but more than ever in this age
of propaganda it is vital to call things by their proper name and
to have the courage to speak out.

John
Pilger would, I feel, agree with that. He would also cut to the
chase and not worry about labels. His final essay in the book is
about his home country, Australia. He spares no punches in stirring
the mixed collective psychological stewpot of denial, greed, approval-seeking
and hypocrisy which is the hallmark of exploitation everywhere,
but, in his experience, nowhere more so than in the history of what
has been done to the Aborigines. Here is clear evidence that the
wounds of coercion and conquest are difficult — if not impossible – to heal, and that if they do heal somewhat with the passage of
time, they still leave deep scars not only on the psyche but also
on the physical lives of victims — even to the extent of drastically
shortening those lives today. And they damage the perpetrators and
bystanders too. As Pilger points out, in the process of genocide
there is always a third party, the bystander, whose passive acquiescence
in the conquest and exploitation of a people, and its legacy, at
the very least haunts his life and makes resolution painful and
difficult.

In
one of those serendipitous occurrences which dot our lives, I was
reminded by this last essay of Marlo
Morgan's 1994 book Mutant
Message Down Under
,
which describes an American's fascinating (but fictional) journey
through the bush, and into new realms of human understanding, in
the company of the Aborigines. In the world she describes it is
the Aborigines, who literally live and breathe the land and are
in touch with the timeless spirit of their ancestors, who are "the
real people" and it is we, the supposedly "civilised,"
who are the "mutants." But this book is much more than
a fashionable and highly successful exercise in cultural relativism
— it is a humbling experience in teaching us not to take everything
for granted, and to respect all human life.

So
I come to Pilger's timely warnings to fellow-journalists, in which
he uses that very same word u2018respect' in advising them to take care
not to despise the people, their readership. Once again, he spares
no punches in condemning those of his colleagues who have succumbed
to being mere self-censors in the employ of the large media organisations,
themselves owned and censored by the "guardians of approved
truth":

The
most salient truths remain taboos. …Compliance to institutional
and corporate needs is internalised early in a journalist's career.
The difference, in authoritarian societies, is that the state
makes these demands directly. Self-censorship and censorship by
omission are rarely pointed out to practising journalists and
students in media colleges. Much of it is subliminal, giving it
pervasive influence. Minimising the culpability of Western power,
indeed reporting countries in terms of their usefulness to the
West, becomes almost an act of professional faith.

The
moral of this tale? Don't get taken in by the newspaper headlines,
the front pages of the propaganda machines. If you seek the truth,
don't watch CNN, which has become a pure propaganda machine of the
new rulers. By all means look inside the newspapers for the occasional
article by the more thoughtful and "non-approved" dissenters
from the rush to wars of conquest. They are few and far between,
but they are there. Read John Pilger, on LewRockwell.com
and elsewhere, on other sites dedicated to liberty. Read and understand
history. But above all, think for yourself, and have the courage
to help the deniers — the hired servants of the rulers, the complacent
journalists, and the flag-wavers, many of whom have a good heart
– to lift the veil of their own denial.

August
24, 2002

Richard
Wall (send him mail) is a freelance
translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril,
Portugal.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare