FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Promoting Authoritariansim

by KEVIN CARSON

We hear a lot these days about Islam’s misogyny and cultural authoritarianism.. A good example is that idiot lawyer fighting construction of a mosque in Chattanooga, enthralling public hearings with juicy quotes he’s mined from the Quran.

Apparently he’s never read the Bible. The list of things in Leviticus that call for death by stoning would take out not only gays and lesbians, but most everybody else as well. Then there’s that wonderful stuff about dashing out the brains of Philistine babies and exterminating the entire population of Canaan. Yet most Christians, outside of Fred Phelps’s bunch, don’t advocate this kind of stuff. And many Christians from the mainline denominations openly condemn it.

So it’s obvious that the actual content of sacred texts means a lot less than the cultural evolution of their adherents. The texts themselves, arguably, are more the products than the sources of authoritarian culture.

In a college Middle Eastern history class, I read a historian (I can’t for the life of me track him down) who posited an “Irano-Mediterranean Oikoumene” with a shared culture of machismo and patriarchal domination of women. St. Paul’s admonition to women to cover their heads in church was entirely in keeping with this culture in Greece. In the classical Greece of Socrates, women commonly appeared in public in something very like a hijab; Aristophanes’ “Assembly of Women,” and the tradition that Socrates’ wife Xanthippe publicly henpecked him, were both considered especially comical against this cultural backdrop.

Most conservative cultural traditions concerning women in contemporary Islam are not mentioned in the Quran, but were found in the preexisting culture of the pagan Arabs. And many misogynistic pagan traditions that Islam condemned, like the exposure of female infants, reemerged among the Bedouin after Muhammad’s time. Muhammad himself was quite liberal toward women in his personal life, compared both to the preexisting pagan culture and later “Islamic” culture, with some women figuring prominently in the early Muslim community at Medina.

Islam was arguably evolving past its cultural authoritarianism earlier than Christianity. At its height, the medieval Islamic civilization was far more liberal and forward-looking than Christian Europe at the same time. This was brought to an end by the Mongol conquest of the Middle East. The Islamic world was set back by centuries, becoming pessimistic, authoritarian and inward-looking, and adopting a reactionary attitude toward Europe’s subsequent cultural progress.

Western imperialism played a similar role in the colonial world. Colonial regimes atomized or perverted local social institutions (as an example of perversion, look at what Hastings’ Permanent Settlement in Bengal, and similar policies later for all of India, did to property relations within the village commune). They decimated social capital and uprooted local institutions that might have provided the basis for evolution of a more liberal society. They deliberately drew colonial boundaries that cut across natural ethnic lines, promoting ethnic hostility as part of a divide-and-rule strategy (much of the Hutu-Tutsi hostility in Rwanda is traceable to such policies under Belgian rule). Much as in Russia, an authoritarian state led to the corruption and atrophy of civil society; and when that authoritarian state withdrew from the scene, it left a vacuum to be filled by military juntas and kleptocrats.

The bipolar superpower dynamic also contributed to greater political authoritarianism in much of the post-colonial Third World. Left-wing nationalist regimes, in the face of Western economic blockades, subversion and outright invasion, adopted garrison state cultures and developed closer ties with the Soviet bloc.

Take Cuba, for example. Although Castro had studied Marx and had a nondescript Marxist politics, he’d also studied the New Deal in prison and saw it as a model for post-revolutionary Cuban development. His 26 July Movement avoided close ties with the pro-Soviet and doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist PSP. After the Revolution, the new regime liquidated the PSP and pursued a fairly liberal economic agenda consisting of land reform and the encouragement of urban cooperatives. Orthodox Marxist-Leninists like Che Guevara formed a distinct subgroup within the 26 July Movement. Only after a full-blown US campaign of destabilization did Castro proclaim himself a Marxist-Leninist and align Cuba with the Soviet bloc.

In South Vietnam, Noam Chomsky has argued, the NLF (“Viet Cong”), while certainly engaging in authoritarian activities, was also a grass-roots populist movement with close ties to the local peasantry, engaged in many of the same kinds of local economic development and self-help activities as the Black Panthers in Oakland. The counter-insurgency campaign in the South eviscerated the NLF and the civil society it was embedded in, leaving a hollow shell for the North Vietnamese Army and the official Marxist-Leninists in Hanoi to take over.

In a sense these were both victories for the United States. The US government arguably has a conscious interest in promoting this kind of authoritarianism. From the standpoint of the American ruling elite, it was far preferable to have the anti-American Third World dominated by authoritarian regimes subject to discipline by the white male three-piece-suited bureaucrats in Moscow (the kind of people Nixon and Kissinger were quite sympatico with), than a liberal anti-American regime providing the demonstration effect of successful economic development outside the global capitalist system.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist and the author of Studies in Mutualist Political EconomyOrganization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. He is also the author of articles in publications including The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, includingJust Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.


Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail