Page 2


one ever bothered to consult the aboriginal Americans. Chomsky’s history of power is also a history of the various apologies for power, and it’s a tossup as to which is the most dispiriting: the excesses of our rulers or the lengths to which our scribbling classes, journalists and academics, will go justify those excesses or explain them away. These books can be usefully read as companion pieces, for anyone who feels subject to the seductions of the American myth of national innocencewhich is to say most of us, at least part of the time. Rethinking Camelot focuses upon the Vietnam era, as refracted through the various “re-interpretations” which became popular for a season in the wake of Stone’s deeply self-delusional film. \(The book is also partly a spinoff of Year 501: The Conquest Continues [1993], Chomsky’s unblinking history of European expansionism, now led mf ORLD ORDERS Old and New is a more general analysis of 20th-century geo-politics from the perspective of the end of the so-called Cold War. Just as the shorter book shows the essential unanimity of American policy toward Vietnam throughout the various wartime administrations \(and indeed through the vicious present policy of ecoWorld Orders stolidly walks through the century recounting the steps by which American military and economic domination came first to supplement and then replace the traditional European colonial powers. Nowadays—-in the Americas, the Middle East, the Far East, even eastern Europe-Washington repeatedly calls a tune to which each of us as well as Europe are expected to danceand the pundits of American opinion, “left,” “right” and “center” fall all over themselves explaining, once again, why “American interests”a fictional term in fact describing a narrow segment of wealthy and corporate interestsand world interests are essentially the same. In a short review it is difficult to do justice to the wealth of detail, most of it drawn from public sources \(e.g., the business press, always more frank about its intensky brings to this withering historical indictment. There is nothing of conspiracy here, and little in the way of abstract theory except the necessary and seemingly simple principle: to judge one’s own government by the same standards one judges every other. Chomsky is fond of citing an essential text from that darling of capitalist theory, Adam Smith, who pointed out repeatedly that the rich and powerful men who, then as now, rule the world, follow “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.” The basic rules of world order remain as they have always been: the rule of law for the weak, the rule of force for the strong…. What Chomsky has doneand it has become essentially his heroic lifelong projectis to follow the working out of Smith’s pragmatic “vile maxim” in contemporary history. In the post-World WarII era the principle has meant an enormous strengthening of international corporate power, energized by war and now increasingly independent of national considerations, even for cosmetic or propaganda purposes. With the collapse of the Soviet of China, huge new markets \(which is to say, millions of ordinary people, who havopened to what the corporate press blandly refers to as “exploitation.” In each instance, “liberalization” may or may not mean a carefully metered amount of political “freedom” \(e.g., occasional elections between it will certainly mean the staggering enrichment and empowerment of the handful of the “masters of mankind” at the expense of the rest of us. Our most recent example is Mexico, but we can look as well to Poland, or to Russia, ‘or soon indeed, to Vietnam. But we can also look to ourselves. The current rollbacks and attacks upon social services, indeed upon the entire notion of a social contract, are not a right-wing aberration or a momentary political swing, but the inevitable outgrowth of an international economy now more firmly established upon principles of greed and force. Little of this is new, notes Chomsky: The basic rules of world order remain as they have always been: the rule of law for the weak, the rule of force for the strong; the principles of “economic rationality” for the weak, state power and intervention for the strong. And in the aftermath of the Cold War, whatever happened to the “Peace Dividend”? “For the mass of the population of the West,” Chomsky points out, “the major effect of the end of the Cold War is to provide new ways to undermine what the business press calls the ‘luxurious’ life styles of `pampered’ Western workers.” The everincreasing concentration of money and power has meant only that the hired hands in Washingtonacross the razor-thin political spectrumhave been more emboldened in their ritualized demands that ordi nary people “tighten their belts” while corporate profits soar and jobs are moved elsecheaper. Chomsky is not sanguine about what used to be called the human prospect, and elsewhere has said frankly, when it comes to social justice, he holds only to an activist’s version of Pascal’s wager about the existence of God: “On this issue of human freedom, if you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope. If you assume there is an instinct for human freedom there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world.” More pointedly, for writers and readers, Chomsky insists that at least we recognize the rock-bottom obligation to try to find and speak the truth, and not some obfuscated and sugar-coated version of consensus that flatters and defers to power. American intellectual culture, as represented by Schlesinger or William Bennett, is largely bankrupt because it is, as Chomsky puts it, a “culture of respectability [whose] traditional tasks remain: to reshape past and current history in the interests of power, to exalt the high principles to which we and our leaders are dedicated, and to file away the flaws in the record as misguided good intentions, harsh choices inflicted upon us by some evil enemy, or the other categories familiar to the properly educated.” He goes on: “For those of us unwilling to accept this role, the traditional tasks also remain: to challenge’ and unmask illegitimate authority, and to work with others to undermine it and to extend the scope of freedom and justice.” “Both tendencies exist, as they almost always have. Which prevails will determine whether theie will be world in which a decent person would want to live.” Call it Chomsky’s wager. Under present circumstances, it’s not much of a choice and its understated expression is maddeningly and engagingly characteristic of Chomsky’s personal refusal to preach or exhort his hearers. But it looks like all we’ve got, at least for the moment. It will have to do. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19