Thursday, June 08, 2006

Veni, vidi, vici

Mr Wolcott, paging through the New York Sun the other day, drifted away from that paper's sports and arts sections and wound up on the op-ed pages where he came upon a piece by a Right Wing radio talk show host and writer named John Batchelor who seems to think the US Army invaded France on D-Day for the same reason Caesar invaded Gaul.

Or something.

Batchelor, a once-upon-a-time promising novelist who went by the name John Calvin Batchelor, and whose first couple of books I've read, thinks the United States is an empire that's not doing a good enough job acting like one. We need to follow the model of Imperial Rome, he declares

Not in throwing people to the lions or instituting week-long orgies or having horses appointed to the Senate.

Just in adopting a policy of military impressment of young men from our client states into the fight to maintain and expand the empire.

Batchelor thinks we're running out of cannon fodder. Clearly he accepts the idea that middle class American white men are expempt from military service. We need, he says, to make the Poles, and the South Koreans, and the Japanese join the legions.

That Poland and South Korea and Japan are sovereign nations and not conquered territories doesn't bother Batchelor.

In the Right Wing worldview there are no sovereign nations anyway. There are rogue states that haven't learned their lesson yet, and there are "allies," grateful and subservient allies if they know what's good for them, who defy our leader's will at their hazard. France and Germany dared to decide they didn't want to join our President's trumped up little war for profit and ego? Surrender monkeys!

The idea that we are an empire and this is a good thing is not new. What flabbergasted me is that there is a literate, well-educated, intelligent person who thinks that the Roman Empire is a positive model for anything, even an empire.

I know the effects of education are limited and transitory if not reinforced. Good little conservatives begin to teach themselves an alternative history of the United States in their frat houses and continue their re-education in country club locker rooms and corporate offices, telling themselves that the New Deal failed, the Civil Rights movement was a well-intentioned mistake, the Civil War was about States' Rights, slavery was beside the point and on the way out anyway and besides the slaves were happy and well cared for, Joe McCarthy was right, liberal intellectuals and journalists colluding with the peaceniks lost Vietnam, the same people are stabbing us in the back in Iraq, and everything bad that's happened since 2001 was Bill Clinton's fault.

But that the Roman Empire was a swell idea?

And Right Wing politicians, apologists, and hatchetmen and hatchetwomen, will say anything, deny facts and invent them, rewrite history and science and even the Bible. They will contradict themselves shamelessly and argue for mutually exclusive ideas in the same breath---activist judges are evil, except for the ones who made George W. Bush President; leave it all to the states, except where and when it appears the states might have other ideas---they hold themselves to no intellectual or philosophical standards that might interfere with their real goal in any debate, which is to shout down and shut down opposition.

But Rome?

Empire I understand. The dreamer of empires is the monster inside the isolationist. If you are afraid to engage with the world because it is full of threatening, uncontrollable, unpredictable Others, then you withdraw from the world. But if the world won't let you withdraw, if it insists on moving into your neighborhood, if it threatens to make you part of its neighborhood by denying your ability to pretend you are the whole of creation that matters, well, then, the world must be put in its place. The world must be controlled. It must be conquered.

The party of isolation must become the party of empire or risk admitting a loss of power and control which is the same as admitting a loss of self.

But still.


Batchelor, whose novels show that he has read some history, has ignored the fact that the point when the Romans couldn't control their own outposts with their own troops was the point when the empire began to fall apart. The same thing happened to the British.

Overreach is the natural end of imperial dreams.

If we are an empire and we have reached the point where we can't fight our own wars then we have reached the end of our empire.

Obviously, Batchelor is not a deep or serious thinker. But then the Right has a hard time developing and keeping deep and serious thinkers. If they're honest and decent-minded, deep and serious thinkers realize pretty quickly that they are in the position of defending a runaway corporate state-less imperium that is determined to reduce all the world to the condition of an old-fashioned Central American banana republic with a very small ruling elite made up of the obscenely rich, a small but tractable middle class struggling to maintain a substince living, and a large pool of millions of disposable peons too poor and too defeated and too ignornant to insist on their own humanity.

At which point Right Wing intellectuals have two choices, break ranks or become dishonest and indecent, and then their thinking stops being either deep or serious.

But Batchelor seems to have found a third way.


Now, I don't know the man, so I can't say for sure, but it's possible that Batchelor's ability to ignore inconvenient historical details is a sign that his op-ed piece is really an expression of a personal delusion. It's not that he thinks that the United States is or ought to be Rome. It's that he thinks he's Julius Caesar, and this is his sideways way of telling us. He could be one of those people going quietly mad who are yet still in control of enough of their deteriorating minds to know that the rest of us might think a has-been novelist doesn't make a convincing Roman dictator.

He knows he should keep his delusion to himself, but it's becoming unmanageable. His inner Caesar will out. He must cross that line dividing sanity from madness as surely as Caesar had to cross the Rubicon.

So he writes his op-ed piece in which he, with apparent reasonableness, posits a reality in which the existence of an emperor not only makes sense but is required.

The telling part is the way he uses his father's service at Normandy on D-Day to aggrandize himself, blurring the line between his father and his own ego.

He sees himself charging up Omaha Beach and planting the flag of empire atop the ruins of a Nazi bunker.

So I'd just pity and ignore the poor deluded chump, except...

Except that he's not in his own room pushing model legionaires around on a tabletop battlefield and muttering to himself about how all Gallia est monis divisa in partes tres and boasting to the cat how he came and he saw and he conquered.

He's raving on the op-ed pages of a major metropolitan newspaper.

Media outlets that when cornered call themselves "conservative" but that are basically arms of the Republican Propaganda Machine and newspapers and magazines and television networks that hate themselves for being "liberal" give platforms to types who in a better world would be left waving their bibles and The End is Nigh signs on street corners, legitimizing all sorts of crackpot ideas, and if the notion that we should aspire to be the Roman Empire doesn't stick, another equally weird and scary one will pop up next week.

On top of which, I don't really think Batchelor is crazy.

His attempt to turn his father into a heroic surrogate of himself isn't nuts, and it's certainly not particularly conservative of him.

It's simply narcissistic and all too human.

This goes on every day. Lots of us treat the achievements of others---of our children, our spouses, our parents, our favorite rock stars and movie stars and baseball teams, our chosen political party, anyone we admire---as points of pride, as if we had done the things ourselves.

Lots of us?

Probably all of us, at one time or another, to greater or lesser degrees.

But Batchelor has discovered that thanks to the Right's rejection of the serious and the factual he can argue anything in the service of his narcissism.

What's more he's discovered that the logic of the Right is the logic of the narcissist.

People have wondered how it is that so many thieves and perverts and other brands of shameless hypocrites keep turning up in high places in the Republican Party.

One reason is that normal is a good place to hide. Since the Republican Party began touting itself as the party of normalcy and family values, it has made itself very attractive to the perverse and the deviant by providing them the perfect camouflage.

But I think even more self-destructive is the fact that since the Gilded Age, when the businessmen began to take the party from the Reformers, a process that accelerated with the banishment of Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican Party has made itself the Party of "I got mine and the rest of you can go suff."

The Right's willingness to argue for everything and anything and mean none of it has a logic. It's the "logic" of the narcissist, the logic of people who have only one real goal---self-fulfillment. No taxes, limitless oil, limitless personal wealth, no consequences, no deficits to worry about, no climate change to worry about, no rules that apply to me only to thee, whatever we want when we want it---it's the logic of the husband justifying leaving his wife and kids for another woman, the businessman justifying layoffs at Christmastime and the gutting of pension plans, the banker foreclosing on widows and orphans, the politician accepting a bribe, the student cheating on her exams, it's the logic of anyone to whom the whole world is a personal playground and other people only means to an end and that end is the narcissist's self-aggrandizement and the satisfying of the narcissist's appetites and will.

And, yes, I know this is exactly what they accuse the Baby Boomer Left of being.

But we know how fond they are of accusing other people of their own sins and failures.

And it isn't the Left that's pushing dreams of empire so that a very small segment of the population can continue to drive Escalades to the mall to buy clothing made by children chained to sewing machines.

And it isn't the Left insisting that it's up to other people's children to lay down their lives for that empire.

Thanks to Matt Stoller at My DD, the Heretik, Media Matters, Me4President, Sean-Paul Kelly at the Agonist, and Brad Plumer.


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