Monday, May 25, 2009

More hackery on the NYTimes OpEd page

I suppose it wouldn't be a Roger Cohen column if it wasn't hackery, but his most recent effort is especially bad.

First of all, 'peaceful evolution' as such, doesn't necessarily mean 'peace' or 'puppy dogs and ice cream' is at the end of the rainbow. Imagine a tyrannical regime coming to power peacefully. Or, to take a leaf from Cohen's neocon red-baiting book, surely he can conjure up a (nightmare) scenario in which the US 'peacefully evolves' into a socialist society. Isn't that supposed to be the reason, according to the American Right, that we should 'oppose Big Government' in the meantime? So that we can halt the 'peaceful slide toward socialism' or whatever cynical bullshit these people tell themselves?

So much for the rhetorical bite of 'peaceful evolution'.

Someone should pinch ol' Roge and tell him its not 1991 anymore. Nobody's reading Francis Fukuyama these days. All that 'triumphalist' bullshit went out of style long before the 'triumphant' neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus hit the fan recently causing the biggest financial downturn since the Great Depression.

Here's a gem from the column:
"For a brief moment, after the Berlin Wall fell, free-market, multiparty liberal systems seemed set to sweep everything in their triumphant path. But from Moscow to Beijing to Hanoi, reaction came. Markets and nationalism trumped freedom and the vote; the noble spirit of Tienanmen and Berlin faded...America, born as a liberating idea, must be true to that and promote its values. But, sobered and broke, it must be patient."
Excuse me while I puke. The "noble spirit of Tienanmen"? Way to co-opt a social movement into a perverse narrative about the singular march of the "free market" and all its history-ending glories. (Btw: this blog had a nice recent post on the topic of Tienanmen recently).

I don't know enough about Hanoi to say whether Cohen's tendency to paint the regime there with the same brush as Beijing is precise. But in Moscow, "reaction came"? Um, if he knew shit about recent history Cohen should have said that the "triumphant path" of "free markets" in Russia caused widespread social upheaval, economic turmoil, poverty, sharp decreases in standards of living, and the rise of a new oligarchy emerging from the 'sale' (read 'give-away') of a host of public institutions and enterprises. Even the neoliberal zealots had the honesty to call their program 'shock therapy'. Now I don't want to say that the current regime in Moscow isn't a kind of reaction, but let's be clear on what kind of reaction it is. When you have people's lives being shattered by instability and economic calamity created by a clique of neoliberal zealots touting 'free market' fundamentalism with religious fervor, its unsurprising that a nationalist regime took up shop and decided to stand firm against the opportunism of Washington neoliberals.

And about the fact of China's vibrant capitalism in the absence of democracy or a system of rights... what does Cohen add to this 'surprising anomaly' except some vague teleological faith that soon enough consumer capitalism truly will "create consumers who want democracy" as well? It seems that all Cohen is upset about is a few words written on paper. He would be happy, no doubt, if the Chinese had certain rights on some paper constitution somewhere, even if the citizens nonetheless lacked the ability to surmount institutional obstacles to actually realizing those rights. Why, then, is he so upset about capitalist China? It's clear that he certainly can't stand democracy when it bucks capitalism and the "free market" (see: everything he's ever written on Latin America).

Doesn't Roger Cohen ever bother to ask himself if it would even be worth coming up with his own triumphalist tripe, rather than just recycling and regurgitating? I can't think of anyone who adds less to existing discourse, bringing no nuanced or critical thought to bear on anything he writes about. Repetition is not thinking. Thinking has something to do with being able to imagine otherwise.

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