Justice and the Return of Imperialism
Jenkins, Dominick, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political
The article describes how U.S. liberal conservative internationalists (Andrew Carnegie, Elihu Root, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson) used an idea of justice to legitimize "accumulation by dispossession" and America's use of the World War I to renew the imperial project as war to "make the world safe for democracy." It looks at how a similar attempt is being made today by George W. Bush and others to seize the word back from the global justice movement and, by looking at how U.S. socialists (Eugene Debbs) resisted the attempt to use the language of justice against them, suggests how that attempt can be overcome. Keywords: justice, imperialism, war, United States, Homestead.
'Twas in Pennsylvania town not very long ago Men struck against reduction of their pay Their millionaire employer with philanthropic show Had closed the works till starved they would obey --William W. Delaney, Father Was Killed by the Pinkerton Men
Many groups that oppose neoliberal economic globalization now describe themselves as part of the Global Justice Movement. U.S. neoconservatives seized the September 11, 2001, attacks to attempt to take the word justice back and labeled their war against terrorism Operation Infinite Justice. Notoriously, when it was pointed out that their initial wording would play badly in the Middle East because of the Muslim belief that only God can claim to be infinitely just, they then changed the name to Operation Enduring Freedom.
Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy drew attention to these maneuverings in a September 29, 2001, article, "The Algebra of Infinite Justice," published in the Guardian of London. To highlight the U.S. government's long history of being prepared to gain its ends even at the cost of untold numbers of lives of Third World people, she seized on the repeated use of the number of people killed in the World Trade Center attacks by way of justification for the use of massive force against Afghanistan. This meant that what Roy called the "algebra of infinite justice" used to justify those war preparations covered over an algebra of infinite injustice in which Third World peoples were reduced to pawns to be sacrificed in the "Great Game." Roy's article highlighted the core of the Global Justice Movement's concept of justice: the global power elites' reduction of the majority of the world's population to no more than economic and military means for their economic and military calculations.
In this article, I have two main goals. The first is to set out the main components of the idea of justice that has been used by U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists both to legitimize and hide the development of a spatial strategy for making the United States the globally hegemonic power and to construct a worldwide system of economic relations that reinforce its hegemony. The second is to elaborate the root idea of justice at the center of the Global Justice Movement and to connect it to a now largely forgotten history of U.S. socialist opposition to corporate exploitation.
I make both a conceptual and a historical argument. Historically, I show how U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists used World War I to push socialism to the margins of politics. This involved using the language of war to describe the relationship between U.S. liberal democracy and socialism.
The historical argument falls into three parts. I start by looking at how early-twentieth-century U.S. liberal-conservative internationalists presented themselves as part of a global avant garde that was removing the blocks to, and realizing opportunities for, an emerging worldwide harmony between science, technology, communications, corporate capitalism, the market, liberal-constitutional government, and the nation-state.
I then investigate how Eugene Debs, a leading U.S. socialist, used an account of Homestead and Ludlow, two notorious battles between U.S. workers and corporate capital, to challenge the liberal-conservative internationalist project and strengthen a revolutionary "class consciousness" capable of challenging corporate capitalism and bring about an "industrial revolution."
I end the historical argument by examining how the liberal-conservative internationalists used World War I and the November Revolution to turn the people of the United States against socialism by identifying it as the enemy within, whose existence gave the enemy without (first German autocracy, and later Soviet Bolshevism) the opportunity it needed. I show, in short, how the liberal-conservative internationalists attempted to end the socialist challenge in the United States by making war, rather than revolution, the paradigm of a world-transforming event. That is, how they sought to make war the matrix for understanding the essence of revolution.
In making war the paradigm event, the liberal-conservative internationalists sought to replace the excitement of a revolutionary struggle, in which hierarchical relationships that limit liberty and equality are overturned, with a people's war, in which the reinscription of hierarchical power went hand in hand with the excitement of the collective exercise of destructive power.
The conceptual argument builds on recent writing about justice, democracy, time, and space. (1) It takes aim at the theological/military presuppositions at the heart of the liberal-conservative internationalist idea of justice--presuppositions that represent the liberal-conservative internationalists as a global avant garde that already knows in general that justice consists in the realization of an emerging world harmony. It then reduces events to no more than opportunities for, or blocks to, the realization of that harmony. This legitimates repeated interventions to restructure both the United States and the world by enabling liberal-conservative internationalists to represent them as being no more than the minimal action necessary to enable mankind to realize its potential. This secular idea of justice is backed up by a millenarian story in which the liberal-conservative internationalists are the saints who must ensure the virtue of the community so that it will not be the target of God's wrath--a story that reads current events in terms of the biblical prophecy of a final battle in which God will destroy evil and establish an earthly paradise.
I show how this idea of justice was used by the liberal-conservative internationalists both to make global war the event through which mankind was establishing a global harmony and returning to paradise and to transform the U.S. socialist party into an internal enemy that threatened to give the external enemy the opportunity it needed to destroy the United States.
I argue that Debs's account of Homestead and Ludlow contained within it an alternative, political/democratic conception of justice very like that advanced by Arundhati Roy. This had three main elements. The first is the use of strong metaphors and images to highlight fundamental social relationships that call into question the liberal-conservative internationalists' portrayal of themselves as the guardians of the U.S. community and the global community. The second is the measuring of the gap between Americans' formal status as equal citizens and their reduction to no more than means to increased profits or the achievement of military power. The third is the development of an analysis that highlights the way the liberal-conservative internationalists' spatial strategies combine economic accumulation through exploitation and dispossession with the use of state power to break any attempt to contest that exploitation.
Through taking up the struggles at Homestead and Ludlow, then, Debs helped transform them into historic events that showed the people of the United States their potential to transform the system and realize both equality and liberty. I highlight the traumatic nature of the two events, their unlocatable nature. As Debs's account took up and rearticulated the story of the American Revolution, they were inside U.S. society, yet, at the same time, because that rearticulation was not allowed by the dominant way of interpreting that revolution, they were also outside. This means that the liberal-conservative internationalists were incorrect in portraying themselves as guarding a harmonious U.S. society against an attack by an enemy socialism.
Speaking Softly and Carrying a Big Stick
The late-nineteenth century saw a new generation taking over the reins of the U.S. Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. At its heart was a circle of men I am calling liberal-conservative internationalists, in that they sought to reconcile liberalism and conservatism. They believed that with the closing of the Western frontier, U.S. unity could be maintained only through a new national project. (2) Now that the pioneers had defeated the indigenous tribes and transformed the wilderness into farmland, the people of the United States needed to join the British, Germans, French, and Italians in extending the sway of European civilization over Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The elite would be renewed, its rule reinvigorated. Through taking up the task, the sons of the U.S. patrician elite would reestablish their right to rule the United States with the "consent of the governed" and be joined by a new generation of ethnic "Americans" who had established their fitness for government in the process. And through their participation in the project, the great mass of these Americans would come to acknowledge the need for such leadership.
There was also a global dimension. In the great world theater, Americans would show they were up to the heroic task of spreading civilization and thus prove to European elites the superiority of liberal institutions in the task of spreading their common civilization throughout the world, thereby encouraging European liberals in their battle to liberalize their own nations.
Initially led by such figures as Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root, Brookes Adams, Alfred Taylor Mahan, and John Hays, and after the Spanish-American War joined by Democrats such as Colonel House and Woodrow Wilson, they supported their program by drawing on, and remaking, commonly held ideas about justice. They presented justice as action to realize a harmony between the parts and the whole of society. This harmony was seen as existing, potentially, in a postulated, original, human nature. The task of the liberal-conservative internationalists, therefore, was to identify opportunities for, and blocks to, the realization of that harmony and to take the appropriate actions. This schema was employed to legitimate, and mask, a series of major interventions to transform the United States into a great power.
Here is how the game was played:
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Publication information: Article title: Justice and the Return of Imperialism. Contributors: Jenkins, Dominick - Author. Journal title: Alternatives: Global, Local, Political. Volume: 30. Issue: 2 Publication date: April-June 2005. Page number: 223+. © 2008 Lynne Rienner Publishers. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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