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    new boss same as the old boss..., 2003-12-09 14:08:58 | Main | the military-industrial-congressional-media-k-street complex..., 2003-12-10 12:32:51

    spam spam lovely spam:

    Robert Greene of the Economist, writing in the New Republic, apparently doesn't think it an accurate turn of phrase to describe Franco's dictatorship in Spain from 1939 to 1975 as "totalitarian", a politically loaded term if there ever was one, which, to paraphrase my imaginary political science professor, 'immobilizes critical thinking in preference for immobilizing abstraction'.

    I've never actually taken a political science course nor do I know any political science professors, so I don't have any idea what a real one might say. What my imaginary professor means is that the supposed distinction between 'authoritarianism' and 'totalitarianism' isn't a useful distinction if we want to understand something, but it is useful politics.

    In the context of Greene's attempts to not understand things he does propose an observation about democratic reform and revolution by pointing out that countries that had, decades and decades ago, some experience with something resembling democracy have met more success in their transitions back into something resembling democracy. Because this observation is described as a corollary to Greene's attempts to not understand things there's no reason for him to try and explain why this may often be the case, but explaining it would seem to be more relevant to his discussion than the meangingless narrative in which he frames it.

    Attempting to not understand something is sometimes a great way to dodge difficult questions. I can think of two examples from my own college experience, where in two classes I used hubristic essays on the topic of SPAM in my own attempts to not understand something. One was a B level Philosophy of Religion course - involved primarily with meaningless narratives - and on which the essay in question recieved favorable marks. The other was C level Organic Chemistry - a class dealing with an extremely narrow and dull narrative that happens to mean something very specific - and my essay on SPAM was insufficient, as one might expect. Thanks in part to those experiences I became for a time a highly regarded psuedo-intellectual wanker among the many social circles which I may or may not have frequented. I've since ended such relations in favor of being a plain and simple jackass.

    The point here is that Franco's Spain was as "totalitarian" as post-Stalinist Russia - from forced labor to religious persecution - but that Spain had had a far more recent brush with democracy than Russia, which had perhaps a few months of self-government almost a century ago, whereas the Spainiards had years of it less than 70 years ago, in both cases the form of democracy - the worker controlled soviets and the syndicalist unions - were similar, but in Russia's case anybody who might have remembered them was extremely dead by the time 1989 rolled around. In and of itself the counter-example to Greene's thesis is his first example used to support it, and I wouldn't trust his corallary further than the logic that supports it, which is that having some kind of a population that has some substantial past experience with self-government will make restoring the institutions of self-government that much easier.

    And, uh, democracy is running along just great in Indonesia, etc.

:: posted by buermann @ 2003-12-09 17:49:28 CST | link

    go ahead, express that vague notion

    your turing test:

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