Monday, April 20, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 4

As promised, the next ideological-institutional cluster that I will be describing is the Neoconservative. Neoconservative figures and organizations received more public awareness after some key neoconservative leaders increased their power in the George W. Bush administration. The Neoconservative cluster consists of think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; media like The Weekly Standard; and a glut of significant political figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer,

Just like the Religious Right, plenty has been written about neoconservativism. From what I can tell, its origin may have been two-pronged. First, it is often noted, and the name "neoconservative" itself derives from the fact, that one source of neoconservativism is former anti-communist liberals who made a conservative turn as a reaction against the New Left. However, it is difficult to see traces of the "liberal" aspects of neoconservative origins as it exists today, and the political clique that I see as the second major source of neoconservativism, who made themselves the ruling faction during the George W. Bush presidency (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al) from what I can tell were never liberal at all.

Neoconservativism, as represented in the ideas and polices of the Rumsfeld Clique, is more intellectually-based (compared to the Radical Right and Religious Right). A number of members of the Rumsfeld Clique were students of, or attended classes at, the University of Chicago and are said to be influenced by the philosopher Leo Strauss. At the same time, most prominent neoconservatives have religious influences, to some extent shared by the Radical Right and Religious Right. While the latter two clusters are composed primarily of fundamentalist Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons, the religious base of neoconservativism appears to be fundamentalist (Zionist) Protestants and conservative (Zionist) Jews. This partial religious affinity may explain some of the associations with the Religious Right (in addition to the strategic aspect discussed in the previous post).

Like the Radical Right, neoconservatives have a clear political/economic agenda, but their political views are diametrically opposed to those of the Radical Right. While the Radical Right remains anti-authoritarian in political matters, neoconservatives idealize a strong executive branch and throughout their political tenure have sought to expand the powers of the branch as much as possible. Neoconservatives also have an interventionist foreign policy, while the Radical Right remains isolationist. In fact, as a strong contrast to the Radical Right, neoconservatives seem to idealize naked power (in the hands of the "right" people, of course) and the use of violence to obtain their ends. In economic matters, on the other hand, the Radical Right and neoconservativism share a neoliberal (supposedly "free market") approach.

After the ultimately disastrous outcome of the Iraq War, neoconservativism lost a lot of political clout and some neoconservatives resigned, under varying circumstances, during the Bush presidency. However, the election of Obama did not result in the complete purging of neoconservatives from the political establishment, and some maintained ties with the State Department (e.g. Robert Kagan and his wife Victoria Nuland). Furthermore, many neoconservatives retain influential positions in think tanks and conservative media outlets. Therefore, while the Neoconservative ideological-institutional cluster no longer wields the power it had a decade or so ago, it still remains an influential faction within the Establishment.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 3

Another very conservative ideological-institutional cluster I labeled the Religious Right (yes, I am relying very heavily on existing categorizations). Belonging to the Religious Right are think-tanks such as the Family Research Council, Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Council for National Policy; advocacy groups like Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition, and the National Organization for Marriage; and figures such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Erik Prince (the founder of Blackwater), and Tony Perkins. Pat Robertson, for his part, is a Christian media mogul whose ventures include the Christian Broadcasting Network and the 700 Club.

There are two notable features of the Religious Right.

First, there is a certain amount of overlap between the Radical Right and the Religious Right, as some of the same religious figures and organizations have affiliations in both clusters (for example, Cleon Skousen and other extremist elements of LDS). In fact, the Radical Right and Religious Right have a shared religious basis: extremist-fundamentalist Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. The primary difference between the two clusters is that the ideas promoted by the Radical Right contain a very detailed and consistent political/economic vision that is integrated with social-religious beliefs and attitudes, whereas the discourse and activities within the institutions of the Religious Right privilege religious belief and social issues (marriage rights, abortion, etc.), and pay only secondary (if any) attention to political and economic issues, resulting in a degree of diversity in the political/economic positions held among individuals associated with this cluster.

In contrast to the consistently anti-establishment positions of the Radical Right, the second salient feature of the Religious Right is its tenuous relationship to the Establishment. I will be able to more fully flesh out exactly what I mean by "the Establishment" when I finish outlining the other ideological-institutional clusters. For now, I will briefly explain two aspects of this relationship. First, individuals, such as Irving Kristol and Donald Rumsfeld, who are more closely associated with the Neoconservative institutional-ideological cluster (the subject of my next post), which has carved out a space for itself within the Establishment over the past few decades, also maintain secondary affiliations with institutions of the Religious Right. The extent to which this relationship is strategic or based on genuine religious beliefs is hard to guess. However, there is definitely some degree of strategy involved, and the second aspect of the relationship between the Religious Right and the Establishment is, in fact, the history of a strategic alliance.

The history of the creation the Religious Right in the cooptation of religious fundamentalists by the Republican Party is fairly well known, so there is no need to detail it here. The important point that I want to make is that the institutions that were ultimately employed as an instrument of Republican control over a large voting bloc have actually never had more than a thin connection to other conservative ideological-institutional clusters nor that aspect of the Establishment that is shaped by the Republican Party. It was always a purely pragmatic relationship and the ties could easily be severed. (Witness the problems caused for the Republican Party by recent religious freedom bills and the pragmatic rhetorical shifts taken by some Republican politicians.)

It can be concluded, then, that although the Religious Right has perhaps a stronger institutional base than the Radical Right, it is still rather limited, primarily consisting of a handful of think-tanks, religious organizations, and business ventures. The Religious Right may, accordingly, be viewed as more of an outgrowth of a few related religious movements that was exploited for political purposes. This is not, of course, to deny the religiosity of many prominent politicians and societal power-holders. It is to say that their thinking is guided more directly by institutions and ideologies with clear political/economic agendas that may also happen to harmonize with their fundamentalist religious beliefs.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 2

Although I find that the use of political spectrum terminology (right/left) often obfuscates more than iit aids discourse, sometimes it's impossible to avoid it entirely. In fact, that is how I mentally organized the ideological-institutional clusters that began to emerge for me. And now, in this series of posts, I will proceed more or less from right to left.

One of the ideological-institutional clusters that was closest to the fringe I termed the Radical Right. Think tanks associated with the Radical Right include the John Birch Society, American Policy Center, and the National Center for Public Policy Research. Also associated with the Radical Right are Rousas Rushdoony (founder of extreme fundamentalist Christian Reconstructionism), Glenn Beck (and other figures from LDS), the Constitution Party, and the Minuteman Project.

From some preliminary investigation, it appears that the Radical Right has its origins in white-supremacist anti-communism, along with the religious fundamentalist politics that emerged in the 1970s. The key concerns of the people and institutions of the Radical Right today are nationalism(/anti-immigration), isolationism, anti-authoritarianism, and religiously-based social conservativism. They extol "small government" principles, but are also suspicious of large corporations, and expense overseas military expeditions. They are also weary of transnational organizations, the UN in particular.

The societal ideal of the Radical Right is best illustrated by the communal concept of The Citadel.

As I mentioned earlier, the Radical Right is more of a fringe cluster. The institutional network is thin compared to the more mainstream clusters I will be describing later. Its primary base of support is extremist religious organizations, although its odes to free market principles harmonizes with most other ideological clusters and corporate interests, and an "anti-science" coalition has been forged with such corporations as Phillip Morris, who produce faux research challenging dominant scientific appraisals of the effects of smoking, pollution, etc. The National Center for Public Policy, for example, is devoted to the production of this "alternative" science.

At the same time, the Radical Right's anti-authoritarian and isolationist leanings ensure that more extended relationships with interests inside the political establishment will not develop and its institutional infrastructure will necessarily be limited.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics

Due to things going on in my life I haven't posted in a really long time. I almost don't feel like I know how to do it anymore!

Also, for some reason, I haven't really felt like I've had much to say. That might mean that I am surrounding myself with too many people/viewpoints that correspond to my own. Maybe I'm even getting lazy because other people can formulate my thoughts for me.

One extraneous thing that I HAVE done is independent/amateur research on think tanks. I've been interested in seeing how the networks of different ideologies and political strategies are institutionally manifested. This is part of my long-term goal of more thoroughly dissecting the structure of power in the modern world. (Parasitically, of course. I will almost always have to rely on the work of others)

My starting point for this little project of mine was come up with a list of U.S. think tanks and then look at:

1) Individual and corporate backing
2) Membership and affilliations
3) Associated media
4) Connections to activist organizations

As I started to putting this information together, I saw that the think tanks on my list clustered into a number of groups sharing some characteristics.

My plan is to describe each group in successive posts.

Stay tuned.