Last Friday, Obama gave a speech on the NSA and a full-throated defense of the surveillance state. The cover story of the current edition of the establishment center-left magazine The New Republic is a full-throated defense of the surveillance state by a good friend of the Clintons. And today, we are celebrating the legacy of a civil rights leader who, like others in the civil rights movement, was subject to an obsessive surveillance campaign by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.
What a great time to talk about the relationship of democracy to the national security state!
The other day, I was reminded of an article a friend of mine read amidst her Ph.D. research and then sent to me. The article--"Democracy Versus the National Security State" by Marcus Raskin--was written in 1976 during the investigations of the Church Committee. It remains just as relevant today.
Marcus Raskin is the co-founder of the progressive think tank the Institute of Policy Studies. In the early 1960s, he was an assistant on national security affairs and disarmament to McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy's National Security Advisor. Because of his opposition to the escalation of the Vietnam War, Raskin was reassigned to the Bureau of the Budget. In 1963, he and Richard Barnet, a State Department official in the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, left their positions in the government to form a think tank that would critique official government policy--IPS.
In the aforementioned article, Raskin argues that the national security state that had emerged in the postwar/Cold War era States was a “constitutional deformation which menaces the freedom and well-being of its citizenry, and which poses a danger to world civilization.” The article, published in Law and Contemporary Problems (40, No. 3, 189-220), called on the legal profession to take on that deformation and to push for a democratic, deliberative, peaceful, and just society.
The Birth of the Postwar National Security State
He starts his narrative of the emergence of the national security state with the rise of the United States as a global hegemon after World War II, a result heavily influenced by the economic devastation of the European continent. Concurrent with this were doubts about the viability of the capitalist system. The Great Depression was still a very recent memory, and although the FDR’s New Deal had been able to manage class conflict to an extent, the unemployment rate remained above 14 percent from 1931 to 1940. Government economists feared that postwar demobilization would provoke a crisis of mass unemployment. The end of the war also meant the end of unions’ no-strike pledges, and management no longer held back in their efforts to roll back labor’s wartime gains. Consequently, the years 1945 and 1946 saw some of the largest labor strikes in the country’s history.
Internationally, the US began to extend its imperial “responsibilities” beyond its own hemisphere, taking over from the deflated European powers. Greece, in the midst of a Civil War, and Turkey were both seen as at risk to “falling” to the Soviet Union, and the US responded with intervention and military aid accordingly.
The national security state thus emerged out of the desire of elites to achieve internal stability and global power amidst such pervasive conflict:
Such "opportunities" and problems gave rise to a different governing structure; one which would enable the United States to exercise world hegemony while ensuring internal and economic stability. The American leadership attempted to reorganize the government. It would appear to be democratic, and it would appear to steer an economic and political course between socialism and fascism, the two major ideologies of the twentieth century. We have referred to this system as the national security state. It was guided by a small group of men who, through ties of interest and social class, reacted to the world in essentially the same way.
Key to this reorganization was the National Security Act of 1947, which
(1) Established the National Security Council to integrate “domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving national security”
(2) Established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US’s first peacetime intelligence agency
(3) Merged the Department of War (now the Department of the Army) and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment, headed by the Secretary of Defense [The NME was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949, bringing the Air Force into the fold.]
(4) Established the Joint Chiefs of Staff system
(5) Ensured that the domestic economy would provide the necessary resources for defense and national security purposes
The National Security Act of 1947 certainly did a lot. One thing it didn’t do, however, was put forth a definition of “national security”:
The concept remained one which was to be defined through positive action, and tautologically, by those who had exercised power in the military, financial, and bureaucratic elites.
Economic reorganization and the Quelling of Labor Unrest
Postwar economic reorganization accompanied postwar military reorganization with the Employment Act of 1946
. The bill created, among other things, the Council of Economic Advisors and the Joint Economic Committee. It aimed to create conditions “under which there will be afforded useful employment opportunities, including self-employment, for those able, willing and seeking to work, and to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.” Truman and other Democrats had sacrificed
the goal of “full employment” in order to win Republican support for the final bill. To appease business interests, the bill also stressed the need to prevent inflation, and it offered no challenge to corporate profits. In the following decades, federal military contracts helped guarantee some role (a small one, though) for labor in the new governance system. Similarly, military spending became the key tool in achieving such employment goals.
Key to the postwar economic framework was the primacy of economic growth because growth offered elites a potential way to resolve class conflict:
The overall size of the economic pie was ever increasing, but the American dream, made tangible by economic growth, masked the question of who would slice the shares.
In addition to seeking to avoid talking about redistribution, elites wanted to rolll back labor's gains. The following year, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act
(over Truman’s veto) in order to curb the rise in power of organized labor. The bill outlawed the closed shop, prohibited secondary boycotts, authorized individual states to pass “right-to-work” laws, authorized the President to intervene in strikes that create a national emergency, required union leaders to file affidavits with the Department of Labor swearing that they were not supporters of the Communist Party, and allowed employers to deliver anti-union messages in the workplace.
The Enlarged Presidency
The New Deal began a shift in decision-making power away from the Congress to the presidency, a trend that would continue (and increase) in the postwar era. Although liberals hoped and conservatives feared that this enlarged, activist executive would its powers for far-reaching social reform, Raskin offers a more skeptical analysis:
It saved capitalism through the appearance of changing class relations and through enormous political efforts at rationalizing the long term interests of the largest corporate elements of the society with organized labor and government…By the beginning of Roosevelt’s third term, it was clear that the corporations and then the military, needed the Presidency as a fundamental instrument either to extend their power or to assure that they would receive as much as they formerly received in benefits from society. In other words, the office of the Presidency was the victim of a deepening crisis in the political and economic structure in the course of which leaders of corporate, police, and military institutions sought action to ‘save’ their class interests.
The support of the modern president from established power rested (rests) on three pillars:
(1) Willingness to “rationalize” class relations (particularly by emphasizing economic growth to obviate the need for redistribution)
(2) Protection of the military and national security apparatus
(3) Ostensible deference to Congress and the Constitution
So far as these were met, the presidents powers could go unchecked.
Democratic advances in history have always involved reining in the powers of the executive and increasing the power of the legislature and the engagement of the public. Not the opposite.
The Undermining of the Rule of Law
Marcus Raskin looks at the abuses of the CIA and the FBI within the context of the definition of the rule of law offered by Bernard Schwartz in Powers of Government (1963):
(1) The absence of arbitrary power
(2) The subjugation of the State and its officers to the ordinary law
(3) The recognition of basic principles superior to the State itself
The national security state, as we can see today as well, fails all three of these tests.
If you read the full article (you should!), you can see the examples from the 1960s and 1970s that Raskin offers. However, we have plenty of examples from today.
To name a few:
The kangaroo FISA court
The drone war still under CIA control, with an ever-growing civlian death toll the US government never acknowledges
Immunity to all involved with the torture regime, except the whistleblower
The US's refusal to extradite CIA agent Robert Seldon Lady
The vast, unaccountable spying apparatus of the NSA
The FBI's history of spying on peaceful activists
Our well-entrenched double state
The fact that the FBI allowed informants to break the law at least 5,939 times in 2012
The recognition of principles superior to the state is central to the concept of human rights and of the justification for civil disobedience when the state violates such rights.
Appropos of today's holiday, I'll highlight this passage from Raskin:
The courts have attempted to recognize constitutional rights of the citizenry as they relate to equality of opportunity. They have also attempted to give proper credence to the civil rights of people, thereby recognizing “personhood” and those rights which attach to a person qua person as well as those which attach to a person qua citizen. This objective has not been shared by the police apparatus. Thus the FBI, throughout the period of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, had the unfortunate habit of allowing the local police to beat and jail civil rights demonstrators. And the FBI as well as the CIA infiltrated black nationalist groups in the ghetto for the specific purpose of ridiculing and discrediting their organizing attempts. There was no recognition by the police agencies that the struggles of the civil rights movement were for natural human rights.
And there still isn't.
Imperialism as a "Self-Justifying Instrument of Domestic Policy"
With the devastation of the European continent following the war, the US took on the mantle of defender of “Western civilization” and the exporter of the West’s values. To counter the isolationist impulse of the American public, foreign policy elites and government officials cloaked their efforts in the language of “beneficent internationalism.” Never mind the fact that most of the funding from the Marshall Plan went to purchasing US-produced food and manufactured goods.
Raskin describes the ideology of the American liberal imperialist:
Officials believed in the importance of their work, for they thought that they were continuing a crusade. In personal terms, middle class achievers saw imperial activities as the new frontier for their energies and ambitions. In poor countries, western methods of organizing people were embraced by local bureaucracies and elites trained by the Americans. Latin American and Asian nations organized their armed forces and internal security systems along lines laid out by the members of the national security apparatus. For close to twenty years, it was assumed that disagreements in public policy were not over ends, but merely means. Liberal ideologists like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., referred to the "vital center,"intending to legitimate the narrowness of debate. The task of liberals was to screen out views that did not fit into the corporate liberal consensus, the ground upon which the national security apparatus was constructed.
And the national security bureaucracy always had self-justifying “facts,” premises, theories, and hypotheses ready to defend its efforts. Raskin cites the fact that the Department of Defense, starting in 1967, had begun to argue that a terrible bloodbath would ensue in Vietnam if the US ended its war there. Sound familiar to anyone?
However, the ever-growing expenditures to maintain and expand an empire take a toll on the well-being of those at home:
The dull work of making places that children could play in, or buildings that people could live in and work in, was never able to match the overthrow of Arbenz or the romance of making nuclear weapons. The social energy of the nation went to the moon shots, wars and their preparation, or paving highways to escape the cities…The contradiction between the city and the national security state will grow greater over the next decade, as it becomes clear to all that to retain the imperial conceit, the alliances, the bureaucratic apparatus, the global corporations, and so on, greater and greater sacrifices will be required of the people in the cities—especially working and middle-class.
Raskin concludes with words that still resonate strongly today:
It has been the historic role of liberalism to distill the changes which the militancy of revolt reflects and to replace this militancy with an ordered method of bringing about change…However, liberalism lost its mediating role and the practitioners of liberalism found themselves as political covers for the national security state. They were coopted and they became the fig leaf of imperialism…They worked on means of organizing imperialism and of using the Keynesian principle of economic growth and defense spending as a central mechanism of avoiding class conflict. But this choice has given rise to new perplexities. Liberals have not been able to hold back the dual state, internalize the cultural revolution of the 1960s in their thought and action, or criticize in any fundamental sense the corporate oligopoly system. Thus, the political question is whether liberals have any sort of role to play as mediators in a society whose ideological compass is broken. It would seem that they have none unless they renounce the national security apparatus and develop a full employment economy which is not dependent on the whims of corporations or the defense department. They need to also realize that the democratizing process must include economic democracy and the means of holding in common what is basic to the well-being of society. These are matters which must be debated locally, in schools, factories, churches, and neighborhood bars.
The society is at a turning point. And in this regard so is the legal profession. Either we will surrender representative democracy, embracing instead different forms of corporate fascism and bureaucratic control (military, police and social) which cannot be halted through citizen action and democratic processes, or we (including the legal profession) will begin the difficult task of dismantling the national security state apparatus. It does not seem likely to me that those who struggled in the sixties to develop a new meaning of democracy will settle for bureaucratic or corporate fascism. And those who are neutral on the question will be less likely to acquiesce in fascist or bonpartist deformations once it is clear that they are inefficient, and that they provide only insecurity, unemployment, imperial wars, a deepening arms race, and a process of repressive exclusion which reduces politics to an empty game.
Plus ça change...
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