Saturday, 28 November 2009

‘Why Work?’ by Dorothy L. Sayers

One of 7 essays by Sayers in Creed or Chaos (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949):

I have already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.

It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.

It is interesting to consider for a moment how our outlook has been forcibly changed for us in the last twelve months by the brutal presence of war. War is a judgment that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe. People who would not revise their ideas voluntarily find themselves compelled to do so by the sheer pressure of the events which these very ideas have served to bring about.

Never think that wars are irrational catastrophes: they happen when wrong ways of thinking and living bring about intolerable situations; and whichever side may be the more outrageous in its aims and the more brutal in its methods, the root causes of conflict are usually to be found in some wrong way of life in which all parties have acquiesced, and for which everybody must, to some extent, bear the blame.

It is quite true that false Economics are one of the root causes of the present war; and one of the false ideas we had about Economics was a false attitude both to Work and to the good produced by Work. This attitude we are now being obliged to alter, under the compulsion of war – and a very strange and painful process it is in some ways. It is always strange and painful to have to change a habit of mind; though, when we have made the effort, we may find a great relief, even a sense of adventure and delight, in getting rid of the false and returning to the true.

Can you remember – it is already getting difficult to remember – what things were like before the war? The stockings we bought cheap and threw away to save the trouble of mending? The cars we scrapped every year to keep up with the latest fashion in engine design and streamlining? The bread and bones and scraps of fat that littered the dustbins – not only of the rich, but of the poor? The empty bottles that even the dustman scorned to collect, because the manufacturers found it cheaper to make new ones than to clean the old? The mountains of empty tins that nobody found it worthwhile to salvage, rusting and stinking on the refuse dumps? The food that was burnt or buried because it did not pay to distribute it? The land choked and impoverished with thistle and ragwort, because it did not pay to farm it? The handkerchiefs used for paint rags and kettleholders? The electric lights left blazing because it was too much trouble to switch them off? The fresh peas we could not be bothered to shell, and threw aside for something out of a tin? The paper that cumbered the shelves, and lay knee-deep in the parks, and littered the seats of railway trains? The scattered hairpins and smashed crockery, the cheap knickknacks of steel and wood and rubber and glass and tin that we bought to fill in an odd half hour at Woolworth’s and forgot as soon as we had bought them? The advertisements imploring and exhorting and cajoling and menacing and bullying us to glut ourselves with things we did not want, in the name of snobbery and idleness and sex appeal? And the fierce international scramble to find in helpless and backward nations a market on which to fob off all the superfluous rubbish which the inexorable machines ground out hour by hour, to create money and to create employment?

Do you realize how we have had to alter our whole scale of values, now that we are no longer being urged to consume but to conserve? We have been forced back to the social morals of our great-grandparents. When a piece of lingerie costs three precious coupons, we have to consider, not merely its glamour value, but how long it will wear. When fats are rationed, we must not throw away scraps, but jealously use to advantage what it cost so much time and trouble to breed and rear. When paper is scarce we must – or we should – think whether what we have to say is worth saying before writing or printing it. When our life depends on the land, we have to pay in short commons for destroying its fertility by neglect or overcropping. When a haul of herrings takes valuable manpower from the forces, and is gathered in at the peril of men’s lives by bomb and mine and machine gun, we read a new significance into those gloomy words which appear so often in the fishmonger’s shop: NO FISH TODAY.... We have had to learn the bitter lesson that in all the world there are only two sources of real wealth: the fruit of the earth and the labor of men; and to estimate work not by the money it brings to the producer, but by the worth of the thing that is made.

The question that I will ask you to consider today is this: When the war is over, are we likely, and do we want, to keep this attitude to work and the results of work? Or are we preparing, and do we want, to go back to our old habits of thought? Because I believe that on our answer to this question the whole economic future of society will depend.

Sooner or later the moment will come when we have to make a decision about this. At the moment, we are not making it – don’t let us flatter ourselves that we are. It is being made for us. And don’t let us imagine that a wartime economy has stopped waste. It has not. It has only transferred it elsewhere. The glut and waste that used to clutter our own dustbins have been removed to the field of battle. That is where all the surplus consumption is going. The factories are roaring more loudly than ever, turning out night and day goods that are of no conceivable value for the maintenance of life; on the contrary, their sole object is to destroy life, and instead of being thrown away they are being blown away – in Russia, in North Africa, over Occupied France, in Burma, China, and the Spice Islands, and on the Seven Seas.

What is going to happen when the factories stop turning out armaments? No nation has yet found a way to keep the machines running and whole nations employed under modern industrial conditions without wasteful consumption. For a time, a few nations could contrive to keep going by securing a monopoly of production and forcing their waste products on to new and untapped markets. When there are no new markets and all nations are industrial producers, the only choice we have been able to envisage so far has been that between armaments and unemployment. This is the problem that some time or other will stare us in the face again, and this time we must have our minds ready to tackle it. It may not come at once – for it is quite likely that after the war we shall have to go through a further period of managed consumption while the shortages caused by the war are being made good. But sooner or later we shall have to grapple with this difficulty, and everything will depend on our attitude of mind about it.

Shall we be prepared to take the same attitude to the arts of peace as to the arts of war? I see no reason why we should not sacrifice our convenience and our individual standard of living just as readily for the building of great public works as for the building of ships and tanks – but when the stimulus of fear and anger is removed, shall we be prepared to do any such thing? Or shall we want to go back to that civilization of greed and waste which we dignify by the name of a “high standard of living”? I am getting very much afraid of that phrase about the standard of living. And I am also frightened by the phrase “after the war” – it is so often pronounced in a tone that suggests: “after the war, we want to relax, and go back, and live as we did before.” And that means going back to the time when labor was valued in terms of its cash returns, and not in terms of the work.

Now the answer to this question, if we are resolute to know what we are about, will not be left to rich men – to manufacturers and financiers. If these people have governed the world of late years it is only because we ourselves put the power into their hands. The question can and should be answered by the worker and the consumer.

It is extremely important that the worker should really understand where the problem lies. It is a matter of brutal fact that in these days labor, more than any other section of the community, has a vested interest in war. Some rich employers make profit out of war – that is true; but what is infinitely more important is that for all working people war means full employment and high wages.

When war ceases, then the problem of employing labor at the machines begins again. The relentless pressure of hungry labor is behind the drive toward wasteful consumption, whether in the destruction of war or in the trumpery of peace.

The problem is far too simplified when it is presented as a mere conflict between labor and capital, between employed and employer. The basic difficulty remains, even when you make the State the sole employer, even when you make Labor into the employer. It is not simply a question of profits and wages or living conditions – but of what is to be done with the work of the machines, and what work the machines are to do.

If we do not deal with this question now, while we have time to think about it, then the whirligig of wasteful production and wasteful consumption will start again and will again end in war. And the driving power of labor will be thrusting to turn the wheels, because it is to the financial interest of labor to keep the whirligig going faster and faster till the inevitable catastrophe comes.

And, so that those wheels may turn, the consumer – that is, you and I, including the workers, who are consumers also – will again be urged to consume and waste; and unless we change our attitude – or rather unless we keep hold of the new attitude forced upon us by the logic of war – we shall again be bamboozled by our vanity, indolence, and greed into keeping the squirrel cage of wasteful economy turning. We could – you and I – bring the whole fantastic economy of profitable waste down to the ground overnight, without legislation and without revolution, merely by refusing to cooperate with it. I say, we could – as a matter of fact, we have; or rather, it has been done for us. If we do not want to rise up again after the war, we can prevent it – simply by preserving the wartime habit of valuing work instead of money. The point is: do we want to?....

Whatever we do, we shall be faced with grave difficulties. That cannot be disguised. But it will make a great difference to the result if we are genuinely aiming at a real change in economic thinking. And by that I mean a radical change from top to bottom – a new system; not a mere adjustment of the old system to favor a different set of people.

The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people. We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” And shareholders in – let us say – brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholders’ meeting and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether the workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly and with a proper sense of personal responsibility: “What goes into the beer?”

You will probably ask at once: How is this altered attitude going to make any difference to the question of employment? Because it sounds as though it would result in not more employment, but less. I am not an economist, and I can only point to a peculiarity of war economy that usually goes without notice in economic textbooks, In war, production for wasteful consumption still goes on: but there is one great difference in the good produced. None of them is valued for what it will fetch, but only for what it is worth in itself. The gun and the tank, the airplane and the warship have to be the best of their kind. A war consumer does not buy shoddy. He does not buy to sell again. He buys the thing that is good for its purpose, asking nothing of it but that it shall do the job it has to do. Once again, war forces the consumer into a right attitude to the work. And, whether by strange coincidence, or whether because of some universal law, as soon as nothing is demanded of the thing made but its own integral perfection, its own absolute value, the skill and labor of the worker are fully employed and likewise acquire an absolute value.

This is probably not the kind of answer that you will find in any theory of economics. But the professional economist is not really trained to answer, or even to ask himself questions about absolute values. The economist is inside the squirrel cage and turning with it. Any question about absolute values belongs to the sphere, not of economics, but of religion.

And it is very possible that we cannot deal with economics as all, unless we can see economy from outside the cage; that we cannot begin to settle the relative values without considering absolute values. And if so, this may give a very precise and practical meaning to the words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”…. I am persuaded that the reason why the Churches are in so much difficulty about giving a lead in the economic sphere is because they are trying to fit a Christian standard of economic to a wholly false and pagan understanding of work.

What is the Christian understanding of work? .... I should like to put before you two or three propositions arising out of the doctrinal position which I stated at the beginning: namely, that work is the natural exercise and function of man – the creature who is made in the image of his Creator. You will find that any of them if given in effect everyday practice, is so revolutionary (as compared with the habits of thinking into which we have fallen), as to make all political revolutions look like conformity.

The first, stated quite briefly, is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

Now the consequences of this are not merely that the work should be performed under decent living and working conditions. That is a point we have begun to grasp, and it a perfectly sound point. But we have tended to concentrate on it to the exclusion of other considerations far more revolutionary.

(a) There is, for instance, the question of profits and remuneration. We have all got it fixed in our heads that the proper end of work is to be paid for – to produce a return in profits or payment to the worker which fully or more than compensates the effort he puts into it. But if our proposition is true, this does not follow at all. So long as Society provides the worker with a sufficient return in real wealth to enable him to carry on the work properly, then he has his reward. For his work is the measure of his life, and his satisfaction is found in the fulfillment of his own nature, and in contemplation of the perfection of his work.

That, in practice, there is this satisfaction, is shown by the mere fact that a man will put loving labor into some hobby which can never bring him may economically adequate return. His satisfaction comes, in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has made and finding it very good. He is no longer bargaining with his work, but serving it. It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to be extracted. What most of us demand from society is that we should always get out of it a little more than the value of the labor we give to it. By this process, we persuade ourselves that society is always in our debt – a conviction that not only piles up actual financial burdens, but leaves us with a grudge against society.

(b) Here is the second consequence. At present we have no clear grasp of the principle that every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature. The employer is obsessed by the notion that he must find cheap labor, and the worker by the notion that the best-paid job is the job for him. Only feebly, inadequately, and spasmodically do we ever attempt to tackle the problem from the other end, and inquire: What type of worker is suited to this type of work? People engaged in education see clearly that this is the right end to start from: but they are frustrated by economic pressure, and by the failure of parents on the one hand and employers on the other to grasp the fundamental importance of this approach. And that the trouble results far more from a failure of intelligence than from economic necessity is seen clearly under war conditions, when, although competitive economics are no longer a governing factor, the right men and women are still persistently thrust into the wrong jobs, through sheer inability on everybody’s part to imaging a purely vocational approach to the business of fitting together the worker and his work.

(c) A third consequence is that, if we really believed this proposition and arranged our work and our standard of values accordingly, we should no longer think of work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure; we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work. And this being so, we should tolerate no regulations of any sort that prevented us from working as long and as well as our enjoyment of work demanded. We should resent any such restrictions as a monstrous interference with the liberty of the subject. How great an upheaval of our ideas that would mean I leave you to imagine. It would turn topsy-turvy all our notions about hours of work, rates of work, unfair competition, and all the rest of it. We should all find ourselves fighting, as now only artists and the members of certain professions fight, for precious time in which to get on with the job – instead of fighting for precious hours saved from the job.

(d) A fourth consequence is that we should fight tooth and nail, not for mere employment, but for the quality of the work that we had to do. We should clamor to be engaged in work that was worth doing, and in which we could take pride. The worker would demand that the stuff he helped to turn out should be good stuff – he would no longer be content to take the cash and let the credit go. Like the shareholders in the brewery, he would feel a sense of personal responsibility, and clamor to know, and to control, what went into the beer he brewed. There would be protests and strikes – not only about pay and conditions, but about the quality of the work demanded and the honesty, beauty, and usefulness of the goods produced. The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.

This first proposition chiefly concerns the worker as such. My second proposition directly concerns Christian as such, and it is this. It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work. The Church must concern Herself not only with such questions as the just price and proper working conditions: She must concern Herself with seeing that work itself is such as a human being can perform without degradation – that no one is required by economic or any other considerations to devote himself to work that is contemptible, soul destroying, or harmful. It is not right for Her to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.

But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.

And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.

Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade – not outside it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word. Bu the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.

The official Church wastes time and energy, and moreover, commits sacrilege, in demanding that secular workers should neglect their proper vocation in order to do Christian work – by which She means ecclesiastical work. The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery, or sewage farming. As Jacques Maritain says: “If you want to produce Christian work, be a Christian, and try to make a work of beauty into which you have put your heart; do not adopt a Christian pose.” He is right. And let the Church remember that the beauty of the work will be judged by its own, and not by ecclesiastical standards.

Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. When my play The Zeal of Thy House was produced in London, a dear old pious lady was much struck by the beauty of the four great archangels who stood throughout the play in their heavy, gold robes, eleven feet high from wingtip to sandaltip. She asked with great innocence whether I selected the actors who played the angels “for the excellence of their moral character.”

I replied that the angels were selected to begin with, not by me but by the producer, who had the technical qualifications for selecting suitable actors – for that was part of his vocation. And that he selected, in the first place, young men who were six feet tall so that they would match properly together. Secondly, angels had to be of good physique, so as to be able to stand stiff on the stage for two and a half hours, carrying the weight of their wings and costumes, without wobbling, or fidgeting, or fainting. Thirdly, they had to be able to speak verse well, in an agreeable voice and audibly. Fourthly, they had to be reasonable good actors. When all these technical conditions had been fulfilled, we might come to the moral qualities, of which the first would be the ability to arrive on stage punctually and in a sober condition, since the curtain must go up on time, and a drunken angel would be indecorous.

After that, and only after that, one might take character into consideration, but that, provided his behavior was not so scandalous as to cause dissension among the company, the right kind of actor with no morals would give a far more reverent and seemly performance than a saintly actor with the wrong technical qualifications. The worst religious films I ever saw were produced by a company which chose its staff exclusively for their piety. Bad photography, bad acting, and bad dialogue produced a result so grotesquely irreverent that the pictures could not have been shown in churches without bringing Christianity into contempt.

God is not served by technical incompetence; and incompetence and untruth always result when the secular vocation is treated as a thing alien to religion….

And conversely: when you find a man who is a Christian praising God by the excellence of his work – do not distract him and take him away from his proper vocation to address religious meetings and open church bazaars. Let him serve God in the way to which God has called him. If you take him away from that, he will exhaust himself in an alien technique and lose his capacity to do his dedicated work. It is your business, you churchmen, to get what good you can from observing his work – not to take him away from it, so that he may do ecclesiastical work for you. But, if you have any power, see that he is set free to do this own work as well as it may be done. He is not there to serve you; he is there to serve God by serving his work.

This brings me to my third proposition; and this may sound to you the most revolutionary of all. It is this: the worker’s first duty is to serve the work. The popular catchphrase of today is that it is everybody’s duty to serve the community, but there is a catch in it. It is the old catch about the two great commandments. “Love God – and your neighbor: on those two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The catch in it, which nowadays the world has largely forgotten, is that the second commandment depends upon the first, and that without the first, it is a delusion and a snare. Much of our present trouble and disillusionment have come from putting the second commandment before the first.

If we put our neighbor first, we are putting man above God, and that is what we have been doing ever since we began to worship humanity and make man the measure of all things. Whenever man is made the center of things, he becomes the storm center of trouble – and that is precisely the catch about serving the community. It ought perhaps to make us suspicious of that phrase when we consider that it is the slogan of every commercial scoundrel and swindler who wants to make sharp business practice pass muster as social improvement.

“Service” is the motto of the advertiser, of big business, and of fraudulent finance. And of others, too. Listen to this: “I expect the judiciary to understand that the nation does not exist for their convenience, but that justice exists to serve the nation.” That was Hitler yesterday – and that is what becomes of “service,” when the community, and not the work, becomes its idol. There is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community, and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work; the only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work. There are three very good reasons for this:

The first is that you cannot do good work if you take your mind off the work to see how the community is taking it – any more than you can make a good drive from the tee if you take your eye off the ball. “Blessed are the single hearted: (for that is the real meaning of the word we translate “the pure in heart”). If your heart is not wholly in the work, the work will not be good – and work that is not good serves neither God nor the community; it only serves mammon.

The second reason is that the moment you think of serving other people, you begin to have a notion that other people owe you something for your pains; you begin to think that you have a claim on the community. You will begin to bargain for reward, to angle for applause, and to harbor a grievance if you are not appreciated. But if your mind is set upon serving the work, then you know you have nothing to look for; the only reward the work can give you is the satisfaction of beholding its perfection. The work takes all and gives nothing but itself; and to serve the work is a labor of pure love.

And thirdly, if you set out to serve the community, you will probably end by merely fulfilling a public demand – and you may not even do that. A public demand is a changeable thing. Nine-tenths of the bad plays put on in theaters owe their badness to the fact that the playwright has aimed at pleasing the audience, in stead of at producing a good and satisfactory play. Instead of doing the work as its own integrity demands that it should be done, he has falsified the play by putting in this or that which he thinks will appeal to the groundlings (who by that time have probably come to want something else), and the play fails by its insincerity. The work has been falsified to please the public, and in the end even the public is not pleased. As it is with works of art, so it is with all work.

We are coming to the end of an era of civilization which began by pandering to public demand, and ended by frantically trying to create public demand for an output so false and meaningless that even a doped public revolted from the trash offered to it and plugged into war rather than swallow anymore of it. The danger of “serving the community” is that one is part of the community, and that in serving it one may only be serving a kind of communal egotism.

The only true way of serving the community is to be truly in sympathy with the community, to be oneself part of the community and then to serve the work without giving the community another thought. Then the work will endure, because it will be true to itself. It is the work that serves the community; the business of the worker is to serve the work.

Where we have become confused is in mixing up the ends to which our work is put with the way in which the work is done. The end of the work will be decided by our religious outlook: as we are so we make. It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves. But the way in which the work is done is governed by no sanction except the good of the of work itself; and religion has no direct connection with that, except to insist that the workman should be free to do his work well according to its own integrity. Jacques Maritain, one of the very few religious writers of our time who really understands the nature of creative work, has summed the matter up in a sentence.

What is required is the perfect practical discrimination between the end pursued by the workman (finis operantis, said the Schoolmen) and the end to be served by the work (finis operis), so that the workman may work for his wages but the work be controlled and set in being only in relation to its own proper good and nowise in relation to the wages earned; so that the artist may work for any and every human intention he likes, but the work taken by itself be performed and constructed for its own proper beauty alone.

Or perhaps we may put it more shortly still: If work is to find its right place in the world, it is the duty of the Church to see to it that the work serves God, and that the worker serves the work.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Russell Kirk on Brooks Adams

From Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Santayana (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953).

Kirk on Henry Adams here.

Just how far the acceleration of the human movement may go it is impossible to determine; but it seems certain that, sooner or later, consolidation, having reached its limit, will necessarily stop. There is nothing stationary in the universe. Not to advance is to go backward, and when a highly centralized society disintegrates under the pressure of economic competition, it is because the energy of the race has been exhausted.
-- Brooks Adams, preface to the French edition of The Law of Civilization and Decay

Brooks Adams confessed himself to be an eccentric; and so he was; but he belonged to the grand tradition of eccentricity, and published his novel and gloomy doctrines with the old Adams fearlessness. Whether he ought to be called a conservative is more debatable. He was disgusted with American society in his day; his books were calculated to win the attention of the free-silver men and the socialists; he thought inertia was social death, and that the only chance for survival


lay in acceptance of progress and adjustment to change; he denounced the capitalists and bankers nearly as vehemently as Marx had done-and in several particulars, notably his economic determinism, Brooks Adams' ideas ran parallel with Marx's. All the same, he detested the very process of change which he urged society to accept, longed hopelessly for the republic of Washington and John Adams, condemned democracy as symptom and cause of social decay, and toward the end of his days professed his faith in the church of his ancestors. His detestation of capitalism resulted from his abhorrence of turbulent competition; he seems to have been desperately hungry for stability and order; but by the logic of his own economic and historical theories, permanence never is found in this universe.

In this crisis of my fate [the panic of 1893] I learned, as a lawyer and a student of history and of economics, to look on man, as a pure automaton, who is moved along the paths of least resistance by forces over which he has no control. In short, I reverted to the pure Calvinistic philosophy. As I perceived that the strongest of human passions are fear and greed, I inferred that so much and no more might be expected from a pure democracy as might be expected from any automaton so actuated. As a forecast I suggested that the first great social movement we might expect, should be the advent of something resembling an usurer's paradise, to be presently followed by some such convulsion as has always formed a part of such conditions since the beginning of time.

This is the general theme of his four books, The Law of Civilization and Decay, America's Economic Supremacy, The New Empire, and The Theory of Social Revolutions; they expound his cyclical theory of history and his conviction that man is the prisoner of economic force. Civilization is the product of centralization, and grows up about the centers of exchange; as the agents of central political and economic organization subdue the men of simpler rural economies-the Romans conquering their provinces, the middle classes accomplishing the Reformation, the proprietors evicting the yeomen, Spain crushing the Indians-civilization grows richer and richer. The highest product of this civilization, ironically enough, is the usurer; he extirpates the military classes which once predominated; but the usurer and his gross culture seem to infect the race with morbid afflictions, quite as they stifle the spirit of art. Social vitality dwindles, the great centralized economy no longer can operate efficiently, decay and collapse follow,


and decentralized, barbarous life is triumphant once more--to be succeeded, in the course of centuries, by a repetition of the same bloody and purposeless history.

The economic center of the civilized world--which determines the social equilibrium--has shifted westward throughout history: Babylon to Rome, Rome to Constantinople, Constantinople to Venice, Venice to Antwerp. It flourished in Holland as late as 1760, but by 1815 it was in London; the tide has been running since toward America, and that transfer of economic and political power now is nearly complete - so Brooks Adams wrote in 1900. The Spanish-American War was a token of American economic supremacy. England is faced with a long and dreadful decay, and America must take precautions to avoid participating in the ultimate collapse of Britain. A tremendous contest begins to loom between the power of Asia, possibly dominated by Russia, and the American power; the question will be decided in China and Korea, and in years to come, the mineral resources of China will produce a new economic phase. To win in this competition will require intense centralization: "If expansion and concentration are necessary, because the administration of the largest mass is the least costly, then America must expand and concentrate until the limit of the possible is attained; for Governments are simply huge corporations in competition, in which the most economical, in proportion to its energy, survives, and in which the wasteful and slow are undersold and eliminated."

Cheapness of production and distribution is the source of success in economic life, and therefore in civilization. Centralization probably is proportionate to velocity, and the most vertiginous nation triumphs over its neighbors. These contentions are sustained by an examination of Syrian, Persian, Hellenic, Roman, Central Asian, Flemish, Spanish, and Russian civilizations.

Although the immediate consequence of competition and centralization is success, its ultimate effect is degradation. The usurer, whose whole view is economic, is at once the most complete product of civilization and the most limited and ignoble type of man. "To this money-making attribute all else has been sacrificed, and the modern capitalist thinks in terms of money more exclusively than the French aristocrat or lawyer before the French Revolution ever thought in terms of caste." Too stupid even to realize the necessity for reverencing and obeying the law that shelters him from social revolution, the


capitalist lacks capacity sufficient for the administration of the society he has made his own. Woman and the producer and the man of thought already have been debased by the rule of capitalism or state socialism -- two sides of a coin -- so that no vitality remains in society to prevent a sickening decay. Democracy, simultaneously the ally and the dupe of this soulless material civilization, proves unable to fulfill the duties of sacrifice and leadership; so the structure of social organization collapses, and the dreary cycle of endeavor commences afresh.

Yet despite his contempt for capitalistic society, despite his hereditary antipathy toward centralization, despite his abhorrence of socialism, despite his wholehearted rejection of cheapness as the real standard of achievement, still Brooks Adams accepted the triumph of consolidation as inevitable. He urged co-operation in the process as a counterpoise to the insatiable capitalist, as homage to the instinct for self-preservation. Conservatism, social inertia, obedience to tradition - these courses of action are doomed to destruction by the impersonal processes of economic destiny. Conservatism, he writes, "resists change instinctively and not intelligently, and it is this conservatism which largely causes those violent explosions of pent-up energy which we term revolutions. . . . With conservative populations slaughter is nature's remedy." Our educational institutions should adjust themselves to this tremendous process of change, that they may make its progress less violent. We should dismiss the emotional instinct to keep things as they are, and regard government dispassionately, as we would any other business, accepting moral change, too, like all other alteration; for nothing can be done to prevent its ultimate overwhelming victory. "In American industry friction will infallibly exist between capital and labor; but that necessary friction may be indefinitely increased by conservatism. History teems with examples of civilizations which have been destroyed through an unreasoning inertia like that of Brutus, or the French privileged classes, or Patrick Henry." We must hold every judgment in suspense, subject to new evidence. "There is but one great boon which the passing generation can confer upon its successors: it can aid them to ameliorate that servitude to tradition which has so often retarded submission to the inevitable until too late."

The trouble with this injunction is that Brooks Adams neither obeyed nor believed it. No man was less likely to submit in silence to a future régime of centralization and stifling grossness; no man was less likely to abandon the moral rigidity of the Adams family for a suspension of


certitude. The conclusions of Brooks Adams rub his every prejudice the wrong way. If he had really believed in resigned co-operation with the coming order, of course he would not have written his books. The Adams family--Henry most of all--had a way of expressing themselves in sardonic paradox or grim exaggeration which has led, frequently, to misinterpretation; yet one hardly can maintain that Brooks Adams' whole philosophy was an exercise in irony. It appears rather to be a half-perverse growl of protest: Adams had been taken captive by the determinists, and was endeavoring to wear his chains with dignity. In fact, the hideous uniformity which he foresaw, and compliance with which he counselled, made up the vision of terror that John Adams and all his seed had fought against for nearly a century and a half. Expansion, consolidation, and dispassionate reception of change, which he pretended to recommend, he really knew to be the poison of everything he honored, and this half-suppressed groan of torment persisted in escaping from him, giving the lie to his theories.

For the process of competition and consolidation had caused the war of 1914-1918, he wrote; and the degradation of leadership which that process entailed had made the establishment of a wise peace impossible. Even more horrifying was the unsexing of women by the industrial capitalistic movement. The sexual instinct had been suppressed in our thought, ignored in our education, and converted in woman to a shameful and shamefaced imitation of man. "The woman, as the cement of society, the head of the family, and the centre of cohesion, has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. She has become a wandering isolated unit, rather a dispersive than a collective force." The family principle decays so that the whole structure of life is in peril. Our system of law, too, is corrupted by the poison. Taxation is making social diversity and inheritance of property negligible. The democratic proclivity for levelling downward, which we see in the trade union, conflicts with nature's system of competition, and a gigantic explosion must be the consequence. "Social war, or massacre, would seem to be the natural ending of the democratic philosophy." If this is the probable future after we submit to resistless change, it seems curious to recommend abandonment of tradition for the sake of tranquil adjustment. Brooks Adams never attained consistency in his argument with himself; his erudite and picturesque books are full of brilliant generalizations and curious deductions, but empty of orderly affirmation.

He was certain only of dissolution. "Hardly had Washington gone


to his grave when the levelling work of the system of averages, on which democracy rests, began. . . . Democracy is an infinite mass of conflicting minds and of conflicting interests which, by the persistent action of such a solvent as the modern or competitive industrial system, becomes resolved into what it is, in substance, a vapor, which loses in collective intellectual energy in proportion to the perfection of its expansion." The new American empire, the coming American economic supremacy, must therefore be accompanied by a loss in intelligence and freedom which would efface the American system of Washington or Adams or Jefferson. We must face this expansive vista of material triumph and spiritual extirpation; indeed, we must embrace it: "Americans in former generations led a simple agricultural life. Possibly such a life was happier than ours. Very probably keen competition is not a blessing. We cannot alter our environment. Nature has cast the United States into the vortex of the fiercest struggle which the world has ever known. She has become the heart of the economic system of the age, and she must maintain her supremacy by wit and by force, or share the fate of the discarded."

There is a ring of Huxley and Spencer in this, the echo of "competitive evolution" and aggressive positivism; the chains of Brooks Adams' captivity to the scientific determinists clank. After all, might not "sharing the fate of the discarded" be preferable to sharing the fate of the victors, in a contest of this description, where the sacrifices seem to exceed the prizes? This is imperialism without the assurance of Roosevelt or Chamberlain, without the hope and consecration of Kipling. From the viewpoint of orthodox Christianity, it would be better far to join the discarded, rather than enter voluntarily upon the next phase of degradation; but Brooks Adams' religious convictions, like his brother's, were hardly more than vestiginal. Marxism's ravages upon traditional society have not been inflicted chiefly by revolutionary proselytizing: the corrosive influences of Marxist deterministic theories, instead, have sapped the resolution of men who despise the Marxist creed as a whole. The prophecies of Marxism are of the order which accomplish their own fulfillment, if they are given initial credence. Comte, Marx, and the exponents of scientific positivism destroyed in Henry and Brooks Adams the belief that had made the Adams family great: the idea of Providence and Purpose.

Such were the fortunes of American conservative belief in a swaggering half-century. Insatiable expansion was the passion of that age,


and the forces of aggrandizement pressed their assault upon the broken walls of prescription and convention. The ruin of the South deprived the nation of that region's conservative influence. It opened the way for protective tariffs undreamed of before, for exploitation of the empty West, for the triumph of urban interests over the rural population, for a system of life in which culture was wholly subordinated to economic appetite. The immigration this age demanded to satisfy its booming industries changed the character of the American population, so that Lowell's "New Ireland" soon was engulfed by the deluge of Italians, Poles, Portuguese, and Central Europeans whose bewilderment secured the urban bosses in their mastery of public life. The cake of custom was more than broken: it was ground underfoot. The American educational system, relied upon to discipline this rough age and assimilate these alien masses, was itself confused and lowered in tone by the inundation of change. And, appetite whetting yet newer appetite, the nation blundered with McKinley into an unblushing rapacity, with Theodore Roosevelt into a rubicund belligerence. Genuine conservatives found no chance to catch their breath.

Even had conservatives been able to command any substantial body of public opinion, they scarcely would have known what way to lead the nation. Unsettled in their first principles by the claims of nineteenth-century science, doubting their old metaphysical values, they shrank before the Positivists, the Darwinians, and the astronomers. Lowell endeavored to ignore the new science; Brooks Adams was reduced to nihilism by his deductions from it. By the time the First World War ended, true conservatism was nearly extinct in the United States-existing only in little circles of stubborn men who refused to be caught up in the expansive lust of their epoch, or in the vague resistance to change still prevalent among the rural population, or, in a muddled and half-hearted fashion, within certain churches and colleges. Everywhere else, change was preferred to continuity.

The automobile, practical since 1906, was proceeding to disintegrate and stamp anew the pattern of communication, manners, and city-life in the United States, by 1918; before long, men would begin to see that the automobile, and the mass-production techniques which made it possible, could alter national character and morality more thoroughly than could the most absolute of tyrants. As a mechanical Jacobin, it rivalled the dynamo. The productive process which made these vehicles cheap was still more subversive of old ways than was the gasoline engine


itself. Henry Ford, the Midas of velocity, swept out of memory the simplicities of his boyhood; and, growing old, he sought a refuge within the brick walls of his gigantic open-air museum of antiquities, a man of physical forms confounded by the influence of gadgets on ideas. The mass-production methods of which he was the most eminent exploiter were accomplishing more to alter human nature than even the steam-engine had done, dissolving pride of station and family. "It destroys the social prestige of traditional occupations and skills and with it the satisfaction of the individual in his traditional work," Mr. Peter Drucker says of the assembly-line and the new-style industrialism. "It uproots-quite literally-the individual from the social soil in which he has grown. It devaluates his traditional values, and paralyzes his traditional behavior."

Government was doing its best to equal the velocity of the industrial world. The federal income-tax amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1913, was accepted as a painful expedient in emergency, as it had been in England after Corn Law repeal; and, as in England, neither political party could manage to abolish income tax when the emergency was past. As an instrument for deliberate social alteration, the income tax soon would supplement that unconscious force, the second industrial revolution. Buffeted by these innovations and others nearly as formidable, their very principles confounded with apologies for "free enterprise" and the self-made man, it is no wonder that the conservatives were routed; it is a matter for surprise that they did not surrender incontinently. "The various horizons which you and I have passed through since the '40's are now as remote as though we had existed in the time of Marcus Aurelius," Henry Adams wrote, in the last month of his life, to his friend Gaskell; "and, in fact, I rather think that we should have been more at home among the Stoics, than we could ever hope to be in the legislative bodies of the future." It was 1918, and America was the greatest power of the world, and if the old values of life were to be conserved at all, probably America must take up the cause.


America didn’t.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Russell Kirk on Henry Adams

From Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Santayana (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953).

Today finishes, I apprehend, the silver period of our society, and gives it the coup-de-grace. We must now brace ourselves to the struggle for gold. Unless you and I are wholly in error, this struggle has got to break much old crockery and bric-à-brac, and to make a clear field for some new variety of social, political, and economic man. I have of late tended to see in it the compulsion which is to suppress still more the individual and to make society still more centralized and automatic, but the fun is in the process, and not in the result. The process bids fair to be long enough to furnish us with more than a life-long amusement.
-- Henry Adams to Brooks Adams, October 23, 1897

To dislike Henry Adams is easy. Full of the censoriousness which was so prominent a characteristic in his great ancestors, mercilessly candid in his estimate of everyone, often mocking even toward what he loved best, perfectly certain that his great-grandfather and grand-


father and father had been consistently right and their adversaries sunk in delusion or hypocrisy, but swearing by no other certitudes-this gloomy yet humorous man, whom Albert Jay Nock calls the most accomplished of all the Adams family, is the most irritating person in American letters-and the most provocative writer, and the best historian, and possibly the most penetrating critic of ideas. The best cure for vexation with Henry Adams is to read his detractors; for against his Olympian amusement at a dying world and his real inner modesty, their snarls and quibbles furnish a relief which displays Adams' learning and wit as no amount of adulation could.

A case might be made that Henry Adams represents the zenith of American civilization. Unmistakably and almost belligerently American, the end--product of four generations of exceptional rectitude and remarkable intelligence, very likely (despite his autobiography) the best-educated man American society has produced, Adams knew the history of medieval Europe as well as he knew the administration of Jefferson, understood Japan and the South Seas as he understood New England character, and perceived as no other American of his generation did the catastrophic influence which modern science would exert upon the twentieth--century mind and society. But the product of these grand gifts was a pessimism deep and unsparing as Schopenhauer's, intensified by Adams' long examination and complete rejection of popular American aspirations. Henry Adams' conservatism is the view of a man who sees before him a steep and terrible declivity, from which there can be no returning: one may have leisure to recollect past nobility, now and then one may perform the duty of delaying mankind for a moment in this descent; but the end is not to be averted.

In any account of American conservatism, the house of Adams and Harvard College must occupy a space conspicuously disproportionate, on the face of things. But one may say, without much exaggeration, that this family and that college were the conservative mind, at least in the North. Henry and Brooks Adams carry right into the triumphant imperial America of 1918 the courageous and prescient conservative tradition that John Adams founded in the days of the Boston Massacre. Harvard, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, manifests in Henry Adams, Charles Eliot Norton, Barrett Wendell, George Santayana, and Irving Babbitt the legacy of conservative republicanism which was one face of New England's genius. As professor of history at Harvard, for a few years, and editor


of the North American Review, Adams exercised upon the American mind an influence still discernible, commencing in pupils and disciples like Henry Osborn Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge and Ralph Adams Cram, and extending now in some degree to every respectable university and college in America. But this sort of influence Adams cared little for; first he hoped to become a leader of political society through the law, and later through the press; defeated in both aspirations, he turned to Chartres and the thirteenth century for consolation. "There are two things that seem to be at the bottom of our constitutions," he wrote in 1858, from Berlin, to Charles Francis Adams, Jr.; "one is a continual tendency toward politics; the other is family pride; and it is strange how these two feelings run through all of us." Fifty-three years later, it was clear to Adams how both political attainment and gratification of family pride had been frustrated for the fourth generation of his house. "I have always considered that Grant wrecked my own life, and the last hope or chance of lifting society back to a reasonably high plane. Grant's administration is to me the dividing line between what we hoped, and what we have got." In the Gilded Age and its aftermath, an Adams could not lead with success or serve with honor.

What are the sources of the monstrous corruption of modern life, the sickness Adams detected in England and in the Continent and in the comparative innocence of American civilization? He spent half his life asking that question. When a very young man at the American legation in London, Adams read John Stuart Mill, and Tocqueville, and the other liberals, and presently Comte, and Marx; but though all these authors left some trace upon Adams, he dismissed the liberals with a wry smile, retained from Comte only the idea of phase, and observed of Marx, "I think I never struck a book which taught me so much, and with which I disagreed so radically in conclusion." His convictions were inherited ideas, substantially, the convictions of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. His History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, in style and method the finest historical work by an American, judges those fateful years with the impartial dislike his grandfather and great-grandfather felt for both Jeffersonians and Hamiltonian Federalists; his novel Democracy expresses the high contempt of the Adams breed for a nation led by Blaines and Conklings, living a complex lie. What is wrong with this society, whose gifts befoul, warping the character of Roosevelt


and of Taft, cheapening even his intimate friend Hay? Adams rejected the popular answers to this question, as he rejected the popular specifics; and turning, like his ancestors, to science and history for enlightenment, he saw at work in modern times the culminating stages of a tremendous and impersonal process of degradation which had commenced centuries before, was signalized in his age by the triumph of gold over silver as a standard of value, and would rumble on resistlessly to further consolidation and centralization until socialism should be ascendant everywhere; then socialism, and civilization, would rot out.

"Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces," he wrote in his Education. "The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces." For centuries, society has frenziedly sought centralization and cheapness and incalculable physical power; now all these things are near to attainment; and they mean the end of civilized life. Once man turned from the ideal of spiritual power, the Virgin, to the ideal of physical power, the Dynamo, his doom was sure. The faith and beauty of the thirteenth century, this descendant of the Puritans declared, made that age the noblest epoch of mankind; he could imagine only one state of society worse than the rule of the capitalists in the nineteenth century-the coming rule of the trade unions in the twentieth century.

Adams' devotion to the mind and heart of the thirteenth century has exposed him to a hail of criticism, some shrewd, some shallow. The naïve idea, promulgated by certain historians of the American mind, that Adams either ignored or was ignorant of the disorder and physical dread of that age, would have been beneath Adams' contempt: there has been no man since who could teach medieval history to Henry Adams. He knew perfectly the danger and discomfort of the Middle Ages; and he knew quite as well that happiness is more dependent upon tranquil mind and conscience than upon material circumstance. "He transformed the Middle Ages by a process of subtle falsification, into a symbol of his own latter-day New England longing," Mr. Yvor Winters writes; but if this charge is better founded than its predecessor, still it remains vague; and Paul Elmer More inflicts a more serious blow when he observes of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, "There is a fateful analogy between the irresponsibility of unreasoning Force and unreasoning Love; and the Gods of Nietzsche and of Tolstoy are but two faces of one God. To change the metaphor, if it may be done


without disrespect, the image in the cathedral of Chartres looks perilously like the ancient idol of Dinos decked out in petticoats." Did Adams, after all, nowhere perceive anything but Whirl, even in thirteenth-century Chartres? "I am a dilution of a mixture of Lord Kelvin and St. Thomas Aquinas," he told Brooks. His grandfather's tormenting doubt of the existence of Providence and Purpose seems to have condemned succeeding generations of the Adams family to an hereditary reluctant skepticism, a Maule's Curse more malign than the spell upon the House of Seven Gables. (It is curious that General Hamilton was the initial instrument of their discomfiture, General Jackson the agent of their disillusion, and General Grant the gross confirmer of their skepticism.) Yet if faith had been no more than a charming illusion even in the age of Aquinas, still it had been a beneficent delusion, Henry Adams implied. To it had succeeded a more delusory worship of Force, by 1900 incarnate in the dynamos at the Paris Exposition. "My belief is that science is to wreck us, and we are like monkeys monkeying with a loaded shell," he wrote to Brooks in 1902.

Decay of religious conviction and the Christendom it sustained had led down to "a society of Jews and brokers"; the Trust was an instrument for converting the remnants of the old free community for which the Adamses had struggled into the complete consolidation of a monolithic state, and the despot, the anarchist, and the gold-standard lobbyist all were partners of the Trust. The next stage of society would be "economic Russianization"; thought already was regarded with distrust, and with the final triumph of centralization, individuality would be suppressed utterly. State socialism was nearly inevitable and wholly odious; it would triumph over capitalism because it is cheaper, and modern life always rewards cheapness. Confiscation by the state, of which the beginning could be discerned in death duties, was only a few generations off. Labor, rapidly gaining mastery over the capitalists, would blackmail society until the old order was quite effaced. "I maintain that . . . we are already in principles at the bottom,--that is, at the great ocean equi-potential,--and can get no further. I prove it by the fact that I live here in Paris, or there in Washington, at the mercy of any damned Socialist or Congressman or Tax-assessor, and that I can't enter the Port of New York without being made to roll on the dock, to be kicked and cuffed and spit upon by a dirty employee of a dirtier Jew cad who calls himself collector, and before whom the whole mass of American citizens voluntarily kneel." The ruling impulse of mod-


ern humanity, indeed the very laws of natural phenomena, made this end certain. As the "conservative Christian anarchist" he whimsically called himself, Adams contended against this tide, most hotly in 1893, upon the silver question. "He thought it probably his last chance of standing up for his eighteenth-century principles, strict construction, limited powers, George Washington, John Adams, and the rest."

Gold crushed silver, as the Trust and the Socialist (really the same people under different names) were crushing out individual personality. "The attraction of mechanical power had already wrenched the American mind into a crab-like process. . . . The mechanical theory, mostly accepted by science, seemed to require that the law of mass should rule." The capitalists, expiring in their hour of triumph, must yield in their turn to greater force. "It is the socialist-not the capitalist-who is going to swallow us next, and of the two I prefer the Jew." Society, in short, obeys Gresham's Law (as Albert Jay Nock later put it): the cheap drives out the dear; and in the long run, civilization itself will be too dear for survival.

The process of degradation was now too far advanced for any exertion of will to hamper its course. Some 2,500 years of this evolution had brought us near the finish of things, he wrote to Brooks Adams in 1899: "I give it two more generations before it goes to pieces, or begins to go to pieces. That is to say, two generations should saturate the world with population, and should exhaust all the mines. When that moment comes, economical decay, or the decay of an economical civilisation, should set in." The resources of nature, like those of spirit, are running out, and all that a conscientious man can aspire to be is a literal conservative, hoarding what remains of culture and of natural wealth against the fierce appetites of modern life. The whole idea of progress, whether that theory entertained by John Adams' old enemy Condorcet or the biological version of the Darwinians, had been nonsense. "That, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be called-and should actually and truly be--the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. One must be as commonplace as Grant's own commonplaces to maintain such an absurdity. The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone enough to upset Darwin."

And man's very acquisition of scientific knowledge was become the instrument of his moral and physical destruction. The discovery of


the nature of radium, in 1900, meant the beginning of a revolution which must end in disintegration. "Power leaped from every atom, and enough of it to supply the stellar universe showed itself running to waste at every pore of matter. Man could no longer hold it off. Force grasped his wrists and flung him about as though he had hold of a live wire or a runaway automobile. . . . If Karl Pearson's notions of the universe were sound, men like Galileo, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Newton should have stopped the progress of science before 1700, supposing them to have been honest in the religious convictions they expressed. In 1900 they were plainly forced back on faith in a unity unproved and an order they had themselves disproved. They had reduced their universe to a series of relations to themselves. They had reduced themselves to motion in a universe of motions, with an acceleration, in their own case, of vertiginous violence." The Virgin had ceased to inspire faith; the Dynamo, or science, had lost all significance; Whirl remained.

In three essays, reprinted in The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, Adams condensed these reflections with melancholy lucidity into "a historical study of the scientific grounds of Socialism, Collectivism, and Humanitarianism and Democracy and all the rest": "The Tendency of History" (1894), "The Rule of Phase Applied to History" (1900), and "A Letter to American Teachers of History" (1910). Shorn of Adams' supporting evidence, the general argument he advances may be put briefly enough. It is just this: as the exhaustion of energy is an inevitable condition of all nature, so social energies must be exhausted, and are now running out; and many of the types of "progress" upon which we congratulate ourselves are no more than symptoms and afflictions of this decay. The Laws of Thermodynamics are our doom. By the Law of Dissipation, nothing can be added to the sum of energy, but intensity must always be lost. Work can be done only by degrading energy, as water can work only by running down hill. Society does its work at the same price; and as scientists realize this sombre fact, they are becoming oppressed by a stifling pessimism. All vital processes suffer degradation, inevitably incident to their operation; the growth of the brain enfeebles the human body, for instance. A supernatural will or directive power seems to account for the existence of energy, but this power does not provide for the replenishing of energy. Even the rise of human consciousness was a phase in the decline of vital force. Human activity reached its point of greatest intensity in the Middle Ages, with the Crusades and the cathedrals;


since then, true vitality has been waning rapidly. The year 1830, which marked the beginning of a gigantic harnessing of natural physical energies in the service of man, at the same time enfeebled humanity, for power gains at the expense of vitality. Industrialized, we are that much nearer to social ruin and total extirpation. "The dead alone give us energy," says Le Bon, and we moderns, having severed our ties with the past, are not long for this world.

Future historians must be guided by a knowledge of physics; and if the dilemma of degradation of energy is to be explained away, another Newton will be required. As perhaps the ape, a hundred thousand years ago, groped dimly for further development of his kind, and failed, so mankind now is trapped by the failure of its energies and by the depletion of those natural resources that men have plundered wantonly. Human evolution has passed perihelion, after the fashion of the Comet of 1843, and now, with terrible speed, we are rushing away from the day of our nobility. Adams applies the law of squares to the problem of modern decay, and suggests that the Mechanical Phase of modern history, beginning in 1600, reached its highest authority about 1870, and then turned sharply into the Electric Phase, which may be considered under way by 1900; and the Electric Phase will endure only until 1917, when it will pass into the Ethereal Phase--and more prophecies beyond this. Adams' celebrated predictions of the outbreak and duration of the First World War, of a possible subjugation by Thought of "the molecule, the atom, and the electron to that costless servitude to which it has reduced the old elements of earth and air, fire and water . . ." are by-products of this rule of phase. But prolongation of such resources cannot prevent the final total degradation of energy.

In this catastrophe, the social degradation represented by triumphant consolidation and its heir socialism are developments quite as natural and fatal as the general extinction of energy. Socialism must be succeeded by social rot, a disguised blessing, since socialism's continuance would be unendurable; indeed, it is in itself corruption. Politics, too, will end as water does, at sea-level, or like heat, at 1° Centigrade. Like the Comet, humanity hurtles into the oblivion of eternal night and endless space.

Christian orthodoxy believes in an eternity which, as it is superhuman, is supra-terrestrial; and the real world being a world of spirit, man's fate is not dependent upon the vicissitudes of this planet, but may be translated by Divine purpose into a realm apart from our pres-


ent world of space and time. In this certitude, Christians escape from the problem of degradation of energy; but Adams, however much he might revere the Virgin of Chartres as incarnation of the idea and as a symbol of eternal beauty, could not put credence in the idea of Providence. He was determined that history must be "scientific"; although so independent of mind, he complied willingly with the well-known tendency of metaphysics and theology to follow the lead of scientific theory; he found it impossible to disbelieve Thomson and Pearson and Kelvin. If science "should prove that society must at a given time revert to the church and recover its old foundation of religion, it commits suicide." The phase of religion was far nobler, to Adams' mind, than the phase of electricity; but he felt himself borne irresistibly along by the wave of progress. One might reverence the Virgin, in the Electric Phase; but one could not really worship. The blunt noncomformist piety of John Adams gave way to the doubts of John Quincy Adams, the humanitarianism of Charles Francis Adams, the despair of Henry Adams. Belief in Providence, so enduringly rooted in Burke's conservatism, was lost in the vicissitudes of New England's conservative thought.

Just one moral support in trial was nearly sufficient, Adams once wrote to Henry Osborn Taylor, and that the Stoic--but only "in theory." Marcus Aurelius was Adams' type of highest human attainment, and with the Antonine ended the story of moral adjustment. Irving Babbitt refers to "the desolate and pathetic Marcus Aurelius," and indeed the spectacle of the Emperor's devouring loneliness takes on renewed and frightening significance when contemplated with his disciple Henry Adams in the foreground. "The kinetic theory of gas is an assertion of ultimate chaos," said Adams. "In plain words, Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man. . . . The Church alone had constantly protested that anarchy was not order, that Satan was not God, that pantheism was worse than atheism, and that Unity could not be proved as a contradiction." Karl Pearson seemed to agree with the Church; and so, in passionate desire, did Adams himself; but his overmastering Adams rationality could not submit to his heart. Paul Elmer More, a conservative of the next generation, writes thus of Henry Adams' frustrated conservative loyalties:

This breed of New England, of whom he was so consciously a titled representative, had once come out from the world for the sake of a religious and


political affirmation-the two were originally one-to confirm which they were ready to deny all the other values of life. For the liberty to follow this affirmation they would discard tradition and authority and form and symbol and all that ordinarily binds men together in the bonds of habit. But the liberty of denying may itself become a habit. The intellectual history of New England is in fact the record of the encroachment of this liberty upon the very affirmation for which it was at first the bulwark. By a gradual elimination of its positive content the faith of the people had passed from Calvinism to Unitarianism, and from this to free thinking, until in the days of our Adams there was little left to the intellect but a great denial.

Here an heir of Hooker and Laud sits in judgment on an inheritor of Mather and Cotton. Deprived of the sanctions of religion, does conservative instinct verge toward extinction? The ideas of the house of Adams, carried by Henry Adams to their twentieth-century philosophical culmination, obtained their political summary in the writings of Brooks Adams--like his brother, fascinated by that determinism the consequences of which he hated.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mel Bradford on Organic vs. Abstract Models

You can see why the neocons opposed him:

The only freedom which can last is a freedom embodied somewhere, rooted in a history, located in space, sanctioned by genealogy, and blessed by a religious establishment. The only equality which abstract rights, insisted upon outside the context of politics, are likely to provide is the equality of universal slavery. It is a lesson which Western man is only now beginning to learn.

M. E. Bradford, A Better Guide Than Reason: Studies in the American Revolution

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Immunological Ethnocentrism

A note I made some time ago, in quote marks, but I do not recall where I read it:

There is an analogy, according to Rosenblatt, between immunological reactions of the body and the ethnocentric reactions of the individual or of a society. Just as the body is better prepared to avoid destruction by foreign substances as a result of a generalised tendency to resist the impingement of foreign substances, so an individual or a society may be better prepared to avoid destruction by aliens as a result of a generalised tendency to distrust, avoid, or reject foreign-seeming individuals. The disadvantage of severe damage or destruction, whether likely to occur or not, is so much greater than whatever advantages contact with things alien confers on one that a psychological or biochemical paranoia is the preferred strategy for survival. Where one failure to anticipate the malevolence of an alien person or substance may be fatal, organisms that must acquire defensive reactions to each specific harmful person or substance are less likely to survive during a given period of time than organisms prepared to be defensive against all alien persons or substances.


[Update: Ah! This quote is from Johan M.G, van der Dennen, ‘Ethnocentrism and In-group/Out-group Differentiation: A Review and Interpretation of the Literature’ in Reynolds, Falger, Vine (eds.), The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism (London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1987).]

Background to the Afghan War

From Michel Chossudovsky, America’s “War on Terrorism” (Quebec, Global Research, 2005):

Chapter VI
The Trans-Afghan Pipeline

Washington’s Silk Road Strategy consists in not only excluding Russia from the westbound oil and gas pipeline routes out of the Caspian Sea basin, but also in securing Anglo-American control over strategic southbound and eastbound routes.

This strategy consists in isolating and eventually “encircling” the former Soviet republics by simultaneously taking control of both westbound and east/southbound corridors. In this regard, Washington’s strategy in support of the oil giants is also to prevent the former republics from entering into pipeline ventures (or military cooperation agreements) with Iran and China.

According to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy organization, the American diplomatic dance with the Taliban was partly an attempt to prevent the construction of a pipeline through Iran and to reduce Russian leverage over Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. [1]

Backed by the Clinton administration, Unocal, the California based oil giant, developed a plan in 1995 to build an oil and gas pipeline route from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and


Pakistan, to the Arabian Sea. Unocal is also involved in the westbound Baku-Ceyan pipeline project out of Azerbaijan across Turkey and Georgia, together with BP, which has a majority stake in the consortium.

The CentGas Consortium

By transiting through Afghanistan, Unocal’s CentGas pipeline project was meant to bypass the more direct southbound route across Iran. Unocal’s design was to develop a dual pipeline system that would also transport Kazakhstan’s huge oil reserves in the Tenghiz Northern Caspian region to the Arabian Sea.

Although the Russian oil giant Gazprom was part of the CentGas consortium, its participation was insignificant. [2] The hidden agenda was also to weaken Gazprom, which controls the Northbound gas pipeline routes out of Turkmenistan, and undermine the agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan, which handled the export of Turkmen gas through the network of Russian pipelines.

After Unocal had completed a first round of negotiations with Turkmenistan’s President Niyazov, it opened talks with the Taliban. [3] In turn, the Clinton administration decided to back the installation of a Taliban government in Kabul in 1996, as opposed to the Northern Alliance, which was backed by Moscow:

Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the State Department and Pakistan’s ISI agreed to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war against the ethnically Tajik Northern Alliance. As recently as 1999, US taxpayers paid the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official. [4]

Meanwhile, the Russians were providing logistical support and military supplies to General Massoud’s Northern Alliance out of military bases in Tajikistan. When Kabul finally fell to the Taliban with the military backing of America’s ally Pakistan, in September 1996, State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said the US found “nothing objectionable” in the steps taken by the Taliban to impose


Islamic law. Senator Hank Brown, a supporter of the Unocal project, said “the good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at least seems capable of developing a government in Kabul.” Unocal’s Vice-President, Martin Miller, called the Taliban’s success a “positive development”. [5]

When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives of the oil company, Unocal…. A US diplomat said, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did.” He explained that Afghanistan would become an American oil colony, there would be huge profits for the West, no democracy and the legal persecution of women. “We can live with
that”, he said. [6]

Washington’s endorsement of the Taliban regime instead of the Northern Alliance was part of the “Big Game” and the added rivalry between Russian and US conglomerates for control over oil and gas reserves, as well as pipeline routes out of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In early 1997, Taliban officials met at Unocal’s Texas office:

[Unocal’s Barry] Lane says he wasn’t involved in the Texas meetings and doesn’t know whether then-Governor George W. Bush, an ex-oil man, ever had any involvement. Unocal’s Texas spokesperson for Central Asia operations, Teresa Covington, said the consortium delivered three basic messages to the Afghan groups. “We gave them the details on the proposed pipelines. We also talked to them about the projects’ benefits, such as the transit fees that would be paid,” she says. “And we reinforced our position the project could not move forward until they stabilized their country and obtained political recognition from the US and the international community.” Covington says the Taliban were not surprised by that demand …. In December 1997, Unocal arranged a high-level meeting in Washington, DC, for the Taliban with Clinton’s undersecretary of state for South Asia, Karl Inderforth. The Taliban delegation included Acting Minister for Mines and Industry Ahmad Jan, Acting Minister for Culture and Information, Amir Muttaqi, Acting Minister for Planning, Din Muhammad and Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, their permanent UN delegate. [7]


Two months following these negotiations, in February 1998, Unocal Vice President for International Relations, John Maresca, in a statement to the House Committee on International Relations, called for “the need for multiple pipeline routes for Central Asian oil and gas resources”. Implied in his statement, US foreign policy in the region was to be geared towards destabilizing the north, west and southbound pipeline routes controlled by Russia, as well as competing pipelines through Iran:

[A] chief technical obstacle [or more likely political obstacle] which we in the industry face in transporting oil is the region’s existing pipeline infrastructure. Because the region’s pipelines were constructed during the Moscow-centred Soviet period, they tend to head north and west toward Russia. There are no connections to the south and east …

The key question then, is how the energy resources of Central Asia can be made available to nearby Asian markets … One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of US sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company.

Unocal foresees a pipeline which would become part of a regional system that would gather oil from existing pipeline infrastructure in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. The 1,040-mile long oil pipeline would extend south through Afghanistan to an export terminal that would be constructed on the Pakistan coast. This 42-inch diameter pipeline would have a shipping capacity of one million barrels of oil per day. The estimated cost of the project, which is similar in scope to the trans-Alaska pipeline, is about $2.5 billion.

Without peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the region, cross-border oil and gas pipelines are not likely to be built. We urge the Administration and the Congress to give strong support to the UN-


led peace process in Afghanistan. The US Government should use its influence to help find solutions to all of the region’s conflicts. [8]

The Unocal-Bridas Feud

There was something else behind the Unocal pipeline project, which mainstream reports failed to mention. The Taliban had also been negotiating with an Argentinean oil group, Bridas Energy Corporation, and were “playing one company against the other”. [9] Bridas belonged to the wealthy and powerful Bhulgeroni family. Carlos Bhulgeroni is a close friend of former Argentine President Carlos Menem, whose government was instrumental in implementing in 1990 - under advice from the World Bank - a comprehensive deregulation of Argentina’s oil and gas industry. This deregulation contributed to the enrichment of the Bhulgeroni family.

In 1992 - several years prior to Unocal’s involvement - Bridas Energy Corporation had obtained gas exploration rights in Eastern Turkmenistan, and the following year it was awarded the Keimir oil and gas block in Western Turkmenistan. Washington considered this an encroachment. It responded to Bridas’ inroads into Central Asia by sending former Secretary of State Alexander Haig to lobby for “increased US investments” in Turkmenistan. [10] A few months later, Bridas was prevented from exporting oil from the Keimir block.

Unocal and Bridas were clashing in their attempts to gain political control. While Bridas had a head start in its negotiations with Turkmen officials, Unocal had the direct support of the US Government, which was acting both overtly (through diplomatic channels) as well as covertly to undermine Bridas Energy Corp.

In August 1995, at the height of the Afghan civil war, Bridas representatives met up with Taliban officials to discuss the pipeline project. Meanwhile, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyasov had been invited to New York (October 1995) to sign an agreement with Unocal and its CentGas consortium partner, Delta Oil Corporation of Saudi Arabia. The agreement was signed by President Niyazov of Turkmenistan and John F. Imle, Jr., President of Unocal, and witnessed by Badr M. Al-Aiban, CEO of Delta Oil Corporation.


Bridas and the Taliban

In February 1996, Bridas Energy Corporation of Argentina and the Taliban provisional government signed a preliminary agreement. Washington responded through its embassy in Islamabad, urging Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to dump Bridas and grant exclusive rights to Unocal. [11] Meanwhile, the Clinton administration had funnelled, through Pakistan’s ISI, military aid to advancing Taliban forces. This support was a crucial factor in the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in September 1996. Following the installation of a hard-line Islamic government, Unocal confirmed that “it will give aid to Afghan warlords once they agree to form a council to supervise the project”. [12]

Back in Texas, Bridas Energy Corporation filed a $15 billion lawsuit against Unocal, accusing it of dirty tricks and interference in:

… secretly contacting the Turkmen deputy prime minister for oil and gas [in 1996] about its own pipeline plan. According to a Bridas source, the Turkmen government then made an overnight decision to cut off the export of oil from Bridas’ Keimir field on the Caspian Sea. The company also alleges that the deputy prime minister demanded that Bridas, with its cash flow strangled, renegotiate its concession. “We found written evidence that Unocal was behind the
curtains,” the Bridas source said. [13]

BP-Amoco Enter the Pipeline Saga

Facing pending financial difficulties, 60 per cent of Bridas shares were sold in August 1997 to the American Oil Company (Amoco), leading to the formation of the Pan American Energy Corporation. The bidders in the Bridas merger were Amoco and Union Texas Petroleum of the United States, France’s Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Spain’s Endesa and a consortium including Spain’s Repsol and US Mobil.

For Amoco, which later merged with BP in 1998, Bridas was a prize acquisition, which was facilitated by Chase Manhattan and Morgan Stanley. Former National Security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was a consultant to Amoco. Arthur Andersen - the


accounting firm implicated in the 2002 Enron scandal - was put in charge of “post-merger integration”. [14]

BP-Amoco is the main player in the Westbound pipeline routes out of the Caspian Sea basin including the controversial Baku-Ceyan pipeline project through Georgia and Turkey. By acquiring Bridas, the BP-led consortium gained a direct stake in the east and southbound pipeline negotiations.

Unocal is both a “rival” as well as a consortium “partner” of BP. In other words, BP controls the westbound pipeline consortium in which Unocal has a significant stake. With Bridas in the hands of BPAmoco, however, it is unlikely that a future trans-Afghan pipeline will proceed without the consent and/or participation of BP:

Recognizing the significance of the merger, a Pakistani oil company executive hinted, “If these [Central Asian] countries want a big US company involved, Amoco is far bigger than Unocal.” [15]

Following the takeover of Bridas by Amoco, Bridas’ successor company, Pan American Energy Corporation, continued to actively negotiate with the Taliban. But the dynamics of these negotiations had been fundamentally modified. Pan American Energy was negotiating on behalf of its Chicago-based parent company Amoco. Moreover, the Clinton administration had abandoned its dirty tricks and was now backing Amoco’s subsidiary.

Meanwhile, in August 1998, Amoco and BP announced their decision to unite their global operations leading to the formation (together with Atlantic Ritchfield) of the world’s largest oil company.

The Bridas-Unocal rivalry had evolved towards “a fall-out” between two major US corporations (Unocal and BP-Amoco), which were also “partners” in the westbound pipeline projects. Both Unocal and BP-Amoco have extensive links to seats of political power, not only in the White House and Congress, but also with the military and intelligence establishment in charge of covert operations in Central Asia. Both companies contributed generously to the Bush presidential campaign.


The merger between BP and Amoco (leading to the integration of British and American oil interests) had no doubt also contributed to the development of closer political ties between the British and US Governments. Responding to the merger of American and British interests in oil, banking and the military-industrial complex, Britain’s new Labour government, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, has become America’s unconditional ally.

The US Embassy Bombings

In the course of 1998, talks between Taliban and Unocal officials had stalled. The honeymoon was over. Then came the East African US Embassy bombings, allegedly by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, and the launching of cruise missiles against targets in Afghanistan.

The official suspension of negotiations with the Taliban was announced by Unocal in August 1998 in the immediate wake of the punitive actions against Afghanistan and Sudan, ordered by President Clinton. Whether the 1997 takeover of Bridas by Amoco and the subsequent merger of BP-Amoco (also in August 1998) had a bearing on Unocal’s decision remains unclear. Nonetheless, “the Big Game” had evolved: Unocal was now competing against the world’s largest oil company, BP-Amoco.

The Texas Court Case: BP-Amoco (Bridas) versus Unocal

Two months later in this evolving saga, in October 1998, a Texas court dismissed the (formerly Argentinean-owned) Bridas’ US$15 billion lawsuit against Unocal “for preventing them developing gas fields in Turkmenistan”. [16] It turned out that the court ruling was in fact against Bridas’ parent company, BP-Amoco, which had, a year earlier, acquired a controlling stake in Bridas.

In all likelihood, there was a mutual understanding between Unocal and BP-Amoco, which are consortium partners in the Caspian Sea basin. Moreover, while Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former National Security Adviser (in a Democratic administration), was acting as a consultant for Amoco, Henry Kissinger, a former Secretary of State (in a Republican administration), was advising Unocal Corporation.


The acquisition of Bridas by BP-Amoco suggests that BP will, in all likelihood, be a major player in future pipeline negotiations, most probably in an agreement with Unocal.

Unocal Withdraws But Only Temporarily

While Unocal had formally withdrawn from the CentGas consortium in the wake of the cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and the Sudan, BP-Amoco’s subsidiary, Pan American Energy, (the successor company to Bridas), continued to actively negotiate with Afghan, Russian, Turkmen and Kazakh officials regarding the trans-Afghan pipeline project.

Meanwhile, a turnaround had occurred in US foreign policy under the Clinton administration towards Bridas: No more dirty tricks against a company which is now owned by one of America’s largest oil conglomerates! Visibly, in the last two years of the Clinton administration, Unocal’s rival in the pipeline negotiations, BPAmoco, had the upper hand.

Despite Unocal’s temporary withdrawal, the CentGas consortium was not disbanded. Unocal’s partner, Delta Oil Corporation of Saudi Arabia, in CentGas continued to negotiate with the Taliban.

George W. Bush Enters the White House

The evolving pipeline saga gained a new momentum upon George W. Bush’s accession to the White House in January 2001.

At the very outset of the Bush administration, Unocal (which had withdrawn in 1998 from pipeline negotiations under the Clinton administration) reintegrated the CentGas Consortium and resumed its talks with the Taliban (in January 2001), with the firm backing, this time, of senior officials of the Bush administration, including Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. Dick Armitage had previously been a lobbyist for Unocal in the Burma/Myanmar Forum, which is a Washington-based group funded by Unocal. [17]

These negotiations with the Taliban occurred only a few months before the September 11 attacks:


Laila Helms [daughter of Senator Jesse Helms], who was hired as the public relations agent for the Taliban government, brought Rahmatullah Hashimi, an advisor to Mullah Omar, to Washington as recently as March 2001. Helms was uniquely positioned for the job through her association with her uncle Richard Helms, former chief of the CIA and former Ambassador to Iran. One of the negotiating meetings was held just one month before September 11, on August 2, when Christina Rocca, in charge of Asian Affairs at the State Department, met Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salem Zaef, in Islamabad.

Rocca has had extensive connections with Afghanistan, including supervising the delivery of Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen in the 1980s. At the CIA, she had been in charge of contacts with Islamist fundamentalist guerrilla groups. [18]

Unocal ‘Appoints’ Interim Government in Kabul

In the wake of the bombing of Afghanistan, the Bush administration designated Hamid Karzai as head of the interim government in Kabul. While highlighting Karzai’s patriotic struggle against the Taliban, what the media failed to mention is that Karzai had collaborated with the Taliban government. He had also been on Unocal’s payroll.

In fact, since the mid-1990s, Hamid Karzai, who later became President, had acted as a consultant and lobbyist for Unocal in negotiations with the Taliban. His appointment - visibly on behalf of the US oil giants - had been casually rubber-stamped by the “international community” at the November 2001 Bonn conference, held under UN auspices.

According to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan:

Karzai has been a Central Intelligence Agency covert operator since the 1980s. He collaborated with the CIA in funneling US aid to the Taliban as of 1994 “when the Americans had - secretly and through the Pakistanis [specifically the ISI] - supported the Taliban’s assumption of power.” [19]

“Coincidentally, President Bush’s Special Envoy to Kabul, Zalmay Khalizad, had also worked for Unocal. He had drawn up the risk


analysis for the pipeline in 1997, lobbied for the Taliban and took part in negotiations with them.” [20] Khalizad had occupied the position of Special Advisor to the State Department during the Reagan administration, “lobbying successfully for accelerated US military aid to the Mujahideen”.

He later became Undersecretary of Defense in the Bush Senior Cabinet. [21] When George W. was inaugurated in January 2001, Khalizad was appointed to the National Security Council. While Clinton’s foreign policy had provided support to US oil interests in Central Asia, under the Republicans oil company officials were brought into the inner sphere of political decision-making.

The ‘Reconstruction’ of Afghanistan

Washington had set the stage. According to a World Bank representative in Kabul, “reconstruction in Afghanistan [was] going to open up a whole range of opportunities.” [22]

Two days after the bombing of Afghanistan commenced, on October 9, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, met with Pakistani officials regarding the trans-Afghan pipeline. The pipeline, according to the report, was slated to “open up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation, particularly in light of recent geopolitical developments [bombing of Afghanistan] in the region”. [23]

With Afghanistan under US military occupation, the role of Hamid Karzai as the country’s President is to “broker” the pipeline deal on behalf of the Anglo-American oil giants with the firm backing of the Bush administration.

In the immediate wake of the October 2001 bombing raids, the media reported that “two small companies”, Chase Energy and Caspian Energy Consulting (acting on behalf of major oil interests), had contacts with the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan to revive the pipeline deal. While the identity of the oil companies behind these “small firms” was not mentioned, it just so happens that the President of Caspian Sea Consulting, S. Rob Sobhani, had been a consultant to BP-Amoco in Central Asia. Sobhani also sits on the Council of Foreign Relations’ “Caspian Sea


Discourse”, together with representatives of major oil companies, the George Soros Open Society Institute, the CIA and the Heritage Foundation (a Republican party think tank).

According to S. Rob Sobhani:

It is absolutely essential that the US make the pipeline the centerpiece of rebuilding Afghanistan …. The State Department thinks it’s a great idea, too. Routing the gas through Iran would be avoided, and the Central Asian republics wouldn’t have to ship through Russian pipelines. [24]

According to Joseph Noemi, CEO of Chase Energy, September 11, and the “War on Terrorism” are a blessing in disguise for Afghanistan:

If the United States’ presence continues in the region, [September 11] is probably the best thing that could have happened here for the Central Asian republics … This region, in terms of oil economics, is the frontier for this century and Afghanistan is part and parcel of this. [25]



1. Knight Ridder News, 31 October 2001.
2. Jim Crogan, “The Oil War”, LA Weekly, 30 November 2001.
3. Ibid.
4. Ted Rall, “It’s About Oil”, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 November 2001, p. A25.
5. Ishtiaq Ahmad, “How America Courted Taliban”, Pakistan Observer, 20 October 2001.
6. John Pilger, “This War is a Fraud”, Daily Mirror, 29 October 2001.
7. Jim Crogan, “Pipeline Payoff to Afghanistan War”, California CrimeTimes, November 2001, See also Jim Crogan, “The Oil War: Unocal’s once-grand plan for Afghan pipelines”, LA Weekly, 30 November-6 December 2001.
8. US Congress, Hearing on US Interests in the Central Asian Republics, House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Committee on International Relations, Washington, DC,
9. See Karen Talbot, “US Energy Giant Unocal Appoints Interim Government in Kabul”, Global Outlook, No. 1, Spring 2002, p. 70.
10. “Timeline of Competition Between Unocal and Bridas”, World Press Review, December 2001,
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Alexander Gas and Oil Connections,, 12 August 1997
14. Larry Chin, “Unocal and the Afghanistan Pipeline”, Online Journal, 6 March 2002, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG),, 6 March 2002.
15. Ibid.
16. Timeline, op. cit.
17. Larry Chin, op. cit.
18. See Karen Talbot,“US Energy Giant Unocal Appoints Interim Government in Kabul”, Global Outlook, No. 1, Spring 2002. p. 70.
19. Karen Talbot, op. cit. and BBC Monitoring Service, 15 December 2001.
20. Karen Talbot, op. cit.
21. Patrick Martin, “Unocal Advisor Named Representative to Afghanistan”, World Socialist Web Site, 3 January 2002.
22. Statement of William Byrd, World Bank Acting Country Manager for Afghanistan, 27 November 2001.
23. Quoted in Larry Chin, “The Bush administration’s Afghan Carpet”, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG),, 13 March 2002.
24. Daniel Fisher, “Kabuled Together”, Forbes Online, 4 February 2002,
25. Knight Ridder News, 30 October 2001.