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Gramsci v. Toqueville; essential reforms for the military

Sunday, April 1, 2001

Gramsci v. Tocqueville

Sir, — John Fonte’s article is fascinating both for its representation of Gramsci’s thought and for the alternative it offers. However, the alternative is one that is simply a pretense that a different set of subjective ideological wishes is somehow more inherently objective than the set of values it wishes to replace.

In a loose sense, Gramsci is unquestionably correct. Forgetting loaded terms of “oppressor” and “oppressed”: Obviously every society runs on a social system of subjective values, values vulnerable to the destructive power of an objective thought that distances people from values and weakens the emotional bond on which values are based.

Objective analysis is, of course, relevant to values. If one places a high value on economic freedom and its results and then argues for government regulation, he makes an obviously irrational connection of means and ends. But if one person or society places a high value on modern economic freedom and its results (and on a rational method of achieving this), while another places a higher value on a high rate of group cohesion possible only in a nonmodern society, there is no objective way of demonstrating the superiority of one over the other.

Conservatives, of course, see such reasoning as their bete noire, cultural relativism. It is cultural relativism, the sociological equivalent of empiricism and the only sensible way of studying societies. (Cultural relativism may well have disastrous social consequences as a population becomes increasingly distant emotionally from its society’s values, rendering the society incapable of inculcating its values in that population. But this consequence is to sociology as the hydrogen bomb is to physics: a terrible consequence but one that is irrelevant to the objective explanation of empirical fact.)

What one makes of this is, no doubt, a function of one’s personality. I, myself, am a child of the 1960s and see the social scientist’s primary task to be the exposing of values for what they are — values, not facts. And the only way to accomplish this is to place truth above all. Truth is the most viciously revolutionary tool we have, but not one that enables us to tell people with which values they should replace the values we destroy.

The crime of the current left is not that they wish to expose values for what they are, but that they substitute equally subjective values and, worse, make up facts in order to do so.

In this sense the left is worse than the right. Conservatives, like the left, pretend that their values are somehow objective facts, but at least don’t make up their facts as they go along. Conservative arguments are, however, no less tendentious just because they argue for a different set of values.

It is a human trait to believe that “the truth shall set us free,” but what is invariably meant when one says this is that “the truth will support my values.” As the philosopher likes to say, “Is cannot generate ought.” Virtually any consistent value system, be it of the left or the right, can be made concordant with the truth and the truth can never entail a value system.

It’s not the job of the scientist (as scientist) to advocate any set of values. Decisions about values are for the population to make, on the basis of the population’s desires and on objective facts uncontaminated by observer values.

The wonderful thing about truth — second only to the fact that truth is true — is that it is defiant, whatever the nature of a society and its leaders.

To exchange this for a mere opportunity to hustle one set of values for another is a terrible trade-off.

Steven Goldberg
Department of Sociology
City College
City University of New York


Sir, — John Fonte makes a persuasive case against the inroads of the Gramscian concept of group rights in the American setting. He fails to note, though, the State Department’s policy objectives and prescriptions for other countries that continue to be Tocquevillian. Policy wonks give little recognition to the fact that the Tocquevillian model is untransferable to and unworkable in many parts of the world due to ethnohistorical legacies and the absence of a democratic tradition.

What is appropriate for the U.S. may not be appropriate elsewhere. In many countries, where different nationalities cohabit, the argument for group rights is not social engineering as envisioned by Gramscians but a necessity for the protection of elemental human rights of minorities. A case in point is Transylvania. For over a millenium, it was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary or an independent entity as an outcome of the Ottoman excursion into Europe. After the First World War, without a plebiscite, the victorious powers assigned it to Romania. The nationalities living there were not asked about their preferences. The breakup of the former Czechoslovakia and the chaos in the Balkans today is a direct outcome of the redrawing of borders and the balance of power “realism” run amok.

To this day, the Hungarians living in Transylvania, close to 2 million in number, remain second-class citizens under strong assimilationist pressures. A decade after the fall of communism, the Romanian State still does not allow the establishment of a Hungarian language university. This despite the provision of the Romanian constitution that guarantees the right of every citizen to be educated at all levels in his or her native tongue. Denial of educational opportunities in their native tongue for the autochthonous population amounts to a form of state-sponsored racism, the violation of linguistic human rights. Bishop Toekes, the hero of Timisoara of the Romanian Revolution, has publicly stated it well. He said that he does not believe that a bureaucrat, hundreds of miles away, has the right to decide what his son should or should not learn about history or decide the language of instruction. Where nationalism, bolstered by the power of the state, takes precedence over the rule of law, the citizen has no chance for a remedy. In Romania, as in many other countries, the Tocquevillian model is unworkable.

Formulators of our foreign policy need to recognize that what is best for America may be inappropriate in countries whose cultural and historical developments are different. In these places group rights, though not of the Gramscian kind, indeed can defuse tensions.

C.K. Zoltani
Lutherville, Md.


Essential Reforms for the Military

Sir, — Philip Gold does an excellent job of chronicling where our military has been (“The Essentials of Self-Preservation,” December 2000/January 2001). However, I find some of his proposed remedies wanting. Rather than a prescription for recovering from the “decline and decay” of the 1990s and preparing the armed forces to meet twenty-first century requirements, two of his proposals will merely cause the death spiral to continue.

While few reasonable people can argue against the need for the allocation of more funds, increased spending by itself will be of little value unless the armed forces enjoy the freedom to spend these funds on items essential to the military mission. While Pentagon business reforms will go far towards assisting in the effort to carefully target spending, reducing the excess military infrastructure will do much greater good. Increasing financial resources will do little for the armed forces if they are required to continue to spend money for bases no longer needed nor desired. If the armed forces have been reduced by approximately 40 percent over the past 10 years, then it stands to reason that the infrastructure should have been reduced by a similar amount. Despite the best efforts of the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) of the 1980s and ’90s, the political intrigues of the Clinton administration undermined efforts to close excess and costly bases in vote-rich states. Just as influential is the barrage of propaganda from senators, representatives, governors, and municipal leaders when the nominally independent BRAC surgeons start wielding their scalpels around a source of jobs and revenue.

What should be on the table, then, is every military base, post, station, port and depot with consolidations and closures continuing until the military infrastructure matches the military force. Reviewing the lessons from those bases that were successfully closed, we know that, in the short term, this course of action will cost more rather than less money as facilities are disestablished and areas cleaned of old munitions, waste and toxins.

However, once the program is complete, the armed forces will find themselves able to dedicate a healthier portion of their budget to what is generally termed military readiness.

The other item that causes me great angst is Mr. Gold’s proposal for a Peace Force. Having already noted that peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian operations have a net negative effect on military readiness and morale as well as requiring triple the committed force, why then propose more of the same?

Notwithstanding his admonition that this Peace Force would make maximum use of nonmilitary assets, once the ongoing missions exceed the military structure committed to the Peace Force, the Pentagon will have no other recourse than to recur to the warriors for more manpower. In short, the situation in which the armed forces presently find themselves.

Consider for a moment two indisputable facts. First, the United States has the only armed forces capable of unilaterally engaging in combat operations anywhere in the world without requiring support from third countries. Second, many of our allies (Canada comes readily to mind) who are not capable of unilaterally undertaking, let alone sustaining, combat forces beyond their own borders already have established units for military operations other than war (MOOTW). Another way to view military operations other than war is as “military operations other than military operations” — deployments that are detrimental to the combat effectiveness of forces whose primary purpose is the application of controlled violence when such efforts are in the national security interest of the United States. Moreover, there is no historical basis for specially training U.S. forces for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, inasmuch as the Marines on occupation duty in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1920s and ’30s, arguably the forerunners of today’s MOOTW, were the same Marines who successfully retook Guadalcanal from the Japanese in August 1942.

The United States and the United Nations should rely, when needed, on countries with established units for military operations other than war, with the U.S. poised to provide logistical support in extreme cases. The appearance of U.S. troops on foreign shores should signify but one thing to the world: that we are there as a last resort because diplomatic, humanitarian, and peacemaking or peacekeeping efforts have failed — therefore, that we are there to deal in violence.

By returning to a principle that the U.S. armed forces are to be used only for warfighting, we will, over the long run, be less likely to suffer casualties such as those that occurred in Somalia when a combat force was committed without the necessary manpower, equipment, and freedom of action to react to the situation that confronted them.

Dave Erchull
Major, USMC (Ret.)
Tucson, Ariz.

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