Florence Gould (1895-1985), American Madame des lettres, billionaire, friend and patroness of Ernst Jünger. She is “Lady Orpington”, “Armance” and “Mme. Scrittore” in the Paris Journals.
Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.
Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary. The country’s alliances are murky. How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah? There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.
Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.
“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad.
It’s also a neighborhood intoxicatingly close to the dawn of civilization, where agriculture began some 10,000 years ago, where the wheel, writing, and musical notation were invented. Out in the desert are the magical remains of Palmyra, Apamea, and Ebla. In the National Museum you see small 4,000-year-old panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl that is echoed in the new mother-of-pearl furniture for sale in the souk. Christian Louboutin comes to buy the damask silk brocade they’ve been making here since the Middle Ages for his shoes and bags, and has incidentally purchased a small palace in Aleppo, which, like Damascus, has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years.
The first lady works out of a small white building in a hilly, modern residential neighborhood called Muhajireen, where houses and apartments are crammed together and neighbors peer and wave from balconies. The first impression of Asma al-Assad is movement—a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles. Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green. She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun. Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: “I was, like. . . .”
Asma Akhras was born in London in 1975, the eldest child and only daughter of a Syrian Harley Street cardiologist and his diplomat wife, both Sunni Muslims. They spoke Arabic at home. She grew up in Ealing, went to Queen’s College, and spent holidays with family in Syria. “I’ve dealt with the sense that people don’t expect Syria to be normal. I’d show my London friends my holiday snaps and they’d be—‘Where did you say you went?’ ”
She studied computer science at university, then went into banking. “It wasn’t a typical path for women,” she says, “but I had it all mapped out.” By the spring of 2000, she was closing a big biotech deal at JP Morgan in London and about to take up an MBA at Harvard. She started dating a family friend: the second son of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar, who’d cut short his ophthalmology studies in London in 1994 and returned to Syria after his older brother, Basil, heir apparent to power, died in a car crash. They had known each other forever, but a ten-year age difference meant that nothing registered—until it did.
“I was always very serious at work, and suddenly I started to take weekends, or disappear, and people just couldn’t figure it out,” explains the first lady. “What do you say—‘I’m dating the son of a president’? You just don’t say that. Then he became president, so I tried to keep it low-key. Suddenly I was turning up in Syria every month, saying, ‘Granny, I miss you so much!’ I quit in October because by then we knew that we were going to get married at some stage. I couldn’t say why I was leaving. My boss thought I was having a nervous breakdown because nobody quits two months before bonus after closing a really big deal. He wouldn’t accept my resignation. I was, like, ‘Please, really, I just want to get out, I’ve had enough,’ and he was ‘Don’t worry, take time off, it happens to the best of us.’ ” She left without her bonus in November and married Bashar al-Assad in December.
“What I’ve been able to take away from banking was the transferable skills—the analytical thinking, understanding the business side of running a company—to run an NGO or to try and oversee a project.” She runs her office like a business, chairs meeting after meeting, starts work many days at six, never breaks for lunch, and runs home to her children at four. “It’s my time with them, and I get them fresh, unedited—I love that. I really do.” Her staff are used to eating when they can. “I have a rechargeable battery,” she says.
The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”
In 2005 she founded Massar, built around a series of discovery centers where children and young adults from five to 21 engage in creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility. Massar’s mobile Green Team has touched 200,000 kids across Syria since 2005. The organization is privately funded through donations. The Syria Trust for Development, formed in 2007, oversees Massar as well as her first NGO, the rural micro-credit association FIRDOS, and SHABAB, which exists to give young people business skills they need for the future.
And then there’s her cultural mission: “People tend to see Syria as artifacts and history,” she says. “For us it’s about the accumulation of cultures, traditions, values, customs. It’s the difference between hardware and software: the artifacts are the hardware, but the software makes all the difference—the customs and the spirit of openness. We have to make sure that we don’t lose that. . . . ” Here she gives an apologetic grin. “You have to excuse me, but I’m a banker—that brand essence.”
That brand essence includes the distant past. There are 500,000 important ancient works of art hidden in storage; Asma al-Assad has brought in the Louvre to create a network of museums and cultural attractions across Syria, and asked Italian experts to help create a database of the 5,000 archaeological sites in the desert. “Culture,” she says, “is like a financial asset. We have an abundance of it, thousands of years of history, but we can’t afford to be complacent.”
In December, Asma al-Assad was in Paris to discuss her alliance with the Louvre. She dazzled a tough French audience at the International Diplomatic Institute, speaking without notes. “I’m not trying to disguise culture as anything more than it is,” she said, “and if I sound like I’m talking politics, it’s because we live in a politicized region, a politicized time, and we are affected by that.”
The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, was there: “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region. ”
Damascus evokes a dusty version of a Mediterranean hill town in an Eastern-bloc country. The courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque at night looks exactly like St. Mark’s square in Venice. When I first arrive, I’m met on the tarmac by a minder, who gives me a bouquet of white roses and lends me a Syrian cell phone; the head minder, a high-profile American PR, joins us the next day. The first lady’s office has provided drivers, so I shop and see sights in a bubble of comfort and hospitality. On the rare occasions I am out alone, a random series of men in leather jackets seems to be keeping close tabs on what I am doing and where I am headed.
“I like things I can touch. I like to get out and meet people and do things,” the first lady says as we set off for a meeting in a museum and a visit to an orphanage. “As a banker, you have to be so focused on the job at hand that you lose the experience of the world around you. My husband gave me back something I had lost.”
She slips behind the wheel of a plain SUV, a walkie-talkie and her cell thrown between the front seats and a Syrian-silk Louboutin tote on top. She does what the locals do—swerves to avoid crazy men who run across busy freeways, misses her turn, checks your seat belt, points out sights, and then can’t find a parking space. When a traffic cop pulls her over at a roundabout, she lowers the tinted window and dips her head with a playful smile. The cop’s eyes go from slits to saucers.
Her younger brother Feras, a surgeon who moved to Syria to start a private health-care group, says, “Her intelligence is both intellectual and emotional, and she’s a master at harmonizing when, and how much, to use of each one.”
In the Saint Paul orphanage, maintained by the Melkite–Greek Catholic patriarchate and run by the Basilian sisters of Aleppo, Asma sits at a long table with the children. Two little boys in new glasses and thick sweaters are called Yussuf. She asks them what kind of music they like. “Sad music,” says one. In the room where she’s had some twelve computers installed, the first lady tells a nun, “I hope you’re letting the younger children in here go crazy on the computers.” The nun winces: “The children are afraid to learn in case they don’t have access to computers when they leave here,” she says.
In the courtyard by the wall down which Saint Paul escaped in a basket 2,000 years ago, an old tree bears gigantic yellow fruit I have never seen before. Citrons. Cédrats in French.
Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”
“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.
“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”
The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?
The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”
The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”
There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.
Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”
A grid is drawn on a blackboard, with ticks for each member of the family. “We were having trouble with politeness, so we made a chart: ticks for when they spoke as they should, and a cross if they didn’t.” There’s a cross next to Asma’s name. “I shouted,” she confesses. “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”
“The first challenge for us was, Who’s going to define our lives, us or the position?” says the president. “We wanted to live our identity honestly.”
They announced their marriage in January 2001, after the ceremony, which they kept private. There was deliberately no photograph of Asma. “The British media picked that up as: Now she’s moved into the presidential palace, never to be seen again!” says Asma, laughing.
They had a reason: “She spent three months incognito,” says the president. “Before I had any official engagement,” says the first lady, “I went to 300 villages, every governorate, hospitals, farms, schools, factories, you name it—I saw everything to find out where I could be effective. A lot of the time I was somebody’s ‘assistant’ carrying the bag, doing this and that, taking notes. Nobody asked me if I was the first lady; they had no idea.”
“That way,” adds the president, “she started her NGO before she was ever seen in public as my wife. Then she started to teach people that an NGO is not a charity.”
Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”
When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.
“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”
“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.
“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?
That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.
The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”
After lunch, Asma al-Assad drives to the airport, where a Falcon 900 is waiting to take her to Massar in Latakia, on the coast. When she lands, she jumps behind the wheel of another SUV waiting on the tarmac. This is the kind of surprise visit she specializes in, but she has no idea how many kids will turn up at the community center on a rainy Friday.
As it turns out, it’s full. Since the first musical notation was discovered nearby, at Ugarit, the immaculate Massar center in Latakia is built around music. Local kids are jamming in a sound booth; a group of refugee Palestinian girls is playing instruments. Others play chess on wall-mounted computers. These kids have started online blood banks, run marathons to raise money for dialysis machines, and are working on ways to rid Latakia of plastic bags. Apart from a few girls in scarves, you can’t tell Muslims from Christians.
Asma al-Assad stands to watch a laborious debate about how—and whether—to standardize the Arabic spelling of the word Syria. Then she throws out a curve ball. “I’ve been advised that we have to close down this center so as to open another one somewhere else,” she says. Kids’ mouths drop open. Some repress tears. Others are furious. One boy chooses altruism: “That’s OK. We know how to do it now; we’ll help them.”
Then the first lady announces, “That wasn’t true. I just wanted to see how much you care about Massar.”
As the pilot expertly avoids sheet lightning above the snow-flecked desert on the way back, she explains, “There was a little bit of formality in what they were saying to me; it wasn’t real. Tricks like this help—they became alive, they became passionate. We need to get past formalities if we are going to get anything done.”
Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi. Just before it begins, Bashar and Asma al-Assad slip down the aisle and take the two empty seats in the front row. People clap, and some call out his nickname:
Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.”
Brass bells are handed out. Now we’re all singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” 1,331 audience members shaking their bells, singing, crying, and laughing.
“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”
February 25, 2011 9:03 a.m.
In his Politics, Aristotle realistically observes that diversity resulting from immigration without assimilation was a frequent cause of civil war and breakdown of civic solidarity within the Greek city-states. In this brief article, I would like to highlight how diversity in the use of foreign mercenaries and changes in the population were a frequent tool exploited by Greek tyrants to subjugate the citizenry.
The importation and enfranchisement of foreigners, whether by democrats or tyrants, was also a common method to subvert the political process, destroy the constitution, and subjugate the citizenry.
The archetypal example of this was the powerful and diverse Sicilian city-state of Syracuse, which was long ruled by a string of tyrants, making for a useful contrast with the homogeneous and free city-state. Aristotle remarked: “at Syracuse the conferring of civic rights on aliens and mercenaries, at the end of the period of the tyrants, led to sedition and civil war” (Politics, 1303a13). Furthermore, Aristotle argued that a legitimate ruler was protected by his own armed citizens, whereas tyrants used foreign mercenaries: “Kings are guarded by the arms of their subjects; tyrants by a foreign force” (1285a16). The use of foreign mercenaries frequently led to rule devolving to a tyrant or a small clique (1306a19).
Aristotle’s observations have largely been echoed by modern scholars. Tyrants were keenly aware of the fact that common identity and civic solidarity were threats to their personal power. Kathryn Lomas observes that “the use of itinerant populations to subvert the status of the polis is common to many tyrants and Hellenistic monarchs throughout the Greek world.” Paul Cartledge observes that Syracuse became:
what Tyranny in essence was: an autocracy based on military force supplied by a personal bodyguard and mercenaries; and reinforced by multiple dynastic marriages, the unscrupulous transfers of populations, and the enfranchisement of foreigners.
There is evidence that the Greeks more widely considered homogeneity to be a source of strength in a city. During the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian political leader and adventurer Alcibiades argued that Sicily would be easy to conquer, because its diversity meant its cities lacked solidarity and social trust. Instead of common civic action, the Sicilians were prone to individual selfish behavior in the form of corruption and emigration:
Sicily may have large cities, but they are full of mixed rabbles and prone to the transfer of populations. As a result no one feels that he has a stake in a city of his own, so they have taken no trouble to equip themselves with arms for their personal safety or to maintain proper farming establishments in the country. Instead, individuals hoard whatever money they can extract from public funds by persuasive speaking or factional politics, in the knowledge that, if all fails, they can go and live elsewhere. A crowd like that are hardly likely to respond unanimously to any proposal or to organize themselves for joint action: more probable is that individual elements will go with any offer that attracts them . . . (Thucydides, 6.17)
Given that Alcibiades made these comments in a successful speech trying to convince the Athenian Assembly to invade Sicily, we can assume such arguments would have resonated with Athenian citizens in general. (In the event, the Athenian invasion of Sicily proved to be a disaster. Nonetheless, as one might expect, the Athenians did find local allies among Sicily’s diverse population, notably among the indigenous Sicels. Sicily’s lack of unity however was not sufficient to make up for the general riskiness of the enterprise, notably due to geographical distance from Athens, and Spartan support for Syracuse.)
The general points are worth repeating: by hard experience, the ancient Greeks learned that civic politics is impossible without the solidarity enabled by a strong shared ethno-cultural identity, that the forcible enfranchisement of foreigners was a powerful tool to disenfranchise the native citizens, and that an unarmed citizenry watched over by foreign mercenaries is ripe for tyranny.
Aristotle (trans. Ernest Barker and R. F. Stalley), Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Thucydides (trans. Martin Hammond), The Peloponnesian War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Kathryn Lomas, “The Polis in Italy: Ethnicity, Colonization, and Citizenship in the Western Mediterranean,” in Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson (eds.), Alternatives to Athens: Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 182.
Paul Cartledge, Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 128.
On April 19th 2017, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press briefing in which he announced that the Trump Administration would be conducting a “comprehensive review” of its Iran policy. There are those of us who have known, since before the Inauguration, that regime change was on the table for Iran – with the only question being, just what kind of regime change? The fake news Assad gas attack and retaliatory fireworks in Syria were not at all reassuring. A month later, on May 19th, the Islamic Republic holds its 12th Presidential Elections. One thing is clear: Whoever is elected could be the last president of the Shi’a theocracy.
There is a plan to destroy Iran, a plan drawn up together with Saudi Arabia by those within the American military-industrial complex who consider the Saudis an ally of the United States. Hillary Clinton, who has extensive ties to Saudi financiers, certainly intended to implement this plan. Judging from the repeated references to Saudi Arabia in statements on Iran made by both the Secretary of Defense, General “Mad Dog” Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it is beginning to look like this plan might move forward even though there appeared to be substantively different plans for Iran back when General Flynn and Steve Bannon were the leading members of Team Trump. Whether or not this Saudi plan succeeds will have a deep impact on the future of Westerners and others in the wider Indo-European world. The question of Iran’s immediate future probably has more profound implications for the long-term survival of the Aryan heritage than any other contemporary crisis.
Surrounded by a dozen artificial states that do not predate the European colonial machinations of the 18th and 19th centuries, Irân is the only real nation between China and India in the East and the sphere of declining European civilization to the West and North. Shorthand for Irânshahr or “Aryan Imperium”, the country’s 55% Persian majority never referred to Iran as “the Persian Empire.” The classical Greeks coined that term and it stuck in the West. It is dangerously misleading because, while the Persians have been the most culturally dominant ethno-linguistic group within Iranian Civilization (playing a role comparable to the Han within Chinese Civilization), the Kurds, Ossetians, Baluch, and others are both ethnically and linguistically Iranian even if they do not speak the Persian language (referred to as Pârsi or, wrongly, as Fârsi in Western Iran and as Dari or Tâjiki in Iranian Central Asia).
The conflation of “Iran” and “Persia” has, for a number of years now, been enlisted as part of a plot to further erode the territorial integrity of Iran by reducing it to a Persian rump state. While the rootless globalist conspirators plotting to frame “Iran” as a conceptual construct of Persian Imperialism are certainly driven by economic and strategic considerations, their ultimate goal is the erasure of the very idea of Iran or Iranshahr. They see the revival of this idea as perhaps the single greatest threat to their broader agenda, and since the total failure of the Islamic Reform Movement of 1997–2009, just such a revival has been at the heart of an ultra-nationalist cultural revolution known as the Iranian Renaissance.
This movement strives for a rebirth of the Pre-Islamic worldview of Iranian Civilization, seeing the so-called “golden age” of Islam as an afterglow or abortion of what might have been had Iran continued its developmental trajectory as an Aryan nation. After all, the vast majority of scientists and engineers who were forced to write in Arabic under the Caliphate were ethnic Iranians whose mother tongue was Persian. In every respect, from Science and Technology, to Literature, Music, Art, and Architecture, so-called ‘Islamic Civilization’ acted as a parasite misappropriating a truly glorious Iranian Civilization that was already 2,000 years old before the Arab–Muslim invasion imposed Islam, and the genocidal Mongols cemented it (by crushing the Persian insurgencies in Azerbaijan, on the Caspian coast, and in Khorasan).
The Iranian Renaissance is based on the revival of ancient principles and ideals, many of which Iran shares with Europe both through their common Caucasian ancestry and through extensive intercultural exchange. This included the deep penetration of the Iranian Alans, Scythians, and Sarmatians into the European continent, and their eventual integration with the Goths in “Goth-Alania” (Catalonia) and the Celts in “Erin” (a cognate of “Iran”). Their introduction of the culture of knightly chivalry (Javanmardi) and grail mysticism into Europe left as deep an impact on the “Faustian” ethos of the West as the “Promethean” (really, Zoroastrian) ideals of the worship of Wisdom and innovative industriousness, which were introduced to Greece through centuries of Persian colonization.
The civilizational barrier between Iran and Europe has been very porous – on both sides. After the Hellenization of Iran during the Alexandrian period, Europe was almost Persianized through the adoption of Mithraism as the state religion of Rome. Partly as a consequence of the machinations of the Parthian dynasty and their black ops Navy in the Mediterranean, this was imminent by the time Constantine institutionalized Christianity – probably as a bulwark against Iran.
So it should not come as a surprise that many of the core elements of the ethos of the Iranian Renaissance seem strikingly European: the reverence for Wisdom and the pursuit of knowledge above all else; consequently, also an emphasis on industrious innovation leading to a utopian beautification and perfection of this world; a cultivation of chivalrous free-spiritedness, charitable humanitarianism, and broadminded tolerance; a political order that is based on Natural Right, wherein slavery is considered unjust and strong women are greatly respected.
But one must remember that to the extent that Iranshahr extended far eastward into Asia, these values were once also characteristic of Eastern Aryan culture – especially Mahayana Buddhism, which was created by the Iranian Kushans. Iran colonized northern India five times and the entire Silk Route into what is now Northwestern China was populated by Caucasian-looking Iranians until Turkic and Mongol conquests in the 11th and 12th centuries.
While the Iranian Renaissance wants to “Make Iran Great Again” by reviving this Indo-European legacy, and even by territorially reconstituting what people in our movement call “Greater Iran” (Irâné Bozorg), rootless globalists, Arab oil sheikhs, and their Islamist collaborators in Turkey and Pakistan want to erase Iran from the map altogether. Evidently this is not lost on the hundreds of thousands of Iranian nationalists who gathered at the tomb of Cyrus the Great on October 29th 2016 to chant the slogan “We are Aryans, we don’t worship Arabs!” The slogan is as blatantly anti-Islamic as possible within the limits of the law in the Islamic Republic. The prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali were, of course, Arabs, so the point is quite clear. It is also clear who these young people consider their true messenger, since the other most widely chanted slogan was, “Our Aryan Cyrus, you are our honor!”
Since the brutally crushed uprising of 2009, almost all Iranians have rejected the Islamic Republic. Many of them, especially the youth, are convinced that Islam itself is the problem. They have clandestinely converted to a Neo-Zoroastrianism that is indistinguishable from Iranian ultra-nationalism. Zarathustra in a winged disc, symbolizing the evolutionary perfection of the soul, known as the “Farvahar” is everywhere: on pendants, rings, and even tattoos (despite the fact that tattoos, which were ubiquitous among the Scythians, were banned by orthodox Zoroastrianism). Now even key elements within the regime, especially the Revolutionary Guard, are reading treatises on “the political thought of Aryan Imperium” that are extremely critical of Islam while glorifying ancient Iran.
Meanwhile, the so-called ‘opposition’ in exile has been almost entirely corrupted and co-opted by those who wish to carve up what little is left of Iran. On the one hand you have the radical Leftists who actually handed Iran over to the Ayatollahs in 1979 before Khomeini turned on them, forcing those who escaped execution to go into exile. On the other hand you have the blindly loyal devotees of Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, whose vision – or lack thereof – largely aligns with that of the leftists, at least insofar as it concerns the aims of the Globalists and Islamists.
Those in the Marxist and Maoist opposition to the Islamic Republic promote ethnic separatism, transplanting an anti-Colonialist discourse of “people’s liberation struggles” into an Iranian context where it does not belong. The Persians never lorded over anyone. We were humanitarian liberators. If anything, we were too humanitarian and too liberal.
Leftists speak of “the peoples of Iran” as if the Kurds and Baluch are not ethnically Iranian and as if a Turkic dialect were not imposed on the province of Azerbaijan, the Caucasian wellspring of Iran, by means of genocidal half-savage Asiatic conquerors. While claiming to be feminists and partisans of the proletarian revolution these leftists accept funding from Saudi Arabia, who wants to help them separate the partly Arabized oil-rich region of Khuzestan from Iran and turn it into the nation of Al-Ahwaz, with a considerable coastline on what they already refer to as “the Arabian Gulf.” Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Al-Ahwaz, Baluchistan: these microstates, ostensibly born of leftist “liberation movements”, would be easy for rootless global capitalists to control. In at least two cases, Al-Ahwaz and ‘Free Baluchistan’, they would also be breeding grounds for the further spread of Islamist terrorism. Finally, they would leave the Persians divested of almost all of Iran’s oil and natural gas resources, and contain the rising tide of Aryan Identitarianism within a rump state of ‘Persia.’
The most well-armed and well-organized of these leftist groups is the Mojaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), which also goes by the aliases People’s Mojaheddin of Iran (PMOI) and National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Their armed guerrillas essentially put Khomeini and the clerical establishment to power before being branded as heretics. Their response was to swear allegiance to Saddam Hussein and put at his disposal a few military units that defected during the Iran-Iraq War. This means that they de-facto accepted the Iraqi occupation of Khuzestan. Later, when they were forced to relocate to Iraqi Kurdistan, they made promises to the Kurds to support Kurdish secession from Iran. A whole host of prominent politicians in the United States and the European Union have been bribed into pledging their support for the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, including John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and the NeoCons.
The majority of the Iranian people view the MEK as traitors, and the fact that they are essentially a cult whose members – or captives – are as forcibly closed off from the outer world as North Koreans does not help either. While this means that they would never be able to effectively govern Iran, the MEK could be used as a catalytic agent of de-stabilization during a war against the Islamic Republic.
Here is where Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi comes in, together with his wing of the exiled Iranian ‘opposition.’ The globalist cabal and their Arab allies in the Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE) intend to create a problem to which he is the solution. He is in their pocket.
At a CFR meeting in Dallas in early 2016, which I exposed in a notorious interview with the Sweden-based independent journalist Omid Dana of Roodast (“the Persian Alex Jones”), Reza Pahlavi mocked the allegedly “overblown nationalist rhetoric” about the genocidal Arab-Muslim Conquest of Iran. He referred to this incomparable historical tragedy as something that, if it happened at all, is unimportant because it happened long ago. Really, he sees it as an obstacle to good neighborly relations with the Arab states of “the Gulf”. Oh yes, in interviews with Arab media he has referred to the Forever Persian Gulf as “the Gulf” so as to appease his wealthy Arab benefactors. Reza Pahlavi has also allowed representatives in his official media outlets to repeatedly do the same. He has even used the term in a context that implies Iran might surrender several islands in “the Gulf” with a view to better neighborly relations. (As if his father’s relinquishing of Bahrain was not bad enough!)
In fact, he has suggested that Saudi Arabia and other inhumane Arab governments ought to invest in Iran’s economy to such an extent that Iran would be so dependent on them that waging war against these nations would become impossible. Relatedly, and very embarrassingly, the Crown Prince asserted that his future Iran should not have nuclear weapons because he would be afraid to sleep at night in his palace, since if Iran were to develop atomic arms other rival nations in the region would have the right to do so as well and would aim their missiles at Iran.
What is worse than all of this rhetoric is the Prince’s very concrete plan to put the question of a federalization of Iran to a popular vote or nationwide referendum. This is not merely a proposal. He meets with individuals and groups who are promoting separatism and the further territorial disintegration of Iran, with the first stage being “education in the mother tongue” (rather than Persian) and regional autonomy in the context of a federal system. At the same time, he denounced as “Fascists” the Iranian patriots who, at a risk of being imprisoned or killed, assembled at the tomb of Cyrus the Great on October 29th of last year and chanted the slogan, “We are Aryans, we don’t worship Arabs!” This, despite the fact that some of the same protestors also chanted slogans congratulating the Crown Prince on his birthday – a mistake that they will never make again. He even made remarks that suggestively mocked supporters of the Persian Imperial Tradition.
Reza Pahlavi takes every opportunity to make it clear his real ideals are “liberal democracy” and “universal human rights”, Western concepts that he uncritically embraces without the least understanding of the fundamental problems with them as compared to our aristocratic Iranian political philosophy – which influenced, and is much more in line with, substantial Western political theories such as those of Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche.
While his embrace of democracy and human rights extends to a popular vote on a federalization that leads to regional autonomy and eventually secession of numerous provinces, it apparently does not protect criticism of Islam. Also under influence from his neo-liberal Western handlers, and the leftist PC police in the West, and totally out of line with the popular sentiment among the Iranian youth, he has asserted that if Islam is to be insulted or if there is to be ‘Islamophobia’ in the future Iran, then it would be better for the Islamic Republic to remain in power. He has the gall to say this while branding his critics as agents of the Islamic Republic. When tens of prominent patriotic monarchists signed a “Last Warning” (Akharin Hoshdâr) statement to him in July of 2016, some of whom were his father’s closest advisors, he accused all of us of being agents of the Islamic Republic who falsified his claims and manufactured evidence (which was itself a patently false and slanderous claim).
We were not agents of the Islamic Republic, nor will we ever be shills of a Shi’a theocracy in its present form. But given the crisis that we face now, we need to consider a radical alternative to both the secessionist traitors in the Paris-based leftist opposition and the Shahs of Sunset in Los Angeles who are all too happy to have their Prince of Persia reign over the rump state that is left of Iran after “regime change.” I propose a grand bargain, a Bonapartist preemption of the coming reign of Terror.
Those who have followed my writings and interviews know that there is no harsher critic of Islam, in all its forms, than yours truly. I have not yet published my really serious and rigorous critiques of Islam, including and especially my deconstruction of the Shi’a doctrine. Nothing that I am about to propose changes the fact that I have every intention of doing so within the next few years.
Nevertheless, we are entering into what Carl Schmitt called a “state of emergency”. In this exceptional situation, wherein we are presented with an existential threat to Iran, it is important to recognize the difference between ontological or epistemological questions and the kind of friend-enemy distinction that is definitive for political thought in the proper and fundamental sense. Iranian nationalists have friends within the system of the Islamic Republic, and Lord knows we have plenty of enemies outside of it.
That young Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) officer from Mashaad who recites Hafez while patrolling the Iraqi border and waiting to be murdered by Kurdish separatists, but whose own mother is a Kurd, and who goes with his Persian father to worship at the shrine of Imam Reza while wearing a Farvahar around his neck, is not only a friend he is the brother of every true Iranian patriot. It was not the Pasdaran who shot and butchered young Iranians to put down the revolt of 2009, it was paramilitary thugs beholden to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – who is now on his deathbed.
We need to think about the future. The very heart and soul of Zarathustra’s teaching was his futurism, his emphasis on evolutionary innovation. If he were alive today, he certainly would not be a Zoroastrian. Frankly, even if he had been alive during the Sassanian Empire, he would not have been a Zoroastrian in any orthodox sense.
The Iranian Renaissance holds up the Sassanian period as the zenith of Iran’s history, “the climax before the dramatic decline.” But the two greatest heretics, from the standpoint of Zoroastrian Orthodoxy, had the backing of the Sassanian state. Shapur I was the patron of Mani, who created a syncretic world religion in which Gautama Buddha and the Gnostic Christ were seen as Saoshyants (Zoroastrian World Saviors) and the legitimate successors of Zarathustra. Manichaeism spread all the way to southern France in the West, where it sparked the Holy Inquisition as a reaction against it, and China in the East, where Mani was referred to as “the Buddha of Light” and his teaching influenced the development of Mahayana Buddhism. The libertine esotericist Mazdak, whose socialist revolution I would classify more as national-bolshevist than Communist, was given the full backing of the Sassanian Persian Emperor Kavad I. Even Khosrow Anushiravan, who crushed the Mazdakite movement, was not any kind of Orthodox Zoroastrian. He was a Neo-Platonist, who invited the remains of the Academy to take refuge at Iranian libraries and laboratories such as Gondeshapur after Justinian closed Europe’s last universities.
Moreover, the evolution of the Iranian spiritual tradition founded by Zarathustra did not end with the Islamic Conquest. The Iranian Renaissance condemns Mazdak unequivocally, and yet Babak Khorrdamdin is regarded as a hero of nationalist resistance to the Arabian Caliphate. But the Khorramdin partisans of Azerbaijan were Mazdakites! A clear line can be drawn from the Mazdakite movement, through the Khorramdin, and into esoteric Shi’a groups such as the Nizari Ismailis or Order of “Assassins” as they are widely known in the West. Fighting against both the Caliphate and the Crusaders simultaneously, there has never been a greater champion of Iranian freedom and independence than Hassan Sabbah. Nor did his brand of Shi’a esotericism decline with the Sevener or Ismaili sect.
There are still, in Iran today, putatively Shi’a clergy who owe more to Suhrawardi, via Mullah Sadra, than they do to anything that Imam Ali actually preached. By the time of the Sixth Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq, the Shi’a faith was co-opted by Iranian partisans struggling against the Sunni Caliphate. The kind of Shi’a doctrine that some of Ayatollah Khomeini’s colleagues attempted to impose on Iran in 1979 represented a radical reconstruction of early Arab Shi’ism, not the kind of Shi’a esotericism that birthed the Safavid Dynasty. The latter allowed Iran to reemerge as a distinct political state set apart from, and against, the Sunni Ottoman Caliphate and a Mughal Empire that had also declined into Islamic fundamentalism after Akbar’s Persianate literature and philosophy proved an insufficient bulwark against this. Some of these Persianate Shi’a are at the highest levels in the power structure of the Islamic Republic. They need to be welcomed into the fold of Iranian nationalism, even into the fold of the Iranian Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance reached back to Pagan Rome for the sake of a civilizational revitalization, but it did not abolish Christianity. Neither did Benito Mussolini when he adopted, as his explicit aim, a second Italian Renaissance and a revival of the Roman Empire. Rather, Il Duce recruited Roman Catholicism as a reliable ally in his valiant struggle against rootless capitalism, because he knew that Roman Catholics were “Roman” – even in Argentina.
Likewise, today, Shi’a are somehow culturally Iranian, even in Turkic northern Azerbaijan, Arabic-speaking Iraq and Bahrain, not to mention northwestern Afghanistan, where Persian remains the lingua franca. If Neo-Zoroastrians, both in Iran and in the parts of Kurdistan currently outside of Iran’s borders, were to ally with Persianate Shi’a it would do more than shore up Iran’s territorial integrity. It would establish a new Persian Empire, providing central Iran with numerous Shi’a buffer zones and forward positions while, on the basis of Iranian nationalism, also reincorporating areas that are ethno-linguistically Iranian but not Shi’a – such as greater Kurdistan and Tajikistan (including Samarkand and Bukhara).
What I am proposing is more than a military coup within the Islamic Republic. The label of “Bonapartist” is only partly accurate. We need a group of officers in the Pasdaran who recognize that Timocracy, as Plato called it, is only the second best form of government and that their rule will need to be legitimated by a philosopher king and a council of Magi with the intellect and depth of soul to use state power to forward the Iranian Renaissance that is already underway. Ironically, if we separate the political form of the Islamic Republic from its content – as a good Platonist would – the regime’s anti-democratic and illiberal core structures are strikingly Iranian. The Guardian Council (Shorâye Negahbân) is the Assembly of the Magi and the Guiding Jurisprudent (Velâyaté Faqih) is the Shâhanshâhé Dâdgar who has the farr – who is rightly guided by the divine glory of Wisdom. This should be no surprised since, after all, Ayatollah Khomeini borrowed these concepts from Al-Farabi, who is still, deep down, an Aryan.
The Pan-Iranist Party, with its origins in the National-Socialist Workers Party (SUMKA) of early 1940s Iran, is a key element in this stratagem. Famous for its very vocal parliamentary opposition to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s relinquishing of Bahrain in 1971, the ultra-nationalist (i.e. to the Right of the Shah) loyal opposition of the Pahlavi regime could become the loyal opposition of the Islamic Republic if it were legalized after a coup d’état by those within the Revolutionary Guard who understand the value of Iranian nationalism in confronting the imminent existential threat to Iran.
Unlike all of the other opposition parties, the Pan-Iranist Party’s underground subsistence has been just barely tolerated by the Islamic Republic. Although it is technically illegal, and cannot field candidates in elections, the regime has not crushed it either – because there is no question about the party’s loyalty to Iran. The party has extensive connections to both the intellectual leadership of the Iranian Renaissance and the more patriotic members of the Shi’a clergy. If it were the only legal opposition party, all Iranian nationalists would vote for it and, within a single election cycle, or two at most, the Pan-Iranists would secure a majority in parliament. Their first piece of legislation ought to be something with great symbolic power and little chance of backlash from the remaining military-industrial complex of the Islamic Republic: the return to the Lion and Sun as Iran’s legitimate national flag (one of the Party’s stated goals).
The Lion and Sun epitomizes the ambiguity of Iranian identity. Shi’a claim that it is a zoomorphic representation of Imam Ali, “the Lion of God” (Assadollâh) and that the sword wielded by the lion is the Zulfaqâr. The Islamic Republic replaced the symbol because its fundamentalist founders knew this to be false. The Lion and Sun is an exceedingly ancient Aryan standard, which probably represents Mithras or the Sun rising into the zodiacal house of Leo.
Moreover, Neo-Zoroastrians are wrong to think that the curved sword is an Islamic addition (and consequently that it ought to be replaced by a straightened sword). Rather, the lion’s sword is the harpe, which was the symbol of the fifth grade of initiation in Mithraism, known as Perses. Perses was the son of Perseus, the progenitor of the Persian Aryans. He severs the Gorgon’s head with a harpe sword. Gorgons were sacred to the Scythians, the tribal rival of the Persians within the Iranian world. Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa is a symbol of his having seized her power (her Shakti) while remaining human (without turning to stone). But yeah, sure, it’s Imam Ali.
In the new Iran, Neo-Zoroastrians are going to need to tolerate the mass mourning rituals of Moharram and Ashura, after all their true origins are in the ancient Iranian mourning processions for the martyrdom of Siyâvosh. Meanwhile, Shi’a are going to have to put up with Farvahar-tattooed Neo-Zoroastrian women who have been so antagonized by the Islamic Republic that they want to jump naked over Châhâr-Shanbeh Suri bonfires lit by burning Korans.
Unlike under Reza Shah Pahlavi II, and the proposed Arab Republic of Al-Ahwaz, there will be no criminalization of ‘Islamophobia’ in nationalist Iran. Actually, the Shi’a component of the new regime will serve to legitimate Iran’s alliance with European nationalists fighting the fifth column of the new Sunni Calipahte in Paris, London, Munich, and Dearborn. The hydra’s heads are in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Mithra’s Lioness will sever these heads with her harpe. For the first time since the Fatamid Dynasty of the Assassins, Mecca and Medina will be governed by Shi’a mystics. Persians will celebrate at Persepolis.
There is no doubt about it. The time has come for Bonapartist Iran – the Aryan-Islamic, Religious-Nationalist assassin’s fortress of resistance against the rootless globalists, where, “No-thing is true, and everything is permitted.” We are left with only one question, “Who is the Persian Napoleon?”
Jason Reza Jorjani,
May 12, 2017
We shall remain nostalgic Utopians, agonizing over our ideals, but balking, ultimately, at their realization, professing that everything is possible, but never that everything has been achieved (Baudrillard, America, 85)
Social scientists should not be reading Jean Baudrillard. This is because, as writers like Bogard (1990) argue, he dissolves the social into nothing more than images. These are “simulacra,” images corresponding to no object; inventions only. Such images Baudrillard calls the “hyper-real.” “Policy” is impossible in such a world, and neither is anything that tries to claim the status of “science.” Therefore, while the postmodernists skillfully criticize the present “western social system” and its economic market, they have nothing positive to advocate, since anything constructive must also be tainted by its interaction with the hyper-real.
This critique renders the language of social life false. Importantly, it also renders the language of rebellion equally illusive. Baudrillard is intolerable because, as Bogard writes:
Baudrillard radically denies the possibility of sociology by way of an argument which claims that the social field, i.e., the web of social relationships conceived as the empirical ground and reality principle for a uniquely sociological enterprise, is in the process of collapsing into an undifferentiated and homogeneous ‘mass’ – a mass which is itself the product of a social process yet can no longer be identified with any particular social subject or object (Bogard, 1990: 2-3).
Bogard is incorrect to argue that the society is “in the process of collapsing” into a mass of unreal images without referents. It has already done so, and sociology was its product. The essential criticism, however, is correct. The argument in this paper is that, if social life is based on images, and images refer only to themselves, then those who project the images are insulated from all serious criticism. This is simply because there is nowhere solid to stand that. Language and the social do not exist except as mental images that skillfully manipulate the herd. Yet, the nature of this criticism does not yield results.
This is especially manifest in the postmodern market, that, among other things, believes itself to be the very manifestation of “utopia achieved.” Hefner writes, “The realm of personal/social need satisfaction has increasingly been tied to the operation of a market, and this has been accompanied by an expansion of socially-defined wants and the market geared to their continued growth” (Hefner, 1977: 113).
While Hefner, albeit writing from the Dark Ages, is skeptical of the above description of the postmodern critique, he is also drawn to it. Baudrillard will later add some overgeneralized theory to it, but the essential idea is the same. Markets are impersonal machines. Over time, mass production, advertising and the total monetization of all “social” relationships has dissolved the “market” into a set of images. The rise of virtual reality just confirmed the trajectory and is nothing new or special.
Hence, the machine is inorganic and artificial, it is one step away from reality. Making it “abstract,” that is, wholly monetized, is yet another layer of the unreal, making it twice removed from reality. Finally, that it is now virtual and global (that is, corresponding to nothing), dissolves even that realm of illusion, making illusions out of previous ones. It is three times removed from reality.
Bogard is the most vehement in his rejection of this thesis. His conclusion is that Baudrillard is wrong because he renders “liberal change” impossible, and by extension, the academic role in that change (Bogard, 1990: 13-14). How this is a reason to reject Baudrillard remains a mystery. That it is an argument deriving from professional self-interest. He actually says one has to reject Baudrillard because academic liberals would be out of a job; or alternatively, that academic social science would cease to exist.
Policy, social science, and maybe academia itself seem to be uncomfortable when deconstruction is turned around on themselves (cf. Bogard, 1990: 10-14). Others (cf. Rubenstein, 1989) use it for partisan purposes. The postmodern criticism might itself be criticized and even parodied, but to reject it entirely is difficult. Baudrillard writes:
Yes, California (and America with it) is the mirror of our decadence, but it is not decadent at all. It is hyperreal in its vitality, it has all the energy of the simulacrum. It is the world center of the inauthentic. Certainly it is: that is what gives it its originality and power. The irresistible rise of the simulacrum is something you can simply feel here without the slightest effort (Baudrillard, 2010: 113-114).
The only problem is that energy need not come from the real. Originality almost requires the make-believe. Most of all, power must justify itself through the creation of an imaginary world. Thus, the quote above is not a positive view, nor does it remotely defend the present system. Worst of all, the system itself is “irresistible,” and in part, that is because it holds itself out as inevitable.
Therefore, the issues here are that a) social sciences pretend that what they analyze is somehow objective, b) that the market and individual “needs and desires” are some of these objects, and c) that such mechanisms can be analyzed like any other social phenomenon. Baudrillard and Applbaum (1998) argue that they are incorrect as the social sciences have been deconstructed out of existence.
Applbaum’s scathing parody of the pseudo-academic field of “marketing” is both necessary and accurate. Market-oriented writers and the market as such often act as the epiphany of “freedom” itself. The truth is that “the free market” has long become a set of images delivering the message that, in being absorbed into this matrix, the subject is now a non-conformist and even a rebel. The “rebel” is safe from repercussions, because even the act of rebellion is stylized, standardized and rendered hyper-real (Applbaum, 1998: 325).
As part of his critique, Applbaum cites several significant authorities in this “field” to the effect that customers do not know their interests. Their needs are indeterminate (apart from staple items) and thus need to be led and directed. While even a cursory glance at the typical high-priced advertisement shows this to be true, the system itself is normally justified by a reference to “reason.” This is the crux of the matter.
“Reason” is defined in the most vulgar way possible – the constant search for one’s utility, value and profit. These might be defied broadly, but they manipulate the “mass” of the population in the name of individual self-creation. Implying that the market is based on the rational “maximization of utility” on the one hand, while acting as if the mass are a mere herd on the other; those who control the market are mocking the herd, rubbing their nose in their inability to realize that they live in a world created by anonymous others. That the “mass,” the herd, remain unaware is part of the process. The more inert the herd proves itself to be, the more powerful the system becomes (Applbaum, 1998: 326-327). Applbaum writes,
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s surely must be counted among the seven wonders in modern times. Beholding this massive barrage of communications all shouting ‘‘Buy me!’’ (though in fact the message is ‘‘Choose me!’’), the critics have often held that a force capable of co-opting consciousness in this way must be organized, conniving, and hegemonic (Applbaum, 1998: 334).
While this is true, Applbaum would rather not be associated with it. Instead, he substitutes the idea that the simulacra of hyper-reality, economically speaking, are appropriated by consumers for “the procurement and use of commodities for the purpose of self-construction” (Applbaum, 1998: 334). The only problem is that the foundation for this “identity” that consumers are constructing is nowhere to be found. In other words, one cannot agree that the social world is little more than images, while still arguing that there is some fundament from which the “sovereign individual” can “construct himself.”
He argues that “the aspect of the cosmology that I address is the implicitly held theory of needs and their purported satisfaction through the mutually constructed cultural economic entity of the free market” (Applbaum, 1998: 347). While claiming that this “cosmology” of the “free spirit” is pure illusion, he insists that this same “self-construction” is autonomous. This attempt to save the social sciences fails, because the basis on which an “individual” will seek to “construct herself” must be derivable from some power, something with significant social salience. This authority is normally pop-culture or one of its derivatives.
Baudrillard (2010) argues against such unexplained academic innocence:
Politics frees itself in the spectacle, in the all-out advertising effect; sexuality frees itself in all its anomalies and perversions. . . mores, customs, the body, and language free themselves in the ever quickening round of fashion. The liberated man is not the one who is freed in his ideal reality, his inner truth, or his transparency; he is the man who changes spaces, who circulates, who changes sex, clothes, and habits according to fashion, rather than morality. . . (Baudrillard, 2010: 105).
Given the sheer depth of the immersion into the matrix, it is difficult to argue with him. The only problem left is that he sounds like a conservative of several generations ago. His reputation as a “leftist,” however, renders such critical ideas fashionable, and unfortunately, hyper-real.
The late Russell Kirk, a well known expositor of traditionalist conservative ideas writes:
I think it would be better, if the choice could be made, for society to be dissolved into its constituent atoms than for the society to become one featureless bulk of production-men and consumption-men. . . As the media for expression of thought decay or expire, the parlor-tables in British hotels are covered with a new spawn of trade-journals and automobile-company magazines, luxuriously printed, fat and glossy, published out of the ample advertising-funds of the great stock-companies (Kirk, 1956).
This is no different from Baudrillard. Had the name been removed from the above quotes, many of Baudrillard’s followers would nod along with the ideas presented. Once informed that it was “Russell Kirk,” the reader, picking up the cue, would just as quickly be revolted. Kirk’s approach, developed at length through his long career, contains substantial criticisms of market relations, mass society and the force that creates them both: the substitution of base desire for traditional conceptions of virtue. Confusingly, post-modern “conservatism” is actually libertarianism, whose love of the postmodern market and its globalized enforcement regime know no bounds.
Importantly, when Hefner states “This system in turn has had a most dramatic effect on other world cultures increasingly linked to events originating in the West. In this many people would see an event of tragic proportions” (Hefner, 1977: 113), he needs to clarify what “west” means. He certainly cannot be considering the west of Aristotle or Aquinas. He can only be using the simulacra of “the west” to refer to the social degeneration Kirk and his followers rightly decry.
Baudrillard seems to agree: “Utopia has been achieved here and anti-utopia is being achieved: the anti-utopia of unreason, of deterritorialization, of the indeterminacy of language and the subject, of the neutralization of all values, of the death of culture” (Baudrillard, 2010: 106).
What values are being referenced? That is the problem: Baudrillard seems to be in full agreement with Kirk and many others of that tradition, but overtly saying so seems quite non-academic. Yet, as if from nowhere, Baudrillard writes
The great lesson of all this is that freedom and equality, like ease and grace, only exist where they are present from the outset. This is the surprise democracy had in store for us: equality is at the beginning, not at the end. That is the difference between egalitarianism and democracy: democracy presupposes equality at the outset, egalitarianism presupposes it at the end (Baudrillard, 2010: 103).
Where are these abstractions coming from? How are “freedom and equality,” “democracy” or “egalitarianism” anything other than simulacra? Even worse, what is this mysterious force that will make everyone “even” at the beginning? And would not that force, by its very existence, prove that such equalization “at the outset” is impossible? These phrases, completely out of sync with the rest of his writings, do not seem to even be written by the same man. These kinds of modern, almost libertarian constructs seem almost like concessions to his academic readership rather than serious ideas.
A “simulatory culture” is a world where words have no referents; there is no corresponding object. It is not a culture at all. Such falsity requires a population to accept it as real. They are hypnotics. This is Baudrillard’s conception of a virtual, or simulatory world; one where the entire planet is brought to accept the images as reality. “Insanity,” and “terror” is defined as not accepting them as real (Baudrillard, 1988: 98-99).
They bring benefits to their subjects in that they are easier than reality, since they are infinitely plastic and malleable. It is the final manifestation of the Enlightenment and its drive to reshape reality (Baudrillard, 1988: 92-93). Finally, this world has been created by globalized capital, where national cultures are inconveniences. The less cultural specificity exists, the easier it is to bring them into the vortex of capitalist relations without a foundation for resistance (Baudrillard, 1988: 91-93).
The “global culture” is a system, a network of images. Its goal is profit, but it is far more. The system must be recognized by all as “the obvious good, the natural ideal of the human race” (Baudrillard, 1988: 99-101). It cannot have its claim to be the universal satisfaction of all human desire “cast into doubt” (Baudrillard, 99-101). Even if it is just a handful of “fanatics,” their very existence is overwhelming to the system. It is humiliation that it fears most of all.
The global order has its own life, language and social relations that correspond only to the images the system projects as “reality.” These images are infinitely plastic, and hence, can correspond to the interests of those who project them and craft the desires of those who receive them (Fisher, 2009: 54ff). This more friendly world, more exciting than the real, Baudrillard calls “hyper-reality,” and is the pseudo-ontological foundation for the present globalized order (Baudrillard, 1988: 88-89).
Virilio (1995) argues that “there is no such thing as globalization, there is only virtualization. What is being effectively globalized by instantaneity is time. Everything now happens within the perspective of real time: henceforth we are deemed to live in a ‘one-time-system’” (Virilio, 1995: np). In terms of culture, Virilio argues that the richness and diversity of history comes from the local, that is, the national or the ethnic. Virtualization and universalization mean its destruction.
The hypnosis is driven by the consumer, the subject. This is not “forced” on society, but, once any sense of the absolute has been destroyed, society loses any purpose or aim. This void then makes its subjects easy prey for the friendlier virtual world. Reality forces people to make hard choices and be responsible for their acts. The world of consumer images makes no such demands, and, since it is based on relativism, the struggles for virtue and the good are not significant.
Fisher explains: “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment” (Fisher, 2009: 54). This virtual world is created by the drive for profit. Money (itself a simulacrum) reduces all human relations to itself. Once human interaction is reduced to dollars, the “human” is totally effaced (Baudrillard, 1988: 93).
“Violence” is defined by Baudrillard as this process of reducing all reality into monetary relations (Baudrillard, 1988: 92). The violence of the system is manifest in “our own submission to an integral technology, to a crushing virtual reality, to the grip of networks and programs, which perhaps represents the involutive profile of the entire species, of the human race’s become ‘global’”. . .(Baudrillard, 1988: 104). The broader point is that it is the generator of images that decides what reality is and hence, who is outside it.
“Violence” is different from “terror.” The latter is anything that exists outside the system; it is everyone who seeks its subversion through both the unmasking of its values. They seek the re-establishment of specific cultures. They are illiberal and hence, dangerous to the system (Baudrillard, 1988: 96-97).
The system sees terror as a problem and opportunity. The system’s bureaucratic organization does not permit to effectively respond. This machine, neither private nor public, cannot fight a guerrilla war because such wars follow no rules. “Guerrilla terrorists” do not wear uniforms, follow no standard military protocols, and have a flair for the symbolic. The “symbolic” refers to those realities that are expanded beyond their initial impact and become emblematic of their broader ideas. 9-11 destroyed the Trade Towers and surrounding buildings. Yet, in the virtual world, it is far more. It served to humiliate the insulated projectors of the hyper-real. These eternally invisible “terrorists” are a threat because they actually live in the real, have a solid culture and are not enmeshed in hyper-reality (Baudrillard, 1988: 101).
However, the existence of these guerrilla bands, large enough to cause fear but not so large as to take the system head on, are used by the it to keep everyone on guard. Subjects then become fearful and suspicious, which leads to a state of great suggestibility. Baudrillard and Klein (2007) argue that “crisis” is used to buttress the system of images. Baudrillard argues that when the system runs out of enemies, it must create them (Baudrillard, 1988: 93). The upsurge against it is sporadic and decentralized, but really only an irritant. They are the revenge of the “singular” against the global order: the constant drive to homogenization (Baudrillard, 1988: 98).
Globalisation has been created by economic actors far more powerful than states or governments. John Urry (2005) writes “Empire is the sovereign power, creating a ‘smooth world’, the single logic of rule that now governs the world. This new sovereignty is deterritorialised and de-centered, with a merging and blending of a ‘global rainbow’” (Urry, 249). Scholte (2002) says the same, but argues that the imperial use of technology can empower, as well as dis-empower, those seeking to resist it. Poster argues that the faux-universal ideas stressed by Baudrillard are the final manifestation of the “Enlightenment” (Poster, 2008: 5). The universal claims of globalization are western European, elite and purely modern, based on concentrated capital and mechanization (Poster, 16).
Mark Fisher states that such a system “. . . can only emerge in a late capitalist culture in which images acquire an autonomous force. The way value is generated on the stock exchange depends of course less on what a company ‘really does’, and more on perceptions of, and beliefs about, its (future) performance (Fisher, 2009: 54-56). The point is that the world of virtual reality, relative values, an elastic “individualism” and capitalist relations are all part of the liberal order. Liberalism leads to a world without purpose; an ethics without virtue and discourse without foundation. Modern globalization is not conceivable without it (Fisher, 30-32).
To reject this world, even passively, is to be an outsider. The problem is that none of the authors in this field are outsiders, they are deeply enmeshed in the system and have made their peace with it. Actual rebels end up dead or in prison, not granted tenure.
Nevertheless, their arguments all converge on the truth that nominalism, individualism and relativism are absolutely essential for hyper-reality to have an “anti-ontology” from which to generate “reality.” It would seem that the solution to the evils of liberalism world require, at a minimum, a rejection of liberalism. Such an argument is not an option for most academics. It would be career-destroying.
Z. Bauman states: “The very project of modernity is born out of the desire for a world without surprises, a safe world, a world without fear” (in Galecki, 2006). He is arguing that this false world comes from the desire to reshape reality. He then comments that the older ties of human solidarity have been destroyed by the individualism necessarily promoted by this same project: “there is no individual self-determination without social solidarity” (Bauman, 2006: 144-146). Where these past values came from remains a mystery. Social solidarity, given his definition, must come from a pre-modern world. It must exist prior to the Enlightenment. This leaves us with romanticism, ethnic and religious community, agrarianism and the traditional world of the village. Committing to these, however, are not options in liberal academia, so he has to leave that part blank.
Bauman, rejecting the religious movements against globalization, reduces them to a “. . . longing for certainty in an unstable world. It is an escape from extremely complicated problems we cannot even name. . . It is nostalgia for a lost, simple world and the elementary array of tasks within this world” (in Gałecki, 2006). This dismissal is an extreme example of oversimplification. It is the use of virtual symbols to reject illiberal movements against the same liberalism he too rejects. If these problems are too complex for even a name, then how does he know to reject these solutions? Since he offers none in his (2006) work, dismissing other forms of resistance is forced and sloppy. This is especially acute when these groups use language almost identical to his own. If they are correct on diagnosing the problems, then how ‘simple’ can they be? This poor reasoning derives from Bauman’s refusal to admit the obvious: If liberalism is to be replaced, then its replacement cannot be liberal. Given the strictures of academia, he is forced to live with cognitive dissonance.
The other authors reviewed here have the same problem. David Harvey, in his (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, writes that capitalism appropriated the rhetoric of the “liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices” (Harvey, 2005: 42).
From the point of view of modern liberalism, Harvey is treading on dangerous ground. Worse, he writes, “[New York’s] elites acceded. . . to the demand for lifestyle diversification (including those attached to sexual preference and gender) and increasing consumer niche choices.” Capitalism, neoliberalism and the hyper-real are all connected. The machinery of hypnosis that makes it all hang together is summarized as: “The narcissistic exploration of self, sexuality, and identity became the leitmotif of bourgeois urban culture. Artistic freedom and artistic license, promoted by the city’s powerful cultural institutions, led, in effect, to the neoliberalization of culture” (Harvey, 47).
As if reassuring himself as to the obvious correctness of the same liberalism he just excoriated, he writes:
The Republican Party sought an alliance with the Christian right. . . . they appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness (besieged because this class lived under conditions of chronic economic insecurity). This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and antifeminism (Harvey, 49-50).
Harvey has backed himself into a corner. He is condemning the “Christian right” for rejecting the same phenomena he has just condemned. Harvey, for example, does not tell us the nature of these moral foundations that have been washed away. Aren’t these Christian standards? He makes reference to an absolute standard without bothering to explain it. Harvey does not have to justify his views because his colleagues are generally liberal. He must reassure himself as well as the structure within which he works that he remains a liberal. The strange conflict that derives from this will just have to stand.
Naomi Klein has the same problem, but she merely denies that exists. The mental gymnastics required for this are really not a problem, since much, of not all of her audience is unaware of the conflicts. She argues that capitalism and globalization are not liberal ideologies at all, but conservative. Refusing to define the term, she lumps militarism, nationalism, traditionalism and post-modern capitalism into the same hyper-real symbol (Klein, 2007: 7). It is a pure simulacrum; it has no referent.
The “Shock Doctrine” is a well-known idea usually associated with the “far right” in American politics. She does not bother to cite the originators of this idea, but permits the reader to believe it is her creation. Klein is correct that the rhetoric of capitalist freedom is a fraud, but this only shows that liberalism is authoritarian. Fisher has already said the same above.
Klein makes no attempt to explain how the followers of Burke, Adams and Dostoevsky have suddenly converted to a revolutionary, global, culture-less capitalism, only that they have (Bowman (2010) makes the same error; Norberg, (2008) however, makes a similar argument about Klein). These are all slaves of their own hyper-real ideological prison. There is no escape for this unless they want to be run out of academics.
Baudrillard, Fisher, Bowman, Poster, Bauman and Harvey are all saying the same thing. Their negative analysis is first-class. Their positive ideas either do not exist or are reduced to vague, hyper-real symbols such as “democracy” or “human rights,” themselves liberal. Refusing to admit that this same deconstruction can be turned on themselves, they reassure each other through fierce condemnations of the illiberalism their own criticisms make necessary. They have to be aware of this.
All of these are examples of what Baudrillard, et al. define as both “violence as symbol” and the hyper-reality of post-modern globalism. The critics of globalization operate within a virtual world that rewards their efforts without the inconvenience of being outsiders against it. Klein’s lucrative job in academia, tenure, light work loads and best selling books do not bespeak a “outsider” status. Rebellion is itself standardized and proceeds according to a script. Keeping to that script permits the “rebel” to act as an outsider while reaping the rewards of an imprisoned, conflicted insider. The harsh rhetoric above is likely a consequence of this. Holding that global capitalism is relativist and amoral, she does not tell us where her absolute demands for justice come from.
Everyone above agrees that the global order is modern, imperial, technological, secular and morally relativist. No one claims that post-modern virtual reality comes from the Carolingian empire. Therefore, the solution must be based upon strong social, ethnic and religious ties; limits on technology and personal desire; religion and the absolute; communitarianism, cultural specificity and decentralization. These are only the more obvious consequences, and none of them are, ipso facto, a problem to advocate unless there is some other force constraining them (all).
The broader point about Baudrillard and the school he helped make mainstream is that it spells the end of liberalism. It retains its power over many, but its assumptions are being rotted away by the continual exposure of its own absurdities. However, the act of making something mainstream is to bring it into the hyper-real. That has yet to dawn on many of them. They have provided the mental tools to become real outsiders and to, as a result, expose the similacra for what they are.
The reader is left to console himself through suspension of disbelief. Weiner speaks of the distinction between America and Europe as the distinction between the pragmatic “expert” and the lofty “intellectual,” (Weiner 2003, 16). This is probably true, albeit a wild over-generalization. It is also an older conservative opinion. Kirk himself made a similar distinction between “training” and “education” or, alternatively, between the “scholar” and the “intellectual” (Kirk, 1953: 476-478). Kirk states that the postmodern world is that of the technician, while the real world, the world outside the matrix, is that of the great authors from Plato to TS Eliot (Kirk, 1956).
Kirk makes more sense than Baudrillard or his followers, if only in that Kirk still hangs on to the real world that exists, barely, under layers and layers of illusion. It may be as simple as the difference between Baudrillard surrendering to the matrix while Kirk did not. At the same time, rescuing the social sciences is not worth anyone’s time, since the nominalist, Enlightenment-era naivete of modern “science” is guilty of laying the foundation for this matrix. Baudrillard writes in this regard:
America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present (Baudrillard, 2010: 82).
No wonder Bogard is so irritated. The conclusion here is simple: if the world of the postmodern market is illusory, has no “origins” and does not even pretend to be “authentic,” then what is real? How is it known? And how is it returned to its rightful place? If the real is said not to exist at all, then several conclusions seem inescapable, that a) the critique of the illusory has no purpose; b) the critique itself is undercut; and c) no critique is possible at all.
If the real is always a social construction, than Nietzsche wins; power is all that matters. Yet, the use of power for someone else’s self interest is what made Baudrillard put pen to paper in the first place. Liberal and leftist academics are in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. They cannot claim to be liberals and then accept the arguments of Baudrillard. Relativism is a bad thing, they all say, and is the cause and foundation of modern capitalist authoirtarianism. There was a time when the politics of the spectacle didn’t hold sway. Therefore, those periods and ideas were, generally speaking, better than the present “hyper-real” world. The likes of Klein would rather chop off her own foot and eat it before admitting this inescapable fact. So unless the above questions are answered, the impasse might be permanent.
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