Swans Commentary » swans.com July 1, 2013  



Tony Judt, Edward Snowden, And "The Excluded"


by Manuel García, Jr.





(Swans - July 1, 2013)  I hope Edward Snowden gets lucky and pulls off a grand coup, like Daniel Ellsberg. But, right now it doesn't look good for him -- there are too many embarrassed and entrenched careerist mediocrities with too much power out to get him. If Snowden had gotten through college he might have had far fewer morals and principles, and most likely wouldn't have exposed the "inner party" (this phrase is Orwellian). For most graduates, college is a "finishing school" so far as morals and principles go. I think that the tragedy for Snowden will be that the American public is not up to the standard required to appreciate the sacrifice he has made on their behalf: pearls to swine.

Today's world is in eruption with "the people" -- massively in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, and in many smaller concentrations worldwide -- protesting against the economic and political exclusions and social unfairnesses of our globalized societies. The now-exposed US government effort to monitor the personal electronic communications of the US public (and everybody else) -- "the proles" and "the outer party" -- is simply a physical and bureaucratic manifestation of inner party defense policy: we must know what "the excluded" are thinking and saying to each other if we are to anticipate their actions, to control them.

This image of today's world governed by a self-serving corporate-sponsored technological systems-rigging elite, which is parasitic to the well being of the majority of the world public, and whose major political obsession is ending the social programs and redistributive functions of governments, is most succinctly captured in the phrase "the excluded," which describes the swelling population of people on the fringes of "the economy," and beyond it.

A prescient author on the late twentieth century development of this political economy of exclusion was Tony Judt, the wonderful historian and social critic, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2010, at age 62. I have recently read five of Judt's books:

The Burden Of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, And The French Twentieth Century (1998),

Postwar: A History Of Europe Since 1945 (2005),

Reappraisals: Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008 republication of essays from 1994-2006),

Ill Fares the Land (2010),

Thinking The Twentieth Century (with Timothy Snyder, 2012 publication of a book-length interview conducted in 2010).

Broadly speaking, the first two books give insight into the how and why of history's unfolding throughout the 20th century, and the latter three books focus on today in light of that 20th century historical development, and especially in light of the ignorance -- both innocent and willful -- of today's public and its leaders, of the many still active 20th century currents and their mutations.

An essay entitled "The Social Question Redivivus," which Judt wrote in 1997 and which was published in the journal Foreign Affairs, appears at the end of Reappraisals. About it Judt wrote:

I opted to discuss the new "social question" of poverty, underemployment, and social exclusion and the failure of the political Left to reassess its response to these and other dilemmas of globalization.

Judt's "The Social Question Redivivus" says it all and has not gone out of date. Back in 1996, US president Bill Clinton "ended welfare as we know it," and all that has happened since is that the flood waters of exclusion have risen steadily from that initial level just above the heads of people in the bottom economic stratum. We, those not in the inner party, are all going "under water" and becoming part of an expanding population of "the excluded."

The social crisis, then, concerns not so much unemployment as what the French call the "excluded." The term describes people who, having left the full-time workforce, or never having joined it, are in a certain sense only partly members of the national community. It is not their material poverty, but the way in which they exist outside the conventional channels of employment or security, and with little prospect of reentering these channels or benefiting from the social liaisons that accompany them, that distinguishes them from even the poorest among the unskilled workforce in the industrial economy. Such people -- whether single parents, part-time or short-time workers, immigrants, unskilled adolescents, or prematurely or forcibly retired manual workers -- cannot live decently, participate in the culture of their local or national community, or offer their children prospects better than their own. Their living and working conditions preclude attention to anything beyond survival, and they are, or ought to be, a standing remonstrance to the affluence of their "included" fellows.

It's all there, a deep and clear analysis of the left's continuing political paralysis in the face of globalization, published 16 years ago.

I read the five books in this order:

Postwar (Magnificent and monumental, like Thucydides.),

Ill Fares The land (Short, clear, generous, a stirring defense of social democracy, a tract like Thomas Paine's Common Sense updated for the twenty-first century.),

Burden Of Responsibility (Personal, deep, and searching, three compelling portraits of intellectual honesty, personal integrity, political courage, and social responsibility. This book shows why Albert Camus was as Hannah Arendt said "undoubtedly, the best man now in France," and it is very illuminating about Raymond Aron, the very perceptive "committed observer" whose books Politics And History, from 1978, and Thinking Politically, from 1983 and with an expanded English edition in 1997, I found uniformly enlightening on the Cold War period. Judt's story of Léon Blum was a revelation to me.),

Thinking The Twentieth Century (This book-length interview and dialog is mind-expanding, completely absorbing, and exceptionally illuminating about what is going on today -- the trends underlying current events -- and why. A book of deep and fascinating clarity.),

Reappraisals (I just started reading this volume from the beginning, but I first had to read that last essay, "The Social Question Redivivus." In the light of subsequent history, it is just devastating to the facile political illusions of today, and which have dominated American public discourse since the Reagan Administration.).

Those who have never learned about the past have nothing to forget except the details of the distortions of history with which they have been indoctrinated by the propaganda of social divisiveness and social control, and they are condemned by their ignorance to be inundated by the repetition of cycles of repression.

Tony Judt was motivated by his sense of social responsibility to write and publish his explanations, alerts, and warnings for the benefit of the presently excluded, and the masses targeted for exclusion, whom he pitied.

Edward Snowden was motivated by his sense of social responsibility to publicly expose a secret computer network and eavesdropping bureaucracy, for the benefit of the masses targeted for exclusion from the right to privacy, and Fourth Amendment freedoms.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It would be such a pity to lose this. Will we Americans passively let that happen?


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About the Author

Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com.   (back)


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Published July 1, 2013