The War Economy and “The Clash of Civilisations”

I awoke this morning to a lengthy article by Konrad Yakabuski in The Globe and Mail. The article is entitled “Will technology provide the path to prosperity?” In the article Mr. Yakabuski argues that “prosperity” (in narrow terms of “wealth”) is linked to continued technological innovation, (or what we might call by its true name, “creative destruction”), and moreover proposes the American socio-economic model of creative destruction as worthy of emulation.

The article is less interesting for what it says than what it apparently takes deliberate pains to obscure about the current economic model. What is called “the System” is, in fact, a war economy. It is a death-dealing economy and a death-dealing way of life, and the truth of this model must be hidden from view. If Vanadana Shiva has described the neo-liberal model of economics as “anti-life”, it is because at its core it is a war economy. This is what the euphemism of “creative destruction” is intended to gloss over.

So, let me tell you the true history of the economic model of “creative destruction” which Mr. Yakabuski (and many others) obscure. And the real history of the System is that it is state of affairs that could have been deliberately modelled after Orwell’s dystopian society of his famous book 1984.

“War on Poverty”, “War on Drugs”, “War on Crime”, “War on Want”, the “War against Nature”, Cold War and hot war. The language of war, in one way or another, bears witness to the economy’s essentially violent dynamic and character, that it is an economy that exists on a permanent war footing, and this has been the character of the economy and the driver of its innovation since the end of World War II, at least, and of the mass mobilisation of society for “total war” since 1914. For this reason, the period 1914 – 1945 marked the death of an old order — the Modern Era — and its replacement by a social order permanently mobilised for total war.

The truth is that the American economy and society did not stand down following the Second World War. This was the very gist of then President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning in his 1961 Farewell Address about the “iron triangle” of the military-industrial-government complex,

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…


This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Eisenhower’s warning of the existence of a state within a state went largely unheeded, so that this state within a state was allowed to expand and extend its power and control over democratic institutions until it has become the State itself. When US constitutional expert Arthur Selwyn Miller tried to call attention to what he called “the techno-corporate state” in 1968, it was, in effect, a recognition that Eisenhower’s potentially subversive and seditious “military-industrial-government” complex, permanently mobilised for war and dependent upon a permanent state of war for its justification, had become, in effect, the core of the State itself relying for its sustenance on public approval and fattening itself further upon a captive stream of taxation. This is the gist of what is now referred to as “the captive state” or “hegemony”, and it is a state of affairs which requires the constant stimulus of war, threat, insecurity in order to legitimise and perpetuate itself. The “captive state” also means, of course, a “captive treasury”. 

The incremental expansion of the “iron triangle” of the military-industrial-government complex into the all-encompassing techno-corporate state is recognised in the awkward attempts by some observers to expand on Eisenhower’s original phrase. Some now speak, rather, of a “military-industrial-government-university complex”, or of a “military-industrial-government-university-energy complex”, and even of a “military-industrial-government-university-energy-media” complex. But what these awkward sounding phrases attest to, in any case, is the capture and coordination of key social institutions by the original core “state-within-a-state” in its attempt to accomplish social hegemony. And this is what we can call “the techno-corporate state” or simply “the hegemon”.

This is the present shape of what David Loy calls “the Suffering System“.

If this is not outright fascism, it is at least fascistic in direction. The Nazis’ had a special word for the “coordination” of all public or social institutions into a comprehensive State — die Gleichschaltunga word that suggests engaging gears, and whose meaning suggests the “cog in the machine”. In effect, die Gleichschaltung aimed at the construction of the total State.

It is in this context of the continuous appropriation of social institutions and powers by the total State that the present controversy regarding universal surveillance must be couched, along with “public-private partnership” as a euphemism for what the Nazis called “Gleichschaltung“.

That the hegemon relies on “war and rumours of war” to perpetuate itself is proved by the testimony and response of those minions of the techno-corporate state when suddenly faced with the end of the Cold War back in 1989, with the collapse of the USSR. The response was panic. Panic was the well-nigh universal response in the Pentagon, in the halls of academia, in government, and in the corporate boardrooms of the techno-corporate state. The mood, far from being triumphalist, was grim, and it was particularly grim because the calls for a “peace dividend” (that is, investment in public health, education, and infrastructure) had to be deflected. This reflects the fact that the political economy of the techno-corporate state is built for war, not for peace, and the public must be disciplined to accept a permanent state of war as the engine of technological innovation, of “prosperity” and, of course, the legitimacy of the techno-corporate state’s claim to rule itself. This was, in fact, freely and publicly confessed by those who had benefited from war both hot and cold, and it informed that pernicious and nefarious doctrine “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” published by the neo-conservative think-tank, The Project for A New American Century, and its now very controversial statement about the ruling elite’s need for “a new Pearl Harbor” and the need to deflect public calls for a “peace dividend” — a statement which fed the flames of conspiracy theory after 9/11. Any “peace dividend” would mean that the hegemon would have to release its grip on the captive treasury. Militarism is an essential aspect of the economy of “creative destruction” and underpins its technological innovation.

Therefore, after 1990, the reconstruction of the Cold War became a top priority of the propaganda machine, and old Cold Warriors went “in search of enemies”. Harvard conservative professor Samuel Huntington reworked and reconstructed Cold War ideology into his “Clash of Civilisations” thesis and global culture war (incidentally, expressing his distaste at the ungovernability of democracies) Pentagon consultant Thomas Barnett correspondingly salvaged the situation in The Pentagon’s New Map (incidentally commenting on the mood of despair in the Pentagon following the end of the Cold War). Robert D. Kaplan also expressing his distaste for democracy (“Was Democracy Just a Moment?“) called for a fascistic response to the “disorder” and “chaos” of a post-Cold War global situation in Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos in which he extolled the virtues of American Empire and of the Roman Emperor Tiberius as an appropriate model for the US presidency and American power projection. Robert Kagan, meanwhile, was making his contribution to the reconstruction of Cold War ideology in Of Power and Paradise: America and Europe in the New World Order in which he dissed any thought of a “peace dividend”. But, in effect, the so-called “New World Order” looked a lot like the old one.

What they all shared in common, of course, was a great mistrust of democracy, and a common view that the public must be disciplined to accept a political and economic order erected upon “unipolar power” and a war foundation, and that not only their own prestige and authority relied upon this, but that the “prosperity” and innovation of the economic system through constant “creative destruction” depended upon it.

Now, this is the real state of affairs that Mr. Yabakuski seemingly thinks is worthy of emulation in Canada. He is not alone in thinking so. In effect, Canada during the Cold War relied on “the crumbs that fell from the master’s table” in terms of profiting from the war economy, while sharing some of its destructive and nihilistic premisses. More recently, envious commentators like Preston Manning of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy [sic] have publicly endorsed such “Gleichschaltung” as an appropriate economic model for Canada, arguing for “public-private partnerships” in the form of formal coordination of government, corporation, and university (“The right players in the right roles for innovation gold“, The Globe & Mail, December 28, 2011) while Frank McKenna publicly endorses militarism as an engine of innovation and economic growth and productivity along the US model.

And as a way of diverting public tax dollars away from public programmes and into military and “defence” enterprises projects, this also seems to be the basic policy of the present government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose militaristic thinking and rhetoric seems designed to create a mood of acceptance for a permanent war economy in Canada by building up anxieties about security — about alleged Russian bombers on Canada’s northern borders, about how Canada is “surrounded by a sea of troubles”, the policy of providing generous subsidies for “private-public partnerships”, and so on and so forth. This propaganda is designed to create a mood of acceptance for a home-grown techno-corporate state along the US model, something that was largely rejected by his predecessors in office, including former conservative Prime Ministers. This “war economy” mentality extends to the Conservative Party’s and Conservative Government’s attacks on environmental organisations (and against the political opposition, too), signalling that the “War against Nature” will be the formal economic policy of the Harper government.

“Live by the sword, perish by the sword”. When one accepts the war metaphor as the ideal of economic model, and war-making as the stimulus for innovation, then total mobilisation becomes the order of the day, and micro-managing of all social relations and values a logical policy. But that leads, inevitably, to the total State, a State that “coordinates” (forcibly and coercively if necessary) all public life and social institutions for the purpose of making war — whether as the “war against nature” or “global war on terrorism”.

It’s not a coincidence that those who look to such war-like activities as the stimulus and engine for economic growth via technological innovation, also show disdain for democractic institutions too.



6 responses to “The War Economy and “The Clash of Civilisations””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I mentioned I was reading Derrick Jensen’s and George Draffan’s book Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control, and here the war-making nature of the current economic model is pretty much highlighted, although only indirectly. At least, so far in my reading, the real root of the mentality that drives it hasn’t been directly addressed.

    There is one quote, however, that I want to re-cite here about the process of “technological innovation” as it plays out in the techno-corporate state (formerly known as “military-industrial complex”). The quote is from Peter Montague writing in Rachel’s Environment and Health News about the “five-step pattern” involved in government (and that means “public taxpayer”) subsidised technology,

    “(1) It begins with a corporate decision to commandeer taxpayer funds to support the development of a new technology, after which government provides a long stream of subsidies, some in plain sight and many others hidden; (2) Next, we hear government (and corporate) hype about the limitless possibilities for increasing productivity, vastly improving the quality of life for everyone, ending poverty, curing cancer and so on, (3) Government then refuses to apply (or enforce) even the most common-sense regulations. (4) Government (in concert with the corporate sector) suppresses unwelcome information and ignores (or discredits) dissenting voices warning of trouble ahead. (5) Finally, government donates publicly-created knowledge and investment to corporate corporate elites who then make profits galore fro a decade or two until damage reports accumulate, the public catches on, and controversy engulfs the technology. The role of government throughout this phase is to act like a sponge and absorb blows frm an angry public, suppress unwelcome information, discredit detractors, deflect demands for stricter regulation, continue to hype the technology, simultaneously spending additional tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on elaborate (and contradictory) programs of blame, denial, cleanup, restitution, and defense against lawsuits” (quoted in Welcome to the Machine, p. 71-2)

    To be clear, “government” and “State” are not identical, even though the vast majority of people confuse the two. In terms of the “iron triangle” or troika of the “military-industrial-government” complex, government is but one aspect of the State, and perhaps even the weakest aspect of the “iron triangle” or “public-private partnership”, although you can also think of “government” as including also the military and the corporate sector. Governments can also be held hostage by military or corporate interests, and are only too happy themselves to have “government” serve as the public face of the iron triangle.

  2. alex jay says :

    Ironic that the man who warned America against “the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex” was the same man that was largely responsible for creating the monster in the first place. It rings as hollow as Woodrow Wilson’s decrying the bankster coup in Dec.1913 – after leaving office of course – while instrumental in forming the Federal Reserve in the first place …

    “The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

    “In the technotronic society the trend would seem to be towards the aggregation of the individual support of millions of uncoordinated citizens, easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities exploiting the latest communications techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason.” ― Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (published in 1970!)

    Then again … you don’t have to be a prophet when you’re sitting around the table pulling the strings … you just execute and manage the agenda. I reckon they have been pretty successful so far. : (

  3. alex jay says :

    Oops … I forgot to add on Zbiggy’s second quote: “In the technotronic society the trend would seem to be towards the aggregation of the individual support of millions of uncoordinated citizens, easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities exploiting the latest communications techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason.”

    What teleprompting actor occupying a big white house does that remind you of? (rhetorical of course)

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think I have Zbiggy’s book around here somewhere. I’ll have to see. I remember his “technotronic age” thesis from my university days — a dystopian vision if there ever was one, but one I expect to find from a member of the Trilateral Commission (which also counted the aforementioned cold warrior Samuel Huntington as a member-contributor, and who was a key author of “the Crisis of Democracy”, which drew the wrath of Noam Chomsky).

      Yes, we are very quickly being surrounded and engulfed by this dystopia. It seems beyond belief that people would have followed this path (the sleepwalkers, or “zombies” in current parlance) despite all the dire warnings of the prophets of the Age, at least from Nietzsche onwards. But (as addressed in another comment in another thread) they seemed caught like deer in the headlamps, or baited like fish into a net, seduced by the glitter of fool’s gold. Reminds of Nietzsche’s “Last Men” (in the town called “The Pied Cow” — Die Bunte Kuh — in Zarathustra shouting “give us this dystopia, O Zarathustra!”. Very few seem to understand that any final triumph of the machine will be the defeat of mankind — indeed, of life.

      The history of slavery is instructive, and I think quite misunderstood — the psychology of this. I know a man (a farmer) who bemoans the fact that the institution of slavery is abolished, as he would dearly love to keep slaves. He also believes “time is money”, and these two issues of slavery and time are connected. Slavery is really about stealing someone else’s time. If people today complain that “they have no time”, it is because the system steals their time in order to build up a “time surplus” — to perpetuate itself. They may be making wads of money, but even with all that money they can’t “buy time”. The System wishes to approach the ideal of the deathless — a perpetual motion machine, and that is Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.

      Likewise, this farmer believes that if he steals enough of other people’s time, he will prolong his own. He will have time abundance (and, oddly enough, he also has plans for building a “perpetual motions machine” or — the flip side of this — an “eternal life machine”). You might think this is crazy, but Gebser would call such thinking “deficient magical”. We seek “slave machines” for the very purpose as “time saving conveniences”. But nobody actually “saves” time, as if one could bank it indefinitely, or prolong their own existence by parasitically feeding on the time of others. The “wage slave” didn’t exist because he was paid a minimum proletarian wage, but because his time wasn’t his own (so it is significant that Marx envisioned communist society as a state in which everyone’s time would be their own!! His ultimate goal, then, was individuation). So, there’s a deep significance in getting a “watch” upon retirement. The retirement watch means — “Here. Now you can have the rest of your time back”. This is deeply significant about how the System commandeers time. “Sacrifice” today takes the form of ritually surrendering up one’s time. The System thrives to the extent it “runs down” human beings, like a clock that runs down.

      It is the delusions about the meaning of time that will eventually be the System’s undoing. I am quite sure of that.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    An article on the inappropriateness of the “war” metaphor and language as used in medicine appeared in today’s Guardian entitled “Is it time to call a truce in the ‘battle against disease’?”

    I present that as further evidence of how ubiquitous the problem is and how it even reflects the Old Testament complaint of God towards Man that “the imagination of their hearts is violence continuously”, which brought about the Deluge.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    “Yes, we are very quickly being surrounded and engulfed by this dystopia.”

    I welcome this. It seems to me this path is one sure way of emerging into the integral consciousness.

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