The Last Good Emperor

Americans imagine the terms of our Presidents to be eras, self contained stories of men, who through the force of their personalities, promises, policies, and the capital they can muster are able to ascend to the top of our brutal political system. We modern, Enlightened Westerners tend to like to see our history as a series of events defined by great men, or at least great causes. The grand narrative, the charge of forces of civilization against barbarism. So many of us, more than we who style ourselves intellectuals would ever like to admit, look up at great men and still see a King, an Emperor. Eras are reigns to us, or to many of us, and the intricately cultivated fiction we perpetuate ourselves through our media, our schools, our busy lives in an increasingly inhumane society, keeps this myth of the age maker, the peacekeeper, the war fighter, the exemplar through deed and, increasingly, through blood alive and well in our conception of our national selves.

President Barack Obama was a great man to many people, if not through the force of his deed than by the compelling nature of his story, his stolid demeanor, his charming family, and, perhaps more than anything else, his intellectualism. How we have defined genius overtime has varied so greatly, changed so radically from era to era and from person to person, that while it is true Obama created no great work of literature, no great treatise (though many well wrought essays and articles), no revolutionary theory, he is in fact a genius. Obama succeeded in political organization and political messaging in a way which will become the new, perhaps the final, standard against which all campaigns for the Presidency will be judged. On paper, or on the glowing screen, Obama is the perfect man to rule a country that exists only in the mind: a benevolent empire which through performative democratic symbols had elevated a man who truly matched the grandeur of the office of the US Presidency.

Many pundits, those overpriced soothsayers of republicanism, still believe Obama’s election was the culmination of a progressive left reaction to the carnage and cynicism of the Bush II years. America was ready for a progressive turn, for a New New Deal (the Shangri-La of Liberal establishment figures), for a second run at Camelot, this time without the bawdy undercurrent, and the bloody ending. I believe it is wrong to see the election of Obama as the voters and the establishment wanting to usher in an inchoate progressive Renaissance. In fact, I see Obama’s anointment (and it is so very royal, our Presidency, as though we were only able to take the monarchy out of the office, but not the monarchical aura off of the office holder) as an almost panicked embrace of Conservatism, a Rockwellian fantasy which, as opposed to rejecting the conjured up values of the “Golden Age of America”, embraces them, indeed expands their scope to include the newly “liberated” voices and dreams of the various groups that make up non-white America. This was not the rejection of the American Dream, the embrace of Obama & his Era, this was the desegregation, from the top down of course, of the American Dream.

This Conservatism, Obamaism if you will, is non-exclusionary, at least not in an conscious sense, is largely a petty bourgeois liberal capitalist phenomenon, is globalist and expansionist, and has a diligently maintained aura of reluctant neo-conservatism. It is not the contrived “3rd Way” nonsense of Clintonism and Blairism, the cynical pantomiming of progressive values while instituting the dismantling the shattered remains of the welfare state and replacing it with deregulated capitalist oligarchy backed up by brutal military force. Obamaism is an aspirational, self-consciously naive in the sense of what unregulated (or tokenly regulated) free market capitalism can achieve for the world. If a few more billionaires are created along the way, all the better! An illuminating incident with a self-styled plumber during the 2012 Presidential campaign throws Obama sincere belief in a compassionate free market, a belief in a benevolent empire, into stark relief


Right now, everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.


The atavistic right wingers who controlled the Republican system and associated media jumped on this statement and tried to use it in a propagandic matter as a sort of Marxist statement, a line right out of Das Kapital. The entire conversation was about the tax code and its impact on non corporate and smaller businesses. Obama preached of tax incentives, and investment, and a fruitful public/private alliance. The whole “Obama’s Declaration of Marxist Intent” quote, in context


If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re going to be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, Right now, everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.


This is a textbook defense of free market liberalism, of the neoliberal code of ethics. All the wheeling and dealing and regretful, benevolent imperialism is in pursuit of this idea: capitalism, if nudged just a little bit along, can be great for everyone. So what if there are still billionaires and a corporate oligarchy steering an imperialist ship of state, most people can potentially live a lower middle class two income lifestyle!  Obama is the ideal American Conservative: the kind capitalist, the reforming authoritarian, the sincere paterfamilias, the sober Enlightened Liberal. Obama’s flirtation with radicalism in his earlier years was formative, though he was never as actively radical as the far right paint him as and desperately need him to be. He was, nonetheless, plugged into the fading undercurrent of Left Radicalism/Terrorism/Praxis of 1960s-70’s nonetheless, being feted by the aging who’s who of Weather Underground and other radical and student activist groups. What Obama took from these encounters was less a mission than a mindset, a way of organizing and understanding politics, as well as a cache with a certain easily impressed segment of  bourgeois left liberals.

Obama would become a community organizer, a functionary of a liberal system of welfare and reform which could co-exist with, even thrive under, free market capitalism. A focus on “education”, on a Booker T. Washington-esque moralistic view of black culture and progress, an obsession with reform through harmonizing & desegregating existing systems, along with an aspirational, measured optimism. Obamaism is the culmination of the gentrification of the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy and theology by the liberal establishment, a process which includes the mythologization of his life, the appropriation of his words and image, and his deification (and annexation) by the state through a holiday. Gone is the Christian Socialism, the Gandhian fusion of Ahimsa and Swarj, the focus on the poor, the critique of industrial age materialism. All that remains is a man carved in stone, who said beautiful things, with a dream that has now come true. And when your dream has come true, that means it’s time to stop dreaming, and “get real”.

There was hope Obama would be less prone to military adventurism, and this was true to a degree, with no new mass invasions of sovereign states. State violence, however, merely went more covert, more institutionalized. The transparent self interest behind the premature awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, that signifier of the European form of what we know of as Obamaism, personified by affectedly benevolent conservatives like France’s Macron and Germany’s Merkel, was helpful in facilitating cover for Obama’s increasingly effective neoconservative imperialism. The drone program inaugurated by the Bush II regime was fully absorbed into mammoth machinery of the defense establishment and system. The drone would be the tool the Obama Administration would use to enforce conditions suitable for capital and to maintain the frontiers of the Empire.

Targeted assassinations, mass electronic espionage, use of proxies and covert operatives against foreign nations, information warfare, digital warfare, dirty tricks, corporatized NGOs, the continuation of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the support of violent right wing regimes, sabotaging or rigging elections, the Obama Administration used them all in great service to the capitalist system and the empire needed to maintain it all. And, it must be said, he was popular while doing these things. Much of the American proletariat is not yet fully class conscious, much less radicalized or allowed the time or resources to educate themselves in dissecting political propaganda, and the nationalism of the US state is deeply ingrained in our cultural and family rituals and in our civic morality.

It is enough, for most Americans, that Obama was a kind man, by all accounts a good father, attentive and loving husband, and a truly engaging and charismatic person. All the better, too, that he could write well, speak beautifully, and was clearly a true intellectual. That he turned out to be relatively scandal free in an institutional sense was the cherry on top. Post Nixonian corruption, Post Clintonian sleaziness, Post Bush II recklessness, what more could be desired from a leader, an era, from Obamaism? As long as the world is made safe for the American Dream, and especially if the man making that safe world made them feel good about themselves, most Americans will excuse, or ignore, any crime, any violation of (non-American) dignity, any perpetuation of privileged systems, any deal struck with the capitalist classes. I am not a nihilist when it comes to the potential of the American proletariat, not in the least, but I am a pessimist. It will take a truly revolutionary change in the way the proletariat is educated and understands itself, before anything better than Obamaism can be expected from the US system as it has currently constituted itself. It may well take the complete collapse or destruction of the US state before a space can be found where revolutionary action can be fruitfully directed to achieve real change.

Most Americans love their Presidents, many even deify them. America has been compared and contrasted to Rome far too many times in far too many fatuous & unhelpful ways. I am not going to extend the comparison here. We are not Rome, we will not End how Rome Ended. We are, however, an empire, a powerful one, though increasingly less so. Obama was a competent and ethical leader of that empire, a smart leader, a dignified leader. He was a good emperor, an American Aurelius one who believed like this ancient personage that a leader of the empire must “waste no more time arguing what a good man should be”; he should simply “Be one.” Like the Roman Philosopher Emperor, he was a thoughtful, brilliant despot. And he would also most likely be the last of his kind.

anarchism, Atheism, Catholicism, Death, poetry, Religion, Socialism, Spain, Uncategorized

Heretic’s Benediction

Priests bless the perversions of the fascists

While condemning the sharing of the land

but no foul curate will thwart our demand

we have no fear of holy chauvinists


Mass is held with the flesh of socialists

While Fathers absolve the barbarous bands

The sign of the cross made with bloody hands

Having sold their souls to Nationalists


We drink the pure water of righteousness

Boorish Priests are drunk on the holy blood

We sup as one on the bread of blitheness

While like cows with their host they chew the cud

they make a desert of faith with their weakness

Lo, and heed; after us will come the flood

Feminism, Freedom, poetry, Politics, Spain, Uncategorized, War, We The People

The Partisan

Her smile inspires her fellow partisans and her community

She throws caution to the wind

so as to watch their spirits soar

When Fascists questioned her commitment

she let her carbine counterclaim

She looks out over Barcelona

her city

From the top of the highest tower

survaying a land riven by

passions and politics

But beyond this tumultuous horizon

there is a glint of light

beginning to peak through

the gathered clouds

and so she smiles

and goes about her revolution

anarchism, poetry, Revolution, Sonnet, Spain, Uncategorized, We The People, Writing

The Onyx and Litarge

We can not jeopardize our only charge

We resolve to fly the peasants banner

Damned for our belief and strident manner

We partisans prevail beyond the marge


The land inspires the onyx and litarge

Which will forever be the People’s streamer

Aragon shall be its own redeemer

With fate as its commitment to discharge


We warriors whose hearts beat in harmony

Unfurl the flag and watch the colors soar

Caballeros of truth and anarchy

Avenge the lamentations of the poor

Strive onward contra fascist tyranny

And banish their deceit forevermore










anarchism, art, Europe, poetry, Rights, Spain, We The People, Writing

The Land Is Yours

Workers,  artists, the land is yours

Fascists have no claim on it

Farmers, mothers, the land is yours

Stalinists have no stake in it


The land feeds you, it shelters you

Capitalists will pillage it

The land conceived you, it birthed you

Priests will diseffect you from it


Swains, partisans, the land is yours

Fatalists have no love for it

Songstresses, bards, the land is yours

Puritans will sanitize it


The land inspires you, delights you

The abject will denigrate it

The land endows you, renews you

The callous will despoil it


The land is yours

Will you fight for it?



anarchism, poetry, Uncategorized

Red Bird

I see where the red bird flew

into the vast verboten blue

over the snares and telephone wires

free towards tomorrows dawn


adobe homes massed below

comrades huddle in the glow

of a warm insurgent fire

foretime near, tomorrow gone


from the dust a dream took wing

buoyant misbegotten thing

kept aloft by the ire

of heroic Aragon




#terrorism, Civil rights, Democracy, essay, Europe, Uncategorized

as to Robespierre…

the following is an edited & expanded version of a response I gave to a friend during a very enlightening & intelligent discussion of the historical & ethical “meaning” of the French Revolution


as to Robespierre, I agree with you on him being a complex individual, but I don’t think he was a contradiction so much as someone who falsely believed human beings could control the development of history through compromise & constant action. He was too much theory without the introspection & introspection needed to put it into achievable action.

as to him behaving like a king or a god…. He never had as much power personally as the King did or even some of his ministers. He had to work with a powerful Comittee Of Public Safety & had to carefully juggle the needs/demands of the burgeoning proletariat & the newly empowered bourgeoises. Most of the actions that he took that contradicted his own moral & ethical beliefs he took because the People wanted them done, or at least the representatives of the People claimed it was what the people wanted or what the Republic needed.

I think his actions need to be put in context: France had just emerged, violently, from a nearly millinuim long tyrannical/feudal regime that effectively enslaved, maimed, starved & abritrarily imprisoned & killed millions over its existence. The Republic, whiche Robespierre & his compatriots, & many (but by no means all of course) of the people truly believed in, was born into immediate danger from the monarchies surrounding it & hoping to reenslave the people. Robespierre did some truly stupid & awful things, but he also set the example for a system that could aspire to rule in the name of the People instead of a the whim of one man’s, and his favorites, desires.

It of course did not work out the way it was intended, but that of course ascribes to the actors of the time a hindsight that no one possesses. Robespierre, in the end, went from being a theorhetician to a political actor, trying to preserve his ethics along the way. In doing so I think he found it was better to sacrifice his ethics for what he saw as the good of the people, & the survival of the Republican experiment.

Robespierre though, I believe sincerly, he was doing what was in the best interest of the public good & the good of the Republican system. Furthermore, he believed the Republicans system was essential to preserving the public good, to preserving any hope for a society not founded upon the divine right of kings or of the needs & rights of human beings be subordinated to the financial & social concerns of a miniscule, undeserving elite. We too often look at history as though it is a map leading us down a road to the inevitability of the present day. This is myopia common to Liberal, Conservative & Marxist historians, a failing we radical thinkers & actors should not shy away from admitting. It is one of the failings of Robespierre himself, a failure of imaginationm, of understand how there is not always one correct path. One thing Robespierre never lacked, however, was courage. One who was afraid to put his very life & morals on the line would never have written

It is time to designate clearly the purposes of the revolution and the point which we wish to attain: It is time we should examine ourselves the obstacles which yet are between us and our wishes, and the means most proper to realize them: A consideration simple and important which appears not yet to have been contemplated. Indeed, how could a base and corrupt government have dared to view themselves in the mirror of political rectitude? A king, a proud senate, a Caesar, a Cromwell; of these the first care was to cover their dark designs under the cloak of religion, to covenant with every vice, caress every party, destroy men of probity, oppress and deceive the people in order to attain the end of their perfidious ambition. If we had not had a task of the first magnitude to accomplish; if all our concern had been to raise a party or create a new aristocracy, we might have believed, as certain writers more ignorant than wicked asserted, that the plan of the French revolution was to be found written in the works of Tacitus and of Machiavel; we might have sought the duties of the representatives of the people in the history of Augustus, of Tiberius, or of Vespasian, or even in that of certain French legislators; for tyrants are substantially alike and only differ by trifling shades of perfidy and cruelty.

Is this the sentiment of a tyrant? Was Robespierre, he who desired no office or title more grand than Commitee Member & Citizen, he who died with little more than a meager pension & a pensioners flat to his name, was he this man out to “oppress and deceive the people in order to attain the end of [his] perfidious ambition”? I think not & I see no evidence in the historical record or in this man’s life or writings to justify condemning him to that political Tartarus inhabited by the likes of Stalin, the Borgia, Hitler, Ivan Grosny & so many more like them.

The Terror, that great, much maligined and mythologized means that has not yet reached  a satisfactory end, was not a paranoid purge, or genocidal rage or even a spasm of revenge against a particular class. No, it was a fever in the body politik, the stupid, desperate, sublime, but most of all sincere striving of a people trying to understand  & build an entirely new  system. The Terror was no less than a cannibalistic attempt to purge itself of its own self-loathing & self doubt, the neurosis of people who had only ever known slavery & degredation. From this struggle was born the idea of The People as a dynamic, worthy force of history & nature. Nationalism, industrial militarism, and a new form of fascism were the deformed sibilings of this great moment of self-realization, but we must, as with anything else, take the good with the bad.

There is no dialectic without dialogue between our worst & best impulses as human animals. Today, we forgive violence that frees the slave, frees “markets”, and frees “hearts and minds”; why then can’t we seem to forgive the violence that midwifed our modern world, our contemporary praxis? It is with shame that one looks back on the violent, messy origins of oneself, ones’ being. It is no different for we post-modern People, we who live in the age which copes with the dirty secret of our own conception by mythologizing it, shrouding it in fantasy and telling ourselves, “that was then, that was they; now is better, we are who we need to be…” The lie of progress, the myth of outcome, excelsior, ever better, ever brighter…all the while more and more violence & terror is needed every year just to preserve the self-concious chaos we call the Modern World; more bloodshed & brutality than a hundred Terrors. I go back to the words of Robespierre, that man call, without irony, incorruptable

From all this let us deduce a great truth: the characteristic of popular government is confidence in the people and severity towards itself.

The whole development of our theory would end here if you had only to pilot the vessel of the Republic through calm waters; but the tempest roars, and the revolution imposes on you another task.

This great purity of the French revolution’s basis, the very sublimity of its objective, is precisely what causes both our strength and our weakness. Our strength, because it gives to us truth’s ascendancy over imposture, and the rights of the public interest over private interests; our weakness, because it rallies all vicious men against us, all those who in their hearts contemplated despoiling the people and all those who intend to let it be despoiled with impunity


If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs

Is this not the ethos, the creed, the moral gospel of the Modern age? The pivot upon which the contemporary world turns? Why do we continue to deny our birth, our origin, our founding creed? Is it not because we can no longer stomach the face we see reflected back at us by history’s mirror?