February 11, 2005
Lew Rockwell is Wrong on Juan Cole

[Updates below.]

From the LewRockwell blog:

Historian Juan Cole of the University of Michigan has an indispensable blog on Iraq and related issues. A genuine scholar and therefore no shill for the state, he is frequently attacked by bloodthirsty conservatives. See his terrific response today to Jonah Goldberg.

My emphasis.

Is this a joke? Is Mr. Rockwell serious? He says that because someone is a "genuine scholar" that person therefore is not a "shill for the state." Put aside the logic of that for a moment.

The bulk of Professor Cole's output for the last month or so has consisted of observations on the problems of Iraqi democracy and elections - not because democracy itself causes problems, but problems with merely the legitimacy and validity of the elections! No criticism at the concept, theory, or actual outcomes of democractic nations. How does that square with Mr. Rockwell's opinion on democracy?

My Early Vote Against Everyone

The bottom line is that there is no good system for managing a government that is out of control and no system of government that successfully restrains the state.

Democracy? Whether the idea was always a mistake, it takes a really stupid leap of faith to believe that it is anything but a failure right now. The worst part of democracy is that it grants the state the luxury of believing that we approve of the system as it is.

Take Not Insults From Campaigns
We already know political campaigns amount to serial fibathons. We know that there is no way to hold these guys to their promises. We know that once they get in charge of our lives and money, we will have less freedom after they are finished with us than before. We are trapped. We also know that democracy offers no way out of this trap...

Power and Vulnerability
Some people rule out the possibility of abusive power in a democracy, which means rule by the people. But Bertrand de Jouvenel describes the reality: "The history of the democratic doctrine furnishes a striking example of an intellectual system blown about by the social wind. Conceived as the foundation of liberty, it paves the way for tyranny. Born for the purpose of standing as a bulwark against power, it ends by providing Power with the finest soil it has ever had in which to spread itself over the social field."

Lew Rockwell ought to be casting negative words in Professor Cole's direction over Iraqi democracy, not praising him.

Perhaps Mr. Rockwell meant something else, as he talks about in Shills, Paid and Unpaid:

What's interesting here is not these precise cases [of Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher taking federal money to promote Bush policies]. Governments have always known that they don't have to budget too generously when it comes to buying intellectuals. Most can be had rather cheaply.


Which raises a question more profound than why Gallagher and Williams did what they did: what excuse do the rest of the Republican intellectuals have for their behavior? Day after day, they crank out the most absurd articles and treatises in defense of the indefensible so long as it is being pushed by the Bush administration. They wallow in their hatred of what they consider leftism even as they work to build a state with the size and power that hardly any leftist in the country would call for or even welcome.


The cult of personality was fully revealed after Bush's inaugural address, which the conservatives are struggling to immortalize, as if history is made by the largest possible number of craven fulminations on blogs and websites.

But the motivations for being a statist shill are not relevant in Mr. Rockwell's logic above. As we'll see later, when I have the time to write it up, Professor Cole is no hands-off classical liberal who views the state and its activities with suspicion, regardless of who's in power. A taste:

  1. The Speech Bush Should have Given
    I'm going to make it so there won't be a lot of new jobs created, and I'm going to use the excuse of the Federal red ink to cut way back on government services that you depend on. For the super-rich, or as I call them, "my base," this Iraq war thing is truly inspired. We use it to put up the deficit to the point where the Democrats and the more bleeding heart Republicans in Congress can't dare create any new programs to help the middle classes. We all know that the super-rich--about 3 million people in our country of 295 million-- would have to pay for those programs, since they own 45 percent of the privately held wealth. I'm damn sure going to make sure they aren't inconvenienced that way for a good long time to come.
    [...from a post he made that expresses what he thought Bush should have said in 2002 about going to war in Iraq. Plenty of evidence in there for supporting welfare statism and taxation.]

UPDATED 2/15/2005 1:02pm
First, I must note that it isn't as if Professor Cole is incapable of criticizing the United States government. He is quote capable

Bush has sworn an oath to uphold the US Constitution. He won't. But Congress can. It should insist that the sunset provisions of the so-called "Patriot Act" (which should be called the "Abrogation of the Constitution Act") be allowed to expire in 2005 and that the extremely dangerous "Patriot Act II" be completely rolled back. Republicans who care about the Constitution should join Democrats who care about the Constitution in putting a stake through the heart of this abomination. A noble 200-year-old experiment in civil liberties and democracy, for which US troops are giving their lives, must not be ended by a single act of terrorism and a clique of authoritarians in Washington.

I just want to make it clear that had Lew Rockwell taken a little more time in considering his comments, he'd realize how dumb they sound from the standpoint of someone who values individual rights and the free market and dislikes nearly every form of state intrusion in our lives (as he posits himself). I will grant, however, that the vast bulk of Professor Cole's blogging the last few months has restricted itself to the situation in Iraq and foreign policy commentary directed against the Bush Administration, leaving less to mine regarding his stance on domestic politics. From the extended reading I've done, he seems to be far more reasonable in his discussion of events than his more vehement critics suggest.

Statements from Juan Cole that, while they may not qualify as "shilling" for the USG, are still in support of government activities that I'd expect Mr. Rockwell to recoil at and condemn:

I restricted myself to posts Professor Cole made prior to February 4th. I only went back to November 1st, so I assume he wrote more on the national election. I just don't have the time to go back and pick out a small fraction of his comments to illustrate his support of the State, which should be obvious at this point.

Posted by Drizzten at February 11, 2005 10:26 AM

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"Is this a joke?"


"Is Mr. Rockwell serious?"

Maybe: Rockwell's judgement seems to get clouded when he's writing about Bush, neocons, etc. His endorsement of international law(!) and call for freeing Saddam Hussein is my favorite to date. See it here: http://tinyurl.com/496bf

Posted by: John Lopez on February 11, 2005 10:51 PM

In my opinion, Lew was probably referring strictly to Cole's position on the Iraq war when he made that comment. In other words, a genuine scholar on middle eastern affairs would not end up being a shill for the state.

He should have been specific, since Cole is most certainly not an anti-statist when it comes to other issues, and that should be obvious to anyone who is familiar with Cole. While I can't speak for Lew, I'd be surprised if he didn't know this.

Posted by: freeman on February 12, 2005 12:02 AM
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