Somehow I missed The Cia Reads French Theory when it came out.
High school debate gave me what I now understand is a weird insider-outsider perspective on political discourse. People probably don’t think of high school debate when they think of the most elitist things in high school education, but it is. To succeed, you need to spend thousands of dollars on 3-4 week summer camps at the law library. Enough said.
Somehow my public high school had a scrappy, underdog debate team that did well in the 1990s against the rich schools in Washington. To get to the tournament, we had to arm-twist parents into getting up at 5 to pick up vans from the school diistrict, then drive teenagers to the ends of the Earth in it for 3-4 days at a stretch. We debated against people that showed up in chartered buses with custom garment bags for their suits. Lexis-Nexis credentials were a necessity back then. Otherwise you’d show up and lose to people citing articles from the future about how much political capital Bill Clinton had this week. I don’t know where the team stole ours from (I worked on kritiks, not disads). Other people could just use their lawyer dad’s.
Debate was definitely the only part of my high school education that involved French theory. On the other hand, most people probably didn’t absorb it as more than a strategic argument to use and as something to know how to defend against. Types of occupations team members went on to: political consultant with clients including the California prison guards’ union, lobbyist for the RV and coal industries, staffer for some Republican guy in the North Carolina legislature, professor of women’s studies in the mid-West.
It’s training for children of the technocracy. You debate in high school and college, major in political science, and go to law school or become a consultant. The guy who works on behalf of global warming used to make fun of people who mispronounced “Michel Foucault.” He probably understood the ideas better than hipsters on Tumblr, because he could make arguments about stuff like whether there was an alternative that would escape the criticism, or whether the plan is or isn’t fundamentally incompatible with Foucauldianism. He wasn’t just like, “I’m queer and some famous French guy said that’s badass.” He was also kind of a bully. Favorite topics of conversation included the donkey punch.
This is important, because it shows how naive a lot of “progressives” are. They’re totally missing the point if they think the other side doesn’t already know they’re fucked up. They’re pretending not to understand the existence of simply not caring about other people. “Look! Donald Trump hates Muslims!” No shit. If you don’t have anything to add besides “Donald Trump offends me as a liberal,” stop helping Trump by giving his supporters the gratification.
The government has liberals sooooo outflanked in strategic depth:
Thomas W. Braden, the former supervisor of cultural activities at the CIA, explained the power of the Agency’s cultural assault in a frank insider’s account published in 1967: “I remember the enormous joy I got when the Boston Symphony Orchestra [which was supported by the CIA] won more acclaim for the U.S. in Paris than John Foster Dulles or Dwight D. Eisenhower could have bought with a hundred speeches.” This was by no means a small or liminal operation. In fact, as Wilford has aptly argued, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which was headquartered in Paris and later discovered to be a CIA front organization during the cultural Cold War, was among the most important patrons in world history, supporting an incredible range of artistic and intellectual activities. It had offices in 35 countries, published dozens of prestige magazines, was involved in the book industry, organized high-profile international conferences and art exhibits, coordinated performances and concerts, and contributed ample funding to various cultural awards and fellowships, as well as to front organizations like the Farfield Foundation.
The intelligence agency understands culture and theory to be crucial weapons in the overall arsenal it deploys to perpetuate US interests around the world. The recently released research paper from 1985, entitled “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals,” examines—undoubtedly in order to manipulate—the French intelligentsia and its fundamental role in shaping the trends that generate political policy. Suggesting that there has been a relative ideological balance between the left and the right in the history of the French intellectual world, the report highlights the monopoly of the left in the immediate postwar era—to which, we know, the Agency was rabidly opposed—due to the Communists’ key role in resisting fascism and ultimately winning the war against it. Although the right had been massively discredited because of its direct contribution to the Nazi death camps, as well as its overall xenophobic, anti-egalitarian and fascist agenda (according to the CIA’s own description), the unnamed secret agents who drafted the study outline with palpable delight the return of the right since approximately the early 1970s.
Keep in mind that liberals think they’ve been ascendant since the 1960s and their eventual victory is assured. Martin Luther King!
While other tentacles of the worldwide spy organization were involved in overthrowing democratically elected leaders, providing intelligence and funding to fascist dictators, and supporting right-wing death squads, the Parisian central intelligentsia squadron was collecting data on how the theoretical world’s drift to the right directly benefitted US foreign policy. The left-leaning intellectuals of the immediate postwar era had been openly critical of US imperialism. Jean-Paul Sartre’s media clout as an outspoken Marxist critic, and his notable role—as the founder of Libération—in blowing the cover of the CIA station officer in Paris and dozens of undercover operatives, was closely monitored by the Agency and considered a very serious problem.
In contrast, the anti-Soviet and anti-Marxist atmosphere of the emerging neoliberal era diverted public scrutiny and provided excellent cover for the CIA’s dirty wars by making it “very difficult for anyone to mobilize significant opposition among intellectual elites to US policies in Central America, for example.” Greg Grandin, one of the leading historians of Latin America, perfectly summarized this situation in The Last Colonial Massacre: “Aside from making visibly disastrous and deadly interventions in Guatemala in 1954, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Chile in 1973, and El Salvador and Nicaragua during the 1980s, the United States has lent quiet and steady financial, material, and moral support for murderous counterinsurgent terror states. […] But the enormity of Stalin’s crimes ensures that such sordid histories, no matter how compelling, thorough, or damning, do not disturb the foundation of a worldview committed to the exemplary role of the United States in defending what we now know as democracy.”
It is in this context that the masked mandarins commend and support the relentless critique that a new generation of anti-Marxist thinkers like Bernard-Henri Levy, André Glucksmann and Jean-François Revel unleashed on “the last clique of Communist savants” (composed, according to the anonymous agents, of Sartre, Barthes, Lacan and Louis Althusser). Given the leftwing leanings of these anti-Marxists in their youth, they provide the perfect model for constructing deceptive narratives that amalgamate purported personal political growth with the progressive march of time, as if both individual life and history were simply a matter of “growing up” and recognizing that profound egalitarian social transformation is a thing of the—personal and historical—past. This patronizing, omniscient defeatism not only serves to discredit new movements, particularly those driven by the youth, but it also mischaracterizes the relative successes of counter-revolutionary repression as the natural progress of history.
It’s interesting to revisit the ideas in this earlier post in light of this information about the CIA. The earliest post was an analysis of how postmodernism has different significance for the truly marginalized and for avoidant liberals.
It actually takes a lot of grounding in history to be able to read about stuff like this without following mental biases into “conspiracy theory.” It seems to me that the average person does very little thinking about what the CIA actually does, besides blow up Muslims with drones How many members of the public can distinguish between an article based on Freedom of Information Act requests and innuendo from news clippings? They surely don’t understand that FOIA and redaction is a friendly game between the government and the media, or that FOIA comes from Ralph Nader. There’s a cleverness in knowing the right documents to request. Your intuition for government bullshit necessarily changes once you’ve read a redacted document, and especially when you’ve seen a redacted document and the original side-by-side.
Even theoreticians who were not as opposed to Marxism as these intellectual reactionaries have made a significant contribution to an environment of disillusionment with transformative egalitarianism, detachment from social mobilization and “critical inquiry” devoid of radical politics. This is extremely important for understanding the CIA’s overall strategy in its broad and profound attempts to dismantle the cultural left in Europe and elsewhere. In recognizing it was unlikely that it could abolish it entirely, the world’s most powerful spy organization has sought to move leftist culture away from resolute anti-capitalist and transformative politics toward center-left reformist positions that are less overtly critical of US foreign and domestic policies. In fact, as Saunders has demonstrated in detail, the Agency went behind the back of the McCarthy-driven Congress in the postwar era in order to directly support and promote leftist projects that steered cultural producers and consumers away from the resolutely egalitarian left. In severing and discrediting the latter, it also aspired to fragment the left in general, leaving what remained of the center left with only minimal power and public support (as well as being potentially discredited due to its complicity with right-wing power politics, an issue that continues to plague contemporary institutionalized parties on the left).
Yes. Bernie Sanders served the role of keeping potential resistance in check, and now blowback against the Republicans will give political cover for cracking down on actual leftists.
Progressives are the Wing Chun fighter in this match:
But I didn’t train for punches that take an indirect path!
Of course the fail isn’t necessary:
To the following criticism of Foucault, I’d add that he’s part of the intellectual justification for BDSM, which encourages a slave owner mentality.
It is in this light that we must understand the intelligence agency’s fondness for conversion narratives and its deep appreciation for “reformed Marxists,” a leitmotif that traverses the research paper on French theory. “Even more effective in undermining Marxism,” the moles write, “were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended by rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.” They cite in particular the profound contribution made by the Annales School of historiography and structuralism—particularly Claude Lévi-Strauss and Foucault—to the “critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences.” Foucault, who is referred to as “France’s most profound and influential thinker,” is specifically applauded for his praise of the New Right intellectuals for reminding philosophers that “‘bloody’ consequences” have “flowed from the rationalist social theory of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the Revolutionary era.” Although it would be a mistake to collapse anyone’s politics or political effect into a single position or result, Foucault’s anti-revolutionary leftism and his perpetuation of the blackmail of the Gulag—i.e. the claim that expansive radical movements aiming at profound social and cultural transformation only resuscitate the most dangerous of traditions—are perfectly in line with the espionage agency’s overall strategies of psychological warfare.
If you start looking for “postmodernism” on the internet, you’ll also find that another group of people very concerned with and knowledgeable about postmodernism is the Christian right. Their game is to whine on the surface about how postmodernism undermines belief in the Absolute Rightness of God, that sort of thing. But really, the right wins when people stop believing in truth, or at least a good way of deciding among models of reality. Look around. Christians have supported the very capitalism that brought the right-wing bubble into existence.
I love using this quote of Brzezinski’s from The Choice to illustrate the reality of this kind of stuff:
International power…still needs social legitimacy. That legitimacy is required both by the dominant and the dominated. The former crave it because it gives them the self-confidence, the sense of mission, and the moral conviction to pursue their goals and to assert their interests. The latter need it to justify their acquiescence, to facilitate their accommodation, and to sustain their submission. Doctrinal legitimacy reduces the costs of the exercise of power by mitigating resentment on the part of those subject to it. To this end, globalization is the natural doctrine of global hegemony.
Most people may not be very interested in their implicit beliefs about society, but the government is.
It’s ironic that right wing “conspiracy theory” itself functions as a disinformation psy-op. There’s a big difference betwen Alex Jones and having a rational understanding of what’s involved in maintaining power.
Another fascinating Brzezinski nugget:
Notice that he says maintaining social control is difficult. That means it’s very resource-intensive and large-scale. Physical destructive force scaled up faster than propaganda capacity.
It’s impossible to understand the government’s activities on the internet without understanding that the internet represents an ideological battleground to them. When people think in certain ways, it’s easier for certain individuals to do their day jobs. Making Hollywood and sports glorify cops and the military makes life easier for cops and the military.
I think it’s also hard to get people with poor math education, and poor education in general, to think at scale from the point of view of a government official. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a very old book. How would someone who grew up in poverty know how to imagine the job of a military logistics officer, an SEC regulator, a desk analyst specializing in Somalia? It’s a big deal even knowing that these things are job titles, to understand what we’re even up against.
Every attitude that made the Occupy movement refuse to learn how banking works and make specific demands might as well have been put there by the CIA. The government is definitely smart enough to understand that and enourage the ignorance.
Stuff like this definitely isn’t on people’s radar:
The people advocating direct action to save the planet are both correct and likely working for the government. Isn’t that confusing? You have to get used to being mentally fucked with like that if you’re a leftist.
The left is out in the wilderness, while the public largely doesn’t know that there IS ideology. It’s a bit like being a magical girl.