04 April 2016

Issues Etc. and Uwe Siemon-Nietto

I don't do a lot of these direct critique pieces anymore but this interview was brought to my attention and maybe some readers will find the comments helpful. If anything as I've suggested in the past it is instructive in dissecting these types of segments so common in Christian media.

I found some of his comments regarding the media to be accurate, in particular identifying American media as entertainment based, shallow and more about imagery than substance. I think the US education system is also worthy of criticism but at this point I found his lack of conscientious antithesis disconcerting. He's falling into the trap of confusing the church with society. The world's children are not going to raised the same as the children of the covenant. It cannot be and the fact that the world will put its hopes into false messiahs and worldly foolishness is to be expected. Despite those positive points I think there are some serious criticisms that need to be levied.
First, one must question Siemon-Nietto's usage of Romans 13. It has become commonplace to hear people talk about the Constitution or 'the people' as being the sovereign or the powers that be. I'm sorry but that's a rather simplistic and unrealistic understanding of how the government and power work and it doesn't reflect history either. Democracy sounds great on paper but if you look at history it's quite clear that it has never really worked.
The powers that be are the people heading the government and representing it. We cannot ignore them by appealing to the law of the land. This principle denies the very notion that it is God that ordains the powers. Laws are broken all the time as nations move against another and factions within do the same. Do people really fail to understand this? We're not told to dissect the claims and challenge them on the basis of law. We're told to submit to the powers even if it ends up being a Nero. Do you think Nero was concerned about the Twelve Tables of Roman law? Was Paul suggesting the Twelve Tables, or the Senate and People of Rome (SPQR) were sovereign? Nero was in charge and that's how it was.
Siemon-Nietto speaks of European Conservatives and their friendship with the USA. I also have to question this assessment. There are certain Center-Right factions that are quite friendly to the USA. They're hawkish and interested in tapping into the NATO money stream. They also want to see the power of the EU checked but aren't generally speaking hostile to the notion itself. They see friendship with the US as economically beneficial because piggy-backing on the empire means access to foreign markets and resources.
The real European Right is not particularly friendly to the United States. They resent its domination and the loss of sovereignty. They dislike the EU, NATO and in many cases all but despise their leader's submission to Washington. They are nationalists that want to see strong nation-states and a return to a traditional multi-polar Europe and world. Although it must be admitted that with regard to NATO these sands are shifting. The entirety of the Far Right wants to break up the EU but some of them believe NATO is worth preserving and yet in every case they want more independence within the framework, something the US would resist.
I found Siemon-Nietto's analysis of the US relationships with Germany, Mexico and Latin America to be rather shallow and naive. I think some would find his comments to be false and offensive. He completely fails to understand the situation in Iraq and what motivated US involvement in the first place. He basically echoes the standard self-serving analysis of the conservative establishment and yet this by no means represents an educated or even particularly thoughtful reflection on the complex nature of US relationships with these countries and regions.
He exposes himself as the portion of the European Right that seems to kow-tow to Washington, affirming its fairy-tale version of history, its narratives about freedom and its struggles with the USSR.
These narratives were false in the 1980s. Time and further revelations have only shown how misguided these interpretations are. What many Issues Etc. listeners will not realise is that Siemon-Nietto doesn't represent the mainstream of European thought. His views will only find resonance with a small portion of the political and financial class. These views serve their purposes but you'll be hard pressed to find opinions on the street or in academia that agree with his viewpoint.
The US media was never the best in the world. It has always been little more than a propaganda machine totally subjugated to the corporate Establishment. As a European he's cosmopolitan enough to be offended at the mainstream news media and rightly so. I too make use of Deutsche-Welle, PBS and the BBC but these are still very mainstream news outlets. You'll get more information from them but the analysis is still conformist and lacks real depth or context. He wants to digest and reflect a more internationalist perspective. I would like that too but I'm not hearing it in his commentary.
His statements about Bush and Graham being competent force me to question his competence. While Cruz and Trump are certainly problematic I would find no comfort in a Bush scion or a character like Lindsey Graham. These characters would in the end be little more than figureheads like George W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan. They lack a basic competence. What they are is connected. They have little black books with names. They have backers and allies. Cruz is far more connected than people realise. He's simply disliked because he's something of a scoundrel and a fraud. Trump obviously knows many people but his rhetoric is what is upsetting to many.
This is the scandal of Donald Trump. On the one hand he vocalises Nativist, Protectionist and Isolationist impulses and reflects a kind of street-level provincialism in all his bigotry and shallow assessments of globalism and geopolitics.
The Establishment embraces globalism but their goals are not to weaken the hand of the United States. Their understanding of the world is miles beyond the Nativist street. The Trump people are playing with playdough while the Establishment is playing with an erector set and scale models. This doesn't make them more moral, they just happen to have a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of power and the power of perception.
And yet for all that many in the US Establishment actually share some of the same racist and nationalist values as the Trump people. They just wouldn't put it so crudely. They too want to wound China, subjugate brown people, torture and carpet-bomb. And they actually do these things, but they don't speak of these deeds and desires in such a blunt and crude manner.
Trump is breaking the rules because he's saying the things that you're not supposed to vocalise.
In many ways his views are not all that far removed from the mainstream. He is upsetting people and causing concern when he starts to talk about trade deals and alliances. That could quickly lead to a dismantling of American power and lead to global instability, economic, geopolitical and quite possibly lead to war. If Trump took office he would have to quickly back down or the nation would promptly find itself in a constitutional crisis. Most of what he's suggesting and how he's suggesting it, is patently illegal. He would violate laws, treaties, contracts and the government would be in a state of paralysis as the Congress tried to work out what to do with him. He just doesn't seem to understand how anything works. It's rather shocking considering his wealth and status.
Simeon-Nietto's comments on Socialism are absurd and he ought to know better. To lump 'socialism' in with what happened behind the Iron Curtain is superficial and he must know it. If he doesn't then I feel sorry for him. After a multi-decade career in journalism he hasn't learned much.
Socialism is far more complicated and the actual goal of socialism is... democracy. Socialists argue that Capitalism is wedded to the nation-state and imperialism and eventually leads to a crushing of democratic impulse as well as basic rights.
They would argue that what happened in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc represent degenerate aberrations from socialism. These nations retained nationalist structures, created a Nomenklatura and never really followed through of the basic doctrines. Is he going to confuse Communism with Socialism? These states degenerated in totalitarianism which is a real threat for both the Right and Left. I suppose the difference is the contemporary Right in both Europe and certainly in American fail to grasp this... and thus history repeats itself.
Is Socialism a religion? Any man-made philosophical system takes on a religious nature. This is no less true with the Capitalist system. There are aspects of it that were born of the Protestant Reformation, but that in no way suggests it is a Biblical system. The Reformation is not above critique especially in the realm of consistent application of Scripture or the Sola principle.
In reality capitalism and neoliberal economic theory is a child of the Enlightenment and empiricist epistemology. This doesn't mean every observation is wrong nor are the whole of its concepts and doctrines. But at the very least it is subject to criticism and I think substantial deconstruction can be mounted through the lens of Scripture. This does not in any way suggest that I therefore advocate socialism as the answer.
Siemon-Nietto being a European knows full well that many Bible-minded Christians have embraced socialism and believed it was the system the Scripture set forth. Constantinianism whether Left or Right is erroneous but if you are going to impose that system on Scripture and try to use the New Testament as a pattern for civil society and economics a better case can be made for socialism than capitalism.
For him to simply dismiss as patently anti-Christians flies in the face of Christian history and the testimony of many people who believed just as much as he that they were applying Scripture to the social model.
Of course it also must be pointed out that the vast majority of European nations are in fact socialist in orientation. Is he going to suggest the Cold War was won by the Eastern Bloc? How can he account for the survival of Socialism in Western Europe and yet at the same time talk about its failure and downfall in the East? Has it failed in the West? Let's not confuse the Eurozone's failures with Europe as a whole. By any account European Socialism has been quite successful and much of Western Europe lives at a higher standard than much of the United States.
When I hear people sounding the alarm about Socialism and appealing to the Eastern Bloc I just shake my head. They're not thinking about what they are saying.
Sanders isn't really a socialist. He advocates a form of Social Democracy and in fact would have been a mainstream liberal a few generations ago. If Siemon-Nietto knows all about Socialism and can't rightly understand that Sanders who supports US militarism is anything but a classical socialist, then his credentials must be questioned.
Overall it was a very disappointing interview. Those in the know can shrug it off and move on, but it pains me to think of how many listened to this and thought it reflected sound thinking, genuine intellectual reflection and wisdom. That would be a mistake.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to compose this analysis.

    You're right to note the difference between Leninism and social democracy. What's ironic is that those who today identify with the former are just as vocal in their denunciation of Sanders as those on the right. It all goes back to the rupture that occurred within the socialist movement in the 19th century precipitated by the ideas of Eduard Bernstein, who advocated a peaceful transition to socialism through popular advocacy, trade union activism and parliamentary elections. He was the forerunner of what would become the social democratic movement in Europe in the 20th century.

  2. I have a hunch that Sanders is closer to being a National Socialist than a bonafide Socialist. He supports the Military-Industrial Complex (or at least is too cowardly or power-hungry (let's call it pragmatic) to challenge them). He also seems to lack the international focus of Socialism, more worried about American workers and jobs than the international poor crushed by American industry. Plus all the middle-class rhetoric is a huge departure from traditional Socialism.

    I'm not saying he's a Nazi, with all the anti-semitism (I mean, he is a Jew), totalitarianism, aestheticization of violence and national myth etc etc. But he represents a rather tame, nationalized, version.

    It seems all the candidates are different varieties of participation in American Imperial psychopathy.

  3. Bernie supports the military-industrial complex? That's the first I've heard of this. Where did you read this?

  4. He definitely supports the Middle Eastern Wars and has given every indication of supporting US militarism. He's never really questioned any of the 'War on Terror' narrative, the empire of bases, NATO expansion etc...

    Democracy Now! seems to be somewhat in the tank for him, they will have the occasional dissenter/critic on the show. But if you visit the World Socialist Website and some of the other actual Left/Socialist camps they're pretty harsh in their assessment. Sanders is by their estimation part of the Pseudo-Left. Hilary is just plain Right-wing.