Focal Points Blog

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump Are Symptoms of Creeping Caesarism

Democracies are finding themselves led by autocrats. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

Democracies are finding themselves led by autocrats. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

‘Charisma’ is usually what most people think of when recalling the German theorist Max Weber (1864-1920), leaving his original deliberation on ‘Caesarism’ (1917) ignored. Weber conceptualized Otto von Bismarck’s plebiscitary leadership as a sort of Caesar-type governance, and although he did not define this term systemically, it was mainly about the interactive dynamics between a ‘charismatic leader’ and an ‘irrational mass’ with ‘disdain for parliament’ [Note 1].

The unorthodox but much better than expected political success of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have brought back Weber’s hundred-year-old idea to the 21st century with a new perspective. What we can see right now is a global horizon of favor, among the masses of different nations in democratic states, towards a new batch of charismatic leaders who appear to be unconventional, taking risk boldly, and ‘politically incorrect’. The recent tide of warnings that Trump is endangering the American democracy is perhaps an echo to Oswald Spengler’s prediction in his Decline of the West (1923) that the triumph of democracy during 1800-2000 would be eroded by the emergence of Caesarism in this century.
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The Missing 28 Pages from the 9/11 Report Could Make Us Safer

The free pass the Bush administration gave the Saudis for 9/11 remains a national scandal. (Photo: YourNewsWire.com)

The free pass the Bush administration gave the Saudis for 9/11 remains a national scandal. (Photo: YourNewsWire.com)

The sheer volume of crimes that the George W. Bush administration committed will keep historians busy chronicling them for decade. Among them were: 1. Hiding the role that Saudi officials in not only Saudi Arabia, but the United States, played in financing and supporting the planning of the 9/11 attacks. 2. Keeping the relationship with Saudi Arabia status quo afterward. (Nothing to see here. Move on.)

Especially flagrant was that in 2002 the Bush administration removed the 28 pages that dealt with the Saudis from the report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration hasn’t been of much help in revealing those pages.
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Why Exactly Does Saudi Arabia Fund the Spread of Wahhabism?

Wahhabi missionary work is a result of efforts by the House of Saud to appease religious leaders. (Photo: Russia Today)

Wahhabi missionary work is a result of efforts by the House of Saud to appease religious leaders. (Photo: Russia Today)

Many in the West may be unaware of the significance of an event in Saudi Arabian history for the rest of the world. In an article titled Saudia Arabia and Iran: The Cold War of Islam (sic – the “i” in Saudia still stands two weeks after the article was posted), Spiegel International reports that in November of 1979, the same year as the Iranian revolution

…Sunni terrorists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and took thousands of pilgrims hostage. Their leader came from the heart of Saudi Arabia and claimed to be the Mahdi, or redeemer — and he called for the overthrow of the king. The royal family saw little choice but to call for assistance from French special forces — infidels — to liberate the mosque.

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No End in Sight for Israel’s Rightward Drift

Israeli officials have forfeited the moral high ground in their denunciations of Palestinians. Pictured: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Israeli officials have forfeited the moral high ground in their denunciations of Palestinians. Pictured: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

As Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serves his fourth term in office, the effects of his long leadership have become strikingly apparent. A country that was seen for so long as a small secular democracy surrounded by hostile Arab kingdoms has completed its transition to a regional military power that is currently dominated by a combination of ultranationalist and orthodox religious parties. Throughout this change Israel has had the unwavering support of the United States, which has given the Jewish state a total of $118 billion over the years and continues to give it upwards of $4 billion a year in military aid.

Israel’s swing to the right had its most telling consequence in late May when the minister of defense Moshe Ya’alon resigned and Netanyahu replaced him with Avigdor Lieberman. Ya’alon, a political centrist, is a former general and chief of staff as well as a former commando leader. Lieberman left the army as a corporal, and as an ultranationalist, has expressed no interest in peace talks with the Palestinians.
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China Closes the Innovation Gap

China is second only to the United States when it comes to science publications. Pictured: the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area. (Photo: Alex Needham / Wikipedia)

China is second only to the United States when it comes to science publications. Pictured: the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area. (Photo: Alex Needham / Wikipedia)

A version of this article appeared on Consortium News.

The headline reads, “The Rapid Rise of a Research Nation: China’s economic boom is mirrored by its similarly meteoric rise in high quality science.” This was not a headline in People’s Daily or China Daily but in the most prestigious of Western scientific publications, Nature.

The 38 pages, which follow that headline in a special Supplement to the journal Nature, tell us that China is now second in the world in high-quality science publications and growing fast. This certainly contradicts the Western, dare I say racist, stereotype of the hardworking, but unimaginative, Asian drudge, dutifully churning out mounds of low quality work.
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Saudi Crisis Deepens (Part 2)

The Saudi state, which has traditionally used terrorists to do its bidding, is now engaging in direct military intervention, such as in Yemen. (Photo: AP)

Experts in space studies have asserted that when a star stands on the verge of its collapse, its core becomes unstable. It begins to expand far beyond its regular size, appearing to be greatly expanding – when, actually, it is in its weakest and most vulnerable state. This is the precise state in which Saudi Arabia presently finds itself.

In Al Muqaddimah, the great 14th century classic, Ibn Khaldun outlines a template for the rise and fall of empires. He maintains that no society can achieve anything unless consensus exists concerning its goals and objectives and it enjoys what he refers to as social solidarity “asabiyah” – or consensus supporting those goals. Jockeying for personal power, corruption, and the seduction of wealth creates a general lethargy that constitutes the dying phase of any dominant power.
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A Pox on the House of Nuclear Weapons

Earlier this month, a UN working group met in Geneva to discuss implementing the nuclear ban treaty. (Photo: RAF)

Earlier this month, a UN working group met in Geneva to discuss implementing the nuclear ban treaty. (Photo: RAF)

Do you long for the day when states in possession of nuclear weapons divest themselves of these nefarious instruments of the devil? You have no doubt grown tired of waiting for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Like movies bogged down in development, they are projects forever waiting to be greenlit.

When and if they are finally ratified, arms control treaties, like nonproliferation, are essentially mechanisms to reserve and preserve nuclear weapons for nuclear powers only. Even those in the arms control world with a soft spot for disarmament have given it up as unrealistic. But a growing movement is seeking to forge a treaty that sets the stage for disarmament. Counterintuitively, but, of necessity, the Humanitarian Initiative, or, as it’s more commonly known, the nuclear ban treaty, excludes the nuclear weapons states.
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Hillary Clinton Animated by the Spirit of Scoop Jackson

Whoever thought a candidate in the mold of Scoop Jackson would run for the presidency as a Democrat in the 21st century? (Photo: hmjackson.org)

Whoever thought a candidate in the mold of Scoop Jackson would run for the presidency as a Democrat in the 21st century? (Photo: hmjackson.org)

I have long maintained that Hillary Clinton is a candidate out of step with her time. To put it another way, she is a couple of steps behind the will of the people. As an example of that, let’s resurrect the ghost of one-time Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). He died in 1983, but, to a much greater extent than most legislators from his era – and to our detriment — his memory and influence live on. Here’s how he’s described at Wikipedia:

A Cold War liberal and anti-Communist Democrat, Jackson supported higher military spending and a hard line against the Soviet Union, while also supporting social welfare programs, civil rights, and labor unions.

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Green Zone Incursion Calls Into Question Iraq’s Future as a State

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leads an obstructionist parliament familiar to those watching Republicans in U.S. Congress. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leads an obstructionist parliament familiar to those watching Republicans in U.S. Congress. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

On April 30, hundreds of Iraqi protesters climbed over and tore down the walls surrounding Baghad’s infamous Green Zone, once U.S. headquarters, now home to the Iraq government and invaded the parliament. Writes David Gardner for the Financial Times:

The outburst came after parliament had serially thwarted [current Prime Minister Haider al-] Abadi’s attempt to assemble a more technocratic government of non-partisan experts in charge of finance, utilities and the oil ministry.

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Yemen a Major Blot on Obama’s Foreign Policy Record

The United States doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of what it is doing in Yemen. Pictured: Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

The United States doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of what it is doing in Yemen. Pictured: Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

At the end of March the White House announced that it is providing logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen. The main purposes seem to be to limit Iranian influence via the Houthis and deny Al Qaeda a refuge. Writes Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy, “make no mistake, the United States is a combatant in this intervention.”

U.S.-operated drones are supplying targeting intelligence to Saudi forces in Yemen, which goes well beyond the definition of logistics and intelligence, writes Zenko. In addition the U.S. is providing aerial refueling for Saudi fighter aircraft.

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