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It Happens First in America: The Brave New Welfare State



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Political and Cultural Quarterly Summer 2010
The Changing Face
of a Nation:
American Phenomena
Richard Olehla, Benjamin Cunningham
William A. Cohn, Stephen Baskerville, John Jack
Rooney, Hrishabh Sandilya
It Happens First in America Stephen Baskerville .............................................................................2
Brussels Bound Cillian O Donoghue ......................................…………………...…........................8
The Radical Court William A. Cohn .........................................................……...……....................11
More Manic Than Movement Benjamin Cunningham .....……………………………..................20
Common Faith: Civil Religion in the US Richard Olehla ……………...........................................25
Immigration in the United States Roman Joch ………………………………………....................31
Arizona‟s New Law: A Call for Reform Chris Stanislowski .…………….……………..................34
An Inconvenient Truth: Pakistan‟s ISI and the Afghan Taliban John Jack Rooney........................36
High on America: An interview with James Ragan Hrishabh Sandilya …......................................40
American Superheroes - Jiří Růžička …………………………..........................................................45
The End of Growth: Systemic Risks of Globalization Alexander Ač ………....................................48
Museums for Sale: The Louvre and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi Karolína Fabelová ......................52
Like most trends, it is
happening first in America.
American conservatives
lament that President Barack
Obama‘s health plan makes
the United States just
another ―European-style‖
socialist state. Leftists
likewise are overjoyed that
the US has ―finally joined
the ranks of civilized
nations,‖ as Diane Francis
writes in the Huffington
Yet the US is in fact doing
more than this. At precisely
the time when Europeans are
confronting the limits of the
welfare state, the US seems
determined to vastly expand
its own. Noting problems in
Britain‘s National Health
Service (NHS) and weak
government efforts to reform
it, Janet Daley writes in the
Daily Telegraph, ―The US
government, meanwhile, is
galloping doggedly in the
opposite direction, bizarrely
determined to occupy
precisely the ideological
ground which Britain is
But this is not 1948, and
Obama‘s health plan is not
the NHS. The US is not
catching up to Europe. As
usual, it is pushing the
envelope and taking us into
new, uncharted territory.
Unlike post-war Europe, the
United States today is a
wealthy and generally
healthy nation. Its healthcare
system has problems shared
with other systems, but they
are mostly caused by past
regulation that the current
plan will likely exacerbate.
The Obama plan is not about
medicine; it is about power.
It can only become
increasingly coercive as it
seeks to operate in defiance
of both the laws of
economics and the wishes of
most Americans.
European Exceptionalism
Since the Second World
War, Western Europeans
have managed to operate
extensive quasi-socialist
welfare systems without
them becoming tyrannical.
The systems have serious
problems of financing their
generous benefits. But the
government machinery has
not, so far, descended to the
point of threatening freedom,
as it did in the former
Socialist bloc. Politically,
the welfare-socialist
experiment has until now
been fairly painless.
I do not believe this can
happen in the United States.
Coming alongside massive
nationalizations in the name
of economic recovery, the
nationalization of medicine
marks a major step in the
erection of an authoritarian
state machinery unlike any
in Europe but already well
underway in the US.
Europeans managed to
create welfare states and
keep their freedom because
of European affluence,
education, and political
sophistication. Even in the
post-war devastation,
Europeans had skills and a
work ethic (plus US aid and
the defence umbrella).
Europeans also valued (in
varying degrees)
longstanding principles of
free government, even if
they were often honoured in
the breach. These
achievements are rooted in a
cultural consensus that
European societies have
attained painfully over
centuries. I believe its
ultimate roots lie in
Christianity, with
contributions from medieval
Renaissance and
Reformation thought, and
the Enlightenment. This
culminated in a cultural and
civic unity that allows
Europe certain indulgences
that other societies cannot
afford. One is socialism
without famines and gulags.
It is often observed that
vices that are fashionable
and seemingly harmless
among the affluent and
educated social drinking,
casual sex, recreational drug
use become destructive
when spread to low-income
communities. Socialism is
the political equivalent.
Socialist schemes among the
poorer nations become
poison, and the results are
seen throughout the global
South, where socialism has
produced little besides mass
displacement, bureaucracy,
corruption, starvation, and
The United States stands
much closer to Europe than
to the poor nations. But the
US has made its own task
harder and Europe‘s easier
by taking in Europe‘s
outcasts. The US has
dedicated itself to being a
processing centre for the
human refuse from other
countries. It is this that gives
America its energy and
dynamism, which expresses
itself as spiritual enthusiasm,
entrepreneurial drive, and
brash extroversion. It is also
what makes the welfare state
Social Gospel or Social
A vibrant Christianity is
critical to the American
mission. If European elites
find American Christianity
annoying, they might recall
that it was this version that
turned some of the most
backward regions of Europe
into culturally and materially
rich societies, the very
societies that have produced
the most ―progressive‖
welfare states: Scandinavia,
northern Germany, the
Netherlands, England,
Scotland, and Bohemia. It is
no accident that a similar
Christian revivalism is now
sweeping Africa and other
poor regions, where Western
socialist engineering
schemes have exacted a
devastating economic and
human cost.
But Christian reformism and
welfare exist in an uneasy
relationship. The United
States is the most Christian
country in the West. It also
has the highest rate of
divorce and unwed
childbearing. By contrast,
the country reputed to be the
most atheistic in Europe
the Czech Republic has
one of the lowest rates. The
easy explanation is that
Americans are simply
hypocrites, and the secular
morality of European elites
is equal if not superior to
American evangelicalism.
But a more plausible
explanation is available.
A general conviction among
Czechs that having children
out of wedlock is wrong is
the habit of centuries of
inculcation, mostly
Christian, that most Czechs
have effectively forgotten.
(The modern Czech nation,
after all, was born in an
evangelical revival, which
was also a political
revolution, closely
connected to those in
England and America.) This
historical conditioning will
not last forever, and more
Czech children are now
being born to unwed
mothers. But it is one
example of the kind of
ethical infrastructure that an
immigrant-dominated US
must continuously work to
build. Europeans may be
eating their spiritual seed
corn and squandering their
cultural capital, but they
have more of it than
Americans. Until Americans
can be as confident of this
habit as Czechs, the religious
convictions of conscientious
Americans will be vocal, as
well they must be.
This is also why the minimal
American welfare state, long
before the more extensive
European, produced welfare
queens and ghettos of crime,
substance abuse, and family
dissolution. But with its new
immigration, Europe is not
far behind.
Socialism in America will
never be the mutual aid
society designed by Fabian
intellectuals or their
counterparts. (American
Fabianism, the Democratic
Socialists of America, is
miniscule.) I doubt it will be
this in Europe much longer.
American socialism will be
much quicker to degenerate
into the patronage network
that socialism always
becomes in the end, an
American nomenklatura run
by seedy politicians latter
day versions of Mayor
Daley, who built the corrupt
and thuggish Chicago
machine (a product of
European immigration)
whose youthful face is
Obama. The very passage of
his healthcare bill put the
politics of patronage on
vivid display, using public
revenues to pay off favored
constituencies in return for
political support.
Contrary to popular belief,
the US already has one of
the largest per capita
government sectors in the
world, even before new
spending sprees for
economic ―stimulus‖ and
healthcare. US government
spending far exceeds most
European countries,
including Britain, Germany,
Finland, and Iceland, plus
Canada and New Zealand.
American welfare spending
will already exceed $10
trillion over the next decade.
This is for means-tested
benefits alone. But non-
means-tested benefits are
growing fastest, as more
middle-class constituencies
seek a place on the public
payroll. None of this
includes growing
expenditures for
education, and
health to meet
rising levels of
crime and drug
abuse that
But the
socialist state
will not be
simply a huge
version of
Tammany Hall.
Nor will it be as crude and
ramshackle as the Soviet
apparat. It will be what
history always produces:
something new.
American Apparat
The basis of Obama‘s new
welfare socialism is what
European socialism is also
becoming: not working men
in cloth caps singing
―Solidarity Forever‖ or
intellectuals in cafes
smoking unfiltered
cigarettes. The constituency
is increasingly middle-class,
suburban, university-
educated, multicultural.
Above all, it is sexual.
Photo is in the public domain
America is on the cutting edge of the welfare state.
This new vanguard is the
product of new sexualities
and new, extra-familial
childrearing arrangements
themselves largely products
of the welfare state: single
mothers and feminists,
politicized homosexuals,
children of divorce and
others raised in institutions
like day care, foster care,
public housing, and public
education. This new elite is
not conscious of owing
anything to previous
generations or future ones.
Education is seen as a matter
of earning power, not
transmitting knowledge or
culture or values from one
generation to the next. Their
allegiance is not to family or
community or country but to
the ideological abstractions
and bureaucratic machineries
to which they owe their
upbringing, education,
livelihood, and
The members of this sexual
New Class are, or aspire, to
be on the public payroll:
government workers,
welfare recipients, grant
recipients, government
contractors, quangocrats,
students from preschool to
graduate school, inmates,
and now even autoworkers,
bankers, and the gargantuan
medical industry. As
loyalties like family and
church diminish, more
become dependent on and
obedient to the state. They
demand and contend for
ever-greater portions of an
ever-smaller pie. They
acquire an interest in
squeezing ever-more
revenue out of ever-
shrinking productive sectors
to finance their benefits. To
this end, they demand
increased taxation
supplemented by innovative
finance schemes: traffic
fines, student loans, child
support awards, civil
forfeiture all are fair game
to raise revenue, all are
largely free of legislative
control or oversight, and all
involve criminal penalties
without criminal safeguards
for those who cannot protect
The epicenter of the new
sexual socialism is, and has
always been, America. For
well over a century the US
has been nurturing and
exporting an aggressive
sexual radicalism that is now
most visible in feminist and
gay activism but whose most
destructive fallout is the
soaring rate of divorce and
unwed childbearing. ―In
America,‖ Thomas Masaryk
observed back in 1925,
―abortion has become a
business, and…the number
of divorces is legion.‖
This politicization of sexual
relations is fundamentally
transforming society and
government worldwide. Its
fruits can be seen in the
explosion of ―social
services‘‖ that increasingly
constitute the welfare state
a vast underworld of quasi-
police power that most
people find too dreary to
scrutinize: social work, child
protection, child care, child
and family counseling, child
psychology, child support
enforcement, juvenile and
family courts, eldercare,
healthcare. In the US,
Britain, and elsewhere, this
plainclothes gendarmerie is
assuming ever-more
intrusive control over the
private lives of working
people with children.
America’s Soft Gulag
Already the American
welfare state, minimal as it
may appear, has been much
quicker than the European to
translate into
authoritarianism. America‘s
notoriously high level of
incarceration, exceeded only
by North Korea (with Britain
close behind), is often
attributed to ―capitalism‖ or
conservative demands for
―law and order.‖ But this is
an optical illusion. It is the
direct product of the welfare
Contrary to the general
perception, it is now well
established in social science
literature that virtually all
violent crime along with
substance abuse and other
threats to public safety and
public health proceeds not
from poverty or race but
from single-parent homes
(further information on next
Single-parent homes are the
product of welfare, which
encourages the generation of
fatherless children and all
the familiar social ills and
the heavy-handed penal
measures they rationalize.
The criminality of the
welfare underclass is the
prelude to the
criminalization of the wider
population. This is most
apparent in Britain‘s recent
assault on civil liberties and
surveillance of its
population. In both Britain
and the US, welfare state
authorities such as social
workers now act as
plainclothes police and
launch aggressive quasi-
criminal proceedings against
not violent criminals but
middle-class parents.
Measures ostensibly against
child abuse (another
phenomenon of single-parent
homes) are almost useless at
preventing genuine abuse
but instead target innocent
middle-class families.
Parents find their children
confiscated and themselves
shackled on patently
spurious accusations.
―Domestic violence‖
measures, likewise devised
for low-income unmarried
households, have become a
weapon in middle-class
divorce, with parents
summarily removed from
their homes in handcuffs and
processed through assembly-
line hearings, where
acquittal is not an option,
before being consigned to
coercive psychotherapeutic
The most extreme example
of how the welfare state can
become a police state is
America‘s bizarre method of
collecting child support,
which inverts the role of the
welfare state from
Virtually every major social pathology of our time: violent crime, drug and alcohol
abuse, truancy and scholastic failure, unwed pregnancy, suicide and other
psychological disorders all these correlate more strongly to fatherlessness than to
any other single factor.1 According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, ―Children
who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times
more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional,
and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal
behavior than those who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.‖2
The overwhelming majority of prisoners, juvenile detention inmates, high school
dropouts, pregnant teenagers, adolescent murderers, and rapists all come from
fatherless homes. Children from affluent but separated families are much more
likely to get into trouble than children from poor but intact ones, and white children
from separated families are at higher risk than black children in intact families. The
connection between single parent households and crime erases the relationship
between race and crime and between low income and crime.3
1 Attempts to attribute these behaviors to poverty or racial discrimination have been refuted by studies that
control for these variables. See Urie Bronfenbrenner, ―Discovering What Families Do,‖ in David Blankenhorn,
et al. (eds.), Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Family (Milwaukee: Family Service
America, 1990), p. 34; Ronald Angel and Jacqueline Angel, Painful Inheritance: Health and the New
Generation of Fatherless Children (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), p. 188. Even left-wing
scholars concur: Norman Dennis and George Erdos, Families Without Fatherhood (London: Civitas, 2000).
2 Horn and Sylvester, Father Facts, p. 15.
3 Elaine Ciulla Kamarck and William Galston, Putting Children First (Washington: Progressive Policy Institute,
1990), p. 14.
Excerpt from: Baskerville, S. Taken into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood,
Marriage, and the Family. Nashville: Cumberland House Publishing, 2007
distributing largesse to raising revenue and
employing police methods to do so.
Originally designed to reimburse the state for
payments to low-income single-parent
households, it has become a coerced subsidy
on fatherless households in the middle class,
encouraging more of them. It is also a
money-maker for the state, allowing officials
to fill their coffers while piously proclaiming
that it is all ―for the children.‖ The formula
rationalizes draconian measures not to
punish criminal deeds but to squeeze money
out of citizens who have done nothing to
owe it: pre-dawn roundups, secret arrests,
incarcerations without trial, suspension of
due process protections, and beatings.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently
announced his intention to import this
system into Britain ironically camouflaged
as part of his programme to strengthen ―the
family.‖ Other European countries are also
adopting these American innovations.
Punitive measures are now being expanded
to other paternalistic ―services‖ with which
governments entice citizens before
expropriating and criminalizing them.
Obama‘s health bill nationalises (of all
things) student loans. This is another
government profiteering scheme coming to
Europe and one where collection methods
used to extract child support confiscation
of driving licenses, professional licenses, and
passports are being extended. Easy credit
also fans inflation in education, driving up
university costs, making loans indispensable
and putting students in permanent hock to a
state that, unlike other creditors, can
incarcerate them. The US government now
operates as a loan shark.
The unprecedented abandon with which
Western governments largely at American
instigation have been spending to stimulate
the economy (or perhaps, to buy political
support) raises serious questions about how
they plan to recover this money. Greece may
seek bailouts rather than erect a penal
apparatus to force its citizens to pay the bills,
but not the US and Britain. Since it began,
the Obama administration has been
aggressively seeking to extract revenue from
whatever modern-day kulaks they can
identify and demonize. The face of today‘s
new welfare state is not the family
practitioner. It is the revenue agent.
Stephen Baskerville is an associate professor
of government at Patrick Henry College in
the United States and visiting lecturer at the
Anglo-American University in Prague. He is
the former chairman of the Department of
Politics and European Studies at Palacky
University in Olomouc.
For the past 20 years the
Czech Republic, like most
countries in the Central and
Eastern European (CEE)
region, has been high on
America. Such ‗Atlanticist‘
states became the
torchbearers for Washington,
and from Kosovo to Iraq to
the deployment of missile
defense shields, little debate
was to be had about the
merits of adopting a pro US
In his decision to increase
the number of troops in
Afghanistan by 20 percent in
the next year, Minister of
Defense Alexandr Vondra is
doing his best to ensure that
the Czech Republic
continues in its role as
staunch ally to Washington.
However, while the election
of a center right coalition
bodes well for the
undertaking of such a stance,
the pro US orientation of
Czech foreign and security
policy is under greater threat
than any time since 1989.
Such a posture contrasts with
the more ‗Europeanist‘
outlook of Western states
such as France, who in the
past have viewed American
dominance of world affairs
with far greater suspicion
and called on Europe to
emerge as a military player
in the international arena.
Their efforts to promote a
stronger European Defense
project have always been
met with reluctance
throughout the CEE region,
fearing it would lead to a
weakening of America ties
to region.
These contrasting viewpoints
came to a head in the time
leading up to the Iraq War.
While Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld‘s assertion
that Europe is divided
between ‗Old‘ and ‗New‘
member states may have
been an offensive
oversimplification, he did
highlight two contrasting
opinions towards America:
that of the ‗Atlanticist‘
versus the ‗Europeanist‘.
Such differences arise out of
different geographical
locations but also dissimilar
historical experiences.
History weighs heavily in
the Czech Republic and,
along with geography, has
been the foundation of
Czech foreign policy over
the past 20 years. During
certain key or ‗formative‘
moments, Czech elites
developed rules and
viewpoints that have
directed their foreign policy
orientation. These included a
belief that security and
independence is possible
with the help of great powers
(1918), a lack of trust that
major European powers
could provide security to the
continent (1938), the need to
keep alliances alive and
credible (1938), a fear and
mistrust of Russia (1968)
and a debt of gratitude
towards the US for their role
in bringing down
communism (1989).
Those with a numerical
outlook will see that these
formative experiences all
have the uncanny ability of
ending in an 8: 1918, 1938
1968 to 1989. While it is too
early to assess the impact of
2008, the year Barack
Obama was elected president
could turn out to be another
of these ‗formative years.‘
CEE Atlanticism eroded
by Obama
In prioritizing relations with
Russia, Obama and his
administration have taken
their eyes entirely off the
CEE region. Immediately
upon his ascendance to the
presidency the region
became transformed from a
key- geo-strategic zone into
a political bargaining chip.
The ‗demilitarizing‘ of the
missile defense project was
clear from a letter hand
delivered to Dmitry
Medvedev three weeks after
he took office (and leaked to
the New York Times), in
which Obama stated that he
was open to overtures in the
missile defense plan in
exchange for Moscow‘s
cooperation with the Iranian
nuclear issue.
The letter, along with large
scale disinterest in the CEE
region (the US has not had
an ambassador in the Czech
Republic since 2008),
sparked a renewed sense of
fear among Czech and CEE
elites that the region was
once again being sacrificed
by an ally for the sake of
broader geo-political goals
akin to Munich Agreement
of 1938.
In reaction to Obama‘s
‗Munich‘ moment, on 1 July
2009 a group of Pro
American intellectuals and
foreign policy makers
published an open letter in
the Polish daily Gazette
Wyborcza urging the Obama
administration to not cancel
the missile defence project
and instead to significantly
strengthen its diplomatic and
regional ties in CEE. Among
the Czech contingent, former
president Václav Havel,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Karel Schwarzeneberg and
Minister of Defense
Alexandr Vondra all spoke
of a ―growing sense of
nervousness in the region.‖
The letter makes clear the
region‘s fear of growing
Russian assertiveness in
Europe, referring to the
mammoth country as a
‗revisionist power.‘
Such calls went unheeded
and on 17 September 2009
the Obama administration
cancelled the missile defense
The immediate reaction to
the shelving of the project in
the Czech Republic has been
a realization of the need to
diversify its allies and put
emphasis on the European
Security and Defense Policy
(ESDP) as a second pillar of
security. Even steadfast
Atlanticist Vondra went so
far as to say ―it is the right
time to take European
security seriously.‖
The Czech approach to
ensure its security has also
changed as naïve attempts to
form some kind of special
relationship with the US
have disappeared (During
missile defense negotiations
a strong sentiment existed
that the project would create
a ‗special relationship‘
between the US and the
Czech Republic, one that
would ensure exclusive
protection, surpassing that of
NATO). This has been
replaced by more concrete
attempts to gain new ‗Article
V‘ security guarantee in the
new NATO security concept
negotiations. Elsewhere in
CEE, Poland, a more
committed Atlanticist than
the Czech Republic, has
similarly modified its
approach and made the
ESDP a priority for its
upcoming 2011 EU
As we witness the
convergence of ‗Old‘ and
‗New‘ member state
approaches to the US, the
crucial question to ask is
where will the Czech
Republic be in the Atlanticist
or the Europeanist camp in
10 years time. Speaking at
the Prague 2002 Summit,
historian and political writer
Timothy Garton Ash
questioned whether the
countries of Central and
Eastern Europe, so proud of
their pro American
orientation, will still be such
stanch Atlanticists in 2012.
Up to 2008 the answer
would have been undeniably
yes, but future trends are
much less predictable.
Future key questions
Czech foreign and security
policy post 1989 has been
for the most part dominated
by a small clique of pro-
Atlanticists who have
pursued policies detached
from a disinterested public.
Progressively as Czech
democracy matures, public
opinion will become a much
stronger determinant of
foreign policy reminiscent of
situation in Western
European democracies.
A ‗sexy‘ issue that captures
the public‘s imagination
could provide the catalyst for
the first real public debate
within Czech society on
whether such a pro-
Atlanticist leaning is the
right direction for the
country. In Slovakia the
catalyst was the Iraq war
which lead the left wing
Smer party to victory on an
anti-war platform. Once in
government, they
immediately shifted
precedence away from
Washington and towards
Within the Czech Republic,
divergent foreign policy
viewpoints between left and
right parties are similar to
those of Slovakia‘s political
spectrum, suggesting that the
future Czech position
towards the US is not set in
stone. Similar to Smer, the
Czech Social Democratic
party (ČSSD) would like a
much stronger Europeanist
foreign policy than presently
exists. An upturn in fortunes
for the left leaning Czech
political parties in
parliament would bode well,
as parliament increasingly
takes a more active role in
foreign policy making vis-à-
vis the inherently pro-
Atlanticist institutions of the
Ministry of Defense and
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Regardless of which party is
in power, the European
Union or United States can
best win Czech support by
proving their ability to deal
with a country where Czech
foreign policy priorities and
fears lay: Russia. Since the
Czech EU presidency Czech
elites, even those from the
Civil Democratic party
(ODS), are starting to see the
EU as the preferential
platform to deal with Russia
in crucial areas such as
energy security and
enlargement. For the
moment a common policy
towards to Russia is
certainly lacking among
member states but the future
success of the European
security project will be
heavily contingent on ‗frosty
pragmatists,‘ such as the
Czech Republic, and
‗strategic partners‘ like
Germany finding common
History will have far less
impact on the Czech
Republic‘s future than it has
on the present. Memories
fade and new elites will soon
emerge who will care less
and less about America‘s
role in bringing down
communism. Unless
America renews its interest
in the region and starts
rewarding allies for their
loyalty, Czech elites may be
left with no option but to
start taking European
security seriously.
Cillian O Donoghue is a
senior research and policy
analyst at the Central
European Journal of
International and Security
Studies and a former
independent researcher at
the Institute of International
Relations, Czech Ministry of
Foreign Affairs.
Suggested Reading
Asmus, R. and Vondra, A. The
Origins of Atlanticism in
Central and Eastern Europe.‖
Transatlantic Centre of the
German Marshall Fund of the
US, Brussels and New York
University, Prague, July 2005
An Open letter to the Obama
Administration from Central
and Eastern Europe. Gazette
Wyborcza. 15 July 2009.
Hynek, Nik , Stritecky, Vit ,
Handl, Vladimír and Kofian,
Michal. ―The US-Russian
security 'reset': implications for
Central-Eastern Europe and
Germany. European Security,
18: 3, 263 285.
Belfer, M. ―Overcoming
Obama‘s Munich Moment.‖
Central European Journal of
International and Security
Studies. November 2009.
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threaten to erode public faith
in the Court as an impartial
arbiter and in the American
judicial system as a beacon
of the constitutional rule of
The Court‘s recently
concluded term started
unusually and ended with a
bang. At the end of its 2008-
2009 term, the Court
directed the litigants in
Citizens United v. FEC to
prepare briefs on whether
two precedent cases should
be overruled, issues the
parties had not presented to
the Court, and scheduled
oral argument for September
9 before the new term
officially began. This set the
stage for its January 21
ruling that government
cannot limit corporate
political spending in
elections because such a
limit would violate the free
speech rights of
corporations. On June 28, at
the end of its term, the Court
struck down Chicago‘s gun
control law, ruling that the
2nd Amendment right to bear
arms applies not only to
federal law, but to state and
local law as well. In
between, the Court made
important rulings on a range
of issues, from antitrust to
takings and from criminal
procedure to text messaging.
Chief Justice John Roberts,
who joined the Court just
five years ago, took firm
control of the Court‘s docket
(the Court hears only those
cases it selects) and
decisions this term. He was
in the majority 92 percent of
the time, more than any
other justice. Critics say the
Roberts‘ Court has legislated
from the bench, thus
exposing its doctrinal
hypocrisy in preaching
judicial restraint and
moderation yet practicing
activism as it aggressively
shapes law in accordance
with its conservative bias.
Defenders say the Court is
interpreting the Constitution
correctly, and restoring
balance by correcting the
liberal activism of the Court
in prior decades. Here‘s a
review of some of the key
rulings and controversies of
the term, the jurisprudence
debate beneath the surface,
and a look ahead.
Freedom of speech for
In Citizens United, a divided
(5 to 4) court ruled the
McCain-Feingold campaign
finance law unconstitutional
because it restricted the free
speech rights of corporations
in spending money to
influence elections. Human
rights lawyer Scott Horton
writes that after Citizens
United, ―America stands
alone as the only country in
the world which grants
human rights to
corporations, just as it is
curtailing human rights to
humans. It‘s a curious sign
of the times.‖ U.S. President
Barack Obama condemned
the ruling as promoting the
further corrupting influence
of special interest money and
lobbyists in politics. Critics
say the ruling enables
corporations to overwhelm
the political process,
drowning out the voices of
real people. With the Court
deciding the case on
constitutional grounds, it is
not clear what, other than a
constitutional amendment,
Congress can now do to
mitigate what is seen as the
harmful impact of the ruling.
Legislators are seeking to
impose stringent sponsorship
disclosure requirements on
campaign ads and are
exploring whether campaign
finance reform law can pass
constitutional muster.
Dissenters took issue with
the procedure as well as the
substance of the ruling. The
case, which wiped out 20
years of case precedent and
60 years of statutory
regulation, was originally far
more limited a challenge to
a federal agency‘s ban on a
single anti-Hillary Clinton
campaign video. The breadth
of the ruling, and the manner
in which the Court
intervened to widen the
scope of the case in an
apparent reach to overturn
decades-old precedent and
acts of Congress, left the
Court open to criticism for
overstepping its role and
disregarding the many
constitutional limitations on
judicial power designed to
check any runaway court
(Article III‘s ―case or
controversy‖ limitation on
standing; doctrines on
mootness, ripeness,
precedent and political
questions - the Court should
not seek to resolve questions
best left to the political
process). Citizens United
was the most controversial
case of the year and of the
Roberts era. (For more on
this decision see Ronald
Dworkin‘s articles in The
New York Review of Books:
―The Devastating Decision,‖
Feb. 25, 2010; and ―The
Decision That Threatens
Democracy,‖ May 13, 2010).
The Court was less receptive
to free speech claims by
human rights activists and
public interest lawyers who
sought to provide counseling
to groups on the U.S. State
Department‘s list of foreign
terrorists. Holder v.
Humanitarian Law Project
was the first Supreme Court
case of the post-9/11 era to
pit free speech rights against
national security, and the
Court found that the
government‘s compelling
interest in preventing
terrorism outweighed the
plaintiff‘s free speech
claims. The Court reached
this conclusion without even
asking the government to
provide any evidence to
support its claim that the
goal of preventing terrorism
Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Photo is in the public domain
would actually be served by
the speech restrictions at
issue. In a 6-3 ruling the
Court said that even advice
on peaceful conflict
resolution may be
prosecuted under a law
banning material support of
terrorists. Attorney David
Cole of the Center for
Constitutional Rights says
that if such law existed one
year ago, President Carter
may have been arrested for
meeting with representatives
of Hezbollah to advise them
on fair election practices
when he monitored the June
2009 elections in Lebanon.
Cole notes that the First
Amendment has protected
the right to advocate even
the overthrow of the
government, so long as one‘s
advocacy was not intended
or likely to produce an
imminent crime. In the
Humanitarian Law Project
case, however, ―the Court
ruled for the first time in
its history that speech
advocating only lawful,
nonviolent activity can be
subject to criminal penalty,
even where the speakers‘
intent is to discourage resort
to violence. The Court‘s
decision is all the more
disturbing when contrasted
with Citizens United. The
campaign finance law that
the Court struck down did
not prohibit speech, but
merely required corporations
to use segregated funds to
engage in political campaign
speech. The material-support
law, by contrast,
criminalized speech outright
consulting with, advising,
or speaking on behalf of,
disfavored groups.‖
Governments always restrict
speech during times of war
and great fear, but the scope
of this restriction is
troubling. In the words of
Justice Potter Stewart,
―censorship reflects a
society‘s lack of confidence
in itself.‖ Cole writes,
―When the Court allows
unsupported speculation
about ―terrorism‖ and
disapproval of a speaker‘s
viewpoint to justify making
advocacy of human rights a
crime, the First Amendment
as we know it is in serious
In other free speech cases, an
8-1 ruling struck down
legislation targeting dog-
fighting and crush videos
(film made for fetishists that
derive sexual gratification by
watching women in high
heels trample small animals)
that would make it a crime to
show images of animal
cruelty, holding this was a
violation of free speech.
Additionally, the justices
rejected an argument made
by a student group that the
application of the anti-
discrimination standards at
UC Hastings College of the
Law violated its First
Amendment right to
establish its own standards
for membership.
Whose business is being
served by the Court?
The Citizens United decision
showed great solicitude to
the interests of corporations‖
wrote New York Times legal
analyst Adam Liptak. This
assertion is reminiscent of
law professor Jeffrey
Rosen‘s March 16, 2008
Times‘ article ―Supreme
Court Inc.‖ (―Supreme Court
Inc.: How the nation‘s
highest court became
increasingly receptive to the
arguments of American
business,‖ The New York
Times, March 16, 2008)
which argues that based on
its docket, environmental
and consumer rulings, and
decisions to limit damage
awards against Exxon-Mobil
and Philip Morris and others,
the Roberts Court is the most
pro-business court ever. The
2009-10 term can be seen as
strengthening that claim.
The Constitutional
Accountability Center
(CAC) recently completed a
study of the Court‘s rulings
of the past 5 years and found
that the bulk of the Court‘s
time involved business and
corporate law. Rosen too
found that the percentage of
the Court‘s cases which
concerned business interests
had risen dramatically.
Using the US Chamber of
Commerce, which calls itself
the ―voice of business,‖ as a
benchmark, the CAC study
found that Justices Alito,
Roberts and Scalia all sided
with the Chamber‘s position
on cases more than 70
percent of the time, with
Justice Tomas 68 percent
and Kennedy near 66
percent. In close cases
Roberts sided with the
Chamber 90 percent of the
time and Alito 100 percent
of the time. According to
Doug Kendall, President of
the Center, the Court sided
with the Chamber in 13 of
the 16 cases in which it filed
briefs this term.
As Justice Benjamin
Cardozo said 90 years ago,
―We may try to see things as
objectively as we please.
Nonetheless, we can never
see them with any eyes
except our own.‖ The
apparent pro-corporate
worldview of the Court is
unsurprising given the
backgrounds of many of the
justices, representing
corporate clients and hearing
white-collar cases. The
majority ruling in Citizens
United asserts, ―The
censorship that we confront
is vast in its reach; the
government has muffled the
voices of the most
significant forces in our
economy.‖ Based on public
reaction and polls on the
Citizens United ruling, this
worldview, that for the past
sixty years corporations have
been unable to exert
sufficient influence over
politics, is not shared by
most people.
Stanford law professor
Pamela Karlan said this is ―a
court that‘s much more
friendly to the powerful than
the powerless.‖ Lisa Blatt,
who served for thirteen years
in the Solicitor General‘s
office (which represents the
U.S. government before the
Court) concurs, ―This is a
business court. Now it‘s the
era of the corporation and
the interests of business.‖
Equal justice under the law
(access, rights and
―Equal Justice Under Law‖
is inscribed in marble above
the front entrance to the
Supreme Court. As reported
in the May 3, 2010 New
York Times, ―In a decision
ripe with symbolism about
access to justice in the age of
terror, the Supreme Court
announced on Monday that
visitors to its courthouse will
no longer be allowed to enter
through the front door.‖
Justice Breyer issued a
statement noting that the
front steps ―represent the
ideal that anyone in this
country can obtain
meaningful justice through
application to this court . . .
The entrance to the US Supreme Court
Photo is in the public domain
To my knowledge, and I
have spoken to numerous
jurists and architects
worldwide, no other
Supreme Court in the world
including those such as
Israel‘s, that face security
concerns equal to or greater
than ours has closed its
main entrance to the public.‖
Gideon‟s Trumpet, Anthony
Lewis‘ acclaimed story of
Gideon v. Wainwright, the
landmark 1963 Court ruling
guaranteeing the 6th
Amendment right to counsel
for indigent criminal
defendants, documents the
ideal of equal justice under
the law in practice. Gideon,
Mapp v. Ohio, establishing
the 4th Amendment
exclusionary rule that
illegally obtained evidence
may not be used in court,
and Miranda v. Arizona,
safeguarding the 5th
Amendment right against
self-incrimination, marked
the due process revolution of
the Warren Court in the
1960s. Supporters praise
these rulings as affirming the
presumption of innocence as
vital to basic fairness and
equality of law. Critics see
liberal activism by the
Warren Court. Today, critics
of the Roberts Court see an
attack on the Bill of Rights
which they say marks the
devolution of American due
process and equal protection
of law.
On June 1, a split court (5 to
4) narrowed the landmark
1966 Miranda ruling
requiring the police to warn
suspects in custody of their
rights prior to interrogating
them. In Berghuis v.
Thompkins, the Court held
that a suspect must speak in
order to invoke his right to
remain silent. Although the
suspect remained silent for 3
hours of police interrogation,
his subsequent statements
were deemed admissible.
The Court ruled that the
suspect had waived the right
to remain silent by not
speaking. In her stinging
dissent, Justice Sotomayor
lamented the Court‘s
―substantial retreat from
protections against
compelled self-
incrimination‖ established
by Miranda, noting that ―the
broad rules the Court
announces today are also
troubling because they are
unnecessary to decide this
This term, the Court also
allowed the police to vary
the language of the warning
and to resume questioning
after suspects invoked their
rights. Last term, in Herring
v. United States, the Court
ruled 5 to 4 to relax the
exclusionary rule it
established in the 1961
Mapp ruling which held that
in order to deter police and
prosecutorial misconduct,
illegally obtained evidence
must be inadmissible. In a
significant shift, Justice
Roberts wrote for the
majority in Herring that the
exclusion of evidence should
be a last resort only if the
police misconduct was the
result of ―systemic error or
reckless disregard of
constitutional requirements,‖
not mere negligence.
Stanford law professor Jeff
Fisher says, ―The court
continues its march to
revoke exclusionary rules
[by] refusing to exclude
what the court thinks is
reliable evidence in criminal
cases. None of the
conservatives are
unpredictable in any of this.
They‘re leading the retreat.‖
It’s a wild world
If the law should be a moral
compass, we are in troubled
waters. The First
Amendment is seen as the
core right upon which all
other rights depend. Critics
assert that Citizens United
has in essence
institutionalized bribery in
politics on a massive scale.
A Washington Post poll
found 80 percent of those
surveyed opposed to the
ruling, with 65 percent
―strongly opposed.‖ Denial
of access to the courts and
erosion of civil liberties
further undermines public
faith in the judiciary. A
retreat from due process
safeguards erodes the rule of
law the faith and trust that
justice is blind and that the
law binds all equally. The
4th, 5th and 6th Amendments
protect citizens from living
in a police state, where, like
Joseph K. in Franz Kafka‘s
The Trial, people can be
imprisoned based merely on
lies told by others. When the
Court excuses misconduct in
favor of a conviction it
makes everyone less safe as
well as less free.
In McDonald v. Chicago a
divided Court (5 to 4) held
that the right to bear arms is
a fundamental individual
liberty under the due process
clause of the 14th
Amendment and so cannot
be infringed by the state,
local or federal government.
The Court, overturning a 19th
century precedent, thus
broadened gun ownership
rights, expanding its 2008
five to four ruling in DC v.
Heller. In Heller, the Court
struck down the District of
Columbia‘s gun ownership
restrictions, ruling that the
2nd Amendment applies to
individuals and not just to
the ―well regulated militia.‖
Alan Gottlieb of the gun
rights group the Second
Amendment Foundation says
that after McDonald, ―the
right of the individual citizen
to carry a gun is now
constitutionally protected in
every corner of the United
States.‖ His group and the
National Rifle Association
now plan to challenge gun
control laws across the
country to ―win back our
firearms freedoms one
lawsuit at a time.‖ In recent
years, according to The
Economist of July 3, 2010,
on average more than
100,000 Americans are shot
by guns annually, more than
30,000 fatally. Will more
guns make us safer? Will
McDonald further erode
public confidence in
Congress and the Court?
Writing for the majority,
Justice Alito says that the 2nd
Amendment right to self-
defense is fundamental to the
American conception of
ordered liberty. Chicago
Mayor Richard Daley
expressed disappointment
saying, ―Common sense tells
you we need fewer guns on
the street, not more guns.‖
Gun control advocates
maintain that the Court‘s
reading of the 2nd
Amendment is anachronistic
and wrong; that it pertains to
citizen militias protecting
against tyranny, providing a
collective rather than
individual right to bear arms,
and that the ruling ignores
the great challenge of
confronting gun violence in
America‘s urban centers. In
his dissent, Justice Breyer
noted evidence that guns
cause 60,000 deaths and
injuries in America each
year and that Chicago‘s
handgun ban had saved
many hundreds of lives since
it was enacted in 1983.
In other notable rulings this
term, the Court ruled: that
the privacy rights of a city
employee were not violated
when the city searched his
personal text messages
written on a device it had
provided; the ―honest
services‖ law, which was
used to convict Enron‘s
Jeffrey Skilling and is often
used by prosecutors of
corporate fraud and other
white-collar crime, is
unconstitutionally vague;
juveniles who commit
crimes in which no one is
killed may not be sentenced
to life in prison without
possibility of parole
(although a California
sentence of 184 years in one
such case is unaffected by
the ruling); and, that
immigrants who are legally
in the United States need not
be automatically deported
for minor drug offenses.
How is law made (how
were these rulings
The rule of five says that the
law is whatever five
Supreme Court justices say it
is. With lifetime tenure,
these justices wield great
power. So who they are and
how they see the law
matters. This term, the swing
vote, Justice Kennedy,
swung toward the
conservative bloc, enabling
many of the contentious
decisions noted above
(Kennedy wrote for the
majority Citizens United).
Not being answerable to the
voters makes judges either
the least or most principled
backers of democratic ideals
depending on one‘s view.
The four horsemen of
conservatism (Scalia,
Roberts, Alito and Thomas)
cloak themselves in the
sanctity of the judicial
approach known as
originalism holding that
fidelity to the law means
reading the plain words of
the Constitution as the
drafters would have
understood them. David
Souter, who was replaced by
Justice Sotomayor when he
left the Court in 2009,
delivered the Harvard
commencement address this
year in which he declared
that originalism ―has only a
tenuous connection to
Souter took aim at the job-
description du jour that
judge‘s are like umpires who
just call balls and strikes. He
emphasized ―how
egregiously it misses the
point to think of judges in
constitutional cases as just
sitting there reading
constitutional phrases fairly
and looking at reported facts
objectively to produce their
judgments. . . Constitutions
have a lot of general
language in them in order to
be useful as constitutions‖
and the U.S. Constitution
―contains values that may
very well exist in tension
with each other, not in
harmony.‖ Souter says
the Constitution has
―deliberately open-
ended guarantees
like rights to due
process of law, equal
protection of the
law, and freedom
from unreasonable
searches.‖ Thus, in
the difficult cases
which the Court hears,
like weighing liberty
versus security claims,
―the Constitution gives no
simple rule of decision for
the cases in which one of the
values is truly at odds with
In his Harvard speech,
Justice Souter tells the
stories of Brown v. Board of
Education, the 1954
landmark civil rights ruling
for integrated public schools,
and the Pentagon Papers
case, the 1971 New York
Times v. United States
litigation over the
publication of a leaked secret
government study on the
history of America‘s
involvement in the war in
Vietnam, to illustrate the
inevitability of weighing
competing constitutional
interests vis-à-vis
contemporary reality in the
tough cases the Court must
decide. For there is no way
to ―resolve every
tension of one provision with
another, tension the
Constitution‘s Framers left
to be resolved for another
day; and another day after
that, for our cases can give
no answers that fit all
conflicts, and no resolutions
immune to rethinking when
the significance of old facts
may have changed in the
changing world.‖
Originalism, Souter
suggested, would have led
the Court in 1954 to affirm
―separate but equal‖ schools,
and reject integration.
Indeed, the vitality of the
law is adaptability along
with predictability. The core
problem with
originalism is how hard it is
to discern the ―true
meaning‖ of the Constitution
and to apply that perceived
intent to contemporary
reality. Consider Citizens
United: how can we pretend
to glean original intent when
there were no corporations
of the type we know today
when the Constitution was
being deliberated and
ratified in 1789? And how
can we know if the 8th
Amendment prohibition of
cruel and unusual
punishment would prohibit
applying the death penalty
via the electric chair or lethal
injection when neither such
thing existed in the late 18th
A glance back and the road
Once the seat of retiring
Justice John Paul Stevens is
filled, four new Justices will
have been appointed in a
period of five years a
major shakeup of the Court,
which prior to Roberts 2005
appointment had gone more
than a decade without
change. The replacement of
Justices Rehnquist and
O‘Connor by Roberts and
Alito has made the Court
more aggressive, with less
deference to precedent and
the legislature, as well as
more conservative. It seems
fair to say that the Court is
now more partisan and less
consensual than in times past
as shown by the increasing
number of 5-4 decisions and
acerbic dissents being read
from the bench by
disaffected justices. With
Elena Kagan soon to be the
newest Justice, her
reputation as a consensus
builder will be put to the
test. Once Kagan is
confirmed, there will be
three women on the Court
for the first time in its 221-
year history. With Stevens
gone, there will be no justice
who served in the military,
and all nine justices will
have received their legal
education at Harvard or
Justice Stevens, who served
on the Court for 35 years,
cannot be replaced. It was he
who stood up to abuses of
the Bush administration‘s
war on terror, writing the
2004 Rasul v. Bush ruling
that detainees have the right
to challenge their
imprisonment in American
courts the first time that a
President ever lost a major
civil liberties case in the
Supreme Court during
wartime and the 2006
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling
that the military tribunals
planned for Guantanamo
violated the Uniform Code
of Military Justice and the
Geneva Conventions. While
others cowered in post-9/11
fear, Stevens was among the
first voices, and the most
important, to declare that
―the Executive is bound to
comply with the Rule of
According to Supreme Court
historian and lawyer Jeffrey
Toobin, ―In all areas Stevens
has favored gradual change
over sudden lurches and
precedent over dramatic
rulings. But, especially since
Roberts took over as Chief
Justice, Stevens has found
himself confronting
colleagues who have a very
different approach an
aggressive, line-drawing
conservatism that appears
bent on remaking great
swaths of Supreme Court
precedent.‖ Stevens says the
Court has absolutely
changed during his 35-year
tenure: ―Look at Citizens
United. If it is not necessary
to decide a case on a very
broad constitutional ground,
when other grounds are
available, then doesn‘t that
create the likelihood that
people will think you‘re not
following the rules?‖
[quoted in ―After Stevens,‖
The New Yorker, March 12,
Toobin writes, ―Chief Justice
John G. Roberts Jr. is fond
of pointing out the original
reason that judges came to
wear black robes. It‘s to
make them look alike, to
minimize the differences
between the individuals that
occupy the role and to
suggest that the law will
applied even-handedly, no
matter who happens to be
dressed in black. Well, that
may be the theory, but the
events of the past few weeks
show that the Supreme Court
is riven by the same partisan
divisions as the rest of
Washington and it‘s likely
to get even more heated
sooner rather than later. . . .
without Stevens, the Court
will look like the Capitol, across First Street,
from its own marble palace; both will be
places where Democrats and Republicans
fight.‖ In his 2007 book The Nine, Toobin
argued that from 1992 to 2005 the cautious
instincts of swing justices such as Powell and
O‘Connor produced rulings that reflected
public opinion, but that this began to change
as a conservative rebellion on the Court to
reverse years of rulings by liberal justices
gathered steam.
In its 2010-11 term, the Court appears set to
overturn Arizona‘s public financing election
law as a violation of political free speech.
Stevens believes that even Brown v. Board of
Education is under threat. When the Court in
2007 struck down Seattle‘s school
integration plan Stevens wrote in dissent, ―it
is my firm conviction that no Member of the
Court that I joined in 1975 would have
agreed with today‘s decision.‖ Based on
seniority, Justice Kennedy will inherit
Stevens‘ power to assign the writing of many
Court opinions. Given the pro-business view
of the Court, legal scholars say it will be
receptive to the pending challenges against
recent legislation overhauling the American
healthcare and financial regulatory systems,
Obama‘s major public policy reforms, when
they likely reach the Court next term.
Separation of powers battles are certain to
arise in the coming term.
Stevens writes, in the final sentence of his
Citizens United dissent, ―While American
democracy is imperfect, few outside the
majority of this Court would have thought its
flaws included a dearth of corporate money
in politics.‖ Citizens United has been widely
called the worst Supreme Court ruling since
Bush v. Gore in 2000, in which Stevens
wrote in dissent that the ruling was an insult
to the judiciary which would ―only lend
credence to the most cynical appraisal of the
work of judges throughout the land . . .
Although we may never know with complete
certainty the identity of the winner of this
year‘s presidential election, the identity of
the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation‘s
confidence in the judge as an impartial
guardian of the rule of law.‖ As Justice
Stevens retires, those words ring heavily a
decade later.
William A. Cohn, a lawyer, TNP contributing
writer, and law lecturer at the University of
New York in Prague (UNYP), is organizing
the UNYP 2010 Symposium on “Meeting
Crisis with Wisdom: toward improved
practices in business, politics, law and
education” to be held at the NYU Center in
Prague 1 on October 8, 2010.
Napoleon once said, ―Men
are moved by two levers
only: fear and self-interest.‖
The same motivations apply
to the American Tea Party
movement, though their
order is likely reversed.
The Tea Party, and its
affiliated ―partiers,‖ style
themselves as anti-
establishment, libertarian,
small government, low tax
revolutionaries. They think
the United States has gone
horribly off-track in recent
years (they are right) and
that they ―the average
hardworking American‖ –
have somehow been the ones
most aversely affected by
this unfortunate turn of
events (they are wrong).
The latter assertion
epitomizes the philosophical
bankruptcy at the core of the
movement and its true
shortfall even more so than
the misguided prescriptions
for curing the United States‘
present ills. Not only are Tea
Party adherents not
representative of the typical
American, but the movement
is comprised of the very
people who set the country
on its present course, a
course from which they have
also been the primary
A CBS News/New York
Times poll in April 2010
found that Tea Party
supporters are ―wealthier
and more educated than the
general public‖ and that they
tend to be ―Republican,
white, male and older than
45.‖ An overwhelming
majority of those polled said
that President Barack Obama
―did not share the values
most Americans live by.‖
More than 50 percent of
them said that administration
policy favored the poor
which they apparently view
as a bad thing as according
to the poll they tend to be
relatively rich. In short, Tea
Partiers consider themselves
to be representative of the
average person, when all
indications are that they are
A re-examination of the
demographic categories of
the typical Tea Partier
(Republican, white, male,
older than 45) shows that
three of the four even
when taken individually do
not include a majority of
Americans. There are an
estimated 55 million
registered Republicans in the
United States, as compared
with 72 million registered
Democrats (not to mention
163 million who aren‘t
affiliated with any party).
According to the latest
available Census data, only
34 percent of Americans are
over the age of 45 and 49.06
percent are males
(information from the 2010
Census was not yet available
at press time). The
percentage of Americans
encompassed in these
categories of course declines
exponentially when they are
cross-referenced even
fewer people are, for
example, both Republican
and male.
And while it is true that
whites remain the majority
in the United States (the
fourth common demographic
factor according to the poll),
if the U.S. Census Bureau is
to be believed, they won‘t be
for long. By 2023, the
majority of children will be
from non-white ―minority‖
groups and by 2042 non-
whites are expected to
represent an overall majority
of the American population.
In the same CBS News/New
York Times poll Tea Party
loyalists said that Obama
―does not understand the
problems of people like
themselves,‖ but if the poll
results are accurate nor do
the majority of Americans.
None of these things mean
that the Tea Partiers don‘t
have a right to their opinions
or to be as vocal as they are.
It does mean that they do not
represent anything close to
the mainstream of American
society and thus their
political activities are rooted
in self-interest and nothing
more. While much of
politics are rooted in self-
interest, one likes to think
that responsible political
actors have some sense of
the common good in mind as
well. Preaching about saving
America or returning the
country to the state the
founding fathers intended for
it may be calculating
sloganeering for Tea Party
celebrities (Sarah Palin,
Glenn Beck, etc.), but it just
doesn‘t have any basis in
reality. A skeptic would say
that the Tea Partiers and
what passes for the
leadership of the movement
use this rhetoric to rally the
base and generate support,
but an empiricist would say
they actually believe it, or at
the very least hope it to be
Now, it is hardly necessary
that a political movement
represent a demographic
majority to be relevant or
legitimate. In fact, one of the
most important parts of a
liberal democracy is the
inclusion minority groups
(not just racial minorities,
but those in the minority on
anything) and giving those
groups a chance to compete
in elections and to change
people‘s minds on a
particular issue or issues.
And just because the Tea
Party movement tends to
include a large proportion of
older white males does not
make it inherently evil or
selfish (at least I hope not as
some day I am likely to be
an old white male myself).
What makes them unique is
that they are a minority
group that thinks they are the
majority. Not only are they
convinced of their opinions,
but they are also convinced
that everyone else is just as
convinced. In such certainty
and monomania it is easy to
detect Napoleon‘s second (or
first) lever for driving men
or women: fear.
A tea party protest in Connecticut, April 2009.
Photo by Sage Ross (, from Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
The Obama campaign slogan
―Change‖ may have been
intended as a call to action,
but it was at least as much a
statement of fact. Things
have changed in the United
States, but the Tea Party
movement and its followers
are not necessarily big on
truths. The fact is that as
each year passes the people
that the Tea Party represents
are fewer. Deep down the
movement‘s adherents know
this, and this just motivates
them more to fight for what
they can while they can. In
their heads there is an
idealized vision of the past,
and this newfound political
activism serves as distraction
so that they do not have to
acknowledge that such a past
never really existed. As the
clock ticks they become less
and less capable of ever
making it exist, and this is a
frightening prospect.
One would be amiss not to
point out that despite all its
shortcomings (and there are
many), the Tea Party
movement also offers some
major positives. Chief
among these are the political
passions and public
engagement that the
movement is generating.
Perhaps the biggest single
problem in the advanced
industrialized world is the
failure of people to engage
with politics. Television,
consumerism and any
number of other distractions
both legitimate and
illegitimate create distance
from the places where
people, in a liberal
democracy, are most
empowered to influence
their lives. This unfortunate
cycle is self-perpetuating.
A citizen doesn‘t pay
attention to a candidate
running for election, they do
or they don‘t vote for that
candidate. The said
candidate then does a poor
job in office and the
frustrated citizen decides
they should not waste their
time voting or paying
attention to politics, thus
virtually guaranteeing either
the poorly performing
politician‘s reelection or
potentially another bad
candidate to fill his or her
slot. Either result produces
more frustration and more
disengagement from the
political process. Literally
every single problem in the
United States emanates from
this one and the Tea Party
movement may play a role in
breaking this cycle, both by
mobilizing its own
supporters and mobilizing
others who oppose what the
Tea Party movement
Another Tea Party positive is
that it does diagnose the
right problem: that
government is not doing a
good enough job of
representing the average
American though, as has
been said, the average
American is unlikely to be a
Tea Partier. There is no
denying that some of the Tea
Party movement‘s angers
and passions are justified,
but its cardinal sin remains a
misunderstanding of who
has been hurt most by the
country‘s wayward turn.
For at least the last 40 years
things have indeed been on
the wrong path for the
common American, a trend
that has significantly gained
momentum since 1980. The
annual incomes of the
bottom 90 percent of
American families have
risen by just 10 percent in
real terms since 1973.
During the same span, the
top 1 percent of wage
earners saw their incomes
grow 300 percent. In 1973,
CEOs were paid an average
of 26 times the country‘s
median income, now their
average pay is more than
300 times larger.
In 1968 the CEO of General
Motors earned, in pay and
benefits, 66 times the
amount paid to an average
GM worker. In 2010, the
CEO of Wal-Mart earns 900
times the average company
employee. In 2005 the total
wealth of Wal-Mart founder
Sam Walton‘s heirs ($90
billion) was equivalent to
that of the bottom 40 percent
of the American population
equal to 120 million
people. In more recent years,
even before the ―Great
Recession,‖ these trends
accelerated even faster.
During the last period of
economic expansion in the
United States from January
2002 through December
2007 the median
household income dropped
by $2,000 per year.
While it is true that during
the 40-year period between
1969 and 2009, a Republican
was President of the United
States for 26 of them, it is
not fair to pin the blame for
these trends on a single
political party. Rather an
overarching and indisputable
capitalist ideology was
adopted by the entire
American political
mainstream. What Nobel
Prize winning economist
Joseph Stiglitz writes about
the international economy
holds true in the United
States: ―Many who observed
the long expansion of the
world economy during the
era of deregulation
concluded that unfettered
markets worked... The
reality was quite different.‖
The Tea Party movement has
concluded that unfettered
markets work, but this raises
the questions about the goals
of Tea Partiers. A Tea Party
loyalist looks at all the
inequality and injustice
outlined in the preceding
paragraphs and thinks the
solutions for these problems
are more of the same. In fact,
much of the Tea Party
movement is angry at the
Republican party (hence
their decision to ―revolt‖) for
not supporting even greater
deregulation and less
equitable economics. In
short, the Tea Partiers are
angry at the direction the
country has taken, but their
solution is to continue in the
same direction, only faster.
This would have to fall
under Albert Einstein‘s
definition of insanity
―doing the same thing over
and over again and expecting
different results‖ – had we
not already know that the
typical Tea Partier fits into
the group that most benefited
from the hyper-capitalism of
the late-20th Century. The
Tea Party movement does
not hope to do the same
thing over again and get a
different result, they seek the
same results.
In his final book, Ill Fares
the Land, the late Tony Judt
outlines the direct, and
detrimental, correlation
between income inequality
and overall social mobility,
health, crime, rates of mental
illness, life expectancy and
so on. ―Symptoms of
collective impoverishment
are all about us. Broken
highways, bankrupt cities,
collapsing bridges, failed
schools, the unemployed, the
underpaid, and the
uninsured; all suggest a
collective failure of will,‖ he
―We have entered and age of
insecurity economic
insecurity, physical
insecurity, political
insecurity... Insecurity
breeds fear. And fear fear
of change, fear of decline,
fear of strangers and an
unfamiliar world is
corroding the trust and
interdependence on which
civil societies rest.‖
The fears that Judt refers to
almost directly correlate
with the motivations of the
Tea Party movement. Their
reaction is to revert to what
they know. However, there
are two problems with this
approach. The first is that
―what they know‖ didn‘t
work the first time, and it is
in fact what has lead to the
―collective impoverishment‖
that Judt refers to. The
second shortcoming is
whether Tea Partiers like it
or not -- the United States in
2010 is different a place then
the United States of 1970,
1980, 1990 or 2000.
Michael Spence, a Nobel
Prize winning economist
who is conducting a four-
year study for the World
Bank about future growth in
the global economy, was
asked about the Tea Party
movement in a recent
interview with The Financial
Times. ―When people lose
the sense of optimism, things
tend to get more volatile,‖ he
said. ―The future I most fear
for America is Latin
American; a grossly unequal
society that is prone to wild
swings from populism to
orthodoxy, which makes
sensible government
increasingly hard to
Unfortunately, Spence‘s
prognostication may arrive
as early as this fall‘s
Congressional elections.
Indeed, in primary votes
(especially Republican
primaries) the Tea Partiers
have already made their
presence known. Victor
Hugo once wrote that, ―there
is nothing so powerful as an
idea whose time has come.‖
But the Tea Party is not an
idea, it is a feeling, but one
that is capable of wielding
tremendous influence in the
short term. Tea Partiers
supreme though fallacious
confidence in their beliefs
make them a force to be
reckoned with, for now.
Ironically, the passions that
the Tea Party generates may
very well give them the
capacity to do good, though
this will almost certainly be
by accident. Countering the
Tea Party movement‘s
empty populism is a matter
of presenting actual evidence
of the Tea Partiers‘ flawed
and circuitous logic, and
doing so consistently, thus
exposing the movement‘s
lack of substance. This will
be difficult, as Tea Partiers‘
beliefs are not based on logic
or evidence, but rather self-
interest and fear. It is not,
however, impossible, and the
Tea Partiers occasionally aid
in demonstrating the
Potemkin nature of their own
Returning to the CBS
News/New York Times
opinion poll, The Times
conducted an interview with
62-year-old Jodine White of
Rocklin, California after she
answered the poll questions.
Reporters asked if she would
still be in support of slashing
the size of the federal
government (a key tenant of
the movement she professed
to support) if it meant she
wouldn‘t get monthly Social
Security payments. ―That‘s a
conundrum, isn‘t it?,‖ she
answered. ―I don‘t know
what to say. Maybe I don‘t
want smaller government. I
guess I want smaller
government and my Social
Security. I didn‘t look at it
from the perspective of
losing the things I need. I
think I‘ve changed my
Here‘s to hoping that Mrs.
White will not be the last.
Benjamin Cunningham is the
editor-in-chief of The
Prague Post.
Photo by Sage Ross (, from Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 3.0 Unporte
Suggested Reading
Bremmer, I, The End of
the Free Market: Who
Wins the War Between
States and
Corporations? London:
Portfolio, 2010.
Judt, T. Ill Fares the
Land: A Treatise on
Our Present
Discontents. New
York: Penguin Press
HC, 2010.
Stiglitz, J. Freefall:
Free Markets and the
Sinking of the Global
Economy. London:
Allen Lane, 2010.
American critic Sacvan
Bercovitch begins his essay
The Myth of America with an
incident from Resnais‘s
famous film Mon oncle
d'Amérique (My American
Uncle). At one point a
supporting actor, in reaction
to the protagonist‘s
impertinent optimism,
exclaims, ―I have been to
America and it does not
exist.‖ Bercovitch continues
in his essay to prove that
such a seemingly absurd
claim can be true but only
once we understand that the
American nation is a nation
unlike any other in the
Spanning the majority of an
entire continent, the United
States has always been
defined in a way that has
conjured a certain magical
feeling for Europeans. It was
the land across the ocean
which was seen only by a
few, and often when
someone decided to travel
there, they rarely came back.
Instead, only a letter would
arrive assuring relatives that
they were doing very well in
their new country. It was
hard to prove the claims, but
easy to believe them. So in
European minds America
became a promised land
where everyone lived
happily ever after. America,
as Bercovitch states in his
essay, however, is primarily
a myth,1 based on symbols,
ideals and stories. The
essence of the American
myth can be seen in its
singularity and uniqueness
and its beliefs.
The making of a new
The American myth is
incomparable with other
legends because it embodies
the modern world and is
without ancient roots.2 It
does not rely on the Bible or
the ancestral right of
monarchs, but instead is
based on secular texts: the
Declaration of
1 Bercovitch, S. “The Myth of
America.” Columbia University, 1980.
p. 2.
2 Ibid, 2
Independence, the
Constitutions, and the Bill of
Rights. Few discuss the true
value behind the documents
most Americans simply
believe the dogma. In the
New World, theocracy and
aristocracy was replaced by
Another unique American
value stems from its
capitalist setup, namely
individualism. This term,
Bercovitch notes,3 was
perceived rather negatively
by European socialists.
However, in the US it was
widely recognized and
accepted. The New World
inhabitants did not share the
same faith. On the contrary,
perhaps no other religion has
so many different forms,
faiths and denominations as
Christianity. The sectarian
nature4 of the various forms
of the religion, from the
Shakers to the Baptists,
stems from the incredible
distance and therefore
3 Ibid, 9
4 Bercovitch, S. p 4.
isolation between
settlements. Religions
developed idiosyncrasies.
This propensity was further
strengthened by American
Citing research conducted in
1996, in his book God‟s
Own Country Stephen Bates
reports that there are 19
Presbyterian, 32 Lutheran,
36 Methodist, 37 Anglican,
60 Baptist and 241
Pentecostal religions in the
US.5 These numbers exclude
the many new churches that
were created in the United
States, such as the Mormon,
Amish or Jehovah‘s
Witnesses, just to name a
few. The pluralistic nature of
religion in the United States
ensured freedom of religion.
Today many of the religious
views held by early settlers
in the United States are
simply referred to as Puritan.
The Puritan myth was
established in 1776 when the
nation gained its
independence. It is known
today that the religious past
of the American people is a
myth based on monuments
and rituals (Bercovitch gives
the examples of Plymouth
Rock and Thanksgiving, the
significance of which was
rooted in the society long
after the establishment of the
independent state) rather
than on historical facts.
5 Bates, S. God's Own Country:
Religion and Politics in the USA.
London: Hodder&Stoughton, 2007, p.
However, the Puritan ethos
fundamentally directed the
future development of the
New World in its first
decades of colonization.
Many settlers who came
from Europe believed
irrespective of religion that
they were fulfilling God‘s
will by undertaking the
dangerous journey across the
Atlantic and establishing a
community based on an
agreement between its
members and God himself.
They believed that America
was discovered just in time
for those who were
persecuted on the Old
Continent for their differing
Christian faith. Of course
they searched for support of
this belief in the Bible: They
were modern Israelites,
America was their Palestine,
the Promised Land, and
Europe was their Egypt.
Their leaders were modern
versions of Moses, who rid
them of their shackles.
In November 1620 when the
settlers arrived on the coast
of New England they
believed that they were
setting up a new world, a
paradise on Earth. The
Puritan project, which
eventually became the
building block and
fundamental myth of the
new state, was based from
the beginning onwards on a
Millenarian notion.6 The
North American continent
differed in this respect from
6 The concept of millennialism in the
United States is closely dealt with in
Bellah, R. God's Own Country, Chapter
any other colonized territory
in the history of mankind.
The new inhabitants did not
need their motherland to
survive. On the contrary
they ran away from it into
the wilderness.
The contemporary
confidence of the American
nation, which influences the
world around them, also
stems from their belief of
their uniqueness. If cultural,
philosophical or economic
values are contradictory to
American values, then all
that is outside of this belief
is seen as conflicting,
entirely different and,
according to philosopher
Emmanuel Levinas, other.7
This sense of uniqueness has
remained in the American
people. Bates notes that
―most Americans still have
the feeling that their country
is a lighthouse of some sort
for all of humanity.‖8 Many
American presidents have
used this rhetoric in their
public speeches (Ronald
Reagan and George W. Bush
are among them). Moreover,
this style of rhetoric is based
on a hierarchy, in which the
American nation stands on a
pedestal for other nations to
admire and aspire to.
It also evokes an
omnipresent feeling that the
chosen ones can be
threatened by anyone; virtue
and morality have enemies
7 Emmanuel Levinas’ discusses the
concept of “the other” and its
application in relation to US foreign
policy in the 11 September aftermath.
8 Bates, S. p. 2
everywhere. Therefore it is
necessary to fight within
oneself (meaning against the
secularization of the
American society) as well as
against the adversary, who
stands beyond the structures
of such a civilization. These
feelings of internal and
external danger are reflected
in political views and
decisions, and some authors
refer to them as the
―paranoid style of American
politics.‖9 Throughout the
centuries the enemies of the
American nation were
epitomized by various
ethnic, ideological or
religious groups: first it was
the Native Americans, then
Americans of African
descent, followed by Irish
immigrants, migrants from
Eastern Europe, and
Communists. Today, the
enemies are homosexuals
and Muslims.10
The US notion of
exceptionality also brought
about the weight of
responsibility. Americans
felt that they were
responsible for the success
9 Bates, S. p. 2
10 Bates, S. p. 23; Also see Bercovitch,
p.16: The author mentions the devil,
Catholics, Communism and
Fundamental Islamists
of the entire project. If their
efforts failed, the beginning
of the new age would simply
become one of mankind‘s
mistakes and its
protagonists and supporters
would become false
This awareness of the future
also brings into question the
past, which there is little of
in America comparatively to
Europe. This, however, was
not a handicap to the
American people. On the
contrary, this historical
deficit became their virtue.
The national identity of the
nation was based on this
newness: all the immigrants
were offered an equal
opportunity to shape the
American nation.11 The
cultural differences of the
immigrants, which usually
divide nations, became the
binding agent.
Civil religion
The long and complex
development of America‘s
growth as a nation was
similar to America‘s
approach to religion.
Throughout the history of
the United States no faith
11 Bercovitch, S. p. 12.
was ever considered a
state religion; however, it
is impossible to say that
America is, or ever was, a
Godless country. The
existence of hundreds of
various faiths resulted in
the establishment of an
all-encompassing civil
religion, that is ―an
institutionalized collection of
sacred beliefs‖12 that are not
directly related to one God
or religious sect.
According to sociologist
Robert N. Bellah, this took
hold in the United States
because the American
people believed in a general
religion, but not the specifics
of the faith. Given this,
beliefs about the American
nation became sacred as
well. Certain images and
events became holy things to
be worshiped by the
American people, whether it
be the Civil War, or the
inauguration of a new
president. These symbols
became linked to religious
For example the presidential
inauguration speeches prove
this point: they often feature
Biblical metaphors and
promises, that assert that
they will base their decisions
on the Bible or rather on
fundamentally Biblical
12 Definition given by Richard Bellah in
his 1967 article “Civil Religion in
America.” Daedalus: Journal of the
American Academy of Arts and
Sciences, Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1,
p 5. The concept of civil religion was
not only mentioned by Bellah, but
also by Martin E. Marty, whose work
we are not presenting here.
Detail of the preamble of the Constitution
Photo is in the public domain
ideals formulated in the two
basic documents of the
United States, the
Constitution and the
Declaration of
Independence. However,
both documents also
represent the philosophical
thinking of their time: the
author of the term ―civil
religion‖ is philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Rousseau defines civil
religion according to four
basic dogmas: belief in
God‘s existence, belief in the
afterlife, belief in rewarding
goodness and punishing evil
and belief in religious
tolerance. Even the
Founding Fathers believed in
the above. In his
autobiography, Benjamin
Franklin claims that he never
doubted the existence of the
Deity,13 meaning a higher
power rather than a single
specific God. The first
president of the United
States, George Washington,
also recognized the central
role of religion: ―We must
be very cautious in believing
that morals could exist
without religion.‖14 We can
again emphasize the fact that
no specific religion is
mentioned, even though
Washington himself
belonged to the Episcopal
Church. It is similar in the
Declaration of Independence
itself, where the word God is
13 Franklin, B. Autobiography. New
York: The Collier Press, 1909, p. 81.
14 Washington, G. Farewell Address, as
cited on
mentioned in four different
places, however in no more
specific terms than in the
previous examples.
Abraham Lincoln played an
interested role in the
development of a civil
religion in the United States.
While he referred to his
religiously neutral
predecessors as well as the
basic documents of
American statehood, in his
public speeches he always
emphasized the need for
national unity and
encouraged forgiveness.15 In
the second inaugural address
on 4 of March 1865, just
before the end of the Civil
War, he promised peace for
all Americans: ―With malice
toward none, with charity for
all, with firmness in the right
as God gives us to see the
right, let us strive to finish
the work we are in, to bind
up the nation's wounds…‖16
Another undoubtedly
Christian based rhetorical
aid frequently used by
Lincoln was his emphasis on
a new beginning, which was
necessary once the war was
over. Lincoln understood the
military conflict related to
the abolition (or not) of
slavery as a chance to
introduce a new order. For
the new to commence the
old must die out, as he said
during his speech in
Gettysburg, in order for the
15 See the first inauguration address
from 22. February 1861.
16 See Joch, R. “Rétorika svobody.”
―nation, under God‘s
leadership, to experience the
revival of freedom, it must
first finish fighting the
Those who died in the war
did not die in vain because
the result of the conflict was
a new and better world
order. They became martyrs,
whose lives were sacrificed
for a greater good. Their
death also obliged the others
to bring the fight to a
victorious end. After
Lincoln, civil religion not
only had its own specific
rhetoric (a generic God, who
could be claimed by all
Americans irrespective of
religion), holy texts (the
Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution), but
also its saints and martyrs18
and official holidays.19
After the Battle of
Gettysburg, where more than
47,000 people perished and
were subsequently buried, a
national cemetery was set up
in Arlington, Virginia. In
this way, civil religion also
gained the last attribute
17 Bellah, R.
18 Almost one hundred years after
Lincoln’s canonization, another
president was admitted to the Holy
Orders, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Many others were included in the
pantheon of civil religion during the
1960s. For example, we could name
Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert
Kennedy, both of whom ere
assassinated for political reasons.
19 Aside from the above-mentioned
Thanksgiving, there is Abraham
Lincoln Day (12 February), Martin
Luther King Day (the third Monday in
January), Memorial Day (the last
Monday in May) and Independence
Day (4 July).
necessary for its function a
church or a similar place for
prayer and worship. The
syntheses of the elements of
the Old Testament in the
first decades of the new
republic, as well as the New
Testament elements of the
Abraham Lincoln
presidency, were finalized.
In the second half of the
twentieth century, the idea of
civil religion stood in the
background of the struggle
for human rights of
minorities in the USA,
whether those were
Americans of African origin
or equal rights for women.
Religion and politics became
This ―obligatory‖
religiousness was transferred
into public speeches of
American statesmen through
the use of rhetoric and
references to the Bible.
Every American president
must make it clear that he
believes in God, otherwise
he would risk the loss of
votes in the next elections.20
However, the type of God or
the church that defines this
God remains mostly a
personal affair.21
The remarkable thing to
realize when speaking about
these references to the
highest power is that it does
not relate to any specific
God. It is not the Puritan
God, or the Protestant God,
Catholic God or even
20 Bellah, R.
21 Bercovitch even claims that the
state religion in America is state
another non-
Bush and
Jesus Christ
they did not
mention the
attributes of
the Old Testament, God of
Judaism. Their idea of God
is so general, that it becomes
just a mere word, a concept
without content, or rather a
concept which can be filled
by any content, an empty
symbol.22 In this way,
American public figures
refer to their belief in God in
a way that does not separate
their faith from that of their
It is interesting to note that
every president in the history
of the USA was a member of
an active church in America.
If we limit ourselves to
postwar history only, the
overview is as follows:
Harry Truman and Jimmy
Carter were both Baptists;
Bill Clinton belonged to the
Southern Baptists; Dwight
D. Eisenhower grew up in a
Jehovah family, but later
became a Presbyterian; John
F. Kennedy was a Catholic
(the first president in the
history of the USA to be so);
Lyndon B. Johnson was a
22 Bellah, R., 4
member of the Church of
Christ; Richard Nixon was a
Quaker; Gerald Ford and
George Bush Senior were
both members of the
American Episcopal Church;
Ronald Reagan was baptized
at the Church of Christ, but
later joined the Presbyterians
and George W. Bush was a
Methodist. Lastly Barack
Obama simply says that he is
a Christian.23
It seems obvious that the
reason for the vague
definition of the concept of
God in the public addresses
of American presidents (and
also other public figures in
the USA) is not due to a lack
of faith. As Bellah says, the
faith of American presidents
is ―their private issue, which
has no direct connection
with their public office
performance.‖24 It is
important to the public that
their leader has faith; in this
23 "The Obama’s Find a Church Home
Away from Home." Time Magazine.
29 June 2009,
24 Bellah, R. p. 4
Photo by Alex McLeod, from Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons
Attribution Share Alike 2.0
The tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National
respect it is a political issue.
However, what sort of faith
it is, is entirely up to the
In recent years, it has been
found that the opinions of
elected American
Republicans have radicalized
in regard to issues of faith
and religion. This has been
proved by publically
available documents. Since
1972 the American
Conservative Union follows
how the individual members
of Congress vote and
evaluates their views on a
scale from 0 (anti-religious
attitude) to 100 (attitudes
conforming religious
requirements). While in
1972 the annual average of
the Republican members of
Congress was 65 points, in
2002 it was 91.25
In short, the United States
and the idea behind the
American nation are based
on the Christian faith taken
ad extremis. The belief in
God is omnipresent in
America and all embracing.
There are 200 Christian
television channels and more
than 1,500 Christian radio
station in the country.
According to sociological
research 95 percent of
Americans claim that they
believe in God, compared to
76 percent in Great Britain,
62 percent in France and 32
percent in the Czech
25 Bates, S. p. 33.
26 Bates, S. p. 7., also confirmed by the
Czech Statistical Office.
The majority of American
households own a Bible, and
one fourth of Americans
claim that they have more
than five copies of the Holy
Book.27 Forty percent of
Americans state that they go
to church at least once a
week. In December 2004
Newsweek magazine
conducted a study on select
populations in the US and
asked if people believed that
Biblical prophecies would
come true. Fifty-five
percent of those interviewed
answered positively.28
In a similar study conducted
in February 2004 for ABC
television, respondents were
asked whether they believe
what the Bible states word
for word. Sixty-one percent
answered that they believe
God created the Earth in
seven days, and 64 percent
said that Moses really did
part the Red Sea.29 Other
research conducted by the
Time magazine and CNN
found that 59 percent of
those contacted believe that
the apocalyptic events
described in the Book of
Revelation will take place
exactly as described.30 As
Bates says, American society
seems to be ―afflicted with
Biblical literality one would
expect in the Middle
It is apparent that the belief
in God and the Bible is one
27 Bates, S. p. 7
28 Bates, S. p. 10
29 Bates, S. p. 11
30 Ibid
31 Bates, S. p. 14
of the corner stones of the
American nation and its
unique culture. God‘s help is
cited when elections are
won, exams are passed or
when someone survives an
accident or natural disaster.32
It is apparent that religious
conceptions, ideas, and
dogmas play and have
played an incredibly
important role in the culture
and political history of the
United States. In fact, in
many ways they are more
intertwined than one might
think. In light of this, we
cannot even begin to
comprehend modern
American society and
culture without closely
examining and identifying
civil religion as well.
Richard Olehla studied
English and Portuguese at
Charles University, where he
is currently completing his
doctoral thesis on the impact
of apocalyptic thinking in the
development of the modern
American novel. A Fulbright
scholar, he studied at New
York University and has
taught at the Literary
Academy, Private College
Škvorecký Josef in Prague
and the Philosophical
Faculty of University of
South Bohemia in Česky
32 Bates, S. p. 3
There is extensive discourse
on immigration in the United
States on both sides of the
political spectrum. On the
right, the debate differs
among social and fiscal
conservatives. Advocates of
the free
capitalism like The Wall
Street Journal and the
libertarian Cato Institute
support a completely free
immigration policy de
facto open borders. This
effectively means that
anyone, from anywhere in
the world, can come to
America and work; they will
not, however, necessarily
have access to all welfare
benefits. In contrast, the
Republican member base
and other socially
conservative activists
endorse harsh
restrictions on
immigration and
support the
deportation of the
migrants. They
feel that illegal
migrants quite
simply violate
the law and
character of the country
beyond recognition.
The debate is similar on the
left. Some liberal
intellectuals consider any
acts against illegal
immigration an expression
of racism. Still, other low-
income earning Democrats
are against illegal
immigration, arguing that
illegal migrants undercut
wages and contribute to
American unemployment
rates. It is clear that there are
numerous proponents for
and against and a myriad of
stances on the issue
regardless of party.
The number of illegal
immigrants in the USA is
estimated to be anywhere
between 14-20 million. To
make a sound judgment on
the immigration question
one must understand the
following: while the right to
emigrate is a basic human
right, the right to immigrate
is not. Emigration is a right
because a human being is
not the property of its state
or its government. If one
wishes to leaves his or her
country and live in another,
The Statue of Liberty
the home government does
not have a right to hinder
this process. If it does as
the Communist regimes did
before 1989 it is a grave
Still, there is a great
difference between these two
terms. No one has an
automatic right to enter
another country without the
consent of its citizens (in
theory if not in practice, the
laws the government creates
with regard to immigration
are representative of public
opinion). In this way, if a
country does not grant entry
into its borders it is not a
breach of one‘s basic human
rights. For example, it is
mutually beneficial if I want
to settle down in Australia
and Australia accepts my
application to settle there.
On the other hand, if I desire
to live in New Zealand and
New Zealand does not
accept me, New Zealand has
in no way infringed on my
rights or freedom. They have
simply chosen not share their
country with me, having
exercised their right as a
sovereign nation to choose.
This is applicable to every
country, including the
United States. Governments
have a right to decide their
immigration policy and
establish how many
immigrants they wish to
admit annually, and from
which countries or
territories. There is,
however, one specific
characteristic that makes the
USA different: it is a country
of immigrants. In essence all
American citizens are
descendants of people from
other nations.
The presumption of
openness to immigration is
therefore stronger in the
USA than in, for example,
many European countries.
None the less, even in the
United States, three
immigration related issues
must be addressed: First,
freedom freedom of the
immigrants to immigrate, as
well as freedom of the host
country to decide who they
want and who they do not in
their country; second, the
rule of law immigrants
must abide by the law and
the host government must be
able to enforce any
established laws; and third,
immigration as a ―national‖
tradition in the USA. While
this third matter is
commonly cited, and
certainly true, freedom and
the rule of law are American
traditions that must also be
maintained. The first and
initial act of an immigrant
that illegally enters US
territory is to breach the law.
This is not the best way to
integrate into a new country.
Freedom should be double-
sided. An immigrant
entering the USA should be
free to apply for long-term
residency. At the same time,
current American citizens
should have the freedom to
choose whether they wish to
have this person as their
fellow citizen. Immigration
will always be a major part
of life in the US; however,
illegal immigration is simply
against the law and therefore
highly problematic. From the
legal perspective, illegal
immigrants should be
deported. However, if you
have 14-20 million illegal
immigrants (in a nation of
300 million), any notion of
arresting, detaining, and
subsequently deporting this
number of people is
unrealistic, even if the
principal of a lawful state
would require this.
Sometimes reality renders
legal requirements
With this in mind, amnesty
is the only option. If there
are 14-20 million illegal
immigrants on your territory,
reality requires their
legalization. After
registering with the
authorities, paying a fine or
sanction, the immigrants
could be legalized. In
exchange for this, they could
lose their opportunity to
receive American citizenship
as easily as legal
immigrants. It would not be
right for illegal immigrants
to receive citizenship faster
and easier than legal
immigrants. Furthermore,
after amnesty, or rather
together with amnesty, a
crackdown on illegal
immigration should ensue.
Illegal immigrants who do
not use the amnesty
opportunity should be after
the process is completed
found and deported without
the option to return. Tit for
tat: amnesty in exchange for
stricter laws.
The Arizona way
The law recently adopted by
the state of Arizona
represents a real effort to
discover and arrest illegal
immigrants. (While the
Obama administration has
sued Arizona, I do not think
that the administration will
win. After all, Arizona is
only copying and enforcing
valid federal laws in a
situation where the federal
government has been lax.)
The Arizona law would,
however, require more
thorough border patrols
throughout US territory.
From a legal perspective, a
situation where illegal
immigration happens at this
scope is simply
The end of cultural quotas
In the mid-1920s, Americans
introduced stricter
immigration laws which
included country or region
quotas for annual legal
immigration (Western and
Northern Europeans were
preferred to emigrants from
Southern and Eastern
Europe, who were, however,
preferred to immigrants from
other continents). These
ethnic-cultural-racial quotas
were applicable until 1965
when the law was amended.
While the quotas for legal
immigration remained, the
ethnic preferences were
removed on account of
Nevertheless, quotas for
legal immigrants do not
necessarily have to be racist,
but can be plain common
sense. Surely an average
Slovak citizen will integrate
better in Czech society than
an average Somalian.
Similarly, an average British
citizen will integrate better
in the USA than a citizen of
Burundi. Likewise, the
average Mauritanian citizen
will integrate better into
Egyptian society than the
average Hungarian. The
argument is not racial; it is
based on cultural
similarities, or on the
contrary, cultural
differences. However, this
argument which can
generally be applied to any
country in the world is not as
applicable in the United
States. America is not
primarily based on its
cultural identify, it is based
on a political identity.
While for instance European,
African, Asian or even many
Latin American countries are
defined mainly by their
culture, the United States of
America is defined by its
politics. Any human being in
this world, from any country,
from any ethnic group, who
believes in the principles of
the founding fathers of the
USA, the Declaration of
Independence and the
Constitution, can be an
excellent American citizen.
On the other hand, a born
American, whose ancestors
were also born in America
many generations back, who
becomes a Communist
Stalinist (Alger Hiss) or
Fascist (Ezra Pound) or
Islamist (John Walker Lindh
or Jose Padilla), ceases to be
a good American. These
Americans, in essence,
ceased to be Americans; they
adopted a different
homeland Communism,
Fascism or Islamism.
In other words, America‘s
identity is rooted in its
political values. Therefore,
any immigrant that embraces
traditional American ethics
and beliefs is welcomed with
open arms. Because of this
distinction (in comparison to
other countries) America,
more so than other nations,
will always be a nation of
immigrants. The question is,
how do you balance this
reality with the need to
uphold freedom of choice
and national rule of law?
Neither Republicans nor
Democrats have come close
to any solution.
More than 200 years have
passed since the first
immigrant arrived on
American soil. How much
longer will the answer to this
question remain elusive?
Roman Joch is the Executive
Director of the Civic
Institute in Prague. He
lectures at the University of
Economics and the Cervo
On 23 April
2010 the
government of
Arizona passed
a new
law the most
severe of its
kind in
decades. This
law, called the
Arizona Senate
Bill 1070,
seeks to find
and deport
living in the
United States.
Supporters of
the bill assert
that provisions of the law are
in agreement with federal
immigration law. The
important difference,
however, is that the new law
grants state law enforcement
agents the ability to check
the immigration status of any
individual if they believe
there is ―reasonable
suspicion‖ that the person is
in the United States illegally.
Supporters say that the new
law stipulates that one
should not be suspected
because of their race or
nationality. However, in
practice this law simply
discrimination and condones
racial profiling, as
―reasonable suspicion‖ is not
clearly defined.
Many U.S. citizens that are
Latino (or look like they
could be Latino) will be
discriminated against under
the Act and risk becoming
second-class citizens in their
own country. Legal residents
and foreign nationals who
are visiting the United States
legally will also face
unnecessary and unfair
harassment. In fact, the
government of Mexico has
already warned their citizens
of the potential problems
they might come across in
Arizona. Even people who
live in other states of the US
have demonstrated
reluctance to visit or move to
Arizona. In light of the bill,
the president of the
University of Arizona has
reported that a number of
honor roll students have
decided to withdraw from
college in protest of the new
law. Similarly many civil
rights groups have boycotted
the state.
Many people who are in
favor of this law cite
criminal cases such as the
recent murder of an Arizona
rancher, allegedly by an
Photo by Johnathan McIntosh. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic
Immigrants march for amnesty in California.
illegal immigrant, to argue that there is a
correlation between illegal immigration and
crime. Although violence committed by
smugglers and drug traffickers in the United
States is a serious problem, the bill‘s
supporters have blamed all undocumented
immigrants for these offenses. Several
studies have found that illegal immigrants do
not commit crimes in higher numbers than
any other demographic group. In addition,
many police in Arizona have spoken out
against the law, arguing that the fear of being
imprisoned will cause more
problems than the presence of
illegal immigrants themselves, as
clandestine migrants will not want
to contact the police if they are the
victims of a crime or have
important information about an
This is not the only negative
impact the law will have on law
enforcement agents: a provision of
the law says that citizens can sue
Arizonan agencies or officials who
fail to enforce federal immigration
laws ―to the fullest extent
permitted by law.‖ This will no
doubt increase the number of
police who will seek to find ―reasonable
suspicion‖ to avoid their own persecution,
thus further promoting discrimination.
The government should repeal the Act as a
violation of civil and constitutional rights.
But more than this, the current circumstances
in Arizona highlight the urgent need for the
U.S. government to undertake extensive
immigration policy reform. The United
States is a country whose identity is and
always has been indispensably linked with
immigration. It therefore has the duty to
adopt a policy that will benefit those who are
already citizens, and those who want to
become citizens but have not yet had the
Chris Stanislowski has worked extensively in
Central and South America. He is currently
a student at New York University‟s School of
In response to the President Obama‘s heavy criticism and
his administration‘s pending lawsuit against the Arizona
law, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to
stop the most controversial sections of the law from
going into effect. Still, some less debated terms were
permitted, including one that requires Arizona cities to
cooperate with federal immigration agents. These
regulations went into effect on 29 July 2010. Obama‘s
administration argues that the law interferes with long
established federal authority regarding immigration and
could result in unfair harassment of citizens and legal
When Wikileaks unloaded
their treasure trove of some
90,000 classified Afghan
War documents into the
public domain, an ugly little
―inconvenient truth‖
appeared in the Western
media rotation, only to be
pushed back under the rug a
few days later. The truth
being that the
Agency (ISI)
continues to
fund, train, and
give sanctuary to
the Afghan
Taliban, and the
being that the
reports came out
just a week after
Secretary of
State Hillary
Clinton traveled
to Islamabad
with a $500
million check
signed, sealed,
and delivered to
the Pakistani
How on earth is such a
glaring inconsistency
suppressed, you ask? Being
the message control
maestros they are, the
Obama administration, and
others speaking on behalf of
the war effort, diffuse the
issue by purposely
misconstruing the Pakistani
Taliban with the Afghan
Taliban. Whenever a
question about Pakistan‘s
murky relationship with the
Taliban arises, the same tired
refrain is repeated the
Pakistani army has made
great sacrifice in conducting
fierce operations against the
While yes, it is indeed true
that the Pakistani army has
engaged in important combat
missions in the East against
the Pakistani Taliban,
nonetheless, what the
administration fails to
mention is that in the South,
in places like Helmand and
Kandahar province, the
Pakistani military continues
to support and arm the
Afghan Taliban. That‘s an
important detail to leave out,
particularly because the
South is where US and
coalition forces are most
heavily engaged and where
they have suffered the
greatest casualties.
That ugly little inconvenient
truth raised its head just
briefly after Wikileaks
exposed some 180 different
reports documenting ISI
officials meeting with top
insurgent commanders,
training suicide bombers,
providing motorbikes and
magnetic mines, and even
organizing sophisticated
Taliban in Herat.
This photo was released into the public domain.
offensives. While the New
York Times and others did
initially report on these
troubling findings, the story
was quickly lost among the
clutter of long-winded
conversations about the
political implications of
artificial withdraw deadlines.
One only needs to watch
General David Petraeus‘ first
interview since taking
command (NBC‘s Meet the
Press Aug. 15) to see that
hardly any serious public
debate in the US will be
given to this outrageous
double game Pakistan
continues to play.
A Tale of Two Talibans
Much of this confusion on
the part of the American
public is due to the
oversimplification of the
term Taliban, or as George
W used to say, ―the evil
doers.‖ In fact, there are
many different militant
groups operating in Pakistan
and Afghanistan with
different alliances,
motivations, and capabilities,
with an alarming number of
them cooperating
extensively with the ISI.
Such links are not surprising
given the fact that the CIA‘s
primary liaison with the
mujahideen resistance
against the Soviets in the
1980s was the ISI, through
which weapons, training,
and logistics support was
funneled. After the Soviet
withdraw, however, the ISI
continued to maintain
contacts with these various
Islamic militant groups,
using them as a tool with
which to execute foreign
policy. As Pakistan now sees
it, there are the ―good‖
Taliban who they still view
as serving the broader
interests of Pakistan, and
then there are the ―bad‖
Taliban who are out of
control and now threaten to
destabilize Pakistan with
suicide bombings inside of
the country.
The Pakistani Taliban, led
by Hakimullah Mehsud, is
an example of this ―bad‖
Taliban, and thus, the
Pakistani army has
conducted decisive military
operations against these
militants in the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas
along the porous border
between Afghanistan and
Pakistan. These operations
are a vital part of Obama‘s
regional ―Af-Pak‖ strategy,
and thus, the administration
is right to praise Pakistan for
these efforts. Nonetheless,
the issue of the ―good‖
Taliban still remains.
More commonly referred to
as the Quetta Shura Taliban,
the Afghan Taliban get their
alternative name from the
Pakistani border town,
Quetta, which is understood
to be a primary base of
operations for these militants
crossing the border into
southern Afghanistan to
conduct operations. Quetta,
appropriately a Pashtun
word meaning ―fort,‖ is also
suspected to be the hideout
of the Afghan Taliban
leader, Mullah Omar,
although the word ―hideout‖
is not as appropriate given
the near impunity with
which he and his forces are
allowed to operate.
In fact, US and NATO
intelligence have confirmed
reports that ISI officers were
running training camps for
Taliban recruits north of
Quetta, and rumors of arms
shipments from the Gulf and
shopping sprees for pickup
trucks and satellite phones
paint a clearer picture of the
freedom with which they
operate this side of the
border. These Taliban
(meaning "seeker of light")
are not rural peasants
herding sheep with a
Kalashnikov slung over their
shoulder; they are religiously
fervent militants with highly
specialized training in bomb
making and gorilla-style
warfare, capable of pulling
off sophisticated ambushes
and raids. Because of the
ISI‘s involvement, US troops
are facing a much more
competent enemy that is not
just well-funded, but is also
trained to kill.
Some of the most startling
information regarding ISI-
Taliban cooperation comes
from a series of interviews
conducted by Harvard
analyst Matt Waldman in his
report, ―The Sun in the Sky,‖
published earlier this
summer. Over the course of
talking with dozens of
Taliban field commanders
and tribal elders, Waldman
came across one particularly
revealing account which
details a visit to a Pakistani
prison by President Asif Ali
Zardari, himself. According
to a reliable source, the
president told some 30-40
captured militants that ―you
are our people, we are
friends, and after your
release we will of course
support you to do your
operations.‖ While some
skeptics may cast this aside
as Taliban mythology,
nonetheless, it matches other
events, such as in February
of this year when the ISI
arrested top Taliban leaders
Qayyum Zakir and Mullah
Abdul Raouf Khadem only
to release them days later.
While the relationship
between the ISI and the
Taliban is certainly
outrageous, it is important to
place such cooperation in
proper context in order to
answer the most pressing
question: why would the
United States continue to
send billions of dollars of
economic and military aid to
Pakistan if they are funding
and supporting the enemy?
But before this question can
be answered, another must
be addressed: why does
Pakistan, under incredible
pressure from the United
States and the international
community, continue to
support the Afghan Taliban?
A History of Violence
To answer to this question,
one must go back to 1947
and the partition of British
India, when a vicious cycle
of strife and conflict erupted,
culminating in four majors
wars, with the Kargil Crisis
breaking out as recently as
1999. Historically, Pakistan
has armed and supported
Islamic militants as an
instrument of foreign policy
to achieve gains against its
larger more powerful
neighbor, India, as well as to
maintain a Kabul favorable
to Pakistan‘s interests via the
After the 2001 US-led
invasion threw the Taliban
out of power, Afghanistan
became a battleground
between an India, fearful of
being cut off from crucial
energy reserves in Central
Asia, and a Pakistan, fearful
of encirclement by an
Afghanistan more favorable
President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari
during a US-Afghan-Pakistan Trilateral meeting in Cabinet Room.
This photo is from the Executive Office of the President of the US, therefore is in the public domain
to Indian interests. Both countries have
legitimate concerns, and neither is about to
back down and acquiesce.
Since 2001, India has pumped over $1.3
billion in civilian aid, making it
Afghanistan‘s largest regional donor, while
Pakistan has looked to secure their interests
at the point of a gun by supporting the
Haqqani Network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,
the Afghan Taliban and a variety of other
unsavory characters trying to usurp power
from Hamid Karzai‘s government. As the
thinking goes, the stronger the Taliban‘s
position in Afghanistan, the stronger
Pakistan‘s influence will be.
But as Pakistan is now learning, rarely are
things so simple. The Taliban, by its very
nature, is an uncontrollable force that has
morphed into a variety of hard line groups,
not the least of which is now executing
suicide bombings inside of Pakistan in an
attempt to overthrow their government. The
United States looks the other way on the
ISI‘s support for the Afghan Taliban
precisely because of this extremely fragile
state Pakistan now finds itself in.
Pakistan overwhelmingly rejected the
military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf,
and yet the civilian government led by
Zadari now finds itself extremely unpopular
as well. Zadari‘s precarious hold on
governance has been further weakened by
the recent flooding disaster that is quickly
escalating into a humanitarian crisis. If
Pakistan were to descend into chaos, the
whole region would destabilize and a well-
funded Afghan Taliban would be the least of
the US‘s concerns. While Pakistan breaks
ties with militant groups, the US must be
careful about putting too much pressure on a
Pakistani government that is already showing
signs of coming apart at the seams.
Pakistan has made progress, and has killed or
captured more senior Al-Qaeda leaders than
any other country. While Pakistan must
continue to rein in its support for militant
groups, don‘t expect their calculations with
regards to India and Afghanistan to change
anytime soon. As Hamid Gul, the ex chief of
the ISI who is continually referenced in 8
different Wikileaks reports says, ―Taliban are
the future, and Americans are the past of
John Jack Rooney is a freelance writer based
in Prague, the Czech Republic.
Why Prague? What brought you here and
how does it seem to inveigle you into
coming back every year?
President Havel was getting an honorary
doctorate at UCLA when I was running the
writing program at USC when we met in LA
in the early 90s. I was honored to have had a
short meeting with him where he extended
his hand to me and said, ‗We are colleagues,‘
and followed it up by saying he wanted all
Czechoslovaks to come back and donate
something to the country.
This struck a chord within me and being a
writer and educator, I decided I could do
something for the country. I have been
coming to Czechoslovakia ever since my
teenage years; several of my siblings were
born here, it is a homeland to my parents,
something that was instilled in me from a
very young age.
I write and I wrote against the regime. My
first book (In the Talking Hours) was banned
here. I had a poem in there about Jan Palach
and I wrote about the Russian invasion. So
President Havel inviting me back to help
rebuild the country was all I needed. I gave
them my poetry and as an educator I‘ve had
the opportunity to teach a generation of
young Czechs and Slovaks and give back.
My work at Charles University as a
distinguished visiting professor keeps me
coming back now every summer. I teach
young Czech poets the American,
Continental and Czech poets, and we do a
workshop as well where they work on their
own poetry.
What about your poetry? How much does
your Czechoslovak heritage inspire you?
How does it affect your poetry?
My heritage is Slovak and my parents are
from there (he responds in Slovak). It is my
first language and interestingly enough it is a
Vychodnarski dialect. It‘s a special dialect
and whoever you speak to tells you it is a
dialect that you don‘t want to lose because it
is so melodious. It is from that region
American-Slovak poet James Ragan
Photo by Hrishabh Sandilya
between Hungary and the Ukraine. I didn‘t
know this but the casual Slovak I grew up
with from my parents was more of a peasant
Slovak, a dialect of the earth, of hard work, a
ruggedness, dignity and expressions of a
rustic happiness.
All the voices entering our home were
similar to that sort of Slovak when I was
growing up. Whether it was Polish, Czech,
Russian, Ukrainian or Serb, I grew up
hearing a certain melody of the music of
languages, the same thing that was true of
the music and the literature entering the
house. We were taught to read Czech and
Slovak poetry, literature and we were
immersed in the culture. I remember one of
the first experiences I had was to see
Janousek in the original Slovak as a young
Slovak has a sense of wonderful tension in it.
It is different from Czech, which is more
guttural almost because of its Germanic
influence. Yet Slovak is a language that
produces poetry because it is such a musical
mixture of the languages in the region,
especially the Vychodnarski dialect. The
music of Slovak is much different from the
Czech. It is thanks to the indigenous quality
and tensions that produced great art from the
Let’s talk about your other heritage now,
America. What’s your take on America
I am honored to be asked to give
commencement addresses these days, and
this is something I make a point to reiterate.
We have to remember as a country, we
(America) are very young compared to the
old oaks of Europe; we are still in our
adolescence. And at times, we do behave
badly but when we tread towards maturity
we are still that grand experiment that the
world initiated. It is still the one country in
the world where you can have a temple, a
church, a synagogue and a mosque on one
street and have constructive debate.
Right now the state of America is such, that
when we elected Barack Obama, I strongly
believed that we as Americans finally took
that destined turn toward maturity. That a
country through its voting populace could
bring a minority president into power … my
whole take on America is extremely positive.
But we need to temper that positivity with a
cold dose of reality.
The unfortunate part about Obama‘s regime
is that he has inherited so many of the
problems we have. These are problems that
are not just economic, but also social,
educational, cultural. We need to give him
the same amount of time to correct these
problems, just about the same amount of
time past administrations have had to create
them, before we start judging him.
My biggest fear for America though is that
the voting populace has ceased to be an
educated populace in many ways. They don‘t
educate themselves as they used to…
Sometimes I feel they only want the quick
fix. They want to see instant gratification, the
instant imaging of truth, an instant response
on everything, with no time to be given. My
experience is that this always creates more
problems than first existed. My concern
therefore is that this particular attitude will
exacerbate the situation, splitting the healing
process [that] I think Obama has put into
For example the idea of a country feeling for
Sarah Palin as a candidate disturbs me. She
represents that … the need for an instant
Isn’t that in a sense the disparity that
seems to make America today? That great
divide that has come to exemplify the
country, the difference between the
enlightened and the traditionalists, the tea
partiers, the soccer moms and those who
look at the bigger picture?
Yes, it started with Nixon where we went
through an anti intellectual period,
completely unlike the Kennedy years where
we had many people who represented
advancements, civil rights and liberties in
government and in positions to make
decisions. It was because the public itself
cared about things.
However once that anti-intellectualism
began, it didn‘t take long to manifest itself in
the public sphere. Forty years down the line
and a Sarah Palin is a result of that... It
seems to say [that] we, as America don‘t
want a person in global policy. On the other
hand [global policy] is what Obama
represents, so when you as a voting public
vote for Palin you are dismissing the idea of
a global community.
The need of the hour is for America to rejoin
the global community. We‘ve been insular
for too far too long. Now for the first time,
with Obama‘s election, there is a liking of
America again. We have to choose to put
ourselves back into the world in the way we
used to be involved.
The other thing is this: the word statesman.
You remember, we used to have those.
Statesmen meant a lot to me when I was
growing up. This was a man you could
always call on to be the healer, no matter
what the problem was.
I think Obama represents that. He has the
ability and has shown that. But if you want
to put conservative political activity against
such an individual it will always come out
against that sense of a more global vision,
that big picture. This goes back to that divide
we were talking about, America first instead
of the global vision.
I take my poetry to the world. I am a big
proponent of the global vision and I am
happy to see a leadership that reflects that in
our own government.
How does culture, the arts fit into that
take on America? How much has
American culture evolved since you first
started writing?
To me, American culture has changed the
most in the sense of what the world sees as
American culture these days. Unfortunately
the culture has inundated many other
countries. American culture is assimilative
and that‘s what made it so unique and
wonderful but sometimes though it‘s the
tabloid culture of America that stands out.
We become that too. The day Britney Spears
and Lady Ga Ga make the six o‘clock news,
we have become that tabloid culture. This is
what is being exported. We need to export
more of what was the best of it, what formed
us as a young nation. We need to be known
through our jazz, dance, poetry, the ballet,
the books, the novels, the plays. All that still
exists but it needs to come out more.
Unfortunately we also send out the worst of
our real culture as well. Our films speak for
themselves, yet the ones that go out to the
world are the violent [and] stereotypical, a
far drawback from the character driven sagas
that made Hollywood what it was. Most of
the world today sees us as a culture of
violence, a culture not at ease with itself.
A byproduct perhaps of that anti
intellectualism that you mentioned earlier
Yes a sad reality, an absolute product of that
anti-intellectualism. I am a product of that
culture at the best of times and the worst of
times. It made me and it made some of the
biggest cultural influences the world has
seen, but I see hope for it … The leadership
has changed and [Obama] represents a
cultural hope as well.
What about technology and the new
media? We talked about instant
gratification, yet technology has only
facilitated this. Does it peeve you or does it
provide inspiration?
Technology doesn‘t threaten me. I remember
being in Silicon Valley a few decades ago,
and saw one of the earliest prototypes of the
Internet and Google and I was amazed by
what it could do. Instead it has not been
utilized correctly, not to its greatest merits.
Instead of harnessing its positive elements
we have Facebook, MySpace, MyFace …
They inspire narco-narcissism. Narcissism
has become a narcotic. There are people out
there who have delusions about their self-
importance and believe everyone should
know every moment of their lives.
These are the distractions that have taken us
away from the goods of technology. They
have also taken us away from book reading.
Book reading provides us with and
safeguards our peripheral vision - the vision
of the imagination. A tunnel vision has taken
over, what [Marshall] McLuhan predicted
ages ago. Now lo and behold we have the
‗you know‘ generation where they beg you
to finish the thought. They have no precision
in language, they don‘t read, and media
relies on a language that is cliché ridden. The
language changes, ‗your‘ becomes ‗yr‘;
numbers come into words. This is what
technology has facilitated, sadly the de-
education of a society in this way.
The other thing that technology does is that it
takes away that sense of community, that
assimilation of cultures where you could cry
together and laugh together. Once we
became a post-reading generation people are
associated with their computers and we lose
that sense of face-to-face dialogue which is
so essential for a society. Language means a
lot to me, that‘s where the poet comes in.
Language in a way seeks sanctity in poetry.
Technology effects language.
What about the arts in the time of crisis?
The first place that cuts are seen are in the
arts, whether it‘s in America or across the
world. The arts are an appeasement to the
senses but austerity on the other hand always
involves a reduction in sensory pleasure.
Jobs will always be more important than the
arts but it does not mean culture necessarily
Artists have always managed to find ways to
thrive. They thrived at the worst of times in
the sixties. I was a ‗long-hair‘ and we thrived
for the truth in the sixties, whether it was
civil rights, feminism, liberty, the
environment or against war. They cut
funding for the arts back then and they‘re
doing it now.
I am not worried about the future of the
artist, but I‘m hoping that in the West, the
artist does not become the mercenary. Is that
a problem? Is it about the money? Is that the
danger for artists? This is what we need to be
asking ourselves
For example I see books being written today
with a film line in. They don‘t speak to me
on a literary level anymore. On the same
hand I see movies instead of being the
character driven and story driven epics are
far more situational now. Similarly
publishing houses are closing down,
magazines don‘t last long and literary
journals have gone from being the bastion of
the eclectic to just plain insular.
To me one of the most important reasons to
write has been to engage the suffering of
humanity. It may sound as a cliché, but it
still is idealism that must accompany the
artist. It‘s the same weather it‘s the visual
arts, performing arts or writers. If that starts
to change then we all should worry.
I have immense faith in the artist. The artist
may meander a tad in the West, but I see the
artist rising to the occasion across the world,
whether it is China, Africa, India or South
How to create a history
The United States of
America is the Promised
Land for comics. Void of
any ancient history or
mythology of its own
(Americans distanced
themselves from Native
American mythology by
massacring the native tribes
and dissolving their remains
in the national melting pot),
the nation has embraced and
worshiped its comic
Comic books originated in
the Unites States in the late
1800s. However, it wasn‘t
until the 1930s that
superheroes gained their
popularity. It is not by
chance, that they found an
audience during a time of
economic recession. Perhaps
they were meant to
intervene, if not as saviors of
the economy, as saviors of
all that is good, and
guardians of a better future.
Traditionally superheroes
were based on characters
from Ancient Greek legends
and stories. For example,
comic book hero Flash
clearly borrows elements
from the Greek god Hermes,
even wearing a winged
helmet, an icon of the god.
Similarly, heroes such as
Zeus, Thor and
Beowulf have all
been used as
models for the
creation of comic
heroes. Others are
a combination of
characters or
archetypes. Any
origin, they all
have one thing in
common: they
always fight in the
name of good, in
the name of
honest citizens,
and they are
always victorious.
If we were to
place these
somewhere on the political
spectrum, they would most
certainly lean to the right as
they protect the traditional
societal values based on a
capitalist model.
The need for an ideological
Superheroes of course have
the necessary social
compassion, but they are not
terribly interested in fighting
poverty. After all, many of
them belong to the upper
classes of society in their
civilian lives: Batman as
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire
who owns practically the
entire city; Iron Man as
Tony Stark is a weapons
magnate. Two other
This image is in the public domain
Four Favorites #11, August, 1943
superheroes Superman and
Spiderman work for
tabloid newspapers. All are
white collar, upper middle
class, successful members of
Captain America is the
ultimate symbol of
American idealism. During
the Cold War American
superheroes fought against
the evil Soviets and other
―vermin‖ from the East, who
always planned to take over
the world. At the end of the
Cold War, communist
villains lost some popularity
(although there still was the
odd Communist villain
lurking in some far off place
who wanted to seize power
and return the ―old world
order‖), but eventually a new
enemy appeared: the
terrorist. Superheroes need
super villains and super
villains need a reason to
want to destroy the world.
They look more credible if
they belong to an ideological
camp. In this way, comic
superheroes and their
adversaries in many ways
paralleled reality.
Disrupting the superhero
cliché from the other side
of the Atlantic
The mid 1950s 1970s are
commonly referred to as the
Silver Age of comics. At this
time, according to Peter
Coogan, author of
Superhero: The Secret
Origin of a Genre,
―superhero comic books
act[ed] to convey the
prevailing social ideology.‖
When this, however, no
longer interested readers, the
comic books ―moved away
from explicitly ideological
texts. The superhero genre
which had been used to build
consensus and morale during
WWII was now questioning
America‘s role as the world's
superpower, due largely in
part to the public‘s
perception of the Vietnam
War.‖ Comic creators began
to re-evaluate what good and
evil really meant.
This was the case with
British author Alan Moore
who created a superhero
story that defined this notion
of ‗good‘ that superheroes
had been hiding behind all
this time. Not only did he
challenge the established
ideas of good and evil, he
also asked a question that
was ubiquitous to traditional
comics: is there a greater
good? And if so, is it
superior to an average,
everyday good? Moore
illustrated his answers to
these questions in his comic
series Watchmen. Taking
place during the Cold War, a
fake attack on New York
City (by aliens from outer
space) leads to global peace,
as the two sides of the Iron
Curtain unite in a fight
against their common
extraterrestrial adversary. In
this series, Moore critiques
the traditional superhero
Moore is also the author of
the series V for Vendetta, in
which he creates a dystopian
exaggeration of strictly right
wing politics. He creates a
quasi-Fascist system, full of
CCTV cameras and
manipulated media, where
political leaders create
artificial fear of ―the other
among its population. In this
comic, the superhero is a left
wing anarchist who is not
scared to face the
establishment and point out
that the ruling elites are the
real evil.
This represents a turning
point for heroes. They were
―further revolutionized‖
when leading characters had
some kind of ―weakness or
defect, such as the Hulk and
Spiderman,‖ explains
Coogan in his book. ―They
were persecuted and
misunderstood outsiders and
spoke directly to public
disorientation.‖ As times
have changed, the definition
of what it means to be a
superhero, and a villain, has
dramatically changed as
Underground comix
Left wing comics began to
take off in the 1960s thanks
to the underground
movement. Underground
comics were more or less a
reaction to the ethical codex
of the Comics Code
Authority (CCA) which was
established in the 1950s to
cleanse comics from
anything that could harm
children‘s development
(children were found to
constitute the largest
readership of this media).
Scary creatures disappeared,
violence was hidden in
between the graphic panels
and the superhero language
was cleaned up as well. The
desire to breach this codex
gave rise to comics intended
for adult audiences.
An entirely underground
scene appeared, dealing with
problems of regular people.
The heroes of the comics
were often the authors
themselves. The storylines
reflected the ideas and
realities of the
counterculture of the time.
Some of the most important
authors in this movement
were Robert Crumb, Kim
Deitch, Art Spiegelman, and
Harvey Pekar. The
underground comic book
scene is often referred to as
Just your average
everyday superhero
One of the most interesting
left wing comic books is the
Love and Rockets series, or
rather its subseries Locas,
written and illustrated by
Jaime Hernandez (His
brother Gilbert is the author
of the second subseries
called Palomar). Published
for the first time in the 1980s
in the conservative years
of Margaret Thatcher and
Ronald Reagan it was
created in a time when
economies prospered,
militaries militarized and the
fall of the Iron Curtain was
just around the corner. The
market solved everything
and people seemed almost
The first series, Maggie the
Mechanic, tells the story of
an 18-year-old girl
who lives in a
Hispanic suburb of
Hernandez works
with the sci-fi
genre allowing the
characters to live
in a world split
between the
fantastic and the
mundane of
ordinary life
situations. Maggie
has normal issues
and struggles with
her job, friends,
and relationships.
She and her friend
(and sometimes
lover) Hopey are
active in the punk
movement, do
not work too hard, and are
struggling to find happiness.
As the series progresses
Hernandez loses the sci-fi
elements and further
develops Maggie as well as
her friends. His heroines get
older, fatter and lazier. In the
Ghost of Hoppers series
Maggie is going on 40 and
her carefree past is just a
distant memory. Still, at
every age, Maggie represents
a new kind of superhero
because she prevails in her
struggles and hardships of
everyday life.
May good prevail
As much as the political
leanings of traditional
superheroes are hidden
within the comics, it is
obvious which side of the
political spectrum they
prefer. Characters in left
wing comix are more
forward with their opinions.
While traditional
superheroes try to protect the
values of society as it is, new
superheroes try to determine
and define their existence
within a society in which
they do not agree. Either
way, they have taken on an
important role in American
society. They reflect and
commentate on current
happenings and illustrate
unique views of the world
where good (however it is
defined) still always
Jiří G. Růžička is the Editor
of A2, a weekly periodical
for culture.
Jaime Hernandez, creator of Maggie the Mechanic,
signs autographs at ComicCon
Photo by, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Key trends suggest that the
Western globalized world will
soon reach the limits of
growth. As these societies, as
well as their functioning, are
based on exponential
expansion, reaching these
limits will no doubt herald
alarming consequences. As
long as societies perceive the
growth of wealth to be
exclusively linked to
increased consumption, the
disillusionment will be
exceedingly painful. The
following article introduces
the ever-increasing systemic
risks of growth, which, with
the interconnectedness of the
globalized world, will
threaten global prosperity.
Complex boundaries
Modern civilization, with the
help of science, technology
and health care, has created
the most complex culture in
human history. There are
nearly seven billion people
living on the planet, many of
whom can travel to the most
remote regions of the globe in
hours if they so choose. This
interconnectedness, the
process of globalization, has
changed our ability to tackle
local problems as these
problems are no longer
isolated. For example, if crop
failure or flooding affects one
state, other areas that are
experiencing a food
production surplus can easily
provide aid. In this way,
globalization, in theory, can
enable very effective or
possibly even the most
effective use of natural and
human resources. If China
produces cheap steal or shoes
and Spain grows the best
tomatoes, the market will
ensure that the resources for
these activities are moved to
the appropriate places, hence
David Ricardo‘s theory of
comparative advantage.
However, interconnectedness
also has its darker side. It
requires constant growth in
energy consumption and
increases the dependence
individual sections and
regions of the world have on
each other. If consumption
growth, for example in the
energy sector, is no longer
possible, it disrupts the
functioning of various other
sections of the global system.
Consequently there is a ripple
The current economic crisis is
a good example of this. It
started in the USA as a
mortgage and financial crisis
but it spread effectively
across the entire world and
other spheres of the economy.
Today it is not possible to
claim that the European
Union does not have to care
about current affairs in the
United States, or that China
does not have to consider
domestic affairs in Greece.
Cultural anthropologist
Joseph Tainter, who
researches the collapse of
complex civilizations, claims
that today, unlike in the past,
no developed state can
collapse on its own.
Globalization ensures that the
collapse will be global.
The decline of investment
The risk of a global collapse
is closely related to the
increasing complexity of
society. We attempt to deal
with issues in the global
sphere with concern only for
our local situation. Therefore,
as time passes by, the search
for a solution that suits
everyone becomes far more
complicated. Looking at the
short term, too often we
tackle the easiest problems
first and leave the harder ones
for later. In this way, many
times one solution can create
a plethora of new problems,
resulting in an ever-
decreasing benefit to the
society overall.
Alexander Fleming needed
approximately $20,000 USD
for his research that resulted
in the discovery of antibiotics.
Saving millions of lives,
antibiotics were without a
doubt a great success. Thus,
the investment return was
enormous. In contrast, today,
society invests millions, or
rather tens of millions into
research that aims to reduce
the side effects of new
medications. The investment
returns on such research are
therefore infinitely smaller.
This does not discount the
possibility that scientists will
discover a new revolutionary
medicine or other
groundbreaking discovery,
nor does it suggest that we
should stop financing basic
and applied research. The
argument only illustrates the
fact that the solution to
increasingly complex
problems inevitably decreases
the frequency of major
discoveries and therefore
decreases society‘s ability to
grow exponentially. A time
will come when the solutions
to our problems will
themselves become the source
of other, new problems. These
situations will exist more and
more often in the future.
For instance, any solution to
the Greek financial crisis can
only lead to further problems.
At the same time, it is
obvious that not aiding
Greece and allowing the
country to go bankrupt, in
essence removing them from
the monetary union, is also a
very problematic path to take.
Current trends suggest that in
coming years other states with
high budget deficits, such as
Spain, Italy, Portugal,
Hungary, and the UK will
meet the same fate as Greece.
Even in the USA additional
borrowing no longer leads to
an increase in gross domestic
product (GDP). In this way,
any solution to the financial
crisis and global recession
seems to result in other
problems, not solutions.
Lack of resources
Disliked by average people
and economists alike, we live
on a planet where there are
limited natural resources. It
is not always possible to
replace resources with
higher quality alternatives.
The industrial revolution
began with James Watt and
his improvements to the
steam engine, which opened
the road to the exponential
usage of fossil coals. This
development was further
strengthened by the creation
of the combustion engine,
which relies on oil. Today,
30 billion barrels of oil are
used globally each year (one
barrel equals 159 liters). For
every four barrels used, only
one new barrel of oil is
discovered. In light of this,
we can presume that even
the largest of the newly
discovered oil fields can
satisfy the global demand
for oil for a limited period of
BP British Petroleum Co., Ltd., 1922 Union Jack ad
This image is in the public domain.
time. Additionally, the
accessibility of the discovered
oil is becoming increasingly
problematic. It is being found
either in politically unstable
territory, such as Iraq, or only
by deep ocean excavation.
In the past the cost of oil was
as low as $1-10 per barrel.
Recent reports cite the cost
now hovering around $80 per
barrel, illustrating the
increased demand. Moreover,
the extraction of oil in
inaccessible areas increases
the risk of accidents as seen in
the explosion of the
Deepwater Horizon oilrig,
which resulted in the biggest
marine oil spill in history.
Leaking oil for over 100 days
off the Gulf of Mexico, the oil
spill quickly increased in size.
In July, reports stated that the
area of the spill was roughly
the size of Slovakia. The
British oil company, British
Petroleum, spent more than
$3 billion in an attempt to
contain the spill causing its
stocks to fall by 50 percent.
According to some analysts
the company may now face
bankruptcy, which would
have a considerable impact on
energy security in the USA
and elsewhere.
In reaction to the catastrophe
President Barack Obama
declared a six-month ban on
new deep water drilling. The
increasing aversion to the ban
proves that the USA, as well
as the rest of the world, is
reliant on an infinite supply
of high quality energy.
Unfortunately, lifting this ban
will only exacerbate the
limited supply of global oil.
This will have a profound
impact on the economy as
stable and affordable energy
alternatives have not yet been
secured. The use of nuclear
energy highlights the
possibility of switching to a
non fossil fuel based energy
system, but the risks of
nuclear energy are still largely
unknown. Likewise, to
replace the 30 billion barrels
of annual oil consumption, at
least 52 nuclear reactors with
the same output as Temelín
would have to be build every
year for the next 50 years.
While making this switch
along with using other forms
of alternative energy is a
possibility, it does not seem
realistic in the near future.
A slow impetus forward
People like what they know.
Change, even if it‘s for the
better, is often accepted with
great reluctance. In terms of
energy systems, this
reluctance to change will have
long-term ramifications. If a
coal power station is built
today, it will exist for the next
50 to 70 years before it
expires. Such massive
undertakings, like nuclear
power stations or oil
extraction, result in the same
Energy infrastructure is one
of the most stable and
unchanging structures made
by man. Electricity networks
are created for electrical
energy drawn from secure
sources. This is one of the
reasons why newly
established renewable sources
do not currently play a
leading role in the energy
industry: they have not yet
become fixed or predictable
and new networks and
infrastructures need to be
created to fully utilize their
potential. Any source of
energy without greenhouse
gas emissions will still take
several decades to be fully
implemented into our energy
networks. This can be seen
again with nuclear energy,
which has been around for
more than 60 years but still
only represents 6 percent of
primary energy consumption.
People still use coal and oil
for most of their energy
needs. This is why a fossil
fuel shortage is a critical (and
eminent) problem. And
unfortunately, the
mechanisms of the free
market will not be able to
offer the necessary solutions.
It is blind to systemic and
long-term trends energy
security is a market failure.
Running in place
Tackling easy to solve
problems first and looking for
convenient answers (as is the
case with utilizing resources
that are easily accessible: oil
and coal) is a dangerous
combination. Studies show
that we use more energy to
perform all tasks today, than
we did many years ago. For
example, 17 times more
energy is used to catch the
same number of fish today
than at the start of the fishing
industry. This is even more disturbing since
we use far superior technology and fishing
methods than 150 years ago. Better
technology enables us to use natural resources
more rapidly. It also leads to a faster depletion
of these resources which, if unchecked, can
result in future shortages. In other words, just
like in Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland,
we are forced to run faster and faster just to
stay in the same place.
How are society‘s actions coming to terms
with these trends? So far, it seems not very
successfully. Many politicians and policy
makers seem to feel that there are no
alternatives other than further growth and
expansion. However, one cannot assess GDP
as the only measurement of prosperity and
success. Sustainable growth needs to be more
than a political catch phrase. It is impossible
to ignore the fact that the world is exhausting
its fossil fuel deposits. Alternative sources
need to be found and realized, or we must
come to terms with the very real possibility
that growth, as we know it, will come to an
Alexander Ač works for the Academy of
Courtesy of (
This map shows the distribution of registered oil tankers. The territory size is proportional to the number of
tankers registered there.
In the 1980s, acting director
of the Solomon R.
Guggenheim foundation in
New York, Thomas Krens
(he held this position from
1988-2005; currently he
works as the museum‘s
foreign affairs advisor),
asked a simple question:
Why should large amounts
of artwork sit in depositories
unused and unseen? Finding
no sufficient answer, he
decided to change the way
museums did business.
Abandoning the concept that
a museum should be tied to a
specific location, he began to
export the Guggenheim
brand abroad. Just like Louis
Vuitton, who has offices in
Paris, London, New York
and Prague, the Guggenheim
now has museum branches
in Bilbao, Berlin, Venice and
soon, Abu Dhabi. Krens
radically changed the
definition of a museum and
in doing so unleashed a fury
of copycat policies, despite
its many criticisms.
This trend is the continuance
of a process that began in the
second half of the 18th
century. Artwork created for
a specifically designed
space, such as a church or
private residence, was
moved to museums, newly
established in response to the
wave of nationalism that
washed over Europe.
Through this move, the
pieces lost their natural
context but became tied to
national identity. During the
20th century museums
became the target
destinations of modern art.
Increasingly artwork is
treated as any other
consumer item that can be
sold or rented anywhere in
the world. The advocates of
this expansive process argue
that in sharing national
treasures, museums are
building bridges of
understanding between
countries and cultures. The
question remains whether
the export of national
artwork causes the work to
lose any of its meaning or
The consumer market model
has reached European
museums. Jean Clair, the
former director of the
Picasso Museum in Paris, art
historian and author and
one of the main critics of the
museum-businesses, which
he likens to museum-
McDonald‘s described
Thomas Krens as a manager
without any wider cultural
awareness, a self-made man
who often made vast
amounts of money but rarely
brought prestige to
American artwork.33 The
fact of the matter is that
during Krens‘ leadership
investment in the foundation
increased from 20 million to
118 million dollars.
However, at what cost?
The price was the
commercialization and
vulgarization of museums, as
noted by Philippe de
Montebello, former director
of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York. An art
historian and long-time critic
of the Guggenheim
approach, de Montebello
condemned the system of
loan fees (and the paid rental
of collections) along with the
33 Jean Clair, Malaise dans les musées,
Paris, Flammarion, 2007, s. 67. This
book is the source of other citations
and quotes of Jean Clair in this paper.
tendency of museums to
become ―culture markets‖ or
―amusement parks.‖ He
warned that this sort of
policy leads to the loss of the
museum‘s spirit and mission.
He noted that if culture is
supposed to become
Disneyland, Disney is much
better equipped for the
Cities and countries attract
the world‘s attention with
their museums and cultural
centers. This was the case in
Bilbao, Spain. In
the late 1980s, it
was a city without
a future, coming
to terms with
failing industry
and political
violence, a
combination that
almost brought the
city to collapse.
The former
Basque president
José Antonio
Ardanza decided
to counteract the
city‘s decline
through cultural
means. He wanted
to transform the
city into a sacred
place and to give
the city a new
direction. In 1991
he met Krens and
presented a
proposal to open an
unprecedented museum of
modern art in cooperation
with the Guggenheim.
Ardanza did not have art
collections or a building, but
he had money. This proposal
coincided with Krens desire
to bring the Guggenheim
into the international arena.
Krens agreed to loan artwork
from New York depositories
and Ardanza organized the
construction of a building
like no other. In many ways,
the actual art was not nearly
as important as the
architecture of the museum
and the prestigious
Guggenheim brand name.
Architect Frank O. Ghery
was selected to build the
museum, and in 1992 he
constructed the most
significant piece of the entire
collection: the building
itself. The museum fulfilled
Krens‘ dream. The art
religion, as described by art
theorist Wolfgang Ullrich,
was blessed with a
spectacular new cathedral.
The museum created 4,500
job opportunities in the city.
Investors estimated that 500
thousand visitors would visit
the museum annually. Once
opened, the museum
welcomed doubled this
number of visitors
(Guggenheim Bilbao is
visited by 900 thousand to 1
million viewers every year,
70 percent of which are
foreigners). The large influx
of tourists, as Ardanza has
hoped, transformed the city.
The establishment of the
museum was undoubtedly
beneficial for Bilbao.
However, the question
remains whether it has been
so for the Guggenheim.
According to French art
historian Didier Rykner, the
Guggenheim collection
Photo by Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Guggenheim Bilbao museum branch.
compared to others is not
very noteworthy and thus
loses the significance it does
have when it loans its
collections to other
institutions. In 1999 the
Guggenheim was forced to
sell part of its collection (for
$10 million dollars) to
finance its plans to expand to
other locations. In 2000 it
sold a further $4.55 million
dollars worth of art, and at
the beginning of 2003 the
foundation announced that
due finiancial difficulties it
would not continue with its
$950 million dollar plan to
build another branch in New
York. Since more branches
have opened, the original
Guggenheim museum has
reduced its budget and
programming and cut its
Krens tried to solve these
financial woes by increasing
museum cooperation. In
2001 he joined forces with
the St. Petersburg Hermitage
Museum to open a
Guggenheim Hermitage
Museum in Las Vegas. The
new project did not survive.
The Guggenheim had such
low attendance, it closed
only 15 months after
opening. The entire
Guggenheim Hermitage
project was cancelled in
Further projects in Tokyo,
Salzburg, Mexico and Brazil
were abandoned as well. In
2008 the British-Iraqi
architect Zaha Hadid was
asked to construct the
Guggenheim Hermitage
Vilnius Museum, which is
scheduled to open in 2011,
however, there are doubts
that the project will be
realized. Even former
President Ardanze is
skeptical about repeating the
Bilbao success.
Nevertheless, Krens will not
be discouraged. He already
opened relatively successful
branches in Berlin and
Venice and intends to move
on to Abu Dhabi where he
hopes to open a Guggenheim
branch in 2012.
France was inspired by the
export of cultural heritage
and began renting its
national collections as well.
In 2006 the Louvre opened
its first branch abroad in
Atlanta, Georgia. In
exchange for 13 million
Euros it loaned treasures
from its depositories for a
three years period, creating
nine long-term exhibitions.
The new Louvre Atlanta,
designed by Renza Piana, is
yet another example of the
current trend: build a
spectacular museum first,
find the collection to
showcase later. With the
increased willingness of
museums to rent their
collections, this has become
an easy task.
Atlanta, however, was just a
test. On 6 March 2007 the
French Minister of Culture,
Renaud Donnedieu de
Vabres, and Sheik Sultan
Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan,
chairman of the Office for
Culture, Historical
Monuments and Tourism in
Abu Dhabi, signed a contract
for a long-term loan of
artwork from the Louvre and
other French museums, to be
presented over the next thirty
years in the United Arab
Emirates metropolis Abu
Dhabi. The names alone,
Louvre Abu Dhabi, will cost
the country 400 million
Euros. France will make
approximately 1 billion
Euros through this
Ninety-five percent of the
United Arab Emirates
territory is uninhabited and
80 percent of its food and
consumer goods are
imported. The Emirates
became a wealthy territory in
the 1960s when it began to
extract oil and natural gas.
Enormous profits have made
it one of the richest countries
in the world. Much of their
ever-increasing capital has
been invested in seaside
resorts, sports, culture and
education. Western
universities were contracted
to open their branches in the
Emirates. In 2006 a branch
of the Sorbonne opened in
Abu Dhabi. Today this
campus hosts over 2,000
students. New York
University followed and
opened its gates to new
students this year.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will
not be built directly in the
city but on a nearby island
Saadiyat, which means
happiness. Millions of
dollars were invested in the
development of this island.
The island covers 2,700
hectares and is populated by
the guests of 30 luxury
hotels and the owners of
8,000 luxury villas. It boasts
a 19-kilometer beach with
fine sand, golf courses, three
ports capable of
accommodating thousands of
boats, and a ski slope with
artificial snow. It seems this
paradise has been created for
yacht owners and jetsetters
(their happiness is only
slightly tainted by the
Human Rights Watch reports
that cite hundreds of human
rights abuses to the workers
on the island).
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will
cover 24,000 square meters.
Six thousand will be
dedicated to permanent
exhibitions and 2,000 to
temporary exhibitions.
Artwork from the Louvre as
well as other French
museum (Musée d‘Orsay,
Centre Pompidou, Musée du
Château de Versailles,
Musée du Quai Branly and
Musée Guimet) will be
transported to Abu Dhabi for
a period of ten years. Along
with this, the agreement
states that France will supply
the Louvre Abu Dhabi with
four temporary exhibitions a
year for the next 15 years.
Finally, it has agreed to help
the museum build its own
collection, which will
eventually replace the
artwork on loan. This means
that the French Louvre will
help its counterpart acquire
This task is in contradiction
with the mission of French
museum employees, who
should acquire the best
pieces for French national
collections and not for a
foreign country. Jean Clair
points out that the collection
at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
will in essence be a private
collection owned by one
man the Emir of Abu
Dhabi. No other state has
given its collections to one
individual. This policy has
no precedence and deprives
the French public collections
of significant artwork that
they could have obtained for
their own museums.
The French parliament has
agreed to these long-term
loans. The decision, which
will influence the future
cultural development of
France, was made without
consulting art and culture
experts, who are the main
critics of the transaction. Art
historians were surprised
that politicians, whose
influence is insignificant in
comparison with French
tradition and culture, have
decided on a project that will
influence the nation‘s
heritage so greatly. On 13
December 2006 the French
daily Le Monde published a
protest written by three
highly renowned cultural
experts Jean Clair,
Françoise Cachin (former
director of the Musée
d‘Orsay and later director of
Musée de France) and
Roland Recht (art historian
and professor at the Collège
de France). In their article
titled ―Museums are not for
sale‖ they argue that the
main mission of a museum is
to assemble a collection,
organize educational
programs, and complete
scientific research to
improve art conservation
not loan collections without
any justification. They ask
why 600 thousand citizens of
Abu Dhabi should enjoy
French national collections
at the expense of French
citizens and visitors to
This image is in the public domain
This image is in the public domain
The Louvre in Paris
France (seven million people
visit the Louvre in Paris
every year).
It is important to note that
the opening of the Louvre in
Abu Dhabi contradicts the
International Council of
Museums Code of Ethics
which states that ―museums
are institutions without
collections are created for
society and they can under
no circumstances be treated
as financial assets.‖ In light
of this, Rykner joined in the
protest against the export of
national collections and
initiated a petition published
in prestigious publications
such as the New York Times
(it has been signed by more
than 5,000 people).
A temporary exhibition,
which aims to present works
of art from various parts of
the world, is something very
different than a collection of
European art presented
without any deeper meaning
on the other side of the
globe. Advocates of art-
export argue that these types
of arrangements will export
French culture and language
abroad. A new section of
Islamic art will open at the
Louvre in Paris at the same
time the Louvre Abu Dhabi
opens its doors to the public.
The organizers believe that
this will create a bridge of
understanding between both
countries. However, while
France is not bound by any
censorship towards Islamic
art, Islamic conservatism can
hardly accept European art
in its full scope.
Notwithstanding the
negative attitude of Arab
culture to figurative imaging
as such, the artwork on loan
cannot depict naked bodies
or any Christian or Jewish
motives. These restrictions
limit the possibility of
forming a bridge of
It is natural that experts are
against this policy because
they are in essence losing
work. Their interpretations
will not be necessary if
brands become more
important than the work
itself. So are museums that
loan their works interested in
cultivating greater cultural
understanding for the
public? Or are there other
motives that warrant the
risks of loaning great works
of art? A major concern of
the new ―satellite museum
policy‖ is the fact that the
artwork entire depositories
are constantly moving
somewhere. Every move is
connected with a number of
risks, which simply cannot
be put into monetary terms.
Any loss or damage would
be irreplaceable for future
Europeans and Americans
live in a period of relative
wealth and leisure. Abu
Dhabi wants to feel a part of
this lifestyle, to build a
paradise out of dessert and
oil a cultural center.
Culture, however, requires
money. Where would
Florence be without the
Medici family? But, to what
extent can one purchase
culture? Is this really about
bridging cultural
understanding or is it simply
an attraction for the millions
of tourists investors hope to
The average person cannot
understand how with seven
million visitors a year the
Louvre does not make
enough money to sustain
itself and acquire new
works. But it is important to
known that the market is
dominated by modern art,
which overshadows the work
of old masters. If a museum
wishes to sustain itself, it has
to present modern art
exhibits. Museum budgets
are often not large enough to
procure new artwork (such
as Jeff Koons or Damien
Hirst). ―Earlier, museums
and art history used to
influence the market‖, says
Gérard Goodrow, the
director of the art fair in
Cologne, ―today, it is the
other way round.‖34
Contemporary art can be
defined as a product that
lends itself to speculation.
No one can define what art
is, let alone, what constitutes
good art. Therefore just
about anything can be sold
for any price imaginable.
But it is not just about what
we see, but also about what
we know. Critics, theorists,
gallery managers and
advisors do not influence
34 Rauterberg, H. Und das ist Kunst?!
Eine Qualitätsprüfung. Frankfurt am
Main, 2008. p. 53.
this knowledge; it is influenced by the
market and by the price. On 4 May 2010
Picasso‘s Nude Green Leaves and Bust sold
at Christie‘s auction house in New York for
an incredible $106 million dollars. No one
knows who the new owner is, however, it is
certain that the amount of money he or she
paid set the standards very high for the price
of modern and contemporary art.
Most collectors wish to retain their complete
collection even after their death. They prefer
to turn to museums and donate the collection
under a certain set of conditions than leave it
to relatives, who might sell the individual
pieces and split up the collection. If
museums lose their role as a guarantor, it is
likely that a donor‘s trust will turn
elsewhere. This is what happened to the
Guggenheim in 1998 when collector Elaine
Dannhauser, shocked by Krens‘ policies,
withdrew her $10 million dollar collection
from the museum and donated it instead to
the Museum of Modern Art. Similarly, the
main patron of the Guggenheim, Peter B.
Lewis, who has donated $77 million dollars
to the foundation since 1993, resigned from
his administrative presidential post in
January 2005 because of this opposition to
the museum‘s direction.
On the other hand, museums are more and
more under the thumbs of collectors. This is
especially applicable to museums of modern
art. Collectors influence exhibition programs
as well as purchases. Hedge fund managers
treat art as a profitable commodity and
actively take part on the market. Gallery
owners, collectors and traders use museums
as shop windows, which provide
contemporary art with the necessary acclaim
and quality guarantee, that in turn increases
the price of the artwork. The sum acquired
for loaning art can help the museum with
competitiveness on the market. However, is
it a balanced business? Does the purchase of
Damien Hirst‘s shark in formaldehyde (The
Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind
of Someone Living), which will eventually
disintegrate anyway, justify the possible
damage or loss of paintings from the Italian
Minister of Culture is a post not usually
taken very seriously by politicians.
Nevertheless, culture relates to wealth and
power in a way that cannot be calculated in
monetary terms. It took the Louvre a lot
longer to assemble its collection than it took
the Emirates to acquire one billion Euros.
Art is and has always been a symbol of status
and power, which explains why collectors
are willing to pay an incredible amount of
money for Beuyes‘ Badewane, which for an
ordinary person simply is a dirty old bathtub.
They are not just buying a bathtub, but also a
certain status. Similarly, the Arabs are not
just opening a museum, but are exhibiting
their power. A business deal like this, can
only lead to profits.
Dr. Karolína Fabelová studied art history at
Charles University in Prague and the
Sorbonne in Paris. She is the program
director of the Soros Centre for
Contemporary Arts in Prague.
MUDr. Martin Jan Stránský
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