Total War or Not?

Total War or Not?

The other day, after writing about a dreadfully dishonest and misinformed op-ed on ESG that appeared in The Hill, we received a note from a longtime friend/reader.  We had lamented that ESG was being further politicized and warned (for the umpteenth time) that the whole business would lead to Total War within the Total State if we, as a society, did not temper our political bellicosity.  “You are not this naïve,” our friend wrote, “We are [already] at total war.”

For a variety of reasons – mostly because we don’t want to despair – we’re not to the point yet that we’ll concede as much.  Nevertheless, for reasons that will be apparent momentarily, we do want to spend some time today digging into the finer points of the “friend-enemy” categorizations and how they precipitate the Total State and Total War.  The following, naturally, comes from The Dictatorship of Woke Capital:

Starting from the banal observation that a state needs a sovereign, Schmitt moved on to the slightly less banal idea that a popular (i.e., demo­cratic) sovereign is perfectly adequate in a homogenous state, where all citizens share the same self-identification and many of the same principal interests.

In practice, however, there are no states that possess this homoge­neous self-identification, and that means that the political realm becomes a battlefield on which various ideas and beliefs compete for supremacy and on which people and groups come to see others as “friends” or “ene­mies.” Schmitt believed that the distinction between these two, between friend and enemy, is not necessarily defined by traditional dualistic moral concepts like “right and wrong,” “good and evil,” “beautiful and ugly.” Rather, he suggested that the “political enemy” “need not be morally evil or esthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is nevertheless, the other, the stranger . . . each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s own form of existence.”

What this means, then, is that the divisions in the modern, total state are delineated by the nebulous notion of “values.” Values are not the same as traditional moral beliefs, which are rooted in religious teach­ings. Instead, values depend on self-defined self-interest. And that means that man identifies friends as those who share the same self-interest, and enemies as those who do not.

Schmitt goes on to argue that war among the total states is much different and much more likely to be truly devastating than previous wars. “Such a war,” he writes, “is necessarily unusually intense and inhu­man because, by transcending the limits of the political framework, it simultaneously degrades the enemy into moral and other categories and is forced to make of him a monster that must not only be defeated but also utterly destroyed.” War among men in the total state is total war, one that transcends all shared humanity and all otherwise common characteristics and therefore demands total victory.

Earlier today, the independent journalist Lee Fang posted the latest development in the ongoing saga of the “Twitter Files,” fellow journalist Matt Taibbi, partisan hack (and MSNBC personality) Mehdi Hasan, and the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Long story short: Matt Taibbi made the case in his initial reporting on the Twitter Files that the CISA (the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, a GOVERNMENT AGENCY) had cooperated with the Election Integrity Project to censor content on Twitter.  He reiterated this claim in Congressional testimony.  Shortly thereafter, Taibbi appeared on Hasan’s MSNBC show and was confronted about that claim.  Hasan stated (emphatically) that Taibbi had conflated CISA with CIS (the Center for Internet Security, a private non-profit company that works as a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security).  Taibbi apologized, saying that any conflation was a mistake for which he took full responsibility.  Hasan, in turn, spent the next couple of weeks accusing Taibbi of being a liar and a perjurer.  Today, we learned that Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the rep. from the Virgin Islands and the ranking member on the Subcommittee, has threatened to have Taibbi prosecuted and imprisoned (for up to five years) for perjury, citing Hasan’s claims specifically.

On the surface, this seems like a radical overreaction to the question of whether Taibbi’s error was intentional, as Hasan has said, or a simply mistake, as Taibbi insists.  But that’s not half of it.  There are also two major catches here.

The first of these is the fact – at least according to Fang – that Hasan is the liar, while Taibbi’s initial reporting and testimony are inarguably accurate:

MSNBC pundit Mehdi Hasan, in a series of tweets over the last five days, has repeatedly claimed that Matt Taibbi “deliberately & under oath misrepresented” the facts when he testified to Congress last month….

It’s a serious charge and federal crime to make false statements to Congress, one punishable with prison time. 

But the record shows that CISA, the government agency, was involved in the very formation of EIP and was one of the most important government partners to the group in its bid to influence content moderation decisions at firms such as Facebook and Twitter. EIP’s own leaders have said as much, and there is endless documentation – from publicly available websites, to discovery from litigation, and from the “Twitter Files” – that all confirm this relationship and CISA’s role in assisting EIP.

In other words, Hasan is wrong and presents a deeply distorted view of the mechanics of this process. Taibbi’s testimony, especially the video excerpted by Hasan, is accurate. 

This history isn’t particularly hidden. EIP, in a publicly available report on its website, notes that the group was formed in consultation with CISA in July of 2020. The organization very clearly states that CISA is one of its main stakeholders, along with CIS, which was contracted to manage an information sharing consortium with CISA and local election officials called ISAC.

So…Taibbi either screwed up on accident or was correct.  Either way, threatening him with prison (after sending IRS agents to his house on the day he testified before Congress) is both excessive and clearly meant to intimidate.  Hasan is attempting to destroy Taibbi, and Members of Congress are helping him, even though they most likely have the facts wrong.  This is no mere “overreaction.”  It is something much different and much uglier.

The second catch in this story is that Matt Taibbi is a leftist – just like Mehdi Hasan, just like the journalists who continue to smear him, and just like Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett.  Taibbi loathed Trump (and wrote about it often) – just like Mehdi Hasan, just like the journalists who continue to smear him, and just like Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett.  Taibbi mightily dislikes conservative culture warriors – just like Mehdi Hasan, just like the journalists who continue to smear him, and just like Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett.

By all rights, then, Taibbi and his tormentors should not be squabbling.  But they are.

You see, Taibbi is a First Amendment radical.  He believes that the government and its “disinformation” brigades are destroying the nation and its legacy with their various crusades.  He believes that free speech is a sacrosanct “value” in a free society.

This is very much UNlike Mehdi Hasan, Stacey Plaskett, and most of the rest of the mainstream media.  They value control of information over free speech.  Their values conflict with Taibbi’s, which makes him an “enemy” and which makes it necessary for them to destroy him.

To bring this all back to the top: are we at Total War yet or not?

We don’t know.  We hope not, but Matt Taibbi’s current struggles don’t give us much comfort.  He may be a bellwether.  Watch what happens to him.  Watch to see if they can hurt him as badly as they want to.  And then judge for yourselves.  He is, inarguably, their enemy.  They have made that abundantly clear.  How far are they willing to push, and then, how far will Taibbi’s de facto friends be willing to push back?

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.