. GLOCOM Platform
. . debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
. Newsletters
. Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Special Topics > Colloquium Last Updated: 15:15 03/09/2007
Colloquium #7: November 27, 2001

Extremists, Fundamentalists and Civilization

Jonathan (Jock) Gill (Principal, Penfield Gill, Inc.)
Shumpei Kumon (Executive Director, GLOCOM)

(This paper was presented in a Canadian Studies Seminar at Kwansai Gakuin University, November 17 – 18.)

Jock Gill's essay:
"Misreading and Misleading: How the right-wing zealots misuse the word of God and of our Founding Fathers to make their peculiar extremism seem either holy or patriotic" (posted at Democrats.com < http://www.democrats.com/view.cfm?id=5021 > 31 October 2001)

There is an eerie parallel between the methods used by so-called Islamic fundamentalists to justify their holy war against non-Muslims and the tactics used by our own domestic right wing extremists to try to make their agenda seem patriotic. Fundamentalists from both camps have to ignore the overwhelming evidence that if God or the founding fathers of the American republic were here today, neither would be likely to be on the side of the zealots out championing their cause. Both the Islamic fundamentalists and the conservative reactionaries in the U.S. are trying to associate their rather twisted interpretation of scriptures to suit their purposes. They would deny us self- determination and impose their brand of salvation upon us all.

Is there something about reactionary extremism that requires these dishonest tactics?

In the Islamic world, a small band of extremists are trying to take over a religion that does not, in fact, teach Muslims to hate and to kill non-Muslims. They can only create this erroneous new interpretation by carefully selecting a few passages of the Koran. But since only a very small part of the Muslim world is also American, it is not at all clear what we can do as Americans to launch a counteroffensive for the soul of Islam.

However, we have our own little energetic band of zealots trying to cover their extremist agenda by claiming that it is patriotic. We need to come down on this band of intellectual bandits with all the rhetorical firepower we can muster.

I am referring to the so-called Federalist Society, which is a group of extremely conservative lawyers out to roll back the nation's historic gains in favor of equality. They would throw out the gains we have made in forming a more perfect union -- civil rights, equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, equal athletic opportunity for women as well as for men and a whole host of other achievements. They would squelch the spirit of the American Revolution -- still alive in a government that, in President Lincoln's words, is "of the people, by the people and for the people." It is not an accident that the members of this society are primarily wealthy, white corporate lawyers, since it is precisely this tiny segment of our community that has been so enormously over privileged for so long. The "Federalist Society," and its fundamentalist religious cohorts, tries to protect the status of wealthy white men by selectively citing words written by men of honor who helped found this country.

We need to expose this practice. The members of the "Federalist Society" have creatively used selective editing to cobble together a grossly distorted and inaccurate history in support of what we might call their extreme market vision. In addition, they subscribe to the concept original intent, or "original dogma". In order to avoid the embarrassment of documents that do not agree with their narrow viewpoint, they are forced to twist their meanings with selective editing. In the end, their claims to be unimpeachably founded on the works of Hamilton, Jefferson and Adam Smith do not withstand scrutiny. They are, in fact, illegitimate.

1] Alexander Hamilton was, as J. Ellis puts it in his recent New Yorker essay, not a democrat. He favored centralized government, centralize banks and centralized money - corporations. His position on the necessity of a strong, centralized government has been neatly deleted by the FS editors.

2] Thomas Jefferson disliked, if not despised, Hamilton. Jefferson favored a democracy based on the yeoman farmer [gentry], but he was strongly opposed to centralized government, centralized banks and centralized money. He would be appalled at the Extreme Market philosophy of the New Federalist Society, which, with great selectivity, only mentions Jefferson's admiration for the individual, while editing out his vigorous opposition to their dearest beliefs. Again, the FS distorts Jefferson beyond recognition.

For more on Hamilton & Jefferson, see Joseph J. Ellis' excellent book "Founding Brothers".

3] Adam Smith was a classical liberal who did not trust the concentration of wealth, or remote ownership. He appears to have supported "equal outcomes", feared that factories would dehumanize workers, and supported just about any government action supporting workers against corporations. Further, Smith, as one of the Scottish moral philosophers, believed in the human capacity for cooperation and empathy. The reliance of the Federalist Society on market forces and alleged economic rational choice denies those bases for society.

Reading the selective edits of the Federalist Society, you would never know any of this. The FS version of Adam Smith would not be recognized by the man himself.

Lastly we need to expose how the Supreme Court's action in 1886, which gave full personhood rights to corporations, has lead to the best government that corporate money can buy -- the best government for corporations that is. The pending tax give-aways to corporations in the GOP's so-called economic stimulus package, supported by new bonds to pay for the give-away, is ample evidence of this sad state of affairs. To call these tax cut bond "war bonds" is Orwellian double speak at its most egregious.

Exposing the distorted and false foundations upon which the new Federalist Society bases its claims to legitimacy is but the first step. We must also start building a democratic politics that truly puts people first: A politics that is true to the spirit of the founding principals of our experiment in self-governance. A politics that will recognize not only our founding documents, but also modern extensions such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights. A dynamic and vibrant politics which puts people first on a foundation of self determination, in an environment of free choice, in the context of a mutually shared commons. Thus we will build a politics that is also a politics of accountability and responsibility.

Ideas really matter. So while the fight for the soul of Islam may not be our battle, the fight for the soul of democracy is ours. This is a passionate struggle we cannot lose to the reckless right wing extremists who seek to re-write American history for their narrow and intolerant benefit.

Shumpei Kumon's comments:
I read your essay carefully and with great interest. It is sad to realize that historical religions tend to give birth to various types of "fundamentalism" --a movement to go back to the point of origin--, which is a part of the physiology of civilizations based on such religions but which sometimes goes to the extreme or is accompanied by various types of horrendous mutant, ultra right- or left-fanatics.

On the other hand, I personally know at least two Islamic fundamentalists both of whom teach at a Japanese university and are self-restrained, knowledgeable, gentle, pious, in short, far from being extremists, let alone "terrorists."

So, you have Federalist Society as a typical example of extremists in the United States. Israel has another example. We have Aums who seem to be somewhat different kind of mutants.

I think what is crucial now is for us to be more aware of the "fundamental" values of our own civilization and to be determined to collaborate globally to defend them, though at the same time I admit that there remains many elements in today's "modern civilization" that have to be carefully reexamined and revised.

At this juncture, I feel sorry for Samuel Huntington's classification of civilizations that defines Japan as a lone civilization having little in common with other civilizations. On the contrary, most students of civilizations here in Japan firmly believe that Japan shares most of the fundamental characteristics -- including core values such as rationalism, progressivism, instrumentalism, and liberalism -- of modern civilization with Western nations. It is with this belief that we are determined to collaborate (and fight together) with the United States as well as other modern nations .

Jock Gill's response:
It was wonderful to get your thoughtful comments. I concur with your suggestion that we need to recognize "many elements in today's ‘modern civilization' that have to be carefully reexamined and revised." I would begin with asking if the issue being studied really puts "people first", which is my strong view of what is missing in modern society. For too long we have talked only in the language of the Free Market Extremists. We must rediscover, and re-assert, the primacy of language about the commons and people in order to restore a balance to the relationships between people, commons and markets. We need, after all, all three -- in harmony.

And I heartily agree that Japan has many strong core values that are, indeed, also core to many "Western" value systems as well.

We must look for strong points of agreement first. Then we will see really how small the differences are and where the many areas for cooperation can be anchored. For example, you leave out one striking, mutually shared value: responsibility and accountability, which I might argue is sometimes stronger in Japan than in America. We say the captain goes down with the ship or that the man in charge has to be accountable for everything that happens on his watch. In Japan, as I understand it, it is a matter of honor to end one's life if the error is of a certain degree and quality.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications