Brooke Harrington on Wealth Management

Sociology is a rather sophisticated method of people watching, but much of the content of our Race Ethnicity and Conflict course has, I fear, been concentrated on watching the wrong people. In any study of human conflict an understanding of the life conditions of history’s victims is important, sure, yet if we are to discover useful remedies for the suffering of the world devoting time to the symptoms is a chocolate teapot. This point was raised early in the course when the question was asked, “Who watches the Watchers?” It was only towards the end of our class on Colonialism and Liberal Intervention that methods of resistence were proposed. Resistence! How long must we resist injustice?

Our disorientating sense of hopelessness, very much the mood of our age, is rooted in confusion. We know and feel the symptoms of the sickness, but the causes hide themselves. While these causes remain largely hidden, curing the disease and recovering hope rests in their discovery. It was into this darkness that Brooke Harrington shone a great light for us. Harrington, an associate professor of Economic Sociology at Copenhagen Business School, spent a number of years – as part of her research – training as a wealth manager, the business of helping the wealthy protect their wealth. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Her insights into the financial behaviour of the super-rich became one of the most profoundly depressing moments of my adult life.

That the wealthiest point-one of the one percent now owns a larger cut of global wealth than it did before the 1929 crash is no accident. Wealth accumulation and management has been a long term strategy of the rich since the birth of capitalism. One of the more recent developments of this strategy has been the development of the professional wealth manager, a consigliere to the fantastically rich, charged with the task of protecting and obfuscating their wealth in ways that continually ensure the undisturbed transfer of money from the bottom to the top.

Here Harrington was talking about wealth in the magnitude of nation states, held by individuals and small, well-connected families. This is the sort of paper money that is measured in tonnage rather than dollars which has accrued to itself the power to take flight to tax havens around the globe in the twinkling of an eye; the type of wealth that buys the influence to dictate to states, and to direct their national and international policy – all to the ends of profit irrespective of the needs of human beings. These money holders are the Watchers who must be watched. If an answer to capitalism exists then it is to be found somewhere in an understanding of what these people do. My only problem with Brooke Harrington’s two hour seminar was that it wasn’t five hours.

Link to Lecture Notes

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How Can We Resist the State?

Why is it that all of history’s successful revolutions have ended up in the production of denser bureaucratic nightmares than the states they had sought to replace? We have to hand it to Dr. Finlay, his questions are brilliant. Not for a second am I suggesting here that his answers are any less brilliant; merely that with one of them I happen to disagree. In his consideration of ideas of resistance he, if I am understanding him correctly, adopts the method of refusing the state and advocates an alternative power – rather the power ‘to do’ than power ‘over others.’ With his conclusion I am in perfect agreement: “The state and good governance are not the solution.”

So our endpoint is the same, and all that we differ on is the question of power. Can we refuse the state as power with daily acts of resistance? I think not. Of course we can, but this resistance would be continuous and without end. Our perpetual resistance will exhaust us into submission because power in the bureaucratic state, unlike our individual resistance, is not located in a single person. State power is a renewable energy. Yet we are still confronted with the same problem; that of all revolutions ending in bureaucratic statist nightmares.

While this observation is true, much of it relies on what one considers to be a successful revolution. I’m not sure, insofar as political and social revolutions are concerned, that we have ever witnessed a successful revolution (and by ‘revolution’ here I am speaking only of those whose objective was to overturn the modern bourgeois state). Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” was never realised in the creation of the Soviet Union, and, ultimately, Marx is incapable of imagining a stateless qua power-less fruition of revolution. So long as any revolution is limited to an ideology of the transformation of the state then it is doomed to recreate the state.

The solution, if there is one, can neither be in the endless resistance to the state nor in its takeover. For the week that’s in it I would like to propose a third way – the redemption of the state. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, speaking on the incarnation of God and the salvation of humanity, said “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” Can we apply this then to the revolution, can the state be assumed in order to destroy it? Well of course it can be. Previous revolutions have assumed the state only to continue it. All that is being suggested here is that the state be taken and then dismantled.

Quite unlike the route of perpetual resistance, the redemption of the state has a goal – the end of the state. Mere resistance to the state so far as such resistance does not become a threat to the life of the state will always be to some extent tolerated by the state. Any such resistance that does become a threat to the state will eventually be met with the full force of the state that is the monopoly of violence. Moreover, resistance envisages no end to itself. Only the destruction of the state can guarantee the end of the state when the purpose of the revolution is that end.

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Christian Zionism: The Religiopolitics of Violence

Not for a moment do I accept that religion is the cause of all wars, but only an imbecile would imagine that religious groups do not have the power to ignite one. Religious faith in all its forms throughout human history has manifested itself, as it does even today, as a mighty cultural and political force. The activism of religious people, in their tens of thousands, ended slavery in the United States, put the British out of India, and tore down the structures of Apartheid in South Africa. Misguided, and driven by hatred, religious ideologies have led to the most atrocious oppression, repression, and war. Unlike any other social, political, or economic movement, religious movements have continually shaped history; forming and dismantling kingdoms, peoples, and nations.

As the most influential voting bloc in the most powerful and most aggressive democracy in the world, Christian Zionism is a movement to watch. Its preachers are firebrands matched only by the most fearsome Islamic extremists who advance a prophetic vision of the future – predicted by a distorted and literalistic reading of the Bible – where their ‘saviour’ comes again only after the Jews have returned to Israel and they and every other unbeliever on earth has been obliterated in a nuclear holocaust. Many Jewish people and Zionists, in Israel and around the world, have found in this Christian movement an uncomfortable political expedience – “Israel’s most hate friend.” Jews and Zionists who reject it call it a new form Christian antisemitism, and it is. In August 2006 the leaders of the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches in Jerusalem said:

Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.
~ Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism

Re-presenting apocalyptic biblical texts as a blue print of the future would be a benign expression of obscurantism were it not for the reach and connections of Christian Zionism at the heart of the United States’ political system. Listen to this, admittedly captivating, sermon by Pastor John Hagee, a figure who boasts an audience of some ten million people. His is not a faith in a humiliated messiah, or in the Jesus who taught love, forgiveness, and peace. Instead he preaches a counter-Christ, perhaps an anti-Christ – a superman Jesus of war and vengeance.

In the full version of this address Hagee launches into a tirade against Islam, the Islamic World, and Iran in particular. Not only does he read the modern State of Israel in the Bible, he also reads in it the Islamic Republic of Iran. His hearers are left under no illusions that both Iran and the religion of Islam are agents of hell and the devil in his revenge fantasy theology. What is most frightening is the fact that Hagee and others like him have the ear of Washington foreign policy makers, and numerous Israeli Prime Ministers have courted their favour. With 26% of the US electorate behind them there are few people who would run for public office without seeking their blessing. Nuclear weapons may be fired again in the future, and if they are the nightmare may well be a self-fulfilled prophecy.

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The Fraud of International Human Rights Law

It’s half past nine in the morning and we are listening to a lecture on the universal jurisdiction of states to prosecute certain human rights violations. We are told that the use of torture is so abhorrent to natural justice that in article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) the wording: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” stands without qualification. There are no provisos. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), also without qualification repeats the UDHR verbatim, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000) does the same in article 4 with the addition of article 19 § 2 which, owing to the absolute nature of the ban on torture, forbids the removal, expulsion, or extradition of a person “to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Our lecturer then continues to guide the class on a virtual tour of real life examples where states have exercised or attempted to exercise their right to universal jurisdiction to bring human rights violators to justice. Naturally the tale of the former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet was a feature of the tour. On his visit to London the government of Spain charged him with the crime of torture and issued the United Kingdom with an extradition order. He was granted leave to stay in Britain on some ‘technicality’ that was eventually overturned in the House of Lords. Having run out of other options, and no doubt hoping to avoid being implicated in his crimes, the British government ultimately pardoned him, and he was free from prosecution.

So much for the utter repugnance of torture, I thought. My question as to why the US president Barrack Obama was free to come and go from Ireland was shot down on the grounds that he was “never charged.” This is true. Obama has never been charged with human rights violations even though he, as commander in chief of the US armed forces, has legal and moral responsibility over the now infamous torture sites at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Neither were George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair ever charged with committing acts of torture or other human rights violations. Come to think of it Margaret Thatcher was never charged for committing acts of torture. Surely I’m not alone in seeing a pattern here?

It’s not the fault of the lecturer that I’m thinking that this is all a load of bullshit. He’s a legal professional with experience of human rights practice in the United Nations and an Irish academic. The man has to eat after all, and I have no doubts he does what he does in all sincerity and with a clean conscience, but nothing of this takes away from my own sense of repugnance at a system wherein the mighty are positioned above and beyond the reach of “universal law.” In no way would I suggest that Pinochet and others like him (who have been charged and in some cases convicted) are guiltless. On the contrary, it is only right that they face judgement. Yet a ‘justice system’ that differentiates between the despots of tin-pot republics, who will always be limited in the harm they can do, and the heads of states of the most powerful nations, who have a global scope in the damage they can inflict, is nothing short of a fraud.

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Crossing Swords with Christian Zionism

Challenging Israel is a dangerous thing. The charge of antisemitism, in light of millennia of Christian anti-Judaism, historical European antisemitism, and in the aftermath of the Nazi genocide, if it sticks, has the power to derail careers and reputations in the academic world like no other accusation. Antisemitism is the singular most potent defence at Israel’s disposal and at the disposal of Israel’s supporters against all forms of political and academic criticism levelled against the State of Israel, and it is used liberally. Having said this, antisemitism is real and not all accusations are false. Israel is a serial violator of international law and human rights, and it has accrued more United Nations resolutions against it than any other country. While anti-Semites will leap on any opportunity to attack Israel, it remains true that Israel must be the subject of criticism.

At present I am seriously considering researching a postgraduate dissertation on the role American Evangelical Christian Zionist organisations have in funding and supporting the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Before even this idea came to mind – largely with the help of my academic supervisor – my thoughts on the settlement process, as a criminal and colonially expansionistic Israeli scheme, have already attracted accusations of antisemitism. Some defenders of Israel have gone so far as to suggest that the removal of the settlements would be ethnic cleansing, and have pointed to my thoughts as proof of my support for another Jewish genocide.

One year ago my friend and colleague in the Anglican Church of England, Rev. Stephen Sizer, the author of the 2006 book Christian Zionism: The Roadmap to Armageddon?, was the subject of an episcopal censure unparalleled in the history of his church. Following a complaint from the Board of Deputies of British Jews stating that a post he had made to his Facebook account was “unquestionably anti-Semitic” his ecclesiastical ordinary, the Right Reverend Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford, gave him the simple and brutal choice: Write and speak nothing else about Israel, Zionism, or the Middle East, directly or indirectly, past or present, or leave the church. Sizer’s post was a link to a website questioning Israel’s possible involvement in the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Yes, 9/11 conspiracy is problematic. A quick Google search will bring up thousands of clearly anti-Semitic pages spouting the most chaotic nonsense about Jews and ZOG conspiracies. It’s no secret that the internet is populated by a lot of lunatics, but bearing in mind that the 11 September saga is replete with unanswered questions and grey areas, and the fact that both British and CIA reports reveal that the State of Israel has been the only country to steal nuclear secrets from the United States, there are questions worth asking – and all questions should be asked.

If questioning Zionism is a dangerous task then challenging Christian Zionism, the largest, best funded, and most religio-politically fundamentalist branch of Zionism, is infinitely more perilous. It is all the more dangerous because its influence – advocating the agency of God in Israel’s present history – reaches deep within the Church and to every level of US and British government. As I continue to consider writing on Christian Zionism I would like this to be my ‘if I die’ note. I am neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. Zionism, I am told, is a broad school, and so I’ll clarify that I am against those Zionisms that support Israel’s flouting of international law and human rights. I am against the illegal settlements because they are hurting innocent Palestinians and robbing them of the nation they have every right to defend. I am against the settlements and Israel’s breaches of the terms of the Balfour Declaration, of the Geneva Conventions, and of over sixty UN resolutions because all of this is ultimately bad for the security of Israelis, and indeed the global community.

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