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Rusty Reno Hugs the Chimera

To fill out a bit more from my last post, at First Things, Rusty Reno has sounded off on the whole Tiller incident, proclaiming vehemently that this whole issue is really about the importance of legitimate authority:

It is a moral luxury for modern men and women to discount the tremendous importance of the principle of legitimate authority. Go to a collapsed African country where warlords rule and the raw lust for power dominates. There you will see that that the rule of law is not a narrowly technical or complacently legalistic social good. A legitimate, functioning government is the precondition for civilization. It is the very basis for any successful collective effort to respect life.

Here is the quintessence of how most pro-lifers would respond to what I’ve opined about this incident. At the end of the day, the only way for them to solve the moral rubix cube is to insist that only the state can dispense violence. Moreover, anyone who questions their account of legitimacy is a member of the naive, pompous intelligentsia.

I’ve already critiqued this account of legitimacy, but I want to point out something else in Reno’s quote above. His whole, “Oh yeah, well go to Africa and see how you like it!” line is, frankly absurd. What Reno cites as the consequences of the breakdown of legitimate state authority is, in fact, the culmination of actions taken by the legitimate state authorities that are currently running the world. A principle reason why there are African warlords, Shahs, Ayatollahs, and what have you, is because of how legitimate states like the U.S. and the U.K. have deployed their global power. What we see in Africa is not the breakdown of legitimate authority, but the invisible wreckage that our own “legitimate” juggernaut has wrought.

It seems to me that it is Reno, rather than his derisively-named “modern” critics who are caught in moral incoherence. The powers of legitimacy that he vigorously defends create the very counterexamples he hurls at his potential detractors. In short, this whole line of argument sounds more like ideological spin than anything else.


  1. Matt Shafer wrote:

    Your point about African chaos being the “wreckage” rather than the “breakdown” of legitimate authority is especially insightful. I hope you blog about this some more in future…

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  2. Evan wrote:

    I think your point on circling back to our own influence on Africa is good, but as far as I can see the proper response could simply be that developed countries, too, have a long way to go in establishing legitimate rule that is just. Saying that all of these troubles are the “culmination” of actions taken by legitimate authorities rather than simply their “mistakes” or “sins” or “shortsightedness” seems to lay out a political progress (or regress) narrative that’s a little too convenient for your own solution to the “moral rubix cube” to be very believable.

    “African warlords, Shahs, Ayatollahs and what have you” may very well be the result of globalized U.S./U.K. power, but is it therefore an indictment of coercive state authority in its own right? Or even of the authority of the U.S. and the U.K. in particular? Why couldn’t it just be an indictment of particular failures of justice within a state that has failed to exercise perfect, or even especially good, stewardship of its God-given authority?

    Your argument seems to be, “Some states have screwed up some other states, therefore these screw-ups represent the very culmination of the existence of those states and nullify the legitimacy legitimate authority on a theoretical level, because, you know, they’re bad. And stuff.”

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    I guess I’d have to be convinced that what you want to call oversights and mistakes aren’t part of the DNA of the state as such. Presently, and in light of any serious look at the history of either the U.S. or the U.K., I kinda doubt that point can be substantiated.

    In other words, the argument you’re propounding, which I take to be something like, “Well, all that horrible stuff that happens all the time, and has always happened in the state’s history are just a mistakes and our theoretical notion of ‘the state as such’ is totally acceptable.” Doesn’t hold much water with me. And stuff.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  4. Bobby Grow wrote:


    Have you been reading Illuminati literature ;-)? I would be curious to see how you develop your assertions about the break-down of one gvt. per other gvts. etc.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Is American and European colonial action throughout Africa and other parts of the world something you’re unfamiliar with? It’s not exactly a secret conspiracy theory.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  6. Bobby Grow wrote:

    No, not at all! But the causal connections that you draw between said colonialism and the illegitimacy of these states is suspect to me. How do we know that the “state” of these states is not inherent to something more regional and inherent to themselves? How are we to know that it is a geo-political phenomenon (your version) vs. a more socio/religio issue (like the Taliban for example) that is “causing” the problem? I’m just noting that what you’re asserting is too reductionistic for my two cents.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Evan wrote:

    I’m not intending to make any sort of argument that “our theoretical notion of ‘the state as such’ is totally acceptable.’” I’m not interested in that.

    My point is that such an argument, if it were made, is just as plausible as your argument for solving the “moral rubix cube”. You, in all honesty, lack a birds-eye view to make any really robust statements about a “culmination” that damns state legitimacy in itself. And as you point out, the alternative argument is lacking a very convincing explanation for the historical violence of states.

    One needn’t legitimize the authority of the state, nor delegitimize its violent history. Scripture teaches us both already. I don’t think that a complete theoretical account of the morality of this situation is appropriate either way you want to cut it.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    All I’m saying is pretty simple from a historical point of view. America (legitimate authority) sets up a violent dictator destabilizing a country’s infrastructure. This isn’t legitimate authority “breaking down.” It’s legitimate authority existing by causing this sort of chaos.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Well, I think we’re clearly reading Scripture differently on this, me being a Yoderian and all.

    But, I don’t think one needs a bird’s eye view of anything to make reasonable historical judgments about a historical phenomenon (like the nation-state). And, on that score, I feel that the counter-argument you reference, if made, would be quite an inferior argument, simply from the standpoint of what the nation-state is, historically speaking.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  10. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yes I realize that what you’re saying is “pretty simple;” I suppose what I’m getting at though is that I don’t see the chronology of what you’re saying as necessarily legitimate. In other words, what examples of these kinds of states do you have? Ones that were “stable” existing states prior to “our” positioning an “hypothetical violent dictator?”

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Well, the examples from South America alone could easily be multiplied. As could the examples from the middle east. An African example is Rwanda in which the warring tribes were virtually created by the colonial presence there which “registered” different people as belonging to different “races” on the basis of arbitrary characteristics. There were tribes there beforehand, but the way in which the colonial presence enforced such racial distinctions created the identity politics that led to the genocide. An immediate cause of this was how, when the country was given independence, the minority “race” was given control of virtually all the government.

    That’s just one example. But it’s also important to point out that I don’t need to find some utopian past in the history of Africa to state accurately that the actions of American and European powers have caused certain things to happen. Trying to find ways to say, “Well, it could have happened anyway, because of all these things we don’t know for sure…” sounds, to me like a way to simply try and evade complicity.

    In other words, we don’t have to screw up an idyllic paradise of a country to still go around screwing things up. Just because the world isn’t perfect doesn’t excuse or mitigate the effects of colonial action.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  12. d barber wrote:

    Bobby Grow says: “How do we know that the “state” of these states [African warlords, Shahs, Ayatollahs] is not inherent to something more regional and inherent to themselves?”

    Sounds pretty racist to me.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  13. Kaz wrote:

    Thanks for your original post on the Tiller incident, Halden. And I agree that Reno’s argument about Africa is just absurd. Perhaps we are, as Reno charges, simply “progressively minded elites” who pride ourselves in questioning legitimate authority.

    Why Reno has such a narrow conception of legitimate authority I do not know. I realize it is at this point that his understanding of Romans 13 and Matthew 22 differs from mine–which always seems to be the case in these discussions–but state-sanctioned violence and legitimate authority are not necessarily a natural pair when authority, as with all things, is fully rendered unto God.

    What I found shocking was Reno’s most emphatic conclusion about Tiller’s killer: “He violated the principle of legitimate authority.” So stated, Reno claims this is the greatest evil committed by the man (not outright murder). Violence–albeit state mediated–seems sacrosanct for Reno, even more so than life. That, as you say, is moral incoherence.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  14. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Wow, talk about identity politics. Where did the [brackets and their content come from]? Who’s thinking in racist terms here . . . (if anybody, not me)!

    To be clear, I referenced the impact that ‘false’ belief systems might have upon the “break-down” upon states (which I believe applies to “US” as well); I said socio/religio . . . grow up d barber.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  15. d barber wrote:

    Regarding the brackets — they were the subjects of the debate, brought up by Halden, but they were the presumptive reference.

    It’s the heart of racism to say “in themselves” — what else could that mean? And “regional”? When we’re talking about colonialism.

    Only later do you pose the possibility of socio-religious … but again, what society/religion? The non-Christian? How am i not supposed to read that as the non-white?

    I’m not playing identity politics. I’m not trying to be moralist. I’m just saying, you’re drawing on a discourse of race.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  16. d barber wrote:

    In short, I don’t think this is an issue of “growing up.” It’s a serious challenge/question.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  17. d barber wrote:

    Thinking more on this … what the hell? You didn’t answer my claim, you dismissed me as being childish, needing to “grow up” — so people who talk about race are simply being immature? Is that the argument? Have we all “outgrown” the questions/problems of race?

    And what exactly is the argument against identity politics? I’m not a full advocate, but are you saying that any discussion of race is just identity politics? And we can dismiss identity politics simply by saying the term?

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  18. Evan wrote:

    “in themselves” seemed pretty clearly to be referring to “these states”. I think you’re reading into his words a bit (and by “a bit” I mean “a lot”).

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  19. Geoff wrote:

    Hi Halden,

    I appreciate what you’re saying regarding the circular nature of the breakdown of state authority; I think the push-back you’re getting is related to the fact that your thesis amounts to the condemnation of all states (and/or the very idea of a “legitimate state”), and that makes people wonder: “Well, what then?”

    The crux of the issue seems to be: Given that all states/nations/tribes, if they have the power to do so, will attempt to bend other groups to their will (often at a considerable expense to the “bendee”), how do we move forward with the issue of legitimacy?

    Bobby’s point is related to this, I think — what if the wrecked states would have ended up wrecked regardless? Is it better for our state to do nothing, or to attempt to do something, even if that something is selfishly based on our state’s interests? And if it is NOT possible for a state to act unselfishly (which I would argue is true), then where does that leave us?

    So, WWYS? (What Would Yoder Say? :-P) I’m curious to hear your perspective.



    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  20. d barber -
    While I think you’re right in you’re making a good point about racial discourse, you have to admit that it wasn’t very helpful to quote Bobby Grow and then say that his statement “sounds racist.” This is just as reductionistic as saying something is an exercise in “identity politics” unless you take the time to fill out what you mean in the first place. It gets rid of a lot of unnecessary polemic. Just a helpful blogging tip.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  21. d barber wrote:

    Ok, let me make clear that I’m attaching racism to the statement/thought pattern, not to the person.

    Why racist? Well, when speaking of colonial encounters, I simply do not see how one can try to place the blame on the colonized — not because the colonized are somehow in an edenic state (on the contrary, much colonial discourse merges the edenic with the uncivilized/needing-to-be-colonized), but simply because such non-Western states are unthinkable apart from colonization.

    Furthermore, the fiction that supported colonialism was generated by the suspicion that Grow expresses: what about them? maybe the failure lies with them?

    And honestly, maybe it’s an unconscious slip, but no matter, since I’m talking about the statement: the idea that the problem lies “in them” is a biological discourse, a discourse of racism.

    I could go on, but I don’t want to belabor it — hopefully, in any case, this makes my point less obscure. I still stand by my claim, and would be happy to hear actual reasons as to why it’s unjustified.

    p.s. lest one think I’m being too sensitive … it’s worth remembering that it’s probably impossible for Christianity to be too sensitive when it comes to issues of colonialism/race.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  22. Brad A. wrote:

    Excellent point, Kaz: In Reno’s view, Roeder’s greatest crime was violating the existing (state/”civilization”) order.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  23. Brad A. wrote:

    Sorry to interject, Geogg, and I won’t presume to speak for Halden, but I think one thing Yoder would suggest is that true “legitimacy” requires recognition by the powers that they are only temporal and contingent, participating in a process that will lead to their own defeat. If they can acknowledge that and practice accordingly, then the door is opened to legitimacy. What that means on the ground would depend on the individual case, I suppose.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    Sorry for the typo, Geoff – my index finger got sidetracked…

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  25. Geoff wrote:

    haha… no problem. It made me laugh. I can appreciate Yoder’s suggestion, however I think we can all agree that “the powers” are never going to consent to such a project. I suppose we are to hope they will, and thus hope for their legitimacy, while living in the meantime with a clear recognition of their non-legitimacy. Thanks. I think I’ll go post my own thoughts about this now… ahh, blogging, the ego-boost for the wannabe theologian. :-)

    Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Permalink
  26. Bobby Grow wrote:


    Thank you, yes.

    d barber,

    No, my reference was the “states,” in general. Racist discourse didn’t even have one informing chance in my mind when I wrote that!

    Halden brought up colonialism, I said regional because that’s what I was thinking — in broad terms — I’m not really sure, to be honest, what is mutually exclusive between using the terminology of regional within even the context of speaking on colonialism.

    As far as reading non-Christian as non-White, are you really sure you want to go down that path? Again, who is it that has apparent assumptions that are laced with racist undertones?

    No matter how hard you try to eisogetically read “race” into my little quips above, I’m afraid I still hold the keys to what I intended — and racist narrative just is not there (by the way I’m black [just kidding], but I do know a whole bunch of black guys who I grew up with in the ‘hood’ of Long Beach, CA [this is true] does this exonerate me [hehe]).

    As far as the “grow up” part (from your comment below), I actually only said that because you irked me with your racist accusation; but I do think you need to rethink your presumption upon me, your way off buddy!

    Btw, I’ve never read Yoder; so you’ll have to excuse my naivete and vocab when it comes to such things.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  27. Bobby Grow wrote:

    The thing is, d barber, like I already said; my intention was not to do with race, at all! If you want to have an argument about race with an actual racist, then find a ‘real man’ who thinks in such patterns; not the straw man you have labeled with my name.

    If you look at the syntax and grammar of my original statement, as Evan already underscored, “themselves” was predicated by “these states.” “These states” is an generic/denotative symbol for groupings of peoples who reflect all kinds of color, shapes, and sizes. What is inherent to “these states,” which is what I was getting at, is that they might be “failed” because they may have embraced conceptual frameworks that have led in that direction (not because they are “red and yellow black and white”). And of course then the question becomes what is the standard for determining what is “failed” and what is “successful” relative to a “States” standing in the world?

    d barber said:

    p.s. lest one think I’m being too sensitive … it’s worth remembering that it’s probably impossible for Christianity to be too sensitive when it comes to issues of colonialism/race.

    Couldn’t agree more!

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 12:23 am | Permalink
  28. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Oh, and thanks for the clarification, CTN.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  29. Bobby Grow wrote:


    Thank you for providing those examples. I agree with your point, in fact (on idyllic paradises). I think Geoff, below, might be tapping into a certain tension that I am having with the implications of what you’re saying. Although, fear of complicity, I don’t think (for me), is one of those fears (I Jn 1:10) . . . I know that I am complicit in many things (but that is another discussion).

    I suppose, for me to track further, I would need to know what constitutes an “legitimate” state and an “illegitimate” state in the first place? Are we basing this on economic standing, moral standing, religious standing, etc.? But in fact I think your point is to actually say: none of the above! That all states are illegitimate, which would be being informed by an Christian anarchist perspective, right? If so called legitimacy is derived from creating and managing illegitimate states; then you’re really saying that all states are indeed ‘failed’ (H/T to Geoff below, he clarified these things for me per his question).

    If all of this is true (what I just tried to summarize) then, in general, I can see what you’re getting at. I guess I was just operating under a more “static” understanding of what counts as *legitimate* vs. *illegitimate* (viz. less ‘spiritual’). Within this understanding I was only wanting to highlight the idea that it seems problematic to assume that we could really understand all the “forces” that have caused the shape of the nations in the first place (both in their aorist, perfect, and present tenses). If America has engaged in colonialism (which indeed we have at our very inception as an Nation), then certainly we have sinned. If we continue to engage in this, then indeed we continue to “live in sin.” All I would want to caution (and I think it is what Evan is cautioning, albeit in more sophisticated ways) is that I don’t see, necessarily, America as an imperialistic hegemony seeking to overthrow (through nation building) the world — at least I don’t see this as endemic to “the people.” So all I wanted was more “proof,” that this was the intention of “our State;” but I know that intentions are highly subjective, which makes providing this kind of proof subjective. Maybe I was asking for the impossible, then.

    If anything, Halden, I thank you for providing this provocative line of thought; good one!

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink
  30. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Btw, I don’t agree with Reno’s description/definition of “legitimate states” and thus his view of “legitimate authority.” I see nowhere in Rom. 13 about “authority” being tied to “legitimacy.” But then the question is: whose “side” is God on (tongue-in-cheek), anyway? It seems that “moral authority” cannot be derivative from said states legitimacy (per Reno); but instead “moral authority” must ultimately reside in God’s directive (freely flowing from His life) and principles. It is those “States” who operate under the rubric of such mores, that any talk of “moral authority” could be framed. Nevertheless, I don’t see anywhere in Rom. 13 where “moral authority” (contextually) is under consideration; instead it seems to be speaking to what constitutes the ese of any State; and thus the “authority” with which it operates (and that must come from God’s mercy). Whether or not that authority, as I already alluded to, is “moral,” must be a question of a different context.

    So in other words, I would want to argue, contra Reno, that “his” African state just may have more “moral authority” than his (presumed) American state; simply because (hypothetically speaking) the “African” state may be operating from principles that are actually “moral.”

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  31. Charlie Collier wrote:

    I haven’t read all these comments closely, so maybe someone has already said this, but Reno would appear to owe us an account of the American Revolutionary War. It’s interesting that, in a time like this, FirstThingers will fall back on a principle of authority that actually undercuts the particular authority to which they’re appealing. I just wish they’d come out and say it—America’s founding is as problematic as the murder of Dr. Tiller. But I suppose that would throw a monkey wrench in the whole operation. . . .

    Also, I’ve been reading the “It’s so Personal” vignettes that Andrew Sullivan has been posting over at The Daily Dish. They have not changed my mind about the problematic nature of abortion, but the stories definitely challenge the simplistic reduction of each and every abortion to some sort of premeditated first-degree murder. This would seem to be a problem with the abstract debates around when life begins—this way of determining the moral question loses contact with the specificity of the decisions women (and men!) are making when they choose (or choose not) to abort. In a court of law, there’s a great deal of difference between manslaughter and murder, between first and second degree murder, etc., and rightly so. Yet the rhetoric of hard-core pro-lifers depends very much on denying these distinctions when it comes to abortions. Tell me there is no difference between a couple who terminates a pregnancy so that they can keep their plans to go hiking in Europe, and the husband and wife who decide to abort because they cannot bear the grief of watching another seriously malformed baby live only a few hours before dying a certain death. I might well still believe that, in the latter case, the Christian thing to do is to suffer the greater loss and resist the temptation to abort. But I will not equate these two abortions and tar both sets of parents with the label “murderers”.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  32. Brad A. wrote:

    For the most part, I think you’re right. But the powers aren’t just the big and major ones; there are small powers, too, and we can hope for more with them, perhaps. In any event, that is part of the mission of the church, to manifest “legitimacy” in such a way that the powers are exposed as illegitimate by comparison.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  33. Halden wrote:

    I had the same experience reading Sullivan’s posts. Attention to the details is what makes this, like any issue truly real.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  34. Evan wrote:

    Another thing worth mentioning is that Reno is primarily concerned with “rule of law” while Halden here is more concerned with a basic legitimacy of the state. While Reno uses language of “legitimacy”, I don’t think it necessarily implies anything as basic as Halden talks about here… some very bad political situations can still be considered under the “rule of law”, and are “legitimate” as far as that goes. Whether that is supposed to mean that the work of those states is acceptable to God or in the domain of the principalities is another question, and I’m not entirely sure whether this is what Reno is concerned with when he talks about “legitimacy”.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  35. Evan wrote:

    …and that in itself could damn him in the eyes of certain political theologies, but I think the distinction is worth making, so we at least understand what we’re disagreeing about.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  36. Nick wrote:

    I’m not sure I agree with that reading of Romans 13. If there is nothing about “legitimacy” in chapter 13′s discussion of God-given “authority,” what are we to make of 13.3: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” In many, many cases that are obvious to all of us, this is patently untrue if “ruler” in this verse is referring to any governmental leader regardless of his or her moral legitimacy. In other words, a tyrant like Hitler was a terror to good conduct, and often rewarded bad conduct.

    The only way this part of the chapter makes sense is if a true “ruler,” and thus true “authority” “instituted by God,” possesses some kind of moral legitimacy, from which it can lapse. Otherwise, what are we to make of the Hebrew prophetic tradition?

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  37. Charlie wrote:

    It seems profoundly problematic to suggest that the phrase “these states,” when it refers to states built by Western colonial powers, is a “generic/denotative symbol for groupings of peoples who reflect all kinds of color, shapes, and sizes.” The states of which Halden (as I understand him) spoke were designed in accordance with ideologies that were racist to the core–violently, savagely racist. We can’t overlook these roots. We can’t claim that the states in question, though they emerged from colonialism, do not predicate racism. No state–certainly not, for example, Rwanda–can just embrace whatever “conceptual framework” appeals to it. To speak of the state as though it can be conceived apart from its genesis in the genocidal project of Western imperialism, as though it and its citizens were not caught in the grip of a racism so profound that it continues to affect the state’s functioning on the most basic level, is, in fact, racist. Even though it doesn’t quite sound that way at first read.

    The notion of genocide condoned (and necessitated) by “legitimate authority” is obviously crucial to the study of colonialism and the way in which the nation-state operates. Genocide (according to the pro-life position) infiltrates colonial culture as far as the moment of conception, and those who recognize it are those compelled, by their own logic, to permit it.

    Friday, June 5, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  38. Dave Belcher wrote:

    It utterly astounds me how quickly and defensively Dan’s challenge was dismissed here…and might I submit that this identification of “identity politics” (which seems to have entered theological discourse via Badiou’s Ethics, an extremely problematic source for this discussion if you ask me) with race — as Dan has suggested — is not only utterly inane, it is utterly insane (hysterical, in Lacan’s/Zizek’s sense). This seems to be one of those classic examples of not being able to tell the difference between ad hominem and a genuine call for conversation/dialogue/debate.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  39. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I think if that was really d barber’s intention, then he should’ve avoided calling someone an racist. If he was genuinely seeking to discuss “race” (which is an legitimate discussion) there are more tactful ways to go about it!

    And to be honest I could care less about Badiou’s Ethics or Lacan’s/Zizek’s “senses;” not because what they say isn’t pertinent (necessarily), but because I really have no idea who they are (except that Zizek is an popular atheist).

    d barber’s “labeling” is classic ad hominen . . . there is no confusion here, Dave!

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  40. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Bobby Grow:

    There is a distinct difference between saying that a certain linguistic or theoretical move is logically or inherently racist, and calling someone a “racist.” It does not appear to me that d barber has directly called anyone a racist. He was simply suggesting that the statement made sounded racist, and then went on in subsequent comments (along with Charlie Collier) to demonstrate the inherently racist underpinnings of the statement as logically conceived.

    The burden is now upon you not to dismiss d barber’s statement as ad hominem attack but rather to take seriously and to rebut the challenge that he and Charlie have well-articulated as to the racist logic at work. To insist that you don’t have to because you perceive d barber as having called you a “racist” (which he did not) is to shirk that burden and is an evasion of that challenge.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  41. Bobby Grow wrote:

    @ Nate,

    What if what I said was just a result of communicating in sloppy ways — which it was — don’t you think it would’ve been more prudent for d barber to make sure that that was what I was intending? And then maybe allowing me the chance to try and rephrase (with more clarity) what I was trying to communicate?

    I’ll admit it, I did become “defensive” . . . since, though, I was the one apparently espousing (and thus speaking out of) and theoretical/lingusitic framework that is racist; then where would you draw the distinction between the objective/subjective aspects — so that what you’re saying is distinct is actually distinct?

    I’m not trying to avoid anything, Nate; the reality is, is that I’m probably not prepared to discuss these things at the “level” appropriate to these complex issues. That does not mean I don’t have justified beliefs here, it’s just an admission that I might not know how to “justify” them — yet.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink
  42. Bobby Grow wrote:

    @ Nate,

    So maybe what I’m saying is that I need more time to process and then formulate responses to at least Charlie’s critique of what I first said. I do sense some sort of moral incumbency to respond to the substance of any kind of critique of what I said; but I want to make sure that there is a genuine reciprocity present before I commit to an serious response (which means time, which is precious). And the sense I originally perceived from d barber’s first comment didn’t seem to be all that genuine . . . but maybe I’m just too sensitive (but then again others seemed able to pick up on the sense of what I was trying to get at).

    And if I didn’t necessarily agree with Halden’s points in the first place, and Charlie assumed those points (in his critique of what I said); then why should I feel compelled to defend “my racist” logic under those conditions?

    My points originally were trying to get at the apparent politics of victimization that I perceived at work in Halden’s original post; and that is what I was getting at, it had nothing to do with “race” (per se). What I was trying to articulate is that, so called illegitimate States actually just may bear some responsibility themselves (for a multitude of complex reasons, race not being one of those). That’s it, Nate!

    I’m just not willing to submit to the reframing of what I said at d barber, Charlie’s, your’s or anybodies whim; just because it makes it easier for you all to “deal” with me. Give me a chance to clarify, before you caricature me; and then maybe an actual debate could’ve occurred (well maybe, this is a blog after all).


    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  43. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Bobby Grow:

    Fair enough. It does appear to me, however, that d barber and then certainly Charlie in his post above have articulated well why your generic use of the phrase “these states” as such is not so obviously benign as you have suggested, and that the continued insistence to the contrary is part of the racist problematic that is the Western legacy.

    I am just interested in how you respond to that challenge. I really am not trying to caricature you here. I do not think that anyone is. I just think that we are trying to probe the logical underpinning and assumptions underlying the statement. I also understands the limits of the blog format. I understand your frustration as well. I was just simply trying to reiterate Dave Belcher’s call for genuine conversation and debate, rather than evasion of such debate on the basis of accusuations of ad hominem attack. It was not my intent to perpetuate such accusations and attack, but to suggest that in this case I really do think they are perceived rather than real. And that those perceptions seem to continue to obscure the critical issues at stake here.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  44. Bobby Grow wrote:


    There is no doubt that racism (egoism/geoism) is at play in the stratification of “power” in the world; I would not deny that, at all. I am not sure how what I said is any different than what Evan said here (sorry Evan ;-):

    “African warlords, Shahs, Ayatollahs and what have you” may very well be the result of globalized U.S./U.K. power, but is it therefore an indictment of coercive state authority in its own right? Or even of the authority of the U.S. and the U.K. in particular? Why couldn’t it just be an indictment of particular failures of justice within a state that has failed to exercise perfect, or even especially good, stewardship of its God-given authority?

    Now, Evan carefully qualifies what he said (what I have emboldened); but my intention was really never to say anything different than what Evan was getting at (his unemboldened section from above seems pretty consonant with exactly what I was after). Like I said, what I said was sloppy and not as careful as it should’ve been; but to imbue some “unrealized” (on my part) racist-logic as the informing apparatus through which I think is certainly troubling to me . . . and it should be, if it was a sound reading off of what I had truly intended (but it is not).

    Like I said to Halden, above, I do have more to think about here; so thanks for the engagement.


    P.S. Your book is quite good (although it hurts my head to read at points ;-)

    Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink
  45. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Thanks for the clarification. My original posting was only meant as an intervention of sorts, so as not to allow the perceived attacks upon you to mitigate against the real challenges being posed. Clearly, you are aware of those challenges and their realities, and are thinking through them. That, I think, is all that Dave Belcher was calling for.

    And thank you for your kind words about my book. I do hope that you find it helpful. And I am sorry about your head.

    Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 2:32 am | Permalink

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