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Bush said that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman “understood that the sacrifices of Allied forces would mean nothing unless we used our victory to help the Japanese people transform their nation from tyranny to freedom.”
“There were many doubters,” Bush said. “American and Japanese experts claimed that the Japanese weren’t ready for democracy.” ~The Los Angeles Times
There may very well have been those who doubted that the Japanese were “ready for democracy,” but these were probably the poorly educated ancestors of the same ignoramuses who now believe that Iraq is Japan redux. Anyone familiar with pre-war Japanese politics in the 1940s and anyone today familiar with Japanese history would know that the Japanese had a moderately successful experience with constitutional monarchy combined with significant representative government starting from the adoption of the Meiji Constitution in 1890 until at least the mid 1920s when the army effectively took much of the real power in the early Showa period (the Diet remained in existence, however, even if its influence was much reduced). That is over thirty years more of experience than any Iraqi has ever had.
Those only familiar with History Channel replays of the same ten film reels of Hirohito in uniform riding on his horse might make the mistake of thinking that there was only authoritarianism in Japanese political history. This is not to pretend that the Japanese experience with representative government was ideal or necessarily even very well adapted to Japanese society, but the Japanese did have ongoing practical experience with it for over a generation (much as the Germans had enjoyed for even longer) before wartime measures reduced the Diet to a rubber-stamp assembly. When the war ended and the Japanese (probably one of the most ethnically and culturally homogenous nations in the history of the world) were keen to rebuild their country and did not have some deep abiding cultural resistance to the forms of government we were demanding of them–they had seen them all before and had used them in some form.
Obviously, nothing remotely comparable happened in Iraq’s eighty years as a highly artificial, heterogenous, fractured state. Everything that made the Japanese post-war government a success (though one might ask whether there has been anything like real representative democracy in a country where the same party has ruled almost uninterruptedly for 60 years) is lacking in Iraq. All signs point to failure. When will Bush get it?
By implication, if Bush believes that our soldiers’ deaths in WWII would have been “meaningless” had democracy not taken root in Japan he also believes that our soldiers’ deaths in Iraq are meaningless if the political system does not succeed there. If we can be reasonably sure of the failure of the political project, as I believe we can, can we then admit that it has all been a colossal, horrific waste of life and bring our soldiers home?
President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country’s vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.
The president, standing against a backdrop of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy’s fleet, said terrorists would be denied their goal of making Iraq a base from which to recruit followers, train them, and finance attacks. ~The Boston Globe
This has to take first prize for the most pathetic excuse-making Mr. Bush has thrown at us yet. Let us suppose that we were out of Iraq tomorrow–what then? Does any serious person believe that the oil fields, deep in secular Kurdish and Shi’ite-controlled territories, will fall into the hands of fanatical Sunnis? Is Zarqawi likely to get into the oil business when Sunni insurgents are more concerned to blow up pipelines, as the oil fields are firmly in the hands of non-Sunnis? Will Bin Laden somehow magically receive revenues from Iraqi oil when Sunni politicians in Iraq today are unable to gain sufficient control over the proceeds from the oil fields, because the other communities control them, such that they are hostile to the new constitutional settlement? Will Sistani start funneling cash to al-Qaeda? Does Bush take the public for complete fools?
None of these things listed above will substantially change if we leave. The bogey of al-Qaeda controlling Iraqi oil is as bogus and absurd as the earlier bogey of Hussein aiding al-Qaeda–Bush has no trouble spinning whatever yarn will suit the moment! The exclusion of the Sunnis from control of the oil will likely be exacerbated once we leave, as the people in control of the oil fields will feel little pressure and have no incentive to share those revenues. In fact, ironically, our continued presence affords the best chance the Sunnis have to gain any concessions, as the Sunnis have no leverage with the Kurdish-Shi’ite coalition arrayed against them. Mr. Bush’s latest excuse is beyond pathetic, in fact, and reveals a new level of desperation in the administration that only confirms that we should stop wasting our soldiers in this fruitless war and bring them home.
Ray Nagin, the mayor of devastated New Orleans, said Wednesday he fears thousands of residents may have been killed by Hurricane Katrina. ~USA Today
Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisianna, called on the city of New Orleans to evacuate as waters continued to rise. “We absolutely must evacuate the people in the dome and other shelters in the city,'’ said on CNN. “It’s a logistical nightmare.”
The US military on Wednesday added Navy ships, including two helicopter assault vessels and the hospital ship Comfort, and search troops to a relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. ~MSN Money
What can one say when such natural devastation so utterly wrecks a region? James Kushner on the Touchstone Mere Comments site has a very thoughtful response to the disaster, recalling those most needful things for all of us: prayer and repentance. We may recall the words of St. Isaac: “This life is given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.” May the Lord deliver His servants from all wrath, tribulation, danger and necessity. May He grant rest to the souls of His servants who have fallen asleep.
Though I imagine this appeal will be redundant, I would strongly encourage everyone to lend support to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in whatever way possible. Beyond the appeal of basic charity, and even if it is not your region or locale, it is still our country and those are our people suffering from these floods and the hurricane damage. We cannot pretend to share in the suffering of people thousands of miles away, and we should not really try, but we can lend some practical and much-needed aid. For finanical donations, I can recommend Mercy Corps as a reputable and reputedly very efficient charitable organisation.
In further comparison to the wars of the past, our casualties in the Iraq war seem even smaller still. In a single day during a single batter (the battle of the Bulge) in World War II, it is estimated that over 5,000 U. S. soldiers died. Throughout the course of World War II, the greatest generation watched as hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest were forcibly drafted into a war to stop a madman who was terrorizing a far away continent, and further as over a hundred thousand of them died over a four year period. Even the widely disparaged Vietnam generation tolerated several years of forced enlistment, and much higher casualty rates without the benefit of an alternative media before becoming utterly war weary.
Our generation, on the other hand, in becoming weary of a war not yet three years old, fought by an army composed entirely of volunteers, in which we are suffering an average of two deaths per day, has demonstrated itself to be the most spineless and weak-kneed generation in recent American history. It is expected, given the way that post-invasion events have unfolded, to find a number of Americans disagreeing with our entrance in the war in the first place. It is unexcusable, on the other hand, to find the growing number of Americans who are now advocating immediate withdrawal, regardless of the future consequences upon the strength of our bargaining posture. This is nothing more than war weariness, and we have not yet earned the right as a generation to be weary of this war.
Part of the issue here, regrettably comes down to our President. It is true we should not have to be handheld through this conflict. However, it is equally true that we have demonstrated that we must have our hands held, if we are willing to stay the course. I have a sense that our generation is ready for more greatness and resolve that it has currently shown. However, we must be dragged, kicking and screaming, if we are to achieve it. The President should realize this. It is not difficult to perceive how many have forgotten the importance of this war, the other reasons besides WMDs that we fought it, and the disastrous consequences of demonstrating to your enemy that you can be defeated by constant irritation. These fears can be allayed by a constant and determined communicator. It is not that this President cannot be that communicator. It is rather that he will not. ~Macho Nachos (no, really, that is the name)
Hat tip to Michael Dougherty.
War supporters have an impressive knack for whining about what they regard as other people’s whining. Chief among the favourite things to whine about is the “lack of resolve” motif: why are Americans getting so pitifully spineless and weak over Iraq? After all, most of the completely unnecessary and unjustifiable violent deaths have been non-American, and there have been relatively few American deaths in a completely futile war! So lighten up, America. Many of your sons have died for nothing, but not all that many.
War supporters should feel very lucky that their boondoggle has not seen many more Americans get killed, or they might find themselves being chased through the streets by enraged mobs. But, happily, I doubt Americans would respond in that way, because unlike M. Nachos I don’t have contempt for the character of the people the moment they begin to disagree with me. I have little or no confidence in the competence of “the people” to govern themselves now, or probably at any other time, but this has been and will be true regardless of their judgements about particular issues. I do question the ability of most of “the people” to make informed, rational decisions with concern for consequences beyond next week, but I do not believe that Americans, even of this exceedingly spoiled, self-involved and fatuous generation, are the sort to fall apart only because a couple thousand soldiers are killed in a war overseas to which they have to contribute nothing.
Americans became disillusioned with our other recent deceitful war of aggression, namely Kosovo, even faster, and no Americans died in combat there. They were disillusioned with it because it seemed, even to the official purveyors of the pro-KLA propaganda in the news media, that intervention had made things worse and had wasted military resources for no good reason. (The public might have been more disgusted had it understood the depth of the deceit, double-dealing and enabling of Islamists involved in that particular intervention.) Many Americans rapidly became disgusted with the fruits of the Spanish War, especially the particularly dirty counterinsurgency in the Philippines, to which our present war in Iraq has some clear resemblance.
The counterinsurgency in the Philippines took many more American and Filipino lives all together than have been lost between March 2003 and now in Iraq, but by comparison with the recent American experience in the War of Secession these losses were miniscule. It was not the casualties that drove people to become Anti-Imperialists and war critics, just as it is not casualties as such that are driving down Bush’s poll numbers and the support for the war. It is the growing awareness that Bush has no clue what he is doing and that our soldiers are dying for nothing. For most normal Americans, that realisation will ruin all enthusiasm for any war. Disgust with crushing the Filipinos was a product of Americans rejecting the transformation of what had been a war of retaliation for the supposed Spanish destruction of the Maine into first a war of liberation and then a war of annexation and colonialism. Today Americans probably feel that our “liberation” work is done, and we couldn’t leave soon enough. That is not the weakness of this generation, corrupt as our generation may be in many other ways, but a common sense recognition that, whatever the merits or flaws of the war in the first place, there is no point to it any longer.
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A fastidious editor of other people’s copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words “Until about the time of the Civil War.” Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words “Civil War” and replaced them with “War Between the States.”
The handwritten document is one of tens of thousands of pages of Roberts files released over the past several weeks from his 1982-1986 tenure as an associate counsel to the president.
While it is true that the Civil War is also known as the War Between the States, the Encyclopedia Americana notes that the term is used mainly by southerners. Sam McSeveney, a history professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University who specialized in the Civil War, said that Roberts’s choice of words was significant.
“Many people who are sympathetic to the Confederate position are more comfortable with the idea of a ‘War Between the States,’ ” McSeveney explained. “People opposed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s would undoubtedly be more comfortable with the words he chose.” ~The Washington Post
If this truly lame eleventh-hour attack is any indication of the how little the leftists have to use against him, John Roberts can rest assured that his confirmation will go very smoothly. Two things to take away from this non-controversy: Roberts is at least remotely historically literate and the editors and reporters at the Post are not (no surprise about the latter). Those who “prefer” to call the war of 1861-65 the War Between the States are at least a bit closer to the truth of the matter than those who call it the Civil War, but even the former phrase is something of a fudge of the historical issue. But it need not say anything about one’s political alignment or views of historical events–the usage of one name or another is simply a measure of minimal literacy or the lack thereof. Those who refer it to it as the War Between the States grasp, however vaguely, the federal nature of the original Union and the meaning of words, while those who insist on Civil War are either politically motivated or illiterate and ignorant or all of the above.
As many of us already know and have heard repeated ad nauseam, a civil war is, properly speaking, a war for control of a state or government: the wars between Marius and Sulla or among the triumvirs that ultimately ended the Republic were civil wars. The stasis in the Greek polis was a civil war. Wars of secession (which the American wars of 1861-65 and 1775-83 were) are wars with the objective of separating one or more polities from an existing polity. It is as close to being the opposite of a civil war as a war can be. The Dutch wars with the Spanish would fall into this category. The French, God bless them, are more accurate in their description of our own War of Secession, which they call precisely that. Perhaps they are still somewhat concerned to use language accurately.
“The Civil War” as a phrase describing our Iliad, as it is sometimes melodramatically called, makes an implicitly Unionist (and historically false) claim about the nature of the Republic and the war, as if “the Union” was really imperiled by the free exercise of state sovereignty, when, of course, a Union of that sort only existed because of the free alliance of several states in common cause. As someone very wise once noted (I believe it was probably Thomas DiLorenzo), the incorrectly-named Unionists did not save the Union, but ensured that the political arrangement of a union of states was no longer possible, North or South.
Calling the war a War Between the States rather muddles the issue, since neither Northern nor Southern states as such initially started the war (Northern politicians and Northern interests, yes, but we can hardly pin it on, say, Ohio and Pennsylvania), and “the states” were organised into two very clear and coherent sides representing dueling visions of American politics. War Between the States is a diplomatic way that Southerners could continue to express a basic truth about the war (the central, overriding and essential part played by states’ rights and self-determination in the Confederate cause) without having to utter the false name Civil War. In truth, the only resemblance between our experience and that of Rome after her civil wars was the onset of autocracy and the death of the Republic, so there is little reason why any literate person with a minimal knowledge of American history should refer to the war in this way, except perhaps as conventional shorthand for uninformed audiences whom the speaker is seeking to educate in the erroneous nature of that label. If we should not more properly call it the War of Secession or the War of Southern Independence (or, as real old Southerners used to call it rather appropriately, the War of Northern Aggression), we might call it the War of Consolidation or, as Dr. Wilson recently put it in the September issue of Chronicles, the War Against Southern Independence.
President Bush’s remark the other day that the theory of ‘intelligent design’ should be taught alongside the theory of evolution brought howls of derision from his detractors in Europe and the United States. It was, they said, one more piece of evidence that America is populated by fundamentalist zombies who are potentially as dangerous as bin Laden’s boys. Intelligent design, it goes without saying, is a boneheaded piece of pseudo-science, almost as simplistic as the naive materialism that Darwinists teach. But neither side of the argument cares about logic, much less truth. The important thing is to declare which side you are on: religious fanaticism or cosmopolitan anti-religious fanaticism. ~Thomas Fleming, The Spectator (registration required)
As near as I have been able to discern, the idea of intelligent design is a half-hearted attempt to oppose materialist evolutionists’ claim that life develops randomly. The notion, which I imagine is less scientific and more popular, that life evolves by a sort of ‘trial and error’ also offends ID folks, as this does not seem to account for the complexity of biological structures. The eye is a favourite example of a structure too complex to have developed by random mutation. It is this randomness, and the lack of purpose implied in that, that seems to motivate people to espouse ID and claim that it is science. I can understand the impatience biologists might be having with this claim, which does not purport to say anything new about evolution except that it is not random (ultimately as speculative as saying that it is random until demonstrated) and must be able to take account of the complex structures in nature. ID does not help the theory of evolution take account of this complexity–it just says that there is complexity and biologists ought to acknowledge that (incidentally, I think they already have). What ID will never be, in spite of what I imagine some religious people hope that it will be, is some way to discredit biological evolution as a concept, since ID is little else than the acceptance of the theory of evolution with some philosophical icing on top.
These debates are not fundamentally about biological or physical theories, which is what they would have to be for them to be scientific debates–they are about the philosophical significance materialists and anti-materialists attach to empirical observations. Many people are offended by evolutionists because they insist that the theory of evolution somehow demonstrates that man is simply material, mutable and therefore possesses both no inherent nature and no particular purpose; some other evolutionists would tell us that it shows we are not created beings. But the theory does not even purport to claim this, because these are claims that are no more scientifically verifiable than ID claims about the Designer; obviously, natural sciences cannot answer metaphysical questions. Theories of evolution need not trump any claims about human dignity or the createdness of man and the universe, because they can no more demonstrate for or against these things than ID supporters can actually ‘prove’ God’s existence (scientific proof of such a thing not necessarily being desirable in the first place), unless we make the mistake of allowing philosophical materialist claims about biological development to define our understanding of evolution. Were we all better educated, we would see the problem with calling this science immediately and ID would cease to exist as a “movement” and return to what it is: a commonplace in patristic thought that is fundamentally a philosophical claim that the universe is well-ordered (an idea reflected in our word cosmos).
The Fathers’ writings are littered with arguments about the order and unity of the natural world as a mark of its creation by the One God and, thus, a sort of ‘proof’ that God exists and is one (some later theologians attempted to likewise perceive Trinitarian ‘traces’ in the natural and human worlds, which was perhaps a bit too ingenious by half), and it is obvious that they believe that the world has been crafted by a Mind with a specific purpose (i.e., to bring all things into communion with God). But there is a difference between endorsing what the Fathers wrote when they were making observations about human physiology and relating them to the doctrine of the soul and saying that what the Fathers wrote is an example of hard science. We would not soon expect to see anyone insisting that biology classes teach St. Gregory of Nyssa’s ideas on the relationship between the body’s organs and the soul, because the appropriate place for that would be in a theology class (perhaps what ID activists might do is seek to have schools provide some proper education in theology and philosophy, which is what they are really arguing about, rather than insist on pushing this idea on science classes).
Another side of ID is its cosmological claim of the intelligent design of the universe. That is to say, they might be perfectly willing to accept the ‘Big Bang’, but simply posit that an Agent caused it, which is again a basic logical claim about causality (all effects must have some first Cause to avoid infinite regression) and not a scientific observation, and that the Agent also directed how the ‘Bang’ turned out because, if the Agent had not, things would be different than they are in a most unfortunate way for us (e.g., we would not be here, because the Earth might have ‘randomly’ formed too close to or too far from the Sun, making the planet uninhabitable). The anthropic principle has a certain ring to it, until one realises that it is simply a bit of a rhetorical game: Earth is habitable, if might not be if things were different, ergo because things are not different and we are able to live here, it must be because Someone wanted us to be here. That is again a theological conclusion, not a scientific hypothesis.
Perhaps if physicists engaged in less rhetoric about understanding life, the universe and everything fewer people would be confused into thinking that physics, or any other kind of science, can provide the answers to the serious things of life. Science measures, describes and records the workings of nature–it does not tell us anything about the meaning of those workings. ID is the misguided effort of trying to find meaning in natural processes, which makes it a sort of recycled Pythagorean sect.
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For instance, and this is a hat tip to Josh, an article at LewRocwell.com calls the neocons theory “childish.” Of course, this is just an insult when one can’t interat with the facts, at least the way the opponent sees them. It only takes three paragraphs for the seething hatred of Bush to emerge. He writes that either the Bush administration knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, or were dumb enough to believe it. This is what we philosophers call a false dichotomy: giving an either/or option when a third option may exist. In this case, the third option does exist: everyone, and I mean everyone, took it for granted that Hussein had WMDs. Remember, he gassed the Kurds. So one wonders who is truly stupid. Hindsight doesn’t make one smarter, but overusing it makes one stupid. ~Michael, Law on Blog
Hat tip Josh at Musings of a Reformed Catholic.
The article to which Michael was referring was from Charley Reese (not that one could have linked to it from Michael’s post). Frankly, I thought Mr. Reese was being rather diplomatic in calling the neocons’ theory childish–this allows that the neocons are simply naive and uninformed, and not nearly so malevolent and fanatical as they might well be. If Mr. Reese occasionally writes dyspeptically, I can hardly blame him, especially when I sometimes fall into the same habit. Mr. Reese is, after all, a patriot and constitutionalist who sees his country being abused and manipulated by a truly mediocre and incompetent administration to engage in a useless and unnecessary (and, yes, unconstitutional) war. Even if the theory were not “childish,” the entire enterprise would have been a colossal waste of time, because even if the “childish” theory succeeds America will likely be worse off. If that does not raise someone’s hackles at least a little, I imagine he hasn’t been paying close enough attention.
We are familiar with the “childish” theory: a successful democracy in Iraq will cause similar developments to blossom forth across the “Middle East” like a thousand flowers. The assumption of the theory was that it would be very simple and straightforward, because we had done it before in Germany and Japan. Here historical ignorance and neocon fatuity were strongly represented, since they should have known that the two “precedents” they were citing were in no way comparable or apt. There is a sense in which the theory was not “childish,” as the word childish suggests either innocence or mischief, and this theory was far too dangerous to be described so gently. The theory was very simply ignorant and based on a raft of faulty assumptions, not least of which was that any invading force can remake the politics of a country on a model that has no precedent in the history of that country.
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Conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, insist that the founders of the republic were all pious Christians. In fact, few of the men who led the revolution or drafted the constitution could be described as pious or even orthodox. Washington was an ordinary Anglican, which even in the 18th century meant very little, while John Adams was a Unitarian, Jefferson a mildly anti-Christian deist, and Ben Franklin a sceptical freemason as well as a rake. America —alas, it is all too true — has been swept periodically by revivals and cult crazes. Many of the cultists went west and ended up in California, the last stop of the rootless and disaffected before falling into the Pacific.
I have lived 60 years in the United States, the first 25 of them as an atheist, the last 35 as an increasingly reactionary Christian. I have never witnessed the great piety and deep spirituality which I have heard described in 4 July addresses and in semi-scholarly tomes on American religion. We are a practical people, above all else, and, as I have heard repeatedly from business and political leaders, religion makes good sense: the man who goes to church also goes to work, takes care of his family, pays his taxes. This is religiosity, not Christianity.
For American Christians, what they say they believe does not always translate into concrete actions or even into support for Christian moral positions. They complain, occasionally, about the prohibition of prayer in school and resent media attacks on religion, but they seem unaffected by the pervasive blasphemy of television commercials and by the barbaric post-Christian morality of everyday life in these United States.
The United States was never a ‘Christian country’ in a confessional sense, though it was once a nation of mostly Christians. Today, it is a nation with a weak-kneed Christian majority that elects, year after year, an actively anti-Christian political class that encourages divorce, protects abortion and pornography, and banishes prayer and Christian symbols from public places. Republican leaders, it is true, pander to their Christian constituents, but they have never and will never lift a finger to advance the cause of Christian morality, much less Christian faith.
Most Americans say they ‘believe in God’, and Americans do attend religious services more frequently than Europeans, or at least they tell pollsters they do, though when the numbers of an ABC poll are broken down, weekly churchgoers tend to be women, Southern, Republican, and old. In western Europe, far fewer people go to church or profess any religious faith, but, from what I have seen, observant Catholics in Italy and France are a good deal more serious than their counterparts here in the land of ‘In God We Trust’.
To compare apples with apples, the most prominent conservative Catholics in the United States are the so-called neoconservatives. They are indifferent or hostile to the traditional liturgy, defend the discovery of democratic capitalism as an event of ‘incarnational significance’ (Michael Novak), and have routinely defended US foreign policy against explicit statements of John Paul II. Catholic neoconservatives represent the triumph of ‘Americanism’ in the Church. They are more Republican than Catholic, more loyal to George Bush than to any Pope. In secular, anti-Catholic France, a Catholic has to be resolute, even courageous; in America, he just goes with the flow. ~Thomas Fleming, The Spectator (registration required)
Dr. Fleming should be congratulated on this incisive and unflinching demystification of the idea of the “Christian country” that continues to blind Christians in America to the errors to which they acquiesce on account of their priorities as Americans. In fact, the sooner Christians learn to discern and keep distinct the different kinds of participation and loyalty that they owe to the Church on the one hand and their country on the other the better it will be for the quality of their religious life and perhaps for the quality of our civic life. Recognising that the Enlightenment and Christianity do not really happily coexist side-by-side in this country, pace First Things, Christians might learn to throw overboard a host of liberal notions that they have embraced since childhood to the general confusion of their religious understanding.
The sooner they can acknowledge the admirable qualities of, say, the Framers in terms of their constitutionalism and political theory, while recognising that such a political compromise has little connection to the creeds those men confessed (or did not confess), and that any state and its principles, even in medieval times, did not embody Christian truth, though it might have endorsed Christianity in an official capacity, the more clearly will they see that any genuine establishment of Christian doctrines and norms in this country will not occur through anything that takes place in government but will be realised in the church and in the home, and only then, if at all, gradually moving outwards to affect the wider society.
I suspect that this particular imaginaire of the “Christian country” put forward by many Christians is a sort of belated defense mechanism, a half-hearted attempt to claim that Christians such as they can belong to the nation in the wake of concerted efforts to exclude expressions of Christianity. Never having been intense or perhaps all that profound in many instances, these expressions perhaps meant more to Christians after they had been denied. If immigrant Catholics adopted Americanism for the purposes of integrating into American society and eliding the differences between themselves and their Protestant fellow citizens, evangelicals have created their Christianised Americanism to reconcile their continued enthusiasm for an increasingly abstracted, non-historical sense of American identity with their putative religious enthusiasm.
Does anyone remember April and May of 2005? And the months preceeding them? The Orange Revolution? The Arab Springtime? The Cedar Revolution of Lebanon - all of them seeming to have a fire lit under them, a wonderful fire of liberty. Remember Revolution Babes?
All around the globe, there was a spirit of something that felt a lot like the Will to Power - something that was building in momentum…like we were on the brink of something truly remarkable and historic and new.
Then, suddenly - poof! - it all stopped? It all just seemed to go away. It was like a big giant foot just came down and stomped out all of those wonderful fires…and the White House seems to have just…blink! Forgotten about it. ~The Anchoress
Hat tip to Prof. Stephen Bainbridge.
Checking to see if Prof. Bainbridge had any other epiphanies about the incompetence of the administration, I discovered a post linking to this curious blog. As I do not usually tour the blogs and online sites of the true believers, I was astonished to find that there are people who are actually this devoted to Bush the man (political loyalties to the president of one’s party might be excused, but this cult of personality business is creepy). That is what makes the plaintive, disappointed voice of this devotee so much more striking. Then again, idolising someone as mediocre as Mr. Bush is bound to result in the painful realisation of his considerable limitations.
It is, of course, very amusing that the Anchoress, as she calls herself, believes that the various “revolutions” were anything other than one set of oligarchs being switched out for another (usually with overt or covert U.S. support), but what was more striking was her description of the momentum she now finds woefully lacking today: it “felt a lot like the Will to Power…like we were on the brink of something truly remarkable and historic and new.” How Viktor Yushchenko heralds the dawn of a new age is beyond me, but that was not what struck me.
Will to Power? I don’t know how ostensibly conservative people begin using watered-down, quasi-Nietzschean rhetoric like this, much less why they think we should want anything like the Will to Power, whatever they might mean by it. If one means something like what I believe Nietzsche meant by it, it is a more or less uninteresting endorsement of a particular kind of self-indulgence verging on vitalist nonsense. One need not impute the worst possibilities to the idea of a Will to Power (what we might call the Raskolnikov model, i.e., transgressing all boundaries to prove one’s superior worth or to prove that one can, in fact, transgress those boundaries) to find it extremely distasteful, misguided and even demonic. But perhaps this idea wasn’t simply invoked ignorantly or incorrectly, but reflects something of what a Bush follower understands when Bush prattles on about freedom.
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Iraqi factional leaders struggled again to reach a consensus on a new constitution before a self-imposed target of midnight Thursday, but parliament did not meet and officials said there was no plan for a future session on the charter.
The negotiators tried to reach an agreement on a draft by the close of a 72-hour extension announced Monday night by the parliament speaker after Sunni Arabs refused to accept a charter approved by Shiites and Kurds.
The National Assembly’s top spokesman, Bishro Ibrahim, had said the parliament had no plans for a session Thursday. ~Yahoo News
You know you talk about the Sunnis rising up. I mean the Sunnis have got to make a choice. Do they want to live in a society that’s free or do they want to live in violence and I suspect most mothers, no matter what they’re religion may be, will choose a free society so their children can grow up in a peaceful world.
Anyway, I’m optimistic about what’s taking place. ~George W. Bush
Have they so completely run out of ideas and even spin that they are reduced to “mothers love their children, mothers want their children to live in peace” rhetoric? That might well be true, but there are a great many mothers who still live in cultures that expect their sons to live and die with honour. If it appears to the average Sunni that he has been short-changed and his community ruined I imagine that his womenfolk would shame him into doing something about it. The saccharine, all-is-well optimism might play in Utah, but it will be greeted with hoots of derision in Iraq.
Besides, the Sunnis didn’t choose to “live in violence”–their country was invaded and their way of life destroyed! What would a normal man’s response be? He might just take offense and choose to fight for what was his, even if it were a pointless fight. This is not to idealise the insurgency (any normal people would resist the occupation of their land and the marginalisation of their community–there is nothing extraordinary about it), but to remind us that any Iraqi who rejects the “freedom” Bush offers is no different from, say, the sepoys whose religious convictions were outraged intolerably. There are things more meaningful than peace, even if peace is almost always the most rational course from the purely materialist perspective.
Surely Americans grant that there are things more important than peace or freedom, or else we would never consent or acquiesce in wars. On a less refined note, there is nothing so bitter as the resistance of a privileged minority that finds itself being displaced and excluded; no one, all things being equal, willingly yields power and status to others, especially if it means his community and offspring will be worse off for it.
From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished. Without the Crusades, it might well have followed Zoroastrianism, another of Islam’s rivals, into extinction. ~Prof. Thomas F. Madden, Godspy.com
Hat tip to Paul J. Cella.
Prof. Madden’s review of the history of the Crusades is well worth reading. In general, his conclusions are unexceptionable and it is a credit to Crusades historians and medievalists that they have worked so hard to understand the Crusades in terms of the cultural imperatives of medieval Christianity and to recapture some sense of what these armed pilgrimages meant to those engaged in them. It has often been surprisingly difficult for Byzantinists to engage fully the mentality of Byzantine Christians (though most Byzantinists are ultimately successful in this regard), so this is no small accomplishment for any modern scholar. Whether religion is something to fight wars over (indeed, whether it is the only thing important enough to have wars over) is a question for another time.
His comments on the tragedy of the Fourth Crusade are quite right, though I would add that the real disaster of that attack was the basic crippling of the Byzantine empire and a diversion of Byzantine resources to recapturing Constantinople for the next fifty-seven years. This made the empire exceedingly vulnerable to future attacks from the east at the same time that renewed threats appeared in the west in the person of Charles of Anjou. If Innocent III found the sack of Constantinople appalling, his successors saw the Latin empire as a providential blessing and did their utmost for nearly a century to establish another one after it fell to Michael VIII.
The internal wars of Byzantium in the fourteenth century did much to hasten the end of the state, but there is little doubt that the persistent pressure and threat from western powers short-sightedly undermined and then destroyed Europe’s best defense against Islamic invasions. Thus the tragedy was not only the deepening of the alienation between Orthodox and Catholic (which was already well under way in the twelfth century), but helping to open the door to Europe to Ottoman invasion when it finally did come.
As Srdja Trifkovic has noted, the Crusades should be criticised only to the extent that they harmed the Christian East, but the damage done to Byzantium and the Orthodox of the eastern Patriarchates was considerable. In any positive reevaluation of the Crusades, which is by no means unwelcome, that fact must continually be borne in mind. Modern senseless hostility to the Orthodox world among Western elites, revealed in the aggression against Serbia and the efforts to undermine or destabilise other historically Orthodox polities, is a reminder that the mistakes that worked to destroy Byzantium and imperil Europe for two centuries are being made again.
Andrew Sullivan just called me a paleo-con. That’s hitting below the belt. As I’ve explained before, I am a Russell Kirk-style Tory crossed with Michael Novak/Richard Neuhaus-style Catholic neo-conservative, with a mild dash of libertarian for seasoning. But I’m definitely neither a paleoconservative like Mel Bradford or Pat Buchanan nor a paleolibertarian like Lew Rockwell or Murray Rothbard. I like Abraham Lincoln, democratic capitalism, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, American hegemony, Alan Greenspan, the GOP, and open borders, all of which seem to be anathema to one or both strains of real paleos. ~Prof. Stephen Bainbridge
For what it’s worth, Sullivan allowed that Prof. Bainbridge might not be a real paleo after all. The speed with which Prof. Bainbridge was targeted for such a ’smear’, and the fact that paleo has become a term with which to smear someone, is indicative of how desperate defenders of the war have become. Watching the squabbles breaking out among members of the War Party, even at its margins, I am reminded of the comment of the Tsarist officer in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon: “The wolves devour each other!” It might be a little early to hope for that much, but that just about captures my mood.
I do hate to break it to the good professor, but one cannot really be a Kirk-style Tory and be a Novak/Neuhaus-style Catholic neocon. Such a combination would self-destruct from its own internal contradictions. Bainbridge admitted as much himself in part of his post on conservative definitions:
“Why no option for Tory with streaks of Catholic libertarian neo-conservative? With Russell Kirk and Michael Novak as “main representatives”? (One answer may be that the two strains co-exist only uneasily. Kirk had some very nasty things to say about neo-cons like Novak.)”
“Tory with streaks of Catholic libertarian neo-conservative”? Why even pretend to have any coherent view? At the risk of sounding doctrinaire, Tory and neoconservative are virtual opposites (the modern Conservative Party is doing its best to realign with the neocons, but they can only do so much), and libertarian and neoconservative have virtually nothing in common. As for being Catholic and libertarian or Catholic and neoconservative, I am frankly at a loss as to how someone manages that combination (the folks at First Things try mightily for the second one), since everything I understand about Catholic social doctrine implicitly or explicitly condemns some major elements of both ideologies.
Perhaps Kirk had some “very nasty things” to say about Novak because he and his ilk have had even nastier things to say about Mel Bradford, et al. Then again, I find it hard to believe that Kirk had “nasty things” to say about someone. He did not engage in invective or personal attack, being well-mannered and a gentleman by all accounts I have ever heard, but he probably just reduced the intellectual shambles that neoconservatism is to rubble with some withering observations.
Bainbridge certainly can’t be a “Kirk-style Tory” if he “likes” Lincoln, hegemony and open borders. By definition, anyone who believes in “American hegemony” as such and endorses it is not Kirk’s sort of conservative or Kirk’s sort of American, at least not according to everything I know of the man’s views on such things. Prof. Bainbridge does not strike me as someone who has a better grasp on Kirk’s thought. Perhaps Prof. Bainbridge will tell me why Kirk was apparently kidding when he rejected, in The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things Are Written on the Sky, the prospect of installing American-style regimes in foreign lands, especially Muslim countries.
Kirk had no intense animus against Lincoln in his writings to the same degree that some of us have, so far as I know, and one can even find Richard Weaver saying nice things about Lincoln in one of his stranger essays. But the sort of society they treasured was a world that Lincoln and the forces he represented helped to weaken or destroy (that is, a traditional, agrarian, constitutional republican American society). Logically, they could never have endorsed his ‘understanding’ of the Constitution, since that ‘understanding’ was a gross perversion at odds with all their principles. Neither could they have viewed favourably the unitary and democratic character he imputed to the establishment of the Republic, since it was historically false and ideological, nor would they have approved of the leveling effects of the war and the messianic tone of the Unionist effort transforming liberty from a prescriptive right to the slogan of an “armed doctrine.”
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On the evidence, the administration of George W. Bush has failed to discharge this first duty in the area of immigration law and border security. The evidence, also, points to a willful negligence — in short, it points not to incompetence but to treachery. When the highest officer of a republic, in the service of ideology, interest, or avarice, employs the power vested in him to subvert the very laws of the republic he serves, he justly opens himself to the sort of charges that our rhetoric usually reserves for the most extravagant of outbursts. But the extravagance here lies with the perfidy of the Administration. ~Paul J. Cella
It’s time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly 5 decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority? ~Prof. Stephen Bainbridge
Hat tip to Casey Khan on the LRC blog.
Clearly, Prof. Bainbridge didn’t read Joseph Bottum’s explanation that the old conservatism doesn’t matter anymore under the dispensation of the New Fusionism, not to mention his assurances that foes of abortion and neocon interventionists are all on the same team advancing the cause of human dignity. If he had, he would probably have come to this epiphany a week ago after he stopped laughing uncontrollably. Cheer up, Professor, Mr. Bottum would say–you don’t want to become too angry and paleoconservative, now, do you?
On occasions like this, when die-hard loyalists to the GOP who claim to be conservative turn against Mr. Bush, I suppose it is better to say, “Better late than never.” But that would be insufficient. Most of the responses to Prof. Bainbridge’s post have been the predictable contemptuous accusations of betrayal and leftism (!) from “stalwarts” more stalwart in their Bush-mania than Bainbridge or the usual conservatives-in-denial who assure us that it isn’t really that bad. Missing from all of this is the basic question: what convinced Prof. Bainbridge that any seriously conservative policies, whether on abortion or rolling back the state, were ever on the GOP’s agenda under Mr. Bush? Compassionate conservatism, so called, is by definition Republican welfarism with a saccharine, pseudo-Christian coating, and everything else on Mr. Bush’s agenda, when he is not busy selling out our country to Mexico, has been either to streamline and preserve relics of the welfare state or expand the size of government.
There has hardly ever been a better case of someone becoming disillusioned after believing the conventional press clippings about the victory of conservatism and the “deeply conservative” Mr. Bush than Prof. Bainbridge’s pained posting. Mr. Khan makes a concise statement of the futility and folly of placing such hope in political parties, but it is still puzzling why Prof. Bainbridge managed to discover only now that the political potential of conservatives and their chances for reform and renewal had all been frittered away by Mr. Bush.
Real conservatives knew Mr. Bush wasn’t really “one of us” since 1999 when he began his first campaign with moronic class-warfare rhetoric and support for the bombing of Serbia, but before early 2002 there might have at least been reason to think he was an acceptably moderate Republican who would not do anything particularly foolish or radical. By 2004, those who still supported Mr. Bush knew what they were getting and deserved exactly what they have received. And what is Prof. Bainbridge’s conclusion? Here it is:
“What really annoys me, however, are the domestic implications of all this. The conservative agenda has advanced hardly at all since the Iraq War began. Worse yet, the growing unpopularity of the war threatens to undo all the electoral gains we conservatives have achieved in this decade. Stalwarts like me are not going to vote for Birkenstock wearers no matter how bad things get in Iraq, but what about the proverbial soccer moms? Gerrymandering probably will save the House for us at least through the 2010 redistricting, but what about the Senate and the White House?”
Notice that there is no sense that the war is actually wrong or unconstitutional, but simply politically inconvenient and a threat to the imaginary domestic agenda that Prof. Bainbridge apparently believes Mr. Bush would have implemented had it not been for the colossal blunder of Iraq. Notice also the blind, nay, stupid loyalty to party that still trumps all else “no matter how bad things get in Iraq.” He is probably correct about the political reality created by the war, but consider the rather shocking cynicism implied in this view. It is, to put it rather harshly, a sort of Bolshevik criticism of the war, in the sense that Lenin never had any objection to war in general (witness the disastrous war with Poland, c. 1919-21) but simply saw domestic political advantage in supporting peace in 1917. This is the ultimate cynic’s critique of the war.
Besides, who is this “us” for whom control of the House may be secure? Surely by now Prof. Bainbridge understands that this mythical entity of conservative Republicanism to which he is so devoted is scarcely more real than Iraq’s WMDs? The GOP has controlled Congress with larger or smaller margins for over 10 years, GOP appointed justices have made up a majority on the Court for even longer and Republicans have been President for 16 of the last 24 years. In what fantasy world was Republican domination of government going to lead to the fulfillment of any conservative goals, if literally nothing significant had been accomplished thus far in terms of reducing the size and scope of government or counteracting state-sponsored cultural rot? Prof. Bainbridge would be well-advised to remember the observation Chilton Williamson made in The Conservative Bookshelf that one cannot seriously consider the GOP a conservative party unless one identifies conservatism with imperialism and capitalism. This would save him a lot of angst and dissatisfaction later.
But it is really rather too late for such “conservatives” to cry in their beer (or is it wine?) and say that they’ve been done wrong, as if it had not been obvious for a very, very long time. We few, we happy few, have been telling them this for years, and have received nothing but ostracism and scorn from the “mainstream conservatives” for it.
According to the interim constitution, the permanant constitution should have been presented to parliament and passed by August 15. There should have been two readings of it, two days apart, before the vote. Otherwise, parliament should have been dissolved and new elections called. Parliament avoided this fate with a last-minute amendment of the interim constitution, allowed if by 3/4 vote, though the nicety of two readings of the amendment two days apart was dispensed with (arguably, unconstitutionally, though it is a relatively minor affair). The amendment stipulated that the new constitution would by passed by August 22, with other conditions unchanged.
The new constitution, with blank passages, was presented to parliament just before midnight on August 22. But parliament did not vote on it, and a “three-day delay” was announced.
The rule of law is no longer operating in Iraq, and no pretence of constitutional procedure is being striven for. In essence, the prime minister and president have made a sort of coup, simply disregarding the interim constitution. Given the acquiescence of parliament and the absence of a supreme court (which should have been appointed by now but was not, also unconstitutionally), there is no check or balance that could question the writ of the executive. ~Juan Cole
When Prof. Cole says that the rule of law “is no longer operating in Iraq,” he was surely having some fun with his readers. When, after all, was the rule of law operating in any meaningful sense before this? There has certainly been the fiction since the election of the current parliament that the Iraqi government was constrained by law, but did anyone really believe this? Nonetheless, the observation is a good one and drives home the point that Iraq’s constitutional development has failed on its own terms, and not simply in the eyes of critics and reactionaries such as myself.
There is no need for discussion of the fundamental oppositions between representative self-government and Islam, considerable though they are, or observations on Iraq’s artificial nature, its lack of suitable precedents for such government and Iraqis’ lack of habits of self-government. All of that may be well be true, and all of it has been said many times, but we need not wait to see whether Iraqis will succeed or not. Iraqi politicians are failing with each new test of constitutional self-government, and it is no surprise that people with no experience, no history and no real commitment to such government cannot make it work (even our country has the experience and history, if no longer any real commitment, and an honest observer could not claim that it works here any longer, either). We can see before us the contravention of the existing fundamental law by the closest thing to constitutional government Iraq will probably ever have, providing us with a sense of how seriously future Iraqi governments will take the constitution the politicians are in the process of drafting.
If Iraqis are not attempting to maintain any pretense of constitutional procedure, perhaps it is because the idea of meaningful constitutional procedure and “the rule of law” in Iraq are pretenses put up by Washington to obscure what the administration has achieved. What the administration has achieved is only slightly better than the Shi’ite theocracy against which many opponents of the war, myself included, warned both before the invasion and ever since.
Prof. Cole’s translation of the draft copy he has tracked down is revealing, in that it tells us that no law will be allowed to contravene Islamic law (obviously a victory for freedom) and also that no law may contravene the “principles of democracy.” If that last part is an accurate rendering of the text, as I assume it is, I can only laugh. What in the world could something so vague as “principles of democracy” mean? The Supreme Court here would have a field day with a phrase as empty and malleable as that; it would make the commerce clause seem like a limited, inflexible provision.
Constitutional procedure has no value to the representatives of the majority, since they have no real need of it, and the Kurds always have the option of secession (and therefore have far less incentive in observing or defending any constitutional system). The main minority group with the greatest stake in developing constitutional procedure and protection are fundamentally hostile to both the existing and proposed fundamental laws of the country. Here the lack of any suitable political tradition in Iraqi history is fatal to any attempts to create a functioning representative and constitutional system out of whole cloth. Cote d’Ivoire, not Germany and Japan, is the likely model of political development Iraq will follow.
IN A dramatic midnight turnaround, Iraq’s ruling Shia pulled back from threats to force the new constitution through parliament, putting off a vote to buy more time to win over Sunni Arabs who had threatened civil war if it was passed.
Shia and Kurdish leaders had agreed to a draft constitution laying out plans for a federal system that would transform the Iraqi state into a loose federation of regions with a weak central government.
Sunni leaders reacted with fury at the proposition, claiming that it would inflame the insurgency and trigger civil war and vowed to defeat the charter at a national referendum later this year unless demands for federalism were dropped.
But Shia leaders, determined not to miss the deadline, presented the draft to parliament minutes before midnight. To loud applause, the speaker announced that the deadline had been met. Then to stunned confusion, he dismissed parliament without a vote, calling for three more days of talks between political leaders. But as the events of the evening sank in, it remained unclear what could be done to win over the recalcitrant Sunnis. ~Timesonline.co.uk
“There is no doubt that all the people here will say no to the constitution because nobody here trusts the Government and nobody wants the country to be divided the way the other groups want it,” Mr Samaraai said. Jamal al-Shimari, a neighbour, agreed. “It’s not going to be a constitution. It’s a conspiracy to divide the country,” he said, referring to the federal demands of the Shias and the Kurds.
The boycott of January’s elections is now widely seen as a mistake that left the Sunni minority, from whom the insurgency is drawn, without political representation. When Iraq’s leaders came to form a committee to write the constitution, they were forced to draft in unelected Sunni representatives for fear that excluding them would further exacerbate tensions. But as the constitutional drafting process has dragged on, ordinary Sunnis have grown disillusioned and begun laying plans to wreck the charter, whatever it contains.
To do so, Sunnis would have to persuade two thirds of voters in at least three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to vote “no”. Although they represent only 20 per cent of Iraq’s population, they could muster such a majority in four provinces, giving them the power to make or break the charter. ~Timesonline.co.uk
Whether or not Sunni political leaders are able to scupper the constitution by mobilising majorities in western and central provinces in which they have much greater influence, the bitterness and mutual recriminations that will follow the attempt will likely prepare the way for a poisoned politics and a collapse of political consensus. Should the Sunnis succeed in defeating the constitution, no amount of whistling past the graveyard by the administration will be able to obscure the complete failure of its project (brought down, no less, by democratic self-determination), and should they fail they will be as permanently alienated from any future regime as nationalists were from Weimar.
Reportedly backed by Kurdish negotiators, Iraq’s ruling Shiite Islamists prepared on Monday to force a draft constitution through the interim parliament they dominate, brushing off fierce objections from Sunnis as they raced to beat a midnight deadline.
A draft prepared without the participation of minority Sunni Arab delegates appeared nonetheless to give ground to some Sunni concerns about Shiites and Kurds carving out powerful federal regions in the oil-rich north and south.
A text seen by Reuters defined Iraq as a “federal” republic but gave no details and one member of parliament’s drafting committee, from the small Christian minority, said details of the extent and mechanisms of autonomy would be worked out later. ~MSNBC
This was the more or less inevitable outcome. Why it could not have been agreed upon a week ago is a mystery, since nothing significant has changed. If Sunni disaffection with the constitution is indeed very great, the constitutional settlement will be political ‘progress’ that facilitates the expansion and intensification of the insurgency and sectarian violence generally. Perhaps the onset of genuine civil war would convince our latter-day mugwumps that remaining in Iraq is perhaps even greater folly than invading in the first place, and maybe only then will the imperative of withdrawal become obvious to all.
The United States yesterday finally abandoned the fading dream of turning Iraq into a beacon of secular democracy in the Middle East, as it backed demands for the new constitution to enshrine Islamic religious law.
This raises the prospect of new laws being assessed against verses from the Koran, and risks alienating the country’s non-Muslim minorities as well as more secular Muslim groups, particularly the Kurds.
The move came 24 hours before the expiry of a deadline for the constitution to be approved, and will appease the Shias who dominated in January’s election.
Though still not going as far as fundamentalist Islamic groups had demanded - they wanted Islam to be the “sole” source for legislation -the wording marks a fundamental concession by the US as it ends the possibility of a separation of religion and state. It paves the way for far more conservative social legislation, for example diminishing the divorce rights of women, as it could allow Islamic clerics to serve on the high court, which will be responsible for interpreting the constitution. ~The Daily Telegraph
This will be ruinous for those Christians who have stayed in Iraq since the invasion and makes a final mockery of the proposition that the war has advanced anything like real liberty (not that wars ever do). It is perfectly understandable and predictable that in a democratic dispensation in an Islamic country that this would happen, which should tell us everything we need to know about the hostility and threat to liberty that democracy and Islam represent in their own ways.
In a wider sense, though, I would want to argue that it is precisely this “irrelevance” that makes John Paul’s theology truly relevant (in another sense) to contemporary bioethics. I must say that what I, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, find most exhilarating about the Theology of the Body is not simply that it is perfectly consonant with the Orthodox understanding of the origins and ends of human nature (as indeed it is), but that from beginning to end it is a text awash in the clear bright light of uncompromising conviction. There is about it something of that sublime indifference to the banal pieties and prejudices of modernity that characterizes Eastern Orthodoxy at its best. It simply restates the ancient Christian understanding of man, albeit in the somewhat phenomenological idiom for which John Paul had so marked a penchant, and invites the reader to enter into the world it describes. And at the heart of its anthropology is a complete rejection—or, one might almost say, ignorance—of any dualism between flesh and spirit. ~David Hart, The New Atlantis
For bioethics, this key concept is important because it leads to a serious affirmation of the psychosomatic unity of human life. “Body” and “soul” are the constituents of human existence; the Orthodox emphasis on the Resurrection confirms its view that human life and human fulfillment are inextricably bound to both the physical and the spiritual dimensions of human existence. In more contemporary terms, body and personhood are essential for the fulfillment of human potential (Antoniades, 1:204-208). ~Stanley Harakas, “For the Health of Soul and Body: An Eastern Orthodox Introduction to Bioethics”
The integral unity of body and soul is fundamental in Orthodox anthropology. To the extent that David Hart and I agree on that, there is no difficulty, and he is to be commended for making short work of transhumanist nonsense in the rest of his article. But something in Mr. Hart’s theology that continues to bother me is his insistence, bordering on the strange, that our psychosomatic unity is such that there is effectively no difference between body and soul.
Thus he could say of Terri Schiavo: “Christians who understand their faith are obliged to believe that she was, to the last, a living soul. It is true that, in some real sense, it was her soul that those who loved her could no longer reach, but it was also her soul that they touched with their hands and spoke to and grieved over and adored.” However strongly convinced many Christians have been about the injustice of Mrs. Schiavo’s treatment, it is still more than a little strange to claim that we are obliged to believe either that someone in Mrs. Schiavo’s state was a “living soul” (which seems to me to diminish that definition to the point of insignificance) or, more incredibly, that her flesh and spirit are one and the same. Granting Mr. Hart some license for rhetorical effect, this is a confused statement that simply does not agree with what the Church teaches about the body and soul. Perhaps if modern Orthodox theologians in general were less allergic to the extensive Platonic and Neoplatonic elements in Christian theology they would find this “dualism” less troubling.
To say that John Paul II denied or ignored any sort of dualism of flesh and spirit is, in all likelihood, an exaggeration, but if he did make such a claim I would expect Orthodox theologians to be troubled and not delighted. My main problem therefore is with Hart’s excited response to this “rejection” of dualism that he sees in the text. Because just as Orthodox anthropology stresses very strongly the unity of body and soul and the Fathers understand human nature as the union of the two, the stress on that unity presupposes and requires us to believe in a kind of dualism.
We might dispute over how we make sense of our experience in light of that dualism, but we cannot wish it away if, at the same time, we contend that it is the rational soul in the body that distinguishes us in a unique way as the summit of creation and original mediator of the extremes of the cosmos. Of course, soul and body are “coextensive” to the extent that the soul cannot be “located” in a particular place, but neither must we pretend that the rational soul persists in a body deeply and irreparably injured in its most vital organs. The more closely theologians tie body and soul conceptually and refuse to acknowledge the necessary implication that severe changes in the body must also affect the state of the soul and its relation to the body, the more vulnerable they are to the charge of sheer fideism, as it must still be remotely possible for a living soul to express itself in an empirically verifiable way if we are to say that it still dwells here below.
It is precisely in the syzygy (union) of matter and spirit in man that makes him the only creature of God suited for the vocation of mediating between God and creation as king and priest, roles that the Lord took upon Himself and magnified immeasurably when He assumed our nature (which, incidentally, the Fathers repeatedly described variously as “ensouled flesh” or “flesh and a rational soul”). Our own syzygy anticipates the ultimate reconciliation of all things, all opposites and all pairings in the Cosmic Man, Jesus Christ. Ignoring one side or merging the two together either detaches man from his connection to the intelligible or sensible realms or muddles the created order itself by neglecting the distinction between the intelligible and sensible.
Dualism is nonetheless a troublesome word, not least because it is not patristic and so largely foreign to any traditional Orthodox discussion of the problem. It is a concept that philosophers use to describe Platonic and Cartesian anthropology, and it gets applied willy-nilly in modern theological contexts in no small part to make theological discussions sound more like modern philosophical ones. (Theologians, like many conservatives in political arguments, often feel the nagging need to make themselves seem relevant by using terminology and ideas, even if only to belittle them, that will appear more fashionable to people who have no interest in theology.) It is also a concept that can be thrown around with tremendous ease: thus from a Christian standpoint, Manicheans are dualists, which means they regard matter as evil and spirit as good, from an Aristotelian perspective Platonists are dualists and from a materialist perspective Christians are dualists.
There is, of course, a legitimate Christian dualism, and it has existed for as long as Christians have meditated on disciplining the body (which means as long as there have been Christians). I’m sure Mr. Hart would have no difficulty granting that there is a real distinction between body and soul that is not only intellectual, and we could agree that distinctions do not have to imply division or separation. He should also have no objections that true theology is prayer and fasting, the building blocks of all ascetic life to which all Christians are called in varying degrees. As we on the Old Calendar are presently in the midst of the Dormition Fast, this consideration is most timely.
The very practice of asceticism in its more extreme forms presupposes and embraces the truth that flesh is corruptible and intimately connected to sin in this world, yet not bad in itself, while continuing to acknowledge that body and soul must be profoundly unified if the mortification of the body will achieve the control and redirection of the passions. The purpose of human life, and so of ascetic practice, is deification, which transforms man by God’s energy and grace into God to the extent that God became man, and this deification transforms the whole man, but the road to that blessed state is one that requires us to recognise and indeed widen the ‘gap’, if you will, between body and soul by disciplining the flesh, starving the passions of their nourishment in the flesh and living a spiritual life, yes, through the flesh but according to the natural purpose for which the body was created. The body only fulfills that purpose when the real distinction between it and the soul is amplified and magnified.
As important as it is to recognise the significance of the human body as a creation of God, bearer of the image of God, good and integrally united to the soul, it is equally important to stress that unity only exists between two things and in this case two substantially dissimilar things. To neglect that difference and distinction is to become a sort of anthropological monophysite, so to speak, and ultimately to confuse the passible, corruptible and mortal properties of the body with their opposite properties in the soul. Mr. Hart no doubt intends to force his audience to understand the importance and sacrality of the body as a creation of God, and as something that possesses moral and existential significance, but his excessive emphasis on the unity of body and soul risks creating another kind of monism every bit as wrong and potentially dangerous as the monism of materialists and transhumanists he rightly deplores.
One must surely grant the importance of largeness in the free enterprise system—for diffusion of risk, accumulation of venture capital, and economies of scale. But I cannot see how liberty is best preserved in the implacable swallowing up of small, autonomous firms into vast bureaucratic corporations. I cannot see the sanity in preferring the huge and cumbersome to the small, local, and independent. I cannot see much to admire in that consolidation which allows a single corporation to own 40 newspapers or 200 banks. It is often remarked, both anecdotally and more systematically, that the corporate psychology vitiates innovation and vigor; that it bureaucratizes and thereby weakens considerably the creative human impulses. Like any bureaucracy, the corporation can regularly mean the promotion of agreeable fecklessness, the rewarding of failure, and the punishment of independent enterprise. We are foolish, as defenders of liberty, if we reflexively defend the corporate economy, or if we willfully ignore the tension that sometimes exists between the corporatist ethic and the spirit of ownership.
Someone will surely reply that I am mistaken in my economics. But they have missed the point. Economics answers to its master: mankind. It is precisely backwards to let economics dictate our principles—for economics is a tool, just like any other applied discipline. Economics cannot tell us our vision of the good life any more than biology can tell us why human life is sacred, or chemistry why a glass of beer after a hard day’s work is such a great pleasure, or physics why men look to the heavens with such awe. Economics can surely aid us in our efforts to achieve the good life, but it cannot, of its own devices, articulate the good life. The reign of economics as a kind of totem is the sign of a servile people. ~Paul J. Cella, The New Atlantis
Mr. Cella has said all of this very well, and I have little that can add to it. This captures concisely what I have attempted to explain when stating that when conservatives make economic arguments we are making first and foremost moral arguments, arguments concerning the common good and how men may best flourish. This is the case whether the arguments concern free trade generally (be it genuine laissez-faire or globalist and bureaucratic), the role of multinationals in de-industrialising the country or the terrible homogenising, dehumanising and atomising effects of a corporate, service economy.
Very few people are protectionists or hostile to bureaucratic free trade regimes because they believe that “the economy” will necessarily “grow” more under such an alternative regime. Few have pretended that it would–the point is to develop and secure domestic industry. They hold these views because they wish that there might still be American factories and manufacturers producing their own goods, to both reduce dependence on foreign products and provide sustainable and stable employment in this country. They take these views on the assumption that greater economic self-reliance is as essential to political independence as personal economic independence is to personal liberty and also that service-sector work is the least permanent, least productive, least fulfilling and least human kind of work.
When our measure of the good is a strictly economic one, that of efficiency, growth or profit, then we have agreed to sacrifice all those intangible or immeasurable goods that pertain to life in a genuine community for those goals. A society that determines the common good in terms of efficiency has already deemed all claims of obligation, loyalty and personal attachment to be irrational and irrelevant, things to be swept aside in the dispensation of “creative destruction.” When we determine the national interest principally by an abstract growth rate, and not by the sustainability and relative self-sufficiency of the nation, we have abandoned our political loyalties and duties as if we, too, were rootless multinationals. Unlike a multinational, however, we have no excuse for putting our country and our duty as citizens second to the desire for cheap commodities, cheap labour and convenient and ready-made services. At the same time, our own property claims, and thus the sole substance that preserves us from true servility as individuals and as a people, are imperiled in the wake of decisions such as Kelo that now in the same spirit and with the same logic place higher priority on general “growth” rates and government revenue levels than on prescriptive property rights.
With 72 hours to go until the latest deadline for Iraq’s political leaders to agree a new constitution, tension spilled on to the streets yesterday with mass demonstrations and reports of gunfire.
Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia cleric, marched in Baghdad in opposition to plans for a more federal state. ~The Daily Telegraph
Here is a fine example that ‘progress’ on the political track in Iraq is as much a recipe for further instability as it would be a measure of any success, no matter what sort of constitution Iraqi political leaders manage to cook up by Monday (and they all must know that another delay would be disastrous for their very poor credibility). Sadr is a thug and opportunist (which makes him uniquely suited for politics in a neocon-created order), but he is also the representative of an Iraqi Shi’ite tradition that is nationalist and clearly independent of the influence of Tehran, the perennial bogey invoked by ‘experts’ on Iraq that is probably the only thing standing between us and complete chaos in Iraq. If Washington really wanted to establish an Iraqi government that wouldn’t be dominated by pro-Tehran figures, it would not have elevated SCIRI to a position of such influence. Now that SCIRI pretends to represent all Shi’ite interests, and our news media indulge them by pretending that Shi’ites form some monolithic group, it was inevitable that Sadr would appear once more to try to throw a wrench in the works and reclaim the mantle of the ‘real’ Iraqi Shi’ite leader. What pathetic comedy if Sadr began his rebellion again in the name of the unified Iraq that our official policy has hitherto endorsed as a sine qua non of any future political arrangement!
Federalism or no, the U.S. must begin extricating our soldiers from this fiasco before the Iraqi crack-up accelerates, as it seems more and more likely to do. Several different people predicted or observed Somalia-like conditions in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. Those predictions have largely been fulfilled. It would have been hard to imagine anyone in 1993 saying that we ought to “stay the course” in Somalia until we could reconcile all the clans and create a functioning government, be it federal or otherwise. But that is exactly what Mr. Bush asks of Americans today, and we would be crazy to heed him, just as we would have been crazy to persist in Somalia in 1993. The difference is that Mr. Clinton, for his many flaws and generally immoral and equally abusive foreign policy, had the good political sense to get out of a pointless mission when the getting was good. As Mr. Bush goes on another dreary propaganda tour, it is clear that he has no intention of showing the same good sense.
The cover story for the last summer edition of American Conservative (Aug. 29 issue), “Defining Conservatism Down” by Austin Bramwell, seemed to promise a tale of how ‘the Right’ has lost its former intellectual vivacity and become the complacent steward of an intellectual legacy about which relatively few, if any, contemporary conservative ‘intellectuals’ have many compelling questions. Neither do contemporaries, by and large, apparently have any strong challenges to the fundamental, foundational notions laid down by the coterie of major mid-century thinkers, whose names are all well-known to old ‘movement’ hands and to some neophytes who came of age in the late ‘90s. (Paleoconservatism, noticeably absent from the article, does engage in critical and challenging engagement with the ‘movement’ greats, and its adherents have shown a tremendous willingness to go against, beyond or away from the pleasant neo-Burkean and neo-Idealist theses of Kirk and Weaver, for example, even as they accept many of their observations.) No new comprehensive reevaluations of American conservatism or the American Right (which are assuredly not the same thing, but which Mr. Bramwell consistently conflates) are forthcoming, according to this account, and the article seeks to explain why this is so.
In the course of Mr. Bramwell’s winding article, which is all the more interesting for its not having paid much attention to its purported theme, he stated that the intellectual challenge to the Left posed by the Right has grown weaker and flabbier in no small part because of contemporary acceptance of a ‘consensus’ (perhaps collection of ideas might be a better way of putting it) that is basically unquestioned. The intellectual heavy lifting has already been done, so contemporary “conservatives” apparently claim, and now it is time to put it into practice. Whatever occasional disagreements occur, they have ceased to be over major theoretical clashes, and it is here that Mr. Bramwell locates one of the causes of the decline of conservative intellectual activity. Instead of explaining how this happened, which is what one might have expected, he discusses what conservatism was like before the decline and, after random digressions into libertarian theory, suggests a few remedies for recovering that earlier fruitful competition of ideas.
The article is fairly ecumenical (minus paleoconservatives, except perhaps Kirk), as major figures generally associated with the Right from Rand (!) to Jaffa are included with all their mutual disagreements, but both the description of the Right under consideration here, the intellectual problems of the Right and the prospects for future intellectual creativity run heavily towards the libertarian side. There is not much point in dwelling long on the ever-vexing problem of terms and definitions (though Weaver would), but Chilton Williamson’s distinction between conservatives and Rightists might prove useful here to highlight the terminological vagueness of Mr. Bramwell’s article that muddles much of his analysis.
As Mr. Williamson puts it:
The primary distinction within the conservative tradition, almost by definition, is the most hoary one as well. It amounts to the difference between a conservatism founded uncompromisingly on eternal principles and the conservatism that appeals to historical context and the status quo, prudence, and pragmatism. The term “Rightist” commonly designates conservatives of the first division, while “conservative” denotes those belonging to the second. Thus, a “conservative” seeks to conserve what exists in the present, while a “Rightist” is prepared to dismantle contemporary institutions in order to replace them with ancient ones resurrected from the past–monarchism, say, or the feudal system. In the culture of the modern West, Rightists are always the “extremists” (e.g., Patrick Buchanan), marginalized in public debate and practical politics alike in favor of “conservatives” who have so far discarded absolute principles while emphasizing pragmatic ones as to have become nearly indistinguishable from the relativistic liberals they claim to oppose.
Needless to say, in this definition libertarians are not to be found on either side, though Rightists are often interested in what libertarians have to say and are willing to work with them in common cause. But even to the extent that libertarians root their libertarianism in certain established constants, be it their conception of human nature and natural law, or have developed a philosophical defense of self-interest and self-determination there is little that is Rightist about them. The fact of the matter is that libertarians have never really been Rightists in the sense Williamson means it, libertarianism has been as much of a hindrance to the elaboration of conservative ideas as a support and especially in the field of economics most conservatives have leaned on libertarian economists to the point where they have come to accept far too much of the libertarian view of man and society, stripping them of the capacity to make cogent arguments outside of the materialist framework in which they have learned to argue. Thus Mr. Bramwell’s account of the intellectual failures of libertarians or the current inquiries of libertarian groups distracts us with material that is not directly pertinent to the problem. It is actually a measure of the extent to which some libertarian arguments have been found compelling and sustainable, or at least pragmatically useful (to conservatives), that intellectual conservatism has gone into stagnation and decline.
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As much as I admire Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, I can read hundreds of pages of their work, and wonder “how does this translate into policy today?” This, I believe, is a certain shortcoming of many traditionalist conservatives. Their philosophy is vague enough that they focus their attention to Gnosticism, pre-Hellenic philosophy, or gothic architecture, while avoiding actually getting their hands dirty fighting what immediately plagues our civilization. ~Marcus Epstein
It was good to see Mr. Epstein’s article on Mr. Bramwell’s piece for the Aug. 29 issue of American Conservative. Since first reading Mr. Bramwell’s piece, I had been crafting a response but had allowed my attention to wander back to the more pressing matter of reading for oral exams and writing on other topics for the blog. Mr. Epstein’s remarks provided the needed jolt to get me to finish the response, which I’ll be posting a little bit later on. Suffice it to say for the moment that I found the article less insightful than Mr. Epstein did, but it was assuredly provocative, not least in its assumption that Rightists, libertarians, “right-wingers” and conservatives are all at some level one and share a consensus. Obviously, in spite of many common goals and points of agreement, we are not and do not, as Mr. Epstein’s comment shows.
As much as traditionalist conservatives have in common with our libertarian friends, and as valuable as their forums, such as LewRockwell.com and Antiwar.com, have undoubtedly been in spreading the good word of the very small, defiant conservative resistance to the perversions of the GOP, it is useless for the purposes of analysis to discuss libertarianism when trying to understand what went awry with conservatism. It was also not very useful to propose to describe the stagnation of conservative thought and spend much of the article discussing why libertarians have had difficulty vindicating their positions. Or, if the purpose is to understand what went wrong with “the Right,” as opposed to conservatism, it would be useful to explain what one means by “the Right.” This is quibbling over definitions, but definitions are half of any argument. There will be much more of this in the response itself, so back to Mr. Epstein for a moment.
Mr. Epstein’s question about the applicability of the ideas of Kirk and Weaver, to use the names he cited, brought home a problem that I hope I will be able to resolve somewhat in the longer response. As far as it goes, Mr. Epstein’s question is a good one, and the honest answer would be this: “These ideas don’t readily translate into policy. That is not what these men were seeking to write, and consequently what they did write is uniquely unsuited to application to public policy questions.” What I believe they were seeking to do was to cultivate certain sensibilities in their readers, encourage them to develop the mentality or phronema of attachment and loyalty to the permanent things and convince them that, just as the world had been wrecked by errors, the world might be put right again by sound thinking, virtue and an appropriate facility with and understanding of our language.
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The first translation is 40 times more common at google.com than the second. Despite this, the latter is the accurate one. Bush was right. Several reasons point to this conclusion.
Scriptural: The Koran itself in several places insists that its God is the same as the God of Judaism and Christianity. The most direct statement is one in which Muslims are admonished to tell Jews and Christians “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we do submit” (E.H. Palmer translation of Sura 29:46). Of course, the verse can also be rendered “our Allah and your Allah is One” (as it is in the notoriousAbdullah Yusuf Ali translation).
Historical: Chronologically, Islam followed after Judaism and Christianity, but the Koran claims Islam actually preceded the other monotheisms. In Islamic doctrine (Sura 3:67), Abraham was the first Muslim. Moses and Jesus introduced mistakes to the Word of God; Muhammad brought it down perfectly. Islam views Judaism and Christianity as flawed versions of itself, correct on essentials but wrong in important details. This outlook implies that all three faiths share the God of Abraham.
Linguistic: Just as Dieu and Gott are the French and German words for God, so is Allah the Arabic equivalent. In part, this identity of meaning can be seen from cognates: In Hebrew, the word for God is Eloh-im, a cognate of Allah. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, God is Allaha. In the Maltese language, which is unique because it is Arabic-based but spoken by a predominantly Catholic people, God is Alla. ~Daniel Pipes
Pipes never ceases to mystify. This is much more laughable than his ludicrous claim that Chiang Kai-shek was a “democratically-minded strongman” (and Stalin was a “liberal in a hurry,” right?). What Pipes thinks Bush was “right” about was his claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God–Allah and the God of the Christians is supposedly one and the same. As a firm proponent of the myth (read lie) of an Islamic Golden Age, Pipes is the perfect example of that bizarre mixture of Arabophobia, Islamophilia and crude hegemonism that constitutes its own sort of “new fusionism” among leading neoconservatives. The motto might be: “Crush the Arabs, free the Muslims and give Islam a good spring cleaning.” That these positions are mutually contradictory and foolish in themselves do not seem to dissuade their adherents.
He has been a consistent advocate of some fantastical Islamic reformation that will presumably somehow retain all of the pleasant, eccentric and extraneous elements of Islam (the bits that Westerners find so intriguing or attractive–Hallaj, Rumi, ghazals, izzat, calligraphy and impressive architecture) while losing all of its hard, cutting edge of jihad and repression. Now he proposes to educate the West in its own theological heritage and prove to us (philologically, no less!) that because Allah literally means “the god,” it must therefore imply the same doctrine and concept of God. Yes, friends, this man is supposed to be (if you believe his PR) educated and an expert on the Islamic world. Scary.
What can one say about this astonishing display of either naivete or dishonesty? Of course the Qur’an claims its god is the same as that of the Jews and the Christians–Muhammad was busily appropriating their salvation history as his own in fragmentary form and making the needed modifications. There was every incentive to attach Islam to established and respected traditions, precisely because it had no significant roots of its own and no real claim to prophetic witness. Heretics will often claim that they have the authentic doctrine, that others have sullied and corrupted the truth with accretions and additions and that they are restoring things to their pristine order (the Baha’is tried the same line with the Muslims, but the latter would have none of it), but their partial and distorted understanding of the traditions from which they are scavenging quickly reveals them as the inventors and innovators.
What matters, of course, is the substance of their doctrine of God, which is uncompromisingly monistic, fervently opposed to any Trinitarian doctrine and openly contemptuous of any claim that Christ is God. There is nothing more insulting and ignorant than to pretend that Allah is the same as the One God in Trinity. Assuming Pipes is dimly aware of the obvious clash of conceptions of God, his shilling for Allah can only be the usual sort of opportunistic abetting of Islam that neocons have pursued for years for the purpose of harming Christians everywhere.
If we reject Arians for their impiety, as all Christians of any serious confession are obliged to do, will we then say that we confess the same God as the Muslims, who hold to a doctrine of Christ very similar to that of the Arians? Can anyone seriously maintain that a religion that replaces Christ the Word with the Qur’an as the unchanging Word of God believes in the same God that Christians adore? George Bush claims to believe this, which is why in my less charitable moments I sometimes refer to him as the Apostate.
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The near success in Ohio by Democrats was achieved after the party had enlisted an Iraq veteran, Paul L. Hackett, who nearly defeated Jean Schmidt.
The chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign committee, Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, said he was talking to four or five other Iraq veterans to run in open seats or against weak Republican incumbents. ~The New York Times
Less than seven months ago, we were treated to the renewed blustering of war supporters as they prattled on about the Iraq elections, “indelible ink” and the colour purple. This month it is difficult to remember a time not very long ago when critics of the war were a very tiny, vocal but largely irrelevant force in this country. Now it appears that there is a good chance of the war in Iraq failing politically, both in Iraq and in America.
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At 11.23 p.m. on Monday night, Iraqi parliamentary delegates decided to postpone agreement on a new constitution for another week. Fundamental disagreement on three key issues — federalism, the role of Islam and women’s rights — seemed unresolvable to the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni representatives.
Unied States diplomats and officials, who had put pressure on delegates to reach an agreement, tried to conceal their disappointment in the delay with a cloak of positive democratic hyperbole. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was confident Iraq would “continue on a path to a permanent government by the end of the year.” President George W. Bush, agreed, noting that the Iraqis had made “substantial progress.” ~Der Spiegel
It is noteworthy that this was the first deadline that was largely the responsibility of the Iraqis themselves, and in a telling sign for the future they were incapable of agreeing among themselves. Unlike the ‘transfer of sovereignty’ or the elections, Washington could not force everyone to meet the deadline. Given their first task of self-government, the Iraqis have so far failed. This is not surprising, but what is strange is that anyone believed that there would be meaningful success.
As I thought about some of the problems of Iraq over the last few days, it occurred to me that there is virtually no post-colonial society that has made a virtually immediate success of self-government that has not at some point ultimately degenerated into civil war or dictatorship. One striking exception has been India, whose leaders learned and acquired the necessary skills, habits and institutions from the British over long years of tutelage and acculturation, however much they may still resent and deride the firanghis for their domination and abuses. Iraq has never enjoyed anything similar, and is not now enjoying anything remotely like that Indian experience. We can realistically expect that the failure to write a constitution on time will be but the first of many failures of self-government.
Make no mistake, Rich. The failure to agree to a constitution, if the Iraqis do fail to agree on a constitution, will be a grievous blow. It will be seen as an invalidation of the triumphant January elections, since their purpose was the creation of a body to write the constitution. It will depress the Iraqis, be seen as a major policy defeat for Bush and cause panic on Capitol Hill. The argument that you can’t impose democracy on a nation that isn’t ready for it will be in the ascendant, and the “people yearn to be free” camp will be on the defensive in a big way. The realists will smirk, the anti-war folks will cackle, the administration will be bereft. Speaking as someone who has always looked on the optimistic side, this one will hurt. Bad. Very, very bad. ~John Podhoretz, The Corner on NRO, August 16
I was surprised that Podhoretz had the courage to admit all of this in public. I was even more surprised that his analysis, usually so very shoddy or dishonest, was more or less acurrate.
My guess is that the Iraqis will create a constitution in the way that the Austrian Republic created a constitution after WWI. The Christian Socials and Socialists knew that they could never agree on a whole host of issues at the level of national government and turned most major social policy, cultural and educational questions back to the Laender. Thus the “constitution” was largely focused on the procedural and administrative elements of forming the national government, while most of the most significant policy decisions were decided at the Land level where each party could shape the regions it dominated as it saw fit. Vienna became a giant socialist laboratory and rural Austria remained solidly Catholic or nationalist until the establishment of the Dollfuss regime.
The Austrian parallel is instructive, if a bit too optimistic about the prospects of a working government coming together, in that the internal contradictions of the Republic, which had once been only one part of a much larger state, ultimately forced a conflict between the two dominant forces resulting in the overall victory and control of one prior to foreign occupation. It is entirely conceivable that the Shi’ites and Kurds will replay the parts of the Christian Socials and Socialists in many ways (although obviously not all) and Iran will sweep in either to support or destroy whichever authoritarian regime arises out of the internal conflicts.
The model is obviously imperfect, since the Kurds want nothing more than independence and will probably seek that before they seek control of the whole state, but the Austrian example is helpful in reminding all of us that whatever emerges from this joke constitutional panel will have made little or no progress on the major points of conflict (i.e., the promise of a Kurdish independence referendum, control of oil revenues, role of Islam, etc.). All parties will kick those issues down the road, so to speak, and wait until they they obtain their seats in a future assembly to determine how the minimalist constitution they will create will actually be used.
The Shi’ites can afford to wait until they obtain a significant majority in any future assembly and then begin amending the law or changing it by fiat, and the Kurds will seek independence one way or another, referendum or no. It is all very discouraging from the Iraqi perspective, since it means continued instability and violence for another decade, and as long as we tie our presence to their political progress it is also disastrous for us. This is why we ought to detach the question of our remaining in Iraq from the political track in Iraq, as the two really have little to do with each other. The small upside is that the failure to establish the Iraqi constitution will annoy Podhoretz and his ilk.
On Monday evening, the police arrested a local resident who had used a truck to mow down about half of the 500 small wooden crosses hammered into the roadside dirt. The crosses were put back in place by Sheehan’s supporters on Tuesday as flowers continued to arrive at the site from around the United States.
“What happened last night is very disturbing to all of us, and it should be really disturbing to America,” Sheehan said. “Because no matter what you think about the war, we should all honor the sacrifice of the ones who have fallen. And to me it’s so ironic that I’m accused of dishonoring my son’s memory, by doing what I’m doing, by the other side, and then somebody comes and does this.” ~The International Herald-Tribune
It is a bit counter-intuitive for me to find something awry with Mrs. Sheehan’s protest, since I certainly share her desire to see the pointless war in Iraq speedily brought to an end. If she has any success in this regard, we will all owe her a debt of gratitude, but the very abnormality of the entire spectacle almost ensures that it will further harden war supporters in their irrational defense of continued occupation and further marginalise the anti-war position as that of the crude, raving and hysterical. Mrs. Sheehan has happened to hit the mark many times with her criticism (then again, with a target like Mr. Bush, missing the mark with criticism is very difficult). What perplexes me is why anyone would seek to find solace in political activism, however much that activism is based in personal experience.
We live in an atmosphere of faux patriotism in which it is legitimate to send soldiers to pointless deaths and engage in saccharine tributes to the “fallen” when their lives have been thrown away, but it is unacceptable to criticise the policies that led to those deaths. (Some such faux patriot felt obliged to run over crosses planted in honour of fallen soldiers, and he represents the other face of activism in this case.) It is thus apparently unavoidable that a dead soldier’s mother is the only critic of the war who can even briefly silence the braying hounds of the War Party. She is the only one, as Maureen Dowd would have it, who has sufficient unimpeachable moral authority. Such is the strange, hyperfeminised society in which the wailing of a grieving woman commands respect and attention while rational discourse and learning count for little or nothing.
As an opponent of the war from the beginning, I ought to be heartened that someone has filled the void of active, public opposition, but instead I find it to be unfortunate and a perfect example of the bizarre priorities liberal societies inculcate in their people. Even before she attracted a small following and extensive national media attention there had to be something amiss for a wife and mother to place such intense emphasis on a political outlet for her grief. It is telling that, in a marriage already understandably deeply devastated by the death of her son, Mrs. Sheehan evidently believed it was more important to harangue the President than to work to preserve her marriage, which is now going to end in divorce. That seems to be an abnormal reaction, at least in most sane societies. Other members of Mrs. Sheehan’s extended family are understandably embarrassed by the politicisation of the death of Army Spc. Casey Sheehan. That many Americans do not regard it as the least bit strange, but perhaps even admirable, is a sure sign of further cultural decay.
It is a sign of what America has become that many believe that activism brings solace and meaning, as if frenetic political activity could provide fulfillment more readily than attempting to keep one’s family intact in the wake of such a terrible loss. Her other son’s apparent desire to join the Army, though surely foolhardy in many ways, is a far more natural response, even if this natural reaction to honour his brother’s memory comes in the service of the ultimate denatured and abnormal elite. It is a further sign of how unreal and artificial life has become in America that the conflict between the protesters and Mr. Bush’s neighbours is being cast in the language of dueling civil rights claims.
Before she went to Crawford, she spoke to the Veterans for Peace Convention. Her speech has been pulled apart by various War Party flunkeys to make the most out of the genuinely bizarre digressions and and non sequiturs that litter her litany. James Taranto, always ready to demonise, is happy to misinterpret willfully some of her remarks. When she said, “You get America out of Iraq, you get Israel out of Palestine,” Mr. Taranto naturally takes this to be a call for Israel’s destruction (but then for Mr. Taranto probably anything short of full endorsement of the expulsion of all Palestinians from ‘Samaria’ and ‘Judea’ would be a call for Israel’s destruction). But the parallelism is just strange–what has Palestine to do with Iraq or Mrs. Sheehan? Her invocations of Thoreau, her endorsement of the deserter Camilo Mejia, and her vow not to pay income tax are all really rather strange and misguided; her incitement to civil disobedience is not a sane reaction. With opponents like these at home leading the way, the war in Iraq might well never end.
Moderate Muslims aren’t an urban legend imagined by politically correct liberals. They already make up the absolute majority in some parts of the world. They are our friends as well as our allies.
Robert Pape thinks we should withdraw from the region completely and “secure our interests in oil,” as he put it, from a distance. If we take his advice we won’t end the threat from our enemies. We’ll give them military victories for free. And we’ll throw our liberal Muslim friends to the Islamist wolf. It’s the most disgraceful and despicable thing we could possibly do, not to mention one of the dumbest. Empowered liberal-democratic Muslims with guns will defeat the Islamists in the end. We can’t do it without them, and they can’t do it if they’re languishing in mass graves and dungeons. ~Michael J. Totten, TechCentralStation.com
Hat tip to Michael Dougherty.
Michael sent me the link to this fellow’s article for entertainment purposes, and it was funny for a little bit. Then I started to wonder: can there really be ordinary people this far out there? Yes, of course, I know there can be–who else could have voted for Bush, if not people just like this? But the Krauthammers, Blankleys and Frums of the world at least have some incentive to push this delusional party line. How do average Americans become so passionately committed to such nonsense? Frankly, I am at a loss. The weird position of “Islam is basically fine, Muslims are our friends, but we must crush their nations under our boot (for freedom)” never ceases to baffle me. Give me a straightforwardly zealous Christian or a simply cynical British colonial officer, but spare me the idiocy of insisting on fighting Islamism everywhere and always to the death while imagining that intimate Western involvement in the Islamic world and the Islamic world themselves have nothing to do with the problem.
Simply as a matter of accuracy, Mr. Totten has his facts on the second Spanish bombing attempt wrong. He wrote: “Spanish police found a bomb on the high-speed railway connecting Madrid and Seville that was almost identical to those used to kill hundreds in Madrid’s train stations last year. This bomb was planted on the tracks after Spain withdrew its troops from Iraq.” As any simple Google search could have told him, the order for Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq came on April 18, over two weeks after the second bomb was discovered. Since that withdrawal, how many Islamist bombings or attempted bombings have there been in Spain? None. Exactly.
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“We will not yield to the terrorists,” Bush said. “We will find them, we will bring them to justice and at the same time we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate.” ~Bloomberg.com, July 7, 2005
When the July 7 bombings occurred, I was just preparing to leave on the lengthy road trip that took me away from posting for much of July, so I did not have the chance to comment then on this particularly buffoonish comment. How, after all, can one have an “ideology of hope and compassion,” when these are to be considered as either virtues or the passionate feelings commonly associated with those terms? To have an ideology, one must at least have some kind of ideas, or at least cheap knock-off versions of ideas that can be readily fitted, like replaceable parts, into the machine of power. Having been routinely told that “hope is not a strategy” with respect to the menacing Iraqi weapons cache (no laughing, please), we are now informed that hope is apparently an ideology.
It has not been a one-time incident of Mr. Bush freely and senselessly using the word “ideology” when something else would have undoubtedly been more appropriate. Ideology has become one of his new pet words, which he feels compelled to use, either to show that he is conversant with (neoconservative) party doctrine or to make his pronouncements sound more intelligent than they are. But there seem to be a great many people confused about what ideology is, both in its original meaning and its more conventional modern usage. Since the meaning of words is the beginning of all other understanding and cultivation, confusion over the meaning of words will invariably lead to just the sort of muddled, dense nonsense that issues forth from the imperator, as his devotees like to think of him (”our Commander-in-Chief,” and all that).
Ideology (originally ideologie in its native French) was the study of ideas as outlined by Comte Destutt de Tracy. Understood this way, Comte de Tracy, a materialist liberal of the old French variety, evidently understood ideology as the study of the intellectual products of biological and material life. In its original meaning, therefore, ideology was completely materialist and reductionist. Not only is he a radical empiricist in his epistemology, and bases all consciousness in sensation, but his conception of the source of ideas would make all intellectual activity a function of material circumstances.
Plainly, no one uses ideology quite in this sense any longer, but it could be and was readily adopted by Marxists, whose model of historical materialism was perfectly in agreement with the more specifically biological and anthropological claim that ideas are the products of material conditions. But for Marxists ideology is the combined form of symbols, ideas, rhetoric and discourse that create legitimacy and justify the exercise of power by the ruling class, and it is a product of the contemporary mode of production as part of the superstructure. It is thus something to be debunked (unless the ruling class is full of self-styled Marxists). It is this politicised form of ideology with which 20th century Westerners are familiar.
Ideology was typically associated first with Marxist revolutionaries, then gradually with any political system (usually non-liberal) that sought to marshal any useful fragments of political thought into a system that legitimised current policy. Non-Marxists came to identify ideology as something that only radicals possessed. Free societies did not produce such reigning ideologies, because such a thing ought to be either redundant or impossible to impose with any degree of success (of course, the advent of mass media might make both of those assumptions doubtful).
Unfortunately, the advent of post-modernism has made ideology something of a buzzword, and not only in academia, and thus this fantastically anachronistic term is now routinely applied to the study of the ancient, late antique, medieval and early modern worlds entirely uncritically. Whether a scholar accepts that material conditions create the “ideology,” many scholars are trapped into using the Marxist language for lack of any alternative that would be comprehensible. Weber’s notion of “ruling ideas” is theoretically much more attractive, not least because it allows for greater complexity and variety in the genesis of ideas, and also because it allows for the possibility that ideas can come from the margins or peripheries to overtake the ideas of any given ruling group. But it is fair to say that using the word ideology has entered the blood of historians and social scientists, and has now also entered political commentary and presidential speechwriting.
When Kirk first wrote The Conservative Mind in 1953, ideology was something principally connected with totalitarian regimes and was viewed as something exceedingly artificial and also something specifically Continental. Living philosophical and political traditions could not be compressed or compacted into programmatic bullet points, as in a manifesto, because there was a richness and breadth to real philosophy (in part because philosophy was interested first and foremost in truth, not power) that could never be distilled and boiled down into a simple political creed for mobilising supporters or made into a utopian scheme for reorganising society.
Almost by definition, such idea-shards and uniform plans for social engineering based on those shards were doomed not to take root in the rocky ground of reality, because they were the pruned and dessicated remnants of a once-living organism that were being taken as the essential organising principles of society. Anglo-American tradition had little to do with ideology, either in the Comte de Tracy’s sense or the Marxist sense, and likewise a conservatism nourished in that tradition could only be an anti-ideology.
Thus, if Mr. Bush prattles on about ideology, we can only be slightly reassured by the fact that he has no idea what the word means. We should be very worried that he has speechwriters and advisors who believe it is appropriate or consonant with the beliefs of his constituents to have an “ideology” (be it of “hope” or anything else) and to view a fundamentally political and strategic problem in principally ideological terms. This betrays mental weakness and confusion. It should be a warning sign that he is even more firmly in the grip of the neoconservative fever than before. It also promises a continued inflexibility in policy decisions that will take us, slowly but surely, the way of the Soviet Union if we persist in imagining that ours is, to borrow the idea of Irving Kristol, an “ideological” nation. Once an ideologue believes his ideological cause is implicated in a conflict, real national interests cease to have any influence on his decisions, and I believe Mr. Bush has become so firmly entrenched in that view that even something as fundamental as real political self-interest may not shake him from it.
These things my spirit bids me
teach the men of Athens:
brings countless evils for the city,
but Eunomia brings order
and makes everything proper,
by enfolding the unjust in fetters,
smoothing those things that are rough,
sentencing hybris to obscurity
making the flowers of mischief to whither,
and straightening crooked judgments.
It calms the deeds of arrogance
and stops the bilious anger of harsh strife.
Under its control, all things are proper
and prudence reigns human affairs. ~Solon
Another important sign of the maturing of neoconservative foreign policy is that it is no longer tethered to its own ideological history and paternity. The current practitioners of neoconservative foreign policy are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld. They have no history in the movement, and before 9/11 had little affinity to or affiliation with it.
The fathers of neoconservatism are former liberals or leftists. Today, its chief proponents, to judge by their history, are former realists. Rice, for example, was a disciple of Brent Scowcroft; Cheney served as Secretary of Defense in the first Bush administration. September 11 changed all of that. It changed the world, and changed our understanding of the world. As neoconservatism seemed to offer the most plausible explanation of the new reality and the most compelling and active response to it, many realists were brought to acknowledge the poverty of realism—not just the futility but the danger of a foreign policy centered on the illusion of stability and equilibrium. These realists, newly mugged by reality, have given weight to neoconservatism, making it more diverse and, given the newcomers’ past experience, more mature.
What neoconservatives have long been advocating is now being articulated and practiced at the highest levels of government by a war cabinet composed of individuals who, coming from a very different place, have joined and reshaped the neoconservative camp and are carrying the neoconservative idea throughout the world. As a result, the vast right-wing conspiracy has grown even more vast than liberals could imagine. And even as the tent has enlarged, the great schisms and splits in conservative foreign policy—so widely predicted just a year ago, so eagerly sought and amplified by outside analysts—have not occurred. Indeed, differences have, if anything, narrowed.
This is not party discipline. It is compromise with reality, and convergence toward the middle. Above all, it is the maturation of a governing ideology whose time has come. ~Charles Krauthammer, Commentary
Hat tip to Justin Raimondo.
At least in their own circles, neocons can still admit to their own existence without an immense sense of humiliation or embarrassment. Krauthammer’s remark about the “realists mugged by reality” would be more accurate if anyone had ever bothered to demonstrate that realism in principle is a failed foreign policy approach. Undoubtedly, Bush and Rice have betrayed their former foreign policy positions and never looked back, and we have received permission from Neocon Central to recognise them as neocons.
It is axiomatic in the world of Commentary (a strange and hostile place far from any source of light) that 9/11 proved once and for all that seeking stability was a fool’s errand, even though the previous ten years of government policy had been dedicated to encouraging instability throughout the Near East, Balkans and Caucasus (what else can we call intervening for Kuwait, encouraging the breakup of Yugoslavia, backing Islamists in Europe and pushing Caucasian states to ally with us while winking at Chechen terrorism?). What sort of realist transforms the balance of power in a region to protect a country like Kuwait? “Arabia was saved,” Krauthammer assures us. But then the idea that any part of the Arabian Peninsula was in real danger of invasion in 1990 was one of those “truths” akin to the Iraq alliance with al-Qaeda, magical UAVs descending upon the eastern seaboard or other fantastic lies told by Krauthammer’s neophyte neocons.
One could show very clearly that a realism founded on the delusion that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are vital allies, Iraq our perpetual foe and India a nettlesome irritation to be ignored is a profound failure and the policies dedicated to the support of those “allies” have been misguided in the extreme. But this is not proper realism, which ought to take account of the realities of power in any given region and turn them to the best advantage for the nation. Continually taking the side of countries whose populations unremittingly loathe us, while spurning and undercutting countries with more obvious common interests is not a recipe for stability and thus not realism in any meaningful sense. Playing Great Power games and dabbling in geopolitical theory will not make these people into realists.
Naturally, Krauthammer’s view (as with all good neocon views) is the one that best suits the interests of the ideology at the moment, and at the moment it is convenient and useful to welcome the ‘converts’ to neoconservatism and acknowledge that neoconservatism does, in fact, exist in all its grim and terrible fury. What is more, Krauthammer has vindicated and endorsed everything we real conservatives have said about the neoconservative character of this administration from the early days of 2002.
What I mean instead is that I think Eliot never did truly believe and that his poetry is not about faith’s wait for God but about the hollow man’s wait for faith. Of course, he probably did believe, and many accounts of personal encounters with the poet describe the deep humility and sincerity of his faith. What we encounter in his late poetry, however, is a profound confusion of faith with a brilliant and learned man’s rational understanding that he needs to have faith. It may not have been a confusion in his personal life of prayer, but it is an obvious confusion in his published poetry. And it is still more obvious in his social criticism in The Idea of A Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Even at his most devout, Eliot sees religion instrumentally-not as Plato’s “Noble Lie,” of course, instilled in the simple people but disbelieved by the elite, but as a sort of “Noble Truth,” instilled in the simple people so that the society may continue but believed in a delicate, ironic, and aesthetic way by the elite. In the anglophilia, misjudged irony, and grotesque delicacy of the worst line Eliot ever wrote-the Magi who have seen the Christ-child reporting, “it was (you may say) satisfactory”-we encounter a spirituality so crippled by its self-consciousness that it testifies only to a mistake in the poet’s understanding of faith.
And the mistake originates in the philosophical moves Eliot makes in “The Hollow Men” and extends in “Ash-Wednesday.” The failure of modernity rests on the misguided attempt to found philosophical certainty on the self’s consciousness of itself, and Eliot rightly sees modernity’s failure. But his answer is to force himself to rise to consciousness of his self-consciousness-and then, when he finds that selflessness is not found there, to force himself to rise to consciousness of his self-consciousness of his self-consciousness-and then, when he finds that selflessness is not found there, to force himself to rise . . . -and then. . . . St. Augustine walked this path in the Confessions, and it drove him mad. The notion seems to be that, because we are finite, we cannot (in the real psychology of thought) follow self-consciousness to its apparent infinity; we cannot be infinitely self-conscious. Eventually, at the limit of our thought, we must arrive at a consciousness of which we cannot be self-conscious. Eventually we must arrive at a pure, selfless act of thought that may thereby think the true philosophical foundation of the self.
The path of self-consciousness, however, may be walked only if desire is stronger than reason, only if the will goes on longer than the intellect. The thinker who grows tired and leaps to the conclusion of the apparent infinity of self-consciousness has let reason triumph over weak desire. Augustine falls further and further into self-willed madness as he advances further and further into self-willed self-consciousness, and at last (in a garden as the Confessions tells the story) he converts by the grace of God from madness to that pure and selfless act he sought. But it is a pure and selfless act of will and not of intellect. Augustine becomes an unthinking, irrational, and motiveless desire for the Will of God. And when a child’s voice- saying, “Take up and read”-wafts over the garden wall, Augustine drifts as gently as a leaf across the garden and over to the table where he finds the letters of St. Paul.~Joseph Bottum, First Things, August/September 1995
This old, rather odd 1995 article is representative of what we can expect from Mr. Bottum’s brand of ‘conservatism’. Mr. Bottum was, of course, more than welcome to dislike Eliot’s poetry (many people do find it impenetrable or bizarre), and since he is a poet and I am assuredly not I will not make this a complaint about his technical observations about the poems themselves. The complaints about the poems are not much more than a screen to attack Mr. Eliot’s faith. Mr. Bottum very clearly does not claim to question his faith in his everyday life, which he cannot deny, so he hunts an even bigger prize by denying his poetry its place as a vessel of Christian meaning as set down in the language of a modern man.
As Mr. Bottum concludes:
“This is not faith’s difficult search for understanding, but understanding’s impossible search for faith. And all that remains for the poet is a delicate, aesthetic, self-conscious almost-spirituality-a detached and wistful watching of himself, watching himself, watching.”
Even after briefly granting that a poem such as Ash Wednesday is a poetic success and is suffused with a living spirituality, Mr. Bottum proceeds to cast down his subsequent poetry as a calcification of that spirit. But this will not do. Someone who has written the concluding lines of Ash Wednesday cannot be disregarded as a rationalist seeking to understand his way to God. If Mr. Bottum finds the other works lacking, he will have to question, if he dares, Eliot’s knack for poetry and not the spirit expressed in the poems. Let the reader judge for himself if this is, as Bottum says, “a poem not so much about God as prayer for God, and not so much about prayer as about the effort of the poet to put himself in the attitude of prayer.”
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
-T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
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Joseph Bottum’s article opposing the death penalty on putatively Christian grounds has gained some attention online. Winning the prize for conciseness and clarity is The Japery’s brief statement at The New Pantagruel. Hugo Schwyzer, a liberal Christian blogger (or, as he would have it, a “progressive consistent life-ethic Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat”), applauds Mr. Bottum for bringing First Things closer to what he calls a “consistent life” position, which by itself should make Mr. Bottum very nervous.
But I appreciated Mr. Schwyzer’s comments, as it drew my attention back to what I suppose must have constituted the theological core of Mr. Bottum’s argument (I might be forgiven for having missed the importance of this element with all the erroneous discussion of divine right of kings, et al.). This was supposed to be the profound and insightful bit of exgesis that would convince the readers of First Things that, even though murderers really did deserve to die, they should nonetheless be spared. What was it? It was the fact that Cain killed Abel, but that even then God protected Cain’s life (therefore, we should do likewise in similar circumstances). Wow. What is the bulk of Church Tradition against a piece of Sunday afternoon interpretation like that? What does Mr. Bottum make of the rather blatant and obvious problem that there are entire books of Scripture that lay out, again and again, the ordained killing of not just murderers but a whole host of transgressors? Of course, being under the New Covenant we all generally agree that the Law does not have the same supreme authority that it once had under the Old, but whether or not a particular punishment is specifically mandated by divine law there is no escaping the fact that legitimate magistrates are authorised to use such extreme punishments. As First Things‘ contributors love to remind us all when it comes to warfare (a kind of killing Mr. Bottum’s colleagues can really get behind almost without reservation), these prudential judgements are made by the secular authorities, and the Church recognises that it is their place to make these decisions.
A few things should be cleared up. In the Orthodox Church, as among Catholics, the Fathers do not ‘endorse’ capital punishment, partly because almost all Fathers of the Church have not lived in societies where the usage of capital punishment was ever seriously questioned on moral or any other grounds, so that it was especially incumbent on them to try to alleviate the harshness of a law that would undoubtedly be too brutal. Most never saw a world where the taking of innocent life could be treated so cavalierly, so we can imagine that they would have stated their abhorrence of murderers and the punishments due such people had the society around them not already held such a strong view.
In truth, as the Book of Ezekiel (Ez. 33:11) tells us, as phrased in a common Orthodox prayer, God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return to Him and live. This is, in brief, the whole of God’s desire throughout salvation history. Nonetheless, just as death has entered the world through sin, because God has allowed it as a limit to sin, so it is fitting and reasonable that God would permit, nay, require that a vicious and impious person who not only steals another’s life but commits sacrilege in marring and attacking one made in the image of God be put to death as a limit to his sins and a limit to the destructiveness wrought by sin in the world. Certainly, the Fathers acknowledge the authority of the secular arm to do this, and in the past in the Byzantine case they acknowledged its legitimacy under Roman law.
Even though God did not create death, and He takes no pleasure in the death of any of His creatures, He turns even this evil to some good and to the accomplishment of His will. And it is painfully evident that God wills that men love one another as He has loved us, and certainly not that men slay one another: what could be more heinous, more alienating from God and sinful, than repudiating one of the two great commandments given us by the Lord by doing violence against another person? How else should we treat someone who has transgressed this sacred boundary than to execute him in payment of his debt? Against this, what possible sense can Mr. Bottum’s argument make?
I don’t know who makes me sicker – President Bush or the “conservatives” who continue to back him and his sell-out choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.
The conservatives eagerly jumped in to throw their support to the unknown John Roberts as soon as the choice to replace Sandra Day O’Connor was announced.
On what basis? The guy was a blank slate – like David Souter and Anthony Kennedy before him.
Then, last week, the Los Angeles Times broke the story that Roberts had volunteered his services – pro bono – to help prepare a landmark homosexual activist case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. ~Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily.com
It is understandable that Mr. Farah would be this upset over the selection of John Roberts, especially in light of this latest story, but it only begs the question of what conservatives actually thought they were going to get from Mr. Bush. Why should they have expected him to honour his word on this, when he so completely betrayed his promises of a “humble” foreign policy and limited spending? Roberts appears to be an archetypical lawyer, who is undoubtedly terribly professional to the point of being perfectly comfortable in taking any side on any case. Look for Judge Roberts to be hailed in a few decades, when he retires, as the pragmatic “swing vote” on the Court whose positions, like those of Justice O’Connor, “evolved,” no doubt to match those “evolving standards of decency.”
The initial sighs of relief on the right after the selection of Roberts had two causes. First, Bush had not selected a nominee as ludicrous as Alberto Gonzales, which made the grassroots adulation over the man he did choose that much greater. Only relatively principled conservative pundits and observers who paid attention to the details of Roberts’ career were skeptical and then hostile. Second, Roberts was an establishment Republican, which relieved most of the connected pundits and politicos that there would be much work involved in getting him confirmed and also assured them that he would not be making any trouble for the federal government once approved. “In the mold of Scalia and Thomas,” my foot! Evidently, they broke that mould after the Thomas confirmation hearings.
Why should we be surprised that all this activity early in the election cycle was effective, not only in shaping the Democratic candidates at whom it was aimed, but in shaping the general public as well? By the end of the primaries, the divisions about Iraq among ordinary voters matched to a startling degree the divisions over abortion. As Midge Decter once quipped, the time eventually comes when you have to join the side you’re on. If the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime must be treated as a battle in the culture wars, then it is a battle whose opponents were defined long before.
But the argument from happenstance—from the flukes of electoral politics—fails to express everything that needs to be said about the recent joining of many of those opposed to abortion and the bulk of those who desire an active, moralist foreign policy. If only as a courtesy to serious figures from the papal biographer George Weigel to the Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, we need to consider the possibility that pure political calculation isn’t the only cause for the recent fusion of social conservatives and neoconservatives.
Down somewhere in the deepest understanding of what America is for—somewhere in the profound awareness of what it will take to reverse the nation’s long drift into social defeatism—there are reasons that one might link the rejection of abortion and the demand for an active and moral foreign policy. Things could have fallen into different patterns; our current liberal-conservative divisions are not the only imaginable ways to cut the political cake. But neither are they merely accidental.
The opponents of abortion and euthanasia insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in domestic politics. The opponents of Islamofascism and rule by terror insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in international politics. Why shouldn’t they grow toward each other? The desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in one realm can breed the desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in another. ~Joseph Bottum, First Things
At the risk of beating this particular horse to death, I must contest at least a few more elements from Mr. Bottum’s article. First, I have a very hard time taking anyone seriously who uses the word “Islamofascist.” It occurs to me that anyone who uses this term as if it meant something either knows nothing about fascism and Islam or is simply using the ignorant label to redefine those who are a civilisational and religious foe as a repeat of the only enemy they find acceptable to vilify, namely fascists. (Besides, it is a lazy, leftist trait to see fascism everywhere that it isn’t and define all enemies in terms of being fascist, while simultaneously ignoring the extensive common ground between most leftists and historical fascists.)
It cannot be stated too strongly that there is nothing “serious” intellectually or morally in twisting the foreign policy of the United States to serve utopian projects dressed up under euphemisms of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘morality’, if we take serious to mean something grave, sober or responsible. Neither is there anything “moralist” about a policy that endorses naked libido dominandi. A moral foreign policy would have some relation to justice, restraint and proportion, all of which are clearly lacking in any neocon-supported foreign policy. If the neocons must have their Machtpolitik, they could at least do us the favour of not covering with dishonest, saccharine claims to righteousness.
‘Moral’ or “moralist” (as Mr. Bottum would have it) interventionism is based in the shoddy moral philosophy that I am obliged by the dictates of universal right, in order to correct some far-flung injustice (real or imagined), to go so far as to kill people who have never troubled me or anyone to whom I might be remotely personally connected, and by extension the government that theoretically represents such a ‘moral’ person as myself is likewise obliged. This entirely unnecessary violence is deemed acceptable by this shoddy philosophy because I am acting to remove the barriers to other nations’ realising their ‘natural’ liberty and rights. Jacobins never murder–they emancipate!
Only servants of revolution believe that America is “for” something, as if it had no other value if it could not be turned to realise some ideological fantasy. America is a historically and culturally constituted reality, whose purpose, if we must speak of it, is known only to God and ordained by Him. She is not an abstraction or the embodiment of a Creed, nor is she is the repository of any ideology in particular. The time may come, indeed it is already upon us, when the quaint liberal faith of eighteenth century notions and its various even more gross perversions will begin to fade away, taking with it the ideological “content” of the terrible simplifiers, and there will still be an America that will be part of a continuity with our earliest history. What the culture of that America will be depends on whether anything of the old traditions will be preserved and transmitted to posterity, and whether our memory of America will outlast that of the people who destroyed so much of her constitutional and Christian heritage.
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The goal in either case is to restore confidence in–well, what, exactly? Not our own infallible rightness, surely. But neither can we live any longer with the notion of our own infallible wrongness. We need to restore belief in the possibility of being right. There’s a reason the leftist Christian magazine Sojourners started life in the 1970s as something called the Post-American. Many religious activists in those days seemed to have reached a point where they couldn’t tell an admirable patriotism from the murderous ideologies of nationalism–and, besides, if you squinted hard enough, social defeatism looked like a secular version of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. The result was hardly what they hoped for: a cynical policy of Realpolitik abroad and a culture of death at home.
In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?
Perhaps they are missing because, however important, they do not bear hard on the immediate question of social defeatism—on the deep changes that might reawaken and remoralize the nation. The one thing both the social conservatives and the neoconservatives know is that this project comes first.
The angry isolationist paleoconservatives are probably right—this isn’t conservatism, in several older senses of the word. But so what? Call it the new moralism, if you like. Call it a masked liberalism or a kind of radicalism that has bizarrely seized the American scene. Mutter darkly, if you want, about the shotgun marriage of ex-socialists and modern puritans, the cynical political joining of imperial adventurers with reactionary Catholics and backwoods Evangelicals. These facts still remain: The sense of national purpose regained by forceful response to the attacks of September 11 could help summon the will to halt the slaughter of a million unborn children a year. And the energy of the pro-life fight—the fundamental moral cause of our time—may revitalize belief in the great American experiment. ~Joseph Bottum, First Things
Caught up as I was in my ‘neoconfederate’ anger (what’s wrong with being neo-Confederate anyway? it’s a lot better than being neo-Jacobin!), I neglected to point out one of the more glaring bits of nonsense about American conservatism that Mr. Bottum has provided his audience. The irony was lost on Mr. Bottum that he and his crowd have done a good deal to confuse a “murderous” ideology of nationalism with admirable patriotism, corrupting many hitherto fairly decent Americans with their poison of violent chauvinism. Of course, when the “universal” and “revolutionary” nation rediscovers its “purpose” and expresses its “will” and “resolve” for “freedom,” there couldn’t possibly be anything amiss with that, could there? The corollaries with historical fascism are all too painfully obvious.
Where could Mr. Bottum have imagined that the pro-life cause and violent interventionism abroad have any connection except for the most accidental of political connections inside the GOP? We are seeing a new attempt to construct some sort of umbrella ideology to provide some minimal coherence to the completely contradictory values of the major constituencies of the Republican Party. But perhaps there is a certain alignment or coincidence, at least in the ‘idealistic’ and misguided activist rhetoric of the two camps. All too many pro-life activists (as distinct from many pro-life conservatives) have the mentality of liberal activists, meddlers and consolidators (what we might call, with some qualification, a Yankee mentality). They invoke the language of rights (rather than a language of commandments, obligations, natural duties, etc.) and draw many preposterous comparisons to past antislavery activism and the civil rights movement, just as many neocons continue to do with their foreign policy fantasies.
The pro-lifers have apparently forgotten, or never knew, that their proper predecessors in history are the opponents of consolidation and constitutional innovation, namely secessionists and various other obstinate republicans and patriots. But that might make them dangerously ‘neoconfederate’, and then Mr. Bottum and his friends would have to stop talking to them. Pro-life conservatives should not be engaged in this sort of rhetoric, and this similarity with the utopian fanatics of neoconservatism is something of which they should not be proud, but it does exist.
But when did economics, or, more accurately, economic policy questions “define the root of American conservatism”? Assuming we are not speaking of the group of faux-conservatives who are Republicans simply for the tax relief (Grover Norquist, call your office), this is beyond absurd. When Russell Kirk wrote The Roots of American Order, did political economy preoccupy him at all? Does any economic theory as such have any significant place in The Conservative Mind? No, not really.
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In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of Amer ican conservatism?
Perhaps they are missing because, however important, they do not bear hard on the immediate question of social defeatism–on the deep changes that might reawaken and remoralize the nation. The one thing both the social conservatives and the neoconservatives know is that this project comes first.
The angry isolationist paleoconservatives are probably right–this isn’t conservatism, in several older senses of the word. But so what? Call it the new moralism, if you like. Call it a masked liberalism or a kind of radicalism that has bizarrely seized the American scene. Mutter darkly, if you want, about the shotgun marriage of ex-socialists and modern puritans, the cynical political joining of imperial adventurers with reactionary Catholics and backwoods Evangelicals. These facts still remain: The sense of national purpose regained by forceful response to the attacks of September 11 could help summon the will to halt the slaughter of a million unborn children a year. And the energy of the pro-life fight–the fundamental moral cause of our time–may revitalize belief in the great American experiment. ~Joseph Bottum, First Things (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)
Instead of “new fusionism,” I might suggest the moniker: “unholy alliance.” But that might be all together too angry and ‘neoconfederate’. I am grateful that Mr. Bottum could at least admit that his brand of “conservatism” hasn’t much to do with anything that went by that name in the past. There is not much point in trying to explain to someone at First Things why remaining true to the older conservatism of the New Conservatives, the Old Right, a panoply of great American and European figures before them and the entirety of the Western tradition is important, but it might be worth trying to explain for the sake of explaining it to honest evangelicals and conservatives who have been drawn into this “new fusionism” more by habit than by substantial agreement.
Holding to the convictions of our predecessors is not just for our own little exercise in maintaining our convictions and affirming our identity as the last bastion of Christian civilisation, valuable as those things might be. Speaking as a paleoconservative, I believe we hold to these convictions first because we regard them as true and honourable (and view the contrary convictions as false and disreputable), and second because we cannot conceive of a sane and normal society existing that does not embrace them in some large measure. Third, we endorse a humane and decent society in which local loyalties, personal attachments and natural affinities prevail, rather than the tawdry and cheap lure of frenetic activism for abstract causes, materialism, mass consumption, emotionalistic megachurch Christianity, messianic ideology and chauvinistic, vicarious violence in which Americans define themselves by the number of foreign peoples they have attacked. Those are some of the main characteristics of the constituent parts of the “new fusionism,” representing as they do the cultural and political rot of the country masked by vapid invocations of “freedom,” amorphous “faith” and a “patriotism” subverted and twisted by the lie of America as the “proposition” or “universal” nation. These are the things from which conservatives must flee, if they are to rediscover their bearings and achieve any work of conservation, much less restoration.
We are keeping the flame lit, so to speak, in the (perhaps vain) hopes that much of conservative American might someday wise up and return to a more profound understanding of their own vague leanings. At the very least, we are seeking to cultivate a good and humane life ourselves and construct something lasting amid the wreckage of our civilisation. The “conservatism” pushed by neocons is simply surrender to everything pernicious and destructive in modern society for the sake of wielding temporary power. If that is what most “conservatives” in this country desire, our appeals will have no meaning for them and never could have done. I suspect that such a hollow and disgusting creed is not for most Americans, however, and I have some small hope that they will wake from the feverish dream of the last many years of neocon dominance to demand real principles dedicated to the maintenance of consecrated, good order. Perhaps they are already too servile and debased to desire good order, but that good order is worth pursuing even if the mass of “conservatives” continue on their path to perdition.
Fourth and finally, we hold to these old convictions because each new “fusionism,” whatever the intentions of the Frank Meyers of the world, is a corrupt bargain that entails that the traditionalist and Christian members of the alliance give up 95% of what they want to their secular, globalist and interventionist fellows in exchange for the latter suffering to grant them a place at the table and an occasional appointment or rhetorical tip of the hat to keep them quiescent.
As for being angry, I suppose we sometimes can be, but who wouldn’t be a bit irate at the sight of the beautiful country of their ancestors being transformed into a giant trough for traitors, swinish interlopers and opportunists?
You can see it in the recent emergence of civil suits for damages from murders, and the congressional orders for changes in trial procedures to accommodate the victims’ families during the Oklahoma City bombing trials, and the provisions of every new bill for victims’ rights, and the kind of testimony increasingly allowed during sentencing hearings. You can see it, perhaps most of all, in the thought, expressed by nearly everyone at Michael Ross’ execution, that the state’s criminal-justice system was paying something back to the families of his victims. Even Michael Ross came to believe it–came, in fact, to demand it, fighting every attempt to save him–and it is a primitive and pre-Christian understanding of justice.
The divine right of kings was a short-lived political theory, swept under by rival theories in early modern times. A new understanding of the limited sovereignty of government emerged, and one of the primary causes was the gradually developing awareness that Christianity had thoroughly demythologized the state. But that is not, by itself, a stable condition. Without constant pressure from the New Testament’s revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the state always threatens to rise back up as an idol. And one sign of a government’s overreaching is its claim of power to balance the books of the universe–to repay blood with blood.
Dzung Ngoc Tu, Tammy Williams, Paula Perrera, Debra Smith Taylor, Robin Stavinsky, Leslie Shelley, April Brunais, Wendy Baribeault: These were real people, girls and young women raped and killed, and their blood cries out from the ground. But high justice for their deaths–the story of the killer killed, the narrative we want to give us closure–is something we cannot permit the State of Connecticut to wield. ~Joseph Bottum, First Things (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)
Hat tip to Michael Brendan Dougherty.
Setting aside the schizophrenic and bizarre attitude of different First Things‘ editors towards the legitimacy of the state’s use of violence (aggressive war OK, capital punishment less so), one might say that Mr. Bottum’s article cries out for a response. Michael Dougherty of Surfeited with Dainties drew my attention to the article, suggesting that I might be moved to write a lengthy response. Actually, there is not much worth addressing, since most of the article is not so much a statement of the reasons why Christians should oppose the death penalty as it is a critique of secular pro and con arguments and the psychobabble of “closure” that has polluted the discourse about capital punishment. It should be self-evident that if “closure” were the real object of an execution it would be one of the most heinous things on earth. The purpose of an execution is justice, which properly understood is giving each his due and rendering to each proportionately according to his acts.
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A couple of days earlier I’d had a message from a military officer who often writes me in friendly disagreement. Given my views on the Iraq war, he asked me what I proposed to do if certain unpleasant developments should occur overseas. What if, for example, mainland China should attack Taiwan? Or if North Korea should use nuclear weapons against Japan?
Tough questions, but let’s back up a bit. I think we should give due praise to the Buchanan and Lincoln administrations for keeping the United States out of the Crimean quagmire. Not that they were under much pressure to intervene, what with events in this country at the time; but credit where credit is due, I always say. Just about any recent president would have jumped in with both feet. ~Joseph Sobran
Mr. Sobran’s consideration of the larger problem of our ridiculous entanglements around the globe is well worth reading. To answer Mr. Sobran’s interlocutor, I suppose I would have to understand why Americans think of these foreign policy problems as our problems. Or, to put it another way, why do they feel obligated to persist in alliances that outlived their usefulness many decades ago?
Our commitment to Japan made sense when it was a devastated nation (devastated, of course, by us), potentially exposed to the tender mercies of a then-unified Sino-Soviet bloc at a time when we made it our business not to allow too many nations to be swallowed up by that bloc. Today Japan is perfectly capable of defending itself and developing, if it so chooses for reasons of deterrence, a nuclear arsenal. If we were to allow them to build such an arsenal (and it is principally our restraining influence that prevents the government from seriously considering it), North Korea would be incapable of ‘blackmailing’ Japan with threat of a nuclear strike.
There are the usual objections that this would cause an “arms race” in East Asia (which is supposedly the reason why we are so preoccupied with North Korea’s nukes), but there has been no similar “arms race” between the two latest nuclear powers in the Subcontinent. This fear of an “arms race,” like so many other scenarios of regions destabilising around the world without the sure hand of the Americans to guide them, is premised on a rather obnoxious, condescending attitude that these nations are incapable of pursuing policies guided by rational self-interest without external meddling.
Our commitment to Taiwan was a domestic political bone thrown to anticommunists angry about the opening of relations with Beijing and all of the disadvantages this entailed for Taiwan. By definition, the rapprochement with Beijing made any alliance with Taiwan immediately obsolete, and the end of the Cold War has made it into an even more useless liability. Taiwan is not as wealthy overall, but equally capable of defending itself and creating a nuclear deterrent. What is more, there can be no advantage for the United States in going to war with China over Taiwan. China has everything to gain, and also possesses unusually great nationalist motivation to retake Taiwan by one means or another. If China were to attack Taiwan, ours ought to be a policy of strict neutrality. It is difficult to know whether, or how quickly, a Sino-American war might expand to include south and southeast Asia. Obviously, any war with China would involve the full mobilisation of the United States, the return of conscription and likely hundreds of thousands of American casualties–who is so foolish as to think that Taiwan matters enough to us that we would bear this cost?
As has been noted by other observers, the U.S. preoccupation with Taiwan and the Chinese naval buildup is eerily similar to the British preoccupation with the buildup of a German fleet prior to WWI. The British desperately feared a challenge to their naval supremacy, on which their power rested, and thus became adversarial with the one power that seemed to them to pose that challenge. As senselss as the Anglo-German rivalry was, and as short-sighted as it was for Britain to oppose the weakest Continental power by allying with the two strongest, one could at least see a legitimate British concern. On the security of Taiwan no vital American interest depends, yet public rhetoric and security policy are both leading us to take a very similar position as the British took in the early twentieth century, ultimately to the ruin of their country and the fatal weakening of their global position.
“(President) Ould Taya’s hands are dirty with the blood of thousands of non-Arab black people in Mauritania,” said Mansour Kane, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania. “This is no different from what’s happening in Darfur right now.”
Kane said protesters had come from as far as California to bring attention to the plight of countrymen living as modern-day slaves, and thousands of others who have been summarily deported for their ethnic identity
“The world must understand that the human rights struggle in Sudan is mirrored in Mauritania,” [Oumar] Ba said. “The government there is corrupt and continues to harm its own people … The bottom line is there is no reason Taya should be in the United States’ good graces.” ~The Washington Times, April 5, 2005
Mauritanian army officers have announced the overthrow of the president and creation of a ruling military council.
The military council said it had ended the “totalitarian regime” of President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya who has arrived in Niger. ~BBC News
By most accounts I have found, the deposition of the relatively “pro-American” Taya is a blow to administration policy in Africa and at least an indirect victory for the Salafists whom Taya was working to suppress. U.S. training of the Mauritanian military, part of a larger west African push by Washington, will now assuredly be on hold. Less embarrassing than our alliance with the butcher of Andijan, Islam Karimov, the collapse of a government tied to anti-terrorism must be seen as a setback for the administration. Notice also how readily the Mauritanian officers have adopted the facile language of “totalitarianism” and “democracy” without batting an eye; notice, too, how this sort of nonsense has been employed, yet again, in a way probably injurious to a legitimate aspect of U.S. security policy. Perhaps Secretary Rice has some blithe, ignorant comparison with WWII handy to explain why this is really all for the best.
The worthless voices of the people should not be listened to. Nor is it right to give credence to their voices when they demand that the guilty should be acquitted or that the innocent should be condemned. ~Diocletian
Political parties have also been united in their resolve to defeat the threat - a lesson learnt from Spain, where the political response to the attack on Madrid played straight into the terrorists’ hands. ~David Davis, The Daily Telegraph
David Davis, perennial contestant for the Conservative Party leadership, might have had something valuable to say about the problem of non-assimilating immigrants, if he were not so preoccupied in his article with pandering to Muslims and bashing the BNP (British National Party) (whose views of the problem of unassimilated and unassimilable immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, in Britain seem rather vindicated by this entire mess). Having been on the road during the American hysteria over the London attacks (our commentators and radio hosts were far more unhinged than the British themselves), I did not have the chance to see British editorialists and politicians line up to distance their responses from anything vaguely BNP-like. Still, I feel sure that there was a good bit of this, instead of their focusing on the very social and immigration policy failures that the BNP alone has been seriously criticising and which helped create the horror of July 7.
But Davis’ backhanded, unnecessary slap at the Spanish was a bit too much. If it is “playing into the terrorists’ hands” to vote out a sitting government that pursued a hugely unpopular (to say nothing of illegal or immoral) policy, we should quickly shut down any future elections for fear of voting ‘wrongly’ in future. Would voting Tory at the next general election be “playing into the terrorists’ hands,” or have the Tories been stupidly docile and submissive enough to Mr. Blair’s views that one can hope the Islamists won’t notice any change? Spain withdrew from Iraq, and there has not been any attack in Spain since then. The British political class adamantly ignored the possibility that deployments to Islamic countries had anything to do with Islamic terrorism in their country, and within two weeks they very nearly suffered another terrible attack. That would seem to be a success for the Spanish approach, at least if we judge it by anything so narrow as the legitimate interests of a nation. We know that Mr. Blair will never be limited by anything so pedestrian as that, and it seems as if the Tories are intent on remaining in his shadow.
And then came 9/11/01. Traditional conservatives were again virtually united on the need to “take the fight” to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But opinion became divided on the further military engagement in Iraq. Not least problematic was that insofar as many traditionalists were religious believers, the Iraq war lacked an evident causus belli [sic]— an elementary requirement of just war doctrine. (And indeed, the pre-emption doctrine articulated as America’s official national strategy seems, at the level of theory at least, impossible to square with even quite permissive readings of the just war tradition.) Most were nonetheless willing to support the war on the basis of the “clear and present danger” presented by weapons of mass destruction. Thus, the Bush administration’s failure to discover such weapons in Iraq has proven a considerable blow.
Traditional conservative confidence in the Iraq policy has not been helped by the Bush administration’s ever-more-complete embrace of muscular Wilsonian rhetoric as the justification for American action. Woodrow Wilson is not a conservative icon. Sensitive to historical limitations and understanding liberal institutions as dependent upon pre-existing forms of social and cultural capital which are not present in Arab societies, traditionalists do not believe that “democracy” — which is to say, secular constitutional liberalism — is easily exported there. This is not to say that traditionalists do not take pride in America’s having rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s odious regime, nor does this mean that they now wish to cut our losses and withdraw. To abandon those Iraqis who have — at considerable risk to themselves — put their trust in us would be dishonorable in the extreme. To retreat, moreover, may well prove worse for American security in the long run. One hopes in any event that the administration is now studying the (negative) lessons of an earlier dishonorable American experience — that of Vietnamization. The dishonor there was not in turning the Republic of (South) Vietnam over to the Vietnamese. The dishonor was in not fulfilling our promise of continuing military support for that fledgling nation when confronted with a North Vietnamese armored invasion. ~Mark C. Henrie, “Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism”, The New Pantagruel
Mr. Henrie’s extensive review of the traditionalist conservative tradition, its critics and its views on specific questions makes a great many solid points, and I am not at leisure to put down my thoughts about the entire article just yet. Were I to attempt a full response at present, I probably wouldn’t be finished for several hours, and unfortunately I still have much Byzantine history reading yet to be done. My interest was, not surprisingly, drawn to Mr. Henrie’s comments on traditionalists and foreign affairs, since foreign affairs more than almost any other area of public policy have dominated how traditionalist conservatives define themselves vis-a-vis competing claims to the title conservative.
A few things jumped out at me. Naturally, his observation that a lack of casus belli for invading Iraq makes the war extremely difficult to justify is spot on. His comments about the irreconcilability of the just war tradition and preemptive war struck me as absolutely, obviously right, and they find confirmation in an article by Daniel McCarthy in the Aug. 29 issue of American Conservative that is well worth reading, especially for Catholics looking for some sane rejoinder to the sloppy moral theology and quasi-jingoism of First Things.
Mr. Henrie’s account that most traditionalists were willing to go along with the “clear and present danger” nonsense about Iraq is accurate as a description (evidently, most presumably traditionalist conservatives must have endorsed this rationale, as there were very few conservative dissenters outside the small but vocal “paleo” camp), but I was rather hoping for something a little more compelling. By more compelling, I mean a serious application of traditionalist conservative realism and common sense to the idea that a third-rate country ruled by a tinpot Arab dictatorship could actually pose a “clear and present danger” to the United States, or perhaps traditionalist conservative skepticism of tall presidential tales in the wake of past lies about the Gulf of Tonkin and Racak, among others. Mr. Henrie’s rejection of Wilson as a conservative icon is most welcome, but somehow I was also expecting the correlated statement that, because he so venerates and imitates Woodrow, Mr. Bush is not a conservative.
On the question of withdrawal, obviously I cannot agree. I consider myself a traditionalist conservative in the tradition of Kirk, Weaver and Bradford (I also consider myself a paleoconservative in that I see no fundamental divergence between the two kinds of conservatism). I feel fairly confident in saying that there can be no honourable retreat from Iraq of the kind Mr. Henrie wants short of successful “Iraqisation,” which I believe is entirely unlikely to succeed. If Iraqisation itself is as misguided as Vietnamisation was, solutions to our Iraq problem, excluding withdrawal, are non-existent.
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The withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Iraq and Afghanistan would do nothing to end attacks such as the London bombings, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an article published on Monday.
Writing in Britain’s Financial Times newspaper, Rumsfeld said “extremists” had been killing people in attacks around the world for at least 20 years before the arrival of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The extremists do not seek a negotiated settlement with the west,” he wrote. “They want America and Britain and other coalition allies to surrender our principles.
“Some seem to believe that accommodating extremist demands, including retreating from Afghanistan and Iraq, might put an end to their grievances, and, with them, future attacks,” he added.
“But consider that when terrorists struck America on September 11 2001, a radical Islamist government ruled Afghanistan … and Saddam Hussein tightly clung to power in Iraq.”
Rumsfeld said those behind such attacks would always offer “empty justifications” to try to explain their actions.
“They seek to destroy things they could never build in 1,000 years and kill people they could never persuade,” he wrote. ~Reuters
There is at least one thing we can be sure Mr. Rumsfeld has wrong: Islamist terrorists do not want us to “surrender our principles” (to whom would we surrender them?), but to abandon certain territories in the Near East and central Asia and let them have their way with the various dictatorships and monarchies of the region. Many Americans tend to assume that, if we left the region, there would be a wave of Islamist revolutions overthrowing more or less friendly governments (a fear that does not really mesh with the oft-stated assumption that Muslims everywhere yearn to breathe free and will leap at the chance to vote for pleasant, secular liberals).
We do not resist Islamist demands because of “our principles” (”our principles” have not stopped the government from arming and abetting Islamists throughout the Balkans), unless fake machismo is a principle (in which case Bush and Blair are mighty principled men), but because our government apparently deems these regions and the governments we back as being in some sense vital to national interests. Plainly stated, none of them is vital to American interests, or at least neither so vital nor so threatened that they require extensive deployments of ground forces to secure them.
It might be preferred that the entire region not become an Islamist hothouse, but if it did America need hardly be bothered. Saudi Arabia already is an Islamist hothouse, and this is no way harmed our working relationship with that country so long as there were no American soldiers in their country. That presence in Saudi Arabia, more than any other single thing, explains the motives of the September 11 attackers. Doesn’t Rumsfeld wonder why there was not a single attack by Muslims against an American installation or building between the Tripolitanian War and 1979? Doesn’t he wonder at all why there was not a single Islamic terrorist attack against Americans anywhere before the deployment to Lebanon in a one-sided intervention in support of an Israeli invasion?