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The folks at The Weekly Standard don’t know when to quit. Not cowed by the established public record that the Iraqi government under Hussein had no substantive relationship with al-Qaeda, and not embarrassed by the manifest falsehood of claims to the contrary, the Standard has rehashed much old news (why, did you know that Hussein encouraged attacks against our facilities during the Gulf War?) with a few tidbits of new information in a story called, “The Mother of All Connections,” referring obviously to the alleged connection between the Iraqi regime and bin Laden. Upon reading this article it one is left wondering why they bothered to write it. Obviously, the neocons at the Standard are desperate to find something to vindicate the rightness of the invasion, but this article simply reeks of desperation. A host of nebulous “contacts” and the occasional meeting between Iraqi agents and al-Qaeda operatives are offered up along with the truly meaningless new information that there is apparently a former Iraqi soldier who subsequently joined up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and apparently plotted (with no success) with an Iraqi intelligence officer to attack targets in Pakistan in 1998. This soldier is now being held at Guantanamo after his arrest in Pakistan. Wow! That proves…nothing about the Iraqi government’s relationship with al-Qaeda in 2002. One must want to believe that there was a substantial, working relationship between the two if one is going to see it in this mess of “evidence.”
Even when accepting all the “proof” offered in the article, 1998 seems to have been the zenith of any practical Iraqi cooperation with al-Qaeda. To the extent that any limited material cooperation can be shown from this tissue of nonsense (supposed acquisition of poisons from Iraqi officials by an operative named al-Libi, who has since recanted his testimony), it clearly predates September 11. Evidently, meetings did take place between Iraqi intelligence and members of al-Qaeda in 1998, and these all came to nothing in terms of actual cooperation. That there may have been, in 1998, an interest in such cooperation is really rather irrelevant to the question of whether we should have invaded Iraq in 2003 when all that Hussein had to show for his interest was failed negotiations.
The Kurdish fictions that Ansar al-Islam was a front for Iraqi intelligence are just the sort of propaganda that the Kurds would use to convince Washington to take renewed interest in their region. The associated assumption that Ansar al-Islam=al-Qaeda is a baseless one. Prior to the invasion and insurgency, Zarqawi and his associates in Ansar al-Islam formed a separate group of Islamists distinct from al-Qaeda, with which they could have had contacts without being directly affiliated or allied. If meetings prove the existence of an alliance, it would be interesting to list all the various radical groups around the world with which the U.S. agents have met in the past and with which, apparently, we must still be allied today.
Senior American officials have met with Chechen terrorist leaders and some prominent Americans with personal and professional connections to the administration have openly sympathised with the Chechen cause–should Russia assume that our government is supporting terrorism and actively colluding in the murder of Russians, or simply that our government is full of pathological Russophobes and fools? It would be premature at best to say that the obvious Russophobia of the Washington elite and meetings with Chechen terrorists proves material assistance to anti-Russian terrorists. Yet we are expected to believe something very similar in the case of Iraq. Who are Messrs. Hayes and Joscelyn kidding?
Thus, many in the intelligence community implausibly assume that Zarqawi could have planned terrorist attacks from neo-Stalinist Baghdad and had one of his operatives travel in and out of Iraqi regime-controlled territory without Saddam’s approval. The next question is obvious: If it is so easy for regime foes to maintain a long-term presence in Baghdad and to transit in and out of Iraq, why was it so difficult for the CIA to operate there? This assumption flies in the face of everything we know about Saddam and his control over Iraq.
As anyone might notice from our own limited successes, Iraq is not an easily or readily controlled country. It has an extensive border, much of it in difficult terrain that is not easily or frequently patrolled. If our forces find it difficult to prevent smuggling and movement in and out of Iraq, as the “bomb Syria” crowd continually tell us they do, why do we believe that Hussein had any better luck in controlling the movements of people in his country? As usual, the Standard confuses despotism with strength (perhaps because they have a sneaky regard for authoritarian leadership?), when despots act despotically precisely because their regime is narrow, weak and ineffective. Full-on totalitarian states with real control over the lives of the entire population are rare and require an administrative and police apparatus far more extensive and sophisticated than Iraq ever possessed. Tin-pot dictators may aspire to be Stalin, but this does not make them as powerful as Stalin, and we should not assume that they control their society very much at all, much less that they control it to the extent that they would like to believe. Perhaps the CIA was unsuccessful in cultivating human intelligence resources in Iraq for the same reason it has difficulty cultivating them anywhere. Perhaps the CIA is not very competent in this area. More likely, Hussein would have been very keen to find American agents inside his country, while he would have less interest and incentive in keeping track of random Islamists who, in turn, had relatively little reason to cause him any trouble at present.
At the time when the claims of a connection were being made in 2002-03, those claims were wrong at best and dishonest at worst. In the same way we might bring together quite a lot more reliable evidence of direct, extensive support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda coming from Pakistan’s ISI agency in the past, as well as perhaps in the present (for that matter, we could show extensive support for the Taliban coming from our government in years past), but that would not necessarily prove that this support had to continue after September 11. That it probably has continued in Pakistan’s case is a prime example of a real threat that has been deliberately and studiously ignored to build up the nonexistent threat of the Iraqi “relationship” with al-Qaeda.
Certainly, by the pathetic standards of evidence being applied in this article, Pakistan has a lot more to answer for than Iraq ever has, and yet we are all apparently quite willing to pretend that Pakistan is a reliable ally. Were we of a mind we might also indict the governments of Sudan and Yemen for playing host to or tolerating al-Qaeda members in their country, except for the all-important fact that these governments changed their tunes after September 11.
We know that in the context of a decade-long confrontation with the United States, Saddam reached out to al Qaeda on numerous occasions. We know that the leadership of al Qaeda reciprocated, requesting assistance in its endeavors. We know that reports of meetings, offers of safe haven, and collaboration persisted.
What we do not know is the full extent of the relationship. But we know enough to know that there was one. And we know enough to know it was a threat.
What we do know is that this relationship was never consummated in any meaningful way. Hussein reached out at times, and bin Laden reached out at times, but it seems to have never produced anything. For all the reports of meetings and collaboration, what was the fruit of this relationship? How can connections this vague and tenuous represent a threat? Who now believes that the Iraqi government after 1991 ever really posed a serious threat to anyone outside Iraq?
The reality is that, contrary to the lies of the administration, Iraq’s government never sponsored anti-American terrorist groups. It did not train them, it did not fund them, and it did not harbour them. If Iraqi intelligence itself conceived of engaging in terrorist attacks against Western interests, that is something clearly separate. If the Hussein regime sponsored any terrorists at all (and here we must rely on the word of very biased Kurdish witnesses), they were also not members of al-Qaeda, nor did Iraq provide al-Qaeda with any facilities in which to train its members. By any reasonable standard of showing material or substantive cooperation between the two, the Standard’s case fails yet again.
Tom DeLay, the Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, has been charged with criminal conspiracy by a grand jury in Texas. Mr DeLay has relinquished his post but not his seat in Congress.
The second-ranking, and most assertive Republican leader, was accused of a criminal conspiracy with two associates, John Colyandro, a former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by Mr DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads Mr DeLay’s national political committee. ~Timesonline.co.uk
Indeed, the administration’s mixed signals, alternately condemning and lauding the regime, have done little to rein in the Janjaweed marauders who keep the Darfur people from leaving fetid camps to plant crops and rebuild their shattered villages. And one reason the administration has not acted more forcefully is that the potent Christian groups involved in foreign affairs–those who anchored the religious coalition that compelled results in southern Sudan with unity and toughness–have been fragmented in their response to Darfur. This fact tarnishes the achievement in the south, and the stain will fall most heavily on the evangelical world. Born-again Christians in America, it will be said, care more about the deaths of their fellow believers in the south than about the deaths of Muslims in the west.
Given its special access to the White House and its grassroots muscle, the evangelical community remains uniquely situated to mobilize against what President Bush himself has described as “genocide in Darfur.” As one insider explained, “If evangelicals are not prioritizing it, then the administration will not prioritize it.” But the nation’s evangelicals should prioritize it. Even without sending American troops to the region, forceful and moral options remain. The administration can stop sending mixed messages, mount a determined effort to expand and empower African Union forces, add U.S. logistical support, secure more aid, and massively increase diplomatic and economic pressure.
And to make all this happen–to halt the rape and murder of Darfur–the vital element is action from the American religious community. ~Allen D. Hertzke, First Things (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)
When we consider the Janjaweed militias’ violence and forced relocation of the largely non-Arab population of Darfur, as Christians we must naturally deplore and condemn it as immoral and vicious. Nothing can be said that will justify the wanton killing and brigandage that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300,000. The violence in Darfur, like the war in the south for the past twenty years, also reflects the brutality and criminality of the Islamist Sudanese regime. In several places in Africa one faultline that triggers much of the violence of that troubled continent is the religious and cultural divide between Muslim and non-Muslim populations–throughout western Africa and in the Sudan the same sort of conflict over the imposition of shari’a recurs. This faultline made the conflict in southern Sudan seem much more clear and made the nature of the response seem much more readily apparent.
However, in Darfur the conflict is between two sets of Muslims, for whose illumination Christians should pray but to whom they owe nothing but the simple charity that Christians should extend to all. Rendering humanitarian assistance and bringing supplies to the dislocated people, now residing in camps in the desert or in neighbouring Chad, are legitimate things that Christians, if they felt so inclined, might reasonably do as an expression of this basic charity. But as a matter of principle, Christians living in the United States have vastly greater obligations to many, many others, all of which takes priority over compassion for Darfurian Muslims. Not to put too fine a point on it, but today we have our own displaced populations from the Gulf Coast who need our support and to whom we, as Christians who have lived in this country all our lives, owe far more. Once we have fulfilled our obligations to our countrymen, to whom we should always have greater loyalty and affinity, we might consider in what ways, if any, we might assist foreigners in need. Scripture teaches us not to turn away the poor, the stranger and the traveler when they come to us, but it does not teach us to neglect our own for the sake of going to another land to tend to the oppressed there.
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Turkey did murder about 2,000,000 Armenians and 350,000 Greeks, the first such extensive genocide of the last century (the first was the German slaughter of 65,000 Herero in Namibia in 1904). I know, I know, my figure of Armenian’s murdered far surpasses the 1,500,000 most often given by Armenian and genocide scholars, but they are only counting that period during WWI when the Young Turks were in power. I included the post war period when the Nationalist under Atatürk continued the genocide of Armenians and added the Greeks, and so mentioning Atatürk enrages Turk students the most. After all, he is a hero to Turks and the father of modern Turkey. ~R.J. Rummel
If there is one thing that Mr. Rummel can be relied upon to get right, it is the facts concerning “death by government.” His inclusion of the post-WWI slaughter of Armenians is entirely appropriate and much needed in telling the whole story of the genocide of the Armenian people from 1915 to 1923. What makes this post even more interesting is that Mr. Rummel seems to have no awareness that the tragic and horrific events of this period are partly the fruit of democratic ideology, mass politics and the rhetoric of self-determination as these inspired all ethnic groups, including the Turks, in the Ottoman state to think in terms of political self-rule, mass identity and government by consent.
Wilson’s exhortation to self-determination was still a few years away, but the same foolish principles inspired and motivated the “reformers” in the empire. As will often be the case in democratising Islamic states, it is the Christians who will have the most to lose as they lose the relative protection of a monarch or dictator and gain the meaningless protection of what Patrick Henry called “paper chains” of a constitution while they are actually left at the mercy of a Muslim majority.
Indeed, a more or less straight line can be drawn between the ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ revolution of 1908 and the horrible violence of the ensuing decades. The war exacerbated trends within the empire that had already begun, but the genocide cannot readily be written off as a by-product of the tensions of war nor can it be put down to the machinations of an elite–the elite was complicit and responsible, but carried out its policy of annihilation through popular enthusiasm directed against the Armenians of what is now northeastern Turkey.
Undoubtedly, the Young Turks scrapped constitutional government and ruled as an oligarchy, and Ataturk’s republicanism was authoritarian, but what is telling is how much worse the attacks on Armenians were beginning in 1915 than they had been in the brutal massacres of 1894-95 following twenty years of political “modernisation” and “democratisation.” In the end, the genocide of the Armenians, beyond being the explosion of ethnic and religious hatred that it was, was a pure expression of the tyranny of the majority and the envy and hatred of the mob for those whom it resented. It is telling that violence on such a scale did not take place under Ottoman absolutism, vicious and tyrannical as it was in many ways, but only following the introduction of democratic, reformist ideas. The Young Turks represented those most, not least, committed to those reformist principles, and they were responsible for one of the worst slaughters of non-combatants in the history of the world. What lessons can we find in that concerning the “democratic peace”?
This evil was therefore partly a consequence of attempting to introduce democratic principles into a society entirely unready for them, demonstrating the explosive and dangerous potential of democratic ideas for transforming unfriendly, but usually peaceful, neighbouring ethnic groups into seemingly perpetual enemies and vicious rivals for power, all the while lending a kind of legitimacy to the domination by the largest group. Democratists will object that democracy without minority protections is not their sort of democracy at all, but the demos itself does not care what sort of democracy such idealists desire. If the mass demos believes it is sovereign, and it serves the interests of the demos to murder a million or two million it is a reality of such rude democracy that the demos will commit those murders.
It is only the prescriptive rights and largely undemocratic hindrances to popular rule that modern democratic states still possess to some degree that prevent Western-style democracies from degenerating into this sort of rude and brutal tyranny. Democracy does not induce restraint or moderation, but unchains all the passions and lets them run wild. If we hope to avoid genocide in the future, an aristocratic, constitutional republic or a monarchy would be a much safer bet than empowering “the people” anywhere.
As a very brief follow-up to the last post, I wanted to add a separate observation. Mr. Rummel’s simplistic theory of “democratic peace” reveals something about democrats and democratists that is not often commented on. There is in this theory the naive faith that there is a type of regime that guarantees an end to war, which is to seek a mechanistic and institutional cure to something that originates in the sinful will of man, man’s boundless acquisitiveness and the finite resources of the world. It is what Voegelin might have called a gnostic faith.
It is the magical thinking that a change in the organisation of the government, which is nothing other than the concentration of power, will fundamentally alter human behaviour. It is the nonsense that we can remake our nature by rearranging the political furniture or by improving the social or economic ‘environment’ in which we live. It is not only that reorganising government or altering social policy cannot do this, but that no government, no matter how it is constituted, will accept a future in which there is no possibility of using force to change the political landscape both at home and abroad. The incentive of increased power in going to war for those in government is simply too great–the ire of voters after the fact hardly matters and will not dissuade any government from going to war if it deems it useful or simply “doable.”
Indeed, not only has democracy not acted as a brake on starting war in the last several years, but now we have an entire ideology dedicated to the proposition that it is morally imperative to start wars either for the sake of democracy and democratisation or for the protection of “human rights” or both.
Most other democratists, keenly aware that the “democratic peace” idea is either an embarrassment while there is a democratic war of aggression going on or that it is simply false, have taken a very different approach and begun openly defending the morality of aggression for democracy. They are perverse and rather frightening people, but at least they seem to know that they are not going to make war redundant by their efforts. I suspect that if they thought they were supporting a policy that might one day make war impossible they would change sides in the debate immediately, because it is war, and by extension power, that they desire more than anything–the nature of the regime in which they exercise that power is really of no consequence. Eliminating war would be to eliminate new opportunities for gain for these eternal parvenus. Even if democracy could ever somehow remove the need for war (which it can’t), the democratists would do their best to make sure that this never happened.
How do we know this? Because we know empirically from history and verified theory that democracies don’t make war on each other, and therefore we can predict that between any two democracies there will be no future war. However, war can well occur between two if one or both are not democracies. Moreover, the probability of war is far higher if both are nondemocracies.
Is war inevitable? No! We can expand the sphere of democracies to encompass the globe and thereby make war history. There is no reason to suspect that the relationships among democracies will be any different than they are today if all countries are democratic. Democracies will remain intrinsically democracies, and thus the essential nature of democracies –political rights for all citizens, the democratic culture, multiple civic groups, a spontaneous society, and bonds and cross pressure — that ensure peace will remain.~R.J. Rummel
What can one say in the face of such foolishness? I have occasionally encountered Mr. Rummel’s ramblings about “democratic peace” and “freedomism” before, and I have wasted little time on taking them seriously, but the troubling thing is that Mr. Rummel’s bizarre theory readily wins acceptance in conventional thinking. It is my impression that a great many Americans, and Westerners generally, work on the assumption that democracy=peace. Pacifists, of course, take this to the extreme with the assumption that war must therefore be undemocratic, so obvious is the equation between peace and democracy. But even a brief, cursory glance at history would tell us this political theory is simply false and has virtually no supporting evidence. It would be a waste of my time to explain in detail why the wars between democratic states that I have already mentioned in previous posts really are wars between democratic states. Perhaps simply a list of some relevant conflicts would suffice (I do not propose that this list is exhaustive, but simply what comes to mind).
There are the conflicts between what we must, for analytic purposes, consider as democratic states or, at the very least, states with very significant democratic elements: the American War for Independence, the Quasi-War (1798-1800), the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (unless we are going to quibble that Britain was not yet sufficiently ‘democratic’ at this point), the American War of Secession, the Boer War, WWI. Then there are the wars started by democratic states, whether the target of their aggression was a democratic state or not: the Greco-Turkish Wars, the Spanish-American War, the First and Second Balkan Wars, the Greek invasion of Turkey (1919-22) and, of course, Kosovo and Iraq. Japan’s wars of aggression were not conducted by a democratic government, but it was scarcely for lack of parliamentary institutions, constitutional rights and a broad franchise that Japan became expansionist and militaristic–democracy and military expansionism can often go hand in hand, fueled by the insane desire to bring the “gift” of democracy to other victims.
It would only be by narrowly definining democracy in terms of parliamentary and participatory government, which I have been doing here, that we could exclude fascist and communist revolutionary regimes from the label of democratic. Obviously, if we included these as part of democracy’s legacy (which, in the sense of being the legacy of 1789, they are), the indictment would be overwhelming. Also, I have intentionally limited the examples to American and European nations. There could very well be useful examples from other parts of the world in the last century of which I am presently unaware or which I have forgotten. But the list given above should be sufficient to disprove Mr. Rummel’s claim once and for all.
Confronted with this, only an ideologue could maintain that “democracies do not go to war with one another” or that “democracies do not start wars.” Of course they do! Democracies, last I checked, were populated with men, who are every bit as likely to succumb to ambition, greed, bloodlust, libido dominandi, the desire to acquire new territory and resources and ideological fervour as men in any other regime. I would go further and argue that democracies exacerbate all of these vicious tendencies in men and make wars both more likely and more destructive when they occur, but that is an argument for another time.
Besides, wars have causes in conflicts over the control of resources and territory. As long as resources are limited and territoriality is an element in human politics (in other words, until the Kingdom comes), there will be war. If all nations became true functioning democracies tomorrow it would not resolve disputes over territory and resources, nor would it change basic strategic interests, nor would it reduce the willingness of strong powers to go to war to achieve their strategic goals. Wars are caused by extreme conflicts of two interested polities, not by madcap dictators simply deciding that war is entertaining (or whatever it is that “democratic peace” advocates think causes war). Dictators may exploit grievances and whip up the crowd into bellicose frenzy, but the interests and grievances have to exist already for this to work.
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According to Justin Raimondo, the Cato Institute has sent its defense policy studies director, Charles V. Pena, packing:
The earlier purge of Ivan Eland, who is now with the Independent Institute – and a regular Antiwar.com columnist – was a portent of things to come, and Pena’s departure is but the latest sign that Cato is going over to the War Party. As one observer put it: “Fortunately, Ted Carpenter and Chris Preble are still there but who knows what their future is. I think the jury is still out, but it’s hard not to read between the lines.”
According to a source at Cato, Pena was told that the institute needed to cut staff to close a 7-figure budget deficit. Yet only one other person (not a policy director and not someone in the defense and foreign policy department) was let go (at the end of August). Curiously enough, the day after he was RIF’ed (yes, that’s the term they used: “reduction in force”) Cato President Ed Crane announced the promotion of no less than 4 people at Cato (with each presumably receiving a raise) and the hiring of a new director of government affairs. Also, there’s been plenty of talk about adding 3 floors to the building — to accommodate a larger staff.
What’s going on at Cato is not a “reduction in force,” but a betrayal of libertarian principle. Pena, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, has been a strong advocate of withdrawing from Iraq – a position that Cato is now dropping. This is typical of the Cato crowd: their opportunism has always been beset by bad timing. At the dawn of the Republican-led anti-government revolution, they were telling the world they were “low tax liberals.” Now that the majority of Americans have turned against this war, the Cato bigwigs are lining up with the neoconservatives who want to “stay the course.”
Mr. Pena’s departure from Cato seems to be confirmed by his disappearance from their list of policy scholars. The folks at Cato seem not to have taken the time to eliminate Mr. Pena from the site entirely, however, as he is still listed on their “Defense and National Security” research area page. The lack of any item announcing or explaining the sudden departure of Mr. Pena suggests that the powers that be at Cato are not enthusiastic about advertising the fact that they have forced out one of their most well-known and respected scholars, presumably for his lack of zeal for persisting in the folly of Iraq.
Mr. Pena was probably the most prominent face of the Institute on television and one of the most widely known members of the Cato Institute in the public policy debate over Iraq. In the domestic and foreign media, if a reporter was looking for a quote to capture the view of the American foreign policy skeptic and noninterventionist he would frequently rely on Charles Pena’s statements and writings. Undoubtedly, Mr. Carpenter is very capable of making the same arguments, but Mr. Pena’s departure shows that Cato is no longer very much interested in advancing those arguments. Besides making themselves more irrelevant by moving away from their earlier positions on Iraq and apparently abandoning the spirit of conviction that distinguished Cato from the other fellow-travellers in the Beltway in recent years, the Cato Institute has evidently thrown away one of its best spokesman and reduced the visibility of their organisation. Libertarians can see this not only as a betrayal, but also as an unusually stupid and short-sighted one. Traditional conservatives should lament that the one last institutional bastion friendly to noninterventionism and limited government has now begun to succumb to the hegemonist disease infesting essentially all other think tanks on the Right.
This would be admirable if it were true. But we are not providing security in southern Iraq. The rescue mission to free two undercover soldiers from the clutches of local gunmen was a measure of how anarchic Basra has become. The police ignored both the Army and their own national government when requested to hand the men over, preferring to pass them on to one of the Shia militias which effectively control the place.
The population is at the mercy of the men from the Badr Brigades, military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Mahdi Army, who follow the radical religious leader Moqtada al Sadr.
Civil society has failed to put down any roots in the 30 months since the invasion. Local institutions are hollow. The chief of police admitted recently that he can trust only half his men. No wonder the duo apparently shot first and asked questions later when they ran into a checkpoint. ~Patrick Bishop, The Daily Telegraph
Recent events in Basra should make it plain to the British people that their soldiers will not be able to play at peacekeepers in southern Iraq any longer, and that their soldiers are seen as an occupying army and, what it worse, as a weak occupying army that has long since abdicated its role of providing order, making the soldiers a target of both the militias and the ordinary inhabitants. If the ‘coalition’ (that is, America and Britain) were to make a go of the “nation-building” and the even more implausible “democracy-building” (the two are not the same thing, and much of the so-called thinking on the subject has muddled the two with painful regularity), it could not pretend that the Badr brigades or Mahdi Army were tolerable substitutes for maintaining proper order.
But the ‘coalition’ it has had to live with this fiction to avoid seeming too neo-colonialist and to avoid, in the case of the Badr brigades, the hostility of their political wing, SCIRI, and their masters in Tehran. Confrontation with these groups has little public backing at home, as the absurdity of killing still more Iraqis for their own good will embarrass most of the last holdouts of the War Party, and accommodation with them combined with continued occupation has become impractical and dangerous.
Mr. Bishop’s proposal for announcing an exit strategy and then proceeding to undertake two years of “reforming” the security forces, to somehow divorce them from the militias after they have had two years to become solidly enmeshed together, is folly. Westerners frequently talk of depriving or lending Iraqis insurgents and militiamen legitimacy by some policy decision that the government might make (I confess to having advanced this same oversimplified argument on more than a few occasions), but the real dilemma is that the insurgents and militiamen have no need of the political legitimacy our continued presence probably does lend them. They will not becomes less of a real-world political force, based on armed force, because their initial reason for being has disappeared, and to this extent any antiwar arguments that have claimed this have also been engaged in a certain wishful thinking. Neither, however, can their real-world political power be stripped from them by anything so empty and vague as “reforming” the security services. Neither can they be dislodged from their positions of power without significant casualties and a widening and escalation of the insurgency with potentially explosive international implications. Realists acknowledge when some problems, lacking practical solutions, are no longer really problems–the militias, by turns criminal and fanatical, control southern Iraq because they were the organisations that were always going to dominate southern Iraq in the event of Hussein’s overthrow.
“Civil society” has not put down roots because, as educated and cultured as some Iraqis might be, civil society requires authority that can constrain violent action and make something approaching public discourse possible. But all of these terms are simply absurd in the context modern Iraq–there is no public, nor is there any public space, because these very concepts or their equivalents mean nothing in southern Iraq today, and there can really be no civil society where these things are lacking. For the foreseeable future the only likely authorities to rule in southern Iraq are Islamic clerics and their associated militias, and that is something that will not be fixed, as neither the American nor British public wants to support the sort of effort necessary to “fix” it.
[Michael] Oakeshott didn’t have a political program and never trusted those who did. His bête noire was what he called “rationalism in politics” (the phrase became the title of a book of his elegant essays) — the desire to use government for ends it could never achieve, at least not without sacrificing the good it might achieve. He described this as “making politics as the crow flies.”
Government, for Oakeshott, should be an umpire, not a player. If the umpire makes rulings that will ensure the outcome he thinks preferable — the victory of the poorer team, say — then he won’t rule impartially, and the game itself will be corrupted. “The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny,” he summed up the problem in a fine epigram. Dreams had no place in politics. ~Joseph Sobran
Mr. Sobran offers a very thoughtful corrective to the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the federal government’s “failure” in New Orleans by posing the simple question whether government should even be taking part in most of the things in which it is involved. Recalling the insights of Michael Oakeshott, Mr. Sobran’s article reminds me of another of Oakeshott’s distinctions between nomocracy and teleocracy (these are implied in Mr. Sobran’s own descriptions) that Mr. Sobran himself first brought to my attention.
Nomocracy, the rule by law, was the desirable and limited sort of government that establishes rules, whereas teleocracy, rule according to a goal or purpose, was bound to lead to a government that commanded and became tyrannical. When Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things, lectures us about what America is “for,” that is its reason for being, he is demonstrating the attitude of a teleocrat. Everything in creation has a purpose, but each created thing is also an end and good in itself. If created things exist “for” anything, we exist “for” God, our beginning and end, and not to accomplish some goal here below.
The wailers over federal “failure” in New Orleans and the idealists who wish to democratise the world have made abstract goals of absolute security and absolute, global freedom goals to which all sane and limited, and therefore realisable, priorities must be subordinated. Idealists’ goals, like any dream or fantasy, are intangible and unobtainable, but in the process of pursuing them the requirements made by the state upon the people will be as unlimited as the goal is out of reach. Dreamers in possession of political power are always the creators of nightmarish realities.
Most perverse among the war essays (and it was a strong field) is David Gelertner’s “The Holocaust Shrug.” The catalogue of Saddam’s crimes and the fact that we could stop him from committing them is argument enough for intervention. To not exult in our victory is morally equivalent to shrugging at the Holocaust. What is one to say about Gelertner, who talks about the morality of the war in Iraq ignoring entirely the predicted chaos that followed? But Gelertner presses on into theology. The Holocaust has put man “under a cloud of sin and shame” and America’s war in Iraq may be “the largest step” ever taken toward the “act of selfless national goodness that might fix the broken moral balance of the cosmos.” I would love Gelertner to explain this blasphemous formulation to an American soldier. Not for your nation’s defense do you fight and die in the sun-scorched desert, but rather to redeem history from Hitler. Thanks. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty, AFF’s Brainwash
Michael Dougherty has written a thoughtful and fair review of The Weekly Standard Reader that manages to give the writers at the Standard their due as writers when they deserve it without ignoring the moral blindness and confusion that overwhelms so much of neoconservative thinking, especially about foreign policy. Michael’s take on Gelertner’s ugly little article is brief and to the point in dismissing the insane claim that would seem, to a Christian reader, to invest the Holocaust with the same significance as the Fall and invading Iraq with the same cosmic significance as the Incarnation of God. In his comments here, Michael is, if anything, almost too polite, but that must be a virtue in an age where crude shouting matches so readily take the place of sober discourse and inquiry. I recommend the review, and for a wider variety of Michael’s writing I refer you to his fine blog, Surfeited with Dainties.
If one drills deeper, the results are even worse for the CDU and Ms Merkel. In many of the states in which the SPD had lost elections in recent years because of Mr Schröder’s economic reforms, the party has again pulled ahead of the CDU, notably in North Rhine-Westphalia (with 40% compared with 34.4% for the CDU). It was the SPD’s crushing defeat there in May that led Mr Schröder to seek early national elections.
What went wrong for Ms Merkel? For a start, she ran a lacklustre campaign and made many unforced errors. Her biggest by far was recruiting Paul Kirchhof, a judge-turned-professor who favours radical tax reform, as her prospective finance minister, because it gave Mr Schröder an easy target. In the last two weeks of the campaign he and his party launched withering attacks on the “professor from Heidelberg” and the CDU’s “radically unsocial” reforms. Such language appears to have resonated with many Germans, who still love social consensus and dread too much change.
But the disappointing result also suggests that Ms Merkel may not have been the right candidate for the CDU, because she is so atypical of a party with deep Catholic, social and western elements. The remarried, Protestant woman from eastern Germany favouring radical economic reform seems to have frightened away many who would otherwise have voted for her party. She may also have scared voters away from the CSU, which fields candidates only in the predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria. The party dropped below 50% there—a decline of nearly ten percentage points from the last elections in 2002. ~The Economist
As I have been saying since May, Frau Merkel was a very poor choice for as the Union’s candidate. The cultural divide shaping up ever more starkly in Germany (with the SPD overwhelmingly leading other contenders in the north and east, the CDU in the south and west) and the Bavarian results in particular, however, are most telling as to why this is so. Under Edmund Stoiber, premier of Bavaria and leading force in the CSU, the Union naturally received strong support in one of its core regions, and evidently having one of their own in the running for Chancellor solidified the Union’s hold on Bavaria. The Union ran far more competitively across much of the country under Stoiber, and that before the implosion of the SPD nationwide.
In spite of the largely well-fought campaign he led three years ago, and the largely accidental reasons for Schroeder’s last miraculous escape, the Union chose to drop him and alienate its core voters for no good reason when it chose Merkel. Enthusiast for good American relations that she is, Frau Merkel might have discreetly chatted with Karl Rove, cynic and scoundrel that he is, on how to win the support of core voters with whom one has next to nothing in common.
It was not simply that Frau Merkel was a bad candidate and terrible party leader who ran a dreadful campaign, which everyone acknowledges, but that, as the article suggested, she had no connection with the people whom she claimed to represent and could not even pretend to share in the culture of Catholic Germany to which she had no personal religious or professional connections. Elections are contests over symbolic meaning–they have very little to do with government or policy, as we should all know from experience–and the Union chose to set up as its symbol something completely unrecognisable to its constituents. Even if the CDU is now entirely secular and makes little pretense to advancing a specifically Christian social program, American politics ought to have taught the Union that patterns of cultural and religious allegiance often are more important for determining electoral outcomes than the ‘rational’ appeal of a platform.
In light of this, the schizophrenic campaign of the tax-slashing Mr. Kirchhof and the actual platform of raising taxes to resolve Germany’s fiscal woes only added to the damage that had already been done when the Union chose symbolically to endorse someone in whom the Union voters could not recognise themselves or their values. The CDU choosing her to represent its interests has been rather like Illinois Republicans choosing Alan Keyes as their Senate candidate, and it has been just about as successful.
Support for the war is at an all-time low. Forty-four percent now say the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, the lowest reading since the question was first asked more than two years ago.
A majority, nearly 60 percent, now disapprove of the way President George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 36 percent approve. Almost half of those surveyed said that they were not proud of what the United States is doing in Iraq.
When asked how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq, a majority said they should leave as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not yet a stable democracy. Fifty-two percent called for an immediate departure and 42 percent said troops should remain for as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy.
The political divisions that have been present all along, remain.
Seventy-one percent of Democrats said the United States should leave as soon as possible, while 31 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents took that position.
The poll found that the casualties had been particularly wearing on the public. Forty-five percent said there had been more American military casualties in Iraq than they had expected. ~The International Herald-Tribune
Already we can expect to hear the predictable counterblasts from the War Party: we are hurting morale, we are too sensitive to a “few” casualties, we are spineless weaklings, etc. But note the last figure: 45% said that casualties have been higher than expected. That probably has an enormous amount to do with collapsing support for the war. It is understandable that the public, accepting the administration’s either inept or deceitful predictions of easy victory, expected few casualties. These were, after all, just Iraqis we were fighting, and “we” had trounced them before with minimal losses (nevermind that the two wars are completely incomparable) and “we” had just ousted the Taliban (with helpful brigades of Northern Alliance cannon fodder)–the popular imagination might have seen it in just this way.
I imagine that if Mr. Bush had been even the slightest bit informed, prepared and honest, he would have told the public that casualties could easily be several thousands of men and that reconstruction might take many years. But his handlers, assuming they had any earthly idea what they were getting into (a big assumption), probably knew no one would go for it. However, if a majority did accept his pathetic justifications for this war, in spite of the greater expected costs, I suspect that more people would be supporting his policy today and would be far less scandalised by the loss of life. As I have said before, it is not that the public is necessarily so hypersensitive to combat losses, but that the costs and purpose of the war are not what they believed they would be. That gap between expectations and reality has been filled, naturally enough, by resentment at the man who started the war.
Ecumenism certainly has declined in recent times. The key goal was ably expressed back in 1961 at a WCC New Delhi gathering. It noted that unity “is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Savior are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully-committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages, in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls his people.”
The Princeton Proposal amounts to an effort to revitalize this declaration. That’s a mighty task, to say the least, when considering the varieties and disputes within Christianity around the world today. Many Christians ask, why bother?
The ecumenists respond that Christianity demands it. Most notably, they refer to Jesus Christ’s specific prayer for unity in John 17, including “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The implications for the church’s mission to spread the Good News are unmistakable.
Jenson declared that church division perverts the process of unifying humanity, and is “sin.” Yeago warned that abandoning church unity represented a “catastrophic and continuing failure of love,” which denies the redeeming and transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Conference speakers recognized the enormous problems, including distrust and indifference. Jenson looked at the effort as “bread upon the waters,” with developments “clearly and drastically dependent” upon the Holy Spirit.
Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, if Christians take Holy Scripture seriously, then it’s difficult to see how they can stop striving for the unity prayed for by Jesus Christ. ~Raymond Keating, Church and Society (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)
The last sentence sums up very simply why “many Christians” are indifferent, if not hostile, to the ecumenist project: it identifies the largely political project of reconciling different confessions under some minimalist, reductionist definition of Christian truth with the Lord’s most profound prayer for the Church. The implications of the prayer are not “unmistakable,” as a great many Christians of more understanding than I possess have regarded the implications Mr. Keating and the ecumenists draw from Christ’s prayer for unity as a gross error.
Certainly from the traditional Catholic and Orthodox perspectives with which I am more familiar, the Church is now already united, holy, catholic and apostolic and cannot be anything else. I assume that theologically rigorous Protestants would affirm nothing else. She is not, and cannot be, divided or partial–that is one implication of Christ’s prayer. Bad ecclesiology among Catholics and Orthodox notwithstanding, there can be no permanent divisions within the Body of Christ–there can be either a falling away from the Truth, or an adherence. That sort of stark opposition tends to embarrass modern Christians, and modern theologians most of all, but then we are all likely embarrassed by many other rather stark or ‘harsh’ things required of us by the Lord. Still, it is no excuse for sloppy thinking or confusion.
I cannot speak for the Catholics as to how their authorities understand different degrees of communion (according which, Catholics and Orthodox are apparently supposed to be in some kind of communion), as I do not pretend to understand communion that is independent of Eucharistic and doctrinal unity myself. In what would it consist? At any rate, what little I do understand as an Orthodox Christian tells me that past divisions in the Church were scandalous, but that any division is a product of some Christians departing from the common mind of the Church and persisting in dividing themselves from the Church.
There is an imperative for the Church and all Her members to call all people to salvation in Christ and to receive them according to the Tradition and teachings of the Church. For the Orthodox, there is obviously no question of concessions on fundamental points of doctrinal divergence–it is not given to us to concede things entrusted to us, as we will be held to account for each of them. Yet what seems “unmistakable” is that a genuine reunion of all confessing Christians in the one and same Church would require such concessions of certain long-held claims.
So there is no such imperative for all Christians, or all those who call Christ Lord, to unite for the sake of uniting or to pretend that they are already united. No “ecumenical” effort that presupposes a pre-existing unity of Christians can ever overcome its own theological and ecclesiological incoherence. Our unity in Christ is not some metaphorical image or nominal identity–it is a spiritual reality, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, and made visible in the world. I do not believe that such unity could be obscured and hidden such that it is no longer visible to all: if we see many different confessions around us, then it is because there is a plethora of false confessions and one true one. Full communion among all Christians is desirable, as indeed the communion of all men in Christ would be desirable, but it is difficult to see how this would happen given the current theology and attitudes of most self-styled ecumenists.
Merkel’s sense of grim purpose may suit the moment. After spending four months with a seemingly unassailable lead in the polls, she suddenly finds herself in a dogfight with Schröder.
The likelihood is still that Merkel, 51, will become chancellor after the vote Sunday. But she may have to settle for leading a “grand coalition” of her Christian Democratic Union and Schröder’s Social Democratic Party. Her preferred coalition, with the Free Democratic Party, is falling just short of a majority in the most recent polls.
Given the aura of political invincibility that has enveloped Merkel since a weakened Schröder called for early elections last May, that result would be seen as almost a defeat. ~The International Herald-Tribune
Should he [Scott Richert] choose to continue the discussion, I would be very interested to hear what he might have to say to two of the points that I raised:
1. If the just price concept is to play a moral restraining function and not be identified from or solely from the free market price of a good and not be identified through a series of price controls then what criteria does Mr. Richert think that a merchant should look to that do not substantially involve considerations of the item’s supply or the needs of those who purchase it?
2. Does Mr. Richert acknowledge that by asking for a just price to be determined that is not substantially affected by “scarcity or the special needs of the buyer” that he is asking for a price to be determined in a way not substantially affected by considerations of supply and demand? ~Jimmy Akin
In looking for a mechanism other than state price controls for enforcement, it seems that we have excellent mechanisms in the form of social pressure, the disapproval of the community and the conscience of the seller. The seller might measure whether or not he is charging unduly high prices by what his customers are telling him about his unduly high prices–admirers of the market are frequently enthusing about its capacity to transmit information very effectively, so why should consumer resentment at high prices not be a significant part of the exchange of information? He could then keep his prices at a level as low as he could without suffering a loss. It might also occur to a seller in a time of rising prices that his efforts to keep prices moderate will be rewarded by consumers both in the short and longer terms.
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Finally, Mr. Richert takes exception to my characterization of the Middle Ages as impoverished compared to modern times. His response is that modern times are spiritually impoverished compared to the Middle Ages.
This is quite true. The faith among the Christian population was stronger then and suffused their culture in a way it does not today. This aspect of the Middle Ages is much to be admired and, if possible, duplicated at some point in the future (though B16 doesn’t see that happening any time soon).
Mr. Richert points out that there are values that transcend economics and that must be pursued, and this is also quite true. He tells a poignant story involving Mother Theresa, which is spiritually compelling and a powerful testimony to the value of compassion over money.
These points do not mean, however, that the economics of the Middle Ages were correct, that they should be applied today, or that the Church requires us to believe in them. ~Jimmy Akin
This was one of the few points worth commenting on from Mr. Akin’s riposte to one of Mr. Richert’s last posts on the just price debate. Rather than spending much time detouring down the side alley of Mr. Akin’s justifying his backhanded attack on the views of Father Eugene Cahill, S.J., which dominates most of Mr. Akin’s last post, I wanted to tackle Mr. Akin’s argument advanced against medieval economic practices.
Yes, Mr. Akin grants, medieval Christian man was generally more pious and lived in a far more consciously Christian and Christianised society than we do, and he also grants that, as I would put it, we are bereft of that spiritual illumination in our preoccupation with having effective strategies of capital management and working to maximise return, which conventional opinion regards more or less as essentially a good in itself. But medieval economics was just plain incorrect. By what measure are medieval economic practices (it seems somehow odd to refer to ‘the economics of the Middle Ages’) deemed incorrect? Again, by the measures of efficiency, maximising gain and “growth.”
Of course, when modern, capitalist economic standards are applied to past ‘economies’, all ages before early modernity will be found lacking, their economic “systems” deemed deeply flawed and retarded by cultural values that conceive of entirely different purposes for wealth and human life. But isn’t Mr. Akin’s acknowledgment of medieval Christian man’s superior spiritual and cultural life a tacit concession that, as far as the highest goods in life are concerned (the goods with which Christians should be most concerned), a meaningful and good life was realised far better in many ways under that economic regime than under our own?
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So much attention has been paid to these false determinants of administration policy that a different political dynamic has been underappreciated. Within the Republican Party, the Bush administration got support for the Iraq war from the neoconservatives (who lack a political base of their own but who provide considerable intellectual firepower) and from what Walter Russell Mead calls “Jacksonian America” - American nationalists whose instincts lead them toward a pugnacious isolationism.
Happenstance then magnified this unlikely alliance. Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the inability to prove relevant connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda left the president, by the time of his second inaugural address, justifying the war exclusively in neoconservative terms: that is, as part of an idealistic policy of political transformation of the broader Middle East. The president’s Jacksonian base, which provides the bulk of the troops serving and dying in Iraq, has no natural affinity for such a policy but would not abandon the commander in chief in the middle of a war, particularly if there is clear hope of success.
This war coalition is fragile, however, and vulnerable to mishap. If Jacksonians begin to perceive the war as unwinnable or a failure, there will be little future support for an expansive foreign policy that focuses on promoting democracy. That in turn could drive the 2008 Republican presidential primaries in ways likely to affect the future of American foreign policy as a whole. ~Francis Fukuyama, The New York Times (registration required)
As a category of political thought or foreign policy alignment, Jacksonian is perhaps one of the few less meaningful and intelligible than “isolationist.” Even more useless is the attribution of “isolationism” to Jacksonians by someone who obviously has no sympathies for either. What needs to be understood straightaway is that whoever the Jacksonians are supposed to be (here they apparently refer to ‘pro-military’, Midwestern and Southern Republicans), I cannot see how they have much, if anything, in common with the politics or foreign policy attitudes of Andrew Jackson.
It is conventional to depict Jackson as a ‘nationalist’, but the genuine nationalists of his time and the proponents of the associated American System were his political enemies among the Whigs. Three things above all characterise Jacksonian politics: vigorous exercise of executive power, privileging federal legislative power vis-a-vis the states with respect to nullification and hostility to urban, mercantile and Northeastern interests represented by the Bank, the latter being informed by a lifelong hostility to England and those whom he deemed friendly to her interests. As disagreeable as we find his attitudes towards the Cherokee, his foreign policy towards other states was largely irenic or, put another way, diffident.
His sympathy for his fellow Tennesseans making their stand in Texas is hardly surprising, but in practical terms nothing in his record as President would suggest anything other than an endorsement of the studied, pragmatic neutrality of his predecessors and his successor in Martin Van Buren. If he was personally pugnacious, as he undoubtedly was, this did not actually translate into a proclivity for armed conflict as a matter of policy. Young Hickory, that is James Polk, might provide a better template for the so-called ‘Jacksonians’ in his readiness to go to war against Mexico, but generally he represents an attitude toward the desirability of continental expansion that is scarcely any different than that of Jefferson. Properly speaking, however, the nationalists of his time remained on the other side of the political divide and would continue to do so.
As I understood Fukuyama’s use of the term, he takes Jacksonian in the sense that it implies what the British called a ‘forward’ policy in relation to other states, a preference for military solutions to international conflicts but a general disinterest in foreign affairs except for how they more or less directly affect America. His Jacksonians are the sort of people who somehow imagine that the existence of small, hostile states on the other side of the globe constitute imminent danger to their neighbourhoods. They are the last to acknowledge that a war is unwinnable or pointless, because they cannot conceive of a war that America is ultimately unable and unwilling to fight to the finish (however the finish may be defined), as this would imply national weakness.
They would probably be happy to endorse this silly idea: “Slavery anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.” In this way ideological causes overseas appear to be legitimate issues of national defense. They are therefore probably much more appropriately called Lincolnians (which is not very euphonious)–they are responsive to Lincoln’s sort of pseudo-religious language, messianic fervour and nationalist-cum-egalitarian claptrap. Perhaps even more accurately they are fans of Teddy Roosevelt’s style of presidential leadership, TR’s activism and vitalistic doctrines of conflict mixed with his generic Americanism.
Because of this, I think Fukuyama underestimates their capacity to remain loyal to ludicrous ideological causes and grossly overestimates their tendency towards “isolationism.” It a sort of nationalism that prizes independent action that can often be mistaken, especially by ‘experts’ such as Fukuyama, for something called “isolationism,” which is to say armed neutrality. TR devotees might welcome Joseph Chamberlain’s sort of “splendid isolation,” in which America does whatever it pleases to advance its interests in the most mercenary and amoral fashion and gives no thought to international consequences. These are the sorts of people who would laugh off allegations of torture by the government just as they might make callous justifications of the British concentration camps in South Africa. Imperialism overseas would not embarrass a TR lover the way it might a real Jacksonian. If the war in Iraq is perceived by them as an exercise in dominance, rather than “liberation,” it would simply redouble their commitment to supporting it.
Viewed in that way the “TR crowd” might be more liable to remain supportive of the war if it continued to be framed, however implausibly, in terms of national defense, American virtue and hegemony rather than falling back to the no more plausible humanitarian and democratising excuses of the administration. The war might be completely pointless, but so long as it was prosecuted with a sort of vigour and full-throated affirmation of American supremacy it would be acceptable to these sorts of people. Nonetheless, I suspect that no matter what happens with the war the “TR crowd” will continue to support Mr. Bush long after the foreign policy elites have jumped ship (since that is what such elites are best at doing), if only to express for their own sake their understanding of what it means to be patriotic.
The only thing that will scandalise and dishearten a TR lover is a show of weakness or dilatoriness when ‘action’ and ’strength’ are required. Here they find common ground with the neocons and their obsession with demonstrating ‘resolve’. In that sense, Mr. Bush’s handling of Katrina may embarrass his TR-loving supporters and the neocons more than his incompetent war leadership. The TR lovers can still have solidarity with a war leader, however bad he is, provided that he is not going to give up the fight and humiliate the country too much (minor humiliations can be rationalised as inevitable ’setbacks’), but they could never tolerate the appearance of helplessness. As Mr. Bush continues to thrash around in political confusion after Hurricane Katrina, he is revealing to his TR-loving followers that he is not the ‘tough’ and vigorous sort of president they like. That, and not anything that could happen in Iraq, is what will undo his presidency and alienate the political base supporting the war even now.
President Bush’s job approval has dipped below 40 percent for the first time in the AP-Ipsos poll, reflecting widespread doubts about his handling of gasoline prices and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Nearly four years after Bush’s job approval soared into the 80s after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush was at 39 percent job approval in an AP-Ipsos poll taken this week. That’s the lowest since the the poll was started in December 2003.
The public’s view of the nation’s direction has grown increasingly negative as well, with nearly two-thirds now saying the country is heading down the wrong track. ~The Chicago Sun-Times
39% is a pretty pitiful figure. It is on par with Nixon in the summer of 1973 and the rating of Gerald Ford after he had pardoned Nixon. It is only five points better than Jimmy Carter in 1981. Mr. Bush’s mediocrity as President has now been matched by the popular perception of his mediocrity. The GOP should be very afraid.
Man is made in the image and likeness of God; he is not Homo economicus. Where Mr. Akin and I disagree is on whether you can interpret the Church’s social teaching in light of an economic theory that celebrates the self-interest of man and is itself predicated on a philosophy that regards men as individuals who are related to each other and society at large only by means of contracts (economic or social) without doing irreparable damage to that teaching. ~Scott P. Richert
Last week, Scott Richert of Chronicles began an interesting discussion at The Rockford Files of Mr. Jimmy Akin’s objections to the regulation of price-gouging, in this case in the wake of a hurricane, and took issue with Mr. Akin’s usage of the term ‘natural price point’ where, he held, just price was more fitting and appropriate in reconciling the setting of prices with Catholic social doctrine. The post listed above is Mr. Richert’s response to Mr. Akin’s first reply.
The exchange is well worth reading, and Mr. Richert’s arguments are commendable in the way in which they take seriously the consequences of our creation in the image and likeness of God and our ultimate natural end in returning to Him. He is quite right to stress that this concept of man, to which, incidentally, all Christians are obliged to subscribe, cannot readily admit assumptions from theories in which man’s end can be conceived really only in terms of material self-gratification rather than spiritual and natural restoration in Christ. In this way it is tangentially related to my post about Dr. Fleming’s ethics article: understanding the proper theological definition of human nature and will found in the Fathers will necessarily lead to a rejection of any ethics that privilege the self as an autonomous agent and which consider the self’s fulfilling of its desires as the basis of moral rationality. Indeed, it is well worth considering whether the Christian doctrine of person, and the patristic understanding that true personhood exists only in relationship and communion, has anything substantial in common with the modern concept of self, which is, by and large, considered to be independent and autonomous in its true form.
In a parallel way, it seems to me, economic libertarians and somewhat less doctrinaire proponents of largely unregulated markets, such as Mr. Akin (who firmly disavows any libertarian label), appeal to concepts of economic self-interest rooted in a concept of autonomous man alien to the understanding of the Fathers, and they defend those appeals by turning to definitions of rationality and value that must inevitably vindicate their economic theory. As I read Mr. Akin’s “Just Price Analysis,” I find that he is willing to entertain that there might be intrinsic value in a commodity, but that he has long since accepted that value is determined in terms of money and anything’s value is only as great as the amount someone is willing to pay for it. In Austrian economics, as I understand it, anything that interferes with the market determining that value creates inefficiency and that interference is ipso facto irrational.
The goal of just price is, well, justice, not economic efficiency or ‘rationality’, and as I understand the early Fathers it would only be to the extent that the latter are compatible with justice that they would be considered desirable or even licit. There was considerable economic inefficiency in medieval Europe, as measured by this definition of efficiency, but I suspect that had the medievals been confronted with the alternative of great efficiency most of them (or at least the authorities in the Church) would have spurned it, as the hope and desire of medieval Christian man was not riches stored up here below but those laid up in heaven.
That being said, however, it is a bit tendentious to accuse Mr. Richert of a certain inconsistency in his argument for using the concept of just price without also necessarily endorsing the practices of medieval guilds. Mr. Akin writes: “From what I gather, Mr. Richert is not in favor of price controls, but these were a prominent part of the medieval just price system. By rejecting them, Mr. Richert is advocating a significant departure from the just price system as it was understood and practiced in the Middle Ages.” At this point I might point out that just price was originally a Roman legal requirement adopted into Christian theology through the Byzantine Fathers and reformulated by Aquinas and others in the thirteenth century, so there need be no necessary connection between medieval economic practices as they obtained in western Europe in the high middle ages and an embrace of the concept of just price. More to the point, as I imagine Mr. Richert might argue in a future post, if the Catholic Magisterium does not feel obligated to endorse a temporary economic arrangement in order to endorse the concept of just price, whether understood in scholastic fashion or not, Mr. Richert is hardly under any obligation, moral or intellectual, to do the same.
Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don’t emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read.
Maybe it’s Bush’s sinking poll numbers — he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it’s the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush’s most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans. ~Dan Froomkin, The Washington Post
For the last four years, the press regularly treats us to the idea that Mr. Bush is admired and respected for his resolve and, as we hearing lately, his determination and ability to “protect” Americans. I must confess that I don’t understand where anyone has gotten the idea that he is particularly concerned about such protection. He certainly uses that sort of rhetoric–invading Iraq was, after all, self-defense, don’t you know–but none of his actions has impressed me with any sense that he is very concerned to protect us. Neither am I convinced that he is capable of doing so. But apparently some people are only becoming aware of this now after Hurricane Katrina, and what is more they seem shocked or upset that this is the case. This is one more sign of the sycophantic attitude to which I was referring in an earlier post, as this is an attitude that breeds a mentality of dependency and servility in the expectation of protection and provision. But, of course, Mr. Bush cannot protect us.
Generally speaking, it is not his job to protect us, which is good for him considering his less-than-stellar track record. He has certain responsibilities and duties for maintaining the common defense, more than a few of which he is shirking or ignoring in surrendering our borders to virtually all comers, but as the president he is not especially obligated to protect Americans. Insofar as policies for the common defense do protect us, it is the men actually doing the guard, intelligence and field work who provide some protection. The president’s decisions can either facilitate or retard that effort, and I think we have a good idea what effect Mr. Bush’s decisions have had for the defense of the nation itself. But in the final analysis a free people should be able to protect and provide for themselves, or they quickly lose the quality of being free.
As for Mr. Bush’s staff, it is little wonder that he cultivates sycophancy around him when he seems to rely on it for his political support and success. But Mr. Bush should be worried–now it seems that even the eunuchs of his bedchamber, so to speak, are beginning to get restless.
But depressing as it is, there is nothing surprising in the failure of the officials in one of America’s most corrupt states. The truly baffling element of this breakdown of American leadership has been the lacklustre performance of the commander-in-chief. For a politician whose greatest talent is supposedly for rousing the nation in its darkest hours, this has been a dismal show.
Four years ago, Mr Bush won his place in the history books - and a second term in office - with a brilliant and instinctive display of leadership in the wake of the September 11 attacks. He had a slow start, as devotees of the anti-Bush polemicist Michael Moore will recall. His “rabbit caught in the headlights” look as he heard the news will not, it seems safe to predict, be in the video highlights section of the George W Bush presidential library. But within 24 hours he was a man transformed. In words and deeds he seemed to know exactly what to do.
Skip forward four years and the contrast is bewildering. This is America’s greatest catastrophe since the terrible events of that sunny morning, four years ago yesterday. Indeed Hurricane Katrina has directly affected far more Americans than 9/11. More than a million people have lost their homes. Most of a city may have to be razed to the ground. And yet only in the past few days has the White House given the impression that it understands the magnitude of what has occurred.
When it was announced that Mr Bush would address the nation the day after the city was swamped, I confidently expected him to deliver the goods. Inspiring the nation in time of trauma is one of a president’s principal tasks and it is supposedly very much Mr Bush’s “thing”. Moreover, this was not a politically sensitive issue. This was not Iraq. There was no need to play down the casualties and indulge in “happy talk”. Rather this was an apocalyptic act of nature.
He himself said in his 2000 presidential campaign, “natural catastrophes are a time to test your mettle”. With his Iraq policy in disarray it had long been clear he was on the look-out for a chance to prove himself again. Instead, he issued little more than a shopping list of aid items. ~Alec Russell, The Daily Telegraph
One desirable casualty of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that engulfed New Orleans has been the mystique of the presidential cult, which has only become more obnoxious and oppressive in the past four years before suffering a potentially devastating collapse in the past two weeks. Mr. Russell’s indictment of President Bush is interesting more for the reason why he regards Bush as a failure than the searing attack itself: Mr. Bush failed to be the ‘inspirational’, hand-holding pseudo-spiritual guru who consoles the public in times of calamity.
No doubt Mr. Bush failed in this regard because the destruction of a major city cannot be addressed by invoking meaningless platitudes or making blithe quips about how Americans will rebuild an even better city (which are Bush’s bread and butter in giving ‘inspirational’ speeches)–it is a major event that would require a level of seriousness and wisdom for its understanding that Mr. Bush has never shown any sign of possessing. Undoubtedly, this was a failure insofar as Mr. Bush usually tries to play the part of counselor combined with apocalyptic prophet, even if he relies on the unstable chemistry of the charisma of putative war leader. But it is certainly not a real failure when we consider that this role is one of the most dreadful aspects of the deformation of our constitutional government into an unceremonious, vulgar, demagogic autocracy.
Those who desire Mr. Bush to ride to the rhetorical rescue with a savvy speech and words of comfort, soothing the wounds of a nation and so on, are the very people whose degeneration from being free people has allowed someone as mediocre as Mr. Bush to possess such a powerful office in the first place. If Americans wanted inspiring and wise leadership, they might just vote for it if anyone were offering, but a majority wants a demagogue who will ignore their flaws, butter them up with inane applause lines and get them on the government gravy train in one form or other.
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What Bush has done to conservatism is align it with big government moralising, big government spending and big government inefficiency. He hasn’t vetoed a single spending bill. Pork-barrel spending — on projects often unneeded — has taken precedence over real needs in a Republican-run Congress with a Republican president.
Republicans and Democrats in gerrymandered districts have siphoned public money for pet projects to reward donors and constituents, rather than prioritising for the public good. There’s plenty of blame to go round. Government in America is bloated and broken at the same time. A true conservative would be cutting and prioritising it.
George W. Bush isn’t that person. If that isn’t clear by now, you have blinkers on. And, ultimately, he’s the one responsible. He campaigned fundamentally on his ability to run the country in wartime, on emergency management, on protecting Americans from physical harm. That was his promise. It was swept away as the waters flooded New Orleans. And Al-Qaeda was watching every minute of it. ~Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times
The fight against corruption, one of the principal promises made in the heady days of Ukraine’s revolution last December, has come to a standstill. Christopher Crowley, the United States Agency for International Development’s bureau chief for Eastern Europe, complains that Ukrainian businesses continue to maintain double sets of accounts — one real and one for show.
And in July, even the president himself came under fire when Ukrainska Pravda reported on the lavish lifestyle of Yushchenko’s son, Andrei. The 19-year-old’s fondness for expensive cars, like a €130,000 BMW M6, had raised eyebrows, forcing the president to go on the defensive. Yushchenko, outraged by the reports, lost his cool and likened the journalists who had written the story to “contract killers.”
But his composure is not the only thing Yushchenko has lost. Some of the most trusted officials in his administration are no longer loyal to the architect of the Orange Revolution. Citing corruption among high-ranking authorities in Yushchenko’s government, state secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko resigned on Sept. 3. The close associate of Tymoshenko was instrumental in organizing the Dec. 2004 protests that eventually led to the success of the Orange Revolution.
At the press conference called to announce his resignation, Zinchenko accused Pyotr Poroshenko, the head of the country’s Defense and Security Council and one of the most influential financial backers of the Orange Revolution, of attempting to transform Ukraine’s police, judicial and intelligence agencies into an “all-powerful new NKWD” — a secret police in the Stalin tradition. The day after the Tymoshenko government was dissolved, Poroshenko also resigned, citing plans to fight charges against him in court. But Poroshenko’s political career is by no means over. After quarreling with the sharp-tongued, financially strong and popular Tymoshenko, the Yushchenko will need his strongest supporter more than ever. ~Der Spiegel
Let’s see what Mr. Yushchenko’s record looks like less than a year in: corruption run rampant, the apparent attempted creation of a repressive secret police force and general incompetence in doing anything except apparently feathering his own nest. That sounds shockingly close to what I and other critics of the so-called “revolution” promised would come to pass under a Yushchenko regime–it certainly matches up with much of what Yushchenko has done in the past. Let’s all just remember that it was for the sake of this shabby character Yushchenko and his fraudulent “democratic” victory that Washington risked permanently damaging our relations with Russia.
Stung by sliding opinion polls six days before a general election, German conservatives warned on Monday that a vote for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s rival Social Democrats (SPD) could bring ex-communists to power.
“People have to know, anyone who votes for SPD does not know what they are getting,” Volker Kauder, campaign manager for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told reporters.
Kauder dismissed as empty the promises by Schroeder, chancellor for the last seven years, that he would never form a government with ex-communists and leftists even if he could after the September 18 election.
The CDU under Angela Merkel has watched in growing alarm as Schroeder has cut its poll lead to the point where a centre-right CDU coalition with the liberal Free Democrats, once seen as a near certainty, may no longer be possible.
Instead, a “grand coalition” with the centre-left SPD looks likeliest. It’s a result feared by financial markets but which many voters feel would bring reforms favoured by Merkel while ensuring Germany’s social welfare system remains intact.
Now the Conservatives fear a third possibility — that a hung parliament could open the way to a left-wing coalition between the SPD, environmental Greens and the new Left Party. ~Reuters
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is headed for a fall, in spite of the fact that Gerhard Schroeder is perhaps the single-most incompetent Chancellor post-war Germany/West Germany has had. Despite continuing personal popularity (which, quite properly, matters less in a parliamentary system), he has led the SPD from weakness to weakness as Socialists have been routinely defeated in state elections over the past three years, both in the east and even in some of the oldest, most unassailable strongholds of their party. Only thanks to the drab shambles of a campaign run by Frau Merkel does the left even stand a chance of governing again.
So assured of victory were the Christian Democrats that they genuinely believed that someone who had never fought a major electoral campaign could lead their effort with no adverse side effects. As for her foreign policy views, which admittedly probably have little directly to do with her party’s collapsing support, Merkel had also publicly more or less mocked the antiwar sentiments of some 70-80% of the public, while pointedly ignoring the Vatican’s statements on invading Iraq. (Christian Democracy has, of course, gone very far away from its roots as organised political Catholicism, and it was always a secular, and never simply sectarian, political movement, but for the CDU chairman to blow off the Pope’s counsel was impressively bad form.) But it cannot have entirely escaped the voters’ memories that Frau Merkel would have been only too happy to bow and scrape with most of the other center-right and ex-communist governments of Europe in deference to Mr. Bush over Iraq.
Now the CDU is reduced to the sorriest attempt of all–to pretend that they are the incumbents and that Schroeder and his gang represent the unknown. This seems like a reprise of the amusing, but completely ineffective “New Labour, New Danger” rhetoric with which the Tories spectacularly failed in 1997. The difference then was, at least, that the Tories were the party of government. Even if the warning about an incumbent party’s dangerous future configuration is true, it does not sound convincing and rings of desperation and intellectual bankruptcy. That must be all the CDU had to work with in the first place if Frau Merkel was their best candidate.
The poll conducted this week by independent opinion research institute Forsa showed Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD) with 34 pct — up three points from last week with just 11 days to go until the Sept 18 general election.
The Greens, junior partner in the ruling coalition, were unchanged at seven percent.
The telegenic chancellor’s strong showing in the debate Sunday appeared to have shaved one point off the score for Merkel’s conservative Christian Union alliance (CDU/CSU), now at 42 percent.
Merkel’s favoured coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, also lost a point and fell to six percent, meaning that for the first time in several weeks her preferred coalition would fail to garner a governing majority.
Analysts say the most likely alternative to a coalition of the CDU/CSU and the FDP would be a so-called grand coalition of the conservatives and the SPD under Merkel as chancellor. ~Forbes
Just as I warned three months ago when she was named as the Union’s candidate for Chancellor, Ms. Merkel’s weakness as a candidate, her lacklustre party leadership skills, and her lack of experience in contesting elections, presumably not helped by her idiosyncratic position on the Iraq war, are all making the prospects of limited Union victory or possibly even defeat far more likely. Considering how pathetically Mr. Schroeder has governed Germany, especially during his last term, it is difficult to understand how the Christian Democrats have put themselves in this position. More importantly, why did they ever choose Merkel? Merkel’s selection was a classic example of giving a politician the lead slot on a ticket because it was “his turn.” If trends continue as they have been, Germany will have a useless, unproductive “grand coalition” government split between a CDU/CSU leadership with no mandate and the defunct Socialists that have already been roundly rejected by most regions of the country. In the future, all attempts at ‘reform’ of the bloated welfare state will be even more deadlocked than the last parliament.
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The more interesting principle is number one: that individuals are free to decide basic moral questions. This by far the more dangerous assumption. The reason the mass cannot be trusted is because the mass is made up of individuals who cannot be trusted. Few people, by the end of their lives, have ever thought through a single moral question on their own. If they are good, it is because their character and moral understanding have been formed by their family, their Church, and their friends, all of whom represent a long-standing moral tradition. This is true even of virtuous moral philosophers, whose basic distinctions between right and wrong are not arrived at by an exercise of reason. As Aristotle showed long ago, philosophy serves to confirm the character and principles that have been formed by our families and friends. If we are virtuous, philosophy helps to teach us why and how we can and should be virtuous, but if we are vicious, philosophy will only confirm our vice. This leads me to a basic principle of Ethics 01A. The individual, his will and appetites and above all his opinions, are not to be regarded in moral questions. No moral or political philosophy that emphasizes the acquisitive self can be taken seriously either by Christians or by morally serious pagans. If we accept a tradition and live within it, then those of us who are not philosophers are to trust the broad tradition (though not necessarily any one exponent of it) and not put much credit in our private opinions. ~Thomas Fleming
Dr. Fleming’s words are salutary. I would add that most of what we tend to call private opinions are not really formed opinions at all, as this would require them to be reasoned and informed. What is conventionally called private opinion is usually as irrational and sentimental as much of so-called “public opinion,” which is usually nothing other than the popular mood. I refer everyone back to Prof. Lukacs’ Democracy and Populism or Historical Consciousness for more on this theme.
Also, most individualist or self-centered ethical claims do not work on this level, but appeal to the passions and make the expression of passionate impulses, to one degree or another, the measure of moral rationality. An ethical system built up around enlightened self-interest only makes sense if we believe that individuals possess sufficient illumination on their own to restrain appetite and excess stemming from the pursuit of self-interest, but without the norms of society, the teachings of the Church and the instruction of parents no individual is sufficiently conscientious to be able to make appropriate judgements.
In such a system, not only is the individual deemed perfectly competent to arrive at the right conclusions about ethical obligations and virtuous conduct without external restraints or significant reliance on received or traditional habits, which is bizarre enough, but his desires are invested with normative value. If someone desires to do something, regardless of what it is, usually provided it does not come at expense of someone else (typically phrased in terms of rights), then on the whole such a system says that he may do so.
But ethics, as best as I understand, should be understood as the way of life that we ought to lead to live an excellent life. Ethical systems that give priority to individual judgement and choice are systems designed to encourage us to yield to desires, usually with the provision that they are ‘harmless’ or ‘victimless’ (and the judge of that harmlessness will, in the end, be the individual potentially inflicting harm). But this is essentially to enshrine desire, not reason, as the measure of what is right and true.
It is also to make the possibility of choice virtuous in itself, and the denial of that choice a form of injustice. Thus some libertarians can claim to be ‘agnostic’ or indifferent to certain evils, such as abortion, because for them the diminution of choice is a greater wrong. But in Christian ethics as understood by the Fathers, especially St. Maximos, choice itself is already latently vicious, as our deliberate or ‘gnomic’ will is a function of being fallen and not a mark of nature (as we were not created ignorant of the Good, we originally did not need to deliberate to act virtuously, and our natural will was in free obedience to the will of God, indeed in the only true freedom man can possess). Ethics that prize individual choice exalt and empower the faculty that Christian ethics teach us to eliminate or at the very least severely restrain.
While the majority in some societies is often wiser than educated opinion, it cannot always be wiser—even in America, where the intellectual class, as judged by what one sees of the professors, is the biggest collection of fools and scoundrels the world has ever seen. Ordinarily people are superior to the elite only when they follow the rules of conscience imposed by tradition, but where ordinary people watch TV, play video games, and listen to pop music they are often as wicked and even more obtuse than the pointy headed intellectuals they say they hate but to whom they are willing to trust their children’s minds and morals. Don’t tell me about the basically good American people, when so many of them put their kids in government internment centers and do next to nothing to combat the propaganda that is drummed into the little heads every day. ~Thomas Fleming
So much has already been said about the response to the Gulf Coast disaster that I doubt there is much important to be added. Even as I wanted instinctively to agree with those who attributed the extent of the disaster and the failed government response to Mr. Bush’s past decisions, I have found that many of these criticisms make little sense. Much of the failure to evacuate New Orleans plainly falls on the local and state governments, which is where the responsibility for such responses ought to belong in the first place. Many constitutionalists and libertarians whom I respect seem so keen on highlighting the admitted incompetence of the federal government apparently without considering the reality that, were our admonitions about government heeded, there would be no federal response, incompetent or otherwise. We might quibble about whether there might be some pragmatic reason to have a coordinated, federal relief agency, but we would all have to admit that we would normally just as soon see FEMA and all its associate agencies disappear from the face of the earth. We would live in a country that was much more free, but there would be attendant risks and dangers. There may well be some considerable commentary to this effect, but I regret to say that it is not very prominent.
Most of the complaining I have seen in the press and online is borne of a mentality that yearns for ever more vigorous and intrusive government, or it unwittingly vindicates that mentality by focusing on government incompetence rather than the fact that the federal government has no role here. We should therefore ridicule and belittle this mentality as the root of servile dependency that it is. Then there was the violence and looting in New Orleans–that is often enough what will happen in cities when authority breaks down. There were good reasons why Jefferson regarded cities as dens of iniquity and degeneracy, and it was not all because of Bolingbroke and agrarian idealism.
By and large we manage to mask or contain the corrosive effects that city life has on people, but urban deracinement, taken to an extreme in our contemporary megalopoleis, has stripped away most of the attachments to place and neighbour that might serve to fill some of the void of a breakdown of coercive external power. Of course, the rest must be made up for by self-restraint and the practice of virtue, two things no one would probably confuse with New Orleans, at least not by reputation. That violent disorder flourishes among servile and undisciplined people is no surprise to anyone familiar with classical political theory, as the tendency to disorder and servility are fundamentally linked.
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All three wished to justify the ways of God to man, to affirm God’s benevolence, to see meaning in the seemingly monstrous randomness of nature’s violence, and to find solace in God’s guiding hand. None seemed to worry that others might think him to be making a fine case for a rejection of God, or of faith in divine goodness. Simply said, there is no more liberating knowledge given us by the gospel—and none in which we should find more comfort—than the knowledge that suffering and death, considered in themselves, have no ultimate meaning at all. ~David B. Hart, “Tsunami and Theodicy,” First Things (March 2005)
This is the core of Dr. Hart’s objection to conventional theodicy of a religious bent, and it forms the core of the main rebuttal of this kind of theodicy in his crisply-written little book, The Doors of the Sea (Eerdmans, July 2005), which carries with it the tagline: “Where was God in the Tsunami?” Expanding upon a December 31 Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Hart puts forward what he regards as the proper Orthodox perspective of natural calamity and God’s goodness. Having written an article, then a longer essay and finally a book in response to the dreadful tsunami of December 2004, Dr. Hart cannot be accused of having insufficiently thought about the problem. It is generally a successful summary of Orthodox doctrines of God, creation and man and a thoughtful consideration of the implications that innocent and ‘random’ suffering may or may not have for these doctrines. After a treatment of what we might call literary theodicies in Voltaire and Dostoevsky, Dr. Hart restates Orthodox teaching on the cosmological significance of the Fall, based in the truth that man is microcosm, and relies heavily on this one doctrine to ‘exculpate’, if you will, God from any connection to the massive suffering of the Asian tsunami. By the same token, presumably, he would make the same case for the disaster on the Gulf Coast and the destruction of New Orleans, which makes his sort of theodicy immediately relevant.
Where Dr. Hart goes awry is in his central argument that because God did not create the world with death and suffering (absolutely true), and because death and suffering have no inherent meaning (again, true), God therefore has no role in these calamities and death and suffering as they are experienced in the world have no meaning. I think the logical mistake is clear for all to see. What is true of suffering as such, which is simply the fruit of our alienation from God, is not necessarily true of suffering in history over which God is sovereign. If suffering was in some sense ‘empty’ or ’senseless’ before the Incarnation and Passion, it is difficult to see how it remained this way after the Resurrection.
If the Eighth Day is the beginning of a new creation, and even though we acknowledge and believe that death has no sting, Hades no victory, how do we account for the continued existence of natural calamities and death, unless these are to serve as spurs to repentance and thus serve the purpose of God to raise man and all creation to Himself?Taken abstractly and in isolation, it is correct that death is absolutely meaningless, because it is the deprivation and absence of life, and suffering likewise as part of our fallen, mortal condition. But that is not to say that illness, suffering and death have no purpose (their chief purposes, according to the Fathers, are to remind us of death, teach us to repent and limit our sinful state respectively), or that God does not ordain these things to come to pass (clearly, Scripture and the Fathers say that He does–more on this later).
I suppose it is conceivable that there might be ‘random’ or ’senseless’ suffering in the world, but that would need to be argued much more closely than Dr. Hart does. In fact, Dr. Hart essentially grants that much suffering and death is random and senseless, and he grants this without much protest. He seems to assume that this claim is obviously largely correct–it is the misguided attempts to ‘make sense’ of disaster with reference to God’s inscrutable ways that are the main target of his ire.
His ’solution’ is both to acquit God of any involvement in the calamities themselves, though he does allow that God might turn such evils to some good (because he cannot ignore Providence all together), and to affirm the meaninglessness of at least the random suffering experienced in such natural disasters. At the root of this is a curiously non-patristic (to say nothing of non-Scriptural) aversion to thinking of God as ever being a wrathful God, a God Who might justly and lovingly will destruction as chastisement and correction. It may seem distasteful to a modern audience to think of a hurricane or a tsunami in terms of God’s “fatherly” rebuke, but this is how a far greater Christian and theologian than Dr. Hart or I will likely ever be did see natural calamities. Dr. Hart cannot point an accusing finger at Bl. Augustine and his theological successors, or at anyone else, for this ‘distorted’ understanding of theodicy–it is eminently Orthodox, expressed by one of the greatest Orthodox saints, the Theologian himself, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (I intend to post a lengthier treatment of this problem with extensive quotes from St. Gregory’s Oration 16).
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For as a result of the loss of reality, human action turns into a phenomenon that can no longer be understood by means of such reality-charged categories as “destiny.” Even the term action misses its mark, since action in the sense of classical ethics is oriented by means of the existential tension towards the ground, while action minus this orientation becomes nonaction. The social advancement of symbols like “activism,” “decisionism,” “terrorism,” and “behavior” is symptomatic for the need to find adequate words for the experience of reality-forsaken, world-immanent conduct in its active and passive varieties. Insofar as political events drop down to the level of unhistorical “nonsense” (madness), it can indeed no longer be interpreted by symbols that have originated in consciousness’ center of order and its exegesis; new terms are required in order adequately to describe the pneumopathological phenomena of the “loss of reality,” which we prefer to the accurate, but fuzzy, “nonsense” (madness). ~Eric Voegelin, “The Consciousness of the Ground,” Anamnesis
Voegelin tells us that action without orientation and purpose is not really action. This can help remind us why so much human activity for strictly immanent ends is not fully efficacious and never properly expresses the nature of the person who acts. In this sense, anyone who ‘acts’ for immanent ends only not only fails to act as he should but indeed fails to act all together. I would add that the most frenetically busy and ‘active’ societies thus tend to be spiritually and morally the most shallow and hollow, and they, in fact, betray their fundamental inactivity in this sense because of the lack of natural purpose according to which they do so much. Such societies are aware at some level of their own hollowness and continue to ‘act’ as they do to escape the dreariness, ennui and spiritual boredom that threaten to settle upon them at every moment, and the pursuit of distraction and entertainment finds these societies attempting to find refuge from useless activity in still more useless activity.
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“The Conservative Index” rates congressmen based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, to fiscal responsibility, to national sovereignty, and to a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. Preserving our Constitution, the freedoms it guarantees, and the moral bedrock on which it is based is what the word “conservatism” once meant — and how it is being applied here. ~The New American
Of course, when the gold standard is the excellent Rep. Ron Paul, we know how short most Congressmen will inevitably fall. The raft of issues The New American selected would tend to weight the results in favour of those opposed to “free trade” agreements and opposed to immigration, which makes sense, but which is bound to exaggerate slightly the general lack of conservatism in the GOP caucus. With all that being said, it was more than a little surprising, even to me, to see how pathetically most Republicans scored. It was also surprising how relatively well some others managed–Sen. Orrin Hatch, for example, someone who has never impressed me as being either conservative or very serious, rated 70%, which is one of the higher scores overall. The weakness of House members under the thumb of Mr. Hastert, probably because of party-line discipline on amnesty and “free trade,” was particularly noticeable: there were only 22 House members, including Rep. Paul, who scored above 67% (what we might call the Walter Jones cut-off). In contrast, 16 Senators scored as well or better than that mark, revealing a much higher proportion of the GOP Senate caucus to be more or less reliably conservative on these issues than is the case in the House.
Senatorial independence aside, electoral politics as they have been conventionally understood ought to preclude that from happening. House members should, theoretically, be representative of increasingly homogenous districts carved out by gerrymandering, whereas Senators should typically be more willing to ‘moderate’ their positions and should be less likely to hew to a conservative line than their House colleagues. According to these results, at least based on these sets of votes, that has not happened. The very security of House seats thanks to the creation of safe districts through gerrymandering has probably made House members less “representative” than ever as they come under more and more pressure to represent party interests or the party line than the interests of their constituents (for example, by rough count 104 Republicans in the House supported the “temporary residence” (amnesty) bill).
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1983 began arguing that opposition to war, capital punishment, euthanasia, and abortion fit together in a “seamless garment” of pro-life issues. The seamless garment concept was popular with Catholic and Protestant thinkers who mixed theological conservatism with political liberalism but has not gained universal acceptance within the pro-life movement. One of the rare politicians who championed the idea was the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, an economically progressive Democrat who argued that protection for the unborn was consistent with the “widening circle of democracy” that extended rights to the poor, women, and racial minorities. Some more socially liberal seamless-garment exponents would include gay rights in this list.
As a practical matter, it is easy to see how such views would drive a wedge between pro-lifers and their conservative allies. Critics of the seamless garment ideal argue that it gives liberal Democrats a pass on abortion by elevating other issues. Therefore, the argument goes, pro-life Catholics would still feel justified in voting for pro-choice Ted Kennedy because of his opposition to the Iraq War and the death penalty.
Perhaps the most audacious and improbable attempt to re-brand the pro-life movement was undertaken by Joseph Bottum in First Things, the highbrow religious-conservative journal of which he is now editor. Bottum inverted the logic of the nonviolent consistent life ethic to argue that the “new fusionism” in American politics inextricably linked pro-lifers to supporters of the Iraq War and neoconservatives more generally.
In terms of electoral politics, Bottum’s portrayal is certainly closer to the mark than the Seamless Garment Network’s. The so-called values voters, most of whom are pro-life, and people who favored President Bush’s interventionist post-9/11 foreign policy together formed the basis of the 2004 Republican majority. Social conservatives are the largest mass constituency on the Right; any dominant conservatism, like the supply-siders of the 1980s and budget-balancers of the 1990s, needs their support. But Bottum does not stop with this uncontested political reality. He argues for the ideological compatibility of opposition to abortion and what he calls “the remoralization of foreign policy.” ~W. James Antle III, The American Conservative
Mr. Antle’s article was a pleasure to read, and I appreciate the opportunity it affords to return to the subject of Mr. Bottum’s “new fusionism” that I have already discussed at length last month. It also provides the occasion, in connection with the question of the so-called “seamless garment” of “consistent life” advocates, to relate more closely Mr. Bottum’s sloppy thinking on his version of conservatism to his uninspired theological reflections on capital punishment.
Mr. Antle makes short work of the universalist impulses that motivate Cardinal Bernardin’s system and Mr. Bottum’s new (con)fusionism. Not only does he ridicule the dubious link Mr. Bottum makes between opposing abortion and supporting aggression in Iraq, but easily shows that respect for life, which might motivate concern for the lives of the poor or the oppressed, does not necessarily translate it into the preferred government policies advocated by the “consistent life” and “new fusionist” crowds. But there is a larger problem with these views that Mr. Antle did not, probably because of space limitations, have a chance to discuss. In straitjacketing a variety of different ethical and political questions in the constraints of a generic universal right, neither the “consistent life” nor “new fusionist” position can make the proper determinations about the scale and circumstances of specific cases or the different ways in which justice should be sought for things as widely varying as civil rights, environmental policy and war.
Such is the nature of this sort of universalism that consequences of, say, “moral” military intervention in a country are deemed irrelevant because it is the “right thing to do” to free or otherwise “improve the lives” of the erstwhile oppressed. In this way, the actual injustices of aggression, interfering in another nation’s internal affairs and sending Americans into someone else’s fight are simply erased from consideration because an intervention will make the people in question “better off” in some abstract way.
As with all universalists (whom we might distinguish from genuine defenders of moral absolutes with whom they have little in common) both the “consistent life” advocates and “new fusionists” seem to move from a general idea of the Right to Life that is applied in blanket fashion with no concern for means, circumstances or, indeed, any standard of justice. For both camps life is defined essentially in what Voegelin called “immanent-worldly” terms, the purely material, non-transcendent life of biological man. Both justify unjust policies of redistribution or coercion on the claim of defending not just human life but the quality thereof, which makes both believers in Sozialtechnik and the state-as-caretaker (in Bottum’s case, not only our caretaker, but ultimately the caretaker of the oppressed everywhere). The purpose for which men live, virtue, the state of the soul, repentance and salvation never enter prominently into their understanding of what life is or what it is for, yet it is only these things considered in addition to material welfare that allow for full participation in Life.
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So I’m not a good conservative unless I think the the most important task facing our nation, and the most pressing duty of our armed forces, is sorting out the affairs of a fifth-rate Arab despotism? ~John Derbyshire, The Corner (in response to an irate “conservative” reader)
I applaud the description of the mission in Iraq, but apparently Mr. Derbyshire didn’t get the party memo some time ago informing him about the correct view he ought to have on the war. Surely he must have realised by now that the prevailing opinion among “conservatives” (including at National Review!) is exactly that: you cannot really be a good conservative unless you march in lockstep on Iraq (or keep quiet if you disagree). Frum wrote the rest of us out of conservatism (and out of being good Americans!) for that very thing. If he ever gets tired of being berated by such “conservatives” for his common sense and principles, he might make his occasional articles for The American Conservative a regular feature.
Now the Guardsmen, trapped in the Iraqi quagmire, are watching on TV the families they left behind trapped by rising waters and wondering if the floating bodies are family members. None know where their dislocated families are, but, shades of Fallujah, they do see their destroyed homes.
The mayor of New Orleans was counting on helicopters to put in place massive sandbags to repair the levee. However, someone called the few helicopters away to rescue people from rooftops. The rising water overwhelmed the massive pumping stations, and New Orleans disappeared under deep water.
What a terrible casualty of the Iraqi war – one of our oldest and most beautiful cities, a famous city, a historic city.
Distracted by its phony war on terrorism, the U.S. government had made no preparations in the event Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophe to New Orleans. No contingency plan existed. Only now after the disaster are FEMA and the Corps of Engineers trying to assemble the material and equipment to save New Orleans from the fate of Atlantis. ~Paul Craig Roberts