Eunomia · July 2006


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Time after time, Israel strikes at civilian homes and civilian vehicles attempting to flee the besieged southern border zone, killing families without any military objective in sight.

In an extraordinary, and extraordinarily revealing comment, the Israeli Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, reportedly said, “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hizbullah.” So if you take to the roads to flee, you are a terrorist - who else would travel the southern roads now? And, if you stay at home because the danger is so great, you are also a terrorist. For the innocent civilian, there is literally no way out.

Take the example of Manal, a 22-year-old housewife, who had just arrived in Beirut when I met her a few days ago. For nearly two weeks, Israeli warplanes struck Manal’s border village of Aitaroun, obliterating homes and families. A Canadian-Lebanese family vacationing in the village was killed; the next day, another rocket destroyed a home 100 meters away from Manal’s house, killing at least nine members of a family. So many were killed in her village that she finds it difficult to remember all the names.

When the Israelis dropped leaflets instructing all villages south of the Litani River to evacuate immediately “for your own safety,” Manal and dozens of her neighbours set off in three cars, waving white flags. As they left, an Israeli warplane dropped bombs 10 meters in front of and behind the convoy, which raced on. As far too many Lebanese civilians have found, Manal’s experience is not exceptional, on the contrary. ~Peter Brouckaert, The Guardian

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel. Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs. Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.” And if hundreds of Lebanese children are killed in Israeli air strikes, they’re just victims of the “birth pangs of a New Middle East.” ~Tony Karon

Via Leon Hadar

It would be slightly, but not entirely, baffling if Washington believed that destroying Lebanon would somehow contribute to the general transformation of the region in some way that wasn’t disastrous, especially given how much hot air the administration and its hangers-on blew at us during the “Cedar Revolution.”  If the Cedar Revolution with its anti-Syrian protests in the streets of Beirut really was Washington’s right answer for Lebanon last year (and you would be right to be very skeptical of that claim), why would leveling Beirut and discrediting the elected Lebanese government be part of the new goal?  In any event, as The Economist noted last month in its article on the retreat of democratic reform across the Arab world, Lebanese politics did not become more “democratic” with this so-called Revolution, but instead the “Revolution” simply empowered the local bosses, who are divided along sectarian lines, and obviously empowered and emboldened Hizbullah.  Perhaps in some convoluted way democratising Lebanon was always intended to empower Hizbullah, all the better to provoke a conflict? 

If we considered all of the hot air about democracy to be propaganda covering Washington’s hegemonic and “pro-Israel” goals (which, as Mr. Karon correctly notes, may not be doing Israel any real good), things make a little more sense, though it remains unclear why Washington would actually go ahead in encouraging elections, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, that would almost by definition bring governments to power that are hostile to the interests of Israel.  Perhaps there the government is seesawing between the two neocon poles of ludicrous democratism and irresponsible hegemonism, and we happen to be in the middle of a hegemonist phase?  With this administration’s incompetence, it is often difficult to gauge what they intended to do, since they so very often fail in realising their stated goals. 

Andrea Kirk Assaf has a couple other posts worth looking at: she cites an article from Christianity Today by the dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Martin Accad, who makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the people of Lebanon and does not accept the easy justifications of any party to the conflict.  She also notes the Maronite bishops’ call for peace.

 I was talking today with a former U.S. diplomat and a Washington “insider” who made the following comment: “I’m beginning to suspect that the Israeli military has been ‘Americanized.’ They seem to repeating our mistakes in Iraq. Very discouraging for them and for us.” This is coming from someone who is a critic of the Bush administration’s policies and has been opposed to the Israeli response in Lebanon. My guess is that the Bushies and the neocons are hysterical. After all, much of what the neocons have been pushing for has been the “Israelization” of Americnan foreign policy and national security, in a sense that the Americans should adopt the tough Israeli methods in dealing with global threats, especially vis-a-vis the Arabs who supposedly “only understand force.” The problem is that both in Iraq and Lebanon (now and earlier) and in the West Bank/Gaza this approach has proved to be a total failure in terms of policy (forget for a moment about moral dilemmas).

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Indeed, as I suggested in an earlier post, it’s all looking more and more not like 1967 (the historical analogy being that Nasrallah will end up as a loser like Nasser) and more like 1973 when although the Sadat and the Egyptians were defeated in military terms, the perception was that they triumphed over Israel. This is the result of the “game of expectations,” when one side does better than expected. ~Leon Hadar

It is easy to say so now, but does it not seem clear that the parallel moves of the Americanisation of Israel’s military and the Israelisation of our policies were doomed from the start?  Air superiority is very good to have in its proper role, but it is never going to change fundamental political realities, much less transform a political culture.  Viewing American policy in the Near East as a matter of demonstrating resolve through force to cajole “the Arab mind” into obeisance (and to “drain the swamp” as Israel has always succeeded in doing, viz. Hamas, Hizbullah, etc.) is a recipe for perpetual war that cannot serve the American interest.  Unhinged people who think a border war in the Near East is manifestation of a global war for the entire West have imbibed the idea that we are in a war for our very survival, as if the sea into which the Arabs are always supposed to be wanting to push Israel were the Pacific and not the Mediterranean.  The confusion of the interests and methods appropriate to each nation and its needs has resulted in failure and calamity for both.  Perhaps distinct nations with their own particular needs and goals should adapt themselves to operate in distinct and sometimes divergent ways; the convergence of our technical expertise and their perspective has been largely unsuccessful in securing the interests of either country.

This blindness on the part of “conservative” American Catholics is partly ignorance; even many of those who have heard the words Melkite and Maronite have no particular interest in trying to learn anything about either rite, must less trying to grapple with the history of these Christian populations or even being bothered to find out who lives where or how they worship.

More importantly, though, it reflects a growing political reality. Since at least the Six-Day War, the presence of Christians in the Middle East has been a sign of contradiction that has stood in the way of American and Israeli attempts to reduce the broad conflict in the Middle East to the dualism of Judaism/Israel versus Islam/Arabs. The inconvenient reality of Middle Eastern Christianity has been a stumbling block to remaking the Middle East in a particular ideological image.

I started to write the “irreducible” (instead of “inconvenient”) “reality of Middle Eastern Christianity,” but, unfortunately, it is not so. By acting as if they were dealing only with Muslims, both the United States and Israel have changed the demographic reality in the Middle East. Palestinian Christians have left in droves. Much of the Maronite population is now in the United States. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq have, as Wayne Allensworth predicted before the war, largely fled the country. ~Scott Richert

I appreciate Scott’s comments, and I share his frustration with most Americans’ general ignorance of or indifference to Near Eastern Christian brethren of all confessions (for what it’s worth, there are also some Protestants in Lebanon, the fruit of the largely forgotten humanitarian and evangelical work of American missionaries in the Near East across the old domains of the Ottoman Empire).  I would also like to join him in pointing out the blog of Andrea Kirk Assaf, Russell Kirk’s daughter and a Catholic currently living in Italy, who is married to a man from Lebanon.  She has been blogging extensively on the situation in Lebanon, the Vatican response to the crisis and ongoing Vatican efforts to mediate the conflict.  Today she reports on the Israeli bombing of a Catholic radio station, and has a long post on the bombing at Qana.  Thank goodness that Israel is not targeting civilian sites, is not attacking all of Lebanon and is only going after Hizbullah. 

There has long been scant attention paid to the extremely delicate and dangerous  situation Arab and other Near Eastern Christians face, even in the officially secular states where they live and where they are supposed to be (and often, though not always, are) protected by law.  What is striking about the Western interventions of the last 16 years is how disastrous they have been for the region’s Christians.  It might be worth considering that the two major interventions in the Near East in my lifetime have been under GOP Presidents, and it has typically been their constituents who have, more than anyone else, endorsed these reckless and wrongheaded policies; many of these constituents are the same people who believe that we either live in or should live in a Christian nation.  But these folks should consider that if they want to have a Christian nation, or at least help create a nation that takes its Christian Faith seriously, they cannot really continue to endorse a party that embraces a foreign policy that has such serious anti-Christian effects (to say nothing for the moment of goals).  For that matter, any party that has people who are effectively apologists for Chechen terrorism among its prominent members is a party with which no self-respecting Christian should associate if he can possibly help it.   

Not only are these Christians, as Scott has said, the ”forgotten victims” of these conflicts, but the indifference with which Western governments greet the destruction or radical diminution of their communities is equalled only by the cynical, “humanitarian” crocodile tears that the same governments and their apologists shed for the ethnic and sectarian victims of governments they have chosen to eliminate.  If the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians are driven from Iraq en masse to scratch out a living in another country, that’s a tough break (stuff happens, after all), but for 15 years there has never been a cessation of lamenting the longsuffering Kurds, with whom we in the West have nothing in common except a similar linguistic structure.  There has been an ongoing disproportionate response of a different kind to the suffering of Near Eastern Christians: the rule seems to be that the more they are like us Americans (in their Christianity), the less interested “we” are in their fate, while you can’t turn around in this country but find a Christian who cares deeply for the fate of Israel or, even more incredibly, Darfur.  Roger Scruton recently coined the term oikophobia to express the idea of fearing and loathing that which is your own (as opposed to xenophobia), so we are either seeing an outpouring of oikophobia with respect to our Christian brethren, a startling demonstration of American ignorance, or a widespread admission that “we” are not really like the Christians of the Near East but apparently have more in common with their persecutors with whom we unwittingly or knowingly align ourselves.   

I do not dare assume that Mr. Bush has a significant working knowledge of the region he has proposed to transform into a beacon of human progress (this is the man who reportedly needed to have the whole Kurd-Sunni-Shi’a business in Iraq explained to him as late as the winter of ‘02-’03 and who was surprised to find black folks in Brazil), so I do not assume that he knows about the Christians of the Near East in any detail and has simply decided they are unimportant or expendable.  What some of his advisers know and think about Christians in the Near East may be a very different story (I do not think any secular neocons care a whit for what has happened to these people).  Still, it is ironic in the extreme that this administration has been conventionally (albeit mostly wrongly, in my view) associated with a strong emphasis on Christianity and the interests of evangelical Christians and yet has presided over the displacement of so many Christians and the cleansing of Muslim countries of sizeable sections of their Christian populations and has undertaken policies that have hastened this cleansing.  There was a time when a President of the United States would take particular interest in the suffering of Bulgarians and Armenians being massacred in the Ottoman Empire and would make it an issue of international concern; there was a time when Western peoples viewed with horror Kurdish atrocities against the Assyrians of Iraq, who suffered grievously during the last round of liberating Iraq.  Now, if there is an awareness of these suffering people, there is an unprecedented indifference to their fate and their fears of Islamic oppression combined with a weird activist concern for other victims of Islamic frenzy.  Everyone and his brother on the blogging right seems to belong to the Save Darfur Coalition, but when did you ever even hear of a Save Middle East Christians Coalition? 

Why this ignorance of or contempt for people who are more “our own” than the myriad nations our government is supposedly intent upon freeing and democratising?  Is this a function of secularism having taken such root in the culture that Christians are afraid or embarrassed to speak out for co-religionists on explicit grounds of Christian solidarity?  Is this some strange leftover animus among the Protestant majority towards other confessions, an expression of an old prejudice that these people aren’t really Christians at all?  I know there are some American Christians who take an active interest in the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, including in the Near East, but why are they such a distinct and small minority?        

The newest issue of The American Conservative has brought together thirty short articles from a number of prominent, primarily traditional conservative and libertarian writers and scholars on whether the terms conservative and liberal and the modern Right/Left opposition have any meaning and, if they do have any meaning today, what that meaning might be.  Rod Dreher has excerpted from a number of his favourites, and I expect that all of them will be worth looking at in greater depth (I only received my copy this morning), but the one that caught my immediate attention was that of Dr. Clyde Wilson, professor of history at the University of South Carolina and a contributing editor at Chronicles.  Here are a couple excerpts:

In a dynamic and free republican society, citizens of similar ideas, values, and interests, and even inherited allegiances and inclinations, come together to seek representation, forming political parties as their vehicle in the contest with citizens of opposing tendencies.  (In addition, in the United States, political representation has been geographically based rather than strictly a matter of parties.)  Citizenship–participation in politics–assumes mental and material independence and a social identity pre-existing the state apparatus.  None of these preconditions for politics any longer characterize the American regime.

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After the elections, it was seen that the parties, except at the fringes, do not disagree on anything of importance nor do they represent the people on any important issue–for instance, war, foreign aid, immigration or quotas.

On behalf of the imperial bureaucratic regime, the Democrats absorb and defang whatever liberal inclinations remain in their constituency, and the Republicans do likewise for the conservatives.  The only difference is that the Democrats institutionally are wired to keep up the momentum of an already liberal state, while the Republicans’ conservatism has always been a pure fraud.

If, as may be the case, a real politics is struggling to be born, one that involves representation of the interests and values of the remnant genuine elements of American society that have a reality apart from the state, then the terms “liberal” and “conservative” will not much apply.  Politics against the imperial regime will have to be both defensive and radical, that is to say, it will have to be reactionary. 

His concluding words reminded me of M.E. Bradford’s important idea that the time may come (indeed it is already here) when there is nothing worthwhile to conserve and conservatives are faced with “the reactionary imperative” (the title of his 1990 collection of essays) to restore or recreate a humane, decent order.  As Bradford said:

“Reaction” is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit late in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous.

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his “leadership” was never explained in the missive. But of course Reid’s letter wasn’t really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that’s George W. Bush’s problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters. ~Peter Beinart, The Washington Post

If I gave the Dems any credit for being smart, I would say that their plan here was exactly to undermine Maliki (whose failure at home will in any event be attributed to their political rivals and Bush himself) while at the same time maintaining their predictable enthusiasm for the cause of Israel.  They do have to keep their priorities straight, and securing the American-backed government in Iraq obviously has to take second place to the much more important business of Israel bombing Lebanon without criticism or interference.  On the other hand, it may be that the Dems assume that Maliki, like our other lackeys around the world, really is just a lackey and will fall in line if he is told in no uncertain terms that his own views are unacceptable.  In this, they seem to be mistaken, which is good news for Maliki and generally bad news for us. 

This brings me to a separate point that has been brought up before here and elsewhere: if Iraq really were vital to American interests, as Mr. Bush claims, why have the party and administration supposedly renowned for their advantage on understanding and handling national security policy essentially committed allegedly vital national interests into the care of the apparently independent actor Mr. Maliki?  It is fortunate that Iraq is not vital to the national interest, so our vital interests are not in the hands of a Shi’ite demagogue whose faction is backed by Tehran.  If they were in his hands, a few Democrats being rude to him would be the least of our problems!   

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel “proportionate” attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one’s security again. That’s what it took with Japan. ~Charles Krauthammer

Via Rod Dreher

Let’s consider the first obfuscation Mr. Krauthammer uses: likening the kidnapping of two soldiers to Pearl Harbor.  Talk about losing all sense of proportion….Second is the refrain we heard earlier in the week, invoking the wonder of total war and citing major war crimes as the appropriate ultimate response to any kind of attack.  How is this a credible argument?  Why are Podhoretz and Krauthammer able to get away with making arguments like this, as if they were the morally responsible ones, when they are the ones approving of civilian holocausts (which, as it happens, were gratuitous slaughters entirely unrelated to defeating the Japanese military in the field)?  No wonder they think the abuse of the Lebanese civilian population is unimportant, the creation of a humanitarian crisis irrelevant and the targeting of refugees beside the point–in Mr. Krauthammer’s sad little moral universe, the targeting of civilians is the means to victory!  Now, who else believes that is the way to win a conflict?  Hm…let’s see. 

What is the rationale for all this?  It worked with Japan, after all, so we should always unthinkingly repeat whatever the Allies did in WWII.  That’s what morality means to Mr. Krauthammer: a moral universe governed by eternal recurrence in which fighting the eternal Axis by any means, fair or foul, will be justified.  Still, it is interesting how the proponents of the argument from war crimes never cite Soviet brutality as examples to be followed (so far, no one has said that southern Lebanon should receive the Red Army treatment of Germany in 1945, but I assume this is just an oversight).  I guess it might be impolitic to start praising commie atrocities as a means to justify Israeli excesses.  Let’s also think about what Mr. Krauthammer’s standard of what is appropriate response for the Lebanese, who were “wantonly” attacked in 1982 and have thus far been deprived of disarming and disabling the aggressor for all these years.  I expect Mr. Krauthammer won’t be crying over their inability to exact retribution on the original aggressor.  

The Turkish military, for example, is a defender of Turkish liberalism - flawed though it may be — against the threats it faces from, among other things, democratic Islamic populism. ~Jonah “Lie For a Just Cause” Goldberg

The Turkish military is a defender of Kemalist secular republicanism, which is not necessarily anything like liberalism (in the Continental sense).  It is non-Islamic, rejects traditional monarchy, modernising, authoritarian and has attempted to create a mass Turkish nationalism.  In the context of the 1920s in Turkey, Kemalism was a radical leftist and revolutionary ideology, but liberalism on any Western model it never was.  Ask the Kurds whether Kemalism is a form of liberalism.  Perhaps Goldberg has been so confused by the title of his own book, Liberal Fascism, that he has lost track of the difference between authoritarian nationalist military men and liberals of any and all kinds. 

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn’t Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel — and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine — no longer do.

This will not last.

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.  

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Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

The majority of Lebanon’s people were wise and civilized enough to take the gun out of politics after the fifteen year war. Lebanon was the only Arab country to do this, the only Arab country that preferred dialogue, elections, compromise, and debate to the rule of the boot and the rifle. But Hezbollah remained outside that mainstream consensus and did everything it could, with backing from the Syrian Baath and the Iranian Jihad, to strangle Lebanon’s democracy in its cradle.

Disarming Hezbollah through persuasion and consensus was not possible in the first year of Lebanon’s independence. Disarming Hezbollah by force wasn’t possible either. The Lebanese people have been called irresponsible and cowardly by some of their friends in America for refusing to resume the civil war. Unlike Hezbollah, though, most Lebanese know better than to start unwinnable wars. This is wisdom, not cowardice, and it’s sadly rare in the Arab world now. They are being punished entirely too much for what they have done and for what they can’t do. ~Michael Totten

Via Andrew Stuttaford

We forget easily that natural rights theory, depending as it does on postulates concerning an anterior “state of nature,” is the worst enemy of human freedom yet to be devised by the mind of man.  Liberty is precious to most of us, particularly to a people who have learned from their frontier heritage to connect a personal sense of worth and merit to what they achieve in making private decisions.  Yet only men who belong to something are in any durable sense free.  And belonging to a society also means citizenship in some kind of commonwealth and submission to some kind of law restrictive of our presocial freedom to a degree that goes beyond the mere prevention or punishment of crime.  Our forefathers knew the costs of the civil condition, but did not speak well of life in a state of nature.  They avoided “constructivist rationalism” (to use Hayek’s terms), regardless of its ostensible connection with “the rights of man.”  Even the most liberal spirits among the Framers of the Constitution and heroes of the Revolution fall short of compliance with the full libertarian paradigm.  Thomas Jefferson, with very slight revisions, fought to keep the English common law in force in Virginia: that law “beyond the cunning of reason,” where custom reigns supreme….Usually the freedoms of which they spoke with fervor were part of the warp and woof of an established way of life.  Most of them understood that “Liberty, like happiness, is most perfect when least remarked.  As most misery is caused by the pursuit of abstract happiness, distinct from the occupations that make men happy, so most tyranny springs from the struggle for an abstract liberty, distinct from the laws and institutions that make men free.” ~M.E. Bradford, Remembering Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative (University of Georgia Press, 1985)

Man’s bodily existence is also the basis of his social existence.  This may grow quantitatively from the family, to the labor-dividing small society, to that size in which ordering consciousness finds the material basis for the unfolding of the eu zen, the good life, Aristotle’s criterion of the eunomia, the good social order.  No matter how well ordered society may be, its corporeality, compelling it to provide material care and the control of the passions, requires an existence in the form of organized rulership.  The organization of society through representatives charged with care for the social order within and for defense against external dangers is the conditio sine qua non of society to such an extent that the investigation and description of the various pragmatic organizations is a main part of political science.  A theory of politics cannot stop there, however, since this part deals only with that aspect of political reality that is founded in man’s corporeality. ~Eric Voegelin, “The Concrete Consciousness” in Anamnesis (University of Missouri Press, 1978)

A rare exception to the talk-for-talk’s-sake norm of recent years is Washington’s approach to the Israeli conflict with Hizbollah. But all signs point to a weakening of resolve inside the Bush administration. Earlier this week, trial balloons began floating from Ms Rice’s mission to the Middle East: perhaps talks in Rome could bring a call for a peace-making force and a ceasefire. Talks are likely to bring little more than concerted pressure on the US and Israel to back down on the ultimate disarmament of Hizbollah. A ceasefire under any circumstances other than Hizbollah’s complete disarmament would be construed as another victory for the terrorist agenda.

Throughout the Middle East, American priorities have lost steam. Mr Bush’s signature issue democracy promotion has been thrust aside by resurgent dictators, with few real consequences. Egypt’s abrogation of municipal elections and a brutal crackdown on civil rights and press freedoms, for example, brought a threat from the US Congress to cut Egyptian aid but little more than limp language from the administration. ~Danielle Pletka, AEI.org

Via Doug Bandow at 4Pundits

There’s just no pleasing some people.  How much more latitude would Mr. Bush need to give Israel to satisfy Ms. Pletka?  The mind boggles.  Also, while I’m sure this is perfectly clear to those ensconced in the shining halls of AEI, what does it mean when she says “the terrorist agenda,” as if all terrorist groups had the same agenda?  Shi’ite terrorists in Lebanon have one set of priorities and the agenda their masters give them; Salafist terrorists likely have very different priorities, one of which probably involves killing Shi’ites.  Perhaps the very vagueness involved in describing our enemy as “terrorism,” which was once useful for covering a multitude of groups and states entirely unrelated to one another, has become a burden that is dragging down neocon rhetoric and depriving it of its previous influence.

Perhaps because “democracy promotion” isn’t really an American priority, but an ideological one cultivated by AEI members and their friends, its importance is no longer what it once was.  But does Ms. Pletka really think that an unfettered democratic process empowering the Islamic Brotherhood across Egypt is the recipe for more stability and the security of American and, for that matter, Israeli interests?  How did that work out in Lebanon?  Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.   

On a minor note, why can we not establish some standard transliterated spelling of Hizbullah?  Most news accounts spell it Hezbollah, which I believe does not really transliterate the pronunciation of the word correctly.  Now we have the hybrid Hizbollah.  As my readers may be aware, I’m in favour of orthographical diversity, but surely we could have a little more accuracy.

The Prime Minister’s views and even more inflammatory statements by other Iraqi officials — including a parliamentary resolution branding Israeli attacks “criminal aggression” — prompted 20 congressional Democrats to call for the cancellation of Mr Maliki’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress overnight, Melbourne time.

While Republican leaders refused, they also expressed concern at Mr Maliki’s statements. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Maliki’s criticism of Israel’s right to defend itself is unacceptable. Unless Mr Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honour him with a joint meeting of Congress.”

Some Democrats were weighing a boycott of the speech, but Democratic leaders were expected to attend and were not encouraging absences. ~The Age

The Democrats certainly know how to keep the colonials in their place, don’t they?  When it comes to endorsing Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force or tolerating excessive Iraqi rhetoric, they will choose the former every time.  

There’s practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah’s side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah “started it” when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side. ~Ze’ev Maoz, Haaretz

Via Thomas Fleming at Cultural Revolutions Online  

 

In a recent radio interview (transcript here), after very ably reviewing the nature of Hizbullah and the woes of Lebanon’s dysfunctional polity, Dr. Srdja Trifkovic adds:

The only mystery in this sad story is why are the Israelis being so indiscriminate in their response. Two decades ago they were capable and skillful in separating the Druze and Sunni and Shia Muslims from the Christians. In southern Lebanon they had allies like Major Haddad controlling the border and the area to the Litani river, thus preventing attacks on Israel proper. Current attacks by the Israeli Defense Force on anything that moves in Lebanon are generating support for the Hezbollah not only among Muslims—including those who are not Shi’ites—but also among Lebanon’s Christians. Once the rockets start falling and the infrastructure is targeted, you don’t blame the force that has inserted itself into your daily life, you blame those who press the trigger that releases the missiles.

In time of war, people tend to lose all sense of proportion.  This is true when it comes to the kinds of domestic government measures they are willing to endorse during the “emergency,” which always overreach and violate fundamental legal protections to the general indifference of the masses, or when it comes to the latitude they are willing to grant their armed forces in attacking the hostile state (and nation), resulting in excesses and crimes to which the general public typically reacts with relatively little concern.  Thus violations of principles of discrimination (distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants) and proportionality are frequently shrugged off or the assumptions behind these principles are questioned or denied.  Even when it is an ally that is at war, there is the tendency to lose a sense of what the proper limits to waging war ought to be, because anything less than solidarity and arguments in defense of the ally’s war effort will appear to be hostility to the ally and an expression of a desire to see the ally defeated. 

Because of a desire to show steadfast support for an ally, in this case Israel, there have been a number of expressions of outright hostility to the very idea of proportionality as a legitimate principle governing justice in war.  Quickly vanishing is the trope of Israel’s tremendous restraint.  The new idea is the virtue of her disproportionate violence. 

This does no credit to Israel and rather reinforces the notion that a perpetual state of “existential threat” from her enemies somehow justifies behaviour that would, were it committed by any other government, be a cause of condemnation and sanctions, which muddies Israel’s image and makes it appear as if Israel is exempt from the standards that her benefactor, the United States, applies only too rigorously to other states.  How any of this serves the long-term interests of Israel genuinely does escape me.  At the same time, it hardly serves American interests, which are my primary concern in matters of foreign policy, to have an ally committing excesses that our government tacitly or openly endorses.  

Some have recourse to the experience of total war in WWII, as Mr. Chait does.  Of course, between the notion of a moral total war and the just war tradition, of which the principle of proportionality is a part, is a vast and unbridgeable chasm.  If you believe that total war is just, you will never see any virtue in proportionality, just as you will scarcely see any virtue in discrimination.  Indiscriminate killing is the essence of total war, so why would any supporter of total war be interested in a principle that automatically makes total war unjust?  Proportionality exists, in part, to limit the destructiveness and cruelty of war, rooted in the virtue of charity.  Total war, on the other hand, does not even admit the humanity of the enemy, so why should it wish to show him charity?   

Others, such as Mr. Cohen, take refuge behind an argument from pragmatism: responding in limited fashion to small-scale attacks does not establish deterrence.  This is a more serious argument, divorced as it is from Chait and Podhoretz’s nostalgia for the good old days when bombers turned tens of thousands of people to ash.  This is harder to argue against, because the priority of deterrence is security for your side and the priorities of proportionality are justice towards both sides and a desire to act virtuously.  Particularly when you are of the opinion that the other “side” does not deserve to be treated justly, proportionality simply seems incredible. 

But let me take a stab at showing why this deterrence argument is nonetheless mistaken.  Deterrence relies to a certain degree on predictability.  Both sides refrain from large-scale provocations or attacks on the assumption that they will call forth absolutely overwhelming retaliatory force from the other side.  If every incident, no matter how small, results in a large-scale response, there is nothing–short of their physical annihilation (which may or may not be achievable)–to keep those whom you are trying to deter from making ever larger and more destructive attacks.  They will attempt to do the maximum of damage before the inevitable large-scale response comes.  The more disproportionate the response now, the less restrained an enemy will be by deterrence in the future.  If a string of border incidents over several years, capped off by the kidnapping of two soldiers, leads to waves of air strikes and a ground invasion, it is not hard to see that Hizbullah or its successors will initiate hostilities next time on a much more destructive scale.  The disproportionality of response seems effective in pummeling your adversary this time, but it is only truly effective as a deterrent to others if the adversary is wiped out or permanently disarmed (an objective that would currently require an even more disproportionate response than Israel has so far employed).  Of course, the entire notion of proportionality rests on such quaint notions as having a causus belli and obtainable objectives that, once met, bring an end to the need for war.  It assumes that the waging of war is done to achieve redress of specific wrongs.  It has no meaning for partisans of theories of “total victory,” because there is no justice in “total victory,” which presupposes the degradation and complete surrender of all protections of the defeated party to the mercy of the victors.  Vae victis is not a motto that we should want to take to its logical conclusions.  Proportionality is an essential feature of governing Macht by means of Recht.  We would be extremely unwise to throw out this principle, if for no other reason than that we should want to hold to something that justifies our claims to civilisation and which keeps the line distinguishing us from the likes of Hizbullah bright and clear.       

Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? ~John Podhoretz, New York Post

Via Rod Dreher

Since the acts Mr. Podhoretz cites are remarkable for being 1) massive war crimes and 2) entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the war, I would like to think that he is joking.  However, he is in deadly earnest.  In his view, these hideous crimes are proof of the mettle of past Western governments in war, compared to the irresolution of today’s Western powers.  Had he wanted to make a more serious point that large-scale modern warfare inflicts incidental casualties on civilian populations that are sometimes entirely unavoidable, he could have done so without running straight to the most heinous Anglo-American crimes of the ‘Good War’, but I suspect that it is all the same to him. 

The firebombing of Dresden (like the firebombing of Tokyo) was a singular act of spite, a demonstration of contempt for the lives of German civilians.  Its aim, to punish the population to get at the government and break their will to fight, was as surely a terrorist aim as ever there has been or will be.  Americans can take some consolation that it was the RAF and not our Air Force that did the ugly deed.  The nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became “necessary” only because of FDR’s demand for unconditional surrender; there had been opportunities for a negotiated peace as early as 1944, had Washington been interested in negotiating a surrender.  For a serious Christian and far more conservative view of the immorality of the bombing of civilian populations, see Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s comments on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Leftism Revisited or his novel Black Banners written under the pseudonym Francis Stuart Campbell.  The barbaric logic of total war ruled out negotiation, and the same barbaric thinking justified the incineration of tens upon tens of thousands of innocents; that the second target, Nagasaki, also happened to be the cradle of Japanese Christianity only drives home just how barbaric these acts were.  If the ideas of civilised warfare and war crimes mean anything, they apply to all belligerents.  Defending one set of far more minor, but still serious, excesses by referring to the past war crimes of the Allies is pitiful.  It is, however, an effective rhetorical bludgeoning tool: don’t judge Israel, because your governments have done far worse.  It is not a real argument for the rightness or justifiability of what Israel has been doing to the Lebanese population, but an argument that because Israel’s cause against Hizbullah is good her means, like those of the Allies, are automatically justified as well.  That is a profound error. 

On a couple different occasions, I have drawn parallels between the American response to the limited Yugoslavian anti-terrorist campaign of 1998-99 (NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999 for having the audacity to fight terrorists on their own territory) and the official response from Washington to Israel’s wide-ranging strike against Lebanon that came in response to Hizbullah’s kidnapping of two soldiers (a general outpouring of initial support).  Our bombing of a Christian country has an eerie parallel with Israel’s bombing of a country that is roughly 40% Christian; the flood of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Kosovo, precipitated by our bombing campaign, bears a striking resemblance to the flood of refugees from Lebanon: both are primarily large Muslim populations (in both cases, there were many Christian refugees as well) uprooted by the attacks of the benevolent, freedom-loving bombardiers.  Last time, NATO was supposed to be helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees; this time, the refugees seem to be targets just the same as everyone else.  Last time, it was an anti-genocide campaign that caused massive displacement and what would otherwise be called ethnic cleansing; this time, it is an anti-terrorist campaign waged by terrorising civilians.  The mendacity and doublespeak defending the attacks on civilian targets remain the same–the real villain is always someone else who is “forcing” the benevolent bombardiers to blow up Belgrade or Beirut.  Bombardment shall lead to disarmament and glorious liberation.  We have heard it all before, and it is, by and large, a pack of lies.  But keeping the two wars in mind together is helpful in understanding American indifference to Lebanese suffering: Americans were equally indifferent when our own airmen were blasting innocent civilians for the crime of being Serbian.

“Bleeding Lebanon” is the ripest fruit of the Bush administration’s catastrophic foreign policy. In similar crises, previous administrations at least pretended to make diplomatic efforts to arrange cease-fires and find grounds on which a tenuous peace might be maintained. As my friend Ron Hatchett points out, in a Dallas Blog article posted on this site, Ronald Reagan, though a strong supporter of Israel, took effective measures to discpline Israel during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In the present case, however, both President Bush and his Secretary of State have openly supported Israel and chosen to treat the invasion of Lebanon as a morally responsible act of self-defense. It is only as an afterthought and in response to international criticism that Secretary Rice has seen fit to visit the region, but the best she can offer is a peace-keeping mission to be sent just after the nick of time, that is, after the IDF has accomplished its mission.

If there had ever been any doubts that the security of Israel was Bush’s primary motive for invading Iraq, those doubts have been dispelled by his unequivocal support for a war against Lebanese civilians that is being condemned around the world.  Our Iraqi “allies” seem to understand. A headline in the LA Times tells the story: “Iraqis find rare Unity in Condemning Israel.” Even some Iraqi Christians have joined with Sunni and Shiite Muslims in condemning Israel and her bullying big brother. Perhaps they have seen the news stories describing Israel’s inexplicable attacks on Christian neighborhoods.

————————

The temptation, in any conflict that engages the attention of Americans, is to choose a side and believe the propaganda told about it. If we are Christian Zionists, then Israel is a righteous nation doing too little to defend its people from Islamic terrorists. If we are tired of our Zionist foreign policy, then we may conclude that Israel is a bellicose national socialist state, guilty of war crimes against the unoffending Lebanese. If truth be told, however, none of the sides (Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria, Iran) is guiltless. Hezbollah, undoubtedly, incited the current conflict, with a manifest disregard for the lives of the Lebanese people. While Hezbollah is, from one point of view, a legitimate political organization and a recognized party in Lebanon, it also has a long history of violence and terrorism. I say “violence and terrorism,” because not all of Hezbollah’s violence can be described as terrorism. Killing or kidnapping Israeli soldiers is an act of war, not terrorism, while randomly shelling Israeli cities is terrorism.

But if Hezbollah’s initial missile strikes were acts of terrorism, so is the much greater Israeli campaign that has so far killed nearly 400 Lebanese, mostly civilians. This is ten times the number of Israelis who have died in the conflict. If sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, that makes Israel ten times more terrorist than Hezbollah. If the Muslim terrorists are recklessly sending missiles every which way into Israel, the IDF is deliberately targeting civilian neighborhoods. They say it is because they believe they have located missile launchers or military installations or vehicles carrying weapons. In many instances, this belief was mistaken. Everyone is now a target, whether they are residents of formerly peaceful neighborhoods or fleeing refugees. ~Thomas Fleming

 

The same is true of “World Trade Center.” It is undeniably powerful, an immensely affecting and well-meaning real-life tale of two Port Authority policemen trapped in the rubble underneath the collapsed concourse between the North and South Towers.

Nonetheless, because “World Trade Center” tells a story of joyous survival rather than a story of death, it is a fundamental falsification of the meaning of 9/11 - even though the story it tells is true. ~John Podhoretz, New York Post

Via Michelle Malkin

So, in Little Pod’s estimation, even a film that is widely regarded on the conventional NR-bandwagon right as a good and uncharacteristically decent Oliver Stone film must hew to some political line of what 9/11 means or else it becomes false (even when it is true)?  Leave it to some neocon to be a killjoy and impose the requirements of their stale ideology on something that, by all accounts, they ought to be able to appreciate.  Podhoretz reveals what really bothers him about the movie at the end:

“United 93″ ends with a plane crash. “World Trade Center” ends with a smiling child. One wonders what Stanley Kubrick would have made of that.

Perhaps it is meant to say that life goes on, or perhaps it could mean that terrorists do not get to have the last word in dictating how we live.  It could mean any number of things, but because WTC does not end on a note of grim horror it has somehow failed to convey the horror of the day.  That, I would suggest, says more about the problems with Mr. Podhoretz and the warped world he inhabits than it does about any of the merits or flaws of this particular picture.

A selfishly American foreign policy need not stand in opposition to Israeli aims. It would simply recognize that the United States might, on occasion, need to look to its interests and merely be indifferent to how securing those interests might impact Israel.

For evidence that the Bush administration is reluctant to do this, look no further than Washington’s oddly delayed—if not criminal—one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi effort to get American citizens out from underneath Israeli airstrikes. Sweden, using the new superpower assets of cell phone text messaging and chartered cruise ships, managed to get 5,000 Swedes out of Lebanon before the U.S. even had a plan to evacuate its citizens. Sweden did this without the benefit of an embassy in Beirut.

By contrast, it took nine days to get the Marines ashore to rescue Americans. ~Jeff Taylor, Reason

Via Antiwar

Of course, Sweden has such strange priorities, looking after its own citizens first.  How very parochial and limited of them.  It probably has something to do with their socialised health care, as legions of GOP drones will be ready to inform us.  Didn’t the Swedes get the memo about World War Eight?

On a more serious note, Mr. Taylor properly points to the dangerous precedent Mr. Bush’s laissez faire approach to Israel in Lebanon (the only kind of laissez faire the man has ever approved of) creates for Turkey to cite in going after the old PKK currently taking refuge in northern Iraq.  I’m just waiting for the crowd of pundits to start complaining about the Kurdish “state within a state” and the failure of Baghdad to assert sovereignty over its territory–I may be waiting for some time.

The Bush administration’s plan to bring democracy to the Middle East is now in ruins. In a nation where political responsibility still counted for something, the architects of that strategy would be forced to resign.

Remember the argument for the Iraq war — that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would lead to a stable, democratic Iraq and bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Remember the argument that the key problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was lack of Palestinian democracy? Remember Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s promise that the U.S. would “support the new Lebanon”?

In truth, reliance on democratization was always not so much a strategy as an excuse for the lack of one. It provided a flimsy cover for the Bush administration’s inability or unwillingness to address the key challenges and opportunities of the region. These failures included walking away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refusing to consider deals with Iran and Syria when, in the wake of 9/11, these regimes were extremely eager for compromise. As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Mideast scholar Flynt Leverett, among others, have argued, Bush forfeited the chance to recruit these two states as allies in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Sunni extremist world, which the Syrian and Iranian regimes have their own good reasons to hate. ~Anatol Lieven, The Los Angeles Times

Via Antiwar

Hey everybody. Sorry for the hiatus. I’m currently in Oklahoma City — at the Biltmore Hotel no less. We’ll be on the road by early morning, heading off to New Mexico. ~Jonah Goldberg, The Corner

Global free trade talks, billed as a once in a generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty, collapsed on Monday after nearly five years of haggling and resuming them could take years.

The suspension of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha round came after major trading powers failed in a last-ditch bid to overcome differences on reforming world farm trade, which lies at the heart of the round.

“The WTO negotiations are suspended,” Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath told journalists. When asked how long the suspension could last, he replied: “Anywhere from months to years.”

 

The round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, stumbled from the start over how far rich nations would go to dismantle their huge farm subsidies and open up their markets. ~Reuters

It’s not a permanent defeat for the Doha round, but it is an encouraging sign that American trade policy is not quite as completely self-destructive as it has seemed to be for the last decade.

The British did it to the Scots Highlanders after the 1745 rising, and to the Acadians of Canada after the Seven Years’ War; Ataturk did it to the Greeks of Asia Minor in 1922; and the Czechs did it to the Sudeten Germans after 1945. It seems to be happening again, as half or more of Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites flee their homes. To de-fang Hezbollah implies the effective dissolution of the Shi’ite community, a third of whom live within Katyusha range of Israel.

———-

Blame George W Bush for this grim necessity in Lebanon, where the refugee count already has reached 15-30% of the total population. In the name of Lebanese democracy, Washington brought Hezbollah into mainstream politics, and the newly legitimized Hezbollah in turn became the focus of life for Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites. To uproot Hezbollah, one has to uproot the Shi’ite community. ~Spengler

I am not as sanguine as Spengler about chaos working to American and Israeli advantage.  It has typically not worked to U.S. advantage in Iraq, and I see little reason why a destabilised Lebanon and Syria would produce any better results.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Lebanon on Monday at the start of a trip to calm violence in the Middle East, Lebanese political sources said.Rice met Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora after her heavily guarded motorcade sped through Beirut from the U.S. embassy to the north where her helicopter had landed from Cyprus.
“Thank you for your courage and steadfastness,” she told Siniora, who has repeatedly pleaded for an immediate cease-fire. ~Haaretz

Of course, PM Siniora would need a good deal less courage and steadfastness if a certain government were not heavily bombarding his country with the approval of Secretary Rice’s government.

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial “target bank” has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. ~Gideon Levy, Haaretz

Via Kevin Drum

Even the lesser irrationalities on the subject of Israel disturb. It is smaller in area than Sardinia or Wales, with only half the population of Mexico City, but its potency, like that of the allegedly world-conquering Jews themselves, is inflated to an inordinate degree. Conversely, the notion that Israel is presently engaged in ‘a fight for its very existence’ is an equally irrational assertion. With its formidable military arsenal, and armed forces which can easily outgun its local foes, it is not, or not yet, in such danger. But similarly irrational is Israel’s vow to ‘destroy Hezbollah’. The right arm of the advancing power of Iran, the so-called ‘Party of God’, cannot now be ‘destroyed’. ~David Selbourne, The Spectator

Parts of Mr. Selbourne’s article help recover some perspective on this conflict (other parts are less helpful), which is, from the perspective of geopolitical grand strategy, about very small potatoes.  Indeed, a great deal of grief and gnashing of teeth might be avoided if we all admitted just how practically irrelevant Israel’s wars are to most of the world.  Now, if they are your small potatoes you will take the conflict very seriously, so I can understand why the Israelis are prone to exaggerate the dangers to themselves and why they have every incentive to make their conflicts seem much more important to the rest of the world than they actually are.  What I don’t quite understand is why the rest of the world buys into it, whether one is “for” or “against” Israel.  There ought to be a very large camp all around the world that should be able to say about this conflict, and not only about this conflict, “Pity about the war you’re having, but it’s not really any of my business.” 

If you live in Haifa, talk of “existential threats” probably makes a lot more sense, but to most people outside of the war zone it comes off sounding like tawdry agitprop (which, in the mouths of more than a few commentators, is often all that it is), especially when the people whose existence seems imperilled are those civilians being bombed and driven from their homes in Lebanon.  I know, I know, I’m missing “the big picture” as seen with “moral clarity,” which makes displacing half a million people one of those unfortunate prices to be paid for somebody or other’s freedom.  Freedom isn’t free, after all, and “we” will make them pay for it–such seems to be the profound moral vision on display.   

Four times as many people died in Mumbai in one day at the hands of Lashkar-e-Taiba earlier this month as have perished in Israel since the beginning of Hizbullah’s attacks, and surely this was just as heinous an attack as those now being aimed at northern Israel, yet there is not an army of pundits running hither and yon declaring India’s “right to self-defense.”  Why?  Well, for starters, the Indian government has the good sense not to make a limited conflict into a general conflagration and has refrained from launching attacks against the bases they must know exist inside Pakistan, even though much the same justifications could be trotted out about “states within states” and Pakistan’s government being unable to enforce its sovereign authority over its own territory (Hamid Karzai would undoubtedly love to be able to use this rhetoric to strike at his government’s enemies in the Northwest of Pakistan).  It is also because New Delhi does not have a reliable corps of yes-men speaking on their behalf in the American press, constantly pumping the American people with slogans of civilisational solidarity and antiterrorist unity.  Because of these things, it is almost as if we recognise, when it comes to India, that there are some problems that cannot be solved with simple recourse to the use of force, and that unleashing the brunt of a war machine on the country from which these attacks are launched will accomplish next to nothing in the long term.  It is almost as if we recognise that a train bombing cannot be allowed to throw an entire region into chaos, from which radicals and warmongers are the most likely to benefit.     

What really mystifies me is why people who live on the other side of the planet believe they have some profound stake in what would normally be considered a minor border dispute that is nonetheless threatening to erupt into full-scale war.  (Don’t even get me started on people who say ”we are all Israelis now,” which is mindless pablum–were we all Indians three weeks ago?)  I read this morning about a demonstration and counter-demonstration, one in favour of Israel, the other in favour of Lebanon and Palestine, taking place in Skokie, of all places, and my response was much the same as it was when I saw similar protests here at the University at the beginning of the second intifada: why are Americans so strongly taking sides in a conflict that has nothing to do with them?  This is a question that keeps coming up when I read things offered up by the buffoonish neo-Jacobin “Right” (yes, that is a legitimate and meaningful category!) and the lunatic FrontPageMag.  Of course, for those who think our nation has universal significance and a universal mission, everything has something to do with America and everything becomes our business–all the more reason to repudiate and reject shallow universalism and the cheap sentimentality that usually goes along with it. 

Amid the generally predictable clamour of the latest edition of The Spectator (registration required), Prof. Andrew Bacevich has some rather more interesting commentary on the alarmists declaring WWIII, WWIV or, if we are very lucky, WWV (which is much easier to write).  After reviewing the origins of the ridiculous WWIV label, Prof. Bacevich says:

We are now in a position to evaluate the results. Bluntly, a contrived and phony version of history has yielded a demented strategy. A Churchillian Bush imagined that Operation Iraqi Freedom might provide his ‘Finest Hour’ — an act of liberation that would jumpstart the democratic transformation of the Greater Middle East. Instead Iraq has become Bush’s Gallipoli, a sinkhole into which he has not yet ceased to pour American treasure, military strength and credibility. Although Bush succeeded in toppling his stand-in for Hitler (while Osama bin Laden, the actual architect of 9/11, still remains at large), the Iraqis have refused to follow their assigned script. Unlike the compliant Germans after 1945, they have not submitted. Instead they resist, seeing their liberators as an army of occupation and pursuing their own political agenda which has a lot more to do with sectarian divisions than Jeffersonian ideals.

In the Persian Gulf more broadly, ‘liberation’ has produced not a peace but more violence; at home, it has meant not assured supplies of oil but higher prices at the gas pump. Rather than pacifying the region, the Bush Doctrine has destabilised it, exacerbating tensions between Shia and Sunni and emboldening the mullahs of Tehran. Supplanting autocrats with democrats was supposed to pave the way for settling old disputes. It has turned out to be somewhat more complicated than that. A democratic uprising in Lebanon has not made that country any less hospitable to Hezbollah. Among the Palestinians, meanwhile, free elections have handed power to those most stubbornly opposed to Israel’s existence.

Prof. Bacevich makes other wise comments on the unrepeatability of historical events and reminds us that past conflicts, such as WWII, cannot serve as universal templates of conduct that lead us on the path of “moral clarity.”  If the people who invented the nonsense of talking about WWIV knew any history beyond a couple of decades in the 20th century (and even these they do not seem to know all that well), they might not have embraced a vision inspired by simplistic, self-serving accounts of the past.

National Journal’s race rankings for this year’s Senate contests (updated last week) tell an interesting story.  Not only is Rick “Look at All the WMDs!” Santorum getting pummeled by his challenger, Bob Casey, Jr. (the Journal doubts he is losing by Quinnipiac’s 18 point margin, but he is definitely losing big), but Conrad Burns in Montana and Jim Talent in Missouri are also struggling.  According to the Journal, Burns’ weakness is even more worrisome to the GOP poobahs than Santorum’s meltdown.  I had noted earlier this year that Talent was in trouble and he continues to lag behind.  Ohio’s Mike “What Constitution?” DeWine remains at risk, given the disaster that is the Ohio GOP these days, but in my view he probably continues to benefit from the Ohio Dems’ foolish decision to run antiwar candidate Paul Hackett out of the race in favour of Sherrod Brown.

 

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. “What’s really killed the Republican Party isn’t spending, it’s Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.” Mrs. Friedman–listening to her husband with an ear cocked–was now muttering darkly.

Milton: “Huh? What?” Rose: “This was not aggression!” Milton (exasperatedly): “It was aggression. Of course it was!” Rose: “You count it as aggression if it’s against the people, not against the monster who’s ruling them. We don’t agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don’t agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously–such as, I don’t want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out–but big issues, this is the first one!” Milton: “But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it.” Rose: “And we will!” ~Tunku Varadarajan, OpinionJournal.com

Via Jim Antle at 4Pundits

One might ask: “Who is this ‘we’ that they keep talking about?”  It is a bad habit that Americans, myself included, frequently fall into, mistaking our government for something that actually represents, no, worse yet, embodies ourselves, as if the state were the hypostasis of America in which “we” as a people are made real.  When it does something, “we” are doing something.  This is simply wrong.  When agents of the government are doing something, agents of the government are acting.  “We” are not. 

There are all kinds of reasons for why people in a mass democracy fall into these habits of thought, most of them bad: there is the often good impulse to identify with your countrymen who are fighting in a war, but then there is the rather ugly impulse of defining who you are by what your government does and by how much power it is able to wield over other peoples and the troubling habit of feeling morally obliged to side with the iniquitous policies of your government, to which you did not consent in any way, once they are underway.  At the root of this is the sloppy thinking, popular at The Claremont Institute and other such hives of pseudo-intellectualism, that a country, its people and its government are effectively identical and you can speak about any one of them and automatically be referring to the other two.  The unfortunate phrase “my country, right or wrong” only makes sense if you have already made the bizarre leap of making your country and your government into the same entity, when they are at the very least distinct and may in certain circumstances be violently opposed.  Your country cannot be “right or wrong,” because “the country” does not act but simply exists as your land.  Only a cretin or a villain would embrace what that statement really means: “My government, right or wrong.”  Your people, on the other hand, may commit themselves to the wrong course of action, whereupon it is incumbent on you to resist that course and try to persuade your people to turn away from that path.  You might say, “My people, right or wrong,” but you should not mean by this that you are willing to let your loyalty to your people trump all regard for justice. 

Which brings me to Mrs. Friedman’s odd distinction: “You count it as aggression if it’s against the people, not against the monster who’s ruling them.”  So even though most of the Iraqis who have died and who continue to die during this war are from among “the people,” which is to say civilians without strong ties to the regime, while “the monster” is alive and sits in a jail cell and has done for years, the invasion was not an act of aggression?  What would aggression against “the people” look like?  But this is in any case a specious distinction.  Aggressive war is always an act of one state against another–it is always aimed ultimately at the ruler or ruling class.  The difference in the age of mass warfare is that a government is willing to include some large part, if not all, of the general population as part of the ruling class’s support structure.  As wars have become more and more “democratic,” aggression has typically become even more odious in the eyes of public opinion because it necessarily means making war on another people as well as another government, because modern warfare has effectively broken down the distinction between the two.  This is more difficult to justify with propagandistic appeals to liberation and deliverance of the very people your government will be targeting.  With the rise of precision weapons and the targeting of pathetically weak states in relatively small-scale wars for hegemony, the human costs of aggression have been reduced in recent decades and can be made to seem almost incidental.  Because the targeted weak states are often rather nasty despotisms, though despotisms that could not do much to anyone else, there is a greater willingness to overlook the butchery of aggression so as not to spoil the general enthusiasm for “freeing” a subject people.  But, however you’d like to slice it, most of the people who are attacked in modern war, no matter how precise the weapons, are “the people.”  To launch a war of choice, as Mr. Bush did, is to announce your moral indifference to the deaths among “the people” that will inevitably result.  To a launch a war without just cause, as Mr. Bush did, is to engage in aggression against another people, however you would like to dress it up in fine language and sentiment. 

Modern war targets “the people” because we as modern people have all embraced, tacitly or openly, the idea that the state and “the people” are one and the same.  When Americans talk about what “we” are doing in Iraq, they are labouring under the same delusion that justifies the acceptable losses of “collateral damage” that come from bombing the civilian populations of an enemy state.  When Mrs. Friedman says that “we” will make a success of Iraq (whatever that might mean), when she means that the government will achieve some objective or other, she effectively denies her own distinction between the people and former government of Iraq so crucial to her denial that the attack on Iraq was the very plain aggression that it was and continues to be. 

Today, with one Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and two others by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel has responded with airstrikes, naval blockades and ground action. As a soldier, Hannibal gave me confidence and boosted morale among my comrades. And today, I believe that deploying our military to stop Hezbollah’s rocket attacks and to obtain the return of our troops is fully justified.

However, I fear that we might not stop there, and that we might succumb to the delusion that military action can transform Lebanon’s political and social realities. That same delusion led Israel to occupy Lebanon for an agonizing decade and a half in which hundreds of our troops — and many more Lebanese and Palestinians — were killed. ~Haim Watzman, The Washington Post

Perhaps a limited, punitive campaign would have made more sense, but it appears that Israel, indulged if not actually egged on by Washington and the usual cheering sections in the American media, may be succumbing to these very delusions that Mr. Watzman warns against.  The delusion that war can reliably transform social and political realities for the better is the preeminent delusion of our time.  It is the folly that inspired the invasion of Iraq and all of the loose talk of regional “transformation” and it is a delusion that still taints Mr. Bush’s foreign policy speeches with ridiculous claims about the ”capacity of liberty to transform hostile regions.”  However, Mr. Watzman’s “solution” of “a multinational campaign against Iran and Syria,” is no less delusional and based on even more unrealistic assessments of what military victory over those states would yield in terms of regional stability.

A number of breathless pundits have described the Iranian challenge to the U.S. as the modern equivalent of of the old Soviet challenge. So, I’ve been trawling for estimates of the size of Iran’s annual subsidy to Hezbollah, Iran’s primary foreign beneficiary, and I’ve come up with a range of $25 million to $200 million, with a modal guess of $100 million (and even that paltry sum is arousing resentment among Iranian voters). In comparison, the annual Soviet subsidy to Cuba alone in the 1980s is said to have run between $4 and $6 billion, or at least 20 times larger. Hezbollah is thought to have 5,000 men at arms in its home country of Lebanon, which contrasts with the 65,000 that Cuba deployed in 17 African countries at the behest of the Kremlin. ~Steve Sailer

Mr. Sailer has his numbers right.  According to the Timesarticle on Hizbullah, the subsidy level is towards the low end of the range Mr. Sailer proposed:

It has not even cost Iran very much. Hezbollah was launched with just £13m. After that, according to best estimates, Iran spent £32m to £54m a year on its Lebanese assets. Even if we add the cost of training Hezbollah fighters and equipping them with hardware, Hezbollah (the strongest fighting force in the Middle East after Iran and Israel) has not cost Iran more than £1.3 billion over two decades.

The epic battle of our time this is not.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.” ~The New York Times

Via Leon Hadar

Never let it be said that Mr. Maliki is simply a toady for American interests! Read the rest of this entry »

Just a thought: There’s a recent precedent for an administration sitting tight while one military force knocks the hell out of another (with a not inconsiderable humanitarian cost), in the hopes that it would eventually advance the cause of a diplomatic settlement. It’s what the Clinton administration did in the summer of 1995 when the Croats launched an offensive against the Serbs that involved something like 200,000 Serbs being driven from Eastern Croatia. The smarter Clintonistas realized that in the long run this burst of war served the cause of peace. Richard Holbrooke and his negotiating team encouraged the Croats to keep going. “The map negotiations are taking place on the battlefield right now,” he explained. Similarly, the negotiations over who ultimately gets to control Southern Lebanon—Hezbollah or someone else?—are now taking place on the battlefield. ~Rich Lowry, The Corner

This “burst of war” to which Mr. Lowry so casually refers was the ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population of the Krajina, which was as much a war crime as anything committed by any side in the Balkan Wars, and it followed active U.S. training and support for the Croatian army.  The Serbs of the Krajina remain displaced to this day.  That is the kind of solution Mr. Lowry would like to see in Lebanon: war crimes for peace!  Do these people really wonder why most of the world finds their vision of the world so dreadful?

Update: Mr. Lowry may be pleased by the displacement of population that has already taken place.  From Monsters & Critics:

United Nations relief coordinator Jan Egeland on Sunday condemned the devastation caused by Israeli airstrikes in Beirut describing it as ‘horrific’ and terming it ‘a violation of humanitarian law.’

‘The whole thing has to stop. It’s no natural disaster, but a man-made crisis. This is a senseless war,’ Egeland said as the bombing campaign by the Israel Air Force and missile attacks by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement continued unabated for the 12th successive day.

The nadir may have come in February 2003, during the agitation before the invasion of Iraq, when Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, was brought to Italy to be feted at St. Francis’s church in Assisi and treated to an audience with John Paul II in Rome. But you can see the same impulse in the Vatican’s current secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who announced on Vatican Radio last week: “As it has done in the past, the Holy See condemns the terrorist attacks of one side as well as the military reprisals of the other. In fact, the right to defense of a state is not exempt from respect for the norms of international law, especially as regards the safeguarding of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See now deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation.”

The moral equivalence between terrorism and the response to terrorism was troubling–and, indeed, Sodano was indulging in more than moral equivalence, for he singled out the Israelis for blame “in particular.” The problem Israel faces is precisely that Lebanon is not “a free and sovereign nation,” but a weak and captive nation, unable to assert its sovereignty over areas dominated by a terrorist organization. ~Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard

Via Rod Dreher

I do enjoy how flexible international law can be for some people.  Apparently, “free and sovereign nation” is not a legal definition that invokes protections of the U.N. Charter, making aggressive war against it illegal, but a matter of perspective.  Apparently obligations under international law to safeguard civilian populations are all relative.  Isn’t it also convenient that the terrorist guerrilla movement of Hizbullah, now being held up as the reason to circumvent the protections Lebanon is owed under international law, is a direct product of the original, illegal invasion of Lebanon 24 years ago?  To strip a neighbour of his rights, the trick is to invade his territory once, stir up a violent resistance movement and then use that movement’s continued existence as a pretext to invade the territory again.  

Read the rest of this entry »

Whenever politicians invoke religion, Kevin Phillips suggests in a characteristic passage, the people perish: “The newly Christian fourth-century Rome of the Emperor Constantine and his successors held up the cross as Rome faced military defeat and crumbling frontiers from Hadrian’s Wall to Assyria. So did seventeenth-century Spain, the proud but ill-omened command post of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Vestments of crusaderdom also cloaked imperial Britain’s overreach in World War I and its aftermath.” ~Ross Douthat

Actually, some might suppose that Rome was some sort of command post for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, or, barring that, Vienna, whence most of the most dramatic and harsh Counter-Reformation policies came.  But no matter.  Spain is supposed to have gone into decline because it became too religious (even though it was the same kind of religious, crusading fervour that helped create the united kingdom of Spain), and not because it was engaged in long-running wars in the Netherlands and with France to secure dynastic interests and the strategic “Milan road.”  I love people who know just a smattering of their own civilisaton’s religious history and think they have discovered some all-embracing pattern of the relationship between religion and politics that the scholars of the periods in question have yet to divine.  There is every reason to suppose that the growing embrace of Christianity by the Roman world lent it a confidence and coherence that it desperately needed and which, in the East, may have aided in shoring up the empire.  In any event, the crisis of the curial class was a function of the rise of excessive centralisation, bureaucratisation and increased pressures from the center to extract revenue from the cities, and these were in turn responses to the crisis years of the third century when the extensive frontier of the empire broke down amid internal political chaos and the pressure of invasions.  The growth of the clergy in the fourth and fifth centuries as a group freed from curial obligations did not help the cities, but they were hardly the reason for the general breakdown of the curiales.  Because the state required too many resources, the earlier, more flexible and decentralised system of Roman government gradually disappeared–that is a principal cause of later Roman failures (though it is far from the only one), to which the rise of Christianity does not seem to have contributed very much.  That Britain’s empire was broken by the folly of WWI, and not by its lip service to Christian mission, should be obvious even to schoolchildren.  Mr. Phillips not only does not understand American Christianity–he does not seem to be familiar with much of the history of Christianity as a whole.

“What would America look like if the Religious Right had its way?” Balmer wonders. “The best answer” is that Christian conservatism “hankers for the kind of homogeneous theocracy that the Puritans tried to establish in seventeenth-century Massachusetts.” A few attempts to insert Intelligent Design into public school curricula constitute an “insidious” plot to overturn the Enlightenment, while the campaign to allow voluntary prayer in public schools is an attempt “to dismantle the First Amendment.” In the debate over vouchers and homeschooling, Balmer (who opposes both) assures his readers that “the future of American democracy hangs in the balance.” ~Ross Douthat, First Things

Via Michael Brendan Dougherty

Mr. Douthat does a fine job dismantling the loonier accusations of the professional anti-theocrats (who have a surprisingly booming business in a country as un-Byzantine as can be), including these claims of neo-Puritan revival.  While part of my family stems from those very Puritans, one thing that I hope everyone can agree on is that virtually no serious Christian conservative in this country today thinks of Yankee Calvinism as the right way to do things.  He might want a new Byzantium or new Christendom, but a new Geneva is rarely on his mind.  Considering the gradual collapse of Congregationalism into ever more unfortunate kinds of religious error, surely some other precedent for religious establishment could be found that would be much more welcome to any real theocrats who are out there.  In creating the caricature of American theocracy, the anti-theocrats do not even think through the bogeys they choose to use to scare the public. 

My recounting of the sessions of the summer school will be done along certain common themes that seem to me to link different sessions, as I think this will provide a more coherent and complete picture of the entire experience than if I listed the points of each session one by one in chronological order, so I will be starting mainly with the Chesterton talks to set the tone and then move into the other lectures in the coming days and weeks. 

One of the important themes of The Rockford Institute’s summer school on “The American Agrarian Tradition” that kept recurring, particularly in Fr. Boyd’s talks on Chesterton, was the supreme importance of the Incarnation for the Christian vision and, by extension, agrarian and Distributist visions of life and society.  The quote that stayed with me most strongly was, I believe, from Chesterton: “The central idea of our civilisation is the doctrine of the Incarnation.”  It is a doctrine that forces us to reassess the meaning and order of all things, as the Incarnation is “the radical reversal of human values.”  I would add that it is also the supreme act of God entering into history, becoming embodied and dwelling amongst us in everyday life.  And it is the stuff of everyday life–”daybreak, daily bread and daily labour”–that must be made “interesting in themselves” if our civilisation is to endure.  Related to this, as Fr. Boyd noted in his first talk, for any social reform to be successful there must be a sense of wonder about the created order, possessing Chesterton’s sensibility as a “sacramental Christian” that, as Chesterton wrote in his riposte to Yeats, ”where there is anything, there is God.” 

The title of this post is taken from St. John of Damascus, who defended the veneration of holy icons on the grounds that God had become matter for our sake and worked out salvation through matter, which is to say flesh, redeeming and remaking matter so that it was possible to venerate material images of heavenly realities.  But in conjunction with the lectures on Chesterton and his application of Incarnation theology to social and economic questions, following those in the Anglo-Catholic circles in which he moved, the revaluation of the material world inherent in the reality of the Word having become flesh takes on new significance for the revaluation of the daily life and daily work of ordinary men.  In the Chestertonian vision, according to Fr. Boyd, the Incarnation tells us that ordinary men are sacred.  Chesterton’s conviction derived from this was that the institutions of family, property and community are essential to sustain and support them. 

Of these three, all of which are steadily and constantly undermined and sapped by mobility, deracination and the concentration of power and wealth, the most undervalued and least protected today is property, as Dr. Fleming explained in the first session.  Yet fundamental to any agrarian vision is the secure and widely diffused possession of real property that cannot be infringed upon.  Distributism itself is, as the name implies, a commitment to the wide diffusion of land ownership as a means to sustain the dignity and freedom of ordinary men, because, as Fr. Boyd put it, “property is the sacramental solidification of liberty.”  Fr. Boyd emphasised that Chesterton was not engaging in a “romanticisation” of the common man, but sought, if I recall correctly, to accord ordinary men the dignity and stature that God had already bestowed upon them in Christ and find the economic and social means to make these things secure.  Chesterton’s Distributism was not systematized and abstract, and so was not really an -ism at all, but was a description about humane everyday life.  Fundamentally, Distributism was (and is) concerned with the very grounded realities of earthly life, starting with the owning and cultivating of land, without which ordinary men will be (and have been) pressed together into servile masses subordinate to centralised elites of state and corporation. 

 

Israeli troops met fierce resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas Thursday as they crossed into Lebanon to seek tunnels and weapons for a second straight day, and Israel hinted at a full-scale invasion. Israeli warplanes also launched new airstrikes on Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, shortly after daybreak.

The attacks were followed by strikes in the guerrillas’ heartland in the south and eastern Bekaa Valley.

Bombings on Wednesday killed as many as 70 people, according to Lebanese television, making it the deadliest day since the fighting began July 12.

Russia sharply criticized Israel over its onslaught against Lebanon, now in its ninth day, sparked when Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Israel’s actions have gone “far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation” and repeating calls for an immediate cease-fire.

At least 306 people have been killed in Lebanon since the Israeli campaign began, according to the security forces control room that collates casualties. In Israel, 29 people have been killed, including 14 soldiers. The U.N. has said at least a half- million people have been displaced in Lebanon. ~AP (via My Way News)

Via Antiwar

“Far beyond the boundaries of an anti-terrorist operation” is putting it rather mildly.  To use the Yugoslavia comparison again, had Belgrade responded to KLA provocations in the same way as Israel has done over the last week they would have been bombing Tirana and preparing to invade Albania–and the entire world would have rightly condemned them for escalating a limited conflict into an larger, international one.  It’s also worth noting that the half million displaced people make up one-eighth of Lebanon’s entire population–that is obviously a huge disruption and dislocation for a small nation to endure.  Now the residents of southern Lebanon are being called on to “evacuate.”  Let us hope this is not a prelude to something like the “evacuations” of Palestinians in 1948.    

Update: Prof. Bainbridge provides this excerpt from a WSJ article:

Some Lebanese hospitals are running out of medicine as patients hoard their pills and employees fail to show up for work. Israel’s blockade of Lebanon’s ports and its destruction of roads have cut off delivery of food to some areas. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora … said nearly half a million Lebanese have been displaced by the fighting. …

Business and trade have virtually shut down across Lebanon. Tens of thousands of refugees from the south have been flooding into Beirut in search of diminishing supplies of food, water and medicine. Government officials said they’re preparing for a downgrading of the nation’s debt. … 

The “right to self-defense” is not an unlimited right, and it does not extend to inflicting suffering and starvation on civilians.

Scott Richert at The Rockford Files brings us back to reality with some excerpts from Tony Snow’s briefing:

As if to make my point in the paragraph above (about the suspect commitment of President Bush), here are two remarks from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow today in response to a question about whether President Bush is worried that the veto will hurt Republicans in November:

And I’ll tell you what, it’s worth pointing out one thing — actually several things on stem cells. Number one, the President is the first ever to have financed research using embryonic stem cell lines.

And:

I just don’t think it will. I think a President acting on conscience — a President who, again — Bill Clinton, as President, didn’t authorize any of these lines. This is a President who’s spent more money on embryonic stem cell research and stem cell research generally than any President in American history. He’s got the track record. What’s happening now is that people are trying to politicize it by accusing him of standing in the way of science, when he’s the guy who’s made it possible to open up the way to science.

And yet every “conservative” “Christian” organization in America—including those who did not support President Bush’s previous decision—applauded him for his “bravery” today. How quickly we forget. Thank you, Tony Snow, for reminding us.

Let’s count up the cynical vote-buying ploys of this year by Bush and the GOP: opposition to flag burning (check), rhetorical posturing against gay marriage (check), sending a small token force of National Guard to survey the border in desperate attempt to stave off anti-immigration backlash that his dreadful policies have incurred (check, check and check), and, last but not least, belated commitment to not expand funding that Bush himself originally approved in desperate pro-life gambit (check and check).  Sorry, Georgie Boy, but “too little, too late” seems to have become your guiding principle.  Meanwhile, dysnomia at home and abroad seems to be the rule of GOP rule.

Now Israel’s rampage against a defenseless Lebanon—smashing airport runways, fuel tanks, power plants, gas stations, lighthouses, bridges, roads and the occasional refugee convoy—has exposed Bush’s folly in subcontracting U.S. policy out to Tel Aviv, thus making Israel the custodian of our reputation and interests in the Middle East.

The Lebanon that Israel, with Bush’s blessing, is smashing up has a pro-American government, heretofore considered a shining example of his democracy crusade. Yet, asked in St. Petersburg if he would urge Israel to use restraint in its air strikes, Bush sounded less like the leader of the Free World than some bellicose city councilman from Brooklyn Heights. ~Pat Buchanan

Similarly, in Israel a survey published by Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth showed 53 percent of Israelis polled said Israel should hold negotiations to secure the release of the Israeli soldier captured in Gaza, while 43 percent backed a military operation.

A poll taken by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that 28 percent of Israelis believe Israel should immediately stop bombing Lebanon, compared to 7 percent who believe that the bombing should continue until the captured soldiers are freed, and 14 percent who believe bombing should continue until Lebanon agrees to disarm Hezbollah—a task that Israel’s invasion has made more impossible than ever. ~Paul Craig Roberts

Mr. Buchanan makes two excellent points.  First, in pointing to the Lebanese government as one of the administration’s triumphs in the “pro-democracy crusade,” he calls the hegemonists’ bluff.  To the hegemonists, I would say this: you can either prattle on about the “Cedar Revolution” (every bit as genuine and democratic as the fraudulent Orange Revolution in Ukraine or Rose Revolution in Georgia) and praise Lebanese democracy, or you can show your true colours and acknowledge that all of the democracy talk was a means to forcing the Syrians out and had next to nothing to do with an interest in Lebanese self-government.  Of course, the price for the Syrians’ departure was the relative strengthening of Hizbullah, which has now precipitated this crisis.  The dead, wounded and displaced civilians of Lebanon have suffered these things because of arrogant hegemonists’ schemes, whether they were for regional domination or democratisation.

When he asks “where are the Christians?” he drives home the vicious double standard that all together too many Christians in this country have when it comes to condemning wanton violence committed by governments abroad (of course, we would all be better off not subsidising any foreign governments and then we wouldn’t be so deeply implicated in what our clients do).  You can’t turn around but to find evangelicals deeply concerned about Darfur, where there are no Christians to be found, but an attack on Lebanon, where you have Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Christians, among many others, making up roughly 40% of the population, seems to merit little or no concern among Christians in this country, especially those raised to think that the State of Israel serves some prophetic purpose.  Of course, it shouldn’t have to be a case of invoking the Christianity of almost half of the Lebanese people to make American Christians sit up and take note of what weapons paid for by their tax dollars are doing to civilian populations and infrastructure–they should be appalled that an allied nation is doing this to a civilian population, though you might think the fact that many of the civilians being displaced by the attack are Christians would make it particularly outrageous. 

Isn’t it also remarkable that a majority in Israel wants to negotiate?  In this country, any suggestion that negotiations, rather than massive bombardment, should be the solution will earn you the fast track to being labeled an “appeaser” and worse things than that.  But, as with the Iraq war today, what the majority of citizens believes is not relevant to the decisions the government makes.  The Americans who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 hoped for a “humble” foreign policy.  Instead, they received nightmarish empire-building.  The Israelis who voted for Kadima in the recent election expected a more rational policy aimed at resolving long-standing disputes, not the excessive use of force generating new and larger conflicts.  Take these as two examples of the truth of the Psalmist’s exhortation, Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. 

Looking over my old Polemics posts, I came across this one that will surely send Misesians into seizures:

Let us consider the consequences of this system [of unlimited freedom of capital]. The multiplication of the paths of exchange will soon lead to its logical conclusion, and we will only see on the market those goods produced by the most miserable of peoples. The Chinese will become the world’s best workers because they only require that their animal needs be met. Later, the worker, the engineer, the salesman, and the banker himself will be purchased on the open market. Then the banker of London, Paris, or Vienna, having made himself rich by putting his capital to work in China, will in turn face an unequal struggle against the Chinese usurer, who will not give himself the luxuries of a princely palace, teams of horses, parties, and the life of the rich. An irremediable decline awaits the economic order of the civilization of the West at the end of this path of freedom of labor, a path down which it is led by the teaching of the philosophers, the science of the economists, and the power of the capitalists. ~ Rene de La Tour du Pin, The Corporate Regime

Lebanon’s prime minister said Wednesday that 300 people have been killed, 1,000 have been wounded and a half-million displaced in Israel’s week-old onslaught on Lebanon.

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said he would seek compensation from Israel for the “unimaginable losses” to the nation’s infrastructure and he appealed for an end to hostilities on a humanitarian basis.

In a swipe at the international community, particularly the United States, which said Israel was acting in self-defense, Saniora said: “Is this what the international community calls the right of self-defense? Is this the price to pay?” ~The Guardian

Via Antiwar

It may be rather obvious, but no other country (except for the United States) could launch such an assault (and now a ground invasion) on a neighbouring country with this level of American indifference and/or approval.  If regimes of a rather different stripe displaced hundreds of thousands of people with such an attack, Washington might start irresponsibly throwing around talk of genocide and war crimes, and proceed to start bombing the offenders. 

In the case of Yugoslavia, there did not need to be a massive displacement of population to spur Mr. Clinton to launch his war of aggression, though his war did make certain that such displacement eventually took place (the better to blame the Serbs for causing a “humanitarian crisis”).  The main difference in 1999 was that Serbia responded to years of provocations by the KLA with a fairly limited counterinsurgency campaign that had killed approximately 2,000 people in a year, which in turn brought down the wrath of NATO upon it, while Israel escalates to something close to full-scale war with Lebanon and may be precipitating a humanitarian crisis, and all because of a kind of border skirmishing that Pakistan and India used to engage in with heavy artillery on a semi-regular basis.  After all this, Israel still receives the green light from Washington.  Meanwhile, drone-like, American pundits and columnists solemnly swear their belief in Israel’s “right to self-defense,” most of whom were more of the “let’s crush Serb skulls” view seven years ago.  It’s more than a little bizarre, if you ask me.     

Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.

This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen. ~Anthony Sacramone, First Things

Surely if there was a place for cant, it would be First Things under Mr. Bottum’s esteemed guidance, and Mr. Sacramone shows himself to be right at home at the intellectual Bottum.  One definition of cant, after all, is:

The use of religious phraseology without understanding or sincerity; empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; hypocrisy. 

Check Mr. Sacramone’s sad invocation of the New Jerusalem as a justification for rancid urbanism and consumerist degradation to see whether he meets this definition.  Perhaps Jeremy Lott will write a sequel to his current book that would be entitled In Defense of Cant, and Mr. Sacramone can be his chief defendant.  I missed this latest wave of cant at First Things while high-tailing it to northern Illinois (the Ozarks were too far away), where, as it happens, I had some sausages for dinner at the Saturday dinner for the summer school on America’s agrarian tradition (whether they came from a salesman of sausages, or were instead homemade, was not made known to the assembled guests).  Fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty took up my usual role of angry reactionary blogger and gave him and those like him a good hiding.  

Now, as Mr. Sacramone may or may not be aware, the only problems that matter are old ones (who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose?), and the only solutions worth their salt tend to also be old and venerable ones.  He may have heard something about the accumulated wisdom of generations providing us with time-tested truths that tell us about human nature, the good life, and so on.  Supposedly First Things, given the name, might be expected to take these things seriously, since they pertain to the permanent things, the serious things, things of the first order of importance in human existence.  It might be worth noting that the prophetic and eschatological witnesses to the Kingdom being not of this world, monastics and ascetics, typically have fled the wretchedness of the cities.  But what did those monks and saints know?  Besides, they’re all so very old.  Nobody fashionable goes into the desert, into the country, to follow Christ anymore–you might be accosted by all manner of rustics with guns! 

But who are we kidding?  There is apparently nothing so serious that the semi-learned gentlemen at First Things cannot trivialise and mock it.  I have rarely seen such a self-indulgent, cynical display of intellectual hooliganism–and nihilism–as Mr. Sacramone has given us.  Glad to know that this is what First Things stands for–it confirms what I have assumed about that journal for many years.   

“I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.” ~The Washington Post

Now, who do you suppose said this?  As Dan McCarthy notes, the article title, “Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush’s Foreign Policy” would lead you to think that the quote above was from an antiwar or realist conservative grown sick at the sight of Mr. Bush’s dastardly running of foreign policy.  But, no, this comes from none other than Danielle Pletka, AEI’s resident neocon Gauleiter, er, I mean vice president for foreign and defense policy studies.  I’ve heard of some people who are just never satisfied, but these people take insatiability to an entirely new dimension!  What has Mr. Bush done so horribly wrong, according to their standards?  According to the Post:

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.

Most of the most scathing critiques of the administration from erstwhile supporters are being expressed within think tanks and in journals and op-ed pages followed by a foreign policy elite in Washington and New York. 

I do know of a few conservatives who complain that we are “hunkered down in Iraq,” but sending more soldiers is not typically the solution I have heard.  It is the solution for the Kristol-McCain-Ledeen gang and their chums, but one would hope that everyone would very soon stop confusing them with conservatives.  Since that is apparently too much to ask, let us proceed.  The “crackdown” on dissenters in Egypt and Russia can hardly be of much real concern to any of the neocons, except insofar as they would like to see internal dissent topple the current governments of those countries.  No, the real “failures” have come from Mr. Bush recognising the limits of what the country is willing to tolerate and what he is actually willing to do in the cases of the North Korean and Iranian impasses.  Having bought into the lunatic notions of hegemony and preemption, Mr. Bush led the neocons to believe that he would follow through on them, especially as it pertains to Iran.  Happily, he (or someone in his administration) seems to be holding back as the full consequences of reckless interventionism are becoming clear.  We can only hope that Mr. Bush continues to send Ms. Pletka and her ilk into spasms of fury for years to come.

Dr. Wilson’s talk and review, and particularly his reference to the Country tradition in English political thought, got me to thinking about several things, some related to TRI’s agrarianism summer school and Caleb Stegall’s recent article on populism, others to the book I started reading a few weeks back, The Age of Federalism, 1788-1800, and still another to the odd letter to the editor that appeared in the latest issue of The American Conservative

To start with the last first, this letter, written by one Mr. Brady, perplexed me.  On the one hand, it was a common sort of gripe, and one with which I sometimes sympathise: what are all these libertarians doing in a conservative magazine anyway?  Of course, I don’t entirely sympathise with this sentiment, in spite of the jabs I throw at our libertarian friends, since we few, we happy few paleos are hardly in a position of such robust strength that we can begin disowning those libertarians who have stood alongside us for many years (some of whom have been taking their stand for a lot longer than I have, and have probably done more in defending our shared principles than Mr. Brady has managed so far).  Disowning longtime friends and allies is something that they do at National Review, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting we imitate that model of intellectual degeneration.  What was still more perplexing about this letter was its stunning demarcation between conservative and libertarian along the strangest line, that of Federalist and Antifederalist (in addition to which was the charming anachronism of referring to The Anti-Federalist Papers).  In this view, we are supposed to credit Adams, Hamilton, Jay and Madison as the only real conservatives and, presumably, everything stemming from the Federalist tradition constitutes American conservatism, whereas Henry, Jefferson and Mason, among others, supposedly represent the “libertarian” side of the coin.  This is very odd, and it causes me to wonder whether Mr. Brady is at all familiar with what the relationship of American conservatism to the Country tradition and the “Jeffersonian persuasion” is.

The Country opposition finds its first definite exponent in Bolingbroke, who had inherited the ideology of resistance of the Jacobites after the ‘15 rising collapsed in defeat, and who drew on the thought of Harrington to support his critiques of the Hanoverian dynasty and Whig establishment in terms of the establishment’s “corruption” (in this time the term referred specifically to the Crown’s buying of men in Parliament and more general attempts to create a network of placemen and patronage that would provide the Court with trusty lackeys).  For those loyal to these ideals of widespread landownership by middling landowners, the mixed constitution of monarchy, aristocracy and republican government, and the diffusion of power, 1688 was a black year that virtually signalled the permanent exile of men with Country sentiments from positions of influence within England.  This will seem counterintuitive to those used to remembering 1688, if they remember it at all, as a blow against absolutism (when it was, in fact, nothing more than the empowerment of a Whig oligarchy and the end of any possibility of Catholic revival in Britain with the abdication of James II), but there should be no doubt that the victory of William III and the party of treason simply secured the concentration of power in a different set of hands far more likely to abuse it.  The colonies, for their part, were naturally predisposed to embrace the Country view, as they were as far removed from the metropole and the Court as could be and saw any greater concentration of power in London as a threat to their own rights. 

First the Antifederalists and then the Jeffersonian Republicans took up the same themes in their hostility to consolidation, with the Jeffersonians particularly fearing the collusion of finance and government and the power of the “moneyed interest” during the clashes with the Federalists in the 1790s over the creation of the Bank.  If we brought together the entire Country tradition under another label, my preference would be to call those who adhere to it Jeffersonian Jacobites, capturing at once a hostility to consolidation and the Whigs of the 17th and 18th centuries.  There were better and worse Federalists, and Federalist skepticism of “the people” was perhaps their one concrete contribution to American political wisdom, and when the time came for Jefferson to govern some of the Federalists, such as William Plumer, discovered the virtues of the decentralism and appeals to states’ rights that the Republicans had made in the ’90s, but Federalism remained to the end a doctrine dedicated to strengthening the center, curtailing the rights of states, empowering financial and mercantile interests and allying concentrated power and concentrated wealth in the same “corrupt” manner that had taken place in England.  While the Federalists themselves remained a breed apart from the later Whigs and, God help us, the Republicans, their commitment to consolidation and elitism has persisted and grown until the political strength of the American Court faction has become almost total.   Understanding the Constitution as a mechanism for restraining state power, as Dr. Wilson wrote of the Populists, is one of the things that all real conservatives share–no doctrines of implication and construction for us, thank you very much.  This hostility to consolidation and centralising elites has nothing to do with “libertarianism” (which has no American representatives before the 20th century and is almost entirely a transplant from central Europe) and everything to do with loyalty to family, community and the states which have been the real countries of Americans for most of our history.  Separately, those who belittle the revival of this American Populism and the Country tradition in this country mark themselves out as friends of the forces of consolidation and enemies of the decentralist, agrarian and conservative traditions of this country.         

But as I understand American Populism, from its beginings to the present moment, it is an expression of hostility to state power and those who exercise it or seek to exercise it.  It is no surprise then that most Populists have looked to Thomas Jefferson, the great original American critic of consolidated power, as their patron saint, and that the history of Populism is closely connected to the concept of the American Constitution as a restraint on power rather than a grant of power.  Populists regard state power as always corrupt and corrupting, which is an inheritance, I believe of the English “Country” ideology or opposition value system which the Americans absorbed deeply in the colonial period and which underlay the American War of Independence.

Populism in the strictest historical sense refers to the People’s Party which flourished in the later 19th century, in certain regions of the American Union.  Which brings us to another part of my definition of Populism.  It has always been, in this country, a regional and not a class phenomenon.  I take this idea, as well as my title “Up at the Fork of the Creek,” from an early essay of the late M.E. Bradford.

The People’s Party is often spoken of as a Midwestern phenomenon.  Midwestern is actually a vague term.  “Heartland” is a little better perhaps.  But Populism was not a phenomenon of the “Heartland.”  It was a phenomenon of the far western fringes of the Heartland, and equally or more so of the rural South.  (And also of the mining regions of the Far West, which gave it the peculiar counter-productive tangent of the Free Silver movement.)  There were no Populists in Ohio and they were a minority in Iowa.  In the Heartland one has to go west of the Mississippi to find a Populist and even all the way to the Missouri to find very many. ~Clyde Wilson, “Up at the Forks of the Creek: In Search of American Populism,” delivered December 2, 1994 at conference on “Populism and the New Politics” in From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition (2003)

 

American historians have generally treated Populism in one of two ways: They have either confused it with the Progressivism that followed shortly on its heels, as a forerunner of the New Deal and modern liberalism; or, in a slightly more sophisticated and honest version, they have dismissed it as misguided rural bigotry irrelevant to the goals of enlightened urbanites.

The first interpretation is clearly wrong.  It is true that there was some slight coincidence of political goals, in terms of federal legislation, arising from the Populists’ search for specific remedies.  But Populists were basically rural Jeffersonians who mistrusted the remote and concentrated power of the Eastern elites who were the more obviously observable cause of their own distresses.  Most of the Progressives, at least in the East, were self-consciously modern.  They believed in the rule of elite urban experts (themselves) to solve all social ills by the application of science and systematization (regimentation).  They were hired hands of the ruling class despised by the Populists, and still are.  No Progressive that I know of was an enthusiast for free silver, and Progressives from east of the Mississippi almost all joined the homefront clamor for the War to End All Wars.  Populists did not, and in fact provided the greatest core of patriotic opposition.

Ponder this wonderful reactionary and timely passage from Ignatius Donnelly’s oration a Populist National Convention:

We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin.  Corruption dominates the ballot box, the legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench….The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrated, our homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrated in the hands of capitalists…the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes, unprecedented in the history of the world, while their possessors despise the republic and endanger liberty….We charge that the controlling influences dominating the old political parties have allowed the dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to restraint or prevent them.  They have agreed together to ignore in the coming campaign every issue….In this crisis of human affairs the intelligent working people and producers of the United States have come together in the name of justice, order and society, to defend liberty, prosperity and justice. ~Clyde Wilson, 1994 review of American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898 in From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition (2003)

With a fierce new wave of rockets falling across northern Israel and Israeli warplanes again hammering targets in Lebanon, Israeli commanders said today that fighting in Lebanon could go on for several more weeks.

In growing numbers, foreign nationals in Lebanon fled the weeklong Israeli offensive, which has killed more than 225 Lebanese, nearly all civilians, and 13 Israeli civilians, including one person killed today in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya. ~The Los Angeles Times

The Vatican on Friday strongly deplored Israel’s strikes on Lebanon, saying they were “an attack” on a sovereign and free nation.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said Pope Benedict and his aides were very worried that the developments in the Middle East risked degenerating into “a conflict with international repercussions.”

“In particular, the Holy See deplores right now the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and assures its closeness to these people who already have suffered so much to defend their independence,” he told Vatican Radio. ~Reuters

I first heard about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon on the radio as I was driving to Rockford one day last week.  One of my first responses was surprise that anyone would find Israel’s response very surprising.  Retaliation of some sort was to be expected.  However, it became clear fairly quickly, around the time the Israelis bombed the Beirut airport, that this had gone far beyond simple retaliation for Hizbullah rocket attacks and had become a campaign to dictate terms to all of Lebanon with respect to its internal affairs as well as attempting to end Hizbullah’s attacks.  This is why the attack on Lebanon seems so excessive to observers, to say nothing of the rather large number of civilian casualties that the Lebanese have suffered so far.  It has escalated far beyond retaliatory self-defense into pummeling a weaker neighbour to make an example of it.  Little wonder that all Lebanese have been united in their outrage.  So much, also, for the lie that democracies do not attack each other.

What has been notable about the recent crisis in Gaza and the bombing of Lebanon is how much more readily Prime Minister Olmert has been to have recourse to military force than his immediate predecessors, and how much more willing Mr. Olmert seems to be to risk large-scale escalation with Israel’s neighbours.  I suspect that this is a function of a fear in the government that Mr. Olmert lacks the credibility on security and military policy that would allow him to ride out the crisis with less heavy-handed responses.  Because Mr. Olmert does not have the military experience and reputation of his predecessors, he may be feeling obliged to lash out to convince Israel’s neighbours so that he should be taken seriously.  Regarding this possibility, here is a post by Leon Hadar from the middle of last week that compares the prime ministers of Israel of 1967 and today. 

Unfortunately, if this is the case, Mr. Olmert’s credibility deficit is fast becoming a new international disaster for Israel as far as her relations with much of the rest of the world are concerned.  Commentators and pundits were keen to point out that the U.S. alone voted against the recent resolution condemning the bombing of Lebanon and that our veto kept it from passing, yet surely this raises the important question: if Israel is merely defending herself here and doing nothing more, how is it that no other nation in the world, except for America, is capable of acknowledging this?

The summer school on American agrarianism at The Rockford Institute over the past week was a great time.  We were regaled by wonderful tales of the Fugitives and Mel Bradford by Dr. Tom Landess, who also discussed I’ll Take My Stand at some length in other talks, and delved into the Christian roots of Chesterton’s Distributism and the importance of imagination in training men’s vision with the guidance of Fr. Ian Boyd, editor of The Chesterton Review.  Dr. James Patrick, Chancellor of Thomas More College, spoke on the agrarian ”English resistance,” of which the painter Ruskin was an important member, on Allen Tate and the real mind of the South, and on the ideals of the South as expressed in Scott and rejected in Twain.  Dr. Fleming led us through the history and thought of the Greek, Roman and early American agrarians, Scott Richert gave a sympathetic critique of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson and Rod Dreher and Aaron Wolf told us of the life and career of agrarian populist, William Jennings Bryan, noting in his conclusion many of the same objections about Populist policies that Caleb Stegall made in his much-talked-about (but normally poorly understood) article on a new populism.  The entire week was really quite incomparable, and the gentlemen and ladies at the Institute were excellent and amiable hosts.  For those who are able to attend next year, I strongly recommend it.  I fully intend to write more on all of the sessions at the summer school, but I did want to put up a new post alerting you all to what should be coming in the next few weeks.  

Yesterday I arrived back in Chicago from Albuquerque.  What a difference a few days make!  I was pleased to see that Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam at The American Scene have both generously linked to Eunomia.  On a less pleasant note, Richard Reeb at The Remedy has done me the honour of associating me with “fanatical obscurantism” for objecting to his apparent conviction that whole nations are deserving of extinction because of their form of government and his equally strange view that the signers of the Declaration of Independence intended that document as a declaration of independence from “all regimes, all institutions and all ideologies that stood in the way of human freedom.”  In his remarkably long response, Mr. Reeb believes that I did not read his post (or the Declaration) closely enough.  Unfortunately for Mr. Reeb, I read exactly what he wrote, compared it with what the Declaration actually says and identified his strange view of the signers’ intentions as the error that it was.  How the colonists could declare independence from things on which they were not dependent and to which they were not subject is a puzzle that Mr. Reeb may be able to solve, but I suspect it will involve more of the same creative “reading” that led him to these original conclusions.  

When I referred to Claremont wanting to “extinguish illegitimate nations,” I was, of course, drawing out the implications of the bizarre idea that nations are “deserving of extinction” because of their form of government and the Claremont bloggers’ near-mystical devotion to imitating what they believe “the Founding” represents.  It is encouraging to know that Mr. Reeb does not actually want to go around extinguishing nations, illegitimate or not.  The idea that nations should be extinguished because they possess the wrong type of regime is morally repugnant and odious, which should be obvious, and Mr. Reeb should be embarrassed by the formulation, assuming that he did not mean what he originally wrote.  If Mr. Reeb holds that the signers believed that any nation ruled by “force or fraud” is deserving of extinction, and if he is holding up the signers’ intentions as an example of the true meaning of our independence, it is not very far from this view until you reach actually desiring the extinction of nations ruled by “force or fraud.”  Perhaps prudence will dictate the circumstances of the extinction of illegitimate nations, and it is certainly not necessary that believing a nation worthy of extinction requires actually wiping out said nation.  Presumably, Mr. Reeb does not actually advocate extinguishing entire nations, but used the commonplace sloppy language that identifies nations with their governments and carelessly wrote of extinguishing nations when he actually meant destroying regimes.  Still, Mr. Reeb’s triumphalist roll call of the defeats of those Mr. Reeb characterises as the enemies of American self-government and independence (which includes a fairly creepy militarism that credits armies with securing freedom, rather than understanding them, as the Founders did, as one of the greatest threats to liberty) lends more than a little strength to my hostile interpretation of his other statement:

Why was independence necessary? The short answer is that the British government was a barrier to self government by three millions of Americans. That was the greatest reason for seeking independence. Succeeding generations have maintained it against European powers, seagoing pirates, Indian savages, Southern secessionists, German and Japanese warlords, Nazi mass murderers, Soviet totalitarians, and Islamic terrorists. That is why it is not entirely unfair to say that we owe our freedom to soldiers, not to civilians.    

Whatever one may think of the Tripolitanian War, which is the conflict to which I assume Mr. Reeb is referring with talk of “seagoing pirates” (was there another kind of pirate in those days?), it was hardly a war to secure our independence.  How Southern secessionists threatened American self-government and independence, when secession is an expression of both, is another mystery that Mr. Reeb can solve.  But I should express my gratitude.  Coming from a Claremont blogger, “fanatical obscurantism” is something of a compliment.  I may have some time to make a more complete reply later in the week, but this week I will be rather busy at The Rockford Institute’s Summer School, hearing lectures on “The American Agrarian Tradition from Jefferson to Wendell Berry” with the other “certified paleocons.”   

When our founding fathers led their fellow citizens in a revolution against despotic British authority, they declared themselves independent of all regimes, all institutions and all ideologies that stood in the way of human freedom. While their quarrel was primarily with the King and Parliament of Great Britain, they believed that any nation that rules by force or fraud is illegitimate and deserving of extinction. ~Richard Reeb, The Remedy

Mr. Reeb’s post could be Exhibit A in the argument against Claremont, its mystical-cum-fanatical understanding of “the Founding” and the inability of many Claremont Straussians to read the Declaration of Independence without assigning this text a significance far beyond its considerable importance in the history of our country.  Besides the travesty of portraying the signers of the Declaration of Independence as men apparently bent on extinguishing “illegitimate” nations in the name of political virtue, which is insulting to the honour of these men, when they very simply wanted to throw off the burden of oppressive rule that had been violating their customary rights as Englishmen and chart their own political course (not being much troubled by the existence of the many ”illegitimate” nations that governed themselves or were governed by force and fraud), it is simply wrong to say that the Declaration carried this immensely greater significance.  It was a declaration of the independence of the thirteen colonies from Britain; it was the first express statement of colonial self-determination in history; it explained the reasons for lawful rebellion against Crown and Parliament.  These are reasons enough to consider it a very important and meaningful document without attaching to it such an astonishingly universal significance that it did not possess.  It may be quite one thing to say that the implications of the statements in the Declaration extended far beyond these United States, and this would be true, and still another to make it out to be some lunatic declaration of war on all forms of political injustice and misrule. 

The men who signed it certainly did not think they were signing any such thing as what Mr. Reeb describes.  They may have thought tyrannies theoretically worthy of destruction, and they certainly believed rebellion against tyranny justified, but they also assumed that the misrule of tyrannies would bring about their own collapse.  There would be no need to extinguish them, as they would fail from their own internal weaknesses.  The genius of the mixed constitution was supposed to be that a republic with such a constitution would not succumb to the self-destructive malady of tyranny–related to this conviction is the assumption that tyranny always eventually crumbles on its own.   

Notice also the rather nasty conflation of nation and government here: Mr. Reeb says that any nation that rules by force or fraud is illegitimate.  What a strange thing to say.  But we now know what to do with “illegitimate” nations, don’t we?  We “extinguish” them.  Very enlightened.  Very virtuous.  Very, very Jacobin.  But, remember, charging people at Claremont with the ideological fanaticism and dangerous militancy of the Jacobins is just plain crazy!  They’ve told us as much!  Why, everyone talks about extinguishing “illegitimate” nations, don’t they?

Michael Brendan Dougherty returned from his jaunt to Australia this week and writes about the experience of the visit and the endless return flight home.  Surfeited with Dainties is back in the blogging business, so go take a look!

Unlike the British and French who declared war over Poland in 1939, Americans did not think Eastern Europe worth the risk of a new world war. We waited patiently for the evil empire to collapse, and collapse it did under steady pressure from Reagan’s America. Patience paid off, for, as Reagan always believed, time was on our side, time was on the side of freedom. It still is.

Today, however, the independent foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson, the non-interventionist policy of Eisenhower and Reagan—of peace through strength, of staying out of wars where U.S. interests are not imperiled, of keeping one’s powder dry unless the United States were attacked—is derided as cowardly isolationism. ~Patrick Buchanan

Emotional appeals to fear and patriotism have led close to half of the population to accept unaccountable government in the name of “the war on terrorism.” What a contradiction it is that so many Americans have been convinced that safety lies in the sacrifice of their civil liberties and accountable government.

If so many Americans cannot discern that they have acquiesced to conditions from which tyranny can arise, how can they understand that it is statistically impossible for the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of Americans to detect terrorists? ~Paul Craig Roberts

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told the Vatican publication Famiglia Christiana that researchers who destroy human embryos, and politicians who approve laws allowing such destruction, will be excommunicated. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo also criticized countries that had passed such laws, saying they had “thrown out fundamental laws of nature.”

With respect to excommunication, the Cardinal appears to be referring to the excommunication latae sententiae already prescribed in Canon Law for those who procure or assist in procuring an abortion. But it will be interesting to see what Benedict XVI says on July 8-9 when he visits the World Meeting with Familes in Spain, a country that under its current Socialist leadership has already thrown several “fundamental laws of nature” and appears eager to throw out some more. ~Tom Piatak

History has not ended in Bolivia (or anywhere else, for that matter), and those who expect the inevitable victory of the global democratic revolution as defined from Washington are now encountering full-on resistance in the new government of Aymara Indian nationalist and redistributive socialist Evo Morales.  Anyone in doubt about this should take a look at this WSJ article (sorry, subscription only) about the new Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca.  Representative of Mr. Choquehuanca’s general frame of mind was this paragraph:

Mr. Choquehuanca says he doesn’t turn to Western books for advice–indeed, he boasts of not having read a book of any kind in years because he doesn’t want to cloud his mind with European concepts.  “We have been in the hands of people who have read books, and look what a mess the Earth is in,” he says.  Far better to tap into the knowledge of Aymara elders.  “When I say we have to read the wrinkles in our grandfathers’ brows, it’s to recover the wisdom that our grandfathers still have,” he says.

I don’t cite Mr. Choquehuanca and the policies of Morales (which will invariably perpetuate the country’s grinding poverty) to pour particular scorn on them, strange and wrongheaded though they seem to me in many ways (Mr. Choquehuanca’s veneration for the wisdom of his elders is perhaps the one place where he is probably making the most sense), but to emphasise the power and significance that local traditions and culture will have on the course of every nation’s development and the importance of these cultural realities for how “democracy” of one kind or another may evolve in different countries (if democracy of any kind appears at all–democratic reforms are in retreat across the Arab world, according to last week’s Economist). 

For the Aymara in Bolivia, one goal is a commitment to promoting a natalist program to overwhelm completely the white minority in Bolivia by continuing to maintain high birthrates.  They understand democracy in its crudest and most universal form, the form that it will likely take in most nations where it appears: strength in numbers is power, and collective identities of ethnicity, race or religion will be the predominant alignments in the new world of democracy.  Someone will have to remind me why this is a Good Thing for America or for the people who will experience this new democratic age. 

What would this kind of regional populism look like in an actual political platform? Broadly speaking, it would seek at every turn to end the dependence of its constituents on elites. It would oppose, for example, the nationalization of any sector of our economy, from health care to agriculture. Instead, it would seek creative ways to open regional markets for regional goods.

It would seek to permit regional cultural and religious particularities to emerge from the fog of federalized regulation and be made manifest in our schools, courthouses, businesses and civic organizations. And it would provide incentives to keep cultural capital local. It would encourage people to work, study and raise families close to where they grew up. It would seek ways to promote local culture and would cultivate loyalty to our neighbors and a fierce love for our own places.

But in the end, what this kind of vibrant regionalism requires is something much more difficult to obtain than a slogan. It is a renewed appreciation for society over and against both the individual and the state. Society defined by what the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry calls “membership” – a network of social interconnectedness and shared obligation. To be a member of this kind of social order is the best hedge against manipulation by the central planning committee for “growth” and “prosperity.” It is, to put it plainly, to be free. ~Caleb Stegall, The Dallas Morning News

There’s an irony inherent in a system like our own that identifies the individual as the fundamental unit of political, social and economic order. Because it shears the individual of the republican virtues cultivated within communities of tradition in the name of empowering him, it actually makes the individual subject to tyranny. Limitless emancipation in the name of progress is, it turns out, the final and most binding mechanism of control.

When the oldest sources of order – which are at root religious – are abandoned along with their traditions and taboos, the resulting void of meaning is by necessity filled with some ideology promising one form or another of perfect happiness in the here and now. And these systems of self-salvation creep not toward liberation, but toward total control. ~Caleb Stegall, The Dallas Morning News

There are two new items up at The New Pantagruel: the Rev. James Schall, S.J., writes on the power of memory in On What is Not Forgotten and Bob Cheeks writes a review of Fr. Schall’s book Roman Catholic Political Philosophy.

In the mid-20th century, economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism – the acknowledged world-historical champion in terms of producing wealth and prosperity – would, by a process he called “creative destruction,” eventually undermine the very social institutions that gave it birth and guarded its existence. He pointed out that market capitalism exposed more natural ordering structures – the “ties that bind” – to a brutal new calculus. Commitment to kin, community and place entail making heavy economic sacrifices and provide benefits not easily entered on a balance sheet. The more cost-efficient process of market economics fomented an ongoing progressive revolution that eventually rendered those social and family ties largely superfluous. Lord Acton observed that “every institution tends to perish by an excess of its own basic principle.”

This tendency of our political and economic culture toward a state of permanent revolution is the hallmark of any modern progressive society. And if there is one deity today to which every politician, right and left, will pay obeisance, it is the god of progress. ~Caleb Stegall

Via The Japery

The newest American Conservative (July 17 issue) is full of excellent articles (sorry, no links as of yet).  To name just a couple, W. James Antle III writes an interesting report on the electoral struggle of Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), one of six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war; Chilton Williamson levels a devastating and powerful critique of the aimless life of acquisition and consumption Americans embrace.  Crunchy cons, Pantagruelists and traditionalists, take note.  These two alone are worth getting a copy of this issue, and there is more to be had besides these. 

I wanted to start out with this preface highlighting all the good articles in the 7/17 issue, because I also feel compelled to comment on a number of rather egregious errors in Marcia Christoff Kurapovna’s “Reconciling Christendom.”  In what seems to have been intended as a crash-course in church history and ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, Ms. Kurapovna made several mistakes and omissions, some theological and others historical, that are irritating to me for their inaccuracy but still worse they are misleading for those readers who are less familiar with the particulars of the divide between Catholics and Orthodox.  These errors and omissions do not facilitate the cause of rapprochement between the two churches in the Truth, which is a goal that all faithful Christians of both confessions ultimately hope for, but rather confirms in the minds of skeptics and anti-ecumenists that those interested in ecumenism are strong on a spirit of reconciliation and weak on matters of substance.  For those unfamiliar with teachings of the Faith, these errors can confuse, mislead or even scandalise those through misrepresentations of Christianity.  For those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, which includes a great many Christians, these errors and omissions can also present a less than clear and accurate portrait of the Orthodox Church, and this also requires some correction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Last week I outlined the arguments against Homeland. Let me add two more. First, the essence of American patriotism is a felt and spoken love for and fidelity to the ideas and ideals our country represents and was invented to advance–freedom, equality, pluralism. “We hold these truths . . .” The word Homeland suggests another kind of patriotism–a vaguely European sort. “We have the best Alps, the most elegant language; we make the best cheese, had the bravest generals.” It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest.

When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud. And the name of the newest and most important agency in recent history, charged with the crucial task of thwarting terrorism and protecting our nation from weapons of mass destruction be they chemical, biological or nuclear, should reflect this. ~Peggy Noonan

Via Chris Roach

It is worth noting that using the word “homeland” to refer to America entered everyday parlance and news reporting only after September 11, and there was admittedly something distinctly odd about this usage.  With the name of homeland given to the Department of Homeland Security, it was a fairly blatant admission that heretofore the government had not been terribly concerned with defense of our own country and had been spending most of its energy protecting Kuwait and Kosovo.  The problem with this terminology is not that calling America “the homeland” expresses some terrible and particularly European way of thinking about patriotism (i.e., the normal kind of patriotism, where your loyalty is to your country, including the soil and, yes, the mud, not to a list of propositions or “ideals”), but that its usage has become necessary because so much else of the empire is outside of and separate from “the homeland” that we had need to remind ourselves that the country itself needed protection.

The worst thing Ms. Noonan thinks she can say, whether she is being intentionally ironic or not, is that the word is “vaguely Teutonic.”  Teutonophobia never goes out of style.  She prefers “Department of Heartland Security,” as if heartland and homeland convey different messages.  If anything, referring to the entire country as the heartland is both imprecise (how can the entire country be at the heart of the country?) and even more odd when uttered by government officials.  Surely “Department of National Security” would hit the right note and actually convey what the department is supposedly trying to advance. 

In any event, Ms. Noonan’s objections to “homeland” are based in the same strange thinking that defines the nation and the country according to professed political ideals.  Evidently, if America were not dedicated to certain propositions it would not be worth defending.  You can call that many things, but patriotism is not one of them.  Yet almost no other people on earth thinks of patriotism in this peculiar way that Ms. Noonan embraces. 

Patriotism is love of country, which rather obviously refers, as I have noted before, to the soil, the place and the people who live in it.  Chris Roach, in the post linked to above, makes short work of the presumption that this view is somehow less-than-American by citing several well-known patriotic songs that focus an inordinate amount of attention on the physical land of our country, which has always been an extraordinary, grand and defining feature of who we are as a people.  Leave it to Ms. Noonan to reduce the purple mountain majesties to ”mud.”  But I fail to see how describing American soil as “mud” tracks with the correct sense of outrage against those who attacked us on “our own soil.”  After all, if love of the patria is just love of mud, why be so incensed when the mud, and the people on it, are blown up?  Is it the case that some Americans can only work up outrage against an act of aggression if they conceive of it as an assault on “values” and “ideals”?  What a strange, airy, inconsequential outrage it would be!  

Patriotism in terms of love of the country, the land, the soil, is only less-than-American for those who have already categorically rejected thinking of land, soil and, yes, homeland (patria) as goods worthy of love and devotion, not because they are the best (do you love your mother because she is objectively “the best,” or because she is your mother?) but because they are ours, because this hallowed mud is our home.  If every patriot had to justify his love of country on the grounds that the actual physical earth of his country was superior in some quality or other, or that his nation was better than every other, entire peoples would abandon patriotism en masse because of the sheer impossibility of their lands excelling in this way. 

Real patriots do not love their countries because they are “the best,” but love them for what they are even if they are, by all other accounts, by far the worst.  Ideals and regimes will come and go, and countries with more than a few centuries of experience behind them embrace the long sweep of their history and the many changes that have occurred, but the country will, God willing, remain.  Surely a department charged with the physical protection of the country and its people can have a name that reflects the country in all its physicality and refers to the reality of this country as our home.  If there is anything wrong with the DHS, it is not its “vaguely Teutonic” name, but it is the existence of such a gargantuan federal department that conentrates far too much power in Washington and so far has done a famously bad job of coordinating emergency response and relief efforts.  Conservatives would do well to take aim at the excessive consolidation of power in Washington rather than at a name on the grounds that it reflects natural patriotism too much.  

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis

I wish everyone a very happy Independence Day!  230 years ago today the Declaration of Independence (which had already been signed on July 2) was proclaimed in each of the new states, and the political bonds between the colonies and the Mother Country were severed.  Typically, how we understand the actions of the early patriots colours to a great extent how we understand American identity. 

There are those, such as Irving Kristol, who believe we are an ideological nation with a mission, and that the Declaration of Independence is one source of this national ideology as transmuted by strange 20th century revolutionary agendas.  There are others, such as Harry Jaffa, who believe that the Founding is typified by a peculiar, ahistorical Lincolnian reading of the Declaration of Independence, which happens to comport very nicely with a doctrine of modern egalitarianism.  There are still others, not far removed from either of these, who define being American with an acceptance of certain propositions, most of which are, again, culled from the text of the Declaration of Independence.  For these people, being American is an ideological pose or affiliation to a certain set of political views.  In this camp also falls the tiresome Ruben Navarette, Jr.  More on his latest column in a moment. 

On the other hand, there are those who see the Declaration of Independence as a final statement of grievances about the violations of established, chartered rights of Englishmen by Crown and Parliament, rights which the signers of the Declaration had inherited from the English constitutional tradition as a matter of legal right as subjects of the British Crown.  It was solely on the basis of their status as Englishmen and British subjects that the signers would have had much confidence that their rebellion was lawful–their right to revolt, as they understood it, was not based in the natural order of things or the law of nature, but in a very contingent, fragile web of constitutional inheritances tying the generations together. 

The Declaration did also include a number of rhetorical nods to the early Enlightenment and Whig thought of late seventeenth century Britain, as Locke and Sydney, among others, had sought to justify the Great Rebellion and, in the case of Locke, also the “Glorious Revolution.”  The constitutional guarantees confirmed in the Bill of Rights of 1628 and the Petition of Right of 1689, and secured by the main force of regicide and foreign invasion, had become the patrimony of our forefathers and represented the established and venerable custom that they then sought to preserve against perceived innovation and usurpation.  Though exceedingly minor, the infractions against which they rebelled represented for them the thin end of the wedge and, if left unchecked, the source of future usurpation based on the precedents then being set. 

Fidelity to their republican spirit and their constitutionalism would seem to me to be an important element of what it means to be American, just as the defense of their constitutional patrimony represented for our forefathers their identity as Englishmen.  However, even that standard would be to make American identity dependent principally on the acceptance of a certain political regime; defense of the constitutional inheritance should be done in the spirit of preserving the broader cultural patrimony we have received from our British ancestors. 

Our fundamentally British culture, as Russell Kirk termed it, is at the core of who we Americans are.  Should newcomers embrace that culture, or at least what is left of it, they may be welcome, depending, of course, on a host of other considerations and pursuant to respect for the laws of the nation, but if they approach being American in an ideological way (”I like freedom!  I llike democracy!”) it is doubtful that they will ever become American in this meaningful sense, regardless of what their status as citizens may be.

This brings me to Mr. Navarette and his laughable list of political positions that he uses to define his Americanness.  The list is designed in no small part to make being a good American and being a good servant of the current regime identical.  Here is a taste of some of the more absurd bits:

I’m an American because I love and appreciate freedom, and I want people around the world to have the chance to experience it firsthand. When liberty is threatened, or when a tyrant preys upon the weak and defenseless, I favor sending in the troops to set things right.

I’m an American because I don’t believe in isolationism or disengaging from the rest of the world. I agree with those who say the United States is the world’s one indispensable nation, and that it’s our solemn responsibility to be – not “the world’s policeman” – but its role model and defender.

I’m an American because my sympathies lie with the little guy (especially when he is being pushed around by the big guy) and because I won’t stomach bullies, foreign or domestic. The country is most righteous when it defends the underdog and shows the world how to be tough and compassionate at the same time.

I’m an American because I reject protectionism. If we don’t run and hide from foreign armies, why should we run and hide from foreign trade? Whether our competitors come from India or China or Latin America, if we produce unique and quality merchandise, we’ll outsell anyone – even if our prices are higher because our labor costs are higher.

I happen to disagree with every single one of these policy positions, and I tend to regard interventionism on just this side of treachery, but that is not the only reason why I find this list laughable.  It is the presumption that any of these things has something to do with being American.  If espousing these beliefs, or opposing these positions, is what makes one an American, immigrants certainly have no need to come here–they may be Americans wherever they are.  They can vigorously hate isolationism and protectionism without all the muss and fuss of coming to this country.  If this is the case, I heartily recommend that they save themselves the trouble.  But Mr. Navarette is, as usual, mistaken: adherence to policy positions do not a national identity make.  Perhaps this is a problem that third-generation Americans like Mr. Navarette and even more recent arrivals have: lacking anything more substantial to connect them to their country and their national identity, they must latch on to the superficial loyalties of support for this or that government endeavour.  It is a serious problem.  It is, however, Mr. Navarette’s problem, and not that of the rest of us.  Why the rest of us, especially those who regard the policies he endorses as ruinous or well-nigh dangerous to this country, should seriously entertain his definition of what it is to be American remains a mystery.    

In short, Mr. Navarette believes he is American because he supports the government intervening in foreign countries and conflicts, because he supports internationalist foreign policy and because he supports free trade.  There are plenty of Americans who have supported all of the things he favours (alas!), but there are also just as many who have opposed them over the years.  “Isolationism,” so called, was the tradition of the United States for perhaps 140 years until Woodrow Wilson broke with that tradition definitively (McKinley certain did some damage, but it was meager compared to Wilson and those who came later).  Any number of great and notable men in our history have rejected all of the things Mr. Navarette chose to cite among the first policies that define him as an American.  Personally, I find anyone whose national identity is circumscribed by the limits of which government policies he favours to be sad and pitiable.  Whatever one may say in favour of any of these policies (I cannot think of many things to say in their favour), it has nothing in particular to do with being American.  Mr. Navarette is the son and grandson of Americans–he should start with this genuine claim to American identity and build from there.  Unfortunately, those with such an ideological frame of mind are likely to regard such things as “arbitrary” and irrelevant.  It is their loss. 

Cross-posted at Enchridion Militis

Oh, sorry, that’s Condistas, the Condi Rice fan club and presidential draft supporters of the Secretary of State.  Well, silly names lend themselves to parody, I suppose.  But even worse than the Condinistas was this bit of “analysis” by Greg Haas, an “Ohio-based Democratic strategist,” who represents everything about the Ohio Democratic Party that seems all but certain to assure their self-inflicted defeat this year.  This is the state party, remember, that drove the popular antiwar candidate Paul Hackett out of the Senate race to make way for Sherrod Brown and give Mike “Why Worry About Executive Lawbreaking?” DeWine a fighting chance at re-election.  Here is Haas’ bit of “insight”:

Haas said that before Republicans would run a black woman for president, however, they will want to see how two black gubernatorial candidates - Secretary of State Ken Blackwell of Ohio and former NFL star Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania - fare against Democrats this November. And, in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is seeking to become the Republicans’ first black senator since Edward Brooke from Massachusetts served from 1967 to 1979.

“If Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell would get obliterated in the election, it might raise questions about Condoleezza Rice’s viability in ‘08,” Haas said. “That’s what makes them perfect stalking horses for her candidacy. If they do run strong, it’s going to say a lot about her potential for winning.”

I am not going to write one of those lame stock conservative responses where I express my shock and dismay that a Democrat has just classified someone entirely and solely by race.  It doesn’t really shock or dismay me, since this is the sort of shallow approach to politics that has dictated Democratic strategy, so called, for decades.  It is not irrelevant to Secretary Rice’s rise to prominence that she is a black woman, but it would be fairly irrelevant to her electoral prospects that she happens to be of the same race as Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann, who resemble each other mainly in party affiliation and, oh yes, race and not in much else. 

What does strike me as rather shocking is how bad of a political analyst you have to be to say something like this.  Ken Blackwell is, so far as I can tell, a serious, principled conservative in a state party dominated by graft, corruption and the general degeneration afflicting the GOP as a whole, so I wish him well and I recognise that his electoral success will have no direct relationship to whether or not Americans would be willing to vote for Rice, were she to run (which she insists that she isn’t going to do).  Blackwell has what they like to call a “record of public service” and performed, so far as I know, creditably in his role as Secretary of State of Ohio, whereas Lynn Swann has many successful years as a professional wide receiver to his credit.  Where Blackwell is, I believe, conservative across the board, Swann is one of those predictable “moderates” on social issues. 

All this drives home that Mr. Swann has very little in common with Mr. Blackwell and will probably lose badly to Rendell by the same measure that Blackwell may still manage to win (if he can get the albatross of epidemic GOP corruption in Ohio off of his neck).  Swann seems to have the reflexive anti-Rendell vote in western Pennsylvania, and Rendell has done plenty to alienate voters, but probably not enough to cause enough people to vote for a political novice from what is nationally and statewide still the more unpopular party (Rendell may be governor, but the GOP still controls the legislature–for now).  Secretary Rice, were she to run for president, would have some of the liabilities of Swann (electoral novice, social “moderate”), none of the conservative credit among primary voters that Blackwell can count on and, oh yes, a record as one of the worst National Security Advisors in history before taking over at State, where she has so far managed not to start any wars (yet). 

But there is another problem with the Blackwell/Swann bellwether test: Ohio and Pennsylvania are very bad states for the GOP this year and we will probably see both candidates do worse than they would have done two or four years ago during one of the Khaki Elections.  This election cycle Ohio and Pennsylvania are mine-fields for the GOP; they will be lucky to retain DeWine’s seat, and Santorum’s is almost certainly lost already.  What sort of political dunce would you have to be to consider these races in these states as good indicators for the ‘08 presidential election for any Republican candidate?

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone. ~The Washington Post

This story is now fairly old as the news cycle and the world of blogging goes, but since I did not have a chance to say anything about it earlier I thought I would note a couple of things that struck me about this. 

First of all, it is stunning to me that so many people have so few close friends or even none at all.  Perhaps it is a function of responding to the upheaval of nine years in academic flux, but I try to make a point of retaining and cultivating the close friends I have had over the years, and the idea that a quarter of all Americans have no one in whom they can confide seems almost unfathomable to me.

This is a significant confirmation that the constant mobility, upheaval, rootlessness and individualism of modern American life have come together to cut off millions of people from anything resembling real social, much less community, life.  As the article notes, the people surveyed may have a horde of online contacts and numerous acquaintances with whom they correspond, but the depth of these relationships scarcely extends beyond the surface. 

With trends like this, it is doubtful that appeals to a life centered around local community will have any meaning for people who have no idea what that community might resemble.  These people might be hungry for real community, but might not even know how to go about finding it.  Not only are these people lacking in koinonia, but they seem to be bereft, at a fundamental, intimate level, of even the most basic human affinities outside of the now increasingly unstable institution of marriage.  I defy the libertarians out there to tell us that this trend towards isolation is a good development; I defy them to tell us that it is not a product of the very social and political individualism they champion, or that an even greater emphasis on the self would benefit all concerned. 

When Barack Obama speaks, do people listen?  I don’t know, but Post columnists do start writing about how wonderful he is.  In addition to Hoagland’s nod to the Obama “Call to Renewal” keynote address, E.J. Dionne fell all over himself praising “Obama’s Eloquent Faith.”  So what did the man of eloquent faith have to say?  Here is an excerpt that reveals a lot about Mr. Obama’s assumptions about religion:

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they’re coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

While Daniel Pulliam at GetReligion was not impressed by the speech (his post is a great resource for links to the various responses to the speech), this sort of Hallmark sentiment-meets-Anthropology 101 simply blows the average liberal columnist away.  And no wonder, as this is just about as profound and serious as liberals ever allow themselves to get about religious yearning and the inborn desire for truth and meaning!  However, so long as liberals choose to think of religious conviction in terms of self-fulfillment and relief from loneliness they will not penetrate any deeper, and they will certainly not convince a lot of Christians they either understand or care about the latter’s faith.

Intolerance — whether exercised by “Islamic” fundamentalists blowing up the mosques of other sects or by “Christian” activists blowing up abortion clinics — is rapidly becoming a decisive force in domestic politics and foreign policy in nation after nation. ~Jim Hoagland, The Washington Post

Yes, that rash of abortion clinic bombings has been troubling everyone lately, I’m sure.  Never mind that there is one such clinic bombing every fourth leap year, and any number of attacks on mosques and churches alike (though obviously attacks on churches tend to be the more common) every year by Muslims in countries as various as Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan.  Here the relatively exceptional Eric Rudolph will stand in for all of Christianity, while the depressingly commonplace violence of Islamic militants against all and sundry is safely filed under the generic intolerance of everyone who takes religion seriously.  The content and merits of any one religion do not count in this assessment, but all religions will be smeared equally with the crimes of the worst creeds and most unbalanced fanatics.  Notice how this weak parallelism allows Mr. Hoagland to identify Intolerance decisively with generic Religion, of which there are various manifestations (all of them troubling), which he then uses to set up the rest of the unfortunate column (the fight against the “crisis of intolerance”!).

One of these troubling manifestations Mr. Hoagland describes as follows:

The spiraling growth of evangelical Christianity in the United States — as well as in Latin America, China and Africa — reflects the central reality that also helps drive the radicalization of Islam across the Middle East, Central Asia and the northern Caucasus. When people feel threatened by rapid and mystifying change, they turn to the most literal forms of religion for explanations and justifications.

The evangelicals are coming!  Run for your lives!  Now, I am hardly what you would call evangelical-friendly on matters theological and ecclesiological, but I recognise a ridiculous insult against evangelicals when I see it.  Evangelical Christianity presumably does serve social and cultural functions that make it very popular in both late modern and modernising societies (e.g., perhaps its capacity for greater individualistic expressions and practices of faith, perhaps a seemingly more intense emotional religiosity, etc.), but depicting it as refuge for the shell-shocked victims of rapid change hardly does it credit and certainly does not make any attempt at understanding the phenomenon.   

The claim that people turn to religion, much less the “most literal forms” of religion, to cope with rapid change is, at the very best, simplistic.  The social and cultural functions of religious belief will be as varied and complex as the societies that embrace a given belief.  Gone are the days, I hope, of the myth that people embraced mystery religions, and Christianity most of all, in the later empire in large part because their world was crumbling around them.  I suspect this religion-as-flight-response is the sort of thing some sociologists wish were the case (more than a few sociologists not being all together big fans of religious people themselves), as it would provide a fairly easy psychological explanation of why people turn to religion that will fail to account for religious attitudes in periods of rapid change as often as it succeeds. 

Mr. Hoagland has arrived late on the scene if he thinks the debunking of the modernisation-leads-to-secularisation model is news.  For the last 15 years we have seen many kinds of religious fundamentalism (which is, as many have noted, itself a product of modernity) moving arm-in-arm with technical and political modernisation–the fundamentalists are often the modernisers of the moment.  See India and the rise of the BJP as a prime example, or consider Erdogan’s Islamists in the AK Party in Turkey.  The rise of Christian democracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is hardly an unknown phenomenon, would similarly baffle those wedded to such a self-serving progressive theory.  Perhaps before we get carried away with interfaith conferences our own secularists should acquaint themselves with even the most basic outlines of the religious mind in their own civilisation.  They might also take some time to study the rise of religious movements as something other than a sign of rising “intolerance,” which to the ears of religious people is pejorative and tendentious rhetoric.  Perhaps then they might find that their religious neighbours are at least barely tolerable.

Why do editors and columnists prepare articles on religion like this one to publish on Sunday morning?  Is it just to irritate the odd reader about to leave for church who finds random Washington Post columns thrust into his local paper’s op-ed section?  Perhaps I should have ignored the paper this morning, but the pull quote from Hoagland’s piece today (which is actually a quote from the South Side’s own Sen. Obama) caught my attention.  It sums up everything that is wrong with the article and the broader argument it is making about the place of religion in democratic politics:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. 

My immediate reaction to this was something along the lines of, “If that is what democracy demands, we won’t be having much need for it.”  But give Sen. Obama credit for unpacking modern democrats and universalists’ assumptions about what “democracy” allows and “demands”: it does not allow religious expression in terms of “religion-specific values,” which is to say religious values as such are irrelevant to public debate and public policy, and it demands that adherents of religions (and, to cut through it, we all understand that we’re talking essentially about Christians and about  no one else) accept one of the alternative secular schemes that are deemed suitable for “democratic” politics and consign their religious convictions to the corner where they can safely gather dust. 

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If you were asked to speak at your local church on the day’s Scripture reading on account of your wedding anniversary, would you spend most of the time talking about anti-Christian persecutions, the ethics of intelligence gathering and warmongering? No, you probably wouldn’t. But then you’re not nearly as odd as David Frum. Asked to give the d’var Torah on Numbers 13:1-15:41, where the Israelites spy out the land of Canaan and Joshua and Caleb urge the people to advance into the land in spite of the resistance they will meet (which their fellow spies make out to be too great), he manages to cover a lot of ground, from English anti-Semitism (that mean, old Ian Fleming!) to the slightly more germane topic of intelligence work as it relates to the history of the Jewish people, and offers this self-serving tripe:

Ironically enough, Sh’lach could epitomize this outside critique of an intelligence organization. We see in Sh’lach intelligence going wrong in exactly the way outside experts often describe: 10/12ths of an intelligence organization allowing their own weaknesses, preferences, and institutional imperatives to distort their information getting. Only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh report the truth. As for Moses and Aaron, who opted to rely on the minority view of Joshua and Caleb, it was surely said of them that they were politicizing intelligence and “stove-piping” information, bypassing the proper channels.

Every occasion, from an exercise in exegesis to an occasion marking your own wedding, apparently must be used to advance the filthy cause of this war. Nothing can be left untouched by the desperate need to justify a war of aggression founded in deceit. Every sphere of life apparently must be dragooned to serve Frum’s propaganda. To add to the shamelessness of the speech, Frum effectively ties the duplicitous methods behind the Iraq war to the capture of the Promised Land, aligning himself and his fellow liars with Joshua and Caleb and, I suppose, aligning Mr. Bush with no less than Moses. Turning everything on its head, Frum has aligned the liars with the true servants of God and made those who counseled against a war of aggression into another batch of the ten spies who were unwilling to claim the land that God had given Israel. There is apparently no limit to the man’s dishonesty.

Via Steve Sailer

Thanks to Jon Luker, Eunomia will soon be moving over to a Wordpress format, as Enchiridion Militis and Politeuma have recently done. I am hopeful that this will, among other things, finally allow people to enter comments more readily than has been the case with the current set-up. As the site is changed over, there may be some difficulty in checking on Eunomia from time to time over the next few days, so please bear with us. Thanks.