Eunomia · September 2006


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On Lebanon: “You have to resist Hezbollah . . . [and] try to strengthen the moderate Lebanese forces, which is not an easy matter.” ~Bret Stephens, OpinionJournal.com

Thus spake Secretary Rice, who had to have enjoyed the irony of talking about strengthening “moderate Lebanese forces” when the war she and the administration backed 100% did more than anything in the last 15 years to undermine and weaken those forces to the advantage of Hizbullah.  Strengthening “moderate Lebanese forces” wouldn’t have been easy in the best of times, but after the Lebanon war it seems a very long shot.

I found myself on a panel to discuss globalization and offered that conservatives might do well–at the voting booth and otherwise–to push free trade, liberalize markets, rein in farm subsidies, and keep Europe’s door open to Turkey. Nothing controversial for this crowd, I assumed, with the possible exception of the last. ~Matthew Kaminski, OpinionJournal.com

Reading Mr. Kaminski’s article, I had to laugh.  It cannot say much for the journalistic reputation of WSJ Europe, of which Mr. Kaminski is the editor, that he believed reheated economic liberalism was going to go down well with the representatives of the various Christian Democratic and Volkspartei groups assembled for the meeting.  When was free trade as such ever really a conservative position on the Continent?  Why would a Gaullist rein in farm subsidies?  Why would people with political roots in Catholic corporatism and some of whom remain committed to Catholic social doctrine want to liberalise markets?  Nothing controversial?  Could the man have been this delusional?

In a riposte worthy of George Grant or Wendell Berry came the answer to Mr. Kaminski’s “uncontroversial” ideas:

The reality check arrived from a German Christian Democrat. “For us, a human being is not only a function of production,” he lectured from the floor. “Our voters are not signing up to . . . your neoliberal, neoconservative agenda.”

To which Mr. Kaminski could only lamely add, “(Jeesh, I hadn’t even mentioned Iraq.)”  More simplistic, ahistorical analysis followed, such as:

In Europe’s biggest country, as well as in France, right-wing rulers remain wedded to the nanny state–which emerged with Bismarck–and to close alliances with guilds and big business that tend to stifle competition. In her day, Margaret Thatcher never felt welcome on the Continent.

There was a time when Margaret Thatcher would not have been terribly welcome in the Conservative Party, which was decidedly not given over to economic liberalism, as this was largely the position of the party’s opponents.  During the last fifty or sixty years of Tory drift, they, too, have accommodated with the “nanny state” as have most center-right parties across Europe, but their concerns have always come from very different sources and what they seek to preserve by means of regulation has usually been very different.  Unless, of course, one thinks that it makes sense to confuse the Christian Social Union of Bavaria with the SDP of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern because both have different kinds of objections to the free play of market forces.  What appears as European conservatives’ being “wedded to the nanny state” is very often their desire to preserve the character of their communities and the stability of their institutions.  Those who want liberalised markets, free trade and state rollback in Europe can vote FDP or some other similarly liberal party.  

In the real world, the GOP has hardly been very hostile to the “nanny state” in practise, and if the center-right in Europe makes alliances with “guilds and big business to stifle competition” the GOP simply makes alliances with corporations to achieve whatever it is the corporations want to achieve.  Those waiting the great age of federal deregulation under the GOP majority are still waiting.  Republicans expand government with a vigour that would embarrass and discredit most Socialist and Labour parties in Europe today.  Structurally and for all intents and purposes, the GOP is no less of a statist party than its center-right counterparts in Europe, but is actually far less oriented towards the common good as understood by conservatives in Europe.  Meanwhile, the WSJ mocks the ”economic patriotism” of the French at its own peril, since it clearly seems not to understand that such a platform would be a winning message here in America–and would be unstoppable were cultural conservatives to advocate it, rather than leaving it to the Democrats.    

I imagine that the appalling Victor Davis Hanson is to blame for most of this. I simply don’t see how one can read Thucydides without coming away with some quite emphatic lessons about the long term costs of imperial arrogance towards one’s political allies, how unnecessary military adventures turn into disasters, und so weiter. Not to mention Thucydides’ depiction of the dangers of cheap jingoism and pro-war demagoguery at home (it would be unfair to describe Glenn Reynolds and company as tinpot Kleons, if only because Kleon actually went out to fight the war that he had touted for). ~Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber

The quote from Thucydides included in Mr. Farrell’s post reminded me of a similar quote from Chateaubriand on the age of “Buonaparte”:

Words changed meaning. A people who fights for its legitimate sovereign is a rebellious people. A traitor is a loyal subject. France was an Empire of lies: journals, pamphlets, discourses, prose, and verse all disguised the truth. If it rained, we were assured it was sunny. If the tyrant walked among the silent people, it was said that he advanced among the acclamations of the crowd. The prince was all that mattered: morality consisted of devoting oneself to his caprice; duty was to praise him. Above all it was necessary to praise the administration when it made a mistake or committed a crime.

It is no wonder that the most fanatical of Bonapartists was Nicolas Chauvin, the man who gave his name to chauvinisme, which at the time originally meant a fanatical attachment to the cause of a particular political figure, in this case Bonaparte, as well as hyper-nationalism.  It is fitting then that our neo-Bonapartists with all their distortions of language should also be astonishingly virulent national chauvinists.

Henry Farrell gets medieval on a pet peeve of mine: neoimperialists invoking Thucydides. I’m not a big fan of our pundit Blavatskys who tell us that the dead would be on their side of some contemporary controversy. Orwell gets this the most of course. But if I was going to pick a historical figure supportive of democratic imperialism and the remote social engineering implied in transforming the Islamic world into a swarthier Kansas, then Thucydides would be absolutely the last on any list. ~Pithlord

Card put it on the generals in the Pentagon and Iraq. If they had come forward and said to the president, “It’s not worth it,” or, “The mission can’t be accomplished,” Card was certain, the president would have said “I’m not going to ask another kid to sacrifice for it.” ~Bob Woodward, The Washington Post

In other words, according to the former chief of staff, it is up to the generals to tell the President what the strategy ought to be and determine whether it is or is not worthwhile.  But consider this year’s response to the retired generals who said that the strategy either wasn’t working or that the war should never have been fought in the first place–they were widely denounced by GOP flacks and their very participation in the debate was viewed as a possible threat to civilian control of the military.  When civilian critics of the war say that the strategy isn’t working or that the mission cannot be accomplished, we are accused of buying into enemy propaganda and helping the cause of terrorists.  No wonder the generals who haven’t retired don’t dare go to Mr. Bush to say that the war is pointless!  No, I’m sorry, if Mr. Bush is so lacking in perspicacity and understanding that he cannot see for himself that the strategy isn’t working, it does not become solely the responsibility of his subordinates to tell him this.  He does not get a free pass on this one.  The pernicious influence of Kissinger’s “stick it out” mentality is there for all to see, and it makes you think that Mr. Bush would “stick it out” even if the generals told him that it would be pointless to do so.

Garner made his final point: “There’s still time to rectify this. There’s still time to turn it around.” 

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are.”

He thinks I’ve lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I’m absolutely wrong. Garner didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. “They’re all reversible,” Garner said again.

“We’re not going to go back,” Rumsfeld said emphatically. ~Bob Woodward, The Washington Post

 

Many of this year’s prominent candidates are also surprisingly nationalist on immigration, playing off concerns about declining wages. “I do believe we must gain control of our borders,” Webb said during a debate. “We also must gain control over corporate America’s use of illegals. This, along with the Iraq war, has been the major failure of this administration.” ~David Brooks, The New York Times

It cannot be a good sign for the GOP that prominent Democratic candidates are able to articulate genuinely conservative sentiments on the war, corporations and immigration more ably than their opponents.  With the rise of candidates such as Ford and Webb the Dems may be beginning to understand that, to be successful, their coalition has to be broad enough to include those who, like Webb, have Confederate ancestors and are proud of them and what they fought for and those, like Ford, who express a natural affinity with believing Christians because they are themselves church-going folk.  What Brooks seems to miss is that as Democrats have become more skeptical of “free trade” once more, so has the nation.  Economic populism should work politically because, in spite of a perfectly respectable economy according to the numbers people in the country do seem unusually anxious about their economic prospects.  When the left-liberals do not engage in cultural warfare, whether in the courts or elsewhere, that rallies ordinary folks to oppose them, and Democrats start to sound more like the common man they purport to represent on cultural questions, the appeal of Red Republican rhetoric diminishes significantly.

What is a progressive globalist (a name Brooks invented to refer to the squishy cosmopolitans who have made up the political leadership of both parties) to do in an age when nobody seems to care much for globalisation and globalism?  There is always the attack on the dumb nostalgics:

And yet Democrats have reason to worry long term. This message is based on a sort of economic nostalgia, what The Economist called a “rose-tinted version of the 1950’s and 1960’s” — when the middle class prospered, families cohered, America dominated, unions thrived, Islam was invisible and immigrants were Irish and Italian.

That’s odd.  This sounds remarkably like the ”nostalgia” that has motivated most conservatives and Republicans since the 1960s.  It is commonplace to hear evangelicals talk about ”taking back” the country, which has more than its share of nostalgia.  Perhaps there is a real element of nostalgia in this “rose-tinted” view, but it is also based in a recognition that, on the whole, those conditions were better for large swathes of the country than the conditions we have today.  Conservatives used to know this and say as much.  Except perhaps for enthusiasm for strong labour unions, can you think of anything in that list that the average conservative or Republican voter would find undesirable?  Even if it were actually impossible to recover some measure of that old order, that does not make its appeal any less powerful.  To remind the voter of how things were–or how we remember them to be, which often is virtually the same thing–is to tap into their discontent with the way things are, and the discontent is considerable.  If Democrats could acknowledge voters’ importance of anxiety about social and moral disorder in a genuine way, best of all if they actually shared this anxiety and valued the same kinds of things that the voters valued, they would recapture a lot of middle-class voters who have written them off as the party of decadence and cultural rot.    

If there is one thing that reading about Bolingbroke and the Opposition has reminded me of, it is that the “politics of nostalgia” do not seem nostalgic to the people who espouse them, but seem to be the very stuff of principle and common sense.  Wanting to restore the ancient constitution or “the good old days” is not just some hopeless dream cooked up by poets and oddballs–though it may ultimately be out of reach–but is the natural and healthy response of people who are seeking a restoration of order in deeply disordered times.  If people want eunomia, they may respond favourably to those who offer them the nostalgic vision of the way things used to be when there was more eunomia to be had (or people at least think that there was, which is effectively the same thing as far as its impact today is concerned) and a promise to bring them back.  This was one of the principal appeals of Populism and La Follette’s Progressivism: to go forward to the “good old days.” 

Brooks continues:

This nostalgia is certainly common today. In their must-read book, “Applebee’s America,” Doug Sosnik, Matt Dowd and Ron Fournier quote an anxious Michigan voter: “This is going to sound silly, but I wish things were like they were when we were growing up. … I wish I could go back in time. We had stable lives. Mom could stay home, and we could afford it. Life was slower.”

But nationwide, and in the decades ahead, can a politics that evades the modern realities of Islamic extremism and the skill-based global economy really be the basis of a majority movement? I doubt it.

Certainly nostalgia alone won’t cut it.  Even nostalgia and criticism won’t do it by themselves.  There does have to be a positive alternative offered up.  However, the more things in the present differ from the memory of how much better things used to be, the more powerful the appeal to the past will be.  The more chaotic, uncertain and dangerous the present, the more people will want to return to something more like a previous era–even if that era was in some respects just aas chaotic and dangerous in reality–and the more willing they will be to follow those who paint that picture of the old days.  

But there is nothing that says return to the past must evade present realities.  Usually the return to the past comes about because people come to believe, rightly or not, that imitating the way things were done in the past when things seemed to have been better will tend to reproduce the same happy consequences.  Perhaps it does not always provide a handy solution, and sometimes it might be genuinely misleading, but it is almost always in the search for a solution for modern problems that people seek solace and answers in the experience of the past.  Again, real conservatives have always known this.  For Brooks it is a sort of baffling phenomenon that appears to him as an obstacle for the political success of Democrats.  Unfortunately, this sort of nostalgia could have limited appeal, but not for the reasons Brooks gives–we are a people cursed by an inclination to optimism and a stunningly naive confidence that there really is such a thing as progress.  If the ”good old days” are gone, it is only to make way for the better days to come–this is the fatuous assumption of so many.  On the whole, progressives in the Democratic Party are the worst offenders in this regard, but they have lately been joined by a great many Republicans.  Typically, the party in power is always more inclined to prattle on about optimism and the future, because they think that they control what the future will be, but there are built-in tendencies to think in this way across the spectrum. 

Incidentally, I love some of these euphemisms we have today, such as “skill-based global economy.”  What is the “skill” of labourers in Indonesia?  Their “skill” is to live in a poor country with a low cost of living and limited labour regulations.  There are skilled, educated workers in other countries, yes, who work for less than our skilled workers, and to this extent there is a “skill-based global economy,” which is to say that there is a global economy.  No one denies this, and no one is “evading” the reality of it.  Critics look starkly at the reality of it, see its deleterious effects on American workers and say, “What if we tried something that didn’t result in the death of American manufacturing?”  For some crazy reason American workers respond to this sort of thinking–obviously, they’re just being nostalgic for the olden times.  You know, the time back when they had stable jobs with decent wages.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was under fresh pressure last night after India accused his intelligence agency of masterminding the Mumbai train bombings that killed 186 people.

Hours after the broadcast of an interview in which Gen Musharraf claimed that the US and its allies would fail in their “war on terror” without the support of Pakistan and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the senior police officer in charge of the investigation into the bombings dropped a diplomatic bombshell.

Mumbai police commissioner AN Roy said the ISI began planning the July attack in March and later provided training to the Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that carried it out.

——————— 

The row coincided with the return to Pakistan of Gen Musharraf after a three-week foreign tour during which he has faced questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the “war on terror” and the role of his intelligence agency. 

But in an interview yesterday on Radio 4’s Today he defended the ISI and claimed that the Taliban, not al-Qaeda, posed the greatest threat in the region.

“You will be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn’t co-operate with you. That is all that I would like to say. Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear,” he said in the interview, which was recorded after he had held talks with Tony Blair in London on Thursday. ~The Daily Telegraph

This is one of those ugly predicaments that playing the hegemon brings upon America.  We have been compelled to ignore the reality that the ISI and Pakistan are and long have been the leading sponsors of jihadi terrorism in the world–a dubious distinction that our government routinely pins on Iran with remarkable duplicity–because if we should push them too hard to stop their anti-Indian terrorism the ISI will go back to its old habits of arming and supporting the Taliban, making life in Afghanistan even more grim and dangerous for NATO forces and the Afghan government.  Musharraf’s remarks on Radio 4 are a not-so-veiled threat that he effectively holds the leash on the Taliban and that if he chose to let go, if Pakistan stopped “cooperating,” Afghanistan would quickly become unmanageable.  The resurgence of the Taliban would soon enough become a full-blown restoration–and one that we are hard-pressed to combat, of course, because so many of our armed forces are stuck in Iraq. 

If the U.S. really were fighting jihadis no matter where they were–as the more crazed of the neocons seem to think we are supposed to be doing–we would be absolutely obligated to take the fight to Pakistan, which does not merely harbour but actively aids and abets jihadis in Kashmir and the rest of India proper.  This is one of the worst-kept secrets in modern international affairs.  It is also an arch-proliferator of nuclear weapons and probably today represents the single greatest threat to the peace of Asia and the world–but why worry?  They are on “our” side, right? 

If the goal of our foreign policy instead is to neutralise anti-American jihadi groups, stabilise Afghanistan and pursue American national interests, we might well have to temper our reaction to Pakistani treachery.  But if the ISI was involved in supporting and preparing the Mumbai train attacks–and I have little reason to doubt that at least some elements within the ISI were involved–then the ISI and the Pakistani government have shown that they have not changed in the least and are no better than the Taliban in their deliberate support for jihadi terrorism.  The logic of the so-called Bush Doctrine would lead to the United States and India allying together against this arch-sponsor of terrorism.  Jai Hind and let’s roll, right?  This is why the Bush Doctrine is an idiotic doctrine–it would, if followed strictly, force us to push Pakistan back to the side of the Taliban and give our enemies access to the power of the world’s only nuclear Islamic state.  We would take our strong moral stance and bring disaster to South Asia. 

All of this has got to be tempered with the realistic assessment that any major conflict between India and Pakistan would almost certainly lead to a nuclear exchange with disastrous consequences for India and Pakistan, the entire region and all of Asia.  It is, however, imperative that Washington show some integrity and courage vis-a-vis Pakistan for a change and push Musharraf to hand over the ISI members responsible for supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba and also push to suppress the camps for Lashkar-e-Taiba that he was supposedly suppressing five years ago after the Parliament attack.  Our good relations with India require us to make holding the elements in Pakistan responsible for this atrocity a priority.  Our long-term national interests in the region dictate that we support India in demanding justice for its murdered citizens. 

If Musharraf is incapable of meeting reasonable demands to hand over those responsible (the example of A.Q. Khan shows that we cannot trust Pakistan to seriously punish its own), because his position is too weak and he does not really control what the ISI does, it should be clear that he has no effective control over the apparatuses of his own state and can only be relied on to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron that is Pakistan. 

If he continues to deny any ISI involvement, we can be more and more sure that he remains as committed as ever to the jihad in Kashmir and against India, which should not surprise us when we know that he came to power through the Kargil War and that he was one of the architects of that war, but it will tell us what kind of ally we have in Islamabad and what we can expect from him.       

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said any leader who had been aware of Mr. Foley’s behavior and failed to take action should step down. “If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership,” Mr. Shays said. ~The New York Times

As of right now, that would definitely include the head of the NRCC and the Majority Leader.  It presumably would also include the Speaker, his denials of prior knowledge notwithstanding (Reynolds’ new statements about Hastert’s knowledge of the affair are definitely of the, “I’m not going down alone for this one!” variety).  It is reasonable to say that the Speaker “should have known” about a serious ethical lapse by one of the Members–unless, of course, they think trolling the Internet for minors does not consistute a serious ethical lapse.  If they knew about this, as it seems they did, and they did nothing (which, in a majority that altered ethics rules to make life easier for Tom DeLay, is not that surprising), chalk it up to just one more example where holding onto power trumped everything else.  The leadership could have forced Foley out when it found out about the correspondence; it could at least have stripped him of his position heading the relevant caucus.  The best response, both ethically and politically, would have been to ask for his resignation and have a special election last spring so that you could make it clear that the majority party abhorred this sort of conduct while giving Foley’s replacement a fighting chance to win the election.  Now they have shown their relative indifference to unethical behaviour (again) and will probably end up losing the seat.  Someone remind me again why the party that endorses torture, arbitrary executive power, illegal searches and surveillance and aggressive war and shrugs at the ethical corruption of its members is fit to govern. 

Mr. Woodward reports that when he told Mr. Rumsfeld that the number of insurgent attacks was going up, the defense secretary replied that they’re now “categorizing more things as attacks.” Mr. Woodward quotes Mr. Rumsfeld as saying, “A random round can be an attack and all the way up to killing 50 people someplace. So you’ve got a whole fruit bowl of different things — a banana and an apple and an orange.”

Mr. Woodward adds: “I was speechless. Even with the loosest and most careless use of language and analogy, I did not understand how the secretary of defense would compare insurgent attacks to a ‘fruit bowl,’ a metaphor that stripped them of all urgency and emotion. The official categories in the classified reports that Rumsfeld regularly received were the lethal I.E.D.’s, standoff attacks with mortars and close engagements such as ambushes.” ~Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

As has been reported elsewhere, there are over 800 such pieces of “fruit” being launched every week.  That’s a lot of fruit bowls, Rummy.

Bush used his weekly radio address to hit back at critics who cited the newly declassified National Intelligence Estimate as evidence the Iraq war has worsened the terrorism threat. He said early leaks about it created “a lot of misimpressions about the document’s conclusions.”

 

“Some in Washington have selectively quoted from this document to make the case that by fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are making our people less secure here at home,” he said. “This argument buys into the enemy’s propaganda that the terrorists attack us because we are provoking them.” ~Reuters

At least no one is misunderimpressionating Mr. Bush any longer!  I am curious which is worse: quoting selectively from the 2006 NIE to oppose the ongoing illegal war or cooking up a poorly-sourced, inaccurate 2002 NIE that was used to justify an unnecessary war?

On the question of buying propaganda, whose propaganda should we be buying (if we are indeed buying any)?  Perhaps the kind that says they attack us because of our freedom?  Well, not to worry, folks–in the past five years Mr. Bush and friends have been well on their way to getting rid of those pesky terrorist-causing freedoms, and very soon we won’t have to worry about freedom-hating terrorists coming here to strike at us.  Another question: if Bin Laden said that the sun rose in the east, would we need to deny this to avoid being guilty of buying “enemy propaganda”? 

Of course, no one serious is saying that if we left Iraq Islamic terrorism would go away or that there would no longer be a real threat at all, but simply that it is very likely that this overall threat would decrease if there were an end to the occupation of a Muslim country, when this occupation does generate more and more supporters for jihad for as long as we remain there.  Jihadis did not disappear after the Soviets left Afghanistan, but they also lost their “cause celebre” and there was less jihadi violence after that.  They turned to other conflicts in the world to advance their cause–they went to Yugoslavia after Bosnia broke away, they went to Sudan, they went to Kashmir and some did stay in Afghanistan, etc.  But if the goal is to reduce the incidence of Islamic terrorism, ending occupations that lend the jihadis‘ cause perceived legitimacy in the Islamic world is not a mistake and in fact works against what the jihadis themselves desire.  They want us sitting in one place in a static occupation where they can bleed our armed forces, force us into overreactions that alienate the population and turn more and more people against us.  For someone who believes this is the “ideological struggle of the 21st century,” Mr. Bush doesn’t have a clue what that kind of struggle entails–rule number one ought to be that you do not let the enemy create conditions more favourable to its message than yours.  While we who are opposed to the war are not buying “enemy propaganda,” the government seems intent on playing by the enemy’s rules and acting in ways that make the enemy’s strategy more effective than it otherwise should be. 

Withdrawal is not a long-term or permanent solution (indeed I am skeptical that a long-term “solution” is possible to something that is intrinsic to a religion of one billion people), but withdrawing from Iraq remains the least awful option and the one most in the national interest.  Mr. Bush attacks people with charges of following “enemy propaganda” because he has no credible answer to this option that does not make all the same mistakes the administration has been making on Iraq for four years.

For the GOP, when it rains it pours.  Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney, meet Mark Foley.  Resigning in disgrace and/or being indicted or convicted is becoming quite the habit with these folks.  The funny thing is that Bob Ney still hasn’t resigned in spite of his guilty plea in a corruption case; Foley is resigning over some (decidedly inappropriate and disgusting) electronic chat and email.  The Republicans still have a decent chance of retaining Ney’s seat, while they have relatively little hope of holding Foley’s.  As the Russian Tocqueville of our time says, what a country! 

With the GOP majority-led Congress already fighting high disapproval ratings in a very difficult election year, each and every safe seat counts, so it is with some interest (and not a little Schadenfreude, I’m sorry to say) that I read of the resignation of Mark Foley over his, er, ethical lapses in chatting up underage Congressional pages online.  Besides the twisted irony that a man such as this was part of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus in the House, which has been remarked on elsewhere, the political consequences of Foley’s resignation right now are noteworthy: under Florida law, once the primary election votes have been certified, the nominee’s name cannot be removed from the ballot.  That will assuredly reduce the chances of the relative unknown who will take Foley’s place of pulling out some kind of miraculous upset.  It is impossible to build up meaningful name recognition when your name will not be on the ballot in any case.  The district has been Republican-leaning, though before the resignation it was as safe an incumbent seat as any, which makes any chance of a Democratic pick-up here a disaster for the GOP.     

After going on for some time about how the real problem in all this is how being “closeted” harms gay men, Andrew Sullivan, as only he could, concludes his response to the Foley resignation with this remarkable line: “Better to find integrity and lose a Congressional seat than never live with integrity at all.”  So where exactly in all this has Mr. Foley found “integrity”?  Is it the part where he was found out to be a liar, or where he was discovered chatting up underage boys?  Note that in the entire thing Sullivan never said a word about the attempt to sexually pursue a minor–that might raise rather unfortunate questions about the relationship between homosexuality and pederasty that Sullivan has been keen to avoid. 

I like these Mexicans. They go to Catholic Church; They work hard; They’re learning English and they will eventually create a new blue-collar middle class.

Yes, I do worship at the high church of GDP. But I also worship at the high church of Catholic Mass. And therefore I’m able to combine supply-side economics with the teachings of Catholic humanitarianism. ~Larry Kudlow

Kudlow is quite the humanitarian. He has not seen a war he didn’t think was good for America and, more importantly, good for the stock market. Kudlow is so very humanitarian that he welcomes the creation of an exploited underclass. I don’t know for sure where Larry the Humanitarian stands on the abuse of prisoners and torture, but I suspect he is especially humanitarian when it comes to inflicting pain on prisoners–at least as humanitarian as he has been in cheering on the devastation of whole nations. He is so painfully humanitarian (his heart, look how it bleeds!) that he sees nothing amiss in comparing a border security fence with the Berlin Wall–the one designed to keep unwanted people out, the other to keep enslaved people in–because he literally cannot understand the difference between the two. To limit the “free movement of labour” is the same as commie oppression. That is what your stereotypical pro-immigration “conservative” believes. One wonders, incidentally, if he thinks Israel’s security barrier is a new Berlin Wall–I’m going to guess that he doesn’t agree with that comparison.

Here’s the main problem I have with the rhetoric of the people who keep pointing to the Catholicism of Mexican immigrants as if that were some kind of free pass for them (besides being based on the strange and entirely unproven assumption that Mexican Catholicism is as amenable to American political and cultural values as European Catholicism could come to be over time): the people who use the Catholicism of Mexicans and other Latin Americans as the rhetorical club with which to beat restrictionists also invariably happen to be the same people who think the freedom of movement across borders, a flood of cheap labour and maximising of GDP are the things that are most important in determining immigration policy. In other words, most of the people, including the Catholics, who are thrilled to see more Catholics crossing the border illegally are typically also the people who would be thrilled to see them cross the border if they were atheists, Muslims or Shintoists, because they are making these determinations primarily on economic grounds and have clearly made economic values their priority. I bet millions of Muslim labourers wouldn’t trouble Larry one bit. After all, we know where Larry stands on hateful “Islamophobia”–he’s against it, especially when it might bar the way to glorious international trade arrangements.

It is useful to them that the labourers in question are often Catholic, whether nominal or not, but it would not matter a whit to these people what religion they practiced so long as they lent their aid to building the Temple of GDP. It is also a sentimental ploy to tap into Catholic memories about past anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant prejudice in the 19th century as a way of mobilising Catholic America against the enforcement of immigration law and the control of the borders. It is manifestly cynical for the most part, but few are bold enough to hold up their cynicism for the world to see as Kudlow is.

But at least Kudlow holds up the glaring contradiction of his two loyalties for all to see. He doesn’t even hesitate to embrace the language of “worship” to express his economic desires. I have long held Kudlow up as a kind of walking caricature of the money-obsessed conservative, but that is because he plays to the stereotype so perfectly that it is impossible not to think of him when trying to imagine what such a person would be like.

“Yes, I worship at the altar of Mammon. But I also worship at the altar of God,” the man says to us, “And therefore I’m able to combine Mammon with the teachings of Christ.” What was it that Someone Important said about two masters? It’s a bit fuzzy, but it was something about not being able to have two. So Kudlow has fortunately declared very openly which one he serves. Give him credit for being at least somewhat more forthright than all of the conservatives who say, “But I’m not a materialist! Look, I go to church!” Instead Larry preaches a new gospel: “I’m a materialist because I go to church!”

My Enchiridion Militis colleague Joshua Trevino now also blogs at The Claremont Institute’s The Remedy.  In spite of my own disagreements with Claremont’s other bloggers, I congratulate Josh on the position and I can say with certainty that he will bring excellent insights and writing to Claremont’s site. 

“The usual suspects say that some state may eventually give terrorists an atomic bomb. That is, put the crown jewels of its national power into hands it doesn’t control, in much the same way that the Great Powers at the end of the 19th Century were always handing out battleships to anarchists…

“As a practical matter, anyone who is all that willing to die for his principles seems to manage to do so early in his career, well before he achieves high office. Most of the people running Iran today could have easily become martyrs under the Shah if they’d felt like it. Somehow, they avoided it.” ~Greg Cochran, The American Conservative (via Steve Sailer)

 

 What a refreshing experience to see someone else exploding this particular nonsensical argument.  This is one of those claims that’s so ”serious” that you have to provide an answer to a scenario that is about as likely as happening as the island nation of Mauritius landing a man on the man.  It is a potential threat as likely to come into being as the great existential threat that America will someday face from Burkina Faso.  It is one of the most implausible scenarios in the book, yet every time we have a proliferation “crisis” (i.e., a nation Washington dislikes seeks weapons that our allies developed without penalty of invasion) this absurd possibility is held up as if it were the silver bullet that kills all realist doctrines of deterrence. 

 

Over the years, I have occasionally dismissed the same claim (”they might give the bomb to terrorists”) whenever supporters of intervention would throw it up as an example of why containment and deterrence no longer work.  Their spiel goes something like this:

 

“You see, they’re crazy and suicidal, and if you don’t believe that just consider that they might hand it off to terrorists who are definitely suicidal.  And why would they give away their most powerful weapons to people who might turn around and use them for a completely different purpose?  Didn’t you hear me before?  They’re crazy and suicidal!”

 

As I said a year and a half ago in one of my early anti-Hanson posts:

 

Next is the canard of Iran arming terrorists with nukes. One does not need to be an expert in Near Eastern affairs (and Mr. Hanson certainly is not) to know that no state, whatever its ideology, will ever hand over nuclear weapons to some rogue third party, no matter how much it may theoretically agree with that group. Raison d’Etat and a basic logic of the government keeping control over such an immensely powerful weapon dictate that any state that invests its resources in such a weapon will not squander that weapon on a group over which it has no meaningful control, but to which it will inevitably be linked should that group decide to use the weapon. The political calculation of the risks involved would show any remotely sane person, however fanatical he might otherwise be, that there is nothing to be gained by such a course of action. Even if some ayatollah were moved to pursue such a mad plan, the military would probably sooner depose him than allow such a stupid decision to be carried out, or he would be ousted by other elements of the clerical regime itself. Nothing is more certain in politics than the desire of a state to preserve its existence and power, and every ideology will come crumbling down when it conflicts with that basic imperative of Realpolitik.

 

Earlier this year I hit a similar note in response to the Official Persophobe Hysteric, Stanley Kurtz:

 

People who obsess about an Iranian bomb frankly baffle me. What do they think the Iranians are going to do with nuclear weapons? What do all states do with nuclear weapons? They stockpile them and use them as a deterrent. They do not wantonly launch them, nor do they hand them off to terrorist or paramilitary groups. The chief reason to fear Iranian nukes is the threat of their use, and particularly the threat of their use against America or an ally of ours. The Iranian government is not so daft as to invite openly the complete annihilation of their country by doing anything so transparent as first-strike nuclear attacks against anyone.   

 

And then again more recently I answered Mario Loyola on this same charge:

 

This is to hide behind the propaganda that Iran will give away one of its yet-to-be-made nukes to some third party (presumably Hizbullah)–something that no nuclear weapon state has ever done and which no remotely self-interested government ever would do.   

 

 

One historian has recently suggested that the strain of isolationist thought in Bolingbroke’s writings was an important European source for Washington’s Farewell Address and its warning against foreign entanglements.  Particularly meaningful to Washington was the statement of English aloofness contained in the Patriot King.

Other Nations must watch over every motion of their neighbors; penetrate, if they can, every design; foresee every minute event; and take part by some engagement or other in almost every conjecture that arises.  But as we cannot be easily, nor suddenly attacked, and we ought not to aim at any acquisition of territory on the continent, it may be our interest to watch the secret workings of the several councils abroad; to advise and warn; to abet and oppose, but it never can be our true interest easily and officiously to enter into action, much less into engagements that imply action and expense.

————————————-

Bolingbroke may have been a nationalist preoccupied with patriotic service, but his nation was not expansionist or interventionist.  His Tory realism might encourage wars at sea to protect England’s interests, but it did not seek to spread any moral attitude or political ideology, as seventeenth-century Commonwealthmen had sought to do; it did not seek to intervene on the continent in the name of liberalism and freedom as nineteenth-century liberals sought to do. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Come home, America–and come back to Bolingbroke.

Even if it be granted that Bolingbroke was a “patriotic” nationalist when not in exile, it should be noted that he was not an expansionist, like the seventeenth-century Commonwealth nationalists.  As often with nationalists, a heavy streak of isolationism runs through his writings on England’s dealings with the outside world.  This isolationism is an outgrowth of Bolingbroke’s emphasis on the supremacy of national interest in determining foreign policy.  In his discussion of national interest Bolingbroke emerges an early proponent of what has come to be called the realist theory of international politics, which in England is most closely identified with Tory writers and statesmen….Tory realism holds that the determining factor in a state’s attitude to other states is its national interest, not sentiment, morality, or ideology. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

That Bolingbroke and his Opposition appeared to later radicals with a radical face is neither surprising nor difficult to reconcile with his basic conservatism.  Part of the ideological dynamic of his politics was “populist,” even though an early and most aristocratic populist manifestation, and inherent in populism is a force at once intensely radical and reactionary.  It is always “the people,” be they yeoman farmers, urban small traders, or failing gentry who are being victimized by the small conspiratorial financial interests.  In Bolingbroke’s view, these conspirators had captured the government; the King, ministers, and legislature spoke at their bidding.  Bolingbroke’s Opposition inevitably took on a popular tone in its perpetual plaint that the government and its ministers and legislature were alienated from the people, the true source of power.  There was, of course, much more to Bolingbroke’s Opposition than this.  What concerned him particularly was that the conspiracy of government and vested interest had removed “the people’s” natural leadership from power.  In defending the one, however, he often had to defend the other; for “the people” and the aristocratic leadership faced the same enemy. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Bolingbroke’s conservatism stands not only as the fons et origo of Country-Jeffersonian-Republican agrarian resistance to the new Court of the Federalists and Whigs, but perhaps even as the core of the entire Anglo-American populist tradition.  I will go so far as to say that, as good as Burke can be, it is the Viscount Bolingbroke and not the Irish Whig who represents the real source of Anglo-American conservatism.  It is especially to him that we should look as “the reactionary imperative” becomes ever more imperative. 

Conservatism as such did indeed become an articulated position only in response to the French Revolution, but Bolingbroke’s Opposition laid the groundwork for the arguments of the American tradition far more and defined an anti-liberalism that was also anti-Lockean but which appropriated the Whig mythology of 1688 as a moment of constitutional renewal–in spite of the historical falsehood of this claim–so that the “modern Whigs” might be defeated.  As Jefferson did with the Constitution, and as American conservatives have attempted to do with the entire liberal project, Bolingbroke sought to recast the usurpation of 1688 as a return to political moderation, the restoration of the mixed constitution that Walpole was then perverting and destroying.  He sought to make the best of the political settlement at hand and guard English liberties against the corruption that was now ruining them.  To better fight Walpole, he did not attach himself to embittered Jacobitism, and instead embraced the commonwealth vision of Harrington and passed it on to the English Tories and American patriots who embraced it equally. 

The unification of the interests of aristocrats and the people against consolidation and moneyed interest finds strong parallels in early Jeffersonianism, the alliance of Southern aristocrats and “plain republicans” of the North and the alliance of planters and yeomen in the Southern Democracy.  Bolingbroke, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Bryan all fought some different form of the moneyed interest and “bank rule”; all fought in their different ways the corruption and consolidation of government.  The same themes of defense of the small town, small firm and small farm against the encroachments of concentrated wealth and power and the confluence of the two in government circles recur again in the history of American Populism in the 19th century and even find echoes in the career of the Insurgent Progressive, Bob La Follette.   

Bolingbroke’s reactionary radical combination of defending the people and their liberties against the usurpations of the government and the moneyed interest, the Opposition’s rejection of the standing army, and its aversion to war and foreign entanglements all anticipate many of the themes developed by American agrarians in their arguments and taken up again by their latter-day populist inheritors.  Look homewards, America–and look to Bolingbroke.

To preserve liberty by new laws and new schemes of government, whilst the corruption of a people continues and grows, is absolutely impossible: but to restore and preserve it under old laws, and an old constitution, by reinfusing into the minds of men the spirit of this constitution, is not only possible, but is, in a particular manner, easy to a King. ~Bolingbroke, The Patriot King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Via Leon Hadar

President Bush is absolutely certain that he has the U.S. and Iraq on the right course, says Woodward. So certain is the president on this matter, Woodward says, that when Mr. Bush had key Republicans to the White House to discuss Iraq, he told them, “I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.” ~CBS News 

Via A.C., I see that Mark Rose will be with George Bush until the bitter end on Iraq. I’m glad to see some good ole’ fashioned American gumption and sticktoitiveness. Think of the great loss to history if Napoleon had turned back from Moscow, or the Donner Party had stopped at a Holiday Inn.

So stick with it Mark, I’m sure you will be vindicated in the end — if not on Earth, then on whatever planet you currently inhabit. ~Clark Stooksbury

I think I understand why Bush is so averse to withdrawing from Iraq.  It would require him to think, one might even say “obsess,” about Iraq far too much–like all those losers in fakeworld–and then he would cease to be a “real” person.  He might even lose his mojo again, which no one wants.

But here is the intriguing question in our age of kakistocracy: what if Laura and Barney also decided that Bush was wrong on Iraq, that it was time to leave?  What if Barney (who is, correct me if I am mistaken, his dog) decided to cut-and-run, or at least play fetch with strategic redeployment?  Apparently Iraq policy hinges on the opinions of Laura Bush and the presidential dog, so we need to change their minds pronto!  As I see on the dog’s website (yes, friends, the President’s dog has a website–we are indeed doomed), he has a ”birthday” on Saturday, so maybe we can get him something nice and, in return, he will convince Bush that he is mistaken in his Iraq policy.  It’s worth a shot.  We certainly don’t seem to be getting anywhere with the humans.   

President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

“No, none of that,” Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. “You’re the only ones who obsess on that. We don’t and the real people out in the real world don’t for the most part.”

Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

“It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people,” he said. “Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli’s and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.” ~CNN

Via Doug Bandow

Isn’t it encouraging to know that the administration and the Senate Republicans don’t “obsess” about something as minor as the Iraq war?  I mean, they have more important things to do than worry about the old “central front” in the “ideological struggle of the 21st century,” as do all of the “real people out in the real world.”  Pay attention, kids–it’s an election year!  Can’t be wasting time on war-this and war-that.  People who want to talk about Iraq just want to divide this country, and we can’t have that.  After all, there’s a war on!  

Presumably this means that the Iraqis themselves are either not “real people out in the real world” or that they, too, are fairly easygoing about the course of the war these days.  Which is it, Senator?  The rest of what must be the fake world is dying to know!

The rest of Lott’s comment is almost unbelievable.  I mean, I have a hard time believing someone actually said something this ridiculous.  It is right up there with Rodney King’s “Why can’t we all just get along?” in its vapidity. 

What’s wrong with these people?  Well, how much time do you have?  In a sense, there is nothing wrong with them that isn’t also wrong with everyone on this planet.  What is wrong with them is that they are human and are powerfully attached to a religion that glorifies violence as a means of fulfilling religious duty.  (This would be the moment for my necessary paleo remark that culture and religion are very significant and determinative of the kind of political life a people will have.)  Why do people kill in the name of religion?  Because, well, they believe it is part of being religious and as a way of defending their religion and, yes, glorifying their god, which may not seem like much of an answer to some, but if you ask a patriot why he kills on behalf of his country or why a nationalist kills on behalf of the Nation he would give much the same answer.  Take patriotic zeal, then magnify the importance of the thing being defended by a hundred, and you begin to understand why they do what they do.  Why do liberal interventionists will the deaths of supposed violators of human rights?  Because they think they are protecting something precious–religious war, when understood in the same way, seeks to protect one of the most precious things of all.  We used to understand this, when we considered the Faith to be something precious and worthy of complete devotion. 

If a man believes his religion has been insulted or his coreligionists injured by others, even though his religion preaches peace and forgiveness, the passion to vindicate the honour of the religion through acts of revenge is deep-seated and powerful.  Christians are called to forgive and pray for their enemies, which is often extremely difficult, because the same passion to defend the honour of the Cross exists in us.  Of course, God reserves vengeance, as He reserves judgement, for Himself–it is not our place.  But as with so many things we seek to claim for ourselves roles that are not ours. 

It is a basic human passion, one that can be restrained or unleashed by the religion in question, but one that every normal human being–some might call them “real people”–ought to be able to understand.  Understanding is not approval, but it should hardly be so difficult or so foreign to us.  The role of honour and vendetta in dictating behaviour, so completely familiar and understandable to Western men until not that long ago, is central to understanding all of these conflicts.

As for Lott’s last asinine question and statement, I am moved at once to laughter and despair that men such as this are responsible for making policy and passing laws in our government.  It takes someone with a truly superficial mind and superficial acquaintance with the problems of the region to focus (one might even say “obsess”) on the similar appearance of Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs, as if that, rather than their names, where they live, where they go to worship and who their relatives are, was going to be the way that people from different sects distinguish themselves from each other.  I wonder whether this is some particularly American hang-up that makes it so that Americans cannot grasp group differences if they are not marked clearly and plainly by a colour line.  Thus the Balkan wars in the ’90s must have seemed equally baffling to Mr. Lott–Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, who can tell the difference?  Of course, to those who know how to look and know what to look for, the differences can become apparent readily enough, but even when they are not apparent they remain powerful differences.   

In an article for the Nation I have only glanced at, Blumenthal apparently couples us with Wes Pruden and Fran Coombs of the Washington Times, both rather moderate conservatives and good Republicans. Pruden, remember, is the “ultra-right-winger” who fired Sam Francis (in fairness to Pruden, I’m not sure he had much choice), while Fran is the husband of Marian Coombs, who has, gasp, written for Chronicles on a number of occasions. Pruden and Coombs, whose career prospects might be damaged if their names are associated with us, should sue the Nation for libel. The Nation, by the way, used to be better than this, though I do remember how difficult it was to talk seriously about anything with Victor Navasky, when we did a radio show together. To twist his tail a little, I pointed out the convergence of our opinions on several key subjects. In horror, he squeaked, we had nothing in common. What is he afraid of, that someone might take him for a normal American? ~Thomas Fleming

Is it at all ironic that free enterprise is mostly defended only by people who have never had a real job in the for-profit sector? ~Thomas Fleming

The following Republican members of the House of Representatives voted against the Torture-”Terrorist” Tribunal bill (HR 6166) today.

Ron Paul, Roscoe Bartlett, Wayne Gilchrest, Walter Jones, Steven LaTourette, James Leach, Jerry Moran. ~James Bovard, Antiwar Blog

Good for these men.  Leach and Paul have distinguished themselves as being opponents of this bill and the war, and Jones later came around to seeing the war as a mistake, but I was genuinely surprised to not find Hostettler’s and Duncan’s names on this list of dissenters.  Now someone please remind me which party is the defender of “traditional American values.”  Somehow I keep getting distracted by all of these endorsements of torture and extralegal tribunals.

Here is a key element of the Militiary Commissions Act of 2006:

No alien unlawful enemy combatant subject to trial by military commission under this chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights. 

In other words, the government denies these prisoners the protections of international conventions our government has ratified because it pleases them to do so.

Update: This is a description of some of the main provisions of the bill from The Chicago Tribune:

But other human-rights lawyers are less sanguine. “This bill doesn’t say what techniques are prohibited,” said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director of Amnesty International. “That is the problem with a system that has no check and an administration with a long and colorful record of broad interpretations of the law.”

The measure would define under the War Crimes Act “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, such as torture, cruel or inhuman treatment and the intentional infliction of “serious bodily injury.”

It also gives the president authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions by an executive order made public and subject to congressional review. The order will not list specific techniques, and no one knows for sure what exactly the order will say.

The bill shields U.S. officials from prosecution under the War Crimes Act retroactively to 1997, when the original law was passed criminalizing violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

In short, another capitulation to executive usurpation and abuse–for the sake of freedom, no doubt.

In this crucial dimension of the War on Terror, what counts, as in Indonesia, Egypt, and Argentina, is American diplomacy. America’s diplomats should reach out — however discreetly — to Cuba and other countries where significant elements of the government see no future on the Chávez bandwagon. The lodestone should be flexibility. A lot is riding on the deftness, imagination, and resourcefulness of President Bush. ~Mario Loyola

Happily, the stakes are not as high as Loyola makes them seem, so there is rather less riding on the “deftness, imagination and resourcefulness of President Bush.”  Thank God.

But Chávez represents something new in postwar history. Chávez seeks to divide the world into two camps, two poles in opposition: north v. south, colored v. white, collectivist v. democratic, “humanist” v. “capitalist imperialist.” Turning the United Nations into its power center, the Non-Aligned Movement, rising as a new hostile superpower in a new cold war, will find itself increasingly drawn to the intoxicating poison of violent Muslim extremism. And the United Nations is now its home base. ~Mario Loyola

Chavez is, of course, a blowhard and a despot.  He is also a democratically elected blowhard and despot, which makes him a curious leader for the world’s anti-democratic forces.  Collectivism and democracy are typically not opposed to one another, but the former often follows from the latter and takes its destructively populist logic from the democratic principles of equality and popular sovereignty. 

The United Nations is notoriously powerless, and is also still under the heel of the five permanent Council members.  Normally the main complain from the right these days is that the U.N. is useless and impotent, not that it is the launching pad for world domination.  To make this organisation into your power base is about as threatening to the real powers of the world as a boy’s tree fort is threatening to the military base down the street.  By all means, dismantle the U.N.–I would be among the first to cheer on hearing of its dissolution–but spare us the stories of the power-hungry (which Loyola keeps repeating again and again because, of course, our politicians never do anything for the sake of power) developing world intent on challenging us. 

For the NAM to be anything like a superpower, the constituent members of the NAM would have to be able to wield the kind of financial, military and political power of a superpower, and they simply haven’t got it.  Some of their members have some oil, I grant you, and they can make some mischief in that area, but otherwise they represent a potentially annoying but minimal challenge to America and Europe. 

Of all the chimerical enemies dreamed up by the threatmongers, the terror that is the Non-Aligned Movement is as insubstantial as it gets.

If one of the chief problems with Wal-Mart is its tremendous concentration of wealth and power and its practise of wielding its enormous power over its suppliers to their and our disadvantage as a “monopsony,” it seems fairly clear to me that its ability to put large pharmaceutical companies over a barrel and dictate damaging price reductions that “benefit consumers” should worry a great many people.  It should at least bother the people who find Wal-Mart’s practises towards its suppliers troubling.  If all we’re concerned about is the end result (oh, look, cheap drugs!), Wal-Mart is again saviour of the poor and the great benevolent hegemon.  As long as people don’t mind taking their bread (or medicine) from an overlord, because he is a benevolent overlord, who can be bothered to complain?  As usual, I will, and for just these reasons.

L’habitude d’aimer l’argent corrompt egalisment les moeurs et la politique de l’Angleterre; la corruption des suffrages dans le Parlement y est devenu un moyen aise d’introduire le Despotisme. ~Marquis D’Argenson, Considerations sur le gouvernement Ancient et Present de la France

Steve Sailer quotes one of several readers writing in on the dating scene today:

My experience in the undergraduate dating scene, such as it is, has been that Feynman’s admonition against paying compliments to women is somewhat outmoded. He was writing at a time when chivalrous traditions in America were still relatively strong, everyone thought that the way to woo and wed was trhough [sic] whispering sweet nothings. Not to be melodramatic but today chivalry is dead or at least in a persistent vegetative state. What this means for the women in my social circle is that they almost never receive compliments from men. I noticed this and have found that when I do issue a compliment they are remarkably greatful [sic]. Obviously compliments alone don’t do it, you have to show enough ‘machismo’ to be in the game, but their rarity has allowed compliments to regain a certain amount of value today.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but this seems to me to be almost completely and in all ways untrue.  Not only are compliments rare, but when they are offered they are a sure sign of a man who has no idea what he is doing.  Men who persist in this habit are almost assuredly living in a time warp or are, like myself, dedicated reactionaries. 

I do not presume to know much of anything about this part of life, but I can tell you that chivalry is (unfortunately) only too dead and complimenting ladies has gone the way of wearing powdered wigs and waistcoats–as has the distinction of referring to some women as ladies–because the compliments, while technically appreciated, are worse than useless.  They are in most cases counterproductive or as good as putting up a giant, blinking sign that says, “Hey, I’m desperate and a walking, talking anachronism!”  This is a loss for the ladies, and for women in general, and a loss for civilisation, but there it is.

Kevin Jones has tracked down an online copy of The Traveller by Oliver Goldsmith, part of which I quoted from Kramnick’s book on Bolingbroke here.  The entire poem is worth reading, but these two parts most caught my attention:

Thine, Freedom, thine the blessings pictured here,

Thine are those charms that dazzle and endear:

Too blest indeed were such without alloy;

But fostered even by freedom, ills annoy.

That independence Britons prize too high,

Keeps man from man, and breaks the social tie;

The self-dependent lordlings stand alone,

All claims that bind and sweeten life unknown.

Here, by the bonds of nature feebly held,

Minds combat minds repelling and repellled;

Ferments arise, imprisoned factions roar,

Represt ambition struggles round her shore;

Till, over-wrought, the general system feels

Its motions stop, or frenzy fire the wheels.

———————————

O then how blind to all the truth requires,

Who think it freedom when a part aspires !

Calm is my soul nor apt to rise in arms,

Except when fast approaching danger warns:

But when contending chiefs blockade the throne,

Contracting regal power to stretch their own;

When I behold a factious band agree

To call it freedom when themselves are free;

Each wanton judge new penal statutes draw,

Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law;

The wealth of climes, where savage nations roam,

Pillaged from slave to purchase slaves at home;

Fear, pity, justice, indignation start,

Tear off reserve, and bare my swelling heart;

Till, half a patriot, half a coward grown,

I fly from petty tyrants to the throne. 

I can understand why Republicans would be annoyed at the piling-on on George Allen, but how exactly is it “anti-Semitic” to read something into it when Allen seemed angry and embarrassed at the suggestion that he had Jewish ancestry?  I know turnabout is fair play, and conservatives frequently enjoy that moment of “Gotcha!” when they think they can pin the old accusations of racism and anti-Semitism, deployed for so long against the right as recklessly as you please, on the other side, but it is my estimation that this “scandal” of the netroots is probably overblown and exaggerated by the very same kind of hypersensitivity that has motivated the obsession with George Allen’s prejudices.  More to the point, the example of the Cardin staffer sent over by MoveOn seems to be something of an isolated incident.  It is hardly the makings of a general trend. 

The doctrine of jihad—violence in the path of Allah with the objective of converting, killing, or else subjugating and taxing the “infidel”—was Muhammad’s most significant original contribution to world history and to the history of ideas, as I have argued elsewhere at some length. It defined Islam in its earliest days, it has defined the relations between “the world of faith” and “the world of war” ever since, and—as we’ve seen from the reactions to Pope Benedict’s lecture—it continues to define the mindset of Islam to this day. ~Srdja Trifkovic

This is also the only segment of Pope Benedict’s lecture with which a reasonable person will take issue. He seems to suggest that Muslims can be “our partners in the dialogue of cultures” on the basis of God-as-Logos, and if that is so, he is wrong.

For all of the reasons quoted above, Islam is not amenable to dialogue. Among non-Muslims it seeks converts or subjects, not partners. After two decades of “dialogue,” many Christians have made many concessions and uttered many apologies for their side’s supposed past misdeeds, without getting anything in return. They merely encouraged the other side in the belief that there is no need for any “dialogue” since the apparent lack of rock-solid faith and conviction on the Christian camp makes their ultimate embrace of Allah and his prophet a logical outcome. Their expectations were kindled in 2001 when Benedict’s predecessor kissed the Kuran inside a mosque in Damascus—built from a desecrated Christian cathedral—and exclaimed, “May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship.” Such gestures encourage the hope that clear re-stating of Islamic dogma will prompt infidels to see the light.  ~Srdja Trifkovic

Islam has a moral philosophy and a legal code that explicitly denies the possibility of judgment based on natural morality or on the allegiance to any other source of authority but itself. It mandates submission to the letter of revealed law (Kuran) or to the precedent of the Prophet (Hadith). Analogies thus derived stand above reason, conscience, or nature. A Muslim knows that a thing is right simply because Allah says so, or because his prophet has thus said or done. There is no “spirit of the law” and no rationality behind the revealed law for human reason to discover. There is no critical discernment and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked. Islam’s denigration of the individual conscience befits the demand for an obedient servant’s prostration before a capricious master whose commands have no rational basis. The political consequences are crucial for societies that derive their concept of authority from this image. Any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in that complete submission is forbidden and sinful.

It should be added that the Mutazila Islamic sect Mu’tazili in eighth-to-tenth century Baghdad tried to use the categories and methods of Hellenistic philosophy to assert free will and responsibility for one’s actions, and claimed—as per Professor Varisco—that Allah would be unjust if he predestined all human actions; but they were denounced as heretics. In orthodox Islam, any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in the complete submission to the will of Allah is not an ideal, but a perilous trap. Only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, while we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter. Even prayer is a payment of debt, not communication, offered in the hope of placating a capricious and unpredictable Master. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Even more surprising is the Journal’s suggestion that parties are a healthy phenomenon.  In an age characterized by violent opposition to faction and party Walpole’s writers stand out as exceptions in their favorable reaction….No wonder, then, that Burke looked back on Walpole as a practitioner of party government with such pleasure.  Burke, the zealous missionary of party, had only praise for Walpole.

Sir Robert was an honorable man a sound Whig.  He was not as the Jacobites and discontented Whigs of his time represented him, and as ill-informed people still represent him, a prodigal and corrupt minister.  They charged him in their libels and seditious conversations as having first reduced corruption into a system.  Such was their cant.  But he was far from governing by corruption.  He governed by party attachments.  The charge of systematic corruption is less applicable to him, perhaps than to any minister who ever served the Crown for so great a length of time. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

In his assessment of Walpole and his enthusiasm for faction, Burke did not do himself any credit, since Walpole was assuredly the master of what the Opposition called corruption–the buying of placemen and loyal MPs with Treasury money, the purchase of hack writers to shill for Government policy, etc.–and to govern by party attachment did appear to Bolingbroke and ought to appear to American conservatives as something deeply pernicious for a republican system or indeed for any mixed constitution.  It does not speak well for the “spirit of party” that Walpole and his associates were the ones who enthusiastically endorsed party government and fashioned the myth of a virtually permanent two-party politics.     

While the latest chatter is that the Dems may win back the Senate and not take over in the House and the new election analogy is 1986 (would that mean the equivalent of Iran-Contra is just over the horizon for Dobleve?), I remain unpersuaded of this latest view (of course, it was only a month ago that the Dems winning the Senate was a crazy dream entertained only by Kossacks and fools–pardon the redundancy).  Anyway, I made my reckless predictions, and I’m sticking to them: Dems win both houses, albeit by narrow margins. 

However, it occurs to me that narrow Democratic victories on both sides of the Capitol could be the worst of all worlds in a way that I hadn’t considered until just recently.  Narrow margins of victory–one or two seat majorities in both houses–will be written off as generic second-term discontent and explained away by the professional hacks, er, commentators as they point out the local reasons for specific Republican losses (in Virginia, they will have plenty of alibis that have nothing to do with national trends; in Pennsylvania, they will spin defeat as having nothing to do with Iraq, which will be only partially true; in Indiana they will write it off as weird anti-Daniels sentiment, which is also partly true, etc.).  That means that instead of a chastening defeat, a true humiliation that would shake the party and the “movement” to the core and force them to stare long and hard at themselves in the proverbial mirror, they will instead feel that they have suffered a mild rebuke, from which they will learn nothing.  They will convince themselves that their minor defeats can be explained by referring to local political conditions in Ohio or Connecticut and that these failures do not represent broader trends.  They will be reconfirmed in their convictions that the national direction of the GOP and the “movement” is the right one.  Neocons, never ones to let reality get in the way of a good story, will tell the tale of their vindication and will redouble their efforts to push their policies in spite of having been discredited on Iraq.  If the Republicans do not even lose both houses, the GOP leadership won’t even think twice about anything it has done. 

In a strange way, I could almost come around to thinking that Jacob Weisberg might be right–maybe the Democrats winning in November would be an undesirable outcome, not so much because it would be bad for that party (which is his main concern), which doesn’t matter to me, but because it would possibly be such a weak repudiation of GOP rule that it does not send a message and nonetheless leaves us with a rather ridiculous cast of characters in charge of at least one house of Congress.  Should the Dems win with reliable pro-war members such as Melissa Bean back in the House, the disastrous policies of the last four years will probably retain effective majority support in that chamber.  Nonetheless, I remain convinced that accountability is imperative and even if they learn nothing the GOP must suffer some consequences for what it has done to this country.

But it is indeed possible that there will be neither humiliation nor reform, in spite of what some conservative worthies hope will happen, but simply a minor hiccup on the way to the imagined “permanent majority” that annoying partisans will compare to 1942, noting that Republican victories that year were an exception to the general trend of Democratic dominance for the next fifty years.  (Let us pause for a moment and consider the possibility that this might be the case–can you imagine a future of fifty years of something like neoconservative Red Republican rule, broken up only by the odd Democratic President?  That there are GOP equivalents of Korea and Vietnam yet to follow in the decades ahead?  It’s all too horrifying to contemplate.) 

Like most people who opposed the Iraq war, the Pithlord is constantly accosted by chastened righties I argued with back in 2003 who cry, “You were right! The Iraq war was a terrible idea! How do I correct my worldview so I don’t make mistakes like that again?”

We at Pith and Substance are always anxious to help. And since everyone who can be convinced has now been, I am willing to let my rightie bretheren in on a secret: I didn’t really know anything about Iraq either! I talked to a few emigrés — I read Makiya. But I don’t know Arabic. I had never been to Iraq. My grasp of Shi’ite theology is superficial. For reasons that escape me now, I did read the Ba’athist constitution once, but sub-Leninist blather is not very informative.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone among those skeptical of the war. Indeed, a few of my comrades in the anti-war movement were astonishingly ignorant even by my standards.

So how did we get it right? We couldn’t read the folkways of Iraq, but we knew that, whatver they were, they were the folkways of Iraq, of an alien culture in a civilization with good reasons to dislike and distrust us. In the unlikely event democracy held there, it would necessarily be in conflict with external occupiers. ~Pithlord

Of course, it didn’t hurt that most of the people who did know the Near East, Islam and Iraq in particular well were fairly skeptical of the entire project, too.  It was also not promising that the average person who had read a little about Iraq still probably knew more than George “I Thought The Iraqis Were Muslims!” Bush himself.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic mother of five from San Francisco, has fewer children in her district than any other member of Congress: 87,727. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a Mormon father of eight, represents the most children: 278,398.These two extremes reflect a stark demographic divide between the congressional districts controlled by the major political parties.Republican House members overwhelmingly come from districts that have high percentages of married people and lots of children, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2005 Census Bureau data released last month.GOP Congress members represent 39.2 million children younger than 18, about 7 million more than Democrats. Republicans average 7,000 more children per district. ~USA Today  

It’s interesting that information about this divide in American politics is finally filtering out more and more into the press, but it should be noted that Steve Sailer has been on the case of both the “baby” and marriage gaps for quite some time.  It is easy to say this in retrospect, now that these “gaps” are receiving more and more attention, but how was it that these social trends and their political impact evaded notice for so long?  Shouldn’t it be obvious that, on average, those with more children and relatively stable marriages are more likely to favour policies and rhetoric tailored to these sorts of families, and those with fewer or no children and those who are not married or who have had far less stable marriages will prefer an entirely different set of policies and rhetoric?  Presumably, talk about defending marriage would tend to fall on deaf ears in many of these Democratic districts because there are, on average, fewer married people who would find threats to the institution of marriage at all worrisome.  This clearly puts left-liberals in a real bind demographically, as they are typically committed to positions that are at least supposedly more friendly to the unmarried and childless, which means their existing base is unlikely to reproduce itself in sufficient numbers to remain competitive with the other side.  This makes mass immigration ever more attractive to most liberals, who were already in favour of it, but which in turn makes them even less attractive politically to the burgeoning numbers of married people in the heartland with larger families.  I suspect those who have a lot of children will likely be more averse to mass immigration, because they have already made an investment in the future of the country and will viscerally want to make it more likely that part of the country’s resources and territory go to their descendants rather than someone else’s.  Besides the obvious benefit of votes for their chosen party, it makes sense that liberals would be more indifferent to new peoples coming into the country, especially when these are predominantly their parts of the country in California, since at some level they know they do not expect their children and grandchildren to be there in great numbers, if they will be there at all.  This troubles them less than it might otherwise because there is at least the hope that the immigrants will fuel the future of progressive politics into which these people have invested so much of their hope and energy.  They expect their values to be reproduced in the new immigrant populations, which makes actual reproduction less important to them politically.  Maybe that isn’t right, but it sounds plausible to me. 

On a tangentially related note, I think this gap, and the related insight that those who are married with larger families tend to become more conservative in their ”values” and voting habits, also helps explain why academia has been going leftwards for quite some time.  Professional academics have to invest a great deal of time, money and energy into becoming professional academics–all of which might have gone into having and raising children otherwise.  We waste, er, spend between six and ten years after college graduation just getting our degrees and several more getting established in something resembling stable employment.  Academic lives are initially very rootless–for the ambitious, there is the constant traveling to conferences, giving talks, doing research for this or that fellowship and the frequent moves to different schools before you are on the tenure track–and while grad students may get married often enough (though I would have to guess that cohabitation or long-term relationships between singles represent a much larger proportion of grad students than is true of the general population our age) they will inevitably have fewer children early on and ultimately end up having fewer all together because of 1) relative lack of financial resources, 2) the perception of insufficient time for raising children and 3) the initial insecurity of academic appointments.  Add to these things that many schools, including some of the most prestigious, are in cities and states with a higher average cost of living, and you have an acute case of the costs of forming a family being too high for the academic and his spouse.  Add to this the fact that people who opt for grad school tend to come overwhelmingly from households with more liberal politics (since, for various reasons, some of them quite good, conservative households tend to inculcate a desire to do practical and, well, productive work that does not lend itself to going off to graduate school to study early modern Italy), you have a recipe for a permanently left-leaning academy because academic life imposes the kinds of pressures on family life and creates the kind of people who would end up being more attracted to liberal politics even if they came into grad school with other “values.”  There will, of course, be exceptions and qualifications to this (and there are oddballs such as myself who try to resist being pulled in these directions).  I suspect it would make a huge difference whether the grad students are very religious or not.  But the bottom line is that unless you come into grad school with strongly-rooted conservative attitudes, you will inevitably be pulled leftwards–not so much by the intellectual biases of academia as such, though these don’t help–because of the nature of academic life and the social consequences for those who participate in it.  If I am wildly off base here, I welcome stories of the English Lit Ph.D. student with five children.  Perhaps such people exist, but I have never encountered them or heard of them.    

On a related topic, it is curious that 20th Century Fox undermined the release of Idiocracy as much as it did when, as an academic friend of mine recently observed after seeing it, “this is what is happening today,” meaning that the well-educated and intelligent people are not reproducing in sufficient numbers and the thoughtless, less intelligent masses are having children all over the place.  (In fact, it isn’t as if birthrates are exactly exploding anywhere in this country, but the gap is certainly real and noticeable.)  In any case, this is the perception of one academic after seeing the movie.  She looked on this prospect with horror.  The hyper-educated and, typically, the fairly liberal (the two tend to go together for the reasons given above) see themselves only too well in the yuppie couple in the opening of the film who never find time to have children, who do not reproduce themselves and do not pass on their genes and leave the world to be inherited by the less intelligent.  The elitist impulse in highly educated (or perhaps I should be careful here and say highly schooled) liberals runs up against their egalitarian fantasies, and what they fear in private can, of course, never really be talked about in public debates.  These sorts of anxieties would have to be translated into comedy, like Monty Python’s old sketch from The Meaning of Life about the teeming hordes of Yorkshire Catholics and the apparently childless, dry-as-dust Protestant who assures his wife, whom he hasn’t gone near in a year, that he could have sex anytime he wants without worrying about having children because of the wonders of contraception.     Serving the liberal pieties that intelligence and heredity have nothing to do with each other, the studio sabotaged and failed to promote Idiocracy, even though the very liberals whose pieties would theoretically have been offended by the entire subject would have secretly been nodding their heads and looking askance at the teeming hordes of “breeders” (to use the charming term preferred by some homosexual and population control activists) who, in addition to being obnoxiously likely to have more children, are also in the estimation of these same liberals the dim-witted, dangerously religious, backwards, Bush-voting masses in flyover country whom they suffer with barely constrained rage.

Tagged by James Poulos 

1. One book that changed your life? 

Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment 

2. One book that you have read more than once? 

Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment

3. One book you would want on a desert island? 

Xenophon, Cyropaedia

4. One book that made you cry? 

Lauro Martines, Fire in the City

5. One book that made you laugh? 

Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ

6. One book you wish had been written? 

How The Byzantines Created Western Civilisation by Sir Steven Runciman  

7. One book you wish had never been written? 

Karen Armstrong, A History of God

8. One book you are reading currently?

Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle (obviously)  

9. One book you have been meaning to read?   

Doderer, Demons

10. Pass it on  

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Dan McCarthy and Chris Roach

“I support Ferdinand and Isabella,” he proclaimed, in reference to the medieval Catholic monarchs who drove the Moors out of Spain in 1492. ~Gulfnews.com

That’s excellent.  So it is a pity that Aznar is also the fool who committed his country to Iraq and initially attempted to pin the Madrid bombings on ETA rather than acknowledge the far greater likelihood that it was jihadi terrorism directed against Spain.  Ferdinand and Isabella and their heirs typically looked after Spanish interests, sometimes even lending their aid (as at Lepanto) in great struggles against the Turk, but they usually did not launch campaigns with no discernible connection with the interests of their kingdom.  So how did Aznar come to the odd conclusion that invading Iraq would accomplish much of anything when the borders of his own country are constantly under pressure from immigrants from the Maghreb and points south?

Perlmutter enjoys a 40 percent advantage among self-described moderates, who represented almost half of the poll respondents.

The poll was being conducted just as an outside Democratic “527″ committee launched an attack ad saying that while O’Donnell once wanted to abolish Social Security, he now wants to privatize it.

O’Donnell got on the air almost immediately with an ad apologizing for writing an essay in 1995 as a 24-year-old communications director for Newt Gingrich’s Progress & Freedom Foundation titled “For Freedom’s Sake, Eliminate Social Security.”

In the ad, O’Donnell went on to say he would never abolish or privatize Social Security. And he countered that Perlmutter wanted to raise taxes and decrease Social Security benefits - a claim Perlmutter firmly denies. ~Rocky Mountain News

At first glance, it seemed implausible that a closely contested, formerly GOP seat would suddenly open up to a 17-point Democratic lead, but then you see that O’Donnell, the Republican, is basically holding on to registered Republican voters in his district (they make up 38%, he is getting 37% support) and has lost almost all of the independents.  If O’Donnell once wrote a paper calling for the abolition of Social Security, good on him.  However, he ran away from his old position so fast that it is clear that he knew the revelation would kill him with these “moderates” and “independents,” and apparently so it has.

Most “independents” are not, alas, wild-eyed folks on the green left and black right (people who take their politics so seriously they will not water them down for the sake of irrelevant things such as winning elections), but are instead the squishy, largely non-political folks who inhabit the center and say silly things like, “Why can’t we have more bipartisanship?” or “I like Colin Powell.”  When you want to find real “moderates,” don’t go looking for Joementum or John “What Torture? I Don’t See Any Torture Here!” McCain, who are the heroes of the establishment’s definition of moderation (where “moderation” equals unflinching support for all major establishment projects).  Instead take a look at people who will be scared out of their minds–not necessarily for any particular reason–at the prospect of someone privatising (gasp!) Social Security.  They are not frightened of this because they know anything about what privatisation of Social Security would entail, since they almost certainly do not know anything; “partial privatisation” would also mean nothing to them.  They are frightened of this because it is a strange, dramatic change in the way the government works and people in the “center” are far more of the stick-in-the-mud kind of temperamental conservatives than most people who self-apply the label of conservative.  These people do not oppose change for philosophical reasons, but simply because they have no idea what the change might do.  This makes them nervous, and they don’t like being nervous. 

For the “moderates,” whether something is broken in government or not no one should touch or change anything too dramatically or suddenly.  They love to hear the words “reform” and ”consensus” and they really love rhetoric that hits the empowerment theme–Bubba was a master in manipulating these people with this kind of talk–but when it comes time to do the actual reforming, they don’t want anyone to be too hasty.  In fact, they would prefer that no one do much of anything very drastic at all, but they will always be the first to complain that the government “hasn’t done anything” about this or that.    

Because these people often hold the balance of power in contested districts, the fate of elections often turns on whether poorly informed, easily scared ”moderates” will be stampeded into one party’s corral or into the other’s.  To do this, all it takes is to suggest that your opponent is some crazy radical who wants to start abolishing things, and if he wanted to abolish Social Security, he must want to make you insecure, and there is nothing that “moderates” value more than having their sense of security reinforced. 

This is why terrorism worked well as an issue for the Red Republicans for four years and why the so-called “security moms” rallied to their side, and it is also why the “moderates” will start rushing in the opposite direction when GOP candidates and the GOP majority no longer fill them with confidence and make them think that they are becoming less secure.  Whether income inequality, Iraq, immigration or specific attacks on policy questions like this one foster that feeling of insecurity, the Republicans now stand to lose on the basis of the same largely irrational response of “moderates” that brought them victory in the past two elections. 

 

As angry as we may get at the blasphemies of artists, we absolutely must object to this capitulation on the part of the Germans in the face of Islamofascism (yeah, I used the word: what is fascism as a tactic — as distinct from a political philosophy — if not using the threat of violence to suppress speech you don’t like?). ~Rod Dreher

Now I agree with Rod that giving in to intimidation from outraged Muslims, even over something as obnoxious as Neuenfels’ anti-religious artistic license, is unacceptable.  It is another attempt to dictate what non-Muslims can say about anything pertaining to Islam, but unfortunately this time it has been successful, as the offending performance has been cancelled on account of the threats it provoked.  So on the substance of the matter, Rod and I agree. 

But then there’s that old “Islamofascism” again.  Here I can at least see why someone might choose to call the use of intimidation and threats of violence fascist tactics, but there is nothing particularly fascist about these kinds of tactics.  These are the tactics of most practitioners of “direct action” in the 20th century West (e.g., syndicalists, the New Left), the tactics of the “propaganda of the deed” of 19th and 20th century anarchists and the tactics of fanatics the world over–it is the threat and use of violence to achieve a political objective, in this case the suppression of someone else’s speech, which is, when directed against civilians (as this assuredly was), the very definition of terrorism. 

Fascists used terror, but there is nothing especially fascistic, rather than Jacobin, communist, democratic or anarchist, about terror.  Evidently fascism seems to be the word many people really want to use when talking about these people.  I don’t know whether this is a result of neverending conditioning that fascism was the Worst Thing Ever to which all bad things must hereafter be compared (in this, fascism plays a secular role similar to that of Arianism in medieval heresiology as a kind of archetypal evil, an Urboese I suppose you might call it in German, to which all later evil doctrines must be compared of necessity as each new enemy is simply a recapitulation of the errors of that doctrine) or if we simply lack the vocabulary to describe succinctly the contempt we feel for this particular foe.  But it seems clear that those who want to use fascism to refer to jihadis and Muslim intimidation more generally very much want to convey the magnitude of their hostility by using one of the most , albeit constantly overused, demon-words we have at our disposal.  I understand that desire, but fascism became the universally hated thing that it is both through what fascists did and through the effective thoroughgoing demonisation of anything associated with it by the fascists’ enemies.  In the same way, jihadis and jihadism, and perhaps Islam itself, could acquire the same reputation and their name will become a curse to those who speak it because of what they have done, but this will never happen if we continually fall back on our references to fascism and implausibly identify the jihadis as the Islamic branch of that ideology or as people inclined to use “fascist tactics.” 

The longer we keep talking about and thinking of these people as fascists, we give them something of a free pass by not using the names proper to them and instead rely on old names from another time.  Had their enemies treated fascists in this way, applying old terms to them rather than demonising their own name, there would likely have been a great deal of propaganda about the fascists as some new form of absolutism and absurd neologisms would have had to be created to talk about the threat of the Germanoabsolutists. 

If there were a need, as in the old heresiology, to use these labels as a way of understanding something new and foreign–interpreting Bogomils as new Messalians or Manichees, for instance–it would be one thing, but jihadis and Islam are hardly a new arrival on the scene and have their own names appropriate to them.  They employ terrorist tactics, which is not something relatively new for jihadis, and are quite outrageous enough in their own right without needing to be compared to any other villains from our history. 

Bolingbroke has no attachment to the social outlook that underlies liberal ideology.  Natural society was a political society, he suggests, and had no unbridled freedom to be lost in some later establishment of government.  Men, dispersed in families, formed numerous distinct political societies under paternal government.  Fathers were the chief magistrates and kept peace and order in their relatively small and homogeneous society by their natural authority….Inherent in natural society is “authority, subordination, order and union necessary to well-being.”  The liberal notion that consent is the only legitimate basis for political obligation is rejected completely. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Bolingbroke saw the ideal political world as a “genuine” polity, a commonwealth where politics was part of a functional order carried on by the natural leaders of society.  In such an order government sprang from the patriarchal roots of the landed family, and public service was as much the duty and responsibility of heads of families and localities as was their care and control of the core family.  In the “genuine” polity, “the image of a free people” writes Bolingbroke, “is that of a patriarchal family, where the head and all the members are united by one common interest.”  Government was not yet an artificial function whereby men came together and rationally conceived laws.  A “genuine” order needed few laws, because the dealings of men were prescribed by time-honored codes of duty and honor.  In such a system, a much less clear-cut distinction between public and private relations existed because men in society were held together by the natural bonds of family, geography, and interest rather than by an artificial act which has brought together isolated individuals.  The order and links in God’s social structure had existed long before man, and thus, in Bolingbroke’s “genuine” polity, man’s entrance into society placed him among natural affiliations and natural relations to others, whether as governor or as governed, as relative or as neighbor.  The passing of this “genuine” order was described in a poem by one of the later nostalgic Tory poets, Oliver Goldsmith, author of the first full-length biography of Lord Bolingbroke and of The Deserted Village, the classic eighteenth-century literary rejection of the new order.  In The Traveller (1764), Goldsmith described the demise of a “genuine” political system.

As nature’s ties decay
As duty, love, and honour fail to sway,
Fictitious bonds, the bonds of wealth and law,
Still gather strength, and force unwilling awe. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle 

At length corruption, like a general flood
(So long by watchful Ministers, withstood)
Shall deluge all; and Avarice, creeping on,
Spread like a lowborn mist, and blot out the Sun;
Statesman and Patriot ply alike the stocks,
Peer and butler share alike the Box,
And Judges job and Bishops bite the Town,
And mighty Dukes pack cards for half-a-crown
See Britain sunk in lucre’s sordid charms; ~Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, Epistle III (lines 135-143)

Reactionary populist leaders need not be small farmers, threatened artisans, or shopkeepers.  In the united front of a populist reaction to early capitalism it is appropriate–most especially in one of its first manifestations–that the generals were well bred and the troops were yeomen farmers and small traders.  They could make common cause so easily because they both perceived the extent of the threat.  Bolingbroke’s career and writings bear an amazing consistency when they are seen in this light.  From 1701 to 1715 he championed the antiwar, antimoneyed interest in Parliament [bold and italics mine-DL].  His populist tendency may account for the seeming aberration of his Jacobite years, and explain the perpetual attack in all his political writings on the new role of finance in society. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

You have to know that your political and personal reputation is going down in flames when there is an online insult generator with your name on it. 

So I will leave this post as the tombstone for this ugly little blog that brought out the vilest in me and has now left me in deep shame for the rest of my life. Always remember this, kids: you may not really be as witty and edgy as you think you are; the Internet amplifies everything, especially your most ridiculous stupidity, so don’t go writing callous things even during those days that you happen to feel depressed and like shit and you need that feeling of not caring; limits usually exist for a good reason; your imaginary enemies are not the same as the real breathing people; groups are not monolithic so that all their members equal the one you hate the most and who may or may not return the favour; and finally, remember that regardless of their labels, all people are individuals with feelings, fears and hopes that you really, really should always respect. ~Ilkka Kokkarinen, Sixteen Volts

Deep shame for the rest of my life?  Is the man serious?  So maybe he crossed the line and said some rude things on a few occasions–for this he will feel “deep shame” for the rest of his life?  That’s ridiculous.  If he believes he has seriously done wrong, he can give up the blogging (as he has done) and change his ways–but why would he feel “deep shame” for the rest of his life?  I can see it now: Kokkarinen in his dotage some decades hence is sitting out in his backyard staring off into the distance, his face drawn in a look of anguish, his eyes haunted by the thoughts of…his mean blog entries!  Oh, the humanity!  If there is one thing we can all agree on about blog entries, it is that they are fairly trivial.  If he made a mistake with some of them and he feels bad about that, so be it, but it is just about as serious and shameful as shouting at someone in anger on the highway.  You shouldn’t do those things, but if anyone feels “deep shame” for the rest of his days because he has done either of those things he has bigger problems than being mean to people on a blog.  It sounds more like his woman has laid a heavy guilt trip on him for which he will be paying for the rest of his days–and that’s the real shame. 

Also, why would you “always” show everyone respect?  As a general rule, yes, you should show people respect until they give you a reason to do otherwise, but respect is not some automatic, permanent given thing that everyone can expect no matter what.  There are people who have not earned respect or who have lost it, presumably by doing things a fair sight more shameful than writing a zinger on a blog about overweight lesbians.  Good grief.   

Update: Glaivester has a nice, succinct post called Stop Your Sniveling and Groveling, Ilkka.  Amen to that.

If Locke’s political ideas are sometimes caricatured for picturing the state as a joint-stock company, this caricature seems nowhere more appropriate than in the birth of the Bank.  The scheme of Locke’s friend Halifax had made 1,272 individuals actual owners of the state.  Interestingly enough, Locke was among them. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Since the Revolution [of 1688], the distinction between Whig and Tory had disappeared, but in its place the Dissertation [upon Parties] cites the rise of new divisions.  There were those who were angry with the government but who wished to keep the constitution–Bolingbroke’s position.  There were those who were averse to both the constitution and the government–a small number of Jacobites and republicans.  Finally, there were those attached to the government who were, in fact, enemies of the constitution–Walpole and his group.  The second group was unimportant.  The first and third Bolingbroke labels country and court, or constitutionalists and anti-constitutionalists.  In rhetoric anticipatory of Burke’s, Bolingbroke described the sacred constitution which he saw Walpole and his anti-constitutionalists bent upon destroying.

That noble fabric, the pride of Britain, the envy of her neighbors raised by the labor of so many centuries, repaired at the expense of so many millions and cemented by such a profusion of blood; that noble Fabric, I say, which was able to resist the united efforts of so many races of giants, may be demolished by a race of pigmies.

Echoes of Swift are heard once again when Bolingbroke describes the anti-constitutionalists as insects of the earth, “and like other insects, though sprung from dirt, and the vilest of animal kind, they can nibble, gnaw, and poison, and if they are suffered to multiply and work on, they can lay the most fruitful country to waste.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

In Bolingbroke’s history, according to Herbert Butterfield the first important “Whig” history, the dynamics were provided by the interplay of two “spirits,” one of liberty and one of faction.  The former embodied the national interest while the latter embodied individual and partisan interest.  Bolingbroke saw the development of English history as a Manichaean struggle between these good and evil forces.  The spirit of liberty was represented in the mixed constitution whose parts were so balanced that no one part depended on the other, while the spirit of faction was embodied in any threat against this ideal constitutional structure. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

I believe it likely that it is from this tradition that Washington drew upon when he warned against the “spirit of party” and also this tradition Madison was drawing on in his denunciations of faction in the Federalist Papers.  Note the importance of the mixed and balanced constitution for Bolingbroke, as for Harrington before him and for the Country tradition and the Founders after him.  Note, too, that those who claim to speak on behalf of “the Founding” seem to have no idea what a “mixed constitution” is, nor are they apparently very familiar with the English political tradition whence it derives.

In a dream d’Anvers, the fictional editor, found himself in a pleasant and fruitful island where a happy and prosperous people lived in freedom.  The countryside abounded with produce and the cities were rich in skilled artisans and honest traders.  The island’s government was stable and free.  “The constitution of her government was so happily mixed and balanced that it was the mutual interest of the Prince and the people to support it.”  Liberty and plenty filled the happy Commonwealth.  But suddenly, a tree shot up, and grew so high that its head was lost in the clouds and its branches darkened the land.

I saw it put forth a vast quantity of beautiful Fruit which glittered like burnished gold, and hung in large clusters on every bough.  I now perceived to be the Tree of Corruption, which bears a very near resemblance to the Tree of Knowledge, in the Garden of Eden, for whoever tasted the fruit of it, lost his integrity and fell, like Adam, from the state of innocence.

The fruits bore inscriptions such as “East India,” “Bank contracts,” “South Sea,” “Differentials,” “Patents,” “Credit,” “Stocks” and other terms characteristic of the new order.  Perched in the middle of the tree was a fat man who plucked down golden apples and tossed them to the crowd below.  The tree and its fruit poisoned everything in sight.  As the blight spread and covered the entire land, the farms would not produce, the artisan went hungry, the merchant laid up his ships, and “a general scene of poverty discovered itself amongst all ranks of the people, and nothing was to be heard through the whole land but piercing lamentations and agonies of despair”–nothing, that is, but the gluttonous laughter of those scampering in and around the tree and eating of its financial fruits. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

In an updated version, the fruits might read “Enron,” “K Street Project,” ”Wal-Mart,” “Offshoring,” “National Debt,” “Creative Destruction,” and so forth.

Eleswhere, The Craftsman pictured Walpole as a giant from whom hung huge bank bills, exchequer notes, lottery tickets, and tallies, but only a small bag of money.  How better to describe the new economy based on vast paper credit and little real money?  Walpole is also “the greatest monster of power and wickedness, that ever infected the face of the earth.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

The Craftsman’s favorite weapon was the most effective in the Augustan arsenal, satire.  An angry Member of Parliament descrived how the paper’s writers “shot their poison in the dark and scattered it under allegories in vile libels.”  Walpole’s system was depicted as a unique form of government, the Robinocracy or Robinarchy.  In a “Persian Letter,” The Craftsman of October 18, 1729, has Usbeck, a traveler to England, writing home of this strange form of government, made up of three orders: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in which all three are dependent upon the Robinarch, or chief ruler, who, although legally a minister and creature of the Prince, is “in reality a sovereign, as despotic, arbitrary a sovereign as this part of the world affords.”  The Robinarch and his associates come from plebian stock and have few estates, yet “he rules by Money, the root of all evils, and founds his iniquitous dominion in the corruption of the people.”  The Robinarch secures to his will the deputies in the assembly as well as the Prince.  In the past this may have been a difficult task, but modern Robinarchs are skillful in encouraging luxury and extravagance, which, together with the disbursement of honors, titles, preferments, and pensions, help make the Robinarch’s task an easier one. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

The object of the war [of Spanish Succession], the containment of Louis XIV and French power, had been secured as far as the Tories were concerned.  But the Dutch, the Emperor, and Marlborough wanted more.  The French must be driven from Spain.  “No peace without Spain” became the Whig cry.  But the patience of the country esquires was exhausted.  Tory opposition to the war became a political outlet for their grievances against what the Tory writers called the “modern Whigs.”  The modern Whig with his war and his new financial order was undermining the country.  Land taxes, national debt, the Bank, the moneyed corporation, stockjobbers, the Dutch-Emperor alliance, redcoats trudging through foreign lands–all were sponsored and defended by the “modern Whig.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

To the minds of Bolingbroke, Swift, and Pope, Walpole perfected a politics of administration and manipulation that contributed generously to the total degradation of public life.  Politics for Bolingbroke’s circle was supposed to be played out in an elaborate theater where the style of the performance was almost more significant than the deeds done.  In order to perform the governmental roles of statecraft properly, one had to be properly bred.  Walpole’s administration had instead, they felt, perfected politics as an acquired skill, one of conciliating interests and manipulating men, mean talents that stripped the glory and the gloss from politics.  The image Bolingbroke preferred shines through the many classical allusions found in his and opposition writings.  With theatrical gravity, noble gentlemen stand before the people and win support by virtue of their eloquence and the compelling aesthetic force of their rhetoric, whereas in his own age Bolingbroke felt that politics consisted of sordid and undramatic management and behind-the-scenes manipulation of interests and ambitions. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

It is Bolingbroke the critic of a corrupt and venal society who has so appealed to the English Tories.  They are not concerned with Bolingbroke the philosopher.  If they care about religion they are apt to dismiss the Enlightenment Bolingbroke as an aberration explained by his sojourn in France.  What really matters and what enshrines Bolingbroke in the Tory Pantheon are his political writings and career, in which he rejects the new age of liberal individualism and the introduction of financial capitalism into English society and politics. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Is it just me, or has the conclusion of the lonelygirl15 episode coincided with a surprising amount of discussion on blogs about the perils and pitfalls of modern relations between the sexes?  It started with Steve Sailer’s first post on the social implications of the success of the lonelygirl15 charade:

I’m reminded once again of how little effort young men and young women in modern America put into connecting with each other mentally. There’s a gigantic number of high IQ lonely guys out there desperate to meet a girl who wants to talk about the things they like to talk about.

Now The Corner is abuzz with Ally McBeal references (see links above) with the Derb commenting:

The following (edited to protect the innocent) is typical of many.

“Derb—-I suspect that when the smart, attractive 34-year-old woman says ‘I can’t find a man’ she means she can’t find a man who is up to her standards. I also suspect those standards are pretty high. Just check out some of the profiles on yahoo.com to see what I’m talking about.

“I started looking through those a few years ago after my wife died and I couldn’t believe the exacting specifications most of these women had for a mate. I was excluded from at least 75 percent of them just by the height requirement. I’m [unimpressive height] and 5′9″ seemed to be the minimum. I soon figured out that finding a woman willing to marry a [fifty-plus]-year-old man with an adopted [preteen]-year-old granddaughter was going to be an exercise in futility if I went the domestic route.

“Which is why I’ve been married to a beautiful [East Asian female] for two years now.  She’s also the best mother any daughter could ask for.  She’s only [really unimpressive height].”

Reading emails like that—I’ve just read a bunch of them—it’s pretty plain that the unattached women of America are wilfully ignoring a huge stock of first-rate potential husbands.  Their loss. 

Which reminds me of Steve Sailer’s observation that Asian women have several advantages in the “marriage market.”

Presumably if you could get all the Ally McBeal impersonators and all the “high IQ lonely guys” together, and then convince them all to stop being so self-involved and ridiculous, the problem would virtually solve itself.  The main problem seems to be getting past the second step in this process.
 

In contemporary America, this presumption toward freedom may no longer be valid, as Mr. Will makes clear. The lower middle classes and nearly everyone else, for that matter, really do love Wal-Mart and are quite happy to sell their American birthright of independence and self-sufficiency for a bowl of processed – but cheap! – soup. This is the challenge facing the new populists of the right: how to advocate and promote the free and sturdy democratic qualities of the common man – qualities that made America great – when the common man has apparently turned his back on those virtues?

The genius of Wal-Mart lies in its ability to make dependence attractive to individuals and communities. The fact that independence is handed over willingly by the masses only makes the surrender that much more difficult to overcome.

If it is to be overcome, it will require an effectively conservative and populist appeal to the conscience of freedom, independence, morality and sturdy self-sufficiency that is still alive in this country.  ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News

The sheer size and power of Wal-Mart ought to make any conservative wince. A private entity the size of the U.S. military with the economic clout of the Federal Reserve is no friend to liberty. It should be clearly understood that the conservative’s objection to centralized power and wealth – either in its statist or its corporate forms – is primarily, perhaps exclusively, an objection to its capacity for imposing servility and dependence among his fellow citizens, who should be free.

In this, postwar American conservatives are heirs to the Jeffersonian, anti-Federalist and populist arguments of the 18th and 19th centuries. These decentralists, state’s-righters and agrarian champions presumed a basic level of democratic and economic sturdiness and self-sufficiency in the common man. Left to his own devices, it was thought that the common and working classes – the Minutemen of the Revolution, the pioneers of the West – would not willingly don the yoke of servitude, but would prefer to be free, despite the sacrifices and hardship such a life might entail. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News

Unfortunately, those who are conditioned to think that economic dependence on ever-larger corporations is a mark of their “economic liberty” (look at the wonderful selection! look at all of the “choices” we have!) rather than a sign of their servility do not even realise that they have donned the yoke of servitude.

As Mr. Will sees it, the liberal war on Wal-Mart in the name of the common man is really a war on the preferences of the common man. By couching his arguments in terms of “consumer sovereignty” and the “preferences of ordinary Americans,” Mr. Will undermines liberal objections to Wal-Mart by co-opting the historically liberal defense of unconstrained freedom of individual choice. This is effective for puncturing the pretensions of liberal elites, but it’s a curious position for an avowed conservative. 

Arguments from preference for, say, complete sexual freedom, unlimited abortion license and illicit drug use have never been very convincing to conservatives. Instead of asking what conditions most Americans prefer, postwar conservatives have traditionally asked the more important question: What conditions will make common Americans free – free not just to pursue their baser appetites, but to fashion an independent and virtuous life? Further, conservatives have argued that our democratic system of self-government cannot last in the absence of a class of men and women who are truly free by virtue of their moral, economic and cultural independence from the centralized management classes.

One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News

 

Buchanan’s economic nationalism is synonymous with mercantilism and is not only the economics of empire, but the economics of THE empire. As Charles Beard notes in his history of America, the Boston Tea party was only partially a reaction against taxes. In fact, even with the tax, the tea was priced below market rate. But that was exactly the problem. The Americans were virtually forced to buy their tea from the British merchants because “national-unity” bulding trade barriers made the cost of importing tea from foreigners prohibitive. Thus, the tea became a symbol of government control of the economic system. Yet, all the King wanted was national unity, did he not? Shouldn’t British subjects buy tea from other British subjects? Doesn’t that build unity? How dare those Americans suggest they should be able to buy goods from whomever they want. Such insolence! Such contempt for national unity.

I am firmly convinced that most modern “conservatives” would be firmly on the side of the British were it 1776. ~Ryan McMracken

This would be the same Mr. McMacken whose first instinct when he hears Mr. Buchanan use the phrase “blood and soil” in the context of talking about national identity is to start hearing refrains of the Horst Wesellied.  That is to say, he is someone who is likely to make enormous leaps in associating things based on superficial similarities. 

Thus, if you support protective tariffs today (which a fair number of Founders supported in their own time) you are as bad and presumably un-American as those who supported the Stamp and Tea Acts–nevermind, of course, that a great many Loyalists also opposed many of the novel tariffs imposed from 1765 on.  They, the Loyalists, simply didn’t think it was right to resist this with violence.  In other words, they didn’t think it was worth killing people over a tariff dispute.  Critics of Lincoln at the LRC Blog might appreciate the wisdom of such a view better than most. 

Mr. McMacken also seems to be rather confused about what most “modern conservatives” believe about trade and economics–unless I have missed something, Mr. Buchanan’s economic views are not exactly taking the “movement” by storm and in fact they represent one of the important points of divergence between some paleoconservatives and a lot of “movement” types.  If Mr. Buchanan’s economic nationalism supposedly puts him in the company of 18th century Tories, it assuredly does not put him in the company of most “movement” conservatives.  In short, this post by Mr. McMacken doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

In any case, Mr. McMacken talks about being on “the British side” in 1776 as if this were some terrible insult, yet in my book to associate a modern conservative with the Loyalists would be the highest form of praise for the authenticity of his conservatism, regardless of anything else it might say about him.  George Grant often observed that “American conservatism” was no such thing, since it was just a sort of liberalism in a nice suit, and argued, as many others have, that the expulsion and suppression of the Loyalists eliminated a major source of genuine conservatism in the United States.  To liken a conservative today to the Loyalists is to compliment him in the most glowing terms, provided that one is not indulging in the traditional ideological denunciation of Tories as enemies of liberty. 

Of course, opposition to Parliament-imposed tariffs then had everything to do with questions of self-government and the tradition that taxation required consent, which the patriots believed they had not given because the taxes were passed in Parliament and not their local legislatures, and nothing to do with the usual objections to economic nationalist measures.  In fact, most anti-”free trade” arguments today are tied closely to questions of retaining sovereignty and ensuring that commercial policy is set by our representatives in Congress rather than by international organisations and commissions.  The populist and economic nationalist position here is much more like that of the patriots than that of the Loyalists, since the latter many of the tariff measures but ultimately accepted Parliament’s right to pass such laws.  In the end, the patriots fought not to prevent all such taxation (think of the Whiskey Rebellion) but to retain control over how and by whom that taxation was levied.  Globalists and free traders would typically like to cede that control to international, unaccountable bureaucracies; economic nationalists–one might call them economic patriots–refuse to cede any control that should properly remain with the Congress, which remains at least theoretically accountable to the citizens of this country.  Who’s on “the side of the British” now?  

Obviously, given many things I have written over the last two years, I personally take a dim view of Hamiltonianism and regard the Country tradition, which stood in stark opposition to Hamiltonian/Federalist, Whig and Republican economic policies, as the true source of the genuine Anglo-American conservative and agrarian traditions.  I accept as very compelling John Taylor’s argument that protective tariffs, as opposed to revenue tariffs, are unconstitutional, and I have never seen a compelling counter-argument that they are not.  But virtually no one I know of since John Taylor has advanced such a view, and that is certainly not the basis for libertarian objections to tariffs.  In any case, I think the American System and “internal improvements” were among the first usurpations by the center at the expense of the states and the people; they began the unhappy story of concentrated wealth and concentrated power working together to the detriment of the people; they inaugurated the slow march to the destruction of the Republic.  All that being said, in an industrial world a nation needs to have domestic industry if it wants to be able to provide for itself and remain relatively independent of foreign manufactures and credit. 

To be a critic is to embrace apostasy as a way of life. It is to upset settled opinions and challenge unquestioned beliefs. It is to set out on one’s own, to think without limits, accepting truth, in all of its complexity, as one’s only measure. A critic need not be an atheist, but he cannot be an traditionalist or orthodox believer. In anything. ~Damon Linker

Actually, to be a critic is to embrace the possibility of having to be a dissident and going into opposition against those in positions of power, authority and influence.  It is not a mentality that necessarily must reject all authorities or all orthodoxies–the best critics may be the most faithful, most orthodox and most traditional, because they have some ground on which to stand besides their own tiny personal experience.  There is no possibility of criticism without some standard by which to judge, and the accumulated wisdom of traditions and the boundaries of orthodoxy provide a wealth of understanding against which one can judge the merits and flaws of ideas.  But in the end being a critic, while worthy in certain respects, has only limited value.  To define yourself even by your dissidence, much less your apostasy, is to live a life that is not fully human, as man truly becomes who he is only in koinonia and not in separation and autonomy.  Someone who celebrates his apostasy is rather like a madman who enjoys his insanity.   

It is nonsense to talk about thinking “without limits”–there is no such thing, for starters.  There are limits to human comprehension and human thought–thinking “without limits” is to pretend to be able to think as God can.  Taking “truth” as your only measure must contradict this kind of thinking “without limits” in any case, since truth is itself a limit and a restriction on what an honest man can and should think and imposes limitations on everything you do and say.  There is no real virtue in upsetting settled opinions unless those opinions have absolutely no merit, which is rarely the case–this is merely to be a bomb-thrower and a crank, which is neither ultimately very interesting nor does it make any contribution to anything.  Sometimes beliefs are unquestioned for very good reasons (i.e., because they are true, and certainly because they are deeply meaningful to people) and questioning them sometimes violence to the truth.  When I see someone celebrating his own apostasy and making it into some kind of virtue, I feel sorry for him and wonder what it is that Neuhaus et al. could have done to drive him screaming into the outer darkness.  People like this make an idol out of doubt, and they relish uncertainty.  But the Lord did not say that doubt–which is, in any case, a mark of the Fall–would set us free, but the Truth.  What is so attractive about the chains of doubt that Linker would embrace them so tightly?

Democrat Bob Casey appears to have doubled his lead over Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, according to a poll released today.

Mr. Casey had a 14-point lead in the Quinnipiac University Poll, with 54 percent of likely voters saying they planned to vote for him compared to 40 percent for Santorum. One percent said they wouldn’t vote and 6 percent said they didn’t know. Casey had a seven-point lead among likely voters in a match up between the two in the same poll on Aug. 15. ~The Post-Gazette

Wanna see theocon Michael Novak in complete intellectual meltdown? Check this out.

When neocon Norman Podhoretz makes similarly paranoid claims, he at least writes a 15,000-word essay in which he tries to back it up. But not Novak, who thinks it’s sufficient to tell us that it just “feels like 1938.” Actually, I think it feels even more like 2006. But maybe that’s just me. ~Damon Linker

But it does more than obfuscate; it also flatters ignorance. After all, Brooks would seem to be saying both that “the masses” have a different view of Islam than the country’s “intellectual elites” and that the uninformed (unintellectual) views of the former are more sensible than the views of those who actually know what they’re talking about — who know something about the Middle East, its cultures, its languages, its history. But is this true? And has the country benefited over the past five years from the leadership of elites who take their cue from the masses, bragging about their lack of intellectual curiosity and expressing contempt for the “reality-based community” of journalists and scholars? ~Damon Linker

The basic point–that it is probably unwise to prefer the uninformed and unintelligent to the better informed and more intelligent–is sound.  The Bush administration has played to the crowd and picked up on their sort of rhetoric, mixing it with its own noxious brew of ideological certainty and shocking ignorance of the Near East. 

But in relation to Brooks’ original claim, Linker’s point may not hold up quite as well, since one of the important points that Brooks made (and one where he is probably more right than wrong) was that the non-elite Americans may not be well-informed about the history or culture of the Islamic world (obviously they are not, since a great many of them bought Bush’s “freedom agenda” baloney hook, line and sinker–then again, so did many “intellectuals”!) but they also know what they see in the Islamic world and it aint a “religion of peace.”  It is this sort of common sense and a refusal to engage in PC cant about the virtues of Islam, while also pretending that jihadism is some sort of mutant strain that has nothing to do with Islam per se, that I believe Brooks was praising in the ordinary American.  It is something that the elite–be they journalists, academics or politicians–typically refuse to do, because they do not want to denigrate a “great world religion” or because they think it is strategically advantageous to say nice, flattering things about Islam, even if they happen to be untrue. 

On the other hand, the non-elites gave us such intellectual garbage as “Islamofascist,” which the GOP and movement leadership has embraced in a sure sign of intellectual degradation.  We are caught in something of a bind: we have a population that knows next to nothing about the region the government seems intent on “remaking” in one way or another and the elite currently in power that does not seem particularly more knowledgeable.  When Brooks was referring to elite attitudes, I suspect he was almost entirely referring to academia and the non-GOP media.  

Why do so few scholars and their students regularly read and engage with The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and the handful of other periodicals devoted to fostering informed debate, discussion, and thinking on a range of topics, both political and literary? ~Damon Linker

On behalf of academics, I would have to say that for most of us, most of the time, there is less and less time to engage with these things on a regular basis as research, dissertation-writing, article-writing, coursework and teaching take over.  This summer I have enjoyed a respite from a lot of that after getting a good deal of work done on my dissertation, but the days of maniacal hyper-posting are coming to a close, as they must during the school year.  I intend to remain involved in regular blogging and attuned to the political scene, but I believe that I am actually unusual in the degree to which I take interest in political questions anyway.  People I know here at Chicago and at other graduate schools, who are undoubtedly better scholars than I am because they clearly work harder at it, are often amazed at my familiarity with current events and the political debates of the day, to which they dedicate only a small portion of their time.  In the end, they do not take an interest because, well, there is so little that is actually intellectually interesting about these topics.  Who needs the NYRB when you have dozens of specialist journals with their own particular sets of reviews and articles to digest?  Those are the reviews you are interested in reading as an academic.  Of course there are politically active academics and those who do make time to involve themselves in these discussions, but this is very much rooted in the quirks and character of the academics in question.  For some people, there really are limitations on their time that prevent them from following the contemporary debates, but for others it is simply not the way they want to spend their free time.  I would say that this is normal for most academics and most graduate students. 

By the time all of that work is done, there are relatively few who want to start delving into the problems of the latest political debates.  Academics will stay informed of things in the news, but they are hardly going to throw themselves into the fray–especially those who do not yet have tenured positions.  Academics probably think that they have plenty of informed discussion going on in their midst (perhaps they are right, perhaps not) and do not need to go to TNR, the Review of Books or anywhere else in the printed press for engaging with political and literary topics.  Besides, in the highly specialised world of modern academia what is the incentive for most academics to take an interest in the commentary of generalists, who are unlikely to tell them anything in the area with which they are unfamiliar?  Hyperspecialisation is a real problem for academics, and it is something that I hope to never fall into, if I haven’t already, but it is what our academic institutions are geared towards creating. 

Pope Benedict’s words in Regensburg about the university and the community of reason it represented were remarkable for how alien they would have sounded to so many people at American universities, where scientists look askance at the rest of us, social scientists look askance at the humanists, and vice versa, and the divinity, business and law students live in their own universes.  At Chicago, the division is dramatised by many of the science buildings being clearly on one side of Ellis and the rest of the University being on the other (and the scientists will refer to the rest of us as being on “the other side of the street,” which might as well mean “the other side of the planet”)–and the law school is off in its own world across the Midway.  You can tell how bad things have gotten when the buzzword of choice for everything you do is “interdisciplinarity,” which is the tired, half-hearted attempt to rebuild the shattered sense of university

Damon Linker now has a blog (hat tip: Rod Dreher).  This should be fun to watch as he takes on the FT crew while also possibly making wild and unfounded statements about religious conservatives in America.  Best of all, what does Linker call his new blog?  What else?  “The Apostate.”  So, irony aside for a moment, the choice Linker poses seems to be between the supposed fanaticism of the Neuhaus crowd and apostasy.  Not exactly a tough choice for most believers.

The name of Linker’s blog reminds me, on a completely different, personal note, of the name of a short story I wrote back in high school.  It was not a good short story (it was a very abstract story that was supposed to be critiquing the conformity of individualists, or something like that–no, really, it was), but I thought the title was one of those clever, late modern conservative “I’m really more subversive than you subversives are” uses of language, which was The Apostate of the Heretics. 

My creative writing teacher didn’t get the joke in the title, partly because she didn’t know what apostate meant, which I found a little hard to believe.  I’m not sure if she got the joke when I explained what it meant.  Then again, when I wrote another story based loosely on the 21st chapter of the Gospel of St. John and used St. Peter’s Aramaic name, Cephas, in the dialogue, she didn’t know who Cephas was, so I guess being an English teacher at a high-level private school requires you to know some things more than others. 

One of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Hyde Park is the opportunity to browse amazing bookstores that serve the University community–between the Co-Op and Powell’s, you are likely to be able to find any new or used book you might want to find (barring highly obscure, long out-of-print or very specialised technical texts), which also means that you are likely to be tempted into getting quite a lot of books when you visit either store.  Today brought such a fortunate and catastrophic visit to Powell’s, which has a modest Byzantine collection (but even a modest Byzantine collection is awesome compared to the piddling selection at most chain stores), a passable theology collection and an astonishingly broad history section all together.  Looking for the complete works of Bolingbroke?  You can find them there.  Need a primer for Old English?  There it is.  I was less impressed with their theology section, which runs heavily to the modern, lacks any real representation of Orthodoxy and which, oddly enough, contains a copy of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality?, which is hardly a theology book.  But even given these limitations it still surpasses the religion sections at Borders, which run heavily to the DaVinci Code debunkers and the 987 books of Thomas Merton (it only seems as if there are that many, when there are, I believe, really only 852)–for a Trappist, the man is unusually verbose.

So the haul at Powell’s was quite interesting, and constitutes my leisure reading list for this year (whether or not I will get to most or all of these is another question).  Since other bloggers sometimes regale their readers with their latest reading choices, I thought my selections might be of interest to readers of Eunomia, so here they are by category.

Theology & Church History

J.E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine 
Ernst Renan, Averroes et l’averroisme  
 

Nova & Vetera: Patristic Studies in Honor of Thomas Patrick Halton 

Frederick J. McGinness, Right Thinking and Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome
British History

Hugh Douglas, Jacobite Spy Wars 

Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole

Byzantine History

Paul Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople: Ecclesiastical Policy and Image Worship in the Byzantine Empire

Georgina Buckler, Anna Comnena: A Study 

Strangers to Themselves: The Byzantine Outsider

Near Eastern History

Meir Zamir, Lebanon’s Quest: The Road to Statehood, 1926-1939

But, why shouldn’t we think that the Iraq war has increased terrorism in the world, or at least the risk of it? The hornet’s nest analogy is apt, albeit clichéd. We were stung — and stung badly — well before the Iraq war. And after the multiple stings of 9/11 we decided to take the fight to nests. ~Jonah “Lie For a Just Cause” Goldberg

Gosh, this is almost as clever as the “flypaper” metaphor for fighting terrorism in Iraq.  Remember the flypaper?  Like flies, terrorists would be drawn to the disaster of Iraq so that we could kill them there–as if they were all going to show up for our convenience, and as if there were a finite number of them that we had to get rid of before the problem was solved.  Back then, remember, it was a positive plus that terrorists were flocking to Iraq–”it shows that they’re afraid!” people told us.  It’s rather like the idea that the pirahnas feeding on a cow that stumbles into the river are afraid of the cow. 

The hornets’ nest analogy would be great, except that invading Iraq, c. 2003 would be rather like kicking over an anthill of fire ants while claiming to be pursuing the hornets.  You still get bit by some nasty fire ants, and then you get stung by some more hornets while you’re dealing with the ants, while the hornets’ nests are perfectly intact in Hornetistan (a.k.a., Pakistan).  Then it occurs to you that you might ought to just stay out of ant and hornet-infested territory, or focus on a specific few nests that are most threatening to you.  But that would obviously be the wrong conclusion to draw, because you are on a mission to destroy all hornets everywhere for all time.  Which is great, except that it is impossible.

Shelton said he also remembers a disturbing deer hunting trip with Allen on land that was owned by the family of Billy Lanahan, a wide receiver on the team. After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. “He proceeded to take the doe’s head and stuff it into a mailbox,” Shelton said. ~Salon

Now I should say at this point that I cannot recall the last time a politician has been subjected to this kind of piling on–though Trent Lott is probably the best precedent for the inquisitio that has been going on–and you have to know that people who routinely make bigoted, outrageous, hateful statements about Christians or particularly Catholics, the secular liberal target of choice, are never scrutinised, mocked or disrespected to the degree that someone accused of racism is.  Mormons are also usually fair game for a good bigoted joke or two, and nobody will think twice about a politician making such a joke. 

Of course the obsession with Allen’s prejudices is advantageous for the Democrats, their exploitation of it opportunistic and cynical, and the missteps of the last two months by Allen have been the kind of self-inflicted injuries that every politician dreams his opponent will cause to himself.  The unbalanced, obsessive anti-prejudice crusade of some modern journalists is tiresome and destructive–it is the worst of thought-policing and liberal neo-Puritanism all rolled into one.  The fascination with what Allen said among friends in his youth is in all likelihood the product of a warped mind that must ferret out and purify the body politic like a latter-day Jacobin.  Allen may not come out looking particularly good, but the people intent on digging up his peccadilloes appear almost crazed in their pursuit of these typically minor, irrelevant aspects of his character. 

All that being said, if the story told above about the doe’s head is true, there was clearly something rather wrong with George Allen and there probably still is something wrong with him.  It’s as if he has aspired to embody the worst stereotypes about Southerners while embodying few or none of the good qualities that are representative of traditional Southern men. 

Let’s cut through it.  No normal person really cares about macaca, and few even really care that he didn’t want to talk about his Jewish ancestry (in truth, it is none of our business), and even fewer care whether he has a Confederate battle flag–which in itself is far from a demerit, but one of the few marks in the man’s favour in my book.  These are things for agitators and very vocal minorities within minorities to take an interest in.  Quite a few people will shrug if they hear that Allen used the word nigger, not because they approve of it but because they cannot see how it is that significant that someone used such language in private in his youth–and which he has apparently subsequently stopped using.  Incidentally, there is also nothing more tiresome than the precious habit, more common among preciously sensitive white people than among anyone else, of referring to this word as “the n-word”–which shows a decorum and restraint that they do not extend to the old profanities that carry equally crude and ugly meanings. 

What is so damning about all of these things for the man is that he is so thoroughly dishonest about all of it, refusing to own up to things that he evidently has done and has said.  By issuing another denial, which may have been discredited already, he further diminishes his credibility and comes off looking worse than he ever would have otherwise. 

It is ridiculous that things such as these are going to be the deciding factors in the Virginia Senate election, and it is a shame that the November vote will be a referendum on Allen’s indiscretions rather than his virtually criminal acquiescence in and support for an illegal, unconstitutional war of aggression and other usurpations by the executive branch.  In supporting this war, in failing to oppose the President in his various breaches of our fundamental law, he violated his oath to defend the Constitution, which ought to be a damned sight more important than anything he may have said or done back at UVA.  But, of course, in vapid modern America, his support of the criminal war is supposedly one of his political assets, while his youthful stupidity is what will cost him his re-election.  In light off this, does anyone really need me to recount all the reasons why modern democracy is a sham and a horrible way of running a government? 

“Nobody can go back and reinvent the past,” Condoleezza Rice told Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. But this nugget of truth came amid a flood of retrospective reinvention in which Rice equated the war in Iraq with the civil rights struggle of the 1960s — and left me wondering whether I was hearing polished sophistry or a case of total denial. ~Eugene Robinson

Perhaps there’s some devilishly clever postmodern irony in Secretary Rice’s comments.  People reinvent the past all the time–not literally, but in the sense that everyone reshapes the past by reshaping the interpretation of what happened.  The past is something that can be contested and controlled, and as Michael has observed recently he who controls the past controls the future.  Consider a few examples of recent reshaping.  President Bush says that he and his administration never implied any connection between Hussein and 9/11, even though he rhetorically aligned 9/11 and the “threat” from Iraq in numerous speeches.  No one ever said that Iraq had nukes–except for the Veep.  “You go to war with the army you have,” the Poet of the Pentagon said–except that Rumsfeld neglected to mention that he intentionally left rather large parts of that army elsewhere on purpose and with no intention of remaining there very long.  And so on.  Some people call this selective memory, others call it putting things in the best light.  Less generous people call it lying, but let’s not get too judgemental. 

Hacks and propagandists manipulate history to serve the turn of their masters.  This has been going on since, well, ever since history was recorded.  Thus anarchic Iraq can be likened to the period of the Confederation, because this tells us that things will get better and the Iraqis are doing just fine, the Sunni insurgency can be likened to the non-existent “Werewolves” of post-WWII Germany (Rumsfeld & Condi) to prove that everything will work out, and everything (and I do mean everything) can be likened to 1938 Europe and every enemy can be compared with fascists as a way of rallying people to the colours and convincing them of the vital necessity of fighting for “as long as it takes.”  Normal people might want to stop fighting Iraqis who are butchering each other, but relatively few want to pitch in the towel in the anti-fascist crusade.  It has become something of a commonplace in the historian’s trade that people reinvent the past all the time, because the person who dictates what happened in the past can often determine what should be done now through an appeal to (created) memories–and who would be better for this than the people with the empire that creates its ”own reality”

Incidentally, why doesn’t anybody liken things to 1689 Augsburg?  The Augsburgers have called and complained about the obvious ongoing discrimination against the War of the League of Augsburg (known as King William’s War to us colonials), one of those petty disputes over rights in a German principality and French aggrandisement under Louis XIV–which has so many obvious parallels to today’s problems, don’t you think?  I mean, isn’t it obvious how a French invasion of small German states applies to today’s problems?  Aren’t the parallels between the Sun King and Saddam Hussein just jumping out at you?  No?  Why not?  You must want to submit to the Islamobourbons! 

Now presumably Secretary Rice meant that you cannot actually go back and alter events in the past, which is true.  Who would know this better than the “student of history”?  But Rice shows that you can abuse history to no end and still claim to be a student of history–apparently in all seriousness. 

But Robinson is late to the game if he has only just now discovered Rice’s Iraq-is-the-new-civil-rights-movement argument.  (One might like to think that the fantastically obvious glaring differences between predominantly nonviolent protest for political change inside an existing democratic political order and a war of aggression to overthrow a foreign despotism would stop Rice short, but it doesn’t–after all, it’s always 1938, unless it’s 1963 in Birmingham.) This has been at the heart of her stump speeches since almost the start of the war, offering us such pearls of wisdom as this selection from her 7 Aug 2003 speech:

Like many of you, I grew up around the home-grown terrorism of the 1960s. I remember the bombing of the church in Birmingham in 1963, because one of the little girls that died was a friend of mine. Forty years removed from the tragedy I can honestly say that Denise McNair and the others did not die in vain. They — and all who suffered and struggled for civil rights — helped reintroduce this nation to its founding ideals. And because of their sacrifice we are a better nation — and a better example to a world where difference is still too often taken as a license to kill.

Knowing what we know about the difficulties of our own history, let us always be humble in singing freedom’s praises. But let our voice not waver in speaking out on the side of people seeking freedom. And let us never indulge the condescending voices who allege that some people are not interested in freedom or aren’t ready for freedom’s responsibilities. That view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad.

The desire for freedom transcends race, religion and culture — as countries as diverse as Germany, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey have proved. 

This is how she, the black woman from Birmingham come to Washington, makes the war in Iraq not just the grandiose project of advancing the “freedom agenda” but also makes it into a particularly personal quest to make sure that Title VII is vigorously enforced from Basra to Sulamaniyeh…or something like that.  No one will be denied accommodations or employment on the basis of race in the bombed-out marketplaces of Baghdad–no, siree.   

In spite of having apparently missed this long-running theme in Rice’s self-indulgent rhetoric, Robinson makes a couple solid observations:

In her interview with Couric, Rice went on to argue that critics of the administration’s Middle East policies are like the racists who contended that black Americans were not ready to participate in democracy because they were “kind of childlike” and couldn’t handle the vote. But that’s a bizarre analogy. The last stand by white racists against integration and voting rights for African Americans wasn’t about patronizing attitudes some whites might have held — it was about power. It was about the knowledge that blacks were not just ready but also determined to exercise the right to vote.

She makes it sound as if those who disagree with the administration are standing in the schoolhouse door. But no one wants to deny Iraqis or anyone else the chance to practice democracy. The question is whether democracy should, or can, be imposed at the point of a gun.  

Yes, you see, if you oppose a war that kills tens of thousands of foreign people, you hate those people and think them inferior and inherently incapable of self-government.  If you support that war and believe that all the Ay-rab understands is force–because you, unlike the Arabs themselves, understand the depths of “the Arab mind”–then you are an enlightenened and benevolent friend of those people.    

Frankly, if it makes any difference to those inclined to believe the Secretary, the civil rights movement/Iraq analogy is actually insulting to black Americans, who were not typically likely to empower parties with armed militias that would be engaged in ethnic and sectarian mass killings.  There is also the small problem that black Americans in the 1960s were, well, Americans and partook of the same cultural and political inheritance that made representative government possible here.  To be blunt, Nuri al-Maliki isn’t really anything like Medgar Evers, now, is he?  The Iraqis, whatever else you might want to say in favour of them, have had no such advantages and have been doing all of this more or less from scratch; in practise, they have shown their preference to side with people like themselves (which is perfectly normal) and to vote in the interests of their ethnic or religious community, and these communities have their allegiances to the exclusion of the “nation” or the government.  This is not really a knock on the Iraqis, who are failing just as any other people would fail to adapt to a political system that is totally alien to their history and culture (we would likely make a mess of Byzantine ceremonial rites and Chinese court protocol), but it is simply an observation that such habits are highly unlikely to produce successful mass democracy in a heterogenously populated  nation-state that lacks any real political consensus. 

Real students of history know these things.  Professional liars–and what are diplomats if not that?–do not, and more importantly they don’t care that they don’t know it.  They will say whatever they need to say to make the deal or sell the policy.  Mix that ingrained dishonesty with fanatical, moralistic self-righteousness, such as this “we are fighting the new KKK” sort of argument, and you have a very nasty, dangerous cocktail on your hands.

Though he’s supported every free-trade agreement since he’s been in Congress (except, just recently, CAFTA), he is running as a born-again nationalist: His campaign was one of the first in the nation to run ads against the Dubai port deal. “We need to control our borders,” Ford says, and proceeds to conflate immigration and security issues and the multiplex and Beslan: “We don’t want to learn that terrorists came across the border and exploded our movie theaters, or that they’ve blown up 25 schools in the Midwest.” ~Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect

A Democrat who understands the salience of border security and immigration (Ford voted for the Sensenbrenner bill) and can actually sound more conservative on these issues than his opponent is going to do well this year; one with the charisma and campaign skills of Harold Ford is probably going to wipe the floor with Corker.  If the Harold Fords of 2006 can successfully exploit anxiety about GOP dithering on border security, it will be because the Republicans frittered away every opportunity they had for six years to act on one of the most basic responsibilities of government. 

 

Steinfels does a decent job deflating all of the theocracy hype coming from the left, though what he has to say was said earlier and better by Ross Douthat last month.  There were real communist agents connected to progressive politics in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and there were people who really were com-symps, but the threat here was not simply the influence of a radical marginal group on American politics but the undue influence of agents of a foreign power on the domestic political life of the United States.  If there were some kind of Christian Reconstructionist Theocrat International (because Reconstructionism is just so terribly popular) that was seeking to subvert the government and spread its influence covertly, the comparison might begin to be credible.  Of course, that Theocrat International would have to be party to the deaths of millions for the moral equivalence between the two to be at all legitimate.

Just got in from the FANTASTIC FEST screening of APOCALYPTO tonight.  From seeing the film for a second time in the same day. After the second screening, I have to say it plays even better. The themes about how the industrial needs of a civilization, even a primitive one - lay the groundwork for moral, societal and physical decay really begin to come out. ~Harry Knowles

Via Peter Suderman

In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, “The precursors to a civilization that’s going under are the same, time and time again,” drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America’s present situation. “What’s human sacrifice,” he asked, “if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?” ~Reuters

Via Dan McCarthy

I’m glad to see that Gibson hasn’t lost his combativeness and his willingness to court controversy–at least of certain kinds.  But the interesting question is this: will his shots against the Iraq war be considered more offensive than his drunken tirade?  My guess would be that it is going to get him at least as much scorn and hostility.  I’m even more interested to see Apocalypto now than I was a few weeks ago.

Also, do you suppose the Mayas thought that their sacrifices would ward off the Toltecofascists?

Goldberg ends with recommendations, some sensible, some quirky, for building a progressive movement to counter the dangerous brew of fundamentalist Christianity and belligerent nationalism. Among them is the advice that progressive should “win their neighbors over, not just beat them in court.”

That is not likely to happen without a significantly greater effort to understand those neighbors and their beliefs. At the end of her book, calling for a movement to oppose the theocrats, Goldberg runs up all the old banners of the war between secularism and religion, pitting “freedom and Enlightenment” against “stale constricting dogmas” and “holy books.” Reading those words, I question not only whether I — and a lot of people like me — belong in her ranks, but also whether she, or Kevin Phillips, or even my friend Jim Rudin, really want us. ~Peter Steinfels, The American Prospect

As I observed at the time that Goldberg’s book was coming out, her denunciation of “stale constricting dogmas” and “holy books” left little wiggle room for her program, which becomes more and more obviously not simply anti-fundamentalist but simply anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian. Goldberg truly is a child of the Enlightenment–and anyone who has read my blog over the past two years knows that this is not a compliment–in her intractable hostility to public religion in general but most especially hostility Christian public religion. In this she is at least more serious than the people who try to have it both ways, pretend that Voltaire and Bossuet, Locke and Laud, Spinoza and St. Peter can all live together under one big roof of Christian-laced liberalism. To such people there can only be one response: Ecrasez la blasphemie!

First, the general idea of “fascism” — the creation of a centralized authoritarian state to enforce blanket obedience to a reactionary, all-encompassing ideology — fits well the aims of contemporary Islamism that openly demands implementation of sharia law and the return to a Pan-Islamic and theocratic caliphate.

In addition, Islamists, as is true of all fascists, privilege their own particular creed of true believers by harkening back to a lost, pristine past, in which the devout were once uncorrupted by modernism. ~Victor Davis Hanson, National Review

Back to basics.  Jihadi basics: jihadis (a.k.a., Islamists) are Islamic reactionaries; they are a product of modernity but are anti-modern; they do want to bring back the Caliphate, which makes them as un-fascist as Novalis was for romanticising the medieval papacy.  Fascist basics: fascists are not reactionary in any meaningful sense, since they are above all an ideology dedicated to modernisation, the new, the future, the creation of the “New Order” and the new man; they are modernisers and are not anti-modern; they are a mass movement with no attachments or sympathies with the ancien regime or its partisans; they are not the heirs of Counter-Revolutionary rightist politics, but a mass revolutionary nationalist movement, none of which has anything to do with being “reactionary” in any sense beyond the purely pejorative way in which that term is bandied about by progressives who use it as if it were an insult.  More Fascist basics: fascists did not want to recreate a pristine order taken from the past, though they did want to restore their nations to what they believed had been past glories, but instead wanted to regenerate their nations and see them born anew.  Their emphasis on newness, modernism, futurism puts them starkly at odds with any real reactionaries.  Fascism’s palingenetic urge has next to nothing to do with reviving an old order; Nazis would borrow certain symbols and ideas from the German medieval past, but they had no intention of recreating the Empire of the Hohenstaufens, much less the Holy Roman Empire, which would have offended them in its cosmopolitan and Catholic nature.  In brief, if jihadis are Islamic reactionaries, which they are, they cannot be Islamic fascists.  Pick one or the other, if you must, but for goodness’ sake stop confusing the two–as Hanson always, always does.

Then there is the canard of generic fascist anti-Semitism as proof of the connection:

Because fascism is born out of insecurity and the sense of failure, hatred for Jews is de rigueur [sic].

Of course it is important to note here that Italian Fascism initially had no anti-Semitic impulses (unlike National Socialism, it did not originate out of the charged atmosphere of the struggle between Habsburg liberalism and various nationalisms that frequently focused on Jewish support for liberalism as a way of discrediting it and simultaneously of finding a political reason to despise Jews), and in the 1920s had Jewish supporters, which makes even more sense when you understand that Fascism claimed to be–and was–a revolutionary, modernising movement of the sort to which Jewish intellectuals are frequently drawn.  Judenhass in Islam is as old as Islam itself; it needs no comparing with the obsessions of the Nazis, because it has its own sources and its own very simple, religious reasons.  The similarity here is noteworthy, but ultimately superficial, as Islam and fascism also both view traditional Christianity with contempt, though the former does so rather more than the latter.  The point is simply this: adherents of totalising worldviews naturally regard those who do not belong to their worldviews as enemies.

Then there is Hanson’s historical error:

Second, fascism thrives best in a once proud, recently humbled, but now ascendant, people.

This is misleading and simplistic.  Sociologically, fascism thrives in nations that are late-comers in modernisation (Payne refers to them as second-tier modernising nations, I believe) but which are actually potentially on the verge of becoming major powers.  Their former humiliation is irrelevant–Italy was on the winning side in WWI, for all the good it did them, as was Japan, which had only gone from victory to victory in the international arena since the Meiji Restoration.  Resentment and overconfidence alike can encourage militarism–which is actually a far better term for what Japan represented anyway. 

The jihadi impulse is far more elemental; for them, it is simply the fulfillment of religious obligation to struggle for Islam and bring the world into submission to Islam.  Rain or shine, victory or defeat, no matter what has happened in the recent or distant past, the jihadi will persist in the struggle (and, incidentally, it is because of the nature of the word jihad that Mein Kampf would be called jihadi in some parts of the world).  In fact, there is no question of any Muslim nations being in the “ascendant” where the jihadis find their most willing recruits, as there are no “ascendant” Muslim nations even remotely on par with the modernising nation-states that bred fascist movements–it is typically in the nations that have been on the receiving end of defeats for as long as anyone can remember that the jihadis do best.

So anyone who speaks about “reactionary fascism” or “religious fascism” doesn’t know what he’s talking about, since there are no such things.  You can, of course, despise all reactionaries and despise all fascists, but you must understand that they not the same and have next to nothing in common.  For my part, as a reactionary, I won’t stand for the association, since fascism represents the antithesis of everything I believe.

Religious conservatives are unhappy the Republican-led Congress hasn’t paid enough attention to “values issues,” he said, noting that even a push this summer against same-sex marriage came too late.

“It has not escaped our notice that they waited until just a few months from the November elections to address our agenda,“ Cureton said. ~AP (via Michael Silence via A.C. Kleinheider)

Christian conservatives are beginning to wake up and are tired of being taken for granted. Waving the flag, saying nice things about the “culture of life” and wacko stunts such as the Terri Schiavo intervention don’t cut it for these folks. They want more than scraps from the table, and they are tired of waiting. Watch the Rovian machine buckle and collapse.

It may truly take a Democrat to put the screws to the employers that so need those screws in them.

I was at the Business Roundtable Forum back in April, Mr. Corker. I heard the code words: employers shouldn’t be cops.

Well, as I said before, there is a lot of agreement on that. The country does not want to make employers cops, sir, they want to make them perps.

The fact, Mr. Corker, that I am thinking that Harold Ford might help do that should scare the crap out of you. ~A.C. Kleinheider, Volunteer Voters

It’s posts like this and candidates like Harold Ford that make me ask: why exactly do we want the GOP to be in control of government?

The navy’s proudest outpost is found on the southern banks of Lake Titicaca, more than two miles above sea level.

A monument near the entrance to the Titicaca Naval Base depicts a Bolivian soldier thrusting his bayonet into the throat of a Chilean soldier beside the words, “What once was ours, will be ours once more.” ~The New York Times

Via Steve Sailer

I can’t say that I fully understand the passionate desire to reacquire guano-rich territory, but I do respect the Bolivians’ sense of historical memory and their refusal to let bygones be bygones.  That coastline is theirs, and they’re going to get it back someday.  Good for them.  They are, in some sense, stuck in the same position as the Serbs in the Balkans–cut off from the coast, with which they have been historically connected.  Besides, if it’s good enough for other nations, it’s good enough for the Bolivians. 

Personally, though, if there were ever a new War of the Pacific (how’s that for irony?) I would be hoping for a Chilean victory.  Bolivia is dysfunctional enough–there’s no reason to bring more of South America under the rule of the fantastical Aymara utopia of Evo Morales.

Do you notice one thing in that list that seems like a bit of an odd fit? And yet, conservatives have long fought for phonics with the same revolutionary zeal that they bring to the rest of their agenda. And they don’t merely argue that phonics should be a substantial part of any good reading program — which it should — but that phonics should be the exclusive method of teaching reading to kids. “Whole language” meets with about the same reaction as a cry to arms against “secular humanism.” I’ve never quite understood how phonics came to occupy the same pedestal as the Lord’s Prayer, but there you have it. ~Kevin Drum

Er, well, if you say so.  I am skeptical that phonics actually holds anything like the hallowed place among conservatives that Mr. Drum describes, and I am also skeptical that there are untold legions of phonics purists insisting on a phonics-only education.  There are clearly some who take this view, and some have even reached positions of authority in the government, but the onset of phonics-only fascism is as far away as the future theocracy.  

Let’s take a look at some of the components of the godless “whole language” program that I ought to despise with every fibre of my being:

The components of a whole language literacy program include:

  • literate classroom environment;
  • reading to and with students;
  • individualized instruction;
  • independent reading;
  • students as authors;
  • integrating literacy skills into curriculum across disciplines;
  • increased parent involvement.

The villains!  Increased parent involvement?  I know that no God-fearing conservative would stand for that!  Independent reading!  Everyone knows that conservatives don’t allow any kind of independent activity for their children–we keep them tied to our belts with elastic rope (we have become much more lenient in recent years) and we teach them to stare at the ground until it is time for their phonics exercises.  Students as authors?  Whoever heard of such a thing?  Where would it end?  Before you know it they’ll be writing subversive tracts and setting up their own blogs!  No, clearly no conservative would ever want to have anything to do with these things. 

Maybe there are proponents of phonics who take such extreme positions on how to teach children to read, omitting all attempts to instill creativity, use reading in an interdisciplinary way (read history? nah!) or teach them to understand meaning and context, but I doubt very much that very many people listen to them or that they represent anything like a majority among conservatives who work on educational methods or conservatives in general.  This seems to me to be a ludicrous attack that is uncharacteristically sloppy for Drum.

 

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology. ~The New York Times

But remember Bin Laden said that Iraq was vital to their global jihad (Michael Novak has just told us so), so no matter what you do you must not make any kind of rational judgement about this information that would seek to weaken or reduce the jihadi threat.  Under no circumstances should we consider concluding the war in Iraq, even though it daily works to the enemy’s advantage for us to remain.  We must have resolve.  After all, it’s 1938 and the fascists are coming, aiee!

When Thaksin, a former policeman who made his fortune from telecommunications, came to power in 2001, he broke with the old order. He put police cronies in charge of the southern border and shut down two intelligence clearing centres. Soon, reports in the media alleged that corruption, smuggling and racketeering were rife.

 

In January 2004 militants raided an armoury and started a killing spree. Since then they have murdered Buddhist monks, teachers, hospital staff and civil servants — anyone seen as representing the Thai state. The army seemed powerless to halt the chaos. ~The Times

THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week. According to sources briefed by the army high command, Thaksin’s bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1,700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals’ decision to get rid of him.

Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Thaksin’s heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric. ~The Times

The parallels with our own experience in Iraq are only too obvious.

Troops, who have tied yellow ribbons to their gun barrels to signify loyalty to Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, pose for photographs with children and tourists. One army spokeswoman on television is a former beauty queen. General Sonthi has even ordered his troops to smile more.

This charm offensive seems to be working. A poll showed that more than 80% of Thais – including the rural poor, among whom Thaksin enjoyed most support – favour the coup. ~The Sunday Herald

Now I won’t make that most pernicious of silly democratic arguments that because 80% of people in a country approve of something it is necessarily therefore right or desirable, but it really ought to put an end to any notion that this coup lacks the support of the Thai people.  This demonstrates (yet again) that what most people desire is some decent measure of order and the (well-founded) belief that their government is not corrupt; Thaksin was failing to provide for good order in the south of the country with his poorly executed war against guerrillas and his heavy-handed drug war, and he manifestly corrupted himself and the government during his time in power.  Sonthi Boonyaratglin doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue, but it is a name of a general who has helped to save his country for his king and people against the people’s government.

At the heart of Friedman’s error is a lack of justice and a confusion about human nature. Most people are not would-be managers or flexible entrepreneurs prepared to change careers every two or three years. People work to live, to support their families, and to feel useful and productive. A decent human being is concerned when anyone loses his job and doubly so when that person is his countryman. And it’s simply unrealistic to expect people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s to retool for new careers. But, hey, it’s important entire regions of America (and the world) are impoverished so that Friedman can have a Starbucks latte with Indians in Monteverde or wherever he is this week. ~Chris Roach

But I’m sure Friedman will shout: the world is flat, and so is Uruguay!  At which point I suspect the Uruguayans will kindly ask him to leave for insulting their fine mountains.  This is what Friedman actually said about Uruguay:

The New Yorker once ran a cartoon by Peter Steiner of two dogs, with one sitting at a computer keyboard saying to the other, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Nobody also knows you’re Uruguay.

Um, not to be too geeky about this, but aren’t there routers and IP addresses that tell people things like this?  But more basically, did Friedman just compare Uruguay to a dog?  Did one of the local patriots smack him in the face for this insult to national honour?  I hope so.  I honestly have no idea what Uruguayans might have to be proud of, and they must have something, but comparing someone’s country to a dog is just poor form. 

I am not sure, but the average Uruguayan probably has about as much sympathy for the Uruguayan Round of GATT as the average West Virginian, which is to say not a whole lot.  Perhaps the near-collapse that Uruguay suffered in the wake of Argentina’s default (one of those small unfortunate incidents that followed upon Argentine embrace of the Great Whore of Neoliberalism) soured the locals on Friedman’s starry-eyed mentality of “Globalisation is to bright I have to wear shades made in Indonesia by child labourers and ordered online through a Nigerian server.”  It also cannot be very comforting for computer engineers in this country to read that Indian corporations have started to outsource their own computer engineering jobs to Uruguay–next stop on the Flat World Express, Namibia.  Have broadband, will not travel.  One will instead facilitate an ever-more dislocated, uprooted world that moves concrete, real-world industries to ever-poorer countries and pawns expendable, easily outsourced service jobs off on the rest.   

Chris takes Friedman apart with ease and skill in this post.  It is a pleasure to read, and I strongly recommend it to all.

If nothing else, he’s captured Allen’s self-absorption. Watching Garden State, it’s impossible not to remember that Braff is writing for himself and directing himself. As such, it’s kind of annoying that 80 percent of the shots are close-ups of Zach Braff. It’s also irritating, for that matter, that he created a role that requires Natalie Portman to fall in love with him. ~Josh Levin, Slate

This reminds me of the discussion of the “indie girl” stereotype, for which Portman in Garden State was the archetype (”manic depressive without the depressive“).  It causes me to wonder: if most every guy today supposedly wants the Natalie Portman ”indie girl,” does that mean that all of them have to become the “insufferable tool” Zach Braff? 

To follow up on Braff’s self-absorption with a different Natalie Portman connection, one gets the feeling that if Braff had co-starred with Portman in V for Vendetta all of the masks worn by V and the crowds at the end of the movie would have been reproductions of Braff’s face, not that of Guy Fawkes.  And V for Vendetta would have then managed to be even worse than it already is–if that is possible.

Well, it is time for some accountability at Eunomia.  Last month when the macaca business began in the Virginia Senate race, I laughed it off and said with certainty that it would have no effect on Allen’s re-election or his future presidential fortunes.  Here were some of my remarks on 15 August, which now look positively dim-witted:

It’s easy to pick on predictions, but this one seems to be begging for a little ridicule.  Except for the 1-2% of the country that actively worries about presidential primaries two years before they happen, not only will no one will remember Allen’s odd, apparently ill-chosen “macaca/macaque” reference during this campaign come ‘08, but I doubt strongly that Virginia Senate voters will remember it in three months’ time.  The Plank is getting excited at the thought of Allen jeopardising his re-election with this.  Give me a break.  I like Jim Webb and I think he’s excellent on the war, but right now it’s going to take a lot more than an obscure French racial slur to bring George Allen’s campaign down.

Oops.  Well, you live and learn.  What I have learned from this mistake is to never expect very much from public opinion and assume that the most trivial, irrelevant “scandals” will be the most important for the outcome of the election.  Underhanded deals with the Chinese?  Aggressive war?  Torture?  Massive incompetence?  Culture of corruption?  Not important.  Macaca?  Important. 

Obviously, I underestimated the power of The Washington Post, the stupidity of the Allen campaign, the silliness of the public and the political importance of a truly frivolous controversy.  Now not only is Allen on the ropes in a tied race that he should have won in a walk, as detailed in a new Weekly Standard article (hat tip: Jim Antle), but he has every chance of suffering an embarrassingly sizeable loss as late-deciding voters go for the challenger.  Since I have come to take a dim view of Mr. Allen, I don’t much care that he may lose (in fact, I am hopeful that he will), but it cannot say very much for our political system if something this insignificant can change the course of elections.

And if I were trying to become rich and famous, I would not be in graduate school or working as a non-partisan critic of political spin, both of which pay virtually nothing and attract far less attention than partisan vitriol. ~Brendan Nyhan

It is certainly rich to see Kossacks accusing someone else of seeking glory and power, since Daily Kos and associated blogs exist for virtually no other purpose than to mobilise and organise (and whine) in the pursuit of Democratic power–power that the chief Kossacks undoubtedly expect will benefit them once they have driven the craven centrists out of their midst and cleansed the party in a purifying fire of maniacal raving.  They like to make noise, and they like to get noticed–it is part of the blogger persona, though it seems to have developed a mutant strain with those folks.  They have some real influence, but I bet they also expect that influence to profit them.  I’m not holding that against them, but it is peculiar that they would set about making a reasonable, non-partisan critic into some kind of gold-digging shyster, as if there was big money to be made in hacking off two thirds of the population and alienating the most politically hyperactive people on the Web.  What this entire episode, which began here, has shown is not so much that liberal magazines are easily intimidated by the blog left, but that the blog left chooses to crucify the oddest people for seemingly spurious, frivolous reasons and thus reveals their own shocking frivolity. 

So Nyhan said that it was stupid to compare the administration to fascists–well, it is stupid, just as it is stupid to compare ever third-rate dictator on the planet with Hitler.  He also said that calling a book about Ann Coulter Brainless was, well, rather brainless, since Coulter may be many things but a person lacking in intelligence isn’t one of them.  What bothered the Kossacks in the first case and the TAP editors so much with the others was that Nyhan was perfectly right in both of these cases and all they could do was throw a hissy fit. 

No, there is no reward for even-handed or judicious or intelligent criticism if it does not exempt your “side”–and you simply must have a side–and in pointing out precisely those flaws that plague all partisans you will mostly receive scorn from both sides in due course.  Today the GOP bloggers are saying soothing, conciliatory things about Mr. Nyhan, but that is because he was “defenestrated” by liberals for saying things critical of liberals; were he to make the same sort of dismissive remarks about Islamofascism at NRO, they wouldn’t be able to get him out of the window fast enough.

It’s unclear why President Bush’s approval ratings have risen, but the Washington Times offers a suggestion we can safely rule out — the masterful PR work of Tony Snow:

Former talk show host Tony Snow took over as President Bush’s communications point man four months ago, beefing up the press office staff, honing internal operations and deploying a quick-response strategy.

Now, polls show, the president’s approval rating has jumped to its highest level since January.

Could Mr. Snow be responsible for the surge?

Answer: No. That is all. ~Brendan Nyhan

Short, sweet, and to the point.  And he manages to belittle Tony Snow with a minimum of effort.  The more I see from this Nyhan, the more I like his style.

Since I have been writing on the theme of conformity, dissidence and blogging, perhaps a few belated words about The American Prospect’s termination of Brendan Nyhan’s blogging at their site are in order.  Most observers of the situation have deplored the reason for what some have called Nyhan’s “defenestration” (people apparently don’t just get fired anymore!), namely that Nyhan, who considers himself a non-partisan analyst, refused to stop dishing out some criticism to the liberal side.  One of the offending posts in question, attacking both the tiresome habit of neocons in comparing everything in foreign policy to the Nazis/fascism and the liberal habit of comparing their domestic enemies to Nazis/fascism, was as refreshing as it is rare.  But in all honesty, who was Nyhan kidding?  The large conservative magazines no longer have to enforce ideological conformity with purges such as this because they long ago established the ground rules for what would pass for acceptable dissent, and the limits of permissible discourse are exceedingly narrow, everyone knows where the limits are and nobody, if he wants to long remain associated with those magazines, crosses them.  The Prospect is drawing its boundaries in accordance with what the blog left declares to be acceptable and unacceptable.  I despise these sorts of purges, but they happen all the time–and no one has less credibility in denouncing them than the people who have mastered the fine art of writing entire groups of people out of the conservative movement. 

As for liberal complaints about the uppity Kossacks dictating terms to the Prospect, some perspective.  After fifteen years or so of whining about a lack of progressive alternative media, liberals have finally gotten their equivalent of talk radio in the netroots and have found that it comes at the price of unleashing the unseemly passions of the core supporters and giving them a real voice that can influence and intimidate others.  The GOP was smart about how it has handled the talk radio phenomenon–it approves of it enough to make the radio hosts feel as if they are part of the GOP team, and eventually they become, as Limbaugh did, hacks who will say almost anything on behalf of the party (who knows? perhaps he has even come to believe the preposterous things he says!).  The GOP has come to understand the value of talk radio as the vent that releases built-up pressure among their political base, especially on intense issues such as immigration; its magazines have nothing to fear from the blog right, because the major GOP bloggers are all more or less marching along in agreement with the major magazines and think tanks.  The problem of how to handle intimidation from RedState or lgf never comes up, because these blogs simply don’t make any attempt to enforce conformity on the magazines–instead, they enforce the magazines’ conformity on their members and commenters. 

The NROniks can talk about their penchant for heterodoxy all they like (no, really, they have said this!), but in fairness I have never seen the NROniks go after the looney fringes of Republican blogging (think Little Green Footballs) or the fever swamps of talk radio (think Michael Savage).  Instead of belittling the unseemly Bush-worship of PowerLine’s Hinderaker, some denizens of The Corner seem more interested in competing with him for Chief Lackey.  The issue in the Nyhan case has never been whether the Prospect would criticise Democrats, but whether a non-partisan analyst would be forced to toe an ideological line dictated by blog activists.  NRO and the like do not face this problem, because they and the righty bloggers are all more or less toeing the same line to begin with.  All of this is deplorable, but as has been noted before one of the very purposes of the “movement” has been to enforce conformity, not encourage debate and dissent.  Liberals can look at the conservative operation as something of a success story, in terms of election results, provided they ignore the deleterious effect this “success” has had on the quality of ideas and thought in the “movement.” 

It sure makes a noticeable difference to wake up in the morning when you know that from now on, you are going to be a good person, and all that cynicism and biting sarcasm and automatically fixating into finding weaknesses in things is gone. This feeling is probably the secular version of what the religious people feel like after their conversion. ~Ilkka Kokkarinen, Sixteen Volts

I had earlier noticed this part of Dr. Kokkarinen’s final post, but had wanted to say something about another aspect of his explanation for giving up blogging.  On behalf of sarcastic cynics and critics everywhere, I have to say: give me a break!  Sarcasm, especially bitter sarcasm, is sometimes just the needed antidote for the pretensions of public intellectuals–such people thrive on the air of seriousness and self-importance they bring to their work, and nothing punctures that overinflated balloon faster than a shot of sarcastic wit.  Who are we bloggers to puncture that balloon?  Well, if not us, who?  Who will hold up the claims of these people to scrutiny?  The regular media?  That’s a good one.  Their colleagues?  Unlikely.     

Critique serves a vital function in any discussion, and must perforce be rather negative, though that does not have to make it purely destructive.  There is something rather tiresome in the assumption that by giving up writing blog entries in a sarcastic, cynical vein you have thereby become a better person.  If you were a bad person for doing these things before, you have not significantly reformed–you have simply stopped broadcasting your views to the world–and if you were not a bad person for doing these things there is no sudden “conversion” from being a bad, cynical blogger to a good, positive non-blogger.  Some people are more prone to see flaws than others; you cannot turn this off with a snap of the fingers.  If you have a knack for withering criticism, it is part of who you are and not something that you can simply shut off; it will simply be expressed in a new form. 

Dr. Kokkarinen is, of course, free to do as he pleases and doesn’t need to justify ending his blog with some appeal to moral reform–he could simply say that he wants to focus all his energies on teaching, which would be admirable enough and would have exposed him to less scorn from those sarcastic cynics who remain.  But it doesn’t say much in his favour that he has chosen silence and the least path of resistance when he came in for some heavy criticism because of things he wrote; even if he was wrong in what he said or how he said it, there is a certain principle that ought to make him insist that his writing does not hinge on the approval of the people he criticises. 

It says even less that he thinks that by shutting down his blog and silencing himself he has therefore become a better person.  If an academic wants to be done with polemic, criticism and even sarcastic negativity, he may as well go into another line of work–these things are part and parcel of the competitive atmosphere of the academic world, as it should be in a world that ought to thrive on vigorous, serious and, yes, respectful debate.  These aspects of academia can sometimes become excessive and degenerate into fruitless vendettas between scholars and researchers, but this kind of rivalry has existed for a very long time.  Anyone engaged in inquiry and active in “the life of the mind,” whether in a professional capacity or in his free time, will sooner or later find himself confronted with critics and those who would just as soon see him silenced.  The odds are that if they wrap themselves up in the mantle of the injured victim, the less merit their objections have.  How mistaken it is, then, to yield to the complaints of such people, who, in all likelihood, have no good retorts to his criticisms and have had to resort to this kind of PC harrassment.   

The flight of Kokkarinen has prompted many comments across a great many blogs, most of which touch on similar points: 1) freedom of speech in Canada seems rather weak when something like this happens; 2) PC-mania is out of control; 3) Kokkarinen was wrong to capitulate and scuttle his blog.  But no post I have seen expresses all of this with the contempt that Mr. Ellila musters up here: 

Lame.

This “apology”, which is a thinly veiled parody, is a pathetic attempt by Ilkka to lick the jackboots of feminazi thugs in order to keep his job at the Soviet university by making the thoughpolice believe he genuinely repents his thoughtcrime.

Ilkka reminds me of the ghetto Jews who cooperated with the SS in the false hope that they would save their own asses.

In stark contrast, when Hans-Hermann Hoppe, professor of economics at the University of Nevada, was attacked by the thoughtpolice for saying homosexuals are less interested on the average in planning for the future as heterosexuals because the former generally don’t have children and the latter do, he refused to surrender, and successfully sued the university for breach of job contract, and managed to get a lot of positive public attention, thereby humiliating the Soviet-style inquisitors who wanted him to give up his Goldsteinism. ~Mikko Ellila

Over the top?  In some ways, possibly, but Mr. Ellila hits on this as an aspect of what I have been calling the inquisitio nova–the dedicated persecution of the thought crimes of various kinds of prejudice in an attempt to maintain a sense of ideologically defined moral purity and control over the definitions of what is and is not acceptable thought. 

If Dr. Kokkarinen really believes that his blog was nothing but an exercise in nattering negativism and cynical hostility, it is strange that he should have started commenting on matters of controversy at all.  Any blog that touches on cultural and political topics, if it is not to become an echo chamber for the partisans of the state or the ruling party, has to be contrarian, oppositionist and frequently dissident.  A certain degree of cynicism is unavoidable when confronted with the endless waves of half-truths and deceptions that flow from the official sources of information, the pretentious theories of academics and the governments of the world.   

Frankly, I think cynicism, like pessimism, has received a bad name from people who benefit from ignoring its criticisms, mostly because these people frequently confuse it with nihilism–a belief in nothing–when it has been at its best a kind of humanist critique of the pretensions and idols of this world.  A Cynic motto was: Deface the coin (which had clear associations with ruining counterfeit currency–”deface the coin” was a call to cut through the webs of fraud and deception).  The Cynics themselves were often personally quite objectionable people, and their contempt for all convention was excessive and unbalanced, but in this they also possessed a keen eye for recognising cant and denouncing frauds when they were put in places of honour.  It seems to me that this could contain perils for the person who assumes the Cynic pose, and certainly contemptus mundi without the love of God can become nothing but a purely vicious resentment, but in their detachment from the glories of this world the Cynics (exemplified by Diogenes meeting Alexander while seated in his bathtub) possess the first half of the wisdom of the later ascetics.  The second half of wisdom was, of course, to leaven the bitter bread of criticism with the fullness of the Truth.  The obvious corollary of defacing the (counterfeit) coin is to respect the legitimate coin.  There is nothing wrong with naysaying as such; it is when there is never anything to which one would say yea that a habit of criticism can become soul-destroying.  Yet, in my experience, those who object to paper schemes, ready-made answers and the armed doctrines of this world have strong commitments to an affirmative vision of order that they are trying to protect against the sophists and schemers.  I would much rather be among those calling it as we see it, who pull at the loose threads of ideological tapestries, who mock those who have position but not authority, than to be one of the legion of excuse-makers and apologists for the powerful of this world, who, I’m sorry to say, make up a surprisingly large proportion of the allegedly independent media of blogs.  In the end, it is far better to speak the truth mixed with some bitterness than to speak deceitful words smoother than oil and sweet to hear.    

When the Thai military plotters pulled off their coup, they, like many another gang of revolutionaries before them, took over the radio and television stations in the Thai capital. Thank heavens for the Internet, talk radio, and other alternative media. In that respect, we’ve had a coup in the United States almost since the beginning of the Bush administration. ~Lawrence Henry, AmSpec Blog

I’m not sure, but I think this has to win some kind of prize for being the most bizarre use of the “liberal media” trope I have ever seen.  But maybe I’ve got him wrong.  Perhaps Mr. Henry is suggesting that NewsCorp and Clear Channel are engaged in a coup against the constitutional government of the United States?  He might be onto something….But I really don’t know what he’s saying.  First of all, I don’t know what to make of someone who thinks that a military coup that has the support of the king is revolutionary.  I am also unsure what difference the existence of alternative media makes when almost all the urban and educated people in Thailand are thrilled by the coup and are ecstatic at the downfall of Thaksin; Thaksin’s political base is among the poor and rural folks in the north and east of the country, who presumably do not have their own blogs and routine Web access.

Well, the Duke’s fans should be a bit more wary of this particular film. There’s a fairly simple reason why The Searchers is so highly rated by critics. Whether by accident or design, it is ultimately a liberal telling of the settling of the western frontier.

Specifically, the film’s theme is race. It portrays the settling of the west as an explicitly racial struggle for dominance between the Indians and the whites. More to the point, it subtly but unmistakably subverts Wayne’s heroic image by making his character’s motivations all about race. Which is exactly why liberals love it. ~Sean Higgins, The American Spectator

So liberals love a movie whose premise is the savage raid and kidnapping of a young white girl by Indians?  They love a movie that valorises family vendetta and violent frontier self-help?  They love a movie where white men with guns seek to exact vengeance for the wrong done to their own?  Well, liberals certainly have changed!  Do they also love Birth of a Nation

But Mr. Higgins’ rather baffling interpretation of The Searchers does not stop here.  He goes on, quoting the maestro of PC film criticism:

As Ebert has noted: “Ethan’s redemption is intended to be shown in that dramatic shot of reunion with Debbie, where he takes her in his broad hands…and says, ‘Let’s go home, Debbie.’ The shot is famous and beloved, but small counterbalance to his views throughout the film — and indeed, there is no indication that he thinks any differently about Indians.”

It’s because of such unresolved questions that so many film critics — especially, yes, the liberal ones — love the film. How often do you get to see the assumptions of politically correct history played out in a film with a conservative icon like Wayne in the leading role? To create something comparable today Bill Bennett would have to appear dealing drugs in a gangster rap video.

Did it ever occur to anyone that, however forced the ending might be, it is a resolution that respects the importance of blood ties and that Edwards realises, in the end, that his niece is kin and therefore must be protected no matter what else has happened?  The lesson is not that of the bad racist who suddenly mends his ways, but that of the man obsessed who very nearly destroys the reason for his quest in the first place; viewed in this way, the ties of blood between him and his niece are the only things that restrain him. 

And I do hate to burst Mr. Higgins’ bubble, but a PC reading of the history of the West would have omitted the whole savage Indian raid-cum-kidnapping part to begin with.  In the true victimology of the West, Indians never did these sorts of things–or they were provoked into doing them–and the emphasis in history books has been for the last 20 years on the Trail of Tears, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee to the exclusion of anything else.  The decades of desultory violence between settlers and Indians are thus collapsed into a convenient morality tale of the oppressor stealing from the natives, pure and simple.  This is not to ignore white atrocities, but to recognise that they are hardly the entire story.  In a truly PC version of frontier life, we would be treated instead, Dances With Wolves-style, to the perfidy of the Bluecoats and the simple nobility of the Indians. 

To call The Searchers a liberal or PC telling of frontier history would be like calling Apocalypto a PC recounting of the fall of the Maya.  Though I have only seen snippets of the latter in previews, it is clear enough that Gibson intends to focus on the violent self-immolation of Mayan civilisation, complete with human sacrifice–all of which was something that was only a couple generations ago considered simply impossible, on account of what had to be the benevolent, peaceful nature of all Native American and Mesoamerican peoples.

It may be that liberal film critics adore the film because they themselves misread what it is saying.  That is hardly any reason to validate their interpretation or knock The Searchers simply because it has some notable liberal fans who see the anti-racist morality tale in it that they want to see. 

There’s a game that kids (and, OK, me too) like to play with the fortune cookies you get at Chinese restaurants. Read the fortune, but append the phrase “in bed” to whatever it says. Hilarity ensues. The game illustrates that in fortune-telling, as in everything else, context matters. A couple of additional context-setting words transform platitudes into dirty jokes. Much the same could be said of the ongoing debate about the role of democracy promotion in American foreign policy.

Shadi Hamid, as he explained first in The American Prospect and again for Tom Paine, thinks it should be at the center of progressive foreign policy. Spencer Ackerman, also writing in the Prospect, disagrees, preferring a focus on human rights. John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven take yet another view, preferring a focus on what one might call the construction of a liberal state infrastructure, “the rule of law, a reasonably independent and efficient judiciary and police, a law-abiding, honest and rational bureaucracy and a population that enjoys basic rights of labor, movement, and free discussion.”

The way I see it, there’s less to this dispute than meets the eye. The real problem is what’s missing — those crucial additional words that determine context. And context makes all the difference. From my perspective, you can take any of these proposals — “let’s promote x,” “let’s promote y” — and add the phrase “through legitimate international institutions and mechanisms of international law” and it’s all to the good. Absent that phrase, it’s not so good. In particular, the neoconservative contention that we should promote x and y through unilateral military action is a terrible idea. ~Matt Yglesias, The American Prospect

Via Jim Antle

Personally, I think Michael’s fortune cookie idea was much more entertaining.

In Eastern Europe, the United States of America has never served as an imperial power. These are countries that have either been dominated by Russians for hundreds of years, or else were previously dominated by Germans before falling under Russian hegemony. The United States was in no way involved in these efforts at imperial domination, and expended considerable blood and treasure throughout the 20th century combating the local imperial powers. ~Matt Yglesias, The American Prospect

Besides Yglesias’ apparent blind spot to the entire decade of the 1990s, what is this about “eastern Europe” being subject to the Russians for centuries?  Which “eastern Europe” are we talking about?  Most of what used to be called eastern Europe in the Cold War years had almost never been under Russian control (e.g., the old Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the old Yugoslavia); much of this same area is often now described as central or central-eastern Europe as the geographical definition of Europe stopping at the Urals has gained some recognition. 

I’ve just become aware that some of the opinions and observations expressed in this blog may have offended various individuals or groups at one point or another. I apologize, and promise that it won’t happen again. I’ve been such a stupid jerk.

I came to this realization last night. As I struggled to explain the male-centered “principles” behind “logic” to my child I realized that it was I who needed to be taught. What I had been conditioned by a racist and sexist society to view as “learning” and “knowledge” was nothing more than a social construct designed to oppress and humiliate womyn and minorities. Feminine ways of knowing, magically connected to the Goddess by a great invisible web of compassion and empathy, veiled by my euro/phallo-centric mentality, will no longer be suppressed in our household.

Reflected in the eyes of my young daughter was the image of intolerance, bigotry, racism, ageism, ablism, regionalism, exploitation, homophobia, sexism, and speciesism that I have come to embody. How could I not see? It was a terrible epiphany. I’ve let this child down horribly by not confronting the appalling white male privelege that, through the violence of my inaction and unwillingness to confront and denounce others like me, has made me complicit in the oppression of others, excuse me, the Other. I have been made to see the horror of my white-hetero privelege, and I renounce it. ~Dennis Dale

Here Dennis Dale has an outstanding, hilarious piece of satire aimed squarely at Ilkka Kokkarinen’s final post.

After a three year run, The New Pantagruel is closing shop. Our incursion was never intended to be a long one. We are not careerists and had no intention or ambition to become part of the media establishment, Christian or otherwise. We did wish to demonstrate that such populist anti-liberal incursions were possible, and occasionally desirable. Against a chorus of establishment naysayers, The New Pantagruel succeeded on a shoestring budget and without any insider access in garnering national attention and influence, particularly within the elite Christian press and some political outlets. Our voice was primarily a voice of dissent, and it has been heartening to know that such voices can still capture the spirit of a large number of diffuse people and perspectives in today’s managed climate of “centrist” opinion. 

Ours can largely be summed up as a localist, decentralist, anarcho-Christian and authentically conservative approach to politics and culture. As we have written previously, we believe that to suffer one’s place and one’s people in the particularity of its and their needs is the only true basis for finding love, friendship, and an authentic, meaningful life. This is nothing less than the key to the pursuit of Christian holiness, which is the whole of the Christian adventure: to live in love with the frailty and limits of one’s existence, suffering the places, customs, rites, joys, and sorrows of the people who are in close relation to you by family, friendship, and community–all in service of the truth, goodness, and beauty that is best experienced directly. The discipline of place teaches that it is more than enough to care skillfully and lovingly for one’s own little circle, and this is the model for the good life, not the limitless jurisdiction of the ego, granted by a doctrine of choice, that is ever seeking its own fulfillment, pleasure, and satiation. 

Taking that charge seriously, The New Pantagruel has, essentially, argued itself out of existence. This is a good thing. In the end, we are pessimistic romantics. We believe life is eucatastrophic: a joyous catastrophe. Instead of spending endless hours before the faceless void of the “new media,” we will be engaging the tragedies and necessities of raising families, rebuilding neighborhoods and small towns, and fighting to preserve and save that which we love. As we dive back into the particularities of our places and people and their needs, we hope you will do the same. And remember, Fr. Jape is watching you. ~Caleb Stegall and Dan Knauss, The New Pantagruel

Caleb and Dan’s gain is our loss.  The New Pantagruel contained some of the most interesting commentary online (and I don’t just say that because I once wrote an essay for it), and the world of webzines and blogs will be greatly impoverished as a result of tNP’s disappearance.  No more will Jape’s carrier pigeons fly to bring us the latest in curmudgeonly wisdom, and no more will neo-Calvinists and Lutherans have to fear the biting wit of the old Jesuit.  The enemies of the Permanent Things can rest a little easier now.  The sophisters, economists and calculators can rejoice (if economists are capable of real joy).  But one suspects, in good Pantagruelist fashion, that the last laugh will be on them.

This is not some underhanded attempt to grovel because I am afraid of losing my job or something. Because I’m not, as far as I know. And even if I were, that would be peanuts compared to the idea of the woman you love looking at you and you see how she is disappointed of you, asking you why you would want to write mean things. I would rather shovel shit for living every day than have to come up with an answer to that. Because there really is none. ~Ilkka Kokkarinen, Sixteen Volts 

The end of Dr. Kokkarinen’s blog has become something of a hot topic these days.  Not having been a regular reader of Sixteen Volts, I cannot be sure just what sort of “mean things” “offended” and “hurt” so many that would compel a blogger to throw in the towel as a matter of profound shame (his word).  Steve Sailer notes that his university employer objected to his “skepticism about the intellectual consistency of lesbian-feminist theory,” which it deplores as “sexist” and “homophobic” (natch).  But apparently what really did it for Dr. Kokkarinen was that his woman said he was being mean.

This is of interest to me because I have remarked in the past on the futility of blogging, and others have noted the harmful effects that blogging can have, but I have never before heard of a blogger giving up on this particular pastime because his girlfriend/wife wanted him to be a nicer person.  

There are undoubtedly better ways to spend your time than by blogging.  No one is more keenly aware of this than I am.  You could read.  You could listen to edifying, beautiful music.  You could write the Great American Novel, or at least a cheap knock-off of the same.  You could, as Michael does, go salsa dancing.  You could, as I actually have done recently, help out at your local church.  If you felt fairly unmotivated, you could watch a movie and probably still have found the time better spent. 

But if you are going to blog, then surely the point would be to make some kind of substantive contribution to an ongoing debate.  People who are afraid of being “negative” in blogging are the sorts of people who eventually don’t want to have vigorous debates of any kind for fear that someone, somewhere may be offended by a strong view.  Personally, I have never been a big fan of people who say things like, “Accentuate the positive,” and I honestly don’t know what a “positive” political blog would look like.  Would it simply be entry after entry where you quote someone and say, “I think this is just great.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Good job!”?  There is a time and place for those sorts of posts, though usually statements of approval can be pretty redundant, but there has to be more meat to a blog if anyone is going to read it for substantive commentary. 

Obviously if a blog became your entire life–which, happily, Eunomia has not, despite what my frequency of posting might suggest–there would be something seriously wrong.  If you delighted in writing posts that denigrated people for who they were, rather than critiquing or even ridiculing their absurd, offensive or dangerous ideas, you probably do have a problem of some sort.  In my case, I admit that my criticisms tend to be fairly dripping with contempt and sarcasm, but I make no apologies for being a relentless critic of people who routinely endorse the nuclear massacre of civilians, torture or aggressive war.  I try my best to keep the criticism focused on the quality of the ideas in question and never let it stray too much to the people, even when these people endorse some of the most despicable things.  If I have crossed that line, it was probably a mistake, but I would not expect my readers to take my arguments seriously if my posts were focused unduly on people rather than their arguments.  To take that other path of ad hominem attack is to embrace fallacious arguments and embark on a journey bound for insanity and the derangement of the Kossacks.  But I seriously doubt that Dr. Kokkarinen was making ad hominem attacks–usually when people claim to be “hurt” by someone else’s reasoned opinion, it is because they cannot take rational criticism of their own ideas and choices in life.     

If people take my criticisms of, say, Islam as an example of being “mean” towards Muslims, when they are nothing of the sort, there is nothing I could do about that, since this sort of reaction is irrational and cannot be seriously debated.  In just the same way the hysterical reaction to Pope Benedict’s comments about Islam in the context of his Regensburg address on faith and reason should not merit an end to criticism or a compromising of what one believes to be true.  It would appear from Steve Sailer’s post that the reaction to Dr. Kokkarinen’s blog is of much the same kind–visceral, emotional, irrational and very PC–so it is a shame that he has chosen to accept other people’s characterisations of his writing as “mean” and hurtful, especially when it seems clear from the laments of his readers and other bloggers that his is a voice that had something worthwhile to contribute and a voice that will be missed when it is gone.

On a lighter note, Steve Sailer offers an intriguing way to evade the PC brigades that would have appealed to Tolkien:

Perhaps this suggests that the survival of freedom of speech in the West rests with the Finnish language. Maybe we should start studying Finnish to use as a secret language for the discussion of ideas forbidden to be mentioned in English?       

This would be an interesting thing to try, but it would probably be difficult to do.  Do you know how many cases there are in Finnish?  Something like fifteen.  Fifteen cases!  The Hungarians, whose language is distantly related to Finnish, have much the same problem with a language loaded down with different case forms.  When the Hungarian national anthem begins, Isten aldd meg a magyart (God bless the Hungarian), part of the reason for this prayer must be an appeal to God to have mercy on a nation that has such a complicated language.  Oh well.  Ilyen az elet, as my cousins say. 

Update: Contrast this unwillingness to be “mean” with the simple, straightforward refusal to bow to conformity here

If you trace the concept of “victory” in his remarks on Iraq, and those of subordinates, you discover a war that was won three and a half years ago, and today has barely started. ~Michael Kinsley, Slate

Opponents of the war in Iraq may opine that it has no relation to the war on terror, and that our retreat from Iraq will even help us in the war on terror.

Their views may be honorable, but our enemies have declared Iraq to be the decisive battlefield. That makes it so. ~Michael Novak

So we have granted to the jihadis the power to determine what is and is not true about this war?  That is surely a strange thing–and it uses jihadi statements in a way that war supporters abhorred in war opponents when we have cited Bin Laden’s statements to explain the proximate causes of the current conflict.  It has been close to being virtually a thought crime to suggest that disentangling ourselves from the Near East would likely reduce the threat of jihadi terrorism by depriving it of popular causes that it could exploit.  It is now the sum of wisdom to agree with Bin Laden’s depiction of the war in toto because it happens to serve the turn of people who supported the invasion of Iraq long before Bin Laden ever said one word about it.  This is really something of a despicable ruse, another way of tricking the public to support something that is not in the national interest and which positively harms the war against Al Qaeda everywhere else in the world.  It is, alas, what we have come to expect from Mr. Novak and his confreres.    

But how is it the “decisive” battlefield?  What will be decided?  The word “decisive” has a specific meaning here that does not seem to match up to the realities of the Iraq war.  Whether America or the jihadis ”win” in Iraq, neither will thereby be guaranteed to win the entire war, nor does he who “loses” it lose the entire war.  If it were the “decisive” battlefield, this would have to be the turning point, the Stalingrad of the whole shooting match, after which our total defeat becomes inevitable if we “lose” and after which our total victory becomes inevitable if they “lose.”  There are, of course, far more than two sides currently fighting in Iraq–at my last count, there were at least five, not including American forces (they are Sadr’s death squads; the Iraqi government; Al Qaeda; Sunni insurgents; ex-Baathists), some of which cooperate against the others, some of which do not.  If the Iraqi government + Sadr start to prevail, as seems more likely, Bin Laden can talk about how vital Iraq is to his cause all he likes–it will avail him nothing. 

(Why is the only story out of Iraq each day a bombing that kills six, when there are more murders than that each night in a group of a half-dozen cities or so in the U.S.? Our enemies count on that. They want the drip, drip, drip of American blood, because they think we do not have the moral toughness to stand it.) ~Michael Novak

Except that that isn’t the only story out of Iraq each day.  This is nonsense.  In recent months, the stories usually include the dozens of Iraqis killed by bombs and the dozens more murdered by death squads and, then, to top it off comes the story about Americans killed by roadside bombs.  How many American cities can boast thousands murdered by death squads in one month?  I’m going to take a wild guess and say none.  Forget the drip-drip-drip of American blood–how about the slosh-slosh-slosh of Iraqi blood?  Or are these Iraqi deaths not terribly important to be worth reporting? 

Not only might that tell people that the war is not going well, but that the administration is entirely clueless in handling the situation.  Is Novak saying that the failure of U.S. and Iraqi government security is something the press shouldn’t report?  As I read his article, it seems to me that he is saying that reporters who report on realities in Iraq that do not conform to the most delusionally optimistic scenarios of war supporters are aiding and abetting the enemy cause.  If that is what he thinks, he should say so clearly.   

They are willing to wager everything in Baghdad and its surroundings. Either they will reap glory, triumph, and sure victory in Iraq, having humiliated the proud United States and shown what a phony it is — or they themselves will be deflated, humiliated, and put on the ashbin of this century. Here is where the line has been drawn. ~Michael Novak

But they haven’t wagered “everything.”  They are wagering relatively little.  Al Qaeda in Iraq is one branch of the tree, one front among many.  The very language of “central front” betrays outdated, conventional thinking about this war, as if this were a war with static lines created by two armies in the field and as if conventional tactics (i.e., defeating the enemy “in the field”) could secure victory.  If Al Qaeda in Iraq were defeated, does anyone believe that this would signal to them or to others in the Islamic world that they had been relegated to the “ashbin of history”?  They would view it as a temporary setback, just as they have been able to adjust and reorganise to the fall of the Taliban.  If restoring the Caliphate is the supposed prize, the final goal, the jihadis will presumably take the long view and view any defeat as one small hiccup in their eventual, supposedly divinely-ordained victory.  Jihadis are used to be relegated to the “ashbin of history” (they have not enjoyed what you would call a winning streak of late) but they have the most stubborn insistence that they do not belong there and they keep crawling back out, shaking off the ash and making another play for power.  If our civilisation has any mettle in it, we would do the same.  One is reminded of the lines from Gladiator:

Quintus: A people should know when they’re conquered.

Maximus: Would you, Quintus?  Would I? 

In this confidence of eventual victory the jihadis are thinking ideologically, but democratist fundamentalists in the West think in much the same way about their virtually inevitable, almost historically-guaranteed triumph.  If America is seen as having been driven out of Iraq, if this is counted to us not as a strategic retreat but a genuine, humiliating defeat (which only becomes more likely the longer we stay), does anyone think that we are going to curl up and die?  Does anyone think it will humble for a moment the buffoons who led us into this war?  No, the very same ideologues who sold the country on this disastrous war will be back, almost immediately, to tell us where the next “crucial” battleground is and why we really must stop them this time; they will probably continue to urge us to pursue the same goals: disarmament of certain regimes and democratisation.  Neither set of ideologoues would learn anything, because for them defeat only teaches them to redouble their effort and their dedication to the Cause.  For those of us in the “reality-based community,” defeat is a signal that something fundamental is awry and needs serious fixing.  Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the rest of us, whoever “wins” in Iraq neither side will be consigned to the “ashbin of history,” because both sides’ ideologues are positively certain that history is on their side. 

Like many others, I have been following closely the words of our enemies. President Bush recited many of them in his speech on September 6: bin Laden, Zarqawi, Zawahiri. They have all seen Iraq as the central battle in this Third World War (counting the Cold War, it is the Fourth). They have said the whole Islamofascist dream of a Universal Caliphate, holding all of humankind in submission, hinges on this battle. ~Michael Novak

Sometimes people like Novak say such wacky things that I don’t know how to respond.  As I have noted before, every time someone uses the word Islamofascist, I believe his credibility on whatever he is talking about has been reduced by 10%, because anyone who uses such a word ipso facto misunderstands who we are fighting and shows himself to be oblivious to the flaws with this word.  Presumably he is referring only to Al Qaeda “Islamofascists” when he talks about the “Islamofascist dream,” but it’s hard to be sure, since one of the supposed advantages of this term, like the phrase “Islamic fascist,” is that it intentionally blurs lines and lumps together all kinds of different groups and regimes.  

So the “Islamofascist dream of a Universal Caliphate” hinges on the fighting in Iraq, eh?  And presumably the “glorious victory” of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is close at hand.  I’m sure some hard-core propagandist in Pyongyang has said similarly overblown things, which we don’t take the least bit seriously, but for some reason we are supposed to take jihadi enemy propaganda as a statement about reality–perhaps because so many of us take government propaganda as a statement about reality?–and then plan accordingly.  It is not uncommon for bluster and grandiose declarations to be masks for weakness and impotence, and usually the grander the declaration the less likely it is that it will be realised.  Thus we know that when Krushchev said “we will bury you,” he actually had no means to “bury us” and no real-world prospects of acquiring the means.  When jihadis talk about how this or that battle is vital to the restoration of the Caliphate, it is about as substantive as a different propagandist’s declaration that we have to keep fighting to make sure “government by the people” does not perish from the face of the earth or that we are fighting to “make the world safe for democracy.”  In jihadi theory, the desultory warfare in Chechnya and the endless Kashmiri insurgency are also crucial to the restoration of the Caliphate–talking about the restoration of the Caliphate is part of their recruiting drive and their way of explaining their involvement in a fight to others.  If Iraq has become a more important battlefield for Al Qaeda than some of these others, it is because we are there and they see it as a golden opportunity to humble and discredit us.  By insisting on staying, we let them dictate our military deployments and our strategy, and while we run down our armed forces we make sure that withdrawal in the future will be less and less on our own terms and more and more on the terms that they set for us–in which case, there will indeed be much more humiliation than if we were to leave now at our own discretion.

Iraq has become the new version of 1980s Afghanistan, the rallying point for mujahideen everywhere–and Bosnia and Chechnya were no different in the 1990s–but unlike Afghanistan the main neighbouring country intervening in the country’s affairs is not one aligned with a movement friendly to Al Qaeda but in fact represents one of its opponents.  Stubborn persistence in Iraq and hostility towards Iran almost guarantees a repeat of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, because Washington refuses to seek rapprochement with the one regional power that could keep our withdrawal from precipitating a decade of civil war.   

With every kind of propaganda, even when victory in the specific fight is achieved, the stakes were never what the propagandists claimed and the outcome often has no relationship to what the propagandist told us to expect.  By playing according to the script the enemy gives us, goading us to fight them on the “crucial” battlefield and convincing us that all is lost if we do not, we have already ceded a huge psychological advantage to them.  They get to tell us, in a sense, how to beat them–will it be any surprise if they are lying to us and forcing us to fight in all the wrong places?  While we fight on the “central front” that they have now designated for us as the “crucial” battleground, they are securing themselves ever deeper footholds in the Northwest Territory of Pakistan and making themselves increasingly untouchable.  Whether they are aware of it or not, those who take Al Qaeda pronouncements about Iraq as justification for remaining in Iraq are helping the enemy to wear us down at a time and place of their choosing while reconstituting their organisation in relative safety inside an allegedly allied country whose government cannot effectively act against them.  If they were to read an article such as Mr. Novak’s, and when they hear the President utter similar statements, they could not help but be pleased.  

 

Well, the danger to our country in 2006 is even greater than it was in 1938, in at least one respect: The destruction may well be borne into our midst not by armies, air forces, or ships, but by suicidal individual terrorists. ~Michael Novak

Now I wouldn’t want to ruin Mr. Novak’s amusing fantasy life with anything so dreary as facts, but in 1938 there was no immediate threat to the United States, certainly not from Germany and not even from Japan, though FDR was working assiduously to make sure that they would become our enemies.  The country that was mainly in danger in 1938, as it turns out, was Poland, though that had not stopped Poland, along with Hungary, from grabbing some territory from the Czechoslovakians.  The involvement of Czechoslovakia’s other neighbours in the Munich land-grab is part of the Munich deal that latter-day fanatics don’t tend to remember because it forces them to remember that the principle of ethnic self-determination that their hero, Wilson, had propagated was one of the central justifications for the entire debacle.  They have, of course, learned nothing, apparently remembering little about these events except what fits the narrative of appeasement and unrelenting fascism.  People in this country write about how “it feels like 1938 all over again” (Novak’s own words) as if we were Britons, Frenchmen or Poles.  Last I checked, we were not. 

Doug Bandow notes another tiresome “1938ist” article, this time by Michael Novak, and asks the obvious question: who cares if the jihadis believe Iraq is the “central front,” and why should we fight the war on their terms?  Letting your enemy decide when and where to fight is ultimately self-defeating–so much for the lie that this administration and its supporters want to “take the fight to the enemy.”  They have, in fact, yielded all initiative in this war, which is something that all of the misdirected fury of the ”pre-emption” in Iraq has obscured from view.  Invading Iraq was not so much the product of an aggressive, ’forward policy’ that will put the enemy on the defensive as it was a phenomenally unwise campaign that walked straight into the trap the jihadis were hoping we would walk into. 

This is much the same as what I asked a few weeks ago when I cited The Economist’s observation of the creepy parallelism of the jihadi and neocon narratives about the war.  Back on 1 September I said:

So preoccupied with the facile and laughable nature of the phrase ”Islamic fascism,” I have neglected to discuss this other significant problem: imagining a seamless, unified “Islamic fascist” enemy replicates the Al Qaeda jihadis‘ own conception of the war and works to their advantage by fighting the war on their terms.  We are not fighting them where they are, which is what we should do, but fighting them as they would like us to be fighting them (with the added bonus of toppling a dictator whom they hated).  You even see neocons citing statements from Al Qaeda leaders about the fighting in Iraq today as some sort of “proof” that Iraq is vital to our war.  It is vital to someone’s global war, but it isn’t ours–vital to their war, because it gives them exactly the kind of fight they want.  By collapsing every discrete and distinct case of Islamic militancy (or, in the case of Syria and Iran, simply regimes that Washington despises) into the generic and misleadingly named “Islamic fascism,” the administration and its hangers-on daily lend credibility to the jihadis‘ propaganda that this is a generalised war against almost any kind of Muslim nation, be it Sunni or Shi’ite, secular or theocratic, authoritarian or partly democratic.  That works to their advantage, not ours, particularly if it causes us to commit ourselves to more conventional wars and occupations of Muslim nations, thus providing them with new fields for the jihadi harvest.

The King’s actions have always been guided not by his interests, but by the country’s, which is why the Thais will almost certainly accept his wishes once again, and why this coup will very probably work. The people, like their monarch, understand the limits of democracy and the boundless advantages of flexibility in a turbulent world. ~Alex Spillius, The Spectator

And while his predecessors were guilty of many things, none behaved like a president, or even a king. Thaksin’s great error, made over and over again, was to confuse the country’s good with his own; to judge an attack on him as an attack on the state. There is only one embodiment of the nation and the people, and that is the King. To an army fiercely loyal to the crown, the attack was intolerable.

He also angered the top brass by befriending the Burmese junta, with which he has a satellite television deal, and by reducing the Thai military presence on a volatile border. Bangkok’s middle classes, meanwhile, saw him as a tax-dodging crony capitalist who exploited his position and subverted democracy for the benefit of his family and friends. ~Alex Spillius, The Spectator

On my first cinema visit in Bangkok, I dropped my popcorn. The lights had dimmed and I had settled back when the whole audience stood up quickly and obediently. The King’s anthem had started. Flustered, not knowing that the anthem is played at every performance of every film in the realm, I joined them, and in the process tipped my snack all over my neighbour’s knees.

It was my first week in what ended up being a six-year residency in the Thai capital, and the first of many similar mishaps. A few days later, in the city’s only central park, the national anthem (a different tune from ‘the King’s anthem’) blared out without warning from tinny speakers attached to lampposts. Walkers, joggers and courting couples all halted their activities for the daily 6 p.m. tribute to majesty.

Our own royals can only dream of such reflex loyalty. And in modern Britain of course, even standing up for the national anthem would be met with utter derision by teenagers and their parents. But Thai subjects seem to enjoy any opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to King Bhumibol. If there are any republicans, they do a good job of disguising themselves. Which is why the fact that the King seems to support the coup in Thailand is crucial to its success — King Bhumibol’s wish is his people’s command. 

King Bhumibol came to the throne in 1946, after the unexplained shooting of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol. He was only 18. After growing up mostly in Switzerland he had no preparation. He promised to ‘reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people’ and has fulfilled his pledge. His royal projects in the north have provided substitute crops for farmers previously growing opium poppies. With his encouragement the unsustainable logging of hardwood trees was brought to an end. His speeches have emphasised learning, harmony and tolerance. His people’s response, especially in rural areas, would make our own royals blush. Thai villagers not only literally prostrate themselves in his presence but lay down handkerchiefs for him to walk on and then preserve the cloth with his footprint at home. He is pictured in a variety of guises in homes and businesses up and down the country. ~Alex Spillius, The Spectator

It is also worth recalling that it was King Bhumibol who made it possible for a peaceful transition back to democracy after the last coup in 1992, and who seems to be the only person capable, as Franz-Josef II once said about his own role in the Habsburg Empire, of protecting his people from its government.  When monarchists tell you that monarchy is generally more just and well-ordered a type of regime than others, it is this sort of monarch that they have in mind.  Monarchy is not suited to all places and all peoples, just as democracy is not, but King Bhumibol gives us a glimpse of what a good monarchy might look like.

Having put up over 1,900 posts between Polemics and Eunomia, I have to say that this has been a busy couple of years. 

September has been another very successful month for Eunomia thanks to the many links from other blogs that have been bringing in new readers.  The month is only two-thirds over, and there have already been over 5,700 unique visitors to the site, which is already 400 more than the total for last month.  My thanks to everyone who has linked to the site and to all of the readers and commenters who have made this site the small success that it is.

“Anarchist” has the advantage of being disreputable enough that no respectable person would call himself one. No Trotsky fan mugged by reality is going to label himself an anarchist, and no bomb-dropping patriot would even think of it. In some respects the term isn’t quite an accurate description of what I think, since I do acknolwedge the need for institutions of public order. But the modern state is, if anything, an institution of public disorder and a thing whose essence is coercion and the abrogation of property rights, and which is almost totally lawless to boot. The present administration gives about as much evidence of that last point as anyone might ask for. “Anarchist” has its own negative connotations and dubious history, of course, but it’s far and away better than to be a Beltway “conservative” and not nearly as presumptious as calling myself a libertarian. So I think I’ll stick with it. ~Dan McCarthy

Perhaps I should reorganise my blogroll with an Anarchist section.  In any case, I share Dan’s frustration with the problems of choosing political labels these days.  For my liberal friends, it is usually satisfactory for me to say that I am a conservative; they don’t know from paleo or neo, and trying to explain the difference would just make their heads hurt (I know it can give me a headache some days).  Usually, I will stick with conservative as my generic label if politics should come up in conversation, as loaded as the term has become with all of the baggage of misrule and warmongering, though reactionary is undoubtedly preferable for the same reasons that Dan gave for anarchist.  No one who would want to work at a think tank would ever call himself a reactionary, which is one good reason to call yourself by that name.  

In writing I will almost always identify myself as a paleoconservative or simply a “paleo,” which has two happy consequences: it makes it absolutely clear that I can in no way be confused with the catastrophe of a government we currently have and it is also sure to drive dedicated neocons slightly crazy.  It does also happen to reflect most closely what I believe, and seems to represent those things that are best in the Anglo-American, European and Christian traditions that are worth protecting and which are in need of saving. 

Still, reactionary has a strong appeal, and I am glad to use it from time to time.  Certainly, others consider it a fitting name.  But it is terrifically clarifying–virtually nobody wants to be a reactionary (just as, once upon a time in this country, nobody wanted to be called a conservative–perhaps someone should write Reaction Revisited or The Reactionary Mind to get things started?).  A neo-imperialist will not call himself reactionary, because he believes he represents a liberal, progressive imperialism–you know, the “good” kind–and for neoconservatives there is simply no term more reprehensible that they can use to demean someone (except perhaps for fascist).  They like to refer to “liberal reactionaries,” by which they mean liberals who want to protect their institutional advantages; this is not reaction, but just institutionalised liberalism, the same as it has always been since 1789.   

It is better still to not simply call yourself a reactionary, but in fact to embrace reaction with gusto–approvingly quoting Maistre or Donoso de Cortes is a fun start, and Metternich is a good role model to recommend to others.  If that isn’t black enough for you, there is always Bonald for a dose of counter-revolution and Walter Scott for the Scotch version of the same.  For a lighter, more poetic touch, you can’t beat Novalis’ romantic Catholic reactionary medievalism.  Of course, as these things go, most fairly moderate conservatives of the ’50s would be counted as reactionaries today, so the term can tend to be a bit fluid, but if this tells us anything it is that while reactionaries may be inflexible self-styled conservatives have a bad habit of tending to eventually drift along with every bad innovation that comes along.  Rather than standing athwart History yelling, “Stop!” conservatives often wind up catching a ride on the tail-end of History whispering, “Would you mind if I made a few suggestions, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?” 

The reactionary may reject most or all innovations, sometimes including good ones, but in the process he refuses to entertain a number of positively terrible ideas that the conservative may be willing to play along with or try to “shape” in a “conservative direction.”  There are times when the only right answer to the Red is the Black, and increasingly I am of the view that we are now in such a time that calls for raising Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s “black banners.”  That is a colour that, as it happens, was also the colour of the flags of anarchists.         

Thailand’s coup plotters were feted as conquering heroes yesterday as Bangkok happily surrendered its freedoms to the camouflage-uniformed troops of the military junta that toppled their controversial leader.

The soldiers, idling in their tanks and jeeps on the streets of Bangkok, were mobbed by well-wishers who showered them with bouquets of carnations and daisies, gifts of fruit and bottles of water.

Parents brought their toddlers to admire the troops and pose for triumphant photos with the armoured vehicles. Crowds cheered for every jeep that drove out of military headquarters. The military vehicles were soon filled with flowers.

For months, the same crowds had been bitterly protesting against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accusing him of undemocratic actions. Now, they welcomed his demise at the hands of military leaders, oblivious to the irony that their enemy had been overthrown by the most undemocratic means possible. ~The Globe and Mail

 

The distaste for Thaksin may have colored the tepid U.S. response. “Nobody wants to go to bat for Thaksin. He’s just an odious figure,” said Michael A. McFaul, director of Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. “But there’s the problem — democracy’s not about picking winners and losers, it’s about defending institutions.”

Lorne W. Craner, former assistant secretary of state under Bush and now president of the International Republican Institute, agreed that U.S. concerns with Thaksin did not justify a coup. “You can’t sanction a coup just because you don’t like the guy if you’re going to stand up for democracy,” he said. “It’s unconstitutional.” ~The Washington Post

But Thaksin alone isn’t the only problem.  Both major political parties have been at risk of being banned for illegal behaviour, and the election commission that oversaw the one-party elections in April is under investigation.  Thailand has been facing a crisis of many of its basic institutions because all of those responsible for those institutions have failed.  One can make the argument that the intervention of the military, which has been approved, if not originally planned, by the king, is giving Thailand the time to sort out the tremendous legal and political problems of its democratic system.  The juxtaposition in this story of the Thai situation with other despotisms–such as that of Aliyev in Azerbaijian or Musharraf in Pakistan–is simply inappropriate.  Here there is clearly a military intervention to save the country from an overtly corrupt and irresponsible leader, and one that is sanctioned by a unifying national figure; in Pakistan, Musharraf’s takeover was just one more spasm in a fundamentally disordered polity and one that shows no signs of ending or yielding to democratic rule (not that democratic rule in Pakistan would necessarily be desirable for anybody).  In Thailand’s case, there is every reason to think that this coup will ultimately work to the benefit of the country and to the reform of their democratic politics.  As with the administration’s tacit approval of the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 (I bet they wish they’d made more of an effort to support that one!), the mild rebuke to the coup leaders in Thailand is one of the few signs of foreign policy sanity in this administration.  Thailand is a perfect example of how a formula of “more democracy” or “democracy no matter what” can backfire and actually harm a country.  Thaksin exploited his party’s popularity in all those venal and self-serving ways that demagogues will, and in this he showed the seedy side of democracy, which is always potentially present in every democratic regime.  The Thai coup reminds us that there are things, like good and stable government, that can actually be more important than democracy, and that the one-solution-fits-all strategy of democratisation is inherently misguided and foolish.   

As a Jew, I found Fox’s question profoundly offensive. Trust me, the wounded minority card is not one that I play with much frequency. But the attempt to “tar” Allen as a Jew in a southern state was at the very least disturbing, and I actually consider it sickening. ~Dean Barnett

Who said the woman was trying to “tar” anyone?  She was asking a question.  Good grief.  You’d think we were in 16th century Castile and there was a question of barring those with “impure” blood from positions of power!  Not only was it a legitimate question, it was a question derived from a news story in The Forward, which is a magazine some might consider rather amenable to Jewish Americans.  If the entire subject is irrelevant, then there was no harm in asking.  If it was relevant, there is nothing wrong in asking. 

As a reporter, Ms. Fox was seeking out information that Allen, a public figure, has been reluctant to give (for whatever reason).  Clearly it doesn’t really matter where Allen is part-Jewish, but why is it somehow off-limits?  Since the entire, ridiculous “macaca” incident, it has become at least tangentially relevant that his mother came from French Tunisia, where such slurs were used, and, therefore, it was somewhat relevant what Allen’s family history in Tunisia was. 

It might be worth noting that none of this would have become a focus of this race had Allen not chosen–and he is entirely responsible for this–to belittle and mock a Webb campaign employee simply because he wanted to do so.  I have argued in the past against the excessive piling-on of the anti-prejudice brigades, and I am convinced that this sort of enforcement of purity of thought and attitude, as defined by such people, is damaging to the general quality and vibrancy of political debate.  But Allen could have saved himself a lot of grief had he chosen to ignore the Webb staffer following him around the state or simply been forthright in handling the aftermath to this absurd controversy.  Instead, he allowed it to linger on and continued to compound it with things like his odd performance on Monday.

It is strange in the extreme to regard that question as an attempt to “tar” anyone with anything, unless you sincerely believe that Virginians are of such a mind that they would turn on Allen were he to reveal this information about his heritage.  Frankly, that’s an insult to the overwhelming majority of Virginians, for whom this doesn’t matter one way or the other.  The attempt by Allen apologists to make this question into a kind of political hit comes off sounding forced and phoney.  It’s “sickening” to ask Allen about his mother’s background?  Then what does that say of all the people who have delved into the life of Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather and the frequent focus on Romney’s Mormonism as a potential political liability?  Is that also “sickening,” or is that just routine journalism?

Allen’s heritage became an issue in the Virginia Senate campaign Monday, when television reporter Peggy Fox raised it at a televised debate in front of 600 business executives in Fairfax County. Allen repeated what he has said in the past: “My mother’s French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her. And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian.”

In fact, Allen had just recently learned about their Jewish roots when he made those comments. Allen declined to comment, but his mother said she had sworn him to secrecy. ~The Washington Post

So, in short, when Allen pretended to be offended at Fox’s question on Monday and then made a statement that turns out to be have been false (i.e., that his mother was raised a Christian), he did not even have the excuse of ignorance.  Maybe this topic has no place in this or any election, and I find it hard to see how it could really matter, but there remains something strange about it.  If he knew about this on Monday–and quite a few people had figured out his family background apparently a long time before last month–why the harsh reaction and the non sequitur lecture on religious freedom?  In any case, this has got to be the only time in American politics in recent memory that I know of where a politician has discovered Jewish ancestry and did not seek to exploit that aspect of his heritage for all it was worth. 

Update: Allen may resent people “casting aspersions” about religious identity, but his campaign manager has no problem casting asperions about their adversaries’ anti-Semitism.

Jim Antle has given his election predictions, so I will join in this display of reckless punditry and flesh out the rest of my predictions for November. 

I have already recklessly called Virginia for Webb after Allen’s implosion over the last month, which has reduced him in the wake of “macaca” to criticising Webb for the latter’s opposition to women in combat (which shows him to be a ridiculous pander), suddenly “discovering,” as if for the first time, that some black Americans may find the battle flag slightly objectionable (which makes him a fraud), and pretending to be horrified at questions about his mother’s possible Jewish ancestry (he says that he believes in religious liberty, you see, and he also apparently believes that Virginians don’t want part-Jewish Senators, which makes him seem rather odd).  Besides those things, Allen fared quite poorly in his Meet the Press encounter with Webb–and that is the assessment of Republican bloggers and observers.  The race is a statistical dead-heat, and will tip towards Webb as Allen languishes below 50% in the polls and late swing voters go for Webb.  On election night, George Felix Allen will be very infelix.

The House will flip, as there are definitely 14 Republican-held seats that are already leaning the other way, and the flip will be made possible by the late rally of Michelle Bean in Illinois’ 8th, and will be secured by Heather Wilson’s late collapse in New Mexico’s 1st and the possible damage done to the GOP candidate in Ohio’s 18th by Ney’s refusal to resign (and, possibly even more damaging because it would be rather chaotic, the need for a special election to replace Ney if he does resign).  Wilson continues to poll well below 50% in a district that has always gone to the GOP from the time of Manuel Lujan through the Schiff years until today.  Wilson does always benefit from a sizeable absentee vote that gave her a comfortable margin two years ago, but this time I don’t think the late surge can save her this time.    

Ford will beat Corker in Tennessee, as the latter’s already lacklustre campaign will falter in the final weeks.  Casey will struggle in the final weeks to not lose a race that has been his all along (and which his pitiful campaigning has almost squandered), but he will hold on to win in Pennsylvania by a considerably reduced margin, perhaps no better than 3 or 4%.  Whitehouse will win Rhode Island [corrected] fairly easily, as Chafee’s campaign will have been sufficiently financially weakened by the hard-fought primary to make it ineffective in the closing days.  The anti-GOP sentiment in Ohio will be impossible for DeWine to overcome, and he will fall, though perhaps by a very slim margin.  I agree with Jim that Montana goes to the Dems and New Jersey goes to the GOP.  Talent will falter and lose in Missouri.  I am fairly sure that Steele will not win in Maryland against Cardin, in spite of Steele’s studied attempts to avoid the label of his own party; he would not have adopted his “independent” pose if he didn’t think it was necessary, but in the end people will still see that he is in the Republican candidate and in the current environment this will cost him too many votes.  That means a Democratic net gain of six, which means Democratic control of both houses.  In a sense, that isn’t terribly reckless–it is what I have been saying all year long, but I had not previously made my specific predictions.  The latest Times/CBS poll, which admittedly always comes up with numbers on the low end for Republicans, points to massive discontent with the majority party and no significant 9/11 bump for Dobleve, and this discontent is translated very specifically into a large anti-incumbency majority:

In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said that most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give new people a chance. That is the highest number of voters who said it was “time for new people” since the fall of 1994.

If the poll is at all accurate and if roughly two-thirds of Republicans believe their own incumbent members do not deserve re-election, those of us who are hedging our bets and talking about one or two-seat majorities in the House are likely to be shown up as having been all together too conservative in our guesses and not reckless at all.    

Update: Kyl in Arizona only leads by 5 points, which now makes Arizona an unexpected contested Senate race that should probably not be this close.  Kyl won re-election in 2000 in a basically uncontested race (except by Greens and Libertarians), and easily won his first race against then-Rep. Coppersmith during the bloodbath of 1994.  Pederson is his first really serious competition, and Kyl seems to be struggling.  I am not quite reckless enough to call an upset here, but it bears watching.

Ratzinger is not stupid. Including the reference to the passage that has incited Muslim anger was no accident. It was a calculated, intentional strategy designed to help George Bush and the Republicans in the 2006 elections, just like the Catholic church systematically helped Bush and the Republicans in the 2004 elections, through Cardinals and Bishops who attacked Kerry.The Vatican has become a partner with the republicans [sic], so they coordinate, come the final stretch of election time, to make things happen, make statements, take positions that help the Republicans. ~Rob Kall

What he has said about Pope Benedict in the first line above cannot be readily said for Mr. Kall.  Why would this controversy aid the GOP?  He tells us:

They help the republicans [sic] because the Republican positions on birth control, abortion, stem cells, gay marriage, pre-marital sex are closest to the Roman Catholic Church’s positions.By firing up an angry Muslim response, a predictable response after the cartoon episode earlier in the year, the Pontiff in red has created a media situation that makes nervous soccer Moms and quick to ignite Christian nationalists rev up their fear, their xenophobia and… their loyalty to the Republicans– who not too deeply beneath the surface– are racist, anti-Muslim, anti non-Christian.
 

 

Do Republicans have a “position” on birth control?  Is it close to that of the Catholic Church?  Is there a broad anti-contraception caucus in the House that I am not aware of?  Do you often hear about the Anti-Condom Amendment being pushed through the Senate?  This would be the same party in power when the Bush-appointed head of the FDA approved Plan B, right?  This would be the same administration that approved but did not expand federal funding for stem-cell research, right?  Does anyone have any clue what any of this has to do with the Muslim reaction to the Pope’s speech in Regensburg?  

But then we find out the real deal: Christian nationalists will go on the rampage!  Ah, yes, the Christian nationalists–a non-existent group made “famous” by Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming earlier this year–who allegedly form an elusive, amorphous group that stretches all the way from Marvin Olasky (!) to Christian Reconstructionists and who have very little in common with one another politically except that they are all conventionally considered to be on the right.  Presumably such people, if they are what Kall says they are (almost none of them is), are already “ignited” by the war with jihadis and their own worldview.  “Nervous soccer moms” might react in different ways–it is in no sense clear that these eternal swing voters will stick with the GOP because some Muslims are burning the Pope in effigy (this assumes that they are following the controversy as closely as pundits and bloggers are, which is almost certainly a mistake).   

If the Vatican works so tirelessly to aid Republicans (and presumably, the clever alliance works both ways), why has it consistently opposed the foreign policy ventures undertaken (Iraq) or endorsed (Lebanon) by Mr. Bush and the GOP?  As fun as it must be to believe in an overarching global conspiracy of Pope and President, it might help if the Pope in question had demonstrated anything remotely like partisan loyalty–as if the head of a worldwide church that espouses a belief in its own universality and catholicity, not being bound by the petty squabbles of partisanship in one nation out of many, could be bothered to tailor his theological addresses to suit the electoral needs of a party that has distinguished itself in recent years for injustice and misrule.  Of course, the notion of any such deliberate or planned cooperation is preposterous, but it reflects the depth of lunacy that has taken hold among quite a few liberals that not only see the Catholic Church as their enemy (that is hardly new) but regard it effectively as a wing of the GOP.  Partisan paranoia and hysteria rarely get this outlandish.

But, strip away Kall’s wild-eyed claims and consider a serious question: how could Pope Benedict’s quoting of a Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam and Muhammad help Republican electoral prospects?  If it was such a clever strategy to tip the elections in the GOP’s favour, how exactly does the strategy work?  Where’s the payoff?  Has anyone noticed a “Regensburg bounce” in the polls?  I don’t think so.  

Certainly the controversy has prompted The New York Times editors to say a number of phenomenally stupid things, but it has hardly become a burning election-year issue.  Everyone on the right, regardless of how much they disagree among themselves, sees merit in Pope Benedict’s speech and regards the reaction in the Islamic world as deplorable; a sizeable number of people on the left view the situation more or less similarly, though certainly with hostility towards the Pope’s general arguments against deficient modern rationalism and the like.  The main difference seems to be that the prevailing wisdom on the left about the entire controversy is “this is what happens when religious leaders meddle in the real world,” while there is a clear and ringing endorsement of most of what the Pope had to say, even if there are some on the right who regret the inclusion of the quote from Manuel II.  Then there are people like Kall, who see the entire thing as a sinister ”ploy.”  Ironically, if more liberals are like Kall in their delusions about the arch-Republican Ratzinger (the idea is simply too funny), the better the controversy will work for Democrats in the fall. 

To the extent that the NYT view is typical of left-liberal opinion, their response could give the impression that Democrats are too wary to criticise the Muslim overreaction and too willing to believe that “dialogue” and ever more submissive attitudes towards every unreasonable Muslim sensibility will resolve all major problems.  On the other hand, if Christopher Hitchens is more representative in his definition of the struggle against jihadis as a “war to defend secularism,” and Rosie O’Donnell’s equation of the threat from “radical Christianity” with the threat from ”radical Islam” is widely shared, it is possible that this entire controversy will energise secular voters–already scared by a half dozen alarmist books declaring the onset of American theocracy–and drive them to the polls to fight what they will probably see as an explosion of religious fundamentalism all over the place. 

In this, they will be acting irrationally, as there is no coming theocracy and no “Christianists” coming to take them away to some V for Vendetta-like concentration camp, but this may intensify an already highly motivated core of Democratic voters, whom we know from past elections to be predominantly secular people.  For unrelated reasons tied to administration social policy this year, there could well be a diminution of evangelical and conservative Christian enthusiasm for the administration and the GOP majority (though the administration and Congress’ foursquare support of Israel during the Lebanon war may help the GOP with some evangelicals).  The combination of motivated secular voters and dispirited Christians could work to the advantage of the Democrats, if this controversy has any electoral impact at all, but it is obscure to me how the controversy even enters into the political contest, much less how it figures to aid the GOP.  The best thing people such as Kall could do to fulfill their own predictions would be to keep harping against Pope Benedict and remind middle-of-the-road voters just how much liberal Democrats hate the Catholic Church and everything it represents.

The pope and the Vatican can also do more. For the past two years, Benedict has been a no-show at interfaith gatherings in Assisi, begun 20 years ago by his predecessor, John Paul II. Last year, he issued an edict revoking the autonomy of Assisi’s Franciscan monks, a move that was seen as a reaction against the monks’ interfaith activism. On the occasion of this year’s gathering, he issued a statement about religion and peace that was read by an envoy, but his absence spoke louder than his words.

The pope also recently reassigned the Vatican’s former head of interreligious dialogue, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, an expert on Arab affairs, to a diplomatic post in Egypt. According to a report in The Times by Ian Fisher, the move was interpreted by some church experts as reflecting Benedict’s skepticism of dialogue with Muslims. As his unfortunate comments show, the pope needs high-level experts on Islam to help guide him. ~The New York Times

Via Rod Dreher

Rod calls the editorial “ignorant and objectionable,” which is probably too generous, and does a good job demolishing the better part of it point by point.  Rod points out the excesses that went on at the ecumenical love-fests at Assisi, which should surely make even the most dedicated ecumenist blush with shame.  Rather than go into my usual refrain about Why Ecumenism Doesn’t Work, I would like to mention briefly an episode from the career of Francis of Assisi that his latter-day brethren have either forgotten all together or choose not to remember.  This was the moment in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade at the siege of Damietta, which was the main Ayyubid fortress protecting the approaches to Cairo and preventing the Crusaders from advancing inland, when Francis came and challenged the Ayyubid ruler of Egypt to a trial by fire in an attempt to convince him of the truth of Christianity.  Francis’ intentions were pacific (he desired to remove the need for violence between the two sides), but his conviction in the rightness of the Faith was no less powerful for all that. 

It does Francis of Assisi dishonour to associate his birthplace with the sort of ecumenism that makes no such attempt at evangelisation and gives the impression that the legacy of Francis is one of compromising the Faith or cruelly pretending that those who stumble in the darkness of religious error should be allowed to remain in the ditches into which they have fallen.  Francis was far too noble and compassionate a Christian to have endorsed anything of that kind, and those who bear his name today do him a disservice when they engage in dialogue with a “zeal not according to knowledge.” (Rom. 10:2)  Pope Benedict was right to avoid these meetings in the past, and he has been right to discipline the Franciscans for these excesses.  That The New York Times finds value in such meetings is almost a guarantee that they ought not to take place.

He puts the word “conscience” in quote-marks:

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. [My italics.]

This is no typo. Ratzinger has long disowned the notion of an individual conscience as we have long understood it in the West, as I explain at greater length in my forthcoming book. His view is that if your conscience goes against anything that the Pope says at any time, then it isn’t really your conscience. It’s a false conscience in a mirror of the Communist idea of “false consciousness”. Your real conscience, Benedict insists, is always in agreement with the Pope. ~Andrew Sullivan

Wow.  This is the kind of thing I would expect from thirteen year-olds who think willfulness and disobedience against their parents are the same thing as freedom.  That is, I would expect it from kids who are too young and immature to know and discern any better.  Where to begin….

Let’s start with what Pope Benedict said.  He referred to subjective “conscience,” so it makes sense that it would be put in scare quotes to make it clear that Benedict understands–properly–that real conscience is not subjective.  It is not some little personal voice in your head telling you what you personally find wrong, but serves as a witness to both the natural law inscribed in human nature and creation and the moral law revealed by God.  St. Maximos described this natural law in Ambigua 19 (translation by Louth):

Whence in both cases I think it necessarily follows that anyone who wishes may live an upright and blameless life with God, whether through scriptural understanding of the Spirit, or through the natural contemplation of reality in accordance with the Spirit.  So the two laws–both the natural law and the written law–are of equal honour and teach the same things; neither is greater or less than the other, which shows, as is right, that the lover of perfect wisdom may become the one who desires wisdom perfectly. 

Of more obviously direct application is Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, in which he described, among other things, the activity of conscience and its expression of natural and moral law.  For this reason, conscience is not an expression of subjective experience or subjective thought, but that faculty in man that recognises moral truth established by God:

This applies equally to the judgements of moral conscience, which Sacred Scripture considers capable of being objectively true.

Confusion about the nature of the truth, or a view that regards truth as subjective, will consequently distort the understanding of what conscience is and what it does: 

In the Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, I wrote that many of the problems of the contemporary world stem from a crisis of truth. I noted that “once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its prime reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth different from the truth of others”.

So a proper understanding of conscience would not tend towards an “individualist ethic,” and so would not have anything to do with subjective ”conscience.”  We then properly use our faculty of conscience, as we do our reason, as a way of understanding and applying the truths that have been revealed to us:

Yet the Gospel and the Apostolic writings still set forth both general principles of Christian conduct and specific teachings and precepts. In order to apply these to the particular circumstances of individual and communal life, Christians must be able fully to engage their conscience and the power of their reason.

Thus Pope Benedict has drawn out the connections between individualism in reasoning generally and in moral reasoning more specifically.  Both privilege the self, both stress subjectivity, and both ignore the objective nature of intellectual and moral truth. 

The Catholic Catechism then states even more clearly what a good conscience involves:

A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”

The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.  (CCC 1794)

Just as a proper use of reason is one illumined by faith, so it is with conscience.  Good conscience involves the submission to objective standards, and, of course, it is God Who has set down these standards and willed them for our improvement in the life of virtue leading to salvation in Christ. 

This is extremely close to an understanding that is the common inheritance of both Catholics and Orthodox, received from St. Maximos, who taught that subjective choice (gnome), deliberation and the choosing will (gnomikon thelima) itself were products of the Fall (and therefore did not exist in the Incarnate Word), whereas natural human will and human freedom in their proper forms always acted in accordance with the will of God.  Though I do not recall having seen references specifically to conscience in the works or studies of St. Maximos that I have read, it seems perfectly clear that obedience to divine will is what would show good moral judgement for St. Maximos.  Decisions cease to be a product of unnatural choice and more and more a product of free will, which naturally wills what God wills as it becomes purified of the effects of sin.  Free obedience is the true “freedom of morality,” and subjective choice and conscience are those things that keep us bound by the bonds of sin, autonomy and separation from God.

So when Sullivan prattles on about how “we” have long understood individual conscience in a certain way, by “we” he cannot actually mean Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  Indeed, I think he cannot be referring to most Christians over the centuries, but specifically in the tradition in which Pope Benedict is working Sullivan cannot be more horrendously wrong (as usual) when he suggests that it is somehow Pope Benedict who has departed from some proper consensus about the nature of conscience or when he implies that conscience truly should be understood as something subjective.  There would be almost nothing more abhorrent than this complete perversion of the meaning of what conscience is, which is right judgement in accordance truth and justice, which is to be in accord with God Himself.   

It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate

I should have remarked on this yesterday, but actually thought it so weak that it was not even worth criticising.  But then it occurred to me that there are people who think “clever” references to the Reformation are the perfect way to undermine a Catholic authority’s arguments, because, you know, the Reformation did so much ”good” for the world and the Catholic Church was against it, which obviously proves that Catholics can never have anything to say about reform in any context ever again.  So there.  This is a tactic perfected by irresponsible teenagers who try to justify their disobedience and stupidity by pointing to their dad’s fondness for strong drink: “Sure I drove the car through the living room, but you…drink…liquor!”

The weakness and irrelevance of Hitchens’ point here are made most clear when you consider the content of the rest of the speech to which Hitchens was trying to respond.  In that speech, Pope Benedict made it very clear that a terrible distortion of the relation between reason and faith, and the first example of the process of “de-Hellenisation” that he was speaking about, was a result of the Reformation:

De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of “sola scriptura,” on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

So there is a real question whether Pope Benedict could, ecumenical understanding notwithstanding, really approve of the effects of the Protestant Reformation to which Hitchens makes his predictable reference.  But, you might ask, what other reformation was there?  Hitchens also would have to be ignorant of the fact that reformatio was a word that had been used in the context of the monastic and spiritual renewal movements of the twelfth century (and made known to modern audiences in the late Giles Constable’s The Reformation of the Twelfth Century–an excellent book that serves as a fine introduction to the spirituality and social context behind the founding of religious orders such as the Cistercians) and had long had meaning for Latin Christians in the context of spiritual renewal.  It was on this tradition that the Reformers themselves were drawing, though obviously the authorities in Rome did not agree with either the spirit or the content of much of what they proposed for their reforms.  This did not mean that there was no effort at reform on the Catholic side before Luther, but simply that the Reformed churches do not have some kind of monopoly on the use of that language and it is not hypocritical or contradictory, as Hitchens suggests, for Catholics to speak in terms of reformation since the word was, if you like, theirs before it was anyone else’s.  Obviously the Catholic Reformation itself tends to obviate this objection anyway.  

When then-Cardinal Ratzinger or anyone else says that Islam is not capable of a ”Reformation,” they mean something far more serious than what many moderns take this to mean.  This is not a claim that Islam cannot ultimately become a religion that eventually after a century of internecine warfare embraces the principle of freedom of conscience–that much is obvious–but that Islam does not even have the theological-philosophical apparatus for self-criticism because of the very fundamental assumptions of all Muslims about the uncreated and perfect nature of the scripture they use as their authority and the untouchable paragon of virtue into which Islamic tradition has made Muhammad.  This obviously has little to do with things like practical abuses of power and privilege such as simony and questionable theology in the form of the sale of indulgences; this has to do with the very nature of the religion, its proper form, which reform and revival cannot make any better because the foundation is so lacking in the necessary essential qualities.  

What is perhaps more annoying about this remark is that it suggests that Hitchens buys into the old progressive narrative (since he is a progressive, I guess he would!) that the Reformation was some Great Leap Forward for human freedom and individual rights, which must be one of those things that Whig Protestants told themselves at night to make them feel better about the anti-Catholic massacres they committed.  In fact, the Reformation at its best and in the minds of its advocates was a deeply conservative, even reactionary, opposition to what some of the Reformers saw as excessive reliance on philosophy and humanism.  If the Islamic world were to undergo a Reformation (and who says that it hasn’t undergone the closest thing to it with the various Islamic revivalist movements of the last 300 years?) of this sort, it would actually have to become even more rigid, inflexible and doctrinaire in its emphasis on scriptural literalism and moral purity. 

If, as some have suggested, the Reformation was the attempt to apply the rigour of the monastic ethic to the laity, an Islamic Reformation would not make Islam more liberal, more open to “modernity” and all the things that people who talk about Islamic Reformations want to see, but would likely make it more hostile to all of these things.  Protestants did retain some respect for reason and philosophy, because they derived this respect from the common tradition that had incorporated the best elements of Hellenism into Christian thought, whereas Islam on the whole does not benefit from this tradition.  While it has become something of a commonplace in recent days among some defenders of the Pope to say that Pope Benedict was harder on the Protestants (who have, as of yet, failed to bomb or burn down any Catholic churches in response–what can they be waiting for?) than on the Muslims, even in his remarks on the Reformation he could just as well have been saying to the Muslims: “As mistaken as the Reformation was in separating faith and reason as much as it did, the Protestants at least have a fighting chance, because they still partake from the same tradition that we do; Islam doesn’t even have that going for it.  You should look into why that is.” 

Toward the end of the panel, Hitchens caused an uproar when he criticized the Pope’s recent comments for being anti-reason and said something along the lines of, “We are fighting a war to defend secularism.” ~Philip Klein, AmSpec Blog

At least I can understand why Hitchens would say something like that–secularism is something he values in the modern West and wants to preserve it.  I think this is awful, but it makes sense.  Atheists should want to defend secularism.  As it happens, I don’t think that we are fighting a “war to defend secularism.”  But who can explain why some conservative pundits also talk as if they wanted to fight a war to defend secularism and why conservatives say they want to fight to defend the glories of the Enlightenment

It might be one thing to defend these things because they are ours, that is, products of our civilisation for good or ill–like a really irritating cousin who continually embarrasses the family with his criminal record but nonetheless remains part of the family–but it is something all together different to stand up for them as if they represented some sort of superior model or desirable way of understanding the role of religion in society and understanding the world.

Other than that, Helprin repeated what has been a theme of his post-9/11 commentary, which is that America has failed to dedicate the necessary military and civil defense resources to win this war. When asked what he would do now with regard to Iraq, he said he felt like a surgeon being asked to operate on a dead patient. That is, the mistake of sending too few troops and not fighting a war of excess has already taken its toll, and there’s not much more we could do at this point to improve things on the ground. ~Philip Klein, AmSpec Blog

I share Helprin’s view and also share what is probably his frustration at being asked to work miracles by coming up with a viable “solution” for a nightmare that he foresaw and warned against–to no avail.  I sometimes marvel at the counterblasts from war supporters when those of us who predicted disaster in 2002 point to the huge flaws in existing strategy: “So what do you think we should do?” 

When I offer my “solution”: “Get out as quickly as possible,” the usual rejoinder is, “But obviously we can’t do that!  That wouldn’t be fair to the Iraqis!”  Of course, nobody gave a damn about being “fair” to the Iraqis when they urged on a war of aggression, er, liberation on their country allegedly for the sake of our national security.  Show me a war supporter who cares so deeply about the fate Iraqis, and I’ll show you someone who has run out of rational arguments in favour of staying in Iraq.  Quoth the Derb:

Whether Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, I don’t know.  To be blunt about it, I don’t care, either.  What are the Iraqis to me?

I do think, though, that administration spokespeople should retire the line about the world being a better place without SH.  This line is lame.  Setting aside the fact that the proposition itself is arguable, even if it’s true, so what?  The world would be a better place without Kim Jong Il, or Robert Mugabe, or Fidel Castro.  It’s not the rightful business of the U.S. govt. to go around making the world a better place.  It’s their business to defend and advance U.S. interests.  There is a case that the d & a of U.S. interests was served by removing SH.  Admin. officials should stress that case.  But for heaven’s sake spare us the world-saving stuff.

But his [Allen’s] huffing and puffing about the question; his veiled suggestion that there was something unseemly about asking it; and his reluctance to discuss his own background did not become him. ~Mona Charen

Well, if I go into too much detail here I shall get into trouble of the PC sort; but the main idea was, that any society ought to offer useful and productive lives to its epsilons—i.e. to citizens over on the left-hand side of the Bell Curve.  The postindustrial West has been depressingly bad at this.  Our basic approach to our low-IQ fellow citizens has been “Let them eat cake.”  It’s hard not to get the impression that we have been busily building a society of law-school elites, by law-school elites, and for law-school elites—the “Yale or jail” society.  Wal-Mart, with its simplified, stripped-down training programs that concentrate on a few easily-mastered skills and disciplines, is a small reversal of this deplorable (to my mind) trend.

Whatever you think of the society imagined in Brave New World, at least there was a place for everyone in it, bright or dim.  That is not the case with present-day Western society, except in pockets like Wal-Mart. ~John Derbyshire

Note that comparing Wal-Mart to an aspect of Brave New World here is supposed to be a compliment of sorts: it gives dim people something to do.  I leave it to the Friends of Wal-Mart to determine whether this sort of argument does more harm or good to their cause. 

But, even if I find detachment impossible, I can still profess ideological disinterest. I am certainly not attracted to the drearily platitudinous liberal secularism that Linker has now apparently adopted as his political “philosophy,” but neither am I an adherent of the “theoconservatism” that Linker attributes—with a variable degree of accuracy—to Neuhaus and his circle (unless mere hostility to the “culture of death” is enough to earn one membership). So I think I am being fairly impartial when I say that The Theocons is a poor book—on any number of counts. It is frequently badly reasoned; it is marked by a surprising degree of historical ignorance; it is polluted by a personal animosity towards Neuhaus that—while denied by Linker—is both obvious and unrelenting; and it is extremely boring. . . . ~David Hart, The New Criterion (via Mirror of Justice)

Hart, an Orthodox theologian whose writings I have commented on here before, confirms what is becoming something of a consensus view of Theocons: it is a poorly-done hatchet job motivated at least in part by personal hostility, even if, as Prof. Fox has noted, it has something important to say that got lost in the polemic.

But, if Lamont becomes the U.S. Senate’s newest rock star–and America’s most popular preppy–pardon me if I pour myself a gimlet and set sail for Wellfleet. ~Michael Crowley

As someone who grew up in what I suppose must be the sunbelt (it is very sunny in New Mexico, though you don’t run across many Goldwater fans) and who attended what I suppose one must call a prep school (to be appropriately pompous, we could call it a preparatory academy) for seven years, it might seem that I should be of two minds about the Preppy Revival (less dangerous than the Shia Revival, more comical than Evangelical Revivals, but undoubtedly with better drinks than both).  Except that, my enjoyment of Prep-Unit notwithstanding, I personally could never stand the people at my school who embraced the preppy ethos or fit the profile.  They were the people who lived in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque and whose parents still voted for the Democrats; they were the ones who were by turns personally obnoxious and also preciously PC, in keeping with the school’s commitment to “diversity.”   

My exposure to the Southern version of preppy at Hampden-Sydney did not improve my impression.  They were the slackers from private schools in Richmond and Midlothian who came to H-SC for the networking angle, the guys who wore the classic combination of khakis and the buttoned shirt untucked in the back seemingly at all times, but especially on game days and at parties, who drove SUVs and referred to different people variously as “your boy” or “my boys.”  These were people, like those at the Academy, who took skiing trips and some of whom actually went to Aspen for vacations.  [Full disclosure: I was at Vail once–and not to ski–when I was about eight, didn’t like the place and have never been back.]  These were people who listened to Phish and thought it was good music. 

Maybe it’s because of who my ancestors were–small-town New Jersey businessmen and ministers, Midwestern farmers and my Scots-Irish railroad worker grandfather–but I cannot now separate the whole preppy lifestyle and mentality from the depradations of the Eastern Establishment and the various and sundry perfidies of Yankee misrule, both Republican and Democratic, that deformed the Republic into what it has become.  These folks had their chance at running the country, and they didn’t do especially well as far as I’m concerned.  Dobeleve is perhaps a mutant strain of the breed, combining the confidence of a Southerner with the shallowness of an Easterner, but he still belongs to that world and represents what it is capable of doing.  Finally, the New England preppy is the one I have a particularly hard time understanding.  I mean, I don’t even know what half of their lingo means (I suppose I could look it up, but what the hell is a topsider?).  That’s okay.  I’m not that interested in finding out.  

Lamont is good on the war, but I wouldn’t want to go to his country club. 

So the left has found its savior, and he is Bertie Wooster.  ~Michael Crowley

At least he isn’t Gussie Finknottle!

“I almost died when for a year and a half we had to pretend we were governing. Instead, we lied morning, evening and night,” he told his fellow Socialists.

——————– 

President Laszlo Solyom asked Gyurcsany to publicly recognize his error, saying the news of the remarks had thrown the country into a “moral crisis.” He also chastised the prime minister for “knowingly” jeopardizing people’s faith in democracy.

Gyurcsany defended himself by saying that was he trying to convince his party about the urgent and inevitable need for comprehensive reforms and to change the political culture. ~The Houston Chronicle

It has not been a good week for fans of democracy (for those keeping score, I am not one of these people).  In Thailand, the corrupt Thaksin has precipitated a coup, and in Hungary the revelations of the dishonesty of Gyurcsany and his Socialists has provoked riots, caused the forint to go into steep decline and generally made a mess of a country to which I have a family connection and for which I have much goodwill and affection. 

But imagine that–rioting because politicians in government lied!  What a quaint notion.  Were we to do the same, all of our cities would have burned to the ground long, long ago.  There is something profoundly wrong with a form of government that not only rewards deception with power, as democracy routinely does, but positively encourages deception as a necessity in fighting elections.  You almost have to admire the idealism of people who would sooner riot than accept a dishonest political leader, but then you have to ask: wherever did they get the notion that democracy had something to do with honest government? 

 

His quiet departure after a fresh election might indeed be best for Thailand. But for the present, and while he keeps everyone guessing, the country is on edge. There have been disquieting rumours of plots to overthrow or even assassinate the prime minister. In late August police arrested a junior army officer in a car packed with explosives, near Mr Thaksin’s home.

His critics accuse Mr Thaksin of staging the bomb plot in order to win sympathy from voters. They are also reporting rising unrest in the army over his attempts to secure promotion for his chums in the annual shuffle of military commanders. According to one popular theory, these moves are part of a power struggle between Mr Thaksin and a rival group led by Prem Tinsulanonda, a retired general who is King Bhumibol’s senior adviser. If true, the consequences could be nasty. ~The Economist

Little wonder, then, that some of the Thai military reacted as it did.  They had some reason to resent Thaksin abusing his position to make preferments for his friends in the military.  Given the man’s alleged corruption, this is not at all surprising, and makes him even more responsible for what has happened in Bangkok than I had thought.  Moreover, if this is the fruit of a rivalry between the PM and the king’s senior adviser, the coup almost certainly must have taken place with the king’s knowledge and consent.  Good for King Bhumibol.  Thaksin had become an embarrassment and a disgrace to his country, and he should have stepped down earlier this year when calls for his resignation began coming in. 

HEAVILY-armed troops backed by tanks took control of the Thai premier’s office in Bangkok while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was out of the kingdom, witnesses said.

Witnesses outside Government House in central Bangkok said forces loyal to sacked military commander Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin took control of the building in what appeared to be a coup.

An announcement flashed on all public television channels said police and military forces loyal to King Bhumibol Adulyadej had taken control of Bangkok “to maintain law and order”. It was accompanied by patriotic music.

The announcement said the troops belonged to the “Council of Political Reform”. It apologised to Thai citizens for the unrest and asked for them to cooperate. ~News.com.au 

So the corrupt Thaksin Shinawatra has managed to effectively sabotage one of the only successful democratic governments in southeast Asia through his grandstanding and egomania.  Thai Rak Thai, but I expect they don’t much rak Mr. Thaksin right about now.  Assuming that the army has intervened not to overthrow democratic government, but has simply become disgusted with the antics of the Prime Minister, the coup is a blunt but possibly necessary way to force Thaksin’s hand and get him to resign. 

It is to be hoped that the venerable king of Thailand intervenes to arrange some peaceful transfer of power from the military government that will allow the Thais to have their constitutional government restored to them and will have Mr. Thaksin thrown out of office.  The monarchy may be the one thing that ultimately prevents this coup from degenerating into ruinous internal strife.

Memo to the democratists: if democratic government can implode and provoke a military coup in Thailand of all places, there is not much to hope for it in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Stable, reasonably just and orderly governments are what allow for the gradual evolution of the indigenous institutions and habits necessary to sustain self-government.  Without the monarchy in Thailand, one wonders whether they would not have gone the way of Burma long ago.  One-man, one-vote democracies that heighten and politicise tribal and ethnic quarrels are disasters in the making.  If democratic government can fail in a relatively homogenous, stable and relatively prosperous country such as Thailand, it is not only insecure almost everywhere but it is also hardly the magic remedy to what ails a nation. 

The difficulty, to my mind, is figuring out why the Pope chose to cite this particular quotation from this particular nonentity? Certainly many popes have made similar statements about jihad and Benedict would have had a plethora of popes to quote from. It is therefore instructive to learn more about Manuel II Paleologus. He was, foremost, the antepenultimate emperor of the Byzantine Empire, the successor to the Roman Empire. At the time of his reign (1391-1425) the Muslim Turks had their sights set on the empire’s capital of Constantinople. In 1399, Manuel traveled to England, France, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and Aragon seeking assistance from the various monarchs and courts. His visit was a complete bust. The split between the Greek Orthodox and Roman churches proved too wide. Unless the Greeks agreed to join the Roman Church there would be no troops, no assistance, and the Greeks were not about to surrender their autonomy to Rome, not even to save the empire, their religion and their lives.

The result: Within a few years the Turks would take Constantinople, rename it Istanbul, and the Roman-Byzantine Empire would disappear forever from the earth. (In an ironic aside, Manuel’s son Constantine, the last Byzantine-Roman emperor, was killed in battle defending the capital. Legend has it that he discarded his purple cloak and charged into the fray taking so many cuts and blows that his corpse was unrecognizable. Thus, the last Roman emperor was laid to rest in a mass grave.) ~Christopher Orlet, The American Spectator

Hey, who’s he calling a nonentity?  Even so, all of this is a good corrective to the errors I have seen elsewhere (including the accurate description of Manuel as antepenultimate emperor), though there was a “successful” reunion agreement signed in 1439 and there was a failed crusade–the crusade of Varna–that was destroyed in modern Bulgaria in 1444, all of which were more than a “few years” after Manuel’s failed tour of western Europe.

Is it really “relevant” whether Allen’s mother is Jewish?  Maybe to a few people, but not to most.  Should it make any difference in the Senate election?  I don’t think so.  Does it make any sense for Allen to lecture a reporter about religious freedom (what?) when she asks him whether he has Jewish ancestry?  Not in the least. 

Allen seems to be playing a sort of anti-Harris card: he regards religious affiliation and identity as so unimportant and irrelevant to politics that he actually plays at being offended by the very question.  I don’t think I have ever seen someone get so angry about something that he believes to be irrelevant.  I can understand dismissing something as irrelevant, but what was this weird refusal to answer a simple question?  In the end, he did answer the question, so why the big song and dance about how irrelevant it is? 

If people can delve into the polygamous ancestors of Mitt Romney in the name of journalism and we make his Mormonism a legitimate topic of debate (because it may have political significance and is relevant), why on earth is Allen’s ancestry somehow off limits?  The only reason to keep it off limits is this: if there is some attempt to use that ancestry to somehow discredit the candidate with voters, it might arguably be a kind of dirty pool that shouldn’t be tolerated.  Given Allen’s hijinks of late, I should think the last thing he needs to worry about is an “irrelevant” question like this. 

“If we called it speed dating, it will end up with real dating,” said Shamshad Hussain, one of the organizers, grimacing. ~The New York Times

Strange as it may sound (and my readers may not find it all that strange if they have been reading my blog long enough), and as laughable as calling a speed date a ”matrimonial banquet” is (for starters, it doesn’t do much for the reputation of real “matrimonial banquets”), I can appreciate the idea behind it.  Though I cannot speak from experience as a parent, I think there are a lot of parents who would appreciate an organisation like Mothers Against Dating.  For those who like euphemisms, ”assisted marriage” is as nice a way to describe arranged marriage as I can think of.  You’re not being forced to marry someone–you’re being helped along the way! 

Why this aversion to referring to dating, even for these limited meetings?  Well, for a different generation the reasons would have been obvious, and the reasons are actually even more compelling today in their way:

Basically, for conservative Muslims, dating is a euphemism for premarital sex. Anyone who partakes risks being considered morally louche, with their marriage prospects dimming accordingly, particularly young women.    

The sad thing is not just that it is often a euphemism for that, but that there can sometimes be nothing more to it than that.  Is it any wonder that traditional, morally conservative immigrants have to concoct things as odd as speed “matrimonial banquets” to cope with the age of hook-ups and Promiscuous Girl?  As I read over these sorts of stories, I have to ask: why should these people want to assimilate to our society, when it genuinely does appear to be something of a moral wasteland?   

It has been said or quoted in at least a few different places that Manuel II Palaiologos, now made famous to the entire world thanks to the Pope’s Regensburg address, was the “penultimate emperor” in Constantinople.  I am perplexed as to why people keep saying this, since he was the third to last emperor, not the penultimate emperor as people keep insisting.  Anyone with a copy of Ostrogorsky handy–or a quick Google search–could confirm this immediately.  I don’t know where this “penultimate” meme came from, but a whole lot of people need to improve their fact-checking. 

John VIII, Manuel’s son, ruled for quite a while after him (1425-1448), even effectively ruling during the waning years of Manuel II’s reign, and oversaw the unfortunate Union of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39).  John VIII was the penultimate emperor, if we must call someone this.  Constantine XI, who was famous for having gone down fighting on 29 May 1453 when the City fell, was the Last Emperor.

Well, readers can explore the issue of Belloc’s antisemitism for themselves: the Wikipedia article is a good starting point (though, given the limitations of the Wiki enterprise, not likely more than that). 

Personally, I couldn’t care less. I detest this puritan style of “writing out” from history everyone whose opinions were not precisely congruent with the thinking of college-educated Americans in the late 20th century. Belloc was a fine writer and a gentleman. He was a good poet of the second rank, and a doggerelist (?) of the first rank, if there is such a thing. He wrote essays on an astonishing breadth of subjects, probably a broader breadth than he was really competent to cope with, but almost invariably with some original or interesting insight. To the best of my knowledge, he never did any harm to anyone. He defended his faith (which is not mine) with ingenuity and vigor, and seems never to have subscribed to the near-universal Catholic anti-semitism of his time (”They killed Our Lord” etc. etc.) His opinions were not wildly eccentric in his time and place. His essay on Islam should be taken at its face value, not regarded as tainted because his opinions on other topics would get him chased out of public life today. Belloc does not live today. He lived a hundred years ago.

For goodness’ sake. Many of the things we hold to be self-evident truths will look silly or obnoxious a hundred years from now. No doubt some of those being chased out of public life in our time will be regarded by our grandchildren as heros and martyrs. So it has always been in past times, at any rate. Let’s use some historical imagination. Our own age is not the summit and end point of all human understanding. In many respects it is a stupid and frivolous age. ~John Derbyshire

Hear, hear!

Briefly, conservatism is a more or less articulate sense of normality, whereas liberalism has been described (by G.K. Chesterton) as “the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.” Conservatism can tolerate many abnormal things that can’t be eliminated from human society, but it doesn’t call them “rights” or confuse them with normal things. And, after all, few things are more abnormal than war.

So today’s alleged conservatives (and especially the misnamed “neoconservatives”) are aberrations. They delight in destruction; they are full of enthusiasm for violent and radical action; they lack the ironic and skeptical attitude of real conservatives, the prudent sense that precipitate acts bring “unintended consequences.”

The presidency of George W. Bush has been one long object lesson in unintended consequences. It’s amusing to recall that his father was kidded for using the phrase wouldn’t be prudent, an expression the son could profitably adopt.
Until the Republicans learn that peace is normal, they will deserve defeat and infamy. ~Joseph Sobran

Righty blogger attention is mostly focused 9/18 on Islamic reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s 9/12 speech. Normally not a subject of interest to Hotline readers, conservative blogger reaction can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (this is by no means a definitive list). Is this a distraction for righty efforts to maintain GOP majorities in Congress? Certainly not. As DailyKos‘ founder Markos Moulitsas points out in PBS’ NOW special “Blog the Vote,” blogs political value is all about exciting the base, and nothing, it seems, fires GOPers up more than a clash of civilizations. ~Hotline

This is an interesting hypothesis.  It will probably appeal to the loons who think that theocracy is on the march in this country and that Pope Benedict was actually using an elaborate code in his speech to support the neocons and encourage an attack on Iran.  It will probably make no sense to the people who are supposed to be fired up by “clash” rhetoric, since they cannot vote for Pope Benedict but are stuck with the witless GOP. 

This is the party that has mostly succeeded in politically neutering those who, like Franklin Graham, echoed Manuel II’s view of Islam (”evil”), while welcoming the ideas of the ridiculous Daniel Pipes and Stephen Schwartz, while also adopting preposterous neologisms such as Islamofascist designed to avoid talking about the specifically Islamic nature of the enemy and to continue to pretend that the problem is an extremist fringe governed by a political ideology comparable to other totalitarianisms and therefore not really religious in nature–it is not about faith, as Gaffney said, but about power.  While the Pope is drawing on relevant historical experience (Byzantine-Ottoman conflicts), these jokers are stuck on pause in 1938 and cannot get through a sentence without making some Axis-related reference. 

As Manuel II might have observed in response to Gaffney’s remark, their faith is dedicated to the acquisition of power for their faith.  Perhaps it is done for the glory of Allah, but nonetheless that is the goal.  If anything, all of the talk about Pope Benedict will not only distract the GOP bloggers from whipping up their folks into caring about the elections but it will also convince the voters that there is something far more important going on than midterm elections.  Only if the GOP can make the sale that they have the better answer to the jihadi threat and that they know how implement that answer without massive screw-ups do they benefit from all the chatter about the Pope’s speech.  Otherwise, it will create a lot of anxiety and excitement that will go nowhere.

May the Republicans perish forever. May the vultures gobble their entrails. May their name be blotted out. In short, may they lose their shirts in November.

Yes, I’m disillusioned with the GOP. It was bad enough when I thought they were unprincipled. Now, however, it’s worse, because they do have a principle after all: war. ~Joseph Sobran

If Jim Geraghty’s Voting to Kill is right about what motivates a lot of GOP voters these days, Republican voters would say, “You better believe it!”  For their sake, I hope that they continue to vote GOP in spite of Iraq, not because of it.

Republican operatives speaking on background say that while they initially believed that split ticket voting would prevail, putting Corker in the U.S. Senate and Bredesen back in the governor’s office, they are now close to hitting the panic button.

They are afraid a lackluster Corker campaign combined with Ford’s charisma, voter dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, Bredesen’s popularity among Republicans, and a Christian conservative base that is not convinced Corker is a reliable voice for them will result in a Democratic sweep in November. ~NashvillePost.com

As I was remarking to Michael the other day, I thought it could not be a good sign for the GOP that I literally had no idea until a couple weeks ago that Corker was the Republican candidate for Senate in Tennessee.  He is apparently better known to Tennesseans, but it seemed to me that if a political junkie and blogger such as myself had never heard his name mentioned once all year long it was probably a sign that something was going wrong somewhere with his campaign.  Apparently the Tennessee GOP received a dressing-down for their “unacceptable” performance in fundraising and mobilising the troops.  Ford, by contrast, was already something of a national media figure and comes across not only as charismatic but also reasonable and intelligent, and he seems to be campaigning well even though his family ties to corrupt relatives may hurt him.  What do our Tennessean friends have to say about this, I wonder? 

Update: Oh, here is one Tennessean’s remarks.

And more and more, the report concludes, Germans are disappointed with democracy within the country. This is especially true for those living in eastern Germany.

 

Last year, only 38 percent of eastern Germans thought democracy was a good form of government, the study said. In 2000, it was 49 percent. ~Deutsche Welle

 

Put yourself in the shoes of the average German from the old DDR.  Those who grew up under the old system probably find the transition under the unified Germany rather unpleasant and jarring (arguably, the hit success of Goodbye, Lenin! with its nostalgic DDR kitsch tapped into some sentiment that could view the DDR with both fondness and contempt); the roughly 20% unemployment in the east (the rate is higher in some of the eastern Laender) can hardly encourage a lot of enthusiasm for the status quo; there have probably been a lot of unreasonable expectations of the “why doesn’t Rostock look like Frankfurt-am-Main by now?” variety that assume there is some magic connection between having elective government and having an economic engine that generates massive wealth and that this wealth will be widely distributed to everyone by dint of being a member of the same country.  People who talk about democratic capitalism can only exacerbate this problem, as they imply that there is some necessary connection. 

 

These expectations of fortune and success under democracy are silly expectations, but if you grew up associating the wealthy Wessis with democracy and freedom, you might be forgiven for thinking that the acquisition of democracy and freedom (of some sort) should lead to greater economic success.  When that doesn’t happen, you assume something must be wrong with the democratic system rather than with, um, you. 

 

Fundamentally, the reason why most people in the West say they like democracy is because they think it is a means to get them the stuff they could not have under another system, and in this case they quite literally mean “stuff,” as in material things and wealth.  Indeed, one of the main selling points of the superiority of ”democratic capitalism” over communism during the Cold War was the former’s ability to get people lots of stuff; the austerity of communism was held up as if it were some kind of insult, when it was the oppression, not the lack of material things, that mattered.   

 

When the people expecting it do not get the stuff, they believe that the system has failed them.  In other cases, the democracy may be nominal or it may become the property of the plutocrats–as in Panama–and disillusionment with the promises of democracy follows swiftly.  Panama in particular has shown high levels of disapproval of democracy and strong potential for preferring authoritarianism because of the deeply corrupt nature of Panamanian democracy, alluded to so well in The Tailor of Panama (one of the best anti-interventionist films of the last 30 years), which is not at all surprising.  Democracy does not guarantee either eunomia or prosperity, and quite frequently results in neither, and expectations of either are misplaced and will inevitably lead to disappointment.  The question is not why so many people in eastern Germany are losing faith in democracy, but why so many in Germany or anywhere else still have faith in it.   

 

Of course, there is a good argument that it is irrational to blame the political system for your region’s economic failure, but popular preferences are very often a mix of rational interests mixed with a lot of irrational, muddled thinking.  It is generally easier to write off an entire system.  That does not mean that you are wrong to write it off, but it does suggest that you may never find anything satisfactory if you assume that the fault is in the system and not in yourself.  Democracy itself contributes to this error because it encourages people to project their own failures onto the collective of “the people” and thus avoid responsibility by attributing the problem to “all of us” and saying that this is a problem that “we” need to solve.  It is, of course, the priorities and values of the people in the system (in theory) that will dictate the people’s relative success or failure.  One of the problems with democracy is that it gives people all of the wrong priorities and many of the worst values, starting with ingratitude and laziness and working down from there. 

 

This is perhaps a crude portrait and possibly unfair to many Germans in the east who have not soured on German democracy (which is, incidentally, a system far more constrained and limited in its political options than even our own, if such a thing were possible), but I think it must explain part of the reason for the disenchantment.  Germans in the west have much greater confidence in democracy as a good form of government, which makes sense since their material conditions are remarkably better than those in the east:

 

That percentage for Germans in the western part of the country was higher, with 80 percent in 2000 and 71 percent in 2005 believing it was a positive form of government.

 

This should serve as a warning: support for democracy can often be very broad but also very shallow.  It receives as much widespread enthusiasm as it does because there is a common, but mistaken impression that it has some connection to prosperity, and when that prosperity falters or disappears there can be a large loss of confidence that paves the way for other kinds of radical mass movements. 

 

Democracy is unusually vulnerable to this disillusionment in the modern age, because it has tied its identity in the West to social welfarism and the competence (ha!) of the managerial state, which perversely makes the performance of government managers and the conditions of society measurements of the worth of democracy.  By making management of the economy a central preoccupation of government, economic failure redounds to the discredit of democratic government, even if the government has no direct role in economic problems.  When the managers fail to run things well, and democracy fails to provide “the safety net,” the many will seek alternative solutions.  Countries with people suffering from unreasonably high expectations, Eurosclerosis and a broken social democratic model (we suffer from two out of three of these, by the way) are at risk of losing confidence in democracy, or at least in the particular system of democratic government that currently exists as that government increasingly fails to meet those unreasonable expectations and cannot “provide the goods” that it has no role even trying to provide.  The flaw is not that democracy fails to deliver the goods, but that it very often promises to do things for people through government that they ought to be doing for themselves.  In its inculcation of dependency and apathy, it is the perfect breeding ground for future despotism.    

Still, Benedict went about this noble business in a very imprudent way. The statement he quoted—that everything new Mohammed brought was “evil and inhuman”—is simply untrue and so obviously hurtful that it will prevent anything else the pope might say from getting a hearing. Given the predictable reactions in the Muslim world, it is patently counterproductive to try to make the legitimate point that Muslims have sometimes used violence to spread their faith by quoting, even without endorsing, the untrue and much more sweeping statement that everything peculiar to Islam is “evil and inhuman.” If Benedict wishes to call Muslims to account for wrongful acts, current and historical, committed by Muslims against Christians, well and good, but he ought not do so by grossly overstating the case in an obviously provocative way that he himself does not believe and then apologize in stages for having done so. ~Robert Miller, First Things

If the quote is so obviously untrue, why did Pope Benedict need to specifically repudiate it in the course of the speech?  Would he not assume that everyone could see that it was false?  If it is true–and I have reason to agree with this view–then why would Pope Benedict not have included it in his speech?  Even if Pope Benedict does not believe it to be true, and he has stated that he does not believe it to be true, it could still be true.  If it were true, but still hurtful, would we want to suppress it?  Here’s the thing: what did Muhammad introduce?  What was new to his religion?  It was the combination of a fierce monotheism mixed with the call to struggle violently on behalf of the one transcendent deity.  From a Christian perspective, how was Manuel II’s description of these things wrong and “simply untrue”? 

Mohammedanism was a heresy:  that is the essential point to grasp before going any further.  It began as a hersey, not as a new religion.  It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy.  It was a perversion of Christian doctrine.  Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemprary with its rise saw it for what it was—not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing.  It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church.  The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most hersiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with.  He sprang from pagans.  But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified.  It was the great Catholic world—on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel—which inspired his convictions.  He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans’ while… ~Hilaire Belloc (via John Derbyshire)

It is not only the case that St. John of Damascus listed Islam as the 100th heresy in his De haeresibus.  St. Anastasios of Sinai in some of the first patristic references to Islam described Islam principally in terms of its Christological errors–which he likened to Nestorianism–and blamed the rise of Islam on (who else?) the monophysites, because their extreme heresy had, as Anatasios saw it, forced the Arabs who came into contact with them to adopt the equal and opposite heresy.  This is probably not exactly the case, though I believe it is generally accepted that Muhammad learned what little he knew of Christianity from a Nestorian monk whom he met along the caravan routes north.  In any case, Islamic objections to Christianity are those of any anti-Trinitarian heresy mixed with Arian denial of Christ’s divinity and Nestorian contempt for the Mother of God.  I doubt that Islam derives directly from any of these in any measurable way, but it is not entirely ridiculous to think that the domination of Yemen by the monophysite Ethiopians could have influenced how Arabs in that region perceived Christianity and influenced them in such a way that pushed them towards an intense hostility to the idea that Christ was God.  Naturally, Podhoretz ignores the potential relevance of Belloc’s observation to the discussion of the nature of Islam and satisfies himself with an anecdote reminding us that (surprise!) Belloc didn’t like Jews (gosh, nobody knew that!).  Of course, it is not entirely clear to me why Derbyshire thought to bring this up, but it is an idea that is neither far-fetched nor without basis in the Christian tradition of anti-Islamic polemics.

Finally, I would wager that Belloc, who was prone to lavish pronouncements, knew about as much about the historical influences on Islam as he knew about how to cook Sabbath cholent — and at a time when Pope Benedict is coming under ignorant and unfair attack for his brilliant speech, I thought it seemed unfair for Derb to associate Benedict Belloc’s genuinely insulting and undeniably condescending insult of Islam. ~John Podhoretz

And I’ll wager John Podhoretz knows as much about Islamic theology as he knows about humane conservatism, which would be zip.

He pretends that the word Logos can mean either “the word” or “reason,” which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as heavenly truth. ~Christopher Hitchens

Which is more annoying: someone who doesn’t know enough history to comment intelligently on something, or an atheist telling Christians what the Bible “really” says?  It’s something of a toss-up.  I tend to lean towards the former, but both are pretty maddening. 

Of course Logos in the Bible can refer back to reason, and in the Gospel of St. John it refers back precisely to the Stoic universal logos that Hellenistic Judaism had taken up in the time of Philo of Alexandria and which the Johannine Gospel adopted for the famous Prologue.  The identification of universal Reason with God’s word (memra in Hebrew) had already taken place in the first century B.C.–if Hitchens doesn’t like it, he can take it up with the great Jewish philosopher.  There are undoubtedly plenty of places elsewhere in Scripture where logos refers back to God’s word where it means His commandment, but anyone with a rudimentary grasp on patristics would know that when Pope Benedict uses logos in this way he is drawing on the word-play that St. Gregory the Theologian used that incorporated all the different meanings of logos in his homilies and the tradition of Justin Martyr that interprets classical philosophy as a preparation for the Gentiles through the use of reason as a way of participating in Christ the Word.  Indeed, the very basis of Catholic ecumenical theology rests on the similar assumption that anything true or reasonable in other religions represents their participation in the Logos and therefore makes them worthy of a certain respect.  Hitchens probably does not know much of this, since he does not bother to acquaint himself with the finer points of doctrines that he finds inherently offensive and absurd, which is yet another reason why the man ought to remain quiet on topics such as these.   

Now, you do not have to be a Muslim to think that for the bishop of Rome to cite this is the most perfect hypocrisy. There would have been no established Byzantine or Roman Christianity if the faith had not been spread and maintained and enforced by every kind of violence and cruelty and coercion. To take Islam’s own favorite self-pitying example: It was the Catholic crusaders who sacked and burned Christian Byzantium on their way to Palestine—and that was only after they had methodically set about the Jews, so the Muslim world was actually only the third victim of this barbarity. (Sir Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades is the best source here.) ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Well, in fact, established Christianity and violently coercive Christianity are not the same thing, as I have been reiterating again and again and again.  There have been periods in Christian history where there has been violent coercion by the state against heretics.  But Christians’ first recourse has historically typically not been to violent persecution or to warfare.  Certainly if we are comparing the records of the Byzantines in particular with the record of Islam, the contrast becomes even more remarkable.  So we can dismiss Hitchens on that point.  Next we might note that Hitchens cannot even get his facts straight–the purported ultimate target of the Fourth Crusade was supposed to be Egypt, not Palestine, just as the ill-fated Fifth Crusade would be as a way of knocking out the Ayyubid support structure that kept the Crusader States pinned to their narrow strips of Levantine territory. 

And as much as I respect the late Sir Steven Runciman and enjoy his works enormously (and I have heard tell that he converted to Orthodoxy at the end of his life), Hitchens might try something more modern than Crusades histories that are half a century old and out of date.  Sir Steven was a great friend to Byzantium and a great protector of her reputation; he did a good deal to revive interest in and respect for Byzantium as a worthy subject of study and as an admirable civilisation, for which all Byzantinists should be grateful, but his own love for Byzantium tended to make him an extremely harsh and sometimes unbalanced critic of the western Europeans who were the main actors of the drama.  He famously referred to the sack of Constantinople in 1204 as the greatest “crime against humanity” ever, which is flattering to the Constantinopolitans but hardly accurate.  Michael Angold has written a book on the Fourth Crusade offering a radical corrective view of this assuredly exaggerated judgement of the Crusade.  For the best general Crusades historians, look to Riley-Smith or Madden, who have done great work attempting to understand the phenomenon of the Crusades rather than sit in judgement over it.

Seems to me that the Byzantine emperors, including the Palaeologan line from the thirteenth century, persecuted religious minorities, including Jews, Manichaeans and dissident Christians, during centuries in which the Islamic world showed relative tolerance. I’ve read the texts of anathemas that virtually everyone in some parts of the Empire was obliged to pronounce publicly in the sixth century: “I renounce Mani, Buddha his teacher,” etc. On pain of death, basically. There was no division between church and state. Many Byzantine Jews welcomed the initial Muslim Arab advances, providing relief from Christian persecution.  ~Gary Leupp, Counterpunch

The claim about church and state is just hideously wrong.  You cannot be more wrong about Byzantium than to say “there was no division between church and state.”  Of course there was a division–the division was consciously maintained at several key moments in Byzantine history, particularly when there were heretical emperors on the throne; the role of emperors in the Church was strictly circumscribed and defined by precedents and canons; there was an entire (slightly idealistic) theory of symphoneia composed in the prologue of the Epanagoge, a ninth-century law code of Basil I that elaborated a similar division of labour outlined in Justinian’s Sixth Novella.  Anyone with a vague familiarity with late Byzantine history knows just how controversial and divisive attempts to dictate church policy for the sake of political expediency were, and how they ultimately always failed because the Church retained its sense of independence and its conviction that the bishops, not the emperor, defined doctrine and governed the affairs of the Church.  The intolerant aspects of Byzantine Orthodoxy also served as a guard against state control of the Church.  Of course the emperor had influence and could briefly, but ultimately futilely, exert power over the Church, but to say something as simplistic and risible as “there was no division between church and state” is to prove that you have no business talking about the subject in question.  And if “there was no division between church and state,” what on earth was the situation in the Islamic world, where the supreme secular authority and the supreme religious authority during the Caliphates was the same person

Many Byzantine Jews also welcomed the Persian invasions of the early seventh century and even allegedly helped in the sack of Jerusalem in 614, so I’m not sure why Prof. Leupp wants to bring this up as a particular example of Byzantine Christian flaws.  (It cannot be a promising sign for the quality of education at Tufts University that Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.)  Yes, there was legal discrimination against heretics and non-Christians, just as there were legal codes prescribing inferior status for non-Muslims in Islamic lands.  In those lands there was no “tolerance,” relative or otherwise, but simply the toleration that said for all intents and purposes ”we will probably not attack and kill you–probably.”  There were exceptional cases in Byzantium of violent punishment, forcible coercion and execution, but these were very rare in Byzantine history.  For every emperor you can find that engaged in such things, I can show you five who didn’t do any such thing and a considerable number of Church Fathers who explicitly condemned such things.  For every anathema against Manichees you can show me, I’ll show you the martyrs of Gaza or the neo-martyrs of the Turkokrateia or any of the nameless thousands butchered under the green flag. 

There was nothing comparable in all of Byzantine history to the ninth-century anti-Mu’tazilite Islamic inquisition in the court of Baghdad under Ma’mun, try as some might to make the trial of John Italos into a great attack on all things rational.  Presumably the Mu’tazilites did not appreciate just how tolerant their persecutors were.  What is more, Italos was condemned for excessive Hellenism, which means reliance on pagan philosophy to the detriment of revelation in this context, not the use of reason applied to Scripture all together–the Mu’tazilites were condemned and persecuted because they dared to say that the Qur’an was created and that man had free will.  They were the first–and last–Islamic rationalists, the last, great hope, so to speak, of every apologist for the good side of Islam–and they were crushed, never to be seen again.  The contrary positions–that the Qur’an was eternal and man does not really have free will, but all things are done by Allah–became normative and all but universally accepted.  The fate of the Mu’tazilah alone confirms what Pope Benedict was saying about relationship of Islam and reason.  I would like to assume that Prof. Leupp is simply painfully ignorant about all of this, because otherwise he would be something of a gross liar. 

There are no Byzantine Christian groups comparable to such “tolerant” folk as the Almohads and Almoravids, who showed just how ”tolerant” Islam could be with their spate of brutal persecutions.  The “relative tolerance” of the Aghlabids led to the decay and disappearance of North African Christianity, which had barely hung on into the 11th century before going extinct.  The fate of Anatolian Christianity at the hands of Turkomen raiders needs no introduction.  In more recent times (i.e., the 1920s), Kurdish Muslims showed their “relative tolerance” towards the Assyrian communities of Iraq by slaughtering them.  One looks largely in vain for similar treatment meted out to Muslim populations by Christian authorities and peoples.  The Zoroastrians received similarly “tolerant” treatment in Iran, and the Muslim raiders and conquerors of India were not all together model spokesmen for religious tolerance, to put it mildly.  When the Il-Khanids converted to Islam under Gazan Khan, the former protection extended to Nestorians in Iran diminished rapidly.  Indeed, the record of toleration under the Muslim Mongol states compares very poorly with that of their more barbarous, pagan predecessors–because the pagan Mongols didn’t care whether anyone else worshipped Tengri, but Muslim Mongols took a dim view of those who did not submit to Allah.  In fairness, rulers such as Timur killed all kinds of people, but his devastations of Armenia and Georgia were particularly severe.   

The “Golden Age” mythology of Islam, which seems to be the extent of Mr. Leupp’s knowledge base, rests on a very few moments in Islamic history in a very few places: Abbasid Baghdad, Umayyad Cordoba, Mughal Delhi.  Take these away and the picture gets unbelievably bleak.  Where dhimmis were treated “well,” they were second-class people just as heretics had been under the Byzantines, and where they were not treated well they were outside the protection of the law and subject to violence and harrassment when the government didn’t actively engage in mass murder (Caliph al’Hakim is representative of the latter).  There is nothing remotely similar on the Byzantine side in the treatment of Muslims in the reconquered territory in Syria to the Fatimid treatment of Christians in their domains.  People who blithely refer to the “tolerance” of Islam relative to Byzantium either know nothing about Byzantium and Islam or simply shill for Islam because it serves other purposes.  

Almost all dissidents in the great Christological controversies suffered exile or loss of the opportunity to serve in the civil service and military; bishops were deposed, priests defrocked, but only an ignoramus would imply that the penalties for Manicheanism extended to the empire’s treatment of all heretics.  Manicheans were the only heretics for whom the death penalty was mandatory, because it was held that they were a particularly destructive heresy that seemed to reject any and all earthly authorities.  Manichees were treated similarly in the Sasanian Empire as well as the Roman and was the case long before there were ever Christians on the throne of Constantinople.  Maybe that doesn’t make it any better, but everyone despised the Manichees wherever they went because they were seen as a menace to public order. 

Anyone who was a heretic and wanted to become a communicating member of the Orthodox Church had to denounce all sorts of errors and affirm others.  There were typically no death penalties for heretics in Byzantium, and anyone who tries to give a different impression doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 

Manichees were considered a special category of subversive.  They were also largely extinct in most places by the time of the sixth century.  Different sects in later medieval Byzantine history would be identified sometimes with the Manichees as a way of aligning them with the most hateful thing imaginable, and polemicists loved to apply the title Manichean to people whom they particularly disliked as a way of insulting them, but Manichees as such had all but disappeared.  No one would have been punished for refusing to renounce Mani because no one was following Mani.  Denouncing Manicheanism in the sixth century was largely a sort of moral and spiritual stand, akin to denouncing fascism today–very few are actually in favour of reviving fascism, but to listen to the way we obsess about fascist-this and fascist-that you would think it was still a live issue.  It is a way of declaring that you are committed to the right things.

Manuel I Komnenos was in some ways an atypical Byzantine ruler, but he took the interesting step of forcing a controversy over the ritual of renouncing Islam that shows one aspect of the difference between the Byzantine Christian and the Muslim.  Manuel was definitely on shaky theological ground for obvious reasons, but he supported a move to change the renunciation of Islam so that converts to Christianity would only have to reject Muhammad and not Muhammad’s God.  There was a willingness, however rare, at the highest levels in Byzantium to acknowledge that Muslims worshipped the same God but followed a false prophet, while there was not and could never have really been a similar willingness on the other side.  There are many things modern people could learn from a serious study of the careers of Manuel I and Manuel II, among others, but that would require knowing something about Byzantium.  Or you can spout tired cliches about Orientalism and the “tolerance” of Islam and think that you have demonstrated something other than your own ignorance.  

Both sides have much to gain by good relations. The Vatican and Muslims have shared stands in opposition of abortion. The Holy See, under Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, vigorously lobbied against the Iraq war, and Benedict made numerous appeals to Israel to use restraint in its recent military campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. ~The Guardian

When I was young and stupid, I was a sort of hard-line syncretist, who thought it would be a great idea to create a kind of pan-religious social conservative alliance against atheists and various moral relativists.  Had Ecumenical Jihad come out back then, I probably would have thought the concept was a great idea.  Which confirms just how young and stupid I was.  It might be that Christians and Muslims will happen to agree on certain questions of policy, especially when these are policies pushed by secularists from the West, but that agreement will take place regardless of the state of relations between Christian churches and the Islamic world.     

Vatican officials had earlier sought to placate spreading Muslim anger by saying Benedict held Islam in high esteem and stressed that the central thrust of his speech was to condemn the use of any religious motivation for violence, whatever the religion. ~The Guardian

Actually, I had thought the central thrust of the speech was that God is rational by nature and nothing irrational pleases Him.  This is why most Christians have entirely put away the bloody and irrational sacrifices of old for the rational sacrifice of the Eucharist.  This is why I never cease to find it difficult to understand why someone who believes this would hold in high esteem a religion that denies the divinity of Christ, Who was Reason Incarnate, when such a denial is not only what the early and medieval Fathers would have regarded as a mark of insanity (the proverbial “madness of Areios”) but is itself a denial of the personal union of humanity in the Person of the Logos Himself.  Denying Christ’s divinity is, from a Christian perspective, denying the substantial joining of humanity to Reason and denying the possibility of the perfection of our own reason.  Presumably Pope Benedict does not hold Arianism in high esteem, so what can it mean to say that he holds Islam in “high esteem”?  Did Elijah hold the prophets of Baal in high esteem?   

These sorts of statements remind me why I am always so skeptical of ecumenism–to carry on a “dialogue,” you are compelled for the sake of dialogue to say things you cannot possibly believe and make statements praising other religions that you cannot really mean, which in turn does violence to the truth and reduces said dialogue to something of a sham.  Such a “dialogue” cannot produce anything except pro forma expressions of goodwill, which are ultimately empty and amount to saying nothing more than, “I am going to show the world what a reasonable, tolerant fellow I am–why, look, I have even said something nice about the Hindus!”  There are two kinds of ecumenists: those who really think that there are many equally valid paths to truth (these people typically are not terribly keen on taking any of the paths very far, since deep down they can sense that there is no point) and those who think that giving the appearance of ecumenical goodwill helps with public relations.  In other words, I don’t think there are really any good reasons to be an ecumenist.  If there are sincere ecumenists who nonetheless believe that their religion alone possesses the fullness of truth, I would very much like to know how they reconcile the two ideas.  It is, of course, possible to have a conversation with people who hold radically different religious beliefs, but it will usually be a short conversation, especially when each time you draw attention to what you consider the flaws in their religion they believe themselves justified in threatening you with death.  Most Christian ecumenist dialogue does not draw attention to the flaws, intellectual and moral, of other religions, presumably because all historical religions have some sort of flaws on account of the flawed people involved, which is why Pope Benedict’s speech seemed promising as a starting point for , among other things, discussing seriously the role of reason in Islam and the place of violent jihad in Islamic theology and history.  His speech did not really make any concessions, or at least it was not obvious to me that it did, but now it would seem that the Vatican has made the biggest concession of them all: Islam is worthy of high esteem.  Manuel II and, for that matter, St. John of Damascus would not have understood why.    

According to the PPIC’s report, California’s unregistered would like to use the ballot box to, in effect, take money from the highly-productive and give it to themselves.

This is exactly the essential danger of democracy that Aristotle pointed out: that the poor, who are many, will vote to despoil the rich, who are few.

America, fortunately, has largely avoided that by having a middle class society. But California is leading the way toward a Latin American-style social pyramid. ~Steve Sailer, VDare

For more on this theme of “what sort of crazy libertarian would want mass immigration?”, see Dan McCarthy’s latest post entitled A Libertarian Case Against Open Borders.  Libertarians may be thrilled at the prospect of millions of people engaged in their moral “rights” of exchange and so forth, but the millions of people who are coming have no interest in respecting what few property rights still exist and quite a few incentives to vote for the same kinds of policies they would have voted for back home. 

There might be a certain kind of reactionary who looks back on highly stratified classes as a desirable way of organising society; there have certainly been worse ways, but they have little to do with the ordered liberty of our political tradition.  The greatest danger is that they are unstable, swinging from extremes of democratic excess and dictatorship back to narrow oligarchies that exclude and exploit the many.  In other words, it would be a replay of much of modern Latin American history. 

Why some libertarians seem enthusiastic about the creation of a new racial, economic and social hierarchy in America with the attendant populist and socialist backlashes, I cannot say, but I assume it must be some cunning ruse to ensure their permanent marginalisation.  

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade. ~The Washington Post

This is one of those bizarre things that would seem hard to believe, but then you realise which administration we’re talking about here.  There has to be some irony in determining whether staffers being chosen to man the occupation zone in the wake of a war of aggression are sufficiently pro-life.  Was this a question used to ferret out those fiendishly clever Gore-voting staffers who lied about their voting record but couldn’t deny their position on abortion?  Was there a real fear that Democrats would subvert the “ideological struggle”, or was this simply a way of venting the embarrassment that there were not enough qualified people with the right affiliation?  

I wonder if the “loyal” staffers traded notes on their different loyalty tests.  Did they check each other’s answers to find out what it took to score “perfect loyalty”?  Did they have contests to see who was more loyal?  Did they make bets on how loyal the new arrivals would be?  Did they taunt each other in the fastnesses of the Green Zone with little insults like, “I’m more loyal to the Master than you are!  You’re just a pansy who likes the ABM Treaty!”?  Were sufficiently loyal staffers rewarded with an audience with Kate O’Beirne?  Oh, boy, what a reward!

This was one of my more favourite items:

He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O’Beirne once pointed to a young man’s résumé and pronounced him “an ideal candidate.” His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

Well, obviously he would disqualify people who spoke Arabic–they might start communicating with the enemy!  Besides, what sort of loser spent his time in school learning Arabic when he could have been an econ major just like the rest of “us”?  And you can’t ever trust an Arabist–I think that’s Rule #43 in the Neoconservative Handbook of Success–because they have something that is called Knowledge About the Near East, which is something that no successful neoconservative should have to bother himself with.

But why should this guy’s involvement in the recount surprise anyone?  A willingness to do what you’re told, no thinking required, make wild claims about adversaries and generally shill for the Master–isn’t that the very definition of what the CPA did?  Besides, you didn’t think this kid spent his time working on the recount in Florida for his health, did you?  Every good deed deserves a payoff, er, reward.  Where better for a young man to get a start than in the Two Rivers Opportunity Zone (a.k.a., Iraq)? 

Edsall describes well the relationship between the Republican Party and the interest groups that make up its awkward coalition. A conservative activist like Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation “conceives of an ideal world in which his conservatism and the Republican Party are one and the same.” In contrast, Edsall writes, the liberal interest groups “were created when liberals and Democrats were in power,” and its leaders “all see themselves and their goals as separate and distinct from those of the Democratic Party.” The Democrats are half a party, with their strongest ideological allies always keeping one foot out of it. This is a story worthy of a book of its own, but something in this relationship must change. ~Mark Schmitt, The Washington Monthly

Before the liberals go rushing to embrace the GOP model, they might consider that conservatives, including Mr. Weyrich, have grown disgusted with the GOP in many respects and have started to learn to distance themselves from it.  At the very moment that conservatives are learning the horrible price to be paid for “effective” campaigning and politicking, Mr. Schmitt seems to be recommending that liberals sell whatever integrity they have to make the Democratic Party more competitive.  Trust me, folks, it aint worth it.

Bush’s dispatching of three sons to the three big states where Republican conservatism was poised to flourish—Florida, Texas, and Colorado (the last for the forgotten son, Neil, in whom the greatest hopes were once placed, but whose attempts to get rich off his name crossed a line that his brothers somehow managed to avoid)—now seems as canny a move as some 17th-century monarch marrying his daughters off to various German princes. ~Mark Schmitt, The Washington Monthly

Canny it may have been, but surely the canny 17th century rulers would have been the German dukes and princes who married their daughters and sisters off to become queens of larger states.  When larger states did the reverse, it tended to get them bogged down in the misguided aspirations of their new in-laws: take, for example, the marriage of James I’s sister Elizabeth to the Winter King and the general headache that attachment caused Britain.  On the other hand, it was certainly canny of Catherine the Great’s father to marry her off to the heir to the throne of Russia in the 18th century; it certainly worked out nicely for Catherine.  I may have to start some kind of regular column on bad historical analogies; perhaps I will call it the Stephen Schwartz Awards. 

Separately, it may be of interest to readers that Mr. Schmitt is also reviewing Edsall’s Building Red America (note: not a how-to guide for old Henry Wallace fans), which I remarked on indirectly here and here, as well as Hamburger and Wallsten’s One Party Nation.

The Armageddon strain in American politics is a new one. ~Mark Schmitt, The Washington Monthly

We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord. ~Theodore Roosevelt, National Progressive Party Convention Speech (1912)

Perhaps by new Mr. Schmitt meant something within the last 95 years.  Of course, we should also not forget the highly charged atmosphere of the 1790s filled with Jefferson’s slightly wild-eyed fears of resurgent monarchism in the “monocracy” of Federalism and Federalist anxieties about the supposed crypto-Jacobinism of the Republicans.  Some might also suggest that The Battle Hymn of the Republic has a wee dose of apocalyptic imagery in it.  None of this is necessarily to say that this style of politics is desirable, but it is both quite old and also quite unavoidable in a system where men openly contest with one another for power and are allowed to claim that this contest has something to do with high principles.  As Francis Urquhart said (as best I can recall), “We really started something when we let this sort start climbing the greasy pole.”

In the past week, the Allen campaign has taken aim at Mr. Webb on two counts: highlighting his opposition, in an article he wrote 27 years ago, to women in combat and at the Naval Academy, and asserting that Mr. Webb has no right to use videotape of President Ronald Reagan praising him in a new television advertisement. ~The New York Times

So Allen thinks it is cunning politics to point out to Virginians, who live in a state with one of largest military populations in the country and the major east coast naval base, that Webb used to oppose women being in combat and that President Reagan spoke favourably of Webb when Webb was Secretary of the Navy?  Whose vote is he trying to win?  The feminists of Hampton Roads? 

I will make my first Bold Prediction of the election year: Webb wins the election by 3 points.

As he is quick to remind his audiences, Mr. Webb spoke out against an invasion early on, arguing that containment had worked in the cold war and would work, again, against Saddam Hussein. American occupation forces in Iraq would “quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets,” he warned in an op-ed article in The Washington Post in September 2002. He [Webb] went to see Mr. Allen to voice his concerns, and said Mr. Allen’s position, essentially, was “you’re asking me to be disloyal to my president.” ~The New York Times

Republican control of the White House and Congress hasn’t resulted in lights being turned off in Cabinet agencies or enormous garage sales of office furniture. Instead, Uncle Sam is still looking like Marlon Brando at the end of his career: bloated, sweaty and slow moving. The GOP has become a Brando-like parody of its former self, reading its lines about cutting government without plausibility or passion. ~Jonah Goldberg

The Brando that the GOP resembles most is the bulky, bald Brando playing the mad Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, not the obese but jovial “Don Octavio de Flores” of Don Juan de Marco, as the GOP has, like the movie’s Col. Kurtz, gone into the heart of darkness (i.e., D.C.) and been reduced to the level of savagery that it found there.  As in Heart of Darkness, there are decapitated heads on display where GOP-Kurtz dwells, representing the principles that it once held but later sacrificed to its own power-lust and madness.  There are so many candidates for the modern counterpart of the lunatic journalist-cum-cult member played by Dennis Hopper that you cannot choose just one. 

This may seem unduly grim, but my view of the end of the GOP majority is not one of these “silver lining,” “let’s step back and reassess things,” “the Republicans need a swift kick to the rear” views.  It is not a view that says GOP control is basically desirable, but has gone slightly awry (pity about the disasters and the treachery!).  It is a view that says two things: there is something profoundly unsound about the structures of our political institutions that feeds the sort of degeneration that the GOP and the movement underwent in the last ten years (in the short version, this is massive centralisation and consolidation of power and the huge revenue-collecting apparatus of the government); as of right now, a continued GOP majority would represent an embrace of every bad tendency inherent in the structures of our political institutions.  This is true whether it involves lying about costs of programs (see Medicare D), lying about war (see Iraq) or lying about about the treatment of prisoners (see administration statements on the treatment of prisoners).  It is hardly as if deceit had been uncommon before unified GOP control, but the GOP leadership today appears to have an almost insatiable need to deceive, defend the deceptions of other party members or be determinedly indifferent to these deceptions.  Perhaps this is always true of the party in power, but it seems to be an acute case with these people.  GOP defeat in November, which I still expect to happen, should not be the moment when conservatives start to “take back” a party that was never really theirs, brief flashes in 1964 and 1980 notwithstanding, but when they finally count the costs of what allying themselves to this party has done to them, their principles and their integrity.  November 8, 2006, the day after the election, can be the day when conservatives declare their intention to be far, far more independent of the GOP, or it can be the day when they decide to redouble their efforts to get The Party started again.   

There are, it is true, more and more Republicans and conservatives jumping off the sinking Bush ship, and there are many who are complicit in the madness who now run for cover like snitches whose cover has been blown.  The snitch comparison is not chosen at random, as there is nothing that better captures the essence of the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency than disloyalty in matters of principle (if we are generous and assume that many of these people did indeed hold the principles they originally espoused and later betrayed), which is perhaps not the least surprising since we have a President who is unusually obsessed with loyalty to his person, who is surrounded by a willing body of servitors willing to glorify and praise him and whose administration chooses staff for its most high priority policies on the basis of their loyalty to the master.  

Some might say, so what else is new?  Disloyalty goes hand in hand with democratic politics (perhaps another solid argument against democratic politics?).  Arguably, every politician makes commitments he cannot keep and all politicians betray the causes they purport to defend, but rarely do this many betray so much so nakedly in such a short time.  Perhaps the old, decent liberals confronted with the abuses of the New Dealers experienced something similar–I can think of few other really good comparisons.  

There is a striking scene from the Ninth Circle of Inferno that describes Judas being chewed for all eternity in the mouth of Satan, as the paragon of traitors suffers most in that circle reserved for traitors, who are the worst of all the damned.  To the extent that conservatives and Republicans betrayed the principles and oaths they vowed to defend and uphold, they will receive a taste of the just retribution meted out to those who not only betray those who trusted in them but those who, by betraying their word, have betrayed themselves.  The horror, the horror, indeed.

If Ney steps down, Ohio law requires Gov. Bob Taft to hold a special election to replace him. A Taft spokesman said the governor “would have to make that determination if and when the resignation comes.”

Ney pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy and a second charge of failing to report gifts from Abramoff and the Syrian businessman on his House financial disclosure papers. Ney, former chairman of the House Administration Committee, is the first member of Congress to plead guilty to federal charges in the Abramoff investigation. ~The Columbus Dispatch

Let’s see–Randy “bandit, 12 o’clock high!” Cunningham is in jail, DeLay has been indicted, Ney has plead guilty to conspiracy.  Can there be a pattern?  No, it must just be a series of isolated incidents.  It cannot possibly reflect on the GOP’s arrogance and corruption while in power.

Republicans in Washington were urged to take time off work from 4 to 6 p.m. last Wednesday and go to the Lucky Strike Bowling Alley in an unusual fund-raiser for seven GOP House members in need of late campaign money.
The National Republican Congressional Committee called the event BOMP (Bowling for Our Majority Program). The beneficiaries were Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio, Thelma Drake of Virginia, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, John Sweeney of New York and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania.
The solicitation for BOMP asserted that the seven incumbents “all have a real need for additional resources in the last couple of months before the election,” either because of a “well-funded” Democratic opponent or especially high local television costs. ~Robert Novak

The inclusion of Weldon on this list is curious, especially if Hotline’s report is correct that his camp has an internal poll showing Weldon beating Sestak 52-33.  Even granting that there are six weeks left in the campaigning season, how desperate for money can Weldon be if he is actually leading by 19 points?  Impromptu bowling fundraisers (have you ever heard of such a thing?) sound like the stuff of desperation, not clever efforts to prepare for all contingencies.

Edsall notes that one-third of American children — and almost 70 percent of African American children — are born to unmarried mothers. Then, in an astonishing passage about this phenomenon, which is the cause of most social pathologies, from crime to schools that cannot teach, he explains how Americans differ concerning what he calls “freedom from the need to maintain the marital or procreative bond.”

“To social conservatives,” he writes, “these developments have signaled an irretrievable and tragic loss. Their reaction has fueled, on the right, a powerful traditionalist movement and a groundswell of support for the Republican Party. To modernists, these developments constitute, at worst, the unfortunate costs of progress, and, at best — and this is very much the view on the political left as well as of Democratic Party loyalists — they constitute a triumph over unconscionable obstacles to the liberation and self-realization of much of the human race.” ~George Will

Yes, I hate unconscionable barriers to liberation–like fathers or intact homes.  Thank goodness we are removing those “obstacles” at a steady rate.  Putting young men on the path to prison is a much better to help them “self-realise.”  This is the progressive story: man is “emancipated” from his social nature and from the obligations of his social relationships, and this is what the progressive calls freedom.  What all sane peoples throughout time have regarded as sacred or at the very least crucially important relationships for the well-being of men and society as a whole, the progressive presumably writes off as several thousands of years of effective propaganda (based in structures, of course, of racegenderclass–say it all together now!).  The wisdom of ages is just another obstacle to be overcome to achieve liberation.  And if you point out the significant dislocation, the huge social costs, the death of humane society that result from these things, the progressive tells you not to idealise the families of yore (”they weren’t perfect!” he will tell you unhelpfully) and says, “These are the unfortunate costs of progress.”  Case closed.  “Progress” has been served, therefore it is an acceptable loss.  After all, you can’t make an emancipated, self-realised world without wrecking a few homes and creating a few criminals!

What is striking is not how unreconstructed Edsall is in his contempt for natural human institutions (in the era of Clinton, this sort of thing would be shunned on the left and pushed to the outer fringes); any committed progressive ideologue could not be what he is and not have contempt for these things.  What is striking is how similar this kind of decidedly anti-family, anti-marriage argument is to the arguments advanced in support for the gale forces of “creative destruction” when it comes to small businesses and small communities.  The structure of the response is the same: 1) minimise the problem; 2) show how the destruction of old ways and institutions is actually “liberating” and part of our “freedom”!; 3) dismiss opponents as romantics who ignore the flaws of the alternatives (which is almost always false); 4) enter into deep denial when the deleterious effects of the destructive forces you are encouraging are held up for all to see.

When Edsall says middle- and working-class cultural conservatives vote for Republicans who then use their power “for noncultural objectives,” he is voicing a familiar liberal lament: All would be well if voters would vote based on important issues — material, economic concerns; their wallets — rather than unimportant ones such as abortion, the definition of marriage, the coarsening of the culture and other moral anxieties. But if those issues are unimportant, why is it that liberals, adamantly supporting partial-birth abortion and celebrating judicial redefinitions of marriage, are so uncompromising about them? ~George Will, The Washington Post

Via Rod Dreher

On the whole, Will shows Edsall to be a strange, unreconstructed progressive of the truly old school, for whom redistributive justice is not a contradiction in terms but a guiding principle, and duly belittles the bizarre canards that Edsall throws out that bring us back to the winter of 1995, the winter of bitter contempt (”the Republicans want to destroy the welfare state”! if only!).  But I think he is so caught up in smashing Edsall to tiny bits on everything else that he has missed something important here by mischaracterising the nature of Edsall’s point.

I think I see how Will drew his conclusion from Edsall’s statement quoted above, but surely if there is anything that Edsall echoes here when he complains about cultural conservatives’ support being translated into support for an agenda unrelated to the very cultural questions that win the GOP these conservatives’ support it is a cultural conservative’s lament.  This is the lament that says more or less the following: cultural conservatives are being foolish, not because they ought to vote their ‘real’ economic interests and allow cultural issues to confuse them into voting GOP (the Thomas Frank thesis), but because they lend their support as cultural conservatives to a party that does next to nothing to advance their interests in the “culture wars” beyond the merely rhetorical.  In other words, they vote for fighting the culture wars and get government expansion, profligate spending, tax cuts and foreign wars; yes, they get some of their judicial appointments, which are many cultural conservative bafflingly regard as sufficient and good reason to accept the ongoing neglect they receive, so long as they get the appropriate lip service every once in a while.  As a co-dependent cultural conservative might say, “You had me at ’culture of life’.” 

If Will has quoted Edsall correctly, Edsall has hit on something that most liberals/progressives tend to miss in their general fear of the coming theocracy and all the angry conservatives coming to terrorise them: that middle and working-class cultural conservatives have been ripped off on precisely those things that matter most to them.  Not only would a progressive regard this harping on cultural issues to be a kind of misdirection from the things that ‘really’ matter to these folks (and here Will is right to make a connection with the What’s The Matter With Kansas argument), but here Edsall makes it plan that the whole thing is a rather elaborate con to win supporters who will receive no ‘payoff’ in the form of getting an agenda that they want. 

Forget questions of growing wage inequality for a moment; forget all of the “bread and butter” issues on which Democrats are (in their own quaintly deluded minds) “better.”  What Edsall claims is what some traditional conservative already know: the GOP is diffident, if not sometimes outrightly subversive, in its support for precisely the things that cultural conservatives take seriously.  Then, having successfully conned these people out of their support in exchange for no substantive policy changes, they throw them bones in the form of obviously over-the-top, zany crusades, such as federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.  This would be like the abusive husband buying the battered wife some elegant piece of jewelry to show her that he really loved her, and never mind about the time he slammed her head into the wall.  Likewise, look at the craven pandering of the Terri Schiavo intervention–as clear an attempt to buy off supporters as the GOP’s exploitation of Elian Gonzalez for propaganda purposes was–and never mind about sticking a shiv into Judge Roy Moore during the Ten Commandments fight (Bush), or signing off on Plan B (Bush) or approving federal funding for stem cell research (Bush again), and so on and so forth.  For some cultural conservatives, the entire faith-based initiative was the ultimate Trojan Horse for a secularist invasion of Christian charities in particular.  Where real cultural conservatives–or at least those who would consider themselves to be the ‘real’ thing and not the knock-off version–see the intrusion of the government in the form of government money, and all the attachments and requirements that can potentially bring with it, “compassionate conservatives” see a useful way to exploit the issue of some generic “faith” to show that the GOP cares about “values” more than the other guys.  Yet for the people who actually embrace these “values” as a way of life, the actual policies of “compassionate conservatism” represent the same kinds of unwelcome intrusions on their way of life under a different flag.  Nothing could point more clearly to the disjunction between what the GOP proposes and what many of its religious and cultural conservative voters want to see.   

For dedicated conservative anti-Republicans, such as myself, none of this lament is news, but it is interesting that an otherwise unimaginative and rather dreary liberal seems to appreciate this point, since I have personally encountered liberal Democrats who simply stared at me with a look of confusion mixed with horror when I brought up a similar point.  I was dining with an academic and his wife from Indiana-Bloomington one night in the spring before the ’04 election and they were making various lamentations about the general foolishness of Indiana voters (”they just vote on abortion!” and other such stellar What’s The Matter With Kansas observations before WTMWK came out).  Trying to put an unusual spin on this tired old story, I said something like, “The ridiculous thing is that the Republicans will do nothing for their pro-life cause.”  Evidently they did not see this as particularly relevant, and the conversation moved to something else.  Edsall is interesting to me in that he sees this observation of the GOP’s considerably cynical exploitation of cultural issues as relevant to his own side’s way to combat Republican advantages among these folks. 

Meanwhile, Will satisfies himself with the easy batting practise of knocking Edsall’s much more obviously inane observations out of the park.  Batting practise is fun for columnists and bloggers–I personally enjoy the fat, hanging curveballs served up on a regular basis at The Corner–but occasionally even the sloppiest pitcher can slip one by you if you become complacent. 

Kirk observed that “Detroit, during my own lifetime, has produced tremendous wealth in goods and services. But it has been a social failure. And so have nearly all of America’s other major cities.” I put it to you that Wal-Mart contributed to moving those failures into small town America by shuttering local business and creating huge barriers to entrepreneurial entry into fields traditionally the province of local small business men and women.

Being a conservative is supposed to be about things like tradition, community, and, yes, aesthetics. If I’m right about that, it’s hard to see why a conservative should regard Wal-Mart as a societal force for good even if Hugh’s right about the job story.

So what do we do? Well, we must strike a balance between respect for private property rights (see my Kelo post) and our other values. How? On the one hand, government should not legislate against Wal-Mart and its ilk. On the other hand, government should not subsidize Wal-Mart either through zoning or tax breaks. Wal-Mart’s a big boy, so to speak, who can take care of itself. We ought to let it compete in a free market. And those of us with a bully pulpit out to use it to encourage Wal-Mart to become a better neighbor and citizen. ~Prof. Bainbridge

Via Rod Dreher

Hugh Hewitt responded, as most friends of Wal-Mart do when confronted with the unfortunate effects of their shining idol, that Bainbridge has become a “statist,” even though he explicitly argues for reducing the collaboration between government and Wal-Mart.  In its original meaning, statism, etatisme, was precisely a system of close government involvement in the operations of industry and business, which could make supporters of Wal-Mart like Hewitt more likely to be a “statist” in this sense than those whom he cluelessly attacks. 

For Hewitt, in other words, anything that might preserve small business and small-town communities at the cost of giving up Hugh Hewitt’s ”low prices” is invariably “statist,” even if there is no public authority involved.  Hewitt has often been a walking, talking parody of a hysterical Republican, but he outdoes himself here. 

As I see the entire Islamic world going rather mad over Pope Benedict’s largely, but not entirely, inoffensive speech (incidentally, I do not hear the laments of a lot of Lutherans berating him for laying charges of de-Hellenisation at their door), I see a number of other defenses of the speech that claim Pope Benedict did not endorse Manuel II’s view.  So did he endorse Manuel II’s views?  Well, yes and no. 

It seems very clear that he endorsed and took as his basic theme Manuel’s statement:  “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God.”  In other words, he took what was best from the speech and, if one wants to see this as an ecumenical speech, personally left aside the more combative bits about Muhammad introducing nothing but evil and inhuman things.  (I can see how that might be irritating, but then I would ask what exactly Muhammad did bring that was not either of these things.)  He did not state his agreement with the whole of Manuel’s dialogue, but merely called it “interesting.”  He did not explicitly reiterate the charges against Muhammad and Islam, but it seems clear that if he regarded the Persian interlocutor’s view as representative of Islamic theology (and he would have strong reasons to do so from within Islamic history and theology–the outcome of the debate in the 9th century between determinists and ‘libertarians’ already points us towards this conclusion without reference to Ibn Hazn) he clearly recounted the episode as a way of remarking on an important difference between the rival conceptions of God.  The comparison clearly works to the disadvantage of Islam, which is not Pope Benedict’s fault, but the fault of Islam’s own faulty conception of God.  Logos here carries the same multivalent sense that it has always carried for Christian apologists, confessing that wherever there is reason, there is the Word, Who is Christ.  Again, this draws a contrast with Islam, in which the Qur’an is the eternal word of Allah.  Once again, this is not a flattering comparison for Islam. 

By not making a text itself into something eternal, but reserving eternity to God the Word, Christian exegesis was able to make use of words (logoi) and Christian rhetoric was able to make use of speech (logos) in flexible and dynamic ways that permitted the interaction with classical texts and classical rhetoric on the assumption that anything reasonable, true or beautiful in them was a mark of the divinely created order, created through the Word.  Permitting this application of reason to Scripture then permitted a wide range of reasoning about doctrine (within reason, of course) that necessitated and generated an interest in classical philosophy that was at the mainstream of church life, while the same philosophy could only be embraced deeply by Muslim scholars if they were willing to court condemnation.  I have seen it said that classic Islamic scholars made significant use of Greek technical treatises in mathematics, astronomy and other natural sciences, but tended to avoid all those aspects of philosophy that touched on human affairs, assuming that there was nothing needful or edifying in them and assuming that Allah had already delivered the complete answer through revelation.  Where Athens was meaningful and important (because philosophical inquiry was itself seen as a fruit of God the Word), but subordinate to Jerusalem, Athens was merely occasionally useful to Mecca and ultimately of little significance.  Between the spirit of inquiry urged on by the life-creating Word and this frequently technical application of reason there is a wide chasm.  

Fundamentally, a religion that expanded through conquest had less need to reconcile the heritage of Athens with revelation, as there was no need for persuasion and thus no audience deeply committed to the heritage of Athens to be convinced in the first place.  But in the Christian tradition once the link was definitively made between the pursuits of reason and the Word of God, a certain degree of inquiry itself became a religious calling.  Thus what became commonplace and normative in Christianity was an outlier or a flash in the pan in Islam.  Against this Muslims may riot all their like, but it is the legacy of their religion and their history.       

Yet I cringed when reading Benedict’s speech, and not jut because of its laughable recounting of 15th century Christianity’s embrace of reason and tolerance. ~Alkyan Velshi

One thing Ledeen did get right was that Mr. Velshi curiously managed to get the century of Manuel II’s dialogue wrong.  But there is a more basic problem here: the same snide, irritating disdain for the claims of some Christians to a legacy of non-coercion and toleration presumably on account of a remedial acquaintance with the Wars of Religion or some other such events.  It was a long-standing Byzantine tradition to refrain from compulsion and violent coercion in religion, and it is notable in the history of the Byzantine empire–which was officially Christian for nearly 1,100 years–how few heretics were ever killed for their heterodoxy or forcibly converted and how often these measures were opposed in the strongest terms by the Church.  There are exceptional cases: the forcible conversion of Jews and violent repression of monophysites under Heraclius; the persecution of the Montanists under Leo III; executions of a few Paulicians and Athinganoi under Michael I; executions of some Bogomils under Alexios I.  There were inter-confessional persecutions, most of which took the form of sending people into exile or deposing them from their sees.  It might be of interest to note that one of the worst periods of violent persecution in these internal church disputes was under Michael VIII, who sought to enforce church union with Rome.  On the whole, the “laughable recounting” of Byzantine reasonableness and tolerance was by and large accurate.  Of course no self-respecting religion in the 14th century would have pretended that people are entitled to hold any beliefs they pleased without penalty, but there was a remarkable commitment to refrain from compulsion and coercion in Byzantium.  It is one of the things about Byzantium that modern people could view with some appreciation…assuming they knew anything about it, which Mr. Velshi clearly does not. 

The main subject is the Greek roots—as in Socrates, who he quotes—of Catholic thought.  Reason is the basis of human understanding and behavior, it is not just a matter of faith.  The dialogue between the Emperor and the Persian highlights this theme.   God is comprehensible to us, and God rejects violence as a basis for spreading religion.  Benedict quotes the Koran to the effect that compulsion in the service of religion is not legitimate, even as he insists that Mohammed later endorsed the use of jihad. ~Michael Ledeen

Actually, the subject is not really the Greek roots of Catholic or even more broadly Christian thought (though it presupposes such roots) but the rationality of God–and thus the unacceptability of having recourse to bloodshed and force in matters of faith–which Pope Benedict argues is not simply a Greek idea but a true statement about the nature of God which Muslims do not accept.  The speech did not say that “reason is the basis” for human understanding and behaviour, or at least not in such crude terms, but that faith is rational and any kind of violent faith that contradicts God’s basic rationality must also be untrue.  It seems to me that Pope Benedict quoted the Qur’anic citation “there is no compulsion in religion”–from an early phase of Muhammad’s career–as a way of anticipating and cancelling out this most standard of misleading rebuttals.  As he said:

In the seventh conversation (”diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war. 

If my reading is right, Pope Benedict was being very clear that he views the verse “there is no compulsion in religion” as one conditioned by the early stages of Muhammad’s career, when it was advantageous to him and his early followers to preach toleration.  When the shoe was on the other foot, and the whip was in the other hand, attitudes towards violence and coercion shift.  He does not say this explicitly in the speech, but you do get the sense that he wants to show that this earlier verse–cited by every apologist and excuse-maker out there–has limited significance for understanding the Islamic conception of God, which he is using as a foil for fleshing out the Christian understanding of God’s rationality.  In other words, I think Pope Benedict effectively neutralises and dismisses this claim of a lack of compulsion in Islam and juxtaposes it with Islamic warfare and jihad to emphasise the disjunction between the two.  It does not really concede that Islam regards compulsion as illegitimate, as Ledeen claims, but that it was considered illegitimate when it served Muhammad’s turn; later, it could be and was used, as was the sword.  Those who don’t believe it can refer to the story of the martyrs of Gaza.  Obviously, if such compulsion and violence had not ever been used, there would have been little occasion for Manuel II to bring it up in a dialogue.     

Of course, the main point of the example from the dialogue was to emphasise the importance of understanding God as rational–a man who believes God is rational should not deliberately act against reason in the belief that he is thereby serving God; a man who thinks of God as capricious, arbitrary, bound by nothing, in essence merely despotic, is not bound by any such constraint, as there is nothing in God’s own nature that demands the rationality of faith.  There is merely obedience to a divine will, which, as the citations claim, can change if Allah so chooses.  All this had nothing immediately to do with the “comprehensibility” of God, as Ledeen suggests, which is technically a distinct question and one complicated by the matter of God’s infinity and the poverty of language and concepts to describe Him, but with God being rational and indeed being Reason Himself.

The truth is that Father Richard John Neuhaus, the main figure in Linker’s book, is far more dangerous to American liberalism than Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–precisely because he is much smarter than they are, and it makes sense to me that Catholics such as Wills and Sullivan would worry about this man’s “Syllabus of Errors” approach to modernity. ~Alan Wolfe

The quote above is one of The New Republic’s writers responding to Baumann’s review (which I commented on here) of Linker’s Theocons.  Neuhaus’ Syllabus of Errors approach to modernity?  The comedy never stops!  Of course, most people who make references to the Syllabus of Errors often don’t know all of the things in it, so they assume any sympathy for any part of it would be an admission of the ultimate in blackest reaction, but it is nonetheless the symbol of anti-liberalism par excellence and thus the perfect thing to instill fear in unwitting liberal readers.  The fear of Catholics coming to eliminate the liberal order has a long pedigree, and it used to have some solid basis in reality, since Continental liberalism was born in stark opposition to and hatred of the Catholic Church and serious Catholics returned the feeling with gusto. 

This fear of Catholic reaction was the basis for the Kulturkampf in Germany and also in Austria and the general overt Catholic hostility towards Freisinnigen for the duration of the fin de siecle.  The latter has abated mostly because Catholics have given up fighting the old enemy, at least in many respects, while the fear and hostility to any kind of social or political Catholicism has never really departed from liberals, be they “classical” or modern. 

I cannot think of anything more misleading to say about Neuhaus than that he is some devotee of the anti-modernism of Pope Pius IX.  I find relatively little objectionable about the latter, so it is shocking to see someone so very, well, liberal in many of his political attitudes even mentioned in the same sentence with Pius IX’s Syllabus.  I believe that Catholics of Neuhaus’ stripe find the extremes of Catholic social and political anti-modernism of previous ages fairly embarrassing and something they have been desperately trying to make up for, so to speak, by concocting their rather elaborate model of Christianity-reinforced liberalism, and I think they would undoubtedly wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict’s recent refusal to make some sweeping attack on modernity.

That was a lot of quoting, I know, but it is necessary in order to get at Damon’s real, substantive argument: contemporary theoconservatism is different from past efforts to democratically maintain or expand the influence of religious principles and groups because it is sectarian and authoritarian in a way those past mergers of political agendas and spiritual witnesses were not. The theocons, in Damon’s accounting, have crafted a “public language of moral purpose” that is constructed primarily or at least significantly around claims to naturally grounded, religiously orthodox imperatives–imperatives that, because of their organic connection to the American liberal order itself, are held to automatically carry an objective weight that makes all opposition to them not so much disagreements as potential instances of profound civic and moral treason. The practical, if unstated, aim of building one’s theologico-political language in that way is thus not to generate perfect consensus–which is neither expected nor really needed–but rather to lead Christian majorities, even merely small ones, into feeling culturally justified in taking, and religiously required to take, extreme populist action. What Damon observes about some of Neuhaus’s various statements in regards to atheists and Jews (both of whom he says can, of course, be citizens, but perhaps not entirely good ones, especially not if they insist on calling attention to themselves and their rights in such a way as to make themselves appear to be “strangers in their own [increasingly Christian] country”), and how such words contrast with the more ecumenical efforts (such as between Catholics and evangelical Protestants) that he is better known for, is just one example of the evidence he marshals to support his claim.  So Damon’s argument does make a distinction between the public religiosity of a Bryan or King and the religiosity of a Brownback or Dobson; his analysis does point to a difference between the religiously informed campaign against slavery in the 19th century, and the religiously informed campaign against stem-cell research today. Whether that difference amounts to the latter being fairly labeled “theocrats” is a separate issue; this basic distinction is Damon’s real contribution to debates over religion and politics in America today. ~Prof. Arben Fox, In Media Res

I’m very pleased to see Prof. Fox back at his blog after a hiatus of several months.  In addition to always having interesting material on his blog, he happens to be among the earliest supporters of Eunomia.  He has recently produced two extremely high-quality posts that should interest everyone who enjoys delving into the problems of conservatism and how to define social and religious visions of order in the context of conservatism.  His insights on Linker’s critique of theoconservatism are all the more valuable, as he is a friend of Linker and has some greater familiarity with the subtleties of Linker’s argument, which, as he notes in the post, frequently get lost in Linker’s own argumentation.  As I read this post, I realised that my own dismissal of Linker’s objections to Neuhaus and First Things as the product of some personal pique was premature and and incorrect.  Linker is recognising some real distinction between what the “theocons” (I’m still not a fan of this term) and earlier religiously-inspired public figures advocate that gets lost in hyperbolic language about “besieging” secular America and the onset of theocracy. 

As I look more closely, I think I understand why Linker objects to the conflation of all American public religiosity into one common phenomenon, which the “theocons” then set about to define in their image, and it is similar to certain anti-Straussian objections against the habit of certain Straussians (which is also present among the “theocons”) of conflating all theories of natural law and giving them the most positive, “traditional” spin conceivable, so that when Enlightenment thinkers refer to the “law of nature” a theocon or Straussian will automatically say, “There, you see, they are relying on Christian natural law, which means that I can import a Christian natural law understanding into this liberal framework and claim that the liberal framework has always and forever been that of the Christian tradition.”  This is a clever move.  But, without denying some real historical links between medieval and modern conceptions of natural law, I don’t think this is right.  A central problem one might have with this identification of the two is that it is not necessarily true at all and probably is not true, and it is a remarkably weak link on which to base a large part of your project.

But if Prof. Fox finds Linker somewhat persuasive here, he notes that the “theocons” are a varied bunch and there are any number of pieces that would probably qualify and modify the most extreme claims Linker cites.  Also, for all of the complaints about the “unprecedented” nature of what the theocons are trying to do, it appears to Prof. Fox that Linker’s critique often seems to be heavily textual and not very well set in the historical contexts of the texts he is using to support his view (I might add that now it is Linker who seems to resemble the Straussians).  As Prof. Fox says:

So, for example, he takes up Madison’s writings on factions and applies it to religious denominations, concluding that above all the founders wanted to see a liberalized, disestablished, civic religious pluralism in America–thereby ignoring the important legal and historical argument that national disestablishment was meant to guarantee that the federal government would not interfere with the widely accepted and often quite orthodox public religious establishments in the states. He condemns populism at almost every opportunity, reading the populist elements of the theocon argument in light of the irrational “paranoia” that Richard Hofstadter and other midcentury liberals diagnosed as motivating all forms of popular discontent with mainstream secular liberalism–thereby ignoring the important ways in which the progressive roots of midcentury liberalism, in the Populists and the Progressives and even in the New Deal, were themselves often very publicly religious. He quotes (twice) President Kennedy, holding him up as an example of a properly secular liberalism–thereby ignoring the ways in which Kennedy had both the need and the luxury to make himself into a vanguard of secularism in an America (the need because he was a Catholic running in for president in a strongly and contentedly Protestant country; the luxury because, as a strongly and contentedly Protestant country, America at that time felt no more need to see Kennedy position himself in light whatever explicitly religious public concerns might have existed in 1960 than they did for Eisenhower to do the same eight years earlier, or for Truman before that). In short, Damon really does believe that the increasing mix of religion and politics is a bad thing–bad for religion, bad for social and educational and foreign policy, bad for American freedoms themselves–and is happy to say so, complete with occasional allusions to theocracy when it suits his purposes, even if that does what he frequently accuses the theocons of doing: reducing complicated issues to simplistic accusations. (Though again, to be fair, Damon is plainly aware of this; for better or worse, his aim was not to produce a work that didn’t take sides.)

Prof. Fox makes many other excellent points, but the one that makes what I consider to be the most important conclusion is the way in which Prof. Fox identifies theoconservatism as another brand of modern gnosticism (in the Voegelinian sense):

What’s going on here, I think, is that the theocons, as Damon notes several times in his book, want to believe, and sometimes say they believe, that the religious identity of Americans (and, when they get civilizational in their rhetoric, all of the West) is and always will be there, that it is a gift from God, a sign of God’s hand in history….and yet, they don’t actually act in accordance with that belief. Rather, they often essentially appear to be the sort of communitarians who think religious community actually isn’t inevitable, that a secular and individualized world really is a functional possibility, and so religion and civil society must be fought for; they must be redeemed. But of course, as liberals at heart, or at least as conservatives who have reluctantly bought into liberal accounts of how modern society has secularized and moved away from religious community, the only way they can imagine actually fighting for religion is to transform it and its practitioners into authorities who, because they have nature on their side, you must logically consent to. They are, to borrow and turn around an old Vogelinian phrase, “eschatizing the immanent.” [sic] Voegelin argued, anticipating Neuhaus (who for all I know has been greatly influenced by him), that human beings crave immanence; without religious or traditional orthodoxy to satisfy that craving, otherwise secular ideas will take the form of a kind of gnosticism, and the eschaton, the promise of salvation and completion which religion holds out, will be “immanentized.” There’s more to say on that subject; but for now, note simply that theocons commit this error in reverse: they are trying to take the end-times, the battles and judgments and absolutes of the last days, and make them present in presidential elections and foreign wars. They are trying to identify the immanent, the ordinary, the partisan, with the revelatory.

If true, that would heighten and sharpen my reasons for objecting to the theocon/First Things project.  It would also explain the theocons’ general affinity with neoconservatism and their sympathies with the latter’s very clearly immanentist political religion of democratism.  Prof. Fox has done a great service in getting past the conventional responses to Linker of the sort I myself have made and getting at what seems to be the real essence of the matter.

Democratic 6th Congressional District candidate Tammy Duckworth said Wednesday the Iraq conflict is not part of the war on terror, taking the opposite view of President Bush and her Republican opponent.

“I absolutely do not agree that Iraq is part of the war on terror,” said Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, at a news conference in Oakbrook Terrace. “I think a very small percentage of what’s happening in Iraq is terrorist activity. I think most of it is sectarian violence. It’s Sunni fighting Shiites.”

That view drew a raised eyebrow from her Republican opponent Peter Roskam.

“The notion that theater of conflict (in Iraq) is de-coupled from the war on terror, I just disagree with that,” said Roskam, a state senator from Wheaton. “I’m actually surprised she would say that.” ~The Daily Herald

Score one for Ms. Duckworth, who has actually been to Iraq, against Roskam’s Bush-like refrain, “I just disagree with that.”  If that is what the debates on Iraq are going to be like in IL-6, the Republicans are definitely in trouble.

If Wal-Mart’s aim were simply to dictate the price it will pay for a product, then leave up to its suppliers all decisions as to how to get to that price, it would cause far less economic damage than it does now. But that is not Wal-Mart’s way. Instead, the firm is also one of the world’s most intrusive, jealous, fastidious micromanagers, and its aim is nothing less than to remake entirely how its suppliers do business, not least so that it can shift many of its own costs of doing business onto them. In addition to dictating what price its suppliers must accept, Wal-Mart also dictates how they package their products, how they ship those products, and how they gather and process information on the movement of those products. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s

As I read this, I was reminded of the habit common to American and European colonialist powers of seizing other countries’ customs houses and sending in military forces to confiscate the revenues indebted governments would have collected.  They did this as a way of making good on the fantastic amounts of credit Western banks had extended to poor, developing nations.  Even more similar in some ways was the British decision to liquidate indirect rule through the Company and take more hands-on control of India in order to secure revenue and security interests without the Company’s incompetence or errors getting in the way of what the government wanted.  The similarity lies in this: cut out the middle-man as much as possible and dictate how things function directly.  Wal-Mart does not merely set prices, but wants to dictate terms and leverages its power against its suppliers to get them to reorganise their businesses as it, the buyer, sees fit, removing the uncertainty of the other firms’ operating in ways that might threaten Wal-Mart’s goals.

Free-market utopians have long decried government industrial policy because it puts into the hands of bureaucrats and politicians the power to determine which firms “win” and which “lose.” Wal-Mart picks winners and losers every day, and the losers have no recourse to any court or any political representative anywhere. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s

But the issue before us is not how Wal-Mart grew to scale but how Wal-Mart uses its power today and will use it tomorrow. The problem is that Wal-Mart, like other monopsonists, does not participate in the market so much as use its power to micromanage the market, carefully coordinating the actions of thousands of firms from a position above the market. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s

The name I use in the title, dynatoi (the powerful), is the name applied in Byzantine imperial legislation to curtail the acquisition of land from smallholders for the aggrandisement of largeholders and aristocrats.  The comparison may seem a stretch, but the problem with megacorporations, of which Wal-Mart is the preeminent example, is their concentration of wealth and power that they use to dictate the economic lives of tens of millions.  Entities that leverage this kind of power over an entire society have nothing to do with economic liberty and positively abhor real economic liberty; they do not want a free market–they want a controlled market, where they give the orders; they do not want competition–they want obedience.  Those who fall all over themselves about the benefits that these entities provide the poor or the general economy seem to miss a vital point: serfs can be well-treated and amply provided for, but serfs they remain.  Those who object to Wal-Mart and like entities from a traditional Jeffersonian perspective do so because they object to servility in those who should be free men.  If recovering liberty meant the end of one-stop shopping and “low prices,” wouldn’t it be worth a worthy exchange?  Or is “freedom isn’t free” a slogan that people only say when they are cheering on another one of the state’s wars? 

It is a consistent traditional conservative and libertarian critique that government should be as decentralised as possible to avoid the concentration of power in too few hands, to prevent abuses and to keep the citizens secure in life and property.  The rationale for keeping power diffuse applies in the private sector no less than in the public.  (It is also the same rationale that argues for the agrarian idea of the wide distribution of real property as a check against concentrations of propertied wealth and thus of power in the hands of a relative few.) 

It was George Grant’s devastating observation that decentralising government without decentralising corporate power would be simply to create a band of oligarchs–and I believe this is precisely the word he used, redolent as it is now of Russian cronyism and corruption.  He observed that for the purposes of securing the liberty of the free small property owner it would accomplish next to nothing to reduce the state while leaving the corporations as they were.  Indeed, in certain parts of everyday life, it could create new relations of dependence that are more immediate and tangible than when there is dependence on the state.  That does not in any way imply that either form of dependence is preferable for free people.  The key is to reject the concentrations of power in both, rather than allow them to play citizens off against each other in foolish squabbles over which master is to be preferred.

The stakes could not be higher. In systems where oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, competition itself is transformed from a free-for-all into a kind of private-property right, a license to the powerful to fence off entire marketplaces, there to pit supplier against supplier, community against community, and worker against worker, for their own private gain. When oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, what is perverted is the free market itself, and our freedom as individuals within the economy and ultimately within our political system as well.

———–

Examples of monopsony can be difficult to pin down, but we are in luck in that today we have one of the best illustrations of monopsony pricing power in economic history: Wal-Mart. There is little need to recount at any length the retailer’s power over America’s marketplace. For our purposes, a few facts will suffice—that one in every five retail sales in America is recorded at Wal-Mart’s cash registers; that the firm’s revenue nearly equals that of the next six retailers combined; that for many goods, Wal-Mart accounts for upward of 30 percent of U.S. sales, and plans to more than double its sales within the next five years.

The effects of monopsony also can be difficult to pin down. But again we have easy illustrations ready to hand, in the surprising recent tribulations of two iconic American firms—Coca-Cola and Kraft. Coca-Cola is the quintessential seller of a product based on a “secret formula.” Recently, though, Wal-Mart decided that it did not approve of the artificial sweetener Coca-Cola planned to use in a new line of diet colas. In a response that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Coca-Cola yielded to the will of an outside firm and designed a second product to meet Wal-Mart’s decree. Kraft, meanwhile, is a producer that only four years ago was celebrated by Forbes for “leading the charge” in a “brutal industry.” Yet since 2004, Kraft has announced plans to shut thirty-nine plants, to let go 13,500 workers, and to eliminate a quarter of its products. Most reports blame soaring prices of energy and raw materials, but in a truly free market Kraft could have pushed at least some of these higher costs on to the consumer. This, however, is no longer possible. Even as costs rise, Wal-Mart and other discounters continue to demand that Kraft lower its prices further. Kraft has found itself with no other choice than to swallow the costs, and hence to tear itself to pieces. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s

Via Mario Loyola and Rod Dreher

Bruce Reed at Slate noted something that I skimmed right past as I was going over Mr. Bush’s remarks to the select journalists he spoke to in the Oval Office this week: Bush thinks that a “Third Great Awakening” may be underway, which would be great except for the fact that it already happened over a century ago.  The Third Great Awakening is better known through its association with the era of the Social Gospel–the age of the Salvation Army’s foundation and William Jennings Bryan’s religiously-charged populist protests.  GetReligion doesn’t think the numbering is significant (so much for accuracy). 

For my part, it is no more of an astonishing historical lapse than when he says democracies don’t fight one another or when he seems surprised to learn about these “Sunnis” and “Shi’ites” in Iraq (”I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” he said), so it is really just par for the course.

Gene Healy has some great remarks on Saddam’s Supergun (”the barrel alone would have been 512 feet long and weighed 1,665 tons”): 

I’m with Lt. Col. James A. Howard, quoted in the article after visiting the site: “I think a gun this big would be kind of dumb.” You could say the same about the sort of tin-pot totalitarian who would build it. And about people who still insist Saddam was a threat. ~Gene Healy

 

Mr. Bush frequently states, “Democracies are peaceful.”  This is hardly always true (there are many exceptions, including wars between democracies), but isn’t it interesting that when many of the democracies of Europe prove to be insufficiently warlike and fail to come up with the troops needed for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, thus possibly offering some proof for the central thesis of Mr. Bush’s Pax Democratica idea, they are savaged as traitors and weaklings who lack the mettle to fight like men?  The idea seems to be: democracies should be peaceful, but we don’t want anyone becoming a bunch of sissy pacifists!  Which reminds me, apropos of nothing, of a memorable exchange from The Big Lebowski:

The Dude: And, you know, he’s got emotional problems, man.

Walter: You mean, beyond pacifism?

Of course pacifism is a ridiculous position to take, but it is one that some nations–protected by our security guarantees–now believe they can take without real risk.  But berating Europeans for being too pacific, when such sublime pacificity is one of the supposed goals of the “freedom agenda,” is too much.  It makes about as much sense as drilling pacifism, war-guilt and the idea that aggression was the chief Nazi war crime into the Germans’ heads for 50 years and then being shocked (shocked!) when they opted out of a war of aggression (Iraq).  (Once again, I think if we had somehow made this into a war “against genocide”–regardless of the facts–many more of the Europeans would probably be rushing to help.) 

Seriously, if democracies are naturally inclined to pacific instincts, the Norwegians’ refusal to be deployed in combat zones should stand as a shining example of Mr. Bush’s ideals, should it not?  But then I am forgetting the global democratic revolution loophole–being peaceful is only desirable so long as you are not fighting to wipe fascism and tyranny from the face of the earth.

Yes, this failure of the NATO alliance is nothing short of scandalous.  ~Stanley Kurtz

O, treachery!  O, villainy!  Where’s New Europe when you need it, right?  Perhaps if NATO had not long been a glorified cover for justifying continued American presence in Europe and serving as our way of Washington referring to America as a “European power” and perhaps if NATO had had a purpose after 1991 that did not involve bombing Serbs that required the kind of preparedness that we now wish the Europeans had we would not now be in the present predicament of NATO shortchanging the mission in Afghanistan.  You cannot guide national policies towards lower and lower levels of military expenditure, all the while preaching to your people that military solutions never accomplish anything and then expect to have public opinion robustly behind ongoing overseas deployments to war zones. 

Being the hegemon and protector of western Europe came at a price–the Europeans handed over the bulk of the defense work to us, and set about spending their money and their energy on other things.  This was a perfectly acceptable way to run an alliance of partner nations, but it was an awfully silly way to run an empire–we should have made clear that their obligations were going to increase, not decrease, after the USSR collapsed.  Then they might have dissolved NATO when the getting was good.  Now the Europeans are stuck with the embarrassment of being members of a military alliance that cannot or will not fully function as members of a military alliance.  Mr. Kurtz, still stunned by the betrayal (O tempora! O mores!), asks:

If NATO cannot fight here, what good is it? 

But NATO was perfectly willing to bombard civilians from on-high in Yugoslavia.  Apparently we just didn’t use the right kind of propaganda to win over all the governments to commit to the fight; perhaps if we started making up stories about genocide in Afghanistan, as we did for Kosovo, more countries would come through.  But perhaps–and this is the real kicker for the warmongers who have fought for NATO expansion at every stage–NATO should have ceased to exist long ago, and maybe it should not have become little more than a shell for anti-Russian political encirclement and maybe it should not be fighting anywhere outside of Europe anyway since it was a defensive, anti-Soviet alliance!

It is unfortunate that we outsourced the mission most vital to our national security to our European allies.  It is a shame that we have committed the bulk of our land forces to an irrelevant, pointless campaign that shows no sign of ending while leaving the allies to pick up the slack in the more vital theater.  But that is not NATO’s fault.  We all know who is responsible for that decision. 

This shows us that, as helpful as the British, Germans, Danes and Canadians have been in Afghanistan, most of NATO is made up of dependencies when it comes to military security that cannot keep up their end of the bargain.  That is not a surprise, and has become more and more the case as we have brought in nations that have dismally outdated military equipment and insignificant military budgets (then again, why should Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia bother with large military budgets?).  While bringing in allies with dismally outdated equipment gives defense contractors and companies something to do, it doesn’t really help very much if the peoples of those countries joined NATO because they thought it was a kind of democracy-prestige club (”all the cool democracies are in NATO, Mom, can I join, too?”) rather than a military alliance that would require them to fight.  In fairness, why should most of these states–almost half of which were on the other side during the Cold War–feel particularly obligated to us now?  We might have retained Turkish goodwill, but we thought dictating terms and outraging public opinion with the Iraq war were better ideas.  We can be confident that NATO’s “failure” here is another unpleasant consequence of the Iraq war.

“A great civilization cannot be conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” ~Will Durant

This is the line being used in the trailer for Gibson’s Apocalypto.  I wonder which contemporary civilisation Gibson might have in mind for this comparison.  (Hat tip: Ross Douthat)

You’ve heard about the Russian “oligarchs,” right? They’re the richest men in Russia. The insinuation is almost invariably that they owe their riches not to entrepreneurial ability, but to political connections. It’s not “what you know,” but “who you know,” right?

If this theory were true, you would expect the oligarchs to have unusual demographics for business leaders. In particular, they should be:

 

  • Unusually likely to have been important members of the Communist Party before they went into business.  
  • Unusually unlikely to come from groups - like Jews and Armenians - known around the world for their entrepreneurial talent. Both predictions are wrong.Most of the oligarchs are too young to have been Communist Party bigwigs. As one interesting paper explains, “Most of the individuals… are relatively young: nine of them are in their 30s, and 13 are in their 40s.” The older oligarchs generally had Communist backgrounds, but were hardly leading figures in the Party: “The older oligarchs have typically come from Soviet-era nomenklatura. Prior to transition, they were either managing the respective enterprises or working in government agencies supervising the enterprises, and when the Soviet-era firms were privatized, they converted their de facto control into ownership rights.” 
  • Even more striking: The oligarchs are disproportionately Jewish. 90% of Russian Jews have left the country over the last 30 years, but 6 out of the 7 leading oligarchs have Jewish ancestry. This would be hard to explain if their success were primarily due to political connections - but expected if their success largely reflected entrepreneurial ability.

    Of course, in a corrupt and chaotic environment like post-Communist Russia, no successful businessman is going to have a perfectly clean record. You’ve got to compromise with the system to get by, and cut corners to get ahead. The real question is: “How much of the oligarchs’ success stems from entrepreneurial ability, and how much from political connections?” Demographic information alone can’t resolve the question, but it does tilt the scales in the direction of ability. ~Bryan Caplan, EconLog

    Via Steve Sailer

    Mr. Sailer does a good job pointing out the crooked and corrupt way that many of these oligarchs acquired their incredibly vast fortunes (as a friend of mine reminded me as we were going to church this past Sunday, Moscow has the most billionaires of any city in the world–and it aint because they’re the most entrepreneurial folks on the planet).  He answers the silly “where are all the Communists?” line like this:

    Bryan, Yeltsin overthrew Communist Party rule when he came to power. His runoff opponent in 1996 was Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist.  Of course, the crooks Yeltsin turned to to finance his re-election campaign in return for his handing them much of the newly privatized national industries of Russia (through the loans-for-shares rigged auctions) tended to be newer men. They had frequently been clever fixers and black marketeers whose machinations had been tolerated under the Communists. But they hadn’t wormed their way into the heart of political favor until Yeltsin’s anti-Communist regime.
     

    A little history never hurts to save us from the sophisters and the economists.  The privatisation process was, of course, notorious for unleashing criminality and the sell-off of national companies for a pittance which, particularly in the energy sector, the oligarchs used to build their private empires and finance their criminal (I’m sorry, I mean entrepreneurial!) enterprises.  This is not a secret.  This is not something that anti-market propagandists have invented to discredit the glorious Invisible Backhands delivered to the face of the Russian people, but has demonstrated to all and sundry that the private sector without the rule of law is nothing better than predatory capitalism with corruption and cronyism smoothing the path before those with power and connections. 

    In some ways, this has not changed under Putin, because those who got the ill-gotten gains have largely kept them, except when they got in Putin’s way (see below), but instead of those with connections with “the family” of Yeltsin benefiting the most those tied into the siloviki of the intelligence and security services are dominant.  All I can say is that you can consider these people entrepreneurial only in the sense that Al Capone was entrepreneurial.  Someday someone will be able to explain to me why some libertarians can look past the crimes of such people because these are the fruits of ”the market” while they will scream bloody murder about state oppression if they encounter a particularly haughty meter maid (this is only a slight exaggeration). 

    For some reason, mostly because of the agitations of criminals like Boris Berezovsky and their friends in high places in this country (see The Wall Street Journal), oligarchs are somehow seen as being equivalent to the “robber barons” or even protectors of Russian freedom (!) against Putin the autocrat.  (Now Putin is a democratic authoritarian who does all sorts of untoward things against the opposition and the free media, and there are all kinds of problems with that kind of rule, but ordinary Russians find it more desirable than being ripped apart by jackals in a lawless free-for-all and no wonder.)  Now our “robber barons” were not exactly princes, and the strange libertarian and modern conservative adulation of American plutocrats is a subject worthy of an entire book, but to liken the Berezovskys and the Rockefellers is to insult the latter.  Our plutocrats exploited political connections in a way that drove many ordinary 19th century Americans crazy, and often had the laws shaped to suit their interests as much as they could, but they were still subject to the law in a way that never applied to the oligarchs in the ’90s.  It wasn’t so much that they were the law, as that the law was powerless to check them once they had acquired their massive holdings through chicanery (and they also tended to be chummy with the people in the Kremlin, which made the law worse than powerless).  

    People in the West complain about the rough treatment of Khodorkovsky–not really because they think he is innocent of the crimes of which he was accused and convicted (tax evasion being the big one–just like Capone!), because they know that probably isn’t true, but because he is anti-Putin (and a political ”liberal”) and was supposed to have been protected by the understanding Putin had with the oligarchs that he would not dig too deeply into the crimes of privatisation (since it would mean he would have to go after essentially all of them).  He has made exceptions for those oligarchs brave or stupid enough to make challenges to Putin’s hold on power and treated them as any good authoritarian would treat a rival to the throne–he throws them in prison.  It makes you remember the good old days of Byzantium, does it not?  But before we get too misty-eyed, let’s move on.

    For those still inclined to feel sorry for the poor, abused Mr. Khodorkovsky, consider this from Mr. Sailer’s post:

    But being Yeltsin’s bankroller was lucrative indeed. Khodorkovsky, for example, bought about 1% of the world’s oil reserves for $159 million in an auction that he himself ran for the Russian government! (He’s currently serving 9 years in prison for tax evasion.) Similarly, Roman Abramovich bought the giant Sibneft oil company for $100 million. The Russian government recently bought 73% of it back from Abramovich for $13 billion.

    Khodorkovsky and Abramovich didn’t discover the oil or pump it out of the ground as Caplan imagines - they just bought proven reserves in rigged auctions. I’m sure they are talented wheeler-dealers, but they aren’t exactly Henry Ford or Thomas Alva Edison when it comes to increasing national productivity.

    As has been noted elsewhere, privatisation is always inevitably a political process, and in Russia it was particularly advantageous to have connections to or to be the ones deciding on who won these auctions, since the energy businesses these men acquired for relatively low cost were extremely lucrative and guaranteed to make back  instantly what they had paid for them.  This makes them very clever and very, very rich, but it does not make them into Andrew Carnegie.

    Freedom is universal….And I recognize there’s a debate around the world about the kind of — whether that principle is real. I call it moral relativism, if people do not believe that certain people can be free. I mean, I just cannot subscribe to that. People — I know it upsets people when I ascribe that to my belief in an Almighty, and that I believe a gift from that Almighty is universal freedom. That’s what I believe. ~George W. Bush

    Mr. Bush evidently doesn’t understand the objections of his critics if he thinks any of us are saying that there are people who are inherently incapable of political liberty.  Without our cultural and political inheritance, our traditions, the institutions established by our ancestors and the cultivation of the habits and mentality necessary to make liberal self-government (or something approximating it) function, Anglo-Americans would be equally at a loss and would fumble and flail around just as blindly as anyone else.  To the extent that we misunderstand or have forgotten our own history, we have already lost large parts of our constitutional tradition.  But in our tradition, it took the better part of four centuries for a parliamentary institution to mature and stake a claim to sovereignty; it took another half a century for those claims to be resolved in Parliament’s favour; it took another century to cultivate the colonial spirit of self-government.  Iraqi self-government might be genuinely self-sustaining by, oh, 2110, not 2010, but that assumes a great many things not in evidence.  For someone who claims to take the long view and who understands that these things are time-consuming, Mr. Bush seems to have no grasp of the immense investment of time and indigenous effort necessary to make a go of such a political system.  Someone who throws around the charge of “moral relativism” against those who think that it takes time to cultivate the habits of liberty doesn’t know what “moral relativism” or liberty means.  Someone who understood liberty a bit better than Mr. Bush once wrote:

    Freedom is an artefact of civilization that released man from the trammels of the small group, the momentary moods of which even the leader had to obey. Freedom was made possible by the gradual evolution of the discipline of civilization which is at the same time the discipline of freedom.  

    If Islamic civilisation ever acquires the necessary discipline, perhaps one day Muslim peoples will truly know freedom.  (In case you were wondering, I won’t be holding my breath.)  Until then, it is the essence of realism and common sense to remain extremely skeptical of the prospects of success for any such undertaking. 

    Finally, thank goodness that Bush’s God of Universal Freedom is a myth that he has imagined, as I can think of no more cruel lie to tell people than that God has given us “universal freedom”–but somehow billions of people do not experience what God has given us.  I can think of nothing more likely to inspire despair and loss of faith than this deception that God somehow desires the political liberty of all men but has not seen fit to provide it, or the means to it, to most of humanity for almost all of human history.  You might as well say that God has given man “universal material bread” or “universal worldly peace,” while tacitly ignoring hunger and war.  Bush really does seem to channel the mind of Verkhovensky in all his fanaticism and mania (he did speak of lighting a fire in the minds of men, as Verkhovensky did to the town in Dostoevsky’s Demons)–one only wonders how long before he starts joking about making one of his comrades into a revolutionary Pope akin to Verkhovensky’s fantastical ideas about the role of Stavrogin in the new order. 

    God is Spirit.  He gives men the gifts of the Spirit, which include the peace that passeth all understanding and God gives Himself, the Bread of Life, to us, and He grants to men the spiritual liberty from the passions and from sin and death–far greater liberations, surely, than the tawdry Rights of Man–but it is simply unhinged to say that God gives man “universal freedom.”  Frankly, this verges on the demented.

    But it’s the psychology of the country that has concerned me the most, because Saddam was effective at pitting groups of people against each other. ~George W. Bush

    Our occupation, on the other hand, has allowed the Iraqis to exceed even Saddam’s wildest expectations of internecine conflict.  And people say there’s no such thing as progress!

    I think I’m pretty good about filtering out which is real and which is not. ~George W. Bush

     

    When he talks about principles these days, of course, Bush is mainly thinking about the War on Terror. He repeatedly says that the war is an ideological struggle, and liberty is our best ideological weapon. He makes as good a brief, informal explanation of the negative and positive aspects — both necessary, in his view — of the War on Terror as you will hear: “The issue and debate is, can liberty work? That’s really the fundamental question in many ways in the long-term strategy. Short-term strategy is to deny: Deny safe haven, deny money, deny weapons, and get them. The long-term strategy is to change the conditions that enable this ideology to flourish, to out-compete it with better ideas. And that’s the fundamental — the fundamental question of my approach.” ~Rich Lowry, National Review

    Good grief.  The man talks about ideas out-competing one another as if a marketplace of ideas actually existed, or as if the marketplace of ideas in the Near East wasn’t controlled by the local oligopoly that sets all the “prices” and makes all the “products.”  If have ‘better ideas’, we win.  Oh, okay, why didn’t anyone ever think of that before?

    Can liberty work?  Work to do what?  For whom?  To what end?  In other words, what is he talking about?  Is he asking if it can reduce terrorism?  Maybe, if we assume that all the people who have elected governments are somehow cured of the desire to solve political grievances by the use of violence, which is a very difficult habit for people to shake–it is the habit that a large proportion of all people has always had. 

    It is entirely conceivable that the successful establishment of free, democratic governments will irk and outrage the dedicated Islamists as much as the repressive dictatorships our government has sponsored in the past–these democratic regimes, if they are not themselves taken over by the Islamists in elections, will probably be regarded as just as repressive–because they will be seen as imposed and alien in origin–as the secular dictators and monarchs the West has backed before them.  Perhaps then we might see that it is not stability vs. freedom, but intervention vs. nonintervention that will really determine whether Islamic terrorism increases or decreases.

    There continues to be something genuinely unsettling about this talk of “ideological struggle” and references to liberty as an “ideological weapon.”  The first phrase is certainly Leninist, but the whole concept of liberty as an ideological weapon would not be entirely out of place among the Jacobins.  There is no sense here that liberty is something historical, contingent and related to a particular political tradition, and it is also not simply something universal, but something readily transferrable to new climes and new situations at the drop of a hat that you use as a kind of propaganda.  Indeed, when someone says “ideological weapon,” my first thought is: “They mean propaganda.”  This is not a battle of ideas, but an exchange of slogans.  They say jihad, we say freedom; they say justice, we say democracy; they say liberation, we say liberation; they inaccurately call us crusaders, we inaccurately call them fascists.  No, ideas have nothing to do with any of this.  Ideology is surely the right word for what’s going on–the question is why are conservatives and Americans putting up with this atrocious rhetoric and this appalling kind of thinking? 

    The poll found 43 percent of voters identified themselves as Democrats while a little more than a quarter of the voters identified themselves as Republicans. The 17 percentage point difference ranks among the most polarized partisan spreads in more than 16 years of Tribune surveys taken prior to an election day.

    The results of the poll echo surveys taken nationally that show an increase in voters lining up in the Democratic column, a factor attributed to dissatisfaction with the Republican White House and GOP-led Congress on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to economic uncertainties. ~The Chicago Tribune

    If only 26% identify themselves as Republican, that spells serious trouble for candidates such as Pete Roskam, who faces a tough election battle against Tammy Duckworth, the Democrats’ anti-amnesty Iraq war veteran candidate in the 6th of Illinois, to replace retiring Henry Hyde.  The gap between people identifying with the two parties is probably largely a product of alienation from the state GOP, which has managed to be corrupt, badly organised and downright suicidal over the past few years (does the name Keyes ring any bells?), but this cannot be helped by national anti-GOP trends. 

    Their nomination of Judy Baar Topinka (now I ask you, does that sound like the name of a winning candidate?), who currently trails incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich by double digits, and the state party’s overwhelming hostility against the one notably conservative candidate in the primary, Jim Oberweis, both confirm the impression that the state party here has no idea what it is doing.  The woes of the national GOP add more problems to Roskam’s campaign, and complicate the efforts of McSweeney to get the 8th (northern Illinois–parts of McHenry, Lake and Cook Cos.) back from the upset victor of 2004, Michelle Bean (who, ironically, tends to vote with the GOP on most national security and trade issues anyway).  For the GOP to hold the House, Bean has to go down in defeat (right now, hers is the only Democratic-held seat that currently leans to the Republicans), and many observers expect this, but with these party ID numbers I am not so sure it will happen.  Even granting that a significant portion of the 26% self-identifying Republicans live in the 8th, and even noting that Bean faces a progressive challenger on the war (one who hopes, in true insurgent fashion, to take Bean down even if it means having an equally undesirable Republican elected), this is far from an obvious pickup for the GOP.  If they are struggling in suburban DuPage County, it would not be a surprise if they are also going to struggle in this northern Illinois district.  

    Australia is poised to restrict the visa conditions for Solomon Islands politicians who want to visit, in a retaliatory gesture as relations between the two countries sharply deteriorate.

    The Government is furious at the Solomons’ expulsion of Australia’s high commissioner, Patrick Cole, with both Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer lashing out at the Solomons leadership yesterday. ~The Age

    This is the kind of treatment Australia’s representatives receive from the government of a country that it helped save from civil war and anarchy three years ago.  This is a shame.  Fortunately, this diplomatic incident does not mark the end of the Australian mission there, but one wonders how long it will be before Australians will come to the conclusion that aiding the Solomons is more trouble than it’s worth. 

    During the conflict, which left up to 1,400 Lebanese dead and inflicted an estimated £3bn damage on the country, Mr Blair refused every challenge to join calls for a ceasefire.

    It was this defiance that fuelled the crisis that overtook Mr Blair’s premiership, when 17 Labour MPs, including a defence minister, signed a letter calling on him to resign. ~The Independent

    When asked if he should have expanded the military back in 2003, to give the current commanders more manpower, Bush used words that were uncharacteristically jargon-ridden: “The notion of warfare has changed, and therefore, we’re modulizing the army so that it becomes more operational and easier to move.” That sounds more like a transformation briefing paper than the president.

    In other words, when Bush is strategizing goals, he is assertiveness on stilts. When he is contemplating means, he defers to authority. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

    Apparently the only thing that can humble Mr. Bush and cause him to defer to anyone is when Rumsfeld and the boys say that they need a lighter, faster war machine.  That their recommendations have put him in his current pickle seems to be something he does not consider–because Rumsfeld has not told him to think this.  It is remarkable how the man can play both prophet of the ideological struggle–which will last for generations and will presumably span decades–and yet he is almost diffident with respect to what is happening right in front of him.  “The future authorizes every kind of humbug.” -Camus

    Bush was pressed about Iraqi troop levels repeatedly during our interview. His general response was that during Vietnam, tactical decisions were made in the White House. “I thought it was a mistake then, and I think it’s a mistake now.” ~David Brooks, The New York Times

    So while Mr. Bush was boozing it up at Yale, he stopped and pondered the situation in Vietnam, saying to himself, “I know what we’re doing wrong over there–LBJ keeps interfering!  If I’m ever elected President, I swear I will never do that.”  Presumably he means that he now thinks that it was a mistake to do that at the time, but that isn’t exactly what he said.

    But if he won’t interfere, and none of the generals will actually request the increases of troops needed, that means that tactics won’t change, either.  And we already know that the “strategic vision will not shift,” which leaves us without any changes whatever.  Steady as she goes!

    “Ideological struggles take time,” he said, explaining the turmoil in Iraq and elsewhere. He said the events of weeks or months were just a nanosecond compared with the long course of this conflict. He was passionate on the need for patience and steadfastness. He talked about “inviolate” principles written upon his heart: “People want you to change. It’s tactics that shift, but the strategic vision has not, and will not, shift.” ~David Brooks, The New York Times

    “Ideological struggles take time”–why does the President keep using this phrase “ideological struggle,” who introduced him to this Marxist-Leninist claptrap and when will a lot of people start telling him that this rhetoric is profoundly creepy?  

    Weeks and months are a “nanosecond” in the conflict–does that mean that we are looking at billions of months of conflict?  That’s rather longer than most other people are expecting.

    Did Mr. Bush really say that an unchanging strategic vision is one of the “inviolate” principles written upon his heart?  Is there medication that Mr. Bush needs to be taking that he has not been?  Last, if the strategic vision “will not shift,” could he at least tell us what that strategic vision is (assuming it would not violate his heart-inscribed principles to divulge such information)?

    All of which prepares him to think about the war on terror as a generations-long struggle. He asked us to think about what the world could look like 50 years from now, with Islamic radicals either controlling the world’s oil supply or not. “I firmly believe that some day American presidents will be looking back at this period in time, saying, ‘Thank goodness they saw the vision,’ ” he said. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

    He opened the session by declaring, “Let me just first tell you that I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions,” and he grew more self-assured from there. I interview politicians for a living, and every time I brush against Bush I’m reminded that this guy is different. There’s none of that hunger for approval that is common to the breed. This is the most inner-directed man on the globe. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

    He’s never been more convinced?  I guess that means he must have had at least some doubt a few years ago, and this has slowly disappeared with time.  After five and a half years of the Inner-Directed President, I think we’re all ready for a little extroversion, wouldn’t you say? 

    Allen, 54, said he did not see racial overtones in the Confederate flag. He said he was a rebellious youth and viewed the banner as a “symbol against authority.” As a history major at the University of Virginia in the early 1970s, he said, he also began to see the flag as a proud heritage symbol for those with ancestors from the South who fought in the Civil War.

    “What I appreciate, and wish I had sooner, is that that symbol, which for me was fit for simply rebelling against authority, and for others was fit for pride in heritage, was and is for black Americans an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and discrimination,” he said. ~The Virginian-Pilot

    What a monumental fraud the man is.  You can’t tell me he has honestly been unaware how black Americans viewed the Confederate battle flag.  It is something that no one, no matter his own view of the flag, can fail to be aware of, and to act as if this were some recent discovery is to be not much better than a fraud. 

    It is one thing to fly the flag proudly or respect and defend it as the flag that your ancestors fought under or even to fly it in the conviction that it represented the better cause in the War, but to embrace it childishly as a symbol of “rebelling against authority” (as if the Confederates were spoiled teenagers or anarchists) and then pretend (and it is all pretense) that you didn’t know that black Americans would view the flag very differently is to be both frivolous and a liar.  What is worse is that this is all clearly desperate, purely cynical pandering designed to prevent his defeat in the election in a little under two months.  No one this gutless should be in the Senate (a standard which, I realise, also disqualifies a great many other Senators).  Down with Allen.

    But there is no reason to think that, if more Muslim voters are regularly allowed a say in their choice of leaders, they will opt for jihad over jobs. The Islamist parties that took over in Kabul and Tehran proved unpopular. But there was no avenue for peaceful regime change. In other words, too little democracy, not too much. ~Max Boot

    Yes, the Taliban is so unpopular it is making a comeback with the support of the local population, and Ahmadinejad was so unpopular he was elected President of Iran.  Jihadi ideas enjoy similar “unpopularity” in Pakistan, and Islamists form the largest political group in the Pakistani legislature.  Much more unpopularity of this kind will cause us some real trouble.  Naturally Max Boot would want us to enfranchise and empower more of these people–that will eliminate the causes of Islamic terrorism!  Instead we will have democratically elected Islamic terrorism, which is much better.

    Presumably Muslim voters would prefer to have jobs, but what is to stop these voters from backing a platform that promises, so to speak, both jihad and jobs?  In a sense, that is what Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric has been: bash Zionists, praise Hizbullah and promise voters all sorts of economic subsidies and government programs.  We will vote for “guns and butter”–why won’t Muslim voters?  Democratic politicians are always promising people the moon anyway, so why not campaign for both and deliver on just one?  There is little reason to think that jihad as such is unwelcome to people who would be inclined to vote Islamist, and Islamists of various stripes represent the organised popular force in the Near East today.

    Simply put, and I’m basing this on fairly extensive personal experience (I spent several summers in the company of MMCs, the children of MMCs, etc.), a lot of Michael Moore Conservatives are, well, racist and anti-Semitic. No, I don’t think criticizing the State of Israel makes one an anti-Semite, and I don’t even think believing that, for example, Muslim countries are ill-suited to democracy makes you a racist. The hatred for things American, and it is a hatred in many cases, grows out of a hatred of the increasingly polyglot, multiracial world of London and the Home Counties. Again, I don’t think nativism is the worst impulse in the world. But I think chauvinism is at the very least a likely candidate. It could be that this will strike Larison as too subtle a distinction–what separates good and decent hostility to, say, trade and immigration and modernity from a narrowness that fuels the worst kinds of exclusion, contempt, and (rarely) violence? All I can say is that you know it when you hear it, an answer that I can’t imagine will satisfy anyone other than yours truly. ~Reihan Salam

    I appreciate Reihan’s answer to my earlier question, and I likewise feel obliged to to offer a reply to him, as I very much enjoy his writing and appreciate the attention he has given to mine.  But I admit that I am initially unsure what I can say in response, since this description of “loathsome” Conservatives on account of their alleged racism and anti-Semitism comes largely from Reihan’s claim of broad personal experience that I cannot refute (I cannot claim similarly broad experience among these sorts of people, and I haven’t met the people being referred to here) and relies on the categorisation of these Conservatives as racists and anti-Semites according to an admittedly subjective standard that demarcates healthy resistance and anxiety about immigration and cultural and national identity (”nativism”) from more extreme resentments (”chauvinism”) in a very vague way.  No, this isn’t really satisfactory, but how do I go about giving my reply?   

    Let me begin by saying that I am initially always skeptical of charges such as these (even when they are based in personal experience, because of the subjective nature of the judgement–see below), since they are the most freely used charges today and frequently have the most amorphous meanings, and they are routinely liberally applied to any and all critics of immigration and multiculturalism.  Second, there is almost nothing more subjective than an impression of someone else’s racism.  For some, to say that race itself is something at all more real than a social and cultural construct is to be a racist (leave aside for now the strange implication of the latter view that something culturally constructed is therefore basically irrelevant to the understanding of identity); for others, the same statement is entirely uncontroversial (and these others are typically regarded by the first group as ipso facto racists for finding it uncontroversial).  For some, to make observations about something stereotypical about another group of people is to be racist, even if the observation is basically accurate, because you shouldn’t generalise about groups of people in this way; for others, someone cannot be a racist unless he actually hates people from another race, and here they don’t mean mild dislike or even slight aversion, but hatred.  It is actually quite a different thing to not want to have other kinds of people coming into your country to stay (which is what I would have assumed was the case with most of these Conservatives) and to actually hate those kinds of people, but under some definitions the former is just as racist, because under some definitions to prefer your own kind (or even to use the phrase “your own kind”) is already to be racist.  These charges are really almost impossible to evaluate unless we know exactly what sentiments or actions prompted using such a label.  

    Anti-Semitism is an even more vexing charge, because it takes on so many various meanings and has been so casually and carelessly used by so many that it is not always clear what will draw such a charge.  The other day I saw that evangelicals in Israel attacked the bishops who denounced Christian Zionism because the bishops espoused a ”replacement theology which played a pivotal role in the persecution of Jews through the centuries and under-girded the Holocaust.”  Actually, they argued against Christians who use the support of Scripture to cover up and justify the excesses of a secular state, which the Christian Zionists have wrongly identified with the Israel of Scripture–but for the evangelicals the implication is that the State of Israel is not the continuation of the Biblical Israel, which one might otherwise think would not be controversial for Christians.  Any Christian who reads the parable of the vinedressers has a hard time not believing in some sort of “replacement theology”–are all those Christians, myself included, who believe this therefore anti-Semitic?  Of course, there are those who regard the Gospels and Christianity as inherently anti-Semitic, which would make the previous question moot.  It has reached a point where any negative artistic portrayal of a Jewish person is taken not as the portrayal of a character, but almost always as an expression of anti-Semitism–most of the criticism of The Passion focused on this kind of negative portrayal as the “proof” of such prejudice.        

    Republicans have enjoyed playing the “liberal racism” card over the years, hoisting the liberals by their own rhetorical petard, and there is no debate where they enjoy using this tactic than when it comes to affirmative action, on the grounds that any kind of racial discrimination (be it “positive” or “negative”) is wrong and inherently racist, which relies rather heavily on the assumption that there are no substantial differences of any meaningful kind between races (if we were ever to admit the reality of such groups) that might necessitate taking such differences into account in policy one way or another.       

    These charges are also the ultimate debate-killers, as we all basically accept that to be a confirmed racist or anti-Semite is to be rightly excluded from the debate (whether this should actually be so and why the same is not applied to committed Marxists, Christophobes, oikophobes and universalists might be points to be debated at another time). Thus to say that you know that so-and-so is a racist or anti-Semite from personal experience is also to say that his opinions on any matter where his prejudices might come into play are worse than irrelevant–they are morally beyond the pale and essentially deserve no consideration.   

    I appreciate that Reihan isn’t making these charges in such an indiscriminate way as to apply them to all opponents of mass immigration and multiculturalism, for example, but I confess to not understanding how one determines where generic patriotism becomes nativism and where nativism becomes chauvinism (which I assume here carries with it some connotations of supremacism and looking down on non-whites as inferior), especially in the case of the latter, barring explicitly derogatory statements.  The reality that patriots who raise inconvenient questions about the practicability of assimilation of a given group of people are frequently classed together with “nativists,” when for most people who use the term ”nativism” is simply a synonym for racism, does not help to make these distinctions any easier.  

    It is also doubtful that most people, given their druthers, really want to live in a “polyglot, multiracial world” no matter where they live, especially if they are not accustomed to living in such a world, and it is not only natural but to some extent healthy and reasonable that people would resent being told that they will live in such a world regardless of what they say and had better get used to it, particularly when their objections to this process have never been taken seriously. 

    If these Conservatives hate the “polyglot, multiracial world of London and the Home Counties,” I imagine that a major part of the reason they hate it is that they hate seeing parts of their own country becoming for all intents and purposes alien to them and their experience.  For those who see their country as an inheritance they have received from their ancestors and which they are entrusted to pass down to their heirs, seeing that country significantly and in some ways radically changed strikes them at their very core.  These people are going to feel aggrieved; they will become resentful; they may indeed finally come to hate those whom they associate with the transformation of the country, because they feel betrayed and rendered powerless in their own country to preserve the country as they knew it and with it their identity.  Foreseeing this, or indeed perceiving that it is already the case, the wise statesman interested in the peace of his country ought not continue to stoke the fires of these resentments and begins heeding what the people in the country seem to be saying.     

    One thing that does seem clear to me is that the decision of the British establishment to ignore many Britons’ ”good and decent hostility” to immigration for forty years and more has worked precisely to feed feelings of contempt and create the conditions in the North for the outbreaks of rioting between whites and Asians.  The infusion of large numbers of immigrants into a country is almost surely bound to provoke rather more hostility and even more exclusionary attitudes than would otherwise be the case, particularly when there is the clear sense that policy is being carried out against the will of the majority.  We might argue ourselves hoarse, so to speak, about the likely success or failure of any attempt to integrate successfully large numbers of newcomers, particularly those from markedly different cultures and religious backgrounds, but the scenes from the North in recent years and the recent terror plots–and the inevitable backlash among native Britons in increased support for the BNP–all point to considerable failure in the case of Britain.  That makes me think that if many ordinary Conservatives have indeed crossed a line into actual hatred of people on account of their race or ethnicity (and this is what I take racism and anti-Semitism to mean, if the terms are to mean much of anything), it has been the steady, consistent push to ignore and marginalise these people in the political process when they have expressed legitimate concerns in the past that has pushed most of them over that line.  It is undoubtedly morally and psychologically satisfying to more or less effectively dismiss people because they hold what we consider unreasonable or even “loathsome” views, but in this stance there seems to me to be something of an abandonment of persuasion and deliberation. 

    Part of the entire problem rests in casting the views of these Conservatives in general in terms of hatred, which tends to stack the deck against the people in question in any case.  Once you have defined these people, as the original Standard article did, in terms of their hatred of things American rather than their love of things British, it is easier to say that these people don’t just hate what Britain is turning into (presumably because they love their country and the way it used to be) but that they hate what Britain is becoming because they hate people different from themselves.  Perhaps some do.  Perhaps even “a lot” do, as Reihan claimed, but I must remain skeptical until I have something much more definite to work with.    

    For a portrait of an influential and provocative public intellectual, The Theocons has some curious omissions. Linker describes Neuhaus as “a handsome and charismatic man who delights in public attention,” eliciting great loyalty and even affection from his followers. Yet the nature of this charisma is never explained. Occasionally we get a glimpse of Neuhaus and his cronies, cigars and brandy snifters in hand, reacting with “blind rage” to this or that liberal deprecation. But the man’s personality remains opaque; he comes across more as an inexhaustible engine of argument than a flesh-and-blood person. Furthermore, if it is true that Neuhaus’s “ultimate goal is nothing less than the end of secular politics in America,” why did Linker go to work for him in the first place? Not knowing what made Linker enlist in what he now regards as a dangerously authoritarian movement raises serious questions about his forthrightness and credibility. Yet The Theocons never offers an explanation of his change of mind and heart. ~Paul Baumann, The Washington Monthly

    Via Ross Douthat

    When Linker’s book first came out and back around the time the Year of Books Denouncing American Theocracy had begun, I was struck by the bitterness and intensity of Linker’s rage against Neuhaus and First Things in the New Republic article he wrote that summarised the main argument of his book.  The intense bitterness seemed all the more inexplicable given that Linker had been editor of the magazine.  There are people, including those on the right and including myself, who often disagree strongly with Neuhaus who nonetheless cannot summon up quite this much fury against him or the magazine.  It is a pity that Linker did not attempt to explain how some personal dispute had “revealed” to him the nature of Neuhaus’ theocratic master-plan, since that would at least explain where this mania came from.  I think something very personal must have set him off in this direction, as almost nothing else explains the extreme rhetoric of Linker’s attack. 

    It would not have been the first time that some personal or professional falling out had precipitated criticism of the old boss.  This is especially true among academics and intellectuals, who feel obliged to dress up their petty personal disagreements (you didn’t give my wife a job, you gave my book a bad review, etc.) in the fancy dress of profound theoretical clashes (you want to destroy the American way of life, you despise truth itself, etc.), and the more “public” an intellectual is the more necessary it is to make the costume in which you dress your personal grievances really elaborate, colourful and Mardi Gras-esque with all of the grotesquerie, zaniness and exaggeration that this implies.  It is not enough that your boss treated you poorly or failed to appreciate your work to your satisfaction–his intellectual project must be dark and dangerous, too!  That makes your petty inconveniences and suffering part of a narrative of resistance to the Dark Side, which is much more appealing for someone who thinks highly of himself and feels aggrieved by workplace setbacks.  It is probably because of this sort of thinking that we wind up with the apparent excessive rhetoric and melodramatic conclusions of Linker’s work.

    There is certainly nothing in the record of Neuhaus or First Things that would lead me to believe that they are preparing the doom of secular America.  Indeed, one of my long-standing criticisms of the entire First Things approach to the public square has been that they not only have no intention of eliminating secularism from America (or anything of the kind) but seem all together too interested in justifying participation in the debate just to be part of it and simply having a seat at the table so that they are less willing to take the kinds of strongly conservative positions on the social and moral ills that they really need to take to mobilise Christian opinion in America.  They are at root accommodationists with secularism (and also, at heart, they are really progressives of one sort or another), because I believe their guiding vision has been one that sees a basic harmony between the taproot of modern secularism–Enlightenment liberalism–and Christianity where there is no such real harmony.  As with the heresy of ecumenism (and it assuredly a heresy in its present forms), the revealed truth will have to give way to make this unholy alliance work, and so I think First Things‘ approach contains as much danger to a faithful, socially and politically involved Christianity as it does to secularism.  If Neuhaus and First Things are the center of the future American theocratic movement, they are decidedly odd theocrats; one might even say that they give theocrats a bad name. 

    Needless to say, I also don’t think much of their long-standing and ongoing alliance with some of the figures who have crafted neoconservative positions on foreign policy, and if anyone wanted definitive proof that these are not theocrats-in-waiting it would have to be the magazine’s engagement with what the new editor, Mr. Bottum, called the “new fusionism,” which is an alliance dedicated to being basically pro-life at home (against abortion, euthanasia, etc.) and pro-death overseas (in favour of every war you can think of).  Just as the old fusionism between “libertarians,” generic anticommunists and “traditionalists” worked to the distinct disadvantage of the traditionalists in most respects, the secular and foreign policy-oriented side of the “new fusionist” alliance proposes, and the religious side disposes, getting virtually nothing of what it hoped to gain from the bargain.  What is the logic of this alliance in the first place?  It’s all about being dreadfully, seriously moral (or at least talking about morality with a dreadfully serious demeanour)–that’s what makes invading Iraq and protecting the unborn so clearly related.  What worries me more about First Things is not that it is a vessel for the coming theocracy (the idea really is risible), but that it is an all together too willing cheerleader for interventionism and has shown itself willing to anoint the most appalling policies abroad with the chrism of Christian justice (while running interference against the actual authorities of Christian churches who have opposed the very same ventures).  

    Which brings me back to Linker.  As Baumann notes:

    Again and again Linker lapses into the worst rhetorical excesses of the theocons he is trying to discredit. Baptized into the apocalyptic world of the theocons not long ago, he has returned to warn us that at Neuhaus’s direction the Republican Party is leading the nation into “the arms of absolute ecclesiastical authority.” Apparently, evangelicals provide the foot soldiers and Catholics the intellectual generals in the theocon battle plan. Linker’s worries that the theocons want to put an end to religious pluralism in America sound paranoid. First Things, after all, remains an “ecumenical” journal. Presumably Neuhaus would like his many conservative Protestant and Jewish friends to follow him to Rome, but he would not compel them to do so even if he could. Detecting The Grand Inquisitor behind every Roman collar is an old and ugly canard.
     

    To see any kind of Inquisitor here would be very difficult, and if you did it would sooner be the cynical socialist Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s imagination rather than any of the actual Inquisitors of history.  In the wake of consistent anti-Vatican criticism from First Things editors and contributors on questions of war in Iraq and Lebanon, which does not even take into consideration any other areas where contributors and editors may have voiced dissent against Vatican or American bishops’ statements, Linker’s claim that Neuhaus and his colleagues desire the establishment of ”absolute ecclesiastical authority”–regardless of whether it would be possible to realise–strikes me as so obviously untrue that it is remarkable that anyone would publish, much less read, his book.

    But if Baumann eviscerates the credibility of Linker’s claims, he concludes with a note that seems intended to leave you with a worse impression of Neuhaus than Linker has offered:

    If, as Linker suggests, Neuhaus has a prophet’s uncompromising temperament, it is the temperament of a prophet strongly drawn to the stark and simple truth of getting and keeping power. Neuhaus has made a number of surprising but very canny conversions in his lifetime. If I were a betting man, I’d pay careful attention to where he is headed. For better or worse, the nation (or a slim electoral majority, at any rate) is usually not far behind, led by a cohort of voters who also happen to be religious believers. It would be a welcome miracle if liberals could get there first, with a plausible appeal to some of those same voters. 

    This ends up leaving you with the impression of Neuhaus not as an impatient prophet preaching for the downfall of the present order so much as a cynical operator who sees which way the wind is blowing and gets to the front of the line for the latest trend.  As much as I disagree with Neuhaus and First Things, I think this is as extreme and untenable a claim as any that Linker makes.

    One of the big advantages that Asian women have in the American marriage market is they don’t seem to think like this. They see some guy at a party that none of the white girls will talk to because he seems like a nerd, so they start talking to him, and, sure enough, he wants to talk about physics. And they think roughly to themselves:

     

    Physics is hard. Not many people have a logical enough brain to understand it. Logical talent is always in short supply, so it’s paid well. Men who are paid well make better boyfriends and husbands than men who aren’t paid well. Okay, maybe physics doesn’t pay well, but he looks like the kind of guy I could talk into going into a more practical career without him ever really noticing it wasn’t his idea. Sure, he’s shy and nerdy and my girlfriends won’t be impressed by how sexy he is, but that also means he won’t be out in bars picking up other girls all the time. Every Friday night he’ll come home to me (and, eventually, the kids), and with his paycheck. 

     

    So, I’ll pretend to be interested in physics. I always kind of wanted to be an actress, so it will be fun! It will be like playing the beautiful lady scientist in one of those science fiction movies he’s probably crazy about. He’ll be so astonished a pretty girl likes physics that he’ll be eating out of my hand. And, he is kind of cute. He has a very masculine mind, which makes him rather interesting.

    Am I being manipulative? Of course, but it’s for his own good. If some smart woman doesn’t manipulate him, he’ll waste his life going to Firefly conventions by himself.  

     

    And, having a 49 point advantage (half a standard deviation) on the Math SAT over the average white girl gives the average Asian girl more ability to fake being excited about nerdy topics. And maybe this stronger logical ability helps her think more logically about her own self-interest?

     

    Meanwhile, the lack of effort millions of males put in to finding females is similarly striking. Guys, have you ever gone to an art gallery opening? Tried reading a novel that girls like? (Okay, granted, The Da Vinci Code will rot your brain and make you want to become a monk on Mt. Athos to get away from the kind of thinking that appeals to the largely female audience for TDVC, but Pride and Prejudice is better than any sci-fi novel you ever read.) ~Steve Sailer

    Randy Graf, a conservative activist and former state representative, won a bruising Republican primary in Arizona’s open 8th Congressional District, despite the opposition of popular retiring Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe and much of the state and national Republican Party establishment.

    With his victory over moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman by 43 percent to 37 percent in the three-candidate race, Graf enters the eight-week general election against Democratic former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords with momentum and a base of fired-up supporters — many of them motivated by Graf’s outspoken advocacy, in a district that borders Mexico, of cracking down on illegal immigration. ~CQPolitics.com

    Obviously, if Graf can win in the general, replacing a Jim Kolbe with a serious restrictionist Congressman would be a huge improvement.  It should also tell Republicans (again) which way the wind is blowing on immigration in their party in the part of the country most heavily affected by mass immigration from Mexico.  That the NRCC actively worked against Graf should also tell conservatives who are seriously concerned about border security and immigration that the party leadership is still openly and unmistakably against them and needs to be replaced–or abandoned. 

    George Allen must really be getting desperate as his lead over Webb in the Senate race has vanished: he is citing Jim Webb’s opposition to women in combat as something voters should hold against him and on account of things he has written in the past on this topic he is accusing him of “misogyny.”  I am doubtful that reminding voters of Webb’s views on this matter will hurt him in a state with a large military population.  The real question is: why does Allen want to encourage more Republicans to vote for Webb?

    There is an-all-too-common syndrome among policy experts in Washington, and especially among the ones who became famous while still very young: They often speak with exactly the same seriousness and authority the 80 percent of the time they know what they’re talking about as in the 20 percent of the time when they manifestly do not and would have been much wiser to remain silent. ~Mario Loyola

    I suppose that would also apply to Mr. Loyola, he of the “Bush is wonderfully fantastic” paeans and the presumably small “I love the Second Republic” Catholic crowd, except that the percentages 80/20 would be reversed to more accurately reflect Mr. Loyola’s knowledge base.  This is not a defense of Francis Fukuyama per se, whom Mr. Loyola proposes to “fisk,” but an objection to Mr. Loyola’s presumption to “fisk” anyone on the basis of what any other person does not understand about national security questions and a defense of some of the claims that Fukuyama made here, which prompted Mr. Loyola’s wannabe fisking.  Fukuyama may be a batty ideologue with many bad ideas, as he surely is, but that is better than being simply batty with none. Read the rest of this entry »

    Senators are a notoriously risk-averse crowd. And now, for the second election cycle in a row, Republican senators have received a sharp reminder that if they behave too much like liberals, they may not be senators for long. ~National Review

    Chafee won by an almost ten-point margin, which is not a huge victory but not really that bad for an incumbent facing his first re-election (there has been a Sen. Chafee from Rhode Island for what seems like an eternity, but this Chafee has only been in the Senate for six years).  Actually, what we have seen over the last two election cycles is that the GOP establishment, other Republican incumbents and the White House will pull out all the stops to renominate and reelect their most liberal Senators, even at the risk of profoundly alienating their core conservative voters.  The Rhode Island result also shows that, in the middle of what may well be a national anti-incumbency trend, conservative activists may have less punch and less effectiveness come primary elections than the Kossacks and MoveOn people whom they so happily mock.  Arguably, the odds were stacked against conservatives in a Rhode Island Republican primary, which makes Laffey’s roughly 45% a respectable finish, but it also points to the weakness of conservative activists nationwide that they did not effectively or simply would not rally to support someone who better represents their views.  Even if I acknowledge some of those views, such as support for the Iraq war, are abhorrent to me because I consider them to be un-conservative, it is also the case that a lot of conservative activists share Laffey’s views across the board and had every reason to want to see him win the primary.  This primary probably has little national importance, because Rhode Island is particularly unrepresentative, but if it does have some broader significance it might be that it shows that conservatives nationwide are not organising or being as actively involved in this election cycle.  In the end that may prove to be a far greater liability to the GOP than one lost Senate seat (which it almost certainly would have been had Laffey won the nomination). 

    Republican liberals in the Senate can take comfort from the fact that even if a large number of their constituents are fed up with them the party will save their bacon through massive spending, advertising and signs of support.  Ironically, the effort to bolster Specter against Toomey, which Santorum–loyal party man that he is–supported, may end up costing Santorum enough conservative votes that the “protect incumbents” strategy will save their liberals and lose their social conservatives.  Personally, I am not at all concerned with whether Santorum himself loses, since his foreign policy positions are somewhere between stark and raving mad, but it should be a telling indication to social conservatives (yet again) of the priorities of the GOP.  But it should also demolish any bizarre theories that social and religious conservatives somehow have too much influence in the Republican Party–one looks almost in vain for any indication of any influence on the things that matter most to such people.

    The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

    “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God,” said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university. ~Pope Benedict XVI

    In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason,” I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

    In the seventh conversation (”diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

    Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

    The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (”syn logo”) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

    The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

    As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? ~Pope Benedict XVI

    This is an excellent address, which manages to briefly involve my favourite subject (Byzantine history) with a very timely and necessary understanding of the different conceptions of the nature of God in Islam and Christianity.  Allah’s complete transcendence and freedom from every definition or category, which would include reason and goodness, is of a different kind from traditional Christian apophatic theology, which accepts God’s absolute transcendence but does not therefore rule out all positive statements about Him.  If Allah is not bound by his word, and can arbitrarily reverse himself, he is himself inconstant and neither always good nor reasonable by nature; in the end he is supremely powerful, but has no need to abide by his own justice.  (As Pope Benedict himself points out later, this dangerous emphasis on God’s freedom does appear in the Christian world with Duns Scotus and, I would hasten to add, Ockham, so bear that in mind when next you consider the relevance of the dangers of Ockhamism.)  

    But the difference between the two conceptions of God is not something that would require you to dig up Manuel II’s dialogue or be familiar with the intricacies of Islamic theology.  The crucial difference is that for Christianity, as expressed through the categories of Greek language and Hellenistic philosophy, God is His own Word, which is Reason (Logos), Who is His co-essential Son and eternally One with Him from before the ages, whereas Allah’s word is the eternal Qur’an, which has no obvious or necessary relationship to reason, and which he could nonetheless repudiate at any time if he so chose.  Put more dramatically, Christians believe that God gave His own Reason for our sakes that we might become like Him, while Muslims believe that they ought to obey and submit to the will of Allah even if he were to command them to do the most unreasonable things.  As the suppression of the Muta’zila shows, this obedience even extends to the diminution of man’s own use of reason in understanding God.   

    Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    This Kodak moment would not have been possible without Mr. Bush

    Jess has just been told that MoveOn.org deployed volunteers to get Democrats to deaffiliate and vote for Steve Laffey, knowing full well that he cannot beat Sheldon Whitehouse in November, but Chafee can.

    In the greatest irony imaginable, if Laffey wins tonight, it may just be because Democrats voted for him.  Liberals and ultra-cons unite to squeeze out a moderate– this must be the ultimate depiction of just how polarized American politics has become.  ~Liz Mair, GOP Progress

    I suppose this could show how polarised our politics have become, or it could show that both MoveOn liberals and the so-called “ultra-cons” (the name sounds like something out of Transformers, doesn’t it?) are seeking to advance their own respective interests by the best means available to them.  If this means that liberals work to get an unelectable candidate nominated on the other side, this is nothing that Republicans haven’t been doing with the Green Party out West for years and years.  If a conservative challenger benefits from the work of the other party’s supporters, it works to the advantage of his campaign–and presumably the challenger does not think he is ultimately unelectable, which makes the help he receives from Democrats all the more amusing.  Besides, normally when a candidate draws supporters from both sides of the aisle this is taken as positive proof of his bona fides as a “moderate,” which would make Laffey the bipartisan choice and Chafee the GOP machine’s man. 

    This does not necessarily represent polarised politics, but rather politics that people who define themselves as “moderates” inherently dislike because it is all together too competitive and substantive.

    I appreciate Jim Antle’s Buchananite-cum-libertarian argument for wanting to see Chafee win the primary and the general election because of his solo opposition to the war on the Republican side in the Senate.  His opposition to the war is appreciated and duly noted, but I would point out that Chafee’s defeat today would contribute towards the larger desirable goals of 1) ousting the GOP majority in Congress (giving us divided government), 2) enforcing some real accountability against the party in the Senate that all but unanimously backed the Iraq war and 3) adding to the anti-incumbent trend that will, if it holds, contribute to the chastening of the GOP (see #1).  The NRSC and RNC have already said that they will give up Rhode Island as lost if Laffey wins the nomination, which makes one of the five competitive states the Democrats must have an automatic win and frees up their resources to put either Ford or Webb over the top in Tennessee and Virginia respectively.  At the same time, conservatives can take some satisfaction that one of Pat Toomey’s Club for Growth guys has ousted an incumbent Senator in some nice payback to the Republican establishment.  This is perhaps a tad too elaborate, but I think it makes a fair amount of sense.  So, if I had to “root” for an outcome in a primary for a party to which I do not belong in a state where I have never set foot, I would “root” for Laffey. 

    But it is genuinely difficult to get too worked up about politics in…Rhode Island.  No offense, Rhode Islanders, but I think you would feel a similar lack of excitement if you read about New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a man who gives new meaning to the word boring. 

    He [Bush] said, “I’ve got the message and we can see if I can make [it through another] election cycle articulating the difference” between the two parties. ~Lowry and O’Beirne

    Mr. Bush must believe in his message, since he seems convinced that highlighting that the GOP is the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency (in other words, standing on the GOP’s record of “accomplishments”) and emphasising how different it is from the Democrats will ensure victory.  (Does that mean the RNC will be running ads depicting Dems’ (non-existent) opposition to amnesty, foreign adventurism and fiscal irresponsibility?)  As for the slogan for the GOP that I have been using for a few months, I think a few new I-words could be added without much controversy: Ideology, Incompetence and Illegality.  We also wouldn’t want to leave out Invasion of Privacy, International Isolation, or Incredible Ignorance.  But the original slogan captures the nature of the modern GOP pretty well, so we can leave these others to the side for now. 

    Here are some lines for a Republican election ad: “Conservatives have long believed that government was incapable of solving complex social and economic problems through wasteful spending, bureaucracy and naive utopian thinking, and we in the Republican Party have proved it to be true yet again.  Let us continue to be an example of why conservatives have been right about government mismanagement, abuse and corruption!  Vote Republican!” 

    Or perhaps the GOP could play it this way: on immigration, on the war, on federal spending, why vote for a Democrat, who cannot really begin to match his opponent’s big-government and interventionist credentials, when you could vote for a real liberal in the Republican candidate and be sure of what you were getting?  If you like amesty, government expansion and nation-building, vote for unified government under the GOP! 

    Somehow I don’t think it will be a winning slogan. 

    And another important poll—the stock market—roared on the day after President Bush’s 9/11 speech. Stocks know that Bush is saving the country through lower tax rates for prosperity and a strong national security to protect us. ~Larry Kudlow

    As Kudlow may have forgotten in his enthusiasm for buying shares, stocks are not conscious entities–stocks don’t know anything.  Might it be that there is something else going on that a market analyst might take more seriously as a reason for investors to start buying?  Maybe something like this from CNN Money:

    Stocks rallied Tuesday afternoon as sharply lower crude prices and falling Treasury bond yields revived optimism about the economy and consumer spending.   

    Do the stocks also “know” that Larry Kudlow is a bombastic partisan?

    But compare Clinton’s 3.4 percent growth rate to the spending orgy that has dominated Washington since Bush moved into town. With Republicans in charge of both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, spending growth has averaged 10.4 percent per year. And the GOP’s reckless record goes well beyond runaway defense costs. The federal education bureaucracy has exploded by 101 percent since Republicans started running Congress. Spending in the Justice Department over the same period has shot up 131 percent, the Commerce Department 82 percent, the Department of Health and Human Services 81 percent, the State Department 80 percent, the Department of Transportation 65 percent, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development 59 percent. Incredibly, the four bureaucracies once targeted for elimination by the GOP Congress—Commerce, Energy, Education, and Housing and Urban Development—have enjoyed spending increases of an average of 85 percent. ~Joe Scarborough, The Washington Monthly

    When The Washington Monthly reached me at my office recently, a voice on the other side of the line meekly asked if I would ever consider writing an article supporting the radical proposition that Republicans should get their brains beaten in this fall.

    “Count me in!” was my chipper response. I also seem to remember muttering something about preferring an assortment of Bourbon Street hookers running the Southern Baptist Convention to having this lot of Republicans controlling America’s checkbook for the next two years. ~Joe Scarborough, The Washington Monthly

    Who knew, in 2000, that “compassionate conservatism” meant bigger government, unrestricted government spending, government intrusion in personal matters, government ineptitude, and cronyism in disaster relief? Who knew, in 2000, that the only bill the president would veto, six years later, would be one on funding stem-cell research?

    A more accurate term for Mr. Bush’s political philosophy might be incontinent conservatism.

    On Capitol Hill, a Republican Senate and House are now distinguished by—or perhaps even synonymous with—earmarks, the K Street Project, Randy Cunningham (bandit, 12 o’clock high!), Sen. Ted Stevens’s $250-million Bridge to Nowhere, Jack Abramoff (Who? Never heard of him), and a Senate Majority Leader who declared, after conducting his own medical evaluation via videotape, that he knew every bit as much about the medical condition of Terry Schiavo as her own doctors and husband. Who knew that conservatism means barging into someone’s hospital room like Dr. Frankenstein with defibrillator paddles? In what chapter of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom or Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind is that principle enunciated? ~Christopher Buckley, The Washington Monthly

    In fairness, there were always some conservatives who recognised “compassionate conservatism” as the big-government swindle that it was, and this fear was confirmed almost immediately by Mr. Bush’s extensive federal intrusion on education.  There were some of us, Constitution Party and Buchanan voters mostly, who saw the “faith-based initiative” (which happily died an unremarked, unlamented death early on, and was buried in one of the unmarked, shallow graves where all fatuous government programs end up) as just another way for government to interfere in those private institutions that were managing just fine without the state.  But our sort of conservatism, as the saying goes, “doesn’t win elections”; galloping government expansion and socialism apparently do, which is apparently the only standard by which the Bush Era conservative movement measured things.   

    The name “compassionate conservatism” itself gave you a feeling that something was terribly wrong with it, and not just along the lines of the usual complaints.  Some pundits complained that we don’t have to say that we’re compassionate, since only some kooky liberal would assume that conservatives are heartless.  This was a silly objection.  What was really wrong with the phrase was that it betrayed a belief that all of the bleeding-heart, “I feel your pain” crap that we endured during the Clinton years was not only good politics but a good basis on which to make policy, as if I wanted my government to “care” about me.  I would normally much prefer my government to take as little interest in me as possible beyond the basic necessities of guarding against invasion and regulating currency.  As the record shows, this caring is typically a lot of hot air mixed together with a lot of new government programs that are supposed to symbolise the “compassion” of the GOP–as if ripping off the taxpayers with a bafflingly complex drugs program that its own beneficiaries cannot understand were compassionate–and when crunch time came in the wake of a natural disaster government “compassion,” like government competence, was (surprise, surprise) nowhere to be found.  People who talk about compassion in politics should be watched very closely, because they are either trying to rip you off or they are so astonishingly impractical and naive that they will promise you the moon and give you policy disaster after policy disaster.  People used to stereotype the two parties as the Daddy and Mommy Parties (neither is particularly inspiring for a country of supposedly free people), but the GOP over the last six years has been a sort of divorced absentee dad who spoils his kids on the two weekends out of the year when he actually pays attention to them in a desperate bid to keep their affection (in between lectures to his daughters on the dangers of gay marriage). 

    All of the “compassion” talk was mixed up with Mr. Bush’s heart-talk and his soul-talk, where he would keep assuring people that so-and-so whom he appointed to head, let’s say, the Department of Agriculture ”had a good heart” or that the soul of this or that fellow was a good soul.  That’s nice.  It’s nice to have nice people in government.  While I’m entirely in favour of having people with integrity and good character in office, there is just something about these sorts of descriptions that leave me scratching my head.  I don’t know if this is something that Mr. Bush thinks makes him sound like he comes from the heartland, or if there are people out there who really do normally talk like this, but the effect is to make one want to break into laughter.  Then, once the laughing stops, the terror begins to creep in as you think to yourself: “Good grief, the man is entirely serious!  He thinks he can see into men’s hearts!”  Which, gentle reader, is normally one of those things Christians try to leave to God. 

    Meanwhile, as we wait out our time with this president, we can look forward to the latest in a stream of rhetoric that increasingly makes Woodrow Wilson look like Machiavelli. “One, I believe there’s an Almighty,” Bush declared this April, “and secondly I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live to be free. I believe liberty is universal.”
    Well, it is certainly taking a long time for the plans of the Almighty to show results in the actual world. As I write this, sectarian violence in Iraq is escalating. I’d call my skepticism “conservative,” but Bushism has poisoned the very word. ~Jeffrey Hart, The Washington Monthly

    On the subject of democratizing Iraq and the Middle East, Bush has voiced some of the most extraordinarily ideological statements ever made by a sitting president. “Human cultures can be vastly different,” Bush told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in February  2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. “Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on earth…For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.”

    Happy thoughts, breathtakingly false. If this amounts to a worldview, it’s certainly not that of Burke. Indeed, Bush would probably be more at home among the revolutionary French, provided his taxes remained low, than among Burke’s Rockingham Whigs. (Burke would of course deny Bush admission to the Whigs in the first place, as Bush would be seen as an ideological comrade of the philosophes —if a singularly unreflective one.) ~Jeffrey Hart, The Washington Monthly

    Mr. Hart continues to make excellent and withering criticisms of Mr. Bush and the modern GOP.  I would be more enthusiastic about his criticism of the Congress and administration in the Schiavo controversy if it were not so closely wrapped up in Hart’s own evident animus against social conservatives and his giving aid and comfort to Sullivan’s preposterous idea of Christianism.  But as a dissection of the madness of ideology now gripping the White House, the GOP and the movement as a whole, few do a better job than Hart.

    When Mr. Bush begins to refer to “kinetic action” in the context of foreign policy when he means to say violence or use of force, the measurement on the Orwellometer is off the charts:

    Bush said,“100,000 troops there in Pakistan is not the answer, it’s someone saying ‘Guess what?’ [i.e. `I know here he is’] and then the kinetic action begins.”

    ————————-

    He [Bush] emphasized it is an ideological struggle. In the Cold War, he said, the truth won out. “This is a war where over time the truth will win, but there will be moments of kinetic action [i.e. military struggle]. Some you won’t see.” Like KSM. “And some you will see,” like “the Taliban’s attempted resurgence.”

    I have heard some ridiculous euphemisms in my day, but calling wartime violence “kinetic action” (which simply means ‘moving action’) is about as creepy a dilution of language as any I have encountered.  Perhaps we can call torture “kinetic pressure” and refer to the bombardment of civilians as “kinetic dropping.” 

    Speaking of the ideological struggle and Bush’s romp through Marxism-Leninism, is “kinetic action” what happens when the thesis and antithesis in the historical dialectic clash?  Is the ideological struggle one bing bundle of “kinetic action”?

    Do any Americans finally see through these killers? On Monday they are mad about East Timor, on Tuesday Kosovo. Wednesday they wake up and shout about Israel, while on Thursday it’s American troops once in Saudi Arabia. Does anyone see a pattern here, especially when they talk of lost “honor” and “humiliation”? ~Victor Davis Hanson

    Via Clark Stooksbury

    I wonder if Hanson is aware of how easily this criticism can be parodied to the detriment of Hanson and his friends.  It might go something like this:

    Do any Americans finally see through these warmongers?  On Monday they are mad about Bosnia, on Tuesday Kosovo.  Wednesday they wake up and shout about Iraq, while on Thursday it’s Iranian nukes that do not yet exist.  Does anyone see a pattern here, especially when they talk of “appeasement” and “fascism”?

    So when it comes to the special relationship with America, Conservatives feel it, understand it and believe in it.

    All Conservatives share this attitude.

    I cannot think of a single Conservative member of parliament who does not think the same way.

    That is a source of great strength for any Conservative leader in their dealings with America.

    We do not have to worry about a divided party at home.

    It is precisely this strength of feeling that gives us the confidence to speak freely to any American administration.

    I believe that it is now vital for our strategic and security interests that we challenge anti-Americanism.

    That means reviving the best traditions of the special relationship. ~David Cameron

    The strange thing is that Cameron’s September 11 speech may be remembered as being a far more noteworthy and interesting speech than the one given by Mr. Bush, if only because it contains some new perspective that has been sorely lacking from the public debate.  His speech was also finely balanced to avoid the toadying approach to Washington of Blair while firmly rejecting the worst in reflexive anti-American attitudes.  He has hit just the right pitch for his domestic audience and should not give serious Atlanticists here in America anything to worry about.  Whether neocons will become hysterical at his criticism of what he describes as neoconservatism is anybody’s guess, though they will likely find anything short of full-throated endorsement an unacceptable capitulation to the forces of darkness.  His framing of constructive criticism of American policy as something that comes from a firmly and reliably pro-American position was very smart and protects him against the sorts of recriminations he may still receive from GOP hacks.  A constructive, candid relationship makes sense, as Cameron says here:

    Your long-standing friend will tell you the truth, confident that the friendship will survive.

    Your newest friend will tell you what you want to hear, eager to please so as not to put the friendship at risk.

    We have never, until recently, been uncritical allies of America.

    We have for more than half a century acted as a junior partner to the United States.

    Churchill, though he found it difficult, was junior partner to Roosevelt; Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan, John Major to George Bush Senior in the first Gulf war.

    It is not an easy part to play, but these three prime ministers learned to carry it through with skill and success.

    I worry that we have recently lost the art.

    I fear that if we continue as at present we may combine the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions.

    The sooner we rediscover the right balance the better for Britain and our alliance.

    This is not anti-American. This is what America wants. As Senator John McCain has said: “not only do we seek European leadership, we believe it is necessary to make the world a better, safer place for our interests and our values. This means true leadership, not a group of countries that merely follows American directions, as some fear; nor a coalition that opposes American power simply because of its country of origin, as others suggest.”

    It is not exactly encouraging to see Cameron quoting John McCain, but perhaps this was a bone thrown out to satisfy the more bellicose of the hegemonists over here.  Recapturing some sense of British independence seems to me to be the right course for Cameron to take, and it was unusually bold of him to make this statement on September 11 of all days. 

    However, as with so many things Cameronian, once you move to specifics things begin to look less encouraging:

    I believe that the neo-conservatives are right to argue that extending freedom is an essential objective of western foreign policy.

    Why?  To what end?  Cameron does not say.  Worse yet, he endorses Kosovo-style interventions:

    Furthermore, I believe that we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide.

    Cameron’s “liberal conservatism” winds up sounding a lot like New Democrat foreign policy with some recent Fukuyama modifications added in:

    Liberal - because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention.

    Conservative - because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world.

    A liberal conservative approach to foreign policy today is based on five propositions.

    First, that we should understand fully the threat we face.

    Second, that democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside.

    Third, that our strategy needs to go far beyond military action.

    Fourth, that we need a new multilateralism to tackle the new global challenges we face.

    And fifth, that we must strive to act with moral authority.

    In the end, this “liberal conservatism” will be less than welcome to many Tories.  That Cameron says democracy cannot be “quickly” imposed from the outside still suggests that he thinks that it can and should be imposed more slowly.  This tells me that Cameron is basically someone in sympathy with neoconservative aspirations but one who is in less of a hurry.  

    But Cameron is a curious one.  Almost as soon as you think he hasn’t a clue, he surprises you with strangely insightful things like this:

    Our aim should be to dismantle the threat, separating its component parts, rather than amalgamating them into a single global jihad that simply becomes a call to arms.

    Everyone who prattles on about Islamofascism will be sputtering with rage about this line, and it is encouraging that Cameron appreciates the difference between taking specific jihadi threats seriously and the folly of imagining a Cosmic Struggle where every militant group and regime is collapsed into one, all-purpose description.

    He also surprises a little with his appreciation that there are many non-democratic things that pre-exist and serve as the foundations of any democratic order:

    The foundations of democracy are the rule of law, including the freedoms of speech and association; civil society, meaning the network of independent organisations which sustain social life independently from the state; an independent and impartial judiciary; and a free economy, including the freedom to trade and to register property.

    No bafflingly vague and vapid statements about “the shining age of liberty” or the “ideological struggle” are to be found in Cameron’s speech.  Yes, there are unfortunate references to the Gettysburg Address, but Cameron demonstrates some rudimentary awareness of certain conservative insights that have been MIA in the Bush administration since Day One.  It is strangely refreshing, even if it is not all entirely satisfactory. 

    But regardless of all that, give a reward to the speechwriter who came up with this line:

    Liberty grows from the ground - it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone.

    Amazing–a Conservative leader who actually speaks in terms of the organic nature of political developments and society!  This is most welcome.  Then there are little signs of basic common sense breaking in, such as this:

    You can’t carry out nation-building unless the people inside a country want to build a nation.

    I say, for all its problems Cameron’s speech has more of these small, rather unremarkable but basically sensible statements that make you wonder what it might be like to have someone who is remotely conservative (or at least someone who could state some of the basic ideas) in high office in this country. 

    Though I cannot share Cameron’s democratising goals, which I believe are fundamentally misguided and likely to lead to calamity if they are successful, he does at least demonstrate some sense of why the neocons are doomed to failure, which is a small start:

    If we accept that democracy takes time; that it is founded on the institutions of society, and that it cannot easily be imposed from without, then we must put far greater effort into helping undermine dictators and tyrannies from within, and helping moderate regimes to move forward.

    Bombs and missiles are bad ambassadors.

    They win no hearts and minds; they can build no democracies.

    There are more tools of statecraft than military power.

    Intelligence, economic development, educational training, support for pro-democracy groups, international law, foreign aid, sporting and cultural initiatives can all play their part.

    But perhaps where Cameron distinguishes himself most, and reveals the sad mockery of what passes for conservatism in the GOP today are these remarks about retaining “moral authority”:

    That is why we must not stoop to conquer. We must not stoop to illiberalism - whether at Guantánamo Bay, or here at home with excessive periods of detention without trial.

    We must not turn a blind eye to the excesses of our allies - abuses of human rights in some Arab countries, or disproportionate Israeli bombing in Lebanon.

    We are fighting for the principles of civilisation - let us not abandon those principles in the methods we employ.

    On this point, I can offer my almost unqualified support, since it mostly expresses what I think and what I was arguing most recently for the duration of the Lebanon war.  There may be a host of things that are indeed quite wrong with Cameron’s enthusiasm for democratisation and intervention–the invocation of Gladstone at the end is worrisome enough–but there is enough right with the speech that I will not declare him completely hopeless…at least not yet. 

    “We will serve neither our own, nor America’s, nor the world’s interests, if we are seen as American’s unconditional associate in every endeavor,” he said. “Our duty is to our own citizens and to our own conception of what is right for the world. We should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America.”   

     

    ————-

    He urged the formulation of “a foreign policy that goes beyond neo-conservatism, retaining its strengths but learning from its failures.” ~The International Herald-Tribune

    Neoconservatism has strengths?  Anyway, this is pretty shocking stuff–what a wild idea, putting your own citizens’ interests first!  What will they think of next?  I have generally been very down on Cameron, and I think for very good reasons, but this statement is a good one and one that has been desperately needed for the last several years.  He remains in my view a trivial opportunist, but he does at least seem to be working in the interests of his country.

    We will defeat our enemies, we will protect our people, and we will lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty. ~George W. Bush

    The speech was mildly interesting in that Mr. Bush spent only about a fifth of the speech dwelling on Iraq, rehashing the same old story he has told many times before, but kept coming back to the freedom-talk more and more as he went on.  Mr. Bush used the word freedom or liberty or referred to “free society”  or “free nation”/”free nations” on 18 occasions in a sixteen minute speech, giving him average of better than one mention of freedom per minute.  There’s nothing new in this, but along with the “fertile gardens of liberty” the above quote stands out as the most excessive sort of optimistic prattle.  Forget the fertile gardens and shining age of liberty for a moment, Dobleve–how about an effective strategy or the resources to execute it?  This was another installment in the “we shall never surrender” series, and contained none of the necessary information for how Mr. Bush is going to secure Baghdad, much less how we are going to reach the “shining age of liberty.”  Who writes this stuff? 

    It shouldn’t be surprising that someone who believes that religion deserves no quarter in a decent world radiates condescension and hostility from time to time. “You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults . . . are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. . . . This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.” Does anyone else find it odd that someone thinks sexual morality should be “geared toward the relief of human suffering”? Not just me, then. Harris has opened himself up to counter-attack here. Obviously it is not people following Christian sexual morality that are spreading STDs, which cause so much suffering. In fact, it’s high time we start questioning the theological propositions held by cads and sluts. Where is their concern for human suffering? ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

    Michael does a fine job reviewing–and poking holes in–Harris’ work, and does so in his admirably irreverent style.  Speaking of irreverence, Michael’s blog, Surfeited with Dainties, will start becoming less and less surfeited with dainties or much else unless it receives the support of readers like you.  At the very least, save the world from one more lawyer and lend your support. 

    Who else but Michael will be able to tell us how to be The Guy and not be the Guy?  Who else effortlessly weaves together pop culture referencesdistributist thought, conservative social thought, Catholicismimmigration restrictionism, economic nationalism and advice on the suitable fashiondance and drink of (slightly-roguish-but-undyingly-faithful-to-their-ladyfriends) gentlemen?  Who else so stylishly mocks the inanities of neoconservative foreign policy?  Lend your support and keep Surfeited with Dainties a source of refinement, solace and refreshment in the vulgar and crass desert that is the blogosphere.

    Like we said in a previous post, did Moscow’s pro-Arab, pro-Islamist policy keep the Russian people safe from the hands of radical terrorists who use their extreme interpretation of religion as a cover for violence?

    NO . . . ~Mohammed Fadhil, OpinionJournal.com

    This is one of those zingers that doesn’t really zing.  It might be relevant to cite Islamic terrorist attacks on Russians as “proof” the Mid-East policy makes no difference to whether your country is attacked if the attackers were not Chechens and if conflict were not, like Kashmir, an internal political problem that has been exploited by jihadis, just as they have exploited every hot spot in the world where there are Muslims.  Though Mr. Fadhil probably does not know it, what group of prominent Americans shills for Chechen terrorism, er, peace and human rights and has ideological affinities with the very paper for which he writes this article?  What group is a Who’s Who of well-known neoconservatives and interventionists (all the big names are there: Kristol, Ledeen, Perle, Muravchik, Adelman, Abramowitz, Kagan, Podhoretz, Gaffney, Decter, Woolsey, Weigel, etc.) motivated not by love for human rights or a desire for peace in the Caucasus but a desire to undermine and weaken Russia?  Whose unwitting (?) stooge is Mr. Fadhil when he makes statements like this? 

    How much of a relationship is there really between Weaver’s thought and latter-day conservatism? Perhaps a pretty strong inverse relationship. ~Dan McCarthy

    I’ve said very little about David Cameron, in large part because I’m not sure quite how I feel. Generally speaking, I’m most interested in thinking about the strongest indigenous strategy, not necessarily the position I’d embrace on substantive grounds. For example, I’ve long believed that the British center-right would be wise to embrace Anglo-Gaullism, or what Sebastian Mallaby calls “the Frenchification of British foreign policy.”

    Suffice to say, I’m not one for “Frenchification” as a general rule, though I do have a soft spot for beret-sporting women in black-and-white horizontal stripes, but Blair’s embrace of the Bush Doctrine writ large (and writ somewhat more sophisticatedly) presented the Conservatives with a clear opportunity to pursue a “blue ocean strategy.”

    Ken Clarke tried to do exactly that, but he failed thanks to the extremely pro-American cast of Britain’s conservative intellectual elite. Michael Gove is a brilliant man, and a lot of the so-called Michael Moore Conservatives are pretty loathsome, but let’s be honest. Is it clear that the Iraq intervention has appreciably improved Britain’s security? ~Reihan Salam

    I think Reihan is basically right about the politics of a shift in Tory foreign policy towards Mallaby’s description of a more pro-European, “Frenchified” British foreign policy.  I also happen to think that a British foreign policy carried out in the national interests of Britain, even if that sometimes diverges from our own, would be the healthiest and best thing for Anglo-American relations.  Cameron clearly stands to benefit from an anti-Blair backlash on foreign policy (in fending off the rumours that he tried to off Blair with the recent “coup,” Brown has been obliged to say what a wonderful foreign policy Blair has had, which makes him the less likely beneficiary of public dissatisfaction with interventionism).  If Cameron can avoid being trivial (a difficult task for him) and can avoid mocking every past Tory Government’s policies, he might very well convince the so-called “Michael Moore Conservatives” (i.e., probably about 80% of the Conservative Party’s voters) that he is their man on foreign policy.  As of yet, I don’t think they are convinced that he really is.  The same people who might be cheered by Cameron’s hints at being less robustly pro-American are also exactly the same kind of people who find his cloying demeanour and sucking up to the likes of Nelson Mandela irritating and discouraging.  With Hague as shadow foreign secretary, he can retain the general posture of an Atlanticist, but an Atlanticist who doesn’t bow and scrape like, er, Hague used to do.  

    But I admit to being perplexed by the statement that “a lot” of so-called “Michael Moore Conservatives” are ”pretty loathsome.”  Loathsome how?  To whom?  I suppose their “loathsome” qualities depend on your point of view.  For someone of the Daniel Hannan school, who idolises the Roundheads and Cromwell and can’t stop gushing about democracy, Little Englanders and Arabists must indeed seem fairly loathsome, and I expect that the feeling is mutual.  For those of us who would be glad to hear Sir Malcolm Rifkind, or someone like him, talking common sense as Foreign Secretary (and who would be fairly overjoyed if we had a Secretary of State with 10% of the common sense of Sir Malcolm), it is a bit of a puzzle how any of these people–whom the Standard insulted with their Michael Moore comparison–are “pretty loathsome.”  Perhaps they are wrong or perhaps they even advocate policies that Reihan considers “loathsome,” but that still makes me wonder: loathsome how?

    Adrian Wooldridge started his article for the Standard in May 2004 with the following:

    A retired Foreign Office panjandrum denounced the Bush administration for its crass ignorance of the Arab world. A curmudgeonly barrister proclaimed his intention to march for peace. A senior banker complained that he can’t visit New York these days without being shocked by the money-grubbing vulgarity of the place.  The only person who didn’t regard George W. Bush as a warmongering simpleton was an American émigré who had worked for Richard Perle in the Pentagon back in the 1980s. 

    This was my first introduction to the world of Britain’s Michael Moore conservatives.

    Yes, he’s really got them there!  Except that the administration is shockingly ignorant of the Arab world (and the rest of the world, too), the banker had every good reason to oppose a war that 70% of his countrymen opposed, and as for the vulgarity of New York….The article goes on from there to lament the foreign policy views of folks from the shires and other expressions of anti-Bush sentiment from various and sundry prominent Tories.  An immortal line from one MP on Bush: “he looks as if he might wail at the moon.”  That is probably kinder than someone of the things I have said in my less charitable moments.   To all of this I have only one response: it sounds like a lot of conservatives responding quite understandably to an astonishingly anti-conservative politician.  If this makes them confreres of Michael Moore, the comparison should only improve conservatives’ opinions of Michael Moore–but the comparison is, of course, tendentious and overdrawn. 

    Obviously, I don’t much care for Mr. Bush or his policies, I am a paleo (and thus almost constitutionally required to disagree with whatever someone at the Standard says) and regard military interventionism in most cases as being just this side of treason, so I am unlikely to find much wrong with British folks who don’t care much for Bush and oppose interventionist wars (or at least interventionist wars that seem to have nothing whatever to do with Britain).  But nonetheless I read on and tried to find something positively loathsome about these people, only to find this:

    The other wing of the party, the Little Englander right, is best known for its loathing of the European Union. But it is equally rabid about the United States, a prejudice that was kept under the surface in the Thatcher era but is now bursting out in its full glory. The patron saint of the Little Englanders, Enoch Powell, made no secret of the fact that, if he was forced to choose between America and the Soviet Union, he might have a hard job making up his mind.

    The Little Englanders are the heirs of the 1930s appeasers who once proclaimed that they would not “die for Danzig.” They regard the Iraq war as providing perfect proof of two of their most cherished principles. The first is that American conservatism is nothing more than neoliberalism in fancy dress. What is all this idealistic talk about spreading democracy around the Middle East? The second is that foreign entanglements–be they European superstates or Iraqi expeditionary forces–are a bad thing.  

    I realise that for the usual audience that reads the Standard, all of this is pretty hard-hitting stuff.  I mean, Enoch Powell and “appeasement,” all rolled into one?  Goodness!  That sort of thing would strike the average neocon as proof of an entire nation’s perfidy.  To me it comes off sounding like…a bunch of conservatives objecting to wars that are not in the national interest (why should Englishmen have died for Danzig or Czechoslovakia or Poland or…?) and a perfectly understandable conservative hostility to ideological fantasies about exporting democracy to the four corners of the world.  I would like to disabuse them of their view of American conservatism, but the vast majority of self-styled American conservatives make it very hard to do this.  Now why is it I have a hard time finding this “loathsome”?  Besides, if these Conservatives do not pass the Standard’s test of what makes a good conservative (good grief, they’re anti-Sharon, too!), that is probably just one more indication that they are all right.

     

    My apologies for the recent disabling of Eunomia.  There was some sever problem, which does not seem to have resulted in any loss of data.  Posting will resume soon.

    Conservatives tend to see the United States, Western culture, and even civilization itself under assault from a barbaric totalitarian force in some way connected to Islam. They perceive a cosmic struggle — reminiscent of those in World War II and the Cold War — over the future destiny of mankind.

    Liberals tend to have a far more relaxed view of the situation, as symbolized by John Kerry’s 2004 comment calling terrorism a “nuisance” and comparing it to gambling and prostitution. Liberals widely accuse conservatives, for self-interested reasons, of exaggerating the threat. ~Daniel Pipes

    Liberals may be self-interested, and it is likely that they have misunderstood several aspects of the conflict, but who couldn’t honestly say that your average conservative talking head or columnist has exaggerated the threat?  In some ways, they have done nothing but exaggerate it, making the enemy into a new “fascism” and constantly drawing parallels with WWII, laughably comparing fourth-rate dictatorships with a world-class power that fought what was nonetheless an inevitably losing war against all the other great powers of its time.  The words apocalypse and Armageddon fall from pundits’ lips with a frequency that would be embarrassing if it were not so disturbing.  

    Might Pipes be exaggerating the threat when he describes the conflict as a “cosmic struggle…over the future destiny of mankind”?  To be such a struggle, one would have to believe that either side has a reasonable chance of actually defeating the other and that the destiny of mankind will be significantly different depending on the outcome.  This seems to bear no resemblance to the conflict the United States are in (is the destiny of most of mankind at stake here, or is it in fact the destiny of the Islamic world that is really being decided?), and there seems to be some kind of defective thinking that concludes that we have to be fighting such a “cosmic struggle” in order to make it seem sufficiently important to be worth fighting.  It is as if an ordinary political struggle lacks the drama for people raised with sci-fi expectations of starkly divided opposing forces (which makes me wonder why the Trekkies at The Corner have not suggested Islamoborg as the appropriate name to be used for the jihadis).  It is as if some people simply cannot accept that there can be large numbers of embittered Islamic fanatics who are intent on pursuing their agenda for power and influence and equally intent on killing those who get in their way, while also acknowledging that this does not constitute WWIII or some similarly grandiosely-titled Cosmic Struggle.  Arguably only in the sense that this is a continuation of the old fight between Cross and Crescent is it in any sense a “cosmic struggle,” and even then this exaggerates the significance of this particular war, which at best only forms a part of the long-running conflict between the two worlds. 

    Perhaps this need to exaggerate the conflict’s significance is a result of the sudden shock of being confronted with the threat from jihadis, since their methods and message are old news in most of the other nations where they have struck.  Unaccustomed to this very old threat, and doubly unaccustomed to fighting against a terribly religious enemy, some Americans reach for the immediate precedents in our national experience and try, however clumsily and confusedly, to construct some kind of explanation that will fit our familiar scheme of enemies.  Because there are no insults in our political lexicon more damning than totalitarian and fascist, these are the words that some will use, and because they can think of no enemy more horrid than the Nazis they will inaptly compare jihadis to them.  These comparisons and this use of the ”fascist” label have nothing to do with description and everything to do with moral condemnation: by calling them fascist, I prove that I absolutely despise them; by comparing them to the Nazis, I have firmly declared my opposition.  It is time-honoured method of labeling heretics and deviants, and like those time-honoured methods it is notoriously inaccurate when it comes to describing who the people so labeled actually are. 

    These same people who use this sort of rhetoric will continue to describe the conflict not as one against religious fanatics but against political ideologues–continuing to insist that the two realms cannot ever really be mixed, almost comically dutifully maintaining the compartmentalisation of religion and politics that we find in our own society.  Indeed, our own ideologues are much more comfortable thinking of jihadis as political ideologues, since  it makes them slightly intelligible to other political ideologues.  Any kind of religious mind, as I have suggested before, remains a foreign and terrible place that these people cannot penetrate or understand.  This is a tremendous liability in fighting an enemy that is principally and undeniably religious in its motivations–and one that gives the broadest possible scope to what their religion encompasses.  In this sense, yes, they are totalitarian, but even this word somehow fails to capture the all-encompassing ambition of the idea.  Perhaps the word seems lacking because secular totalitarians tend to be monists and so dictate religious observance mostly by forbidding or constricting it and offering no real replacement, whereas a religious fanatic insists upon a positive and specific application of his religious law to every field of endeavour.  Superficially, this may seem similar, but the religious fanatic is actually making a much stronger claim on the regulation of everyday life.  It is also a claim of domination on behalf of the “Lord of both worlds,” that is, the earthly and the heavenly, which is even more totalising than the purely immanentist claims of the secular totalitarian.  It is the supreme irony that Bin Laden calls us “crusaders,” since surely Crusaders would understand the religious dimension of this conflict far better than most of us do.  The jihadis may indeed view this as a “cosmic struggle,” because they are likely to view every conflict in this way–but just as our official rhetoric has started to mirror the alarmist rhetoric of the jihadis, our definition of the struggle has been similarly exaggerated to match that of the vision of religious fanatics.     

    These points likely make no sense to people who insist on treating this conflict simply in ideological terms.  Thus we have Frank Gaffney telling us: “While it purports to be about faith, as with previous totalitarian movements, it is really about power.”  There is nothing more damning to say about a religious person in our secular society than that he is only really interested  in power, as if every society shared our aversion to mixing the two and as if every religion shunned the acquisition of power for the glory of its god.   

    What a quaint post-Enlightenment view of things!  As if real faith had nothing to do with power of any kind, when for most of Christian history the two have been almost inextricably bound up together, to say nothing of their far more intimate relationship in the history of Islam.  Because most of us look back on our own history with a jaded eye and the conviction that the relationship of faith and power was generally a bad one, some of us seem almost constitutionally unable to describe their confluence without cynicism and qualifications that try to separate the real religion from the pursuit of power.  What the mildly religious or secular ideologue cannot fathom is that religious faith is itself a kind of power, that in many forms religious faith can and will seek temporal power (some of them are obliged to do so), that this is not necessarily a perversion or distortion of the religious faith in question and that the two often cannot be separated.  This does not necessarily apply to every kind of religious faith, and it applies to some more than others, but for those who are intent–for whatever reason–on maintaining the fiction that “any and every kind of faith is good and apolitical and so cannot have anything to do with the pursuit of power” these distinctions are meaningless.  

    Just as some rather naively assume that “everyone wants to be free”–by which they mean “be free just as we are free”–so they rather naively think that every good Muslim who is obviously not one of these fanatics cannot also really be interested in establishing shari’a or discriminating against non-Muslims or waging jihad.  This is not to make our present conflict into a war against all Muslims–which, besides being unnecessary, would be phenomenally unwise–but to acknowledge that these sorts of things are not simply the fruit of some wild-eyed fringe or merely a product of the most extreme revivalist movements.  They are not an ideological departure into the world of power-seeking, but integral elements in traditional Islam that are taken up with special zeal by fanatics.  In a religion with no final normative, interpretive authority that defines the boundaries of “true” Islam, the Islam of these fanatics is really no less authentic than that of the most inoffensive and law-abiding Muslim.  That does not mean that all Muslims hold identical beliefs, which obviously is not the case, but that each Muslim has claims to representing Islam that are as equally plausible as any other Muslim’s.  Arguably jihadi methods may violate certain prescribed Islamic codes of conduct, but in this they are in principle really no different from those Christians who talk about just war principles in one breath and make apologies for Hiroshima in the next (while hinting at pre-emptive nuclear attacks against still other countries).  You can always find people who are willing to find loopholes in moral standards or justify atrocities in light of extraordinary circumstances or on account of the perfidy of the enemy.  In any case, each attempt to separate the fanatics’ religiosity from their desire for power makes it that much harder to understand and combat them.  

    Incidentally, it is surely a curious thing that people who use terms such as “Islamic fascist” and “Islamofascist” believe that they are helpfully distinguishing the jihadis from ordinary Muslims, while most ordinary Muslims seem to reject the label instantly as one that insultingly labels all Muslims as fascists, which throws into doubt the value of such terms for effectively separating the violent fanatics from other Muslims and makes these terms about as counterproductive in the Islamic world as can be imagined.  If the goal is to combat effectively the influence and spread of jihadi ideas and methods, insulting every Muslim on the planet is probably not the wisest course of action.  If the goal is quite different–to lump together many different kinds of Muslim groups and regimes that have no connection to one another–it is successful after a fashion.  However, it is exactly this lumping together that makes the word’s overtly propagandistic purpose only too clear and makes it worth less than nothing as a descriptor.    

    Taking the long view, Christian civilisation has been at war with the Islamic world for close to 1,400 years–and they have been undoubtedly losing for the last four hundred (in some places, they have been losing for as long as six hundred places).  By every political and military measure there is, the last two hundred years have been an age of unmitigated failure and defeat for the Islamic world.  As neocons love to remind us, it is this failure and the resentment it breeds that have led to the modern forms of Islamic revivalist and fundamentalist violence, directed against the perceived (and sometimes real) agents of their humiliation.  But, quite frankly, to call this a “cosmic struggle” is to insult cosmic struggles.   

    Except when we and the Europeans let Muslims into our countries (and America has let in almost another million in the last year), they cannot take an inch of our territory and have no chance of establishing any form of shari’a anywhere in the West.  The jihadi threat is serious, as we cannot help but remember today, but it is all the same far short of epochal, global struggles that really possess the potential to engulf the entire world.  This so-called “WWIII” that Mr. Gingrich keeps going on about is, in practical terms, almost entirely limited to the confines of the Islamic world.  Over half of mankind is largely or entirely untouched by it, and 90% of the world’s nations have no strong interests in the conflict.  The jihadis‘ potential for growth and success is strictly limited by the expanse of Islam, since it has literally no meaning for anyone outside of the Islamic world.  Insofar as we and other Westerners are deeply involved in the politics of the Islamic world, it is the main political conflict of our time, but those who believe that national survival or the fate of the world is at stake are verging on being certifiably delusional.  We should take that into account whenever we are assessing their arguments for future interventions or policies.  

    Said Bush, we know by “history and logic” that “promoting democracy is the surest way to build security.” But history and logic teach, rather, what George Washington taught: The best way to preserve peace is to be prepared for war and to stay out of wars that are none of the nation’s business.   

    “Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace,” said Bush. How does he then explain the War of 1812, when we went to war against Britain, when she was standing up to Napoleon? What about the War Between the States? Were not the seceding states democratic? What about the Boer War, begun by the Brits? What about World War I, fought between the world’s democracies, which also happened to be empires ruling subject peoples?

    In May 1901, a 26-year-old Tory member of Parliament rose to issue a prophetic warning: “Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings.” Considering the war that came in 1914 and the vindictive peace it produced, giving us Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, was not Churchill more right than Bush? ~Patrick Buchanan 

    Even more worrisome than Mr. Bush’s comical invocation of “history and logic”–two subjects few would confuse with Mr. Bush’s strong suits of bluster and assertion–is his channeling of classic Marxist-Leninist language, as I have noted before. 

    The faith of these democrats, these democratists, in the power of democracy is like almost nothing I have encountered in my lifetime.  It is its own kind of political-religious fanaticism, as Mr. Buchanan suggests with his citation of Schumpeter’s description of Marxism as an ideological system the promises immanentist deliverance and salvation, a solution to man’s ills and a (more or less) self-contained and coherent account of the entire structure of the world.  In this way, it is a modern gnostic doctrine. 

    Like the jihadi slaughtering on behalf of Islam to bring the world into submission, the democratist cannot rest so long as there is one inch of territory that does not bow to the supremacy of Demos.  The ambition of democratists and jihadis is similarly global; the former happen to have the preponderance of political and military power behind them.  Which band of fanatics really troubles you more?  Those who demand your submission, or those you come to “liberate” you?   

    Any crime is ultimately permissible if committed in service to the democratist dream: if civilians in an enemy state are killed, it was incidental or they had it coming because–and only a democrat could think this way–they supported the government that our government is fighting (some of the more chilling apologists for Allied war crimes in WWII repeat this rubbish as a way to evade the moral problems of incinerating tens and hundreds of thousands of noncombatants).  Thus even in nondemocratic states “the people” are held responsible for actions of a government to which they may not have consented.  Total wars, wars of “unconditional surrender,” collective punishment, genocide and mass warfare are all the necessary corollaries of democratic politics.  Democracy feeds off of totalitarian impulses, and in turn encourages the same impulses.   

    Democracy for the democratist is not just a type of regime that vests sovereignty in “the people” and provides for, in its representative forms, elections and, in its liberal forms, guarantees against arbitrary government treatment; it is a kind of moral stance, a political purity and innocence that insists that democracies have never, will never, can never do anything really wrong or evil.  They can never be guilty.  By their very existence as democracies, by their very popular nature, they legitimise every evil committed in the people’s name.  They are always innocent, always put upon, under siege, attacked by various and sundry ”authoritarians” or “fascists” or “dictators.”  That this is not always true will have no bearing on the democratists’ convictions: for them, every war that a democracy fights is a war against tyranny or fascism, for the simple reason that they literally cannot conceive of any other kind of democratic war but an ideological one.  There are, in fact, no “small” or “minor” wars, but simply engagements in long, running battles between Democracy and Tyranny.  It is, of course, no use reminding them that almost everyone who has given the problem any thought has considered democracy ripe for becoming a tyrannical regime and is in many ways one of the least stable and least good.     

    In perfect certainty the democratist can declare that democracies do not fight each other, because no real democracies would ever do such a thing.  If there are wars between two or more democratic governments (and modern history is fairly littered with them), the democratists’ escape will be found in some undemocratic element of one side or the other.  Thus a democratist will say that the constitutional monarchy of King-in-Parliament was insufficiently democratic (they have a king!); he will say that the Confederacy wasn’t a “real” democracy because of slavery (Hanson’s supposed hatred of “aristocracy” comes in handy here); he will say that you must blame the imperialist wars of Britain on something, anything except the fully enfranchised mobs who cheered on the aggression against the Afrikaners; obviously the mass, universal suffrage of Germans and Austrians–like that of their counterparts in the Entente nations–cannot have had anything to do with whipping up the nationalist war fever in 1914.  Because democratic peoples don’t want war, and people who want war aren’t democratic peoples–the faith in democracy is so blind, so completely mad, that no appeal to either history or logic will suffice to break it. 

    The democratist ideologue will focus on the imperfections of the far more developed, more successful and stable Wilhelmine political system of constitutional monarchy, but in the same breath will praise–apparently without irony–the rise of real democracy in Iraq.  Pay no attention to the sectarian death squads behind the curtain in Iraq, but instead reiterate that WWI was fought against the forces of autocracy and absolutism.  It will make you feel better–and one suspects that feeling better about the decidedly mixed record of democracy is essential for those who wish to inflict this type of regime on others. 

    As the doctrine of an ideological empire, democratism does not have to accord with reality, so long as it facilitates policy.  If Hizbullah has both a political party that competes in democratic elections and an armed militia, the latter cancels out the democratic credentials of the former, while if SCIRI has an armed militia it remains a legitimate participant in democratic politics.  This might seem inconsistent or the result of the application of a double standard, until you realise that the administration is the one that decides what constitutes real democracy–and real democracy does not exist anywhere except where it decides it exists.  Thus, without any sense of contradiction, the democratist can tell you that some elected foreign leaders–such as, say, Ahmadinejad–are not really democratic leaders in any sense at all, because they espouse the wrong kinds of policies, but the sham democratic politics of Pakistan–a thin veneer covering up military rule–will be praised as robust and admirable.        

    Even when democratic states attack other states without real cause or provocation, they are not violating the general peace, you see, but upholding the peace of the world–not because that is what is actually happening (obviously it is quite the opposite), but because that is the only thing that democratic states can ever do.  In a pinch, they can always be “liberating” someone, whether or not that has anything to do with the conflict in question, which is the great escape clause for all democratic warmongers–just as it was for the communists.  That liberation may not be the result and that it may simply be a euphemism for domination does not trouble the democratist: just as democracies are peaceful, they obviously only go to war in self-defense or to liberate others.  Therefore, if there is a war and a democracy is involved, there has to be some kind of liberation.  It is unavoidable. 

    When Mr. Bush says, “democracies are peaceful,” he is not describing reality, nor is he even really attempting to describe reality (though he might tell you that he is), but stating an axiom taken straight from the catechism of liberal, democratic faith.  It is exceedingly difficult to have faith in a type of regime that in fact encourages all the worst passions in men and which is subject to the power of demagogues and popular enthusiasms; mass hysteria, particularly nationalist mass hysteria, is a powerful danger that all democratic states face.  This deeply troubled side of democracy, which has been on full display for the past five years, cannot be admitted by the democratist.  After all, to spread this sort of dangerous, chaotic regime to other parts of the world would be mad, regardless of whether the recipients were even remotely prepared for it.  It is therefore essential that everyone keep parroting the line that democracies are stable and peaceful, do not seek the most dangerous weapons and, of course, never ever use them.  Unless you need to pre-emptively nuke those “Islamic fascists” in Iran along with all their people, in which case they had it coming anyway, right?  And if you begin to doubt the justice of what you are doing, remember that “history and logic” have confirmed you in your path and told you that History is tending ever upwards towards the universal freedom of man–and all those who get in its way will be crushed.   

    Men need food to survive.  Men need myths for the same reason.  Why then do we say that the myths are untrue?

                        *                *                  *

    Some people say that nations are defined by their shared ideals.  Are you descended from ideals or people?  Some people say that soil is unimportant to who we are.  On what other ground do they live?

               *                              *                        *

    Almost everyone likes “religious moderates.”  They are pleasant, reassuring, non-combative.  Far fewer people like clumsy surgeons or inattentive parents.

                 *                         *                          *

    If it is people who do not learn from history who are doomed to repeat it, is this why only people ignorant of history think that history repeats itself?

                 *                        *                      *

    The 20th century was the great century of man’s emancipation.  The 20th century was the century of more servility than at any other time in human history.  The one is the reason for the other.

                  *                          *                      *

    Even if History has a direction, what is to stop us from going in a different direction?  History?  But it has its own navigating to do and cannot be worried about us.

                   *                         *                      *

    If every man wishes to be free, why have so few been free?  If every man wishes to be happy, why this deep sorrow?

                   *                         *                       *

    It has been said that no man is an island.  But even the islands are connected to the mainland beneath the surface of the seas and are formed by the movements of the whole earth.  So perhaps every man is an island.

                 *                            *                      *

    Democracy, at least nominally, gives the people power, but each time this happens they give it away to someone else.  Likewise, when the people are given freedom, they strive mightily to be rid of it.  What have these ingrates ever given in exchange?

             *                             *                         *

    When men kill their king, whom they can see, will it be long before they start ignoring their God, Whom they cannot?

             *                              *                        *

     

    #1: Limited nuclear strike

    #2: The Good War

    #3: Government accountability

    #4: Crimes against humanity

    #5: Compassionate conservatism

    #6: Democratic freedoms

    #7: Free government

    #8: Islamofascism

    #9: Theoconservatism

    #10: Moral clarity

    #11: Moderate Islam

    #12: Reformed communist

    #13: Judeo-Christian values

    #14: Equality of opportunity

    #15: Revolutionary justice

    #16: Humanitarian war

    #17: Business community

    #18: The right to choose

    #19: The right to life

    #20: The right to die

    The United States can also help to keep Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union on track, by advocating more openly for resolution of the division of Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

    The United States must not ever take Turkey for granted. ~The New York Times

    As it happens, the Times is right to point out and deplore the frayed and sorry state of relations with Turkey, the hostile attitude of most Turks towards the United States (Metal Storm is just the tip of the iceberg of resentment) and the increasing popularity of turning away from close ties with the West.  Their proposed solutions, however, are mistaken.  One thing that has stalled Turkish negotiations with the EU has been American interference in the process; particularly in the aftermath of the bitter Iraq war debates in 2004 the European reaction to Mr. Bush’s intervention on behalf of Turkey’s application to the EU was furious and severe.  European voices, particularly that of French President Chirac (always good for a quote!), made unfriendly remarks to the effect of, “How would you like it if we told you how you should deal with the Mexicans?”  (The comparison was not simply a geographical one, but was meant to tap into the parallel with how most Americans actually view our neighbour to the south, and thus express how Europeans view Turkey–a poor non-Western country of quite foreign people simply teeming with foreign labour, and a country that they would just as soon not have to deal with.)  This is an issue best left to the Turks and Europeans to work out one way or another.  Our influence with either side is significantly diminished right now, and this is one of the most explosive issues for the future of the EU, and one that will do America no good to be tangled up in.  Showing serious concern for Turkey’s security interests will do a lot more to shore up relations with Turkey’s military and political leadership than any amount of kibbitzing about EU procedures or meddling in a Cypriot settlement that Washington does not even begin to understand. 

    Turkey would probably not have succeeded in making any progress in entering the EU (which I believe to be a very poor idea for many reasons), but American activism on Turkey’s behalf will only harden European attitudes against it.  The thought in Paris and Brussels these days seems to be, “If the Americans want Turkey in, something must be horribly wrong with Turkish entry.”  This has added a new layer of opposition to hegemonism to the already bubbling brew of cultural and political resistance to admitting a poor, populous Muslim nation to a Union that has just taken in ten relatively poor eastern European countries.

    Cyprus is an even more vexed question and one that Mr. Bush and his successors would do well to steer clear of, since the current Turkish government is implacable and insistent on conditions for a final settlement that the Greek Cypriot population will never accept, including the continued presence of Turkish forces on the island (a presence which some may remember was the result of an essentially unprovoked invasion).  Indeed, forcing the issue in Cyprus could conceivably damage Turkish chances with the EU even more–if it were actually desirable to improve those chances–since the Greek side of Cyprus has been accepted into the EU as the recognised government of Cyprus. 

    However, these are only superficial fixes.  If Turkish public opinion has been lost, it has been lost because of Iraq and then because of American support for the war in Lebanon, which Turkish Islamists–and the supporters of the current government–viewed with horror and outrage.  It is little wonder that both NATO and the Israeli alliance seem less and less important to such people.  Which brings us back again, as often happens, to why empowering the Muslim masses to elect their own governments will not work in the interests of the United States or our allies, and may eventually detach long-time allies, such as Turkey, from their connections to America. 

    You can play at hegemony or you can play at being the demoliberator, but you cannot really be both without having it blow up in your face.  I recommend being neither one, and minding our own business, but that would be all together too strange when the other approaches are working so well.

    From the new issue of The American Conservative, Prof. James Kurth offers this succinct statement on globalisation in an interesting article on income inequality:

    Anyone who claims that globalization is a conservative process is either a liar or a fool. 

    I was interested to see Prof. Kurth make the argument that growing economic inequality on a global scale empowers ideologies, such as Islamism, that preach egalitarian doctrines of one kind or another, and he is right to make this point.  He could have reinforced his argument with some mention of the Maoist Naxalites currently wreaking havoc in eastern India as the perfect example of the losers–or non-participants–of globalisation fueling radical and violent political movements in the developing world.

    But would he concede that elections have so far empowered mainly the radicals? “It’s a part of the process. I think Americans must remember we had some growing pains ourselves. It wasn’t all that smooth a road to the Constitution to begin with in our own country. Democracy is not easy,” he says, coiled and intense in his presidential flight jacket. ~Paul Gigot

    Part of the process?  Yes, of course–after all, every new republic must have had its share of Islamist guerrillas.  Who can forget the New Hampshire Hizbullah or the Green Mountain Mujahideen?  They didn’t call it Green Mountain for nothing, now, did they, Mr. President?  

    Now Mr. Bush apparently thinks that disagreements about the Articles of Confederation should be likened to the empowerment of Hamas, Hizbullah and Sadr.  It’s funny–I don’t remember reading about Vermont’s rocket attacks on New York and the sectarian Baptist militias of New Jersey slaughtering the Lutherans.  But then I’m not the “student of history” that Secretary Rice is, so I’m sure she has filled in Mr. Bush on all the necessary details about the shifting of tectonic plates and the birth pangs.  Whether she has familiarised him with the facts of American history remains to be seen.   

    “I just don’t believe it,” the president insists. “I believe the Republicans will end up being–running the House and the Senate. And the reason why I believe it is because when our candidates go out and talk about the strength of this economy, people will say their tax cuts worked, their plan worked. . . . And secondly, that this is a group of people that understand the stakes of the world in which we live and are willing to help this unity government in Iraq succeed for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and that we are steadfast in our belief in the capacity of liberty to bring peace.” ~Paul Gigot

    I guess you might say that Mr. Bush “just strongly disagrees” with predictions of a Democratic takeover of the House, as if the intensity of his disagreement ever had any effect on reality (scary thing is, he might think that it does!).  In any case, didn’t it used to be an old piece of Limbaugh shtick where he pounced on liberal Democrats every time they said they were doing something “for the children”?  Weren’t conservatives all pretty much in agreement that this was a pathetic, cheap rhetorical tactic used by people who couldn’t justify policies on their merits?  Because, as South Park put it so well, “If you oppose Proposition 10, you hate children.”  Now Mr. Bush must be really desperate if he is persisting in his Iraq policy not just “for the children” but for the sake of “our grandchildren” as well.  Indeed, Mr. Bush has grandchildren on the brain:

    “But in the long run the only way to make sure your grandchildren are protected, Paul, is to win the battle of ideas, is to defeat the ideology of hatred and resentment.” 

    At the rate Mr. Bush is going, “our grandchildren” will still be patrolling Ramadi and Tikrit.  Personally, for the sake of the present generation–to say nothing of later generations–I would be grateful if politicians who appealed to the fate of our grandchildren were severely punished come election time.

    Indeed, many of the young men attracted to Islamist terrorism might easily, had they been born in different circumstances, been drawn to, say, the Red Brigades or the Brownshirts. For we are dealing with an ideology rooted in a violent critique of liberal values. Its adherents are few, but this has never been a war about numbers, any more than it is a war about the status of Israel, or the garrisoning or Iraq, or the form of government of Saudi Arabia. It is a war, rather, between the Enlightenment and what was once called Irrationalism: a belief that violence and blind faith are truer and nobler than reason. ~The Daily Telegraph

    There are assuredly a few ironies here.  First, there is the fact that the alleged partisans of Enlightenment seem to put a lot of stock in the power of violence to solve problems.  Second, one of the leaders of the side of “Enlightenment” seems committed to operating ideologically and in a manner consistent with what critics of all stripes might reasonably call blind faith (Bush might as well say, “God wants everyone to be free–so let it be written, so let it be done!”).  Third, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between Jacobins and jihadis in their commitment to the violent export of their creed, which suggests that reasonable people find ourselves pinned between a secular, irrational rationalism and an impious religious fanaticism.

    The other problem with this formulation, besides the de rigueur comparisons with Nazis and commies, is how it writes off any and all proximate causes of the conflict as just so much fluff.  No policies could have had anything to do with this–they hate us for our Voltaire!  I would be happy to get rid of Voltaire, if it would satisfy their resentments, but somehow I don’t think that’s really what is bothering them.

    Isn’t it interesting how ideologues can compartmentalise things so impressively?  When Bin Laden et al. say that American and Israeli politics are the causes of his terrorism, anyone who points to these statements as indications of what caused Al Qaeda to attack us is shouted down or run out of the room.  To use Bin Laden’s words to advance an argument, it was said then, is perverse.  Now Mr. Bush and his supporters point to Bin Laden’s statements about Iraq to “prove” that it is a “central front” in the war with Al Qaeda–we must believe Mr. Bush because of what Bin Laden says.  But when he said that the attacks were because of our presence in Saudi Arabia, our support for Israel and our embargo of Iraq, we must discount all of this and reduce the entire conflict to a simple struggle of Light and Darkness, an elemental struggle that has no intelligible causes or reasons and which has no rational solution via policy changes.  Now remind me again, who is on the side of the Enlightenment?

    It is a war, rather, between the Enlightenment and what was once called Irrationalism: a belief that violence and blind faith are truer and nobler than reason. ~The Daily Telegraph

    As if to prove my earlier point, the Telegraph comes out on cue to endorse the Enlightenment.  Let me say this as simply as I can: I am glad that the so-called Kulturkampf represented by the war with Al Qaeda jihadis is not a war for the Enlightenment, because I would not fight for the Enlightenment or support its defense if those were the stakes.  I wouldn’t because I don’t accept that the Enlightenment represents human reason in any way that is deserving of admiration or defense; I don’t accept that the Enlightenment was opposed to “violence and blind faith” (some of its apostles have been very violent and blindly obedient to the dictates of their political creed).  It was opposed to revelation, Christianity and reason illuminated by faith.  Against the fighting faith of the jihadis, the sterile and all together deficient ”values” of Enlightenment liberalism will not be enough; if we are fighting primarily for these things, we do not have much to fight for. 

    Besides, no one really wishes to die in the service of the Enlightenment any more than a man is willing to die for any other set of abstractions.  If we are not fighting for our civilisation (and according to civilised means) and to protect our homes and countries, we are in for a rough time.  This is the problem with trying to construct a grandiose “ideological struggle” from a simple political conflict.  The ideologues who cook up this rhetoric think that it is necessary to rally public support behind the effort, but what they do not understand is that these increasingly strained and tiresome invocations of the glories of Locke and Voltaire do not inspire and only serve to convince the public that the ideologues will say just about anything to whip up support for the conflict.  Worst of all, they may indeed believe what they’re saying, which begs the question why the flagship paper of Toryism is going on about the Enlightenment and “liberal values.” 

    Yes, I understand by “liberal values” they mean 1688 and All That, Locke, Sydney and the rest, and so I ask again: why are Tories going on about these things?  Yes, I know that Tories have accommodated themselves to all those ideas, however grudgingly, but there once was a time when Enoch Powell could say completely without irony that the most recent political innovation he approved of was Magna Carta.  He still had his reservations about the rest.  Nowadays Tories shout their approval of either the Enlightenment or Cromwell–what has the world come to?

    If only the foreign wars were fixable. Nobody can say anything any more about the adventure in Iraq: it’s too hopeless and depressing and Blair has moved on.

    The war in Afghanistan – a war I supported back in 2002 – is hopeless in a different way: it could have been winnable once, but George W. Bush lost the plot, and America is very keen to be outta there.

    The Afghan war could be – maybe, possibly, eventually – winnable still, if the world’s warmongers would damn well concentrate on it and define Nato’s mission and come up with what’s needed, i.e., masses of men, billions of treasure and a projected end-date of around, ooh – what? 2020?

    Max Hastings just got back from Helmand, though, and says – despite the Army’s “supreme professionalism” – “failure seems very close”. ~Vicki Woods, The Daily Telegraph

     It’s about losing faith in the ability of my tribe’s leaders to deal with changing conditions non-ideologically. It’s about coming to see that many of us in the conservative camp have become more concerned about holding on to power than in being true to what we profess — and admitting it when our principles or dogmas don’t account for what we’re observing in the real world. And changing course. Instead, we’ve become in many instances ossified in our thinking and quick to demonize critics, both inside and outside the conservative movement, as heretics. ~Rod Dreher

    I do wonder about this last part, or at least in the way it is phrased here.  Are conservatives generally hung up on denying that their principles and dogmas are not matching up with the real world, or have they instead allowed an entirely different set of claims to become the defining features of what they, as conservatives, are supposed to believe and it is these replacements that seem to accord so poorly with real life? 

    This is an extension of what I was saying in the last post: the departure from the conservatism that Kirk called the “anti-ideology” to something like a “conservative ideology,” which means for all intents and purposes the substitution of revolutionary ideals and goals for those of traditional conservatism (though they will occasionally be dressed up by Straussians who use the word prudence almost as obsessively as neoconservatives talk about “resolve” and “will”).  Just as abstract, revolutionary ideas have failed in the past, because they do not accord with human nature or the realities of social and political life, they are failing again, which should be a vindication of the old conservatism and proof not that “conservative principles” have gone awry or failed to measure up to the tests of reality or that conservatives are too loyal to those principles in spite of contradictory evidence but that they have already not been sufficiently loyal to them.  

    A stubborn attachment to these revolutionary notions has taken over many in the movement and the GOP, so Rod is right to describe an ossification of thinking taking place, but the revolutionary doctrines that many have embraced in recent years lend themselves to such ossification by dint of their own inflexibility and intolerance for the variety and complexity of the world.  Once you commit yourself to the wild notion not only that all men everywhere want to be free but also that we will make it so, prudence, realism, restraint and caution have no meaning anymore–you have abandoned the conservative mind once you say things like this, if Kirk’s description of that mind has any validity at all. 

    This is not intended, as it usually is intended, to score another hit against the anti-conservative nature of neoconservatism, as that point has been made many times and more ably than I will be able to do right now, but simply to state definitions clearly and to use words in a way that has some recognisable relationship to reality.  I think it has been that separation of words and realities that has particularly plagued the conservative movement for the last five years, which has led them to champion, apparently without irony, the virtues of secular modernity, the Enlightenment, revolution, equal rights and individual choice not only in opposition to Islamic fundamentalism but as good, worthy things in themselves.  In the last five years, almost every trope of what Beneton calls “equality by default” has become a “conservative” slogan, if it wasn’t already, and the President now mouths the words of Marx and Lenin (”ideological struggle”) while condemning jihadis as the new fascism just as a Marxist would.  It is surely no surprise, then, and not really Mr. Bush’s fault, if the old communist Stephen Schwartz, writing in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, approves of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and cites their fight as a parallel with our own in Iraq. 

    Conservatism, if it stands for something in the political realm, stands firmly in opposition to the principles of 1789, yet it is the sorry state of affairs that finds almost all modern “conservatives” preaching violent revolution in the name of the Rights of Man.  It is this, far more than the mere servile apologies offered on behalf of the administration, that is truly depressing.

    So it’s been depressing, in the Bush years, to watch various conservatives take on the role that liberals played in my childhood and adolescence, by swaddling themselves in delusions about how the world actually is - whether it’s the weird and persistent Bush-worship, the constant “good news from Iraq” drumbeat, the desperate “we found the WMDs” meme, or basically every word that comes out of Donald Rumsfeld’s mouth. ~Ross Douthat

    The process that Ross describes, which is indeed rather depressing for conservatives, seems to me to be a case of a persuasion and political philosophy that actively eschewed ideological thinking falling more and more into ideological patterns, as it became necessary after 1995 and even more so after 2001 to reorient official “conservatism” to fit policy, shaping “doctrine,” so to speak, according to the needs of power.  In this climate, support for policy becomes the definition of your credibility as a conservative, and straying from the party line once too often results in being cast out, rhetorically or politically and professionally.  If the rise of ideological “conservatives”–and the frequent references to ideology and “ideological struggle” in presidential speeches–is indeed depressing, it may be an inevitable by-product of being in power and lacking any form of accountability.  Having ideas that contradict reality, as I have suggested before, does not weaken the appeal of an ideology, but rather confirms that the ideology has simply not been applied properly or that it is being thwarted by hostile forces–the blindness to reality is an inevitable feature of being an ideologue.  It is also not simply that power corrupts, but that it often draws to itself men more liable to be corrupted because many of them have been attracted to serve those in power simply for the perpetuation of their faction in power.

    Rod Dreher has some interesting thoughts on just this point:

    It’s about losing faith in the ability of my tribe’s leaders to deal with changing conditions non-ideologically. It’s about coming to see that many of us in the conservative camp have become more concerned about holding on to power than in being true to what we profess — and admitting it when our principles or dogmas don’t account for what we’re observing in the real world. And changing course. Instead, we’ve become in many instances ossified in our thinking and quick to demonize critics, both inside and outside the conservative movement, as heretics.

    If, as Austin Bramwell has suggested, the movement was always a mechanism for promoting intellectual conformity and shaping conservative philosophy to suit practical political requirements, this should not have been an unexpected development.  The trouble that so many principled conservatives have nowadays is that we tended to believe the hype about the importance of ideas in making the conservative movement what it was.  Ideas were important to a degree, as they are to any political movement, but they were also expendable, because in the end conservatism became almost entirely a political movement and increasingly stopped being an intellectual and cultural endeavour, except at the margins where these efforts had relatively little impact. 

    In the official narrative, the culture we were trying to conserve was at once under threat but also basically a given–it needed no special attention, no cultivation, as if it were a block of wood or a stone and not a living thing, but only a regular defense against the aggression of the forces of dissolution and revolution.  Conservatives were so busy building the fortifications and manning the ramparts that they forgot to tend to the crops, and social and cultural dissolution took place under their noses (and in their own backyards), even as they amassed more and more impressive achievements of acquiring power.   

    The distortions and corruptions of conservatism in the Bush Era are perhaps less surprising or shocking than many of us, myself included, have made them out to be.  Of course, the betrayals of principle are terrible, inexcusable, appalling, more proof of the administration’s perfidy, but could we have expected anything else from a movement basking in its own success and filled with the power of the federal government?  Power intoxicates, confuses, warps and finally drives men rather mad as they long to hold onto it.  Conservatives have been rather like Frodo toting the Ring to Mount Doom, only to turn around and keep the Ring for themselves–and there is no Gollum to intervene and prevent this from happening. 

    A generation of being in the political wilderness has made the fear of returning to the wilderness even stronger–thus the absurd lengths to which pundits will show their devotion and loyalty to Mr. Bush and the desperate rhetoric they will employ to prevent the loss of the House.  Once they lose power, they will have nothing left, having sacrificed every principle that mattered to get it.  If power is a drug, those who benefit from ”their” side being in power are like addicts who eventually crave nothing else but the drug. 

    This was, is, a basic conservative insight about the nature of government and the nature of man, which is why the old conservatism stressed virtue and restraint, viewed government as nothing but dangerous force to be used sparingly, and the constitutionalists among us became obsessed with strict limitations on government action and divided powers.  This was, ignorantly, labeled an “anti-government” position, when it was always a position in favour of good government and good order.  It is why conservatism will endure, because it is true and tells us something important about the realities of man, society and government, and why the movement will almost surely die in its own filth once it is cast down from the heights of power.  The movement relied too much on the psychological tension created by the promise, “If only we get Our Guys into power, then things will go fine.”  Well, Our Guys are in power, so to speak, and they have made a bloody mess out of everything.  I doubt the movement can survive as it is now for another decade or two in the wilderness.  If neoconservatism was the ideological movement that was going to make the GOP into a party of government, one that could actually govern the modern social democratic managerial state, the conservative movement it created to that end will not fare well out of power, especially when numerous constituencies of the movement signed on for an entirely different set of goals. 

    But this corruption was not something that began only recently, as much responsibility as Mr. Bush and his lackeys have for pushing the movement over the edge.  The Republican and conservative cult of the Presidency began, in some ways, with Nixon, as the executive became the only national institution conservatives and Republicans ever had much chance of controlling, and this gradually led to an indifference towards executive overreach, secrecy and abuses of power and ended up with full-blown justifications for authoritarian interpretations of Presidential power that would have made almost all conservatives of 40 years ago violently ill. 

    This acquiescence in presidential power reduced the old instincts of fearing government encroachment more generally; to build the political coalition, greater tolerance was extended to people who wanted to use the Beast for various “conservative” ends rather than kill it; under the influence of increasingly influential neoconservative arguments, streamlining and making the Beast “work” more effectively and efficiently became the rallying cry.  Big Government conservatism was simply the logical extension of this surrender to Leviathan. 

    Foreign policy, as the preserve of the executive, became more and more a defining feature of what “conservatism” meant, as those obsessed with foreign policy threats (real or imagined) joined themselves to the faction that exalted the powers of the Presidency and those who were already exalting the Presidency became preoccupied with foreign policy questions.  Conservatism somehow became identified with foreign policy activism during the Cold War, because to be an active internationalist was to be a good anticommunist (there were dissenters against this line of thinking, but they were rare), and this then morphed into a defense of superpowerdom itself.  No longer was it a heavy, but necessary burden borne to fight communism, but an embodiment of national strength and importance, which the increasingly nationalist elements in the movement considered to be obvious goods to be defended and expanded whenever possible.  Supporting American involvement overseas and American “leadership” became an extension of pride in one’s country, and so a reflexive identification with the goals of expanding U.S. power in the world followed, mixed together with the routine denunciations of those who would “blame America” for problems in the world, even if, in fact, America was partly responsible.  In this environment the old Taft skepticism of projecting power, deploying the military abroad and intervening in the affairs of other nations withered away or was consigned to the margins under the toxic, albeit completely misleading and false, label of “isolationism.”  FDR ceased to be the villain who pulled us into an unnecessary war, but the good President, beloved of neocons, whom Newt Gingrich praised in his first speech as Speaker of the House.  The conservatives’ pursuit of power had brought to power men who were not really conservative in any sense recognisable to the early figures of the movement, and once in power many of the remaining real conservatives themselves began to become delirious with its effects.  Foremost among the symptoms of this delirium was the unremitting, general enthusiasm for military action and warfare as the primary solutions to foreign policy problems, which even as recently as the 1990s they had viewed more skeptically (only, of course, because the President was from the wrong party, but at least the adversarial system of divided power seemed to be working).  Support for the Iraq war was one of the clearest symptoms of incipient madness, and those who have not recovered from the fullness of this fever have wound up becoming ever-more frighteningly unhinged in their rhetoric.

    As the chosen vessel of the movement, the GOP, long closely tied to corporations, tapped into the small-town, small-business and small-government ethos of its voters to achieve political success, but retained its older loyalties that ultimately ended up defining the leadership’s positions on immigration and trade for a generation.  There is now loud dissent on immigration, at least, but not on much else, since the GOP and the movement alike made corporations into the virtuous actors of the beneficent workings of the market, and during the Cold War, particularly its latter stages, to be weak in your enthusiasm for corporate capitalism was to demonstrate a lack of confidence in the American way of life.  The perversions of conservatism have been around for long time, and many took place over 20 years ago but they have only lately borne their full crop of rotting fruit. 

    “People” in this case is Afghans who lived under the Taliban and now appear to welcome it back. Between 1996, when the Taliban took Kabul, and 2001, when the U.S. effected a quick and apparently decisive military victory in reaction to 9/11, the Taliban was in complete control. The nightmare datum in modern times is that people who have had such experiences as living under the Taliban — where it is all but a capital offense to be born a girl — should, having been liberated from it, move back in the direction of revived life in pain. It is as if in 1950 the German people had drifted back toward life under Nazism. ~William Buckley

    Via Hit and Run

    This is a nightmare for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, but should we be all that surprised?  The Taliban’s rule was brutal, indeed apparently sadistic in some instances, but it provided the sort of order that Afghans in 1996 desperately craved after 17 years of war.  This is not what I would call “good order,” obviously, but it was a kind of order, and in Afghanistan beggars could not be choosers.  It is no surprise that Afghans in the southern provinces, who are tied to members of the Taliban by tribe and ethnicity, should welcome them back when they return; in societies where tribes are the main organisations, these bonds are more important than almost anything.  Besides, when the fanatics with guns roll into town, would you be more likely to grumble and resist or make displays of approval and satisfaction at their arrival? 

    The “life in pain” that the Taliban promises is certainly the product of unjust rule, but that rule is at least predictable after a fashion, and men will endure almost anything to be spared chaos.  For many Afghans, if they did not step outside the very strict boundaries the Taliban set, 1996-2001 was not so much a “life in pain” as a dreary, but slightly less chaotic life.    

    A couple ways to deprive the Taliban of some of its popular appeal would be: don’t eradicate the crops of the people whom you wish to free from Taliban sympathies, since this achieves nothing so much as the strengthening of the Taliban’s appeal (as it has done with FARC in Colombia); provide a modicum of public order and security that takes away some of the value of the Taliban’s harsh law-and-order regime.  You do want to prevent opium money from funding the Taliban, which would involve securing more of the countryside and keeping them firmly ensconced in Pakistan, where they would remain but would have limited ability to undermine the regime in Kabul.  If we are for some reason unwilling or unable to do this, the Taliban will re-emerge as a real menace and become a relatively effective fighting force, perhaps even someday retaking Kabul. 

    Of course, tribal loyalties and religious sympathies will not be entirely overcome, nor should we expect them to be or even really want them to be.  They are part of the native culture, and to uproot these elements removes what basic structures there are that might support a stable, relatively orderly society.  There are things that Mr. Bush can do, and he can start by focusing on what Afghanistan needs, which is not sermons on freedom or elections, but order, basic infrastructure, services and some kind of economic activity that does not involve fueling the heroin trade.  We do not have an indefinite period of time to fix this aimless Afghanistan policy; the longer we remain, the less credible it will seem to ordinary Afghans that we intend to leave, and the more difficult it will be to prevent a general uprising against Karzai and the NATO mission.  I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I suspect that we have no more than three years to make significant progress or we lose Afghanistan entirely and wind up with much the same problem we had in the first place.     

    What is immediately in the news is the resurgence of Taliban power. Substantial Taliban elements are attempting to reinstitutionalize the articles of orthodoxy in their Muslim Wahhabi faith, which includes chopping off the fingers of women caught using nail polish. And Afghans, especially in the southern provinces, have been observed welcoming these moves toward a restoration of the Taliban. ~William Buckley

    In a generally glum assessment of the situation in Afghanistan (for even gloomier assessments, see this week’s Economist leader and article), Buckley makes this statement.  Now what’s wrong with it?  Nothing, except that the Taliban are not, by and large, Wahhabis.  That is a term normally reserved for Arabs, usually Saudis, and the people who are exposed to Saudi-funded Islamic schooling who adhere to the Islamic revivalist tenets of Wahhab. 

    Pashtun tribesmen in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a large percentage of Pakistanis and a majority of the Taliban typically follow the Deobandi school, which is similar to modern Wahhabism and, separately, the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, intellectual godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood, in its fundamentalism and anti-Western impulses, but it is not the same thing.  It is a phenomenon specific to Indian and Pakistani Islam and it is not some latter-day, exceptional branch that is unrelated to the main body of Islam in Pakistan, nor is it a foreign import of recent vintage, but is the main trunk of Pakistani Islam: 

    The Deobandi interpretation holds that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his religion and only then to the country of which he is a citizen or a resident; secondly, that Muslims recognise only the religious frontiers of their Ummah and not the national frontiers; thirdly,that they have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country to wage jihad to protect the Muslims of that country.

    The Deobandi interpretation of Islamic teachings is widely practiced in Pakistan. The Deobandi movement in Sunni Islam, was founded in response to British colonial rule in India and later hardened in Pakistan into bitter opposition to what its members views as the country’s neo-colonial elite. The Islamic Deobandi militants share the Taliban’s restrictive view of women, and regard Pakistan’s minority Shiia as non-Muslim. They seek a pure leader, or amir, to recreate Pakistani society according to the egalitarian model of Islam’s early days under the Prophet Mohammed. President Musharraf himself, is a Deobandi, actually born in the city in India, where the school took it’s name. 

    The tremendous influence of this understanding of Islam, dominating Pakistan as it does, is something that must be grasped if we are to have realistic goals of combating enemies such as the Taliban. 

    Of course, Al Qaeda Wahhabis who worked with the Taliban in the past and received sanctuary from them do collaborate with these Deobandis, but they are still clearly distinct, albeit interrelated, groups with their own traditions.  Wahhabism and “Deobandism” have become interconnected and Taliban Deobandis have been influenced by Wahhabi ideas, yes, but it remains the case that they are not, strictly speaking, the same. 

    Perhaps someone will say that I am being too pedantic here, but it seems to me to be important that we strive for precision not only so that we do not lump together groups and regimes that have nothing to do with each other under generic, misleading names of “Islamic fascist,” but so that we have a clear sense of the distinctions and cleavages between different movements within Sunni Islam that will at the very least make it easier to understand what we’re up against and possibly to recognise any fault-lines that might someday be exploited.  Presumably you would not try to understand conflict in the Balkans without appreciating basic historical differences between Croat and Serb, Catholic and Orthodox (unless your name is Madeleine Albright), so you also would presumably not want to try to understand Islamic militancy in South and Central Asia without even having command of the necessary vocabulary of different forms of Sunni Islam.  

    The newest stupid term to refer to religious people are “fascists” is predictable enough: theofascist.  It takes all that is absurd from the liberal hysteria about creeping theocracy in America and mixes it with most of what is absurd about talk of “Islamofascism,” and gives you a word that means absolutely nothing.  

    I will keep stating this for as long as it takes: fascists are not extremely or even moderately religious people (their turn to find meaning in the nation and the state is their remedy for a world that seems deprived of transcendent meaning and if historic fascists were nominally Christians, their Christianity was almost always purely conventional and had essentially nothing to do with their fascism), and extremely and even moderately religious people are not fascists.  Fascism is a political religion, which means that it replaces and subsumes whatever religious loyalties a fascist may have had.  You do not exalt the nation-state into a virtual deity if you still have strong faith in the real Deity; you do not treat political leaders as if they were prophets and saviours unless you have already given up on real prophets and your real Saviour.  There is no such thing as Hanson’s “religious fascism” or this so-called ”theofascism,” either here or anywhere else in the world, because it is a contradiction in terms.  The absurdity of “theofascist” illuminates the absurdity of “Islamofascist,” as they are both absurd and wrong for exactly the same reasons; the former simply happens to reveal just how empty the word fascist is, since here it clearly functions as nothing more than a word used to demonise and distort.  This is one of the things I don’t understand about the recourse to words such as “Islamofascist.”  Aren’t the jihadis‘ crimes and villainies already demonic enough without this talk of fascists?  Must we fall back on this laziest and most inaccurate of labels to work up sufficient contempt for what they represent?    

    There’s no evidence Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida associates, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democrats said the report undercuts President Bush’s justification for going to war.

    The declassified document being released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war. ~AP

    Via Antiwar

    I have never believed in any such connection, and it is discouraging that it took four years and a Senate investigation to confirm what common sense should have been telling everyone all along.  This is why I tend to be skeptical these days when people say, “The government knows things we don’t.”  It is likely that they know things we don’t, but it also seems clear that many people in government, especially the higher-ups, have horrendous judgement in using whatever knowledge they do have and, in some cases, the average guy who regularly reads the newspaper might well know almost as much about a country where we have no human intelligence as the CIA analysts working on that country. 

    The part that first gave it away for me was the claim that Zarqawi had had one of his legs amputated in Baghdad, which proved, you see, that Hussein and Al Qaeda were close allies.  You could just see the great terrorist mastermind hobbling all over the Near East, couldn’t you?  Except that it never made any sense.  Of all the places a crazed Salafist terrorist might go for medical attention, he went to Baghdad, then the center of Baathism?  No, it was too preposterous.  Then it turned out later that Zarqawi seemed to have two very whole, functioning legs (which we later saw in his almost self-parodying videos), which should have told us all back in 2004 that the entire story about Zarqawi’s relationship with the Iraqi government was the result of either badly sourced intelligence or out-and-out fabrications. 

    One of the ways you could tell that it was a fabrication was the shakiness of the nature of the Iraqi regime’s “collaboration” with al Qaeda.  The collaboration was proved mostly simply by the presence of Ansar al Islam in Kurdish Iraq (outside of Hussein’s effective control), which again made no sense.  Iraq’s government could not be ”harbouring” terrorists on territory it did not control–was the Northern Alliance “harbouring” Al Qaeda, too, since they claimed to be the legitimate government of Afghanistan?  To claim that Iraq’s government ”harboured” Ansar al Islam was to lie, because anyone with a map could see that it was impossible, but they were counting on an ignorant public and a quiescent, servile Congress to go along because of the “seriousness” of the threat.  It’s rather like the man who makes a spurious accusation against someone, but then demands that he defend himself because of the “seriousness” of the charge. 

    Then there was the other snag: if true, it would mean that Kurdish Islamists were working with the Mukhabarat.  They would have had two reasons to despise Hussein, one because they were Kurdish and the other because they were Islamists.  The idea that they had a working relationship in any meaningful sense was laughable.  But the administration swallowed it, Powell said it and apparently a lot of Americans were fooled.  Will the public be holding Mr. Bush’s feet to the fire over this manifest deception?  I won’t be holding my breath.  Nobody of any political importance saw fit to challenge him on it when it mattered, so who will be bothered about it now?

    By a 45% to 32% margin, more Americans believe that the best way to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks on the U.S. is to decrease, not increase, America’s military presence overseas. This is a stark reversal from the public’s position on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In the summer of 2002, before serious public discussion of removing Saddam Hussein from power had begun, nearly half (48%) said that the best way to reduce terrorism was to increase our military involvement overseas, while just 29% said less involvement would make us safer. ~Pew Research Center

    Via Jim Lobe

    Of course, the biggest changes have taken place among Democrats and independents.  Republicans remain more committed to interventionism, but they are less committed than they were four years ago:

    The views of Republicans on this issue have been more stable. The percentage of Republicans saying an increasingly robust overseas military U.S. presence will be more effective in countering terrorism has fallen from 58% to 45% over the past four years. However, just 30% of Republicans say a smaller overseas military presence would be more effective, up only modestly from 2002 (22%).

    One third vs. one half isn’t what we’d like to see, but it’s a start.  In any case, Iraq has severly weakened the appeal of interventionism across the board, though obviously the opposition party and those not attached to either party would naturally be more inclined to turn away from the kind of foreign policy currently on offer.  The main question now is how to translate this newfound opposition to intervention into practical opposition to the efforts to precipitate a war with Iran.

    But the analogy with the Spanish Civil War does not depend on the existence of an unrestrained military struggle between Iraqi factions. The Spain-Iraq parallel contains a deeper lesson for the present. The Spanish Civil War was the first major example of the modern phenomenon of proxy wars, in which local clashes are exploited, and third countries torn apart, in the competition between regional and global alliances. Spain was not a simple war of conquest and pillage, like the contemporaneous Japanese invasion of China and Italian assault on Ethiopia. Rather, Spain represented a confrontation between the politics of the past, represented by Franco, and the politics of the future, embodied in a confused but nonetheless genuine Republic. ~Stephen Schwartz, The Weekly Standard

    Schwartz miya is the perfect messenger for likening the cause of hegemonists with that of the Soviet-backed Republicans: as a Jewish convert to Islam and an apologist for Islamists in Uzbekistan, there is not so much obvious contradiction in his admiration for the Republic and hatred for Franco as, say, in Catholic Mario Loyola’s effusive praise of the left’s “finest hour.”  It is telling that a contributor to the Standard sees socialists who became tools of Soviet foreign policy as representatives of the “politics of the future”–the politics of the future evidently involve the murder of innocents, including clergy and nuns.  But how did that future work out for the Republicans and the Soviets?  Now, by “politics of the future” Schwartz miya probably disingenuously means parliamentary democracy or whatever it is that he thinks that the Republic represented between 1936-38. 

    Of course, “the future authorizes every kind of humbug,” as Camus said, and people who prattle on about the “politics of the future” should be watched closely.  Those who believe that there is a recognisable ”politics of the past” and a similarly recognisable ”politics of the future” believe that history is tending towards some discernible end and follows a discernible pattern; in this vision, the wise people side with “the future,” and fools and madmen side with the past. 

    That’s nice, except that the you-know-who believed they were establishing a New Order; the you-know-who loved Futurism and were confident that they represented the “politics of the future”–people who use language like this often come a cropper when the future actually arrives and disabuses them of their fantasies and premonitions of long-lasting success. 

    But what could be a more obvious way of arguing to persevere in Iraq than to compare our side in Iraq to the side of the…losing side in the Spanish Civil War?  Brilliant.  That will rally everyone to the cause!  Now assuming for a moment that this parallel wasn’t a load of twaddle from an old communist who even now is clearly captivated by the mythology of the Republican cause (though he makes the necessary acknowledgements that this cause was not “stainless”), what would this parallel tell us? 

    It tells us that the so-called “politics of the past” won in Spain but lost everywhere else anyway.  It highlights that the connection between the fighting in Spain/Iraq was only provisionally and marginally connected to the larger, later war with which it was frequently associated, and demonstrates that in the larger war Spain/Iraq remains neutral.  It means that even if the modern equivalent of Franco won in Iraq in this preposterous comparison, Iraq would not be a real threat to us, but would eventually turn around and become our ally in the next great struggle against…well, we’ll invent that enemy when we get to that point.  That is, unless we are playing the role of the Soviets, in which case we will win the larger war but later find Iraq allying with our former allies from the struggle against the jihadis.  But in any case this parallel means that ”we” could lose in Iraq and still win the larger war.  Besides being rather despicably pro-communist, the analogy doesn’t even accomplish the dubious propaganda goal Schwartz miya sought to achieve.  

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, we see that the “politics of the future” did not have much of a future for a very long time in Spain itself, until the Generalissimo saw fit to bring back the monarchy and pave the way for a democratic restoration.  One can only wonder what the post-1945 European world would have looked like if the Second Republic had prevailed and was either subjected to German devastation and invasion or later became a pupil of Moscow.  Europe would likely have been worse off, and I have no doubt that Spain would have been worse off.

    But the absurdities don’t end there, folks.  Next we learn:

    Spain, like Iraq, was a country without a firm national identity. In Spain, the Castilian aristocracy controlled the state, most of the tax income, the army, and the Catholic Church–the latter an ideological pillar of the old order. As if cast from an identical historical mold, Iraq long suffered under the corrupt and brutal rule of the Sunni elite, which used its clerical wing to help maintain its power.

    Like Iraq, Spain lacked a firm national identity, he tells us.  What a laugh!  Now it is true that there have long been strong regional traditions and privileges in Spain dating back to the medieval roots of the several kingdoms in Iberia, but in spite of these Castilian culture and language did come to prevail as the dominant ones in the nation, particularly in the post-1808 era, in a way that has no parallel in a country invented arbitrarily by colonialists.  Spanish nationalism obviously grew stronger after 1938, but we would be kidding ourselves if we pretended it did not exist in some form before that.  If we doubt it, ask Napoleon. 

    If Castilian culture served as the definition of Spanish culture, just as the English did when constructing British identity, the Parisians with the French and the Prussians with the German, it was nonetheless based in something substantial; Iraq is a nation in search of a nationality.  The sectarian supremacy of Sunnis cannot reasonably be compared to the regional precedence of Castile. 

    Spain was the product of the union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon and gradually acquired a more common national identity over the centuries.  In any case, even if it was not as much of a centralised state with a consolidated national identity such as France started to acquire in the 19th century Spain cannot seriously be compared to the ramshackle nation of Iraq.  To make such a comparison is to be willfully blind to the mountain of differences that separates them.

    But the parallel gets even more carried away:

    Iraq’s Shia majority resembles the Spanish anarchists–there are many of them, they are militant, and they often seem to have no friends. So the Iraqi Shias, like the Spanish left, are enticed into a dangerous courtship with a totalitarian suitor: Iran plays the role in Basra that Russian Stalinism had in Barcelona.

    Should we start calling them Islamoanarchosyndicalists now?  Somehow the Monty Python skit just wouldn’t be as funny if Dennis the peasant said, “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from Allah, not from some farcical electoral ceremony!”  I like how Schwartz miya makes it seem as the Shia in Iraq are been forced into cooperating with Iran because of circumstances, as if SCIRI and the Badr Brigade had not all along been cooperating with Tehran in full view of everyone.  But now I’m confused–if Iran is the Soviet Union in this delusional fantasy, which part is America playing?  Or do we play ourselves and stay out of Spain/Iraq?  I’m trying to see how this parallel does anything but reduce the neocon position on Iraq to dust.  

    But if Iran is the Soviet Union fighting for the “politics of the future,” and are therefore presumably the sorts of people that we should want to see win, why would we then treat Iran as if it were on the side of the “politics of the past”?  Perhaps it would better if we shelved bad historical analogies and dealt with the realities at hand. 

    Baghdad’s morgue almost tripled its count for violent deaths in Iraq’s capital during August from 550 to 1,536, authorities said Thursday, appearing to erase most of what U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders had touted as evidence of progress in a major security operation to restore order in the capital. ~The Washington Post

    There was progress being made in those neighbourhoods that the U.S. forces were able to lock down and secure more thoroughly–as always, we are drawn back to the fundamental lack of sufficient numbers of soldiers to explain almost everything that has gone wrong security-wise–but this sort of treatment was impossible for most of a huge city of six million people.  What American soldiers accomplished in the neighbourhood of Dura–and they really did accomplish increased security–would be equivalent of focusing intense attention on Hyde Park and leaving the rest of Chicago with relatively little security.  Unsurprisingly, the rest of Chicago would suffer and make up the difference in the gains made in Hyde Park.

    Iraq is not Spain in the 1930s or America in the 1860s, but whether the phrase “civil war” is to be used is irrelevant. The relevant question is, can we still win, meaning can we leave behind a functioning, self-sustaining, Western-friendly constitutional government? ~Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post

    In an article entitled (I kid you not), “Iraq: A Civil War We Can Still Win” (how do you win a civil war in someone else’s country?) Krauthammer poses this question to us.  And the answer is today the same answer that you would have had if you asked the question four years ago, before the war ever started: no, we cannot.  Why?  Because the chances of leaving behind a “functioning, self-sustaining, Western-friendly constitutional government” were always somewhere between nil and zero. 

    This is not a frivolous answer or one that comes only from the wisdom of hindsight: people who knew what they were talking about doubted that this was ever possible from the get-go, and they were routinely ignored or mocked as apologists for despotism and worse.  People who didn’t understand that supported the war; people who still don’t understand that still support the war and will keep on supporting it forever

    This is why the public should not listen to people who cannot fathom that it is not possible to create a “functioning, self-sustaining, Western-friendly constitutional government” in Iraq.  We could, I suppose, dispute whether it ever was remotely possible, if everything had gone right and if the planning had been much, much better, but if we are talking about the way things are now it seems hard to deny that it is no longer possible.  The odds were always around 10,000 to 1, and have since become worse.  In light of that, leaving Iraq to its unfortunate fate seems the least awful of the possible options.

    Later in the article Krauthammer strikes an odd note for him, which makes him sound like all those “appeasers” he has castigated for years:

    The vast majority of Sunnis are fighting not for ideology but for a share of power and (oil) money. A deal with them is eminently possible and could co-opt enough Sunnis to greatly shrink the insurgency.

    What, make a deal?  Negotiate with terrorists?  Krauthammer clearly doesn’t understand that we are fighting Islamofascistsynidcalistcommunists! 

    Unusually for him, this suggestion makes a fair amount of sense, and if it had been tried three years ago it might have worked.  I think we are well beyond the point where these sorts of bribes will accomplish much.  The Iraqi government is, thanks to the wonders of participatory democracy, hostage to Sadr’s goons, and Sadr’s goons are indeed the main problem at the moment.  Should Americans be fighting and dying for Sadr’s right to kill Sunnis?  I think not.  The course of action is clear: a timely, orderly withdrawal from Iraq in short order.  Only those hopelessly inured to this war or incapable of admitting their own arrogant mistakes keep refusing to take that route.

    Finally, while we can have an interesting discussion about questions like the role of unions in wage inequality, or the role of lax regulation in exploding C.E.O. pay, there is no question that the policies of the current majority party — a party that has held a much-needed increase in the minimum wage hostage to large tax cuts for giant estates — have relentlessly favored the interests of a tiny, wealthy minority against everyone else. ~Paul Krugman, The New York Times

    I’m sure that we are all shocked (shocked!) to find the Republicans working in the interests of corporations and the moneyed interest.  That would be so…entirely in keeping with their entire history as a party.

    The short history of the Iraq war is that the Sunnis in Iraq, and in the nearby Arab states, refused to accept one man, one vote, because it meant bringing the Shiite majority to power in Iraq for the first time. The Sunni mainstream, not the minority, believes Shiites are lesser Muslims and must never be allowed to rule Sunnis. Early in the Iraq war a prominent Sunni Arab leader said to me privately, “Thomas, these Shiites, they are not real Muslims.” ~Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

    But of course a minority sect would not want to endorse majority rule in a country that has no experience with democratic practise.  That was basic and obvious from day one.  What sane Sunni would want to empower his sectarian rivals?  To this Mr. Bush would reply, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims.”  Little wonder that we are in the sorry state that we are.

    Donald Rumsfeld demonizes war critics as “morally confused.” But it is the “moral confusion” at the heart of the Bush policy — a confusion between its important ends and insufficient means — that has hobbled us from the start. It truly, truly baffles me why a president who bet so much of his legacy on this project never gave it his best shot and tolerated so much incompetence. He summoned us to D-Day and gave us the moral equivalent of the invasion of Panama. ~Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

    Now Friedman left the “center” on Iraq some time ago, facing up to the grim realities (and conveniently ignoring his many, many predictions of various six-month waiting periods that that would tell us how things were going), but the intensity of his criticism of the administration is striking all the same.  The conclusion that one must eventually draw is that Mr. Bush does not really believe we are in a titanic battle or the “ideological struggle of the 21st century,” because no one who really believed this could be so indifferent to the numerous failures and poor decisions made in waging that struggle.  I will say more–he does not believe we are in such a struggle because we are not, and he does not have the imagination of a Newt Gingrich to really conjure up the image of an almost completely fictitious world war.  He needs to wrap up his policy failures in grandiose visions.  People who are liable to believe in grandiose visions–people such as Friedman–are baffled by the insufficient resources given to the Great Cause, who conclude that Bush must simply be incompetent.  Incompetent he certainly is, but someone who really believes he is fighting the Great Cause of his time  does not tolerate failure at any level.  That Mr. Bush privileges those who are loyal to him over the good of the Cause, whatever it is Friedman thinks such a Cause might be, tells us volumes about how seriously Bush takes the entire fight against jihadis and even the distinct, separate Iraq war.  He does not take it seriously, I think, because he does not really believe that the stakes are high at all.  But he needs us to believe that the stakes are high and the Cause is profound and of global significance, or else the public would rip him to shreds for what he has done to this country.

    Mr Blair has instead been encouraged to think that he can be as unfaithful as he likes, not just to Mr Brown but to the Labour Party as a whole. The Prime Minister has conducted liaison after liaison that has scandalised traditional Labour voters. Most notoriously, he conducted a passionate alliance, apparently a real affair of the heart, with George Bush, and marched British forces alongside the Americans into Iraq. ~Andrew Gimson, The Daily Telegraph

    The Blair-Brown divorce settlement sounds like a job that would be too difficult even for the arbitration talents of the guys from Wedding Crashers.

    If we did not have a lame-duck Prime Minister before yesterday, we have one now. Any leader worth his salt would have faced down Mr Brown and invited him to leave the Government if he did not accept the Prime Minister’s authority. That Mr Blair was unable to do so is ample testimony to the extent to which his power has ebbed away. ~The Daily Telegraph

    President Bush today finds himself in precisely the same dilemma Lincoln faced 144 years ago. With American survival at stake, he also must choose. ~Newt Gingrich

    Gingrich, like Lincoln and unlike real conservatives, doesn’t like the “quiet dogmas of the past,” but prefers the loud, obnoxious dogmas of his delusions.  Who really believes that “American survival” is on the line?  These people must simply be in awe of the jihadis or they have very little confidence in America.  Rather an odd position for the prophets of WWIII to be in, wouldn’t you say?

    Weldon initially introduced his proposal to the White House about a year ago, and has worked quietly behind the scenes to reach an agreement. But after 10 months of negotiations, Weldon is going forward on his own.

    “I’ve tried to do this quietly with the administration over the last nine or 10 months,” he said. “I’ve had meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, so now it’s time for me to do my job. I’m a legislator and I’ve put this in a legislative format.”

    Yet Weldon is adamant that he is in no way undermining the president. He said he supports Bush and the war in Iraq. In Weldon’s view, his legislation is necessary to assure voters that the decision on when to pull out of Iraq will not be driven by political considerations. ~The Hill

    Obviously if he is doing this on his own initiative now, the White House does not share his view that the legislation is necessary or desirable.  It sounds like they’ve been stringing him along for months to keep him from going public with the proposal, but couldn’t keep him from going ahead with his plan.  Prepare for the mass demonisation of Curt Weldon by every GOP flack there is.  It isn’t going to be pretty.

    The second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is a strong supporter of the U.S. military mission in Iraq, has drafted a resolution that would give military commanders — instead of President Bush or Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld — decision-making authority over when American troops should return home.

    Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), the vice chairman of the Armed Services panel and chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, told Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) Monday of his plans to introduce the resolution shortly. ~The Hill

    His challenger, Adm. Joe Sestak (Ret.), must be making Weldon nervous if he is willing to propose something as outlandish as this.  As you might expect, there are already those fretting about Seven Days in May all over again.  As I read this, this is about as powerful a no-confidence motion as any I have seen coming from the GOP side.  It announces that one of the leading Congressmen on the Armed Forces Committee has no confidence in the military judgement of the President or the Secretary of Defense, which is a roundabout way of saying that they are incompetent but saves him from having to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation or criticising Mr. Bush personally.  This is a surprisingly radical move, which smells of electoral desperation:

    “They determine the timetable for bringing the troops back home,” said Weldon of the commanders. “There’s no armchair politician back here making those decisions, whether it’s an elected member of Congress or even the secretary of the defense.”

    The resolution is a bold step and goes farther than what many Democrats have advocated. Earlier this year, 37 Senate Democrats voted for a resolution that instructed the president to speed up the transition of U.S. forces to a “limited presence,” but still left the timetable for withdrawal firmly in the president’s power. The Democratic amendment did not go so far as to empower generals to set criteria for departure.

    Think about that: no “armchair politicians” are wanted in the decisionmaking process, just the military men who know what they’re talking about (by implication, the civilians don’t know anything).  It sounds like somebody is suffering from a strain of Vietnam Syndrome.  But as far-out as it is, it provides Sestak with an unusual opening: to come out against this proposal to show that he believes in “civilian control of the military” (which is not actually in any real danger here, but which plays well with people who don’t pay much attention) and to paint Weldon as someone who is advocating an unusual or even irresponsible proposal in a bid to be re-elected. 

    Watch for the warbloggers to go insane when this comes to the floor; prepare for the “Et tu, Curt?” editorials from hawks at National Review; expect the pained cries of Democrats who warn against removing civilian control and oversight; brace yourselves for more bad Seven Days in May comparisons.  Behold as the GOP majority keeps going down in flames.

    Nonsense, perhaps—but nonsense that taps into a deep seam of nativism and negativism. If the 2002 mid-term elections were the “neoconservative moment” in American politics, the 2006 mid-terms are in danger of becoming the “paleoconservative moment”.

    This is bad news for the Republican Party. If a wall is erected against newcomers from south of the border, this will not only reverse the party’s gains among Hispanics—Mr Bush increased his Hispanic vote to around 40% in 2004—but will also drive a wedge between business Republicans, who support immigration, and social conservatives, who tend to oppose it. The danger of a Buchanan-style pitchfork rebellion from the party’s nativist wing in 2008 grows by the day. ~The Economist

    Of course The Economist’s editorial writer on American politics, the pseudonymous Lexington, will find fault with most of what Mr. Buchanan has to say, but more interesting is this recurring refrain of the “paleo moment.”  Somehow I always expected the “paleo moment” to involve quite a few more, well, paleoconservatives.  As I scan the political horizon, there is no one who is preparing to run for the GOP nomination in 2008, except probably Tom Tancredo, who even remotely begins to qualify as one, and the so-called “nativist wing” of the GOP also seems to be in most cases the strongest supporter of the administration on a lot of its other very non-paleocon policies.  It is almost comic to refer to the House members who have pushed for an enforcement bill against the Senate’s “comprehensive reform” surrender to amnesty as the “Buchananite wing of the Republican Party.”  If only the GOP caucus in the House were the “Buchananite wing”!  Wouldn’t that be something?  It is also about as likely as my election to the Throne of St. Peter.  This is not to disparage the House bill, which I think was generally a good bill and obviously much, much better than its Senate counterpart, but simply to say that securing the borders first has a much broader constituency than dedicated Buchananites and paleos (which is actually good news for paleos who are concerned about the parlous state of border security) and that it is a stunning exaggeration of paleo influence to claim that paleos somehow really dominate the House of Representatives on any issue.  I regard it as a real shame that they do not, but it is the unmistakable reality.  It is not surprising that foreign correspondents will make mistakes diagnosing some of the subtle differences in our politics, but this is not a small mistake–it is the equivalent of calling John Murtha a Kossack because he happens to also oppose the Iraq war.

    It is true that immigration has become a dominant issue among conservatives and Republicans, and it should be the case that paleoconservative recommendations on immigration policy should be prevailing in these circles, but it seems to be the case that for all the predictions of “paleo moments” in American politics there seem to be very few paleos out there to make the moment happen.  However, it is worth bearing in mind what Mr. Buchanan said in response to the earlier claim about ”the paleo moment” by Fred Barnes:

    What Barnes calls paleo-conservatism is the conservatism of the common man, rooted in tradition and wisdom born of experience. It is not the Big Government, open-borders, free-trade, interventionist, globaloney of the neo-cons and their Rebel in Chief.  

    So at the very least when observers begin worrying about “paleo moments,” we can take some consolation that what they are seeing is the expression of the common sense and patriotism of ordinary Americans.  It is perhaps another consolation that the only label they can think to attach to common sense and patriotism is paleoconservative.

    These days, I think the best hope for the action movie lies in atheletic low-budget wonders like Ong-Bak and District B13 and grimmer, more serious entrees like The Bourne Supremacy. Which is to say that I’m definitely going to be hitting up Tony Jaa’s awesome-looking The Protector this weekend, a movie that, incidentally, seems to be playing directly to the Daniel Larison/Pat Buchanan school of “blood and soil,” at least from this summary:

     

    His world shaped by ancient traditions, a young Thai fighter (Jaa) is called upon to defend his people and their honor after outsiders invade their home and destroy all that is sacred.

     

    Because really, kids, when push comes to shove—or in this case, knee comes to face—who doesn’t love a paleocon-friendly Thai martial arts flick? ~Peter Suderman

    The Protector does indeed sound tempting, but in the powerful Thai antiwar film Bang Rajan you find an even more intense version of the same themes of defending your people, your community and your land against foreign invasion (in this case, the unassisted defense of Siam by the villagers of Bang Rajan against the more advanced weaponry and superior numbers of the attacking Burmese army, c. 1767) plus a powerful indictment of the evils of warfare and imperialism.  It also has the advantage of being a fairly accurate recounting of the history of this invasion and serves as a paean to these patriotic Siamese heroes and thus also includes the important elements of “history and heroes” along with “blood and soil” to make this an important story of Siamese national identity. 

    So Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made a little splash with some of the jingoes when he refused to have the state provide any security escort for Khatami during his visit.  Now we are supposed to think that he is a Serious Candidate for President, because he managed to grandstand about the visit of a former Iranian president to Harvard.  Well, okay, if that’s what convinces people that someone ought to be taken seriously, then he is very serious. 

    But here’s something about the grandstanding (which is what it was) that I don’t understand: if Jiang Zemin or Mikhail Gorbachev, two former leaders of communist states not all together human rights-friendly, came over for a visit to the United States, for whatever reason, it seems unlikely that any governor would make any fuss over refusing to provide either of them with a security escort.  In fact, I suspect that the State Department and the White House would be positively mortified at a governor taking a position on the visit of a former foreign head of state, much less taking action to protest the visit.  Of course, it helps that our relations with Iran are so bad or nonexistent that it becomes irrelevant whether or not any governor made a protest like this. 

    Romney did this because there was no downside, except perhaps for some grumbling at Harvard, since hardly anyone here would consider it objectionable–because it is irrelevant–and it would have no adverse effect on U.S.-Iranian relations.  It was a completely risk-free pose to take, and it has the added advantage of impressing the warmongers and Persophobes in the GOP by showing his “resolve” against “Islamofascism” and so on.  But it didn’t take any resolve to do this, simply some easy political calculation and a cost-free decision.  Perhaps I am jaded about governors grandstanding about U.S. foreign policy, which is not, properly speaking, really their concern, since New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, continues to fancy himself the nation’s resident North Korea expert because of his grandstanding as Congressman when he went to North Korea to negotiate for the release of an American prisoner.  He seemed to spend more time jaunting around the world playing at being a diplomat than he did serving as a Congressman, but at least arguably he had some legitimate role as a Congressman to take an interest in foreign affairs.  When state and municipal officials decide that they’re going to take a stand on a foreign policy question, whatever it is, it is really the cheapest, easiest form of pandering, as it normally costs them nothing and probably works to win some domestic approval.  Normally I thought pandering was the sort of thing most people didn’t want from their politicians.  But I guess if you pander to Persophobia, that is admirable.      

    “I think history will show him to be the worst president since Ulysses S. Grant,” said Barbara Knight, a self-described Republican since birth and the mother of three. “He’s been an embarrassment.”

    In the heart of Dixie, comparisons to Grant, a symbol of the Union, are the worst sort of insult, especially from a Macon woman who voted for Bush in 2000 but turned away in 2004. ~CNN

    When Southern women are comparing Bush to the president who oversaw almost the entirety of Reconstruction, we can expect 2006 to be a very bad year for the Red Republicans:

    Republicans on the ballot this November have reason to worry. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that three out of five Southern women surveyed said they planned to vote for a Democrat in the midterm elections. With control of the Senate and House in the balance, such a seismic shift could have dire consequences for the GOP.

    There is a kind of nice symmetry at the prospect of the Republicans losing control in the South, just as they did in 1876-77.  This time, it may be the war that does them in:

    Nationally, the AP-Ipsos poll found that only 28 percent of women approve of Bush’s handling of the war. Bush did better in the South, but only slightly — just 32 percent of women in the region said they approve of his handling of the war.

     

    A military attack on Iran in the near future strikes me as extremely risky and potentially devastating. But negotiation with Savonarolas is equally insane. ~Andrew Sullivan

    Sullivan manages to combine bad historical analogy (15th century Florence was never anything like a Khomeinist theocracy), historical ignorance and his own contempt for traditional Christianity in one post.  Now if only he could have worked in “Christianist” somewhere, it would almost be his ideal post.  There are a few things about Savonarola that Sullivan (and quite a few other people like him) seems not to know: 1) he personally held no political power, and so cannot seriously be compared to Iranian theocrats; 2) he neither exhorted people to the use of violence, nor did he condone it (he was a Dominican friar, for goodness’ sake); 3) he was a strict moralist and reforming preacher who focused his sermons on the abuses of the Papacy under Alexander VI and the crimes of the Medici, two things which ought to make Savonarola into a kind of hero for someone like Sullivan, who cannot ever get enough of bashing his own hierarchy; 4) he was judicially murdered by his political enemies.  Sullivan manages here to show his ignorance about his own church’s history and conflates, as all anti-traditionalist bigots do, an inoffensive friar who combated moral laxity and political corruption with Muslim clerics who persecute and brutalise every religious dissident in sight. 

    He also happens to be wrong about the possibility of negotiating with the clerics in Iran, but that is really secondary to this expression of his own casual contempt for a decent Christian, who was not without his flaws, who attempted to reform the morals and politics of his time through the preaching of the Gospel.  Since Sullivan instinctively views any such attempt as the same as brutal persecution–it is fundamentalist, you see–he literally cannot discern the difference between a friar preaching a sermon and a theocratic state persecuting and killing dissidents.  I submit that, as usual, Sullivan has nothing serious to contribute when it comes to analysing the sanity or reasonableness of theocrats or traditionalists, because he has no sense that there is any difference between the Ayatollah and Savonarola. 

    As Eunomia’s success grows, the list of people to whom I owe this success necessarily grows ever longer.  As always, I am particularly indebted and grateful to Jon Luker, who continues to do me the service of providing the “space” for Eunomia gratis and was responsible for transferring the site–and my old Polemics posts–to the new Wordpress format.  Were it not for him, Eunomia as you know it would not exist, and I would not be pestering the world with my every opinion–but don’t blame him for that last part. 

    Next I owe special thanks to Michael Brendan Dougherty, a blogger of style and rare charm, who has opened many doors for this surly reactionary and who has also spread the word about Eunomia to a great many people.  Someone clever once said (I paraphrase) that a fanatic and a humourist are really two sides of one man, and that the fanatic and satirist are both necessary to rescue the world from its doldrums, and it is in precisely this sense that Michael provides the good humour, irreverence and joie de vivre that no doubt seems lacking here and provides the absolutely necessary complement to this blog.  Man was not meant only for fasting, akribeia and rigour, but also for joy and feasting, as fast and feast are part of the same sacred order and belong together.  In appreciation of Michael’s blog, let me say, as As Adam Wayne said to Auberon Quinn, “You have a halberd and I a sword, let us start our wanderings over the world.”  

    Michael is currently having a fundraising drive at his own blog, so go look at his attractively redesigned site, if you haven’t already, and perhaps you will see why it is the essential complement to Eunomia and thus why his work is worthy of your generous support.

    August was, by my standards, a monumental success, both in terms of productivity and readership.  With 406 posts last month, I dedicated my time to making this into what I believe has become a front-line blog for paleoconservative and traditional conservative ideas.  With over 5000 unique visitors and a significant boost to Eunomia’s Alexa ranking, August was far and away my most successful month, but it would not have been possible without the generous links and praise from many others whose own efforts deserve no less admiration and appreciation.  My sincere thanks go out to Steve Sailer, Rod Dreher, Clark Stooksbury, Chris Roach, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Mark Shea and Right Reason for a steady dose of links that have brought many new readers to this site, all of whom, I am hopeful, will continue to return to read more.  

    I must also thank Steve Sailer for an embarrassingly generous post praising this site, which has already brought an amazing number of new readers here, and express my appreciation to the equally generous words of Jeff Martin, who is a regular contributor at the group blog Enchiridion Militis to which I sometimes also contribute.  Thanks also to Josh Trevino for bringing me on board at EM, and Paul Cella for his encouragement and past links to Eunomia.

    Caleb Stegall and Scott Richert, two very supportive editors who have brought my work to publication at The New Pantagruel and Chronicles respectively, have continued to be extremely helpful in their steady encouragement of my writing.  Both magazines are excellent publications, and if you are not reading tNP or subscribing to Chronicles you are missing out on some of the best writing on moral, cultural, religious and political topics in the country.

    The list of others who have contributed to building up Eunomia in one way or another is fairly lengthy, so I will put down some of the names without any further comment. If I happen to leave someone out, it is an unintended omission and not a commentary on the value of your contribution or a measure of my appreciation.  Thanks to Dan McCarthy, Jim Antle, A.C. Kleinheider, Andrew Cunningham, Joshua Snyder (The Western Confucian), Leon HadarJames PoulosPithlord, Prof. Arben FoxKevin Michael Grace, Kevin Jones, GlaivesterJohn Theresa, Dennis DaleCarey Cuprisin, Mild Colonial Boy, the Russian Dilettante, Jeremy Abel, Andrew CusackM.Z. Forrest, Timothy Carney, Gene HealyJ.L. Barnard, and Peter Klein

    Thanks are also due to Peter Suderman for the many links he has provided and for our many engaging and, I hope, generally friendly disputations.  

    Finally, thank you to all my many readers from around the globe who have made Eunomia something of a small success.  I hope that I am able to continue to provide the kind of worthwhile and intelligent commentary that you expect.

    If you find nothing else from Pessimism interesting or persuasive, I ask you to consider the simple wisdom of the following lines from Dienstag’s Afterword (alas, yes, our journey through Pessimism is nearing its end, but all things must come to an end):

    We are each given one human life with no promise as to how much light or darkness it may contain.  Nor is there any promise that turning ourselves toward the light or the darkness will make us free and happy.  Freedom and happiness exist, occasionally they are even visible–but they do not exist as the “solution” to a “problem” any more than do the sun and the moon.  The coexistence of freedom and happiness is like the appearance of the sun and moon in the same portion of the sky, and effected by similar means.

    NYT lists FL-22 (currently held by Republican E. Clay Shaw) as a toss-up, as opposed to the Evans-Novak Political Report, which says the district leans to the GOP.  But I predict that possible weak conservative turnout for Harris and GOP gubernatorial candidate Crist (a social moderate) could hurt Shaw’s chances of re-election and unexpectedly cost the Republicans a seat from Florida.  His challenger Ron Klein at least appears well-funded.

    NYT lists Heather Wilson, who is unfortunately my Congresswoman, in NM-1 as being in a toss-up race with Attorney General Patricia Madrid, while Evans-Novak says that it leans to the GOP.  Local polls have Wilson at 45% to Madrid’s 42%, which shows vulnerability for the incumbent.  Admittedly, NM-1 has never been won by a Democrat since the new redistricting, but it is a fairly evenly divided district.  Even after Madrid sabotaged a federal corruption investigation against former State Treasurer Vigil by indicting the immunised witnesses on state charges, she does not seem to be suffering undue public backlash.  New Mexicans, including this New Mexican, want her gone and they are just waiting for a sign that Madrid is not completely incompetent.  We are still waiting.  But look for Wilson’s numbers to be a good indicator of the overall trends this year.

     

    The inability to keep the past alive is the truly reactionary feature. -Ortega y Gasset

    Here Ortega puts his finger on something that is often misunderstood.  True reverence for the past is not the same thing as wishing for its return.  To feel the past as part of oneself is to know it is alive, ever-changing in relation to the self that necessarily alters as it passes through time.  It is only those who have no real connection to the past who can view it as something unchanging, because it is something outside them. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    Indeed, it is only those disconnected from the past who believe that they can keep replaying the same episodes from the past and acting as if the past were recurring again and again (e.g., those who always think it is 1938); only those who hate the past would diminish it by imagining its continual recurrence in the present.  The reactionary loves the past as he loves a long-lost lover–he does not love her any less because she is unobtainable and gone forever, but indeed loves her all the more because she will never return.  He does not wish for her return, because her return is unnecessary for love to endure.  Though lovers perish, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion.

    It [pessimism] is a freedom to dissent in a society where every kind of optimism (even the supposedly radical, such as communism) is a kind of assent to what you have been taught.  It is a freedom to cut yourself loose from a project that everyone insists you participate in. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    Indeed, it would be quite impossible for newspapers to exist and be profitable if they performed as their critics believe, that is, depressing us with a constant bewailing of our state.  After a short time, no one would be able to bear them.  Instead, every morning our papers deliver to us a subtle encouragement to persist, as our morning prayers once did….Not too much, of course; for if the promise was too great, its emptiness would soon become readily apparent.  Rather, we are comforted every day by a report of the world’s Daily Progress.  The progress must be almost immeasurably small, to be sure,since, like a constant flurry of snow, it is recorded every day but never seems to accumulate. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    Pessimism is the philosophy that can never crown itself king.  To be king, to be master of every circumstance–that is what pessimism teaches as unattainable.  Whatever modesty they profess, whatever authority they disclaim, optimisitc philosophies secretly find this impossible to accept, which is why pessimism has found it necessary to appear before them as a jester. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    Optimism makes us perpetual enemies of those future moments that do not meet our expectations, which means all future moments.  It is when we expect nothing from the future that we are free to experience it as it will be, rather than as a disappointment. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    One could imagine a perspective in which nothing in particular was reliable, in this world, but which the world as a whole was comprehensible.  Such a view might mimic many of the effects of pessimism without really embracing it.  Augustine, for example, could be viewed in this way.  Indeed, many Augustinians are today called “Christian pessimists.”  They consider that this world is fundamentally disordered, that it will always contain evil, and cannot be set right, except, perhaps, by God at the Last Judgment.  Nonetheless, this terrible world can be viewed from elsewhere–its existence is part of a larger cosmology that also includes the heavenly city.  Although particular evils cannot be fathomed, the phenomenon of evil as a whole can be understood.  It shall be understood when one leaves the city of man for the city of God, either in this life, or the next.  Thus Augustine mimics (indeed foreshadows) many of the conclusions of pessimism–but always with the escape hatch of another world, where the effects of time are not felt. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    It is fair to say that I have been taking a strong interest in Dienstag’s study of pessimism because I hold such Christian pessimist premises.  In the final analysis, as far as these pessimists themselves would be concerned, I am not a thoroughgoing pessimist, because I retain the hope of salvation in Christ.  Obviously there is a certain unbridgeable difference here, but there are also many fascinating points of contact in a shared ascetic detachment and, if not exactly a contemptus mundi (pessimists would not have contempt for the world, but simply take it for what it is), an understanding that nothing lasts in this world. 

    But, even if pessimists see Christian pessimists as mimics, both together share much in their recognition of the world as it is.  Even if pessimists see their Christian counterparts as retaining an “escape hatch” in God and the Kingdom not of this world, both share the conviction that man’s predicament is not soluble–at least not by human agency.  For the pessimists, man’s predicament is not to be solved at all, but accepted and borne; for the Christians, the predicament is solved only in Christ, but the structures of life in the world must still be borne all the same.  

    A key difference between the pre-modern and modern man, as Chantal Delsol proposed in Icarus Fallen, is that modern man sees problems to be solved, but pre-modern man sees burdens to be borne.  The pessimist, though no less a child of modernity than the optimist, shares far more with this pre-modern mentality (and with a Christian understanding of suffering) than he does with his fellow moderns. 

    And yet the really terrifying thing is that Blair seems to share the assumptions behind the Downing Street memo. He wants to go out with that sensation of triumph. He wants the laurels on his brow, and the captive tribesmen manacled before his chariot, and the matrons ululating his name from the rooftops.

    In his indifference to reality, he is chilling, Neronian. This is no longer about the interests of the country. It is not even about the Labour Party. It is all about him, his desire to prosecute his long-running feud with Gordon Brown, and his vainglorious desire to be well remembered — to have a “legacy”.

    Well, it is not a good enough reason to remain in office. The point of being prime minister is to serve the interests of the country, not himself. It is obvious that Blair intends to spend his last year simply luxuriating in power, while all 3,000-odd government spin édoctors (or as many as remain loyal) squander untold millions burnishing his image.

    It is a disgraceful project, and it must be prevented. I say this with no selfish, strategic or party objective. In fact, from the Tory point of view, it would be ideal if he stayed on and on and on. Blair has the distinction of bringing civil war not just to Iraq, but also to the Labour Party. It is quite stupefying that Siôn Simon MP — the man we all assumed would be Ney to Blair’s Napoleon — should revolt in this way. How many ministers and understrappers resigned yesterday, because their Prime Minister would not resign immediately himself? Was it six or seven? For 10 years, we in the Tory party have became used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing; and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party. ~Boris Johnson, The Daily Telegraph

    It’s no surprise that Blair is a raving egomaniac, surely, but it is amazing that he would jeopardise so much simply to have a victory lap through May 31, which is apparently the date by which he is going to resign.  He has managed to strongly alienate people in his own Cabinet and some of his long-time loyalists, and his ‘presidential’ style of leadership has finally left him with too many enemies.  On the other side, the precipitous attempt to push Blair out may have badly damaged Brown’s chances of succeeding to the leadership in that long-promised stable and orderly transition. 

    We miss out on this sort of political bloodsport, which is a pity for several reasons, not least because we have no ready mechanism to force out an incompetent or someone who has overstayed his welcome.  Our system allows for tremendous misrule, provided (in theory) that it is not actually criminal, while a parliamentary system, whatever other problems it might have, can severely punish political leaders who merely become too attached to their own importance and power or who make the wrong political move.   

    Secretary of State is drawing a parallel between the Iraq war and the Civil War. Both had their critics but both were justified, she says.

    In both cases, it was the right decision to fight and see the wars through, Rice, who is black and is from Alabama, said in an interview with Essence Magazine. ~AP

    Doe that mean that the government will shortly be arresting John Murtha and Russ Feingold as was done to Clement Vallandigham for uttering “disloyal” statements?  Does Secretary Rice intend to emphasise the aggressive and illegal nature of both wars by comparing them?  I would guess not.  But Rice, a “student of history” by her own frequent admission, just couldn’t stop:
    Rice, a former academic, said she spent the summer reading biographies of the Founding Fathers and said she was certain “there were people who thought the Declaration of Independence was a mistake” as well.

    Is she certain?  Really?  I suppose the Loyalists attacked by mobs, murdered, driven into exile and their property confiscated might have taken a dim view of the Declaration and what it stood for, yes, indeed.  But you have to have a few birth pangs, don’t you?

    As Michael Oakeshott put it: “Cervantes created a character in whom the disaster of each encounter with the world was powerless to impugn it as a self-enactment.”…The quixotic life is not thwarted by a lack of results; its value lies in the experience of freedom that it enacts.  That is why it is possible for the pessimistic ethic to persevere in the most adverse circumstances, when optimism has nothing to offer except an unfounded hope that is little more than wishful thinking.

    All narratives, as all lives, must end (”human affairs are not eternal but all tend ever downwards”)–this is the pessimistic knowledge that grounds Cervantes’s perspective.  But if we all face destruction at the hands of time, this need not convince us to resign ourselves prematurely.  Although in one sense, nothing about the world has been changed for the better by Quixote’s actions, his success consists in having led a life consistent with who he is.  Like Sisyphus with his stone, he has achieved dignity by accomplishing nothing.  Or rather, what he has accomplished is to have enacted the value of pessimism in the form of a quest.  He has made his life unpredictable, memorable,and narrativisable by bringing his life-practice into contact with the world.  And a small portion of the world responds by allowing itself to be inspired by this practice. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

    One of the best parts in Dienstag’s book is his chapter on Cervantes and Don Quixote, a work referenced by many of the major pessimists Dienstag studies.  In his telling, Dienstag mentions Quixote’s habit not of recounting specific teachings or codes of the knights-errant whom he is imitating, but instead tells stories.  That is perhaps what separates every truly humane person from an ideological one: the love of stories and the telling of stories to provide examples to follow, rather than programmatically reciting propositions, testing for ideological purity and uttering banal platitudes about the betterment of the world. 

    Every story has an end, and many endings are not happy, but the good endings have a certain integrity and dignity of an authentic life.  Meanwhile the wheel of alleged Progress grinds ever onward, like time, like the grindstones of the windmills in Don Quixote, never satisfying, never satisfied, always consuming and offering us little in exchange for what it extracts from our humanity.  The optimist tries to cheat time, to beat it at its own game through every scheme of improvement imaginable, whereas the pessimist takes time on its own terms, gets knocked off his horse and badly bruised, but shakes off what has happened and goes on to the next adventure. 

    The optimist would have the world be other than it is, and would have man become something other than what he is.  Pessimists and, I believe, Christians both seek for man to become what he is, though obviously the pessimists deny the Christians’ means of realising this and Christians typically reject the pessimistic rejection of all transcendence.  But what both tell us is that man can be transformed into who he truly is, made new, which is different from the optimistic view that man must inevitably keep becoming better and better in an unavoidable parade of unfreedom.  People who tell us that history has a direction steal from us the freedom that is “gained when one’s existence is detached from the narrative of progress.” (Dienstag, p. 198).   

    Optimists insist that reality is insufficient and that they will redress the imbalance; they want us and everyone in the world to become someone else.  But as Ortega y Gasset said, “A hero, I have said, is one who wants to be himself…Don Quixote…is a hero.”  Let us, then, tilt at windmills in the understanding that the only true despair, the most bitter illusion, is the expectation of making the world fundamentally different from what it really is and the hope of lasting victory in this world. Read the rest of this entry »

    As he has brooded over the Iron Lady’s career, Mr Blair has often declared – at least in private – his determination not to be driven from office as she was. What is so striking is that, for all the energy he has devoted to this strategy, the PM and his acolytes have been overwhelmed by political dynamics they seem unable to control. Precisely what he had hoped to avoid is now coming to pass. The symmetries with November 1990 grow more uncanny by the day.

    True, Labour is not consistently 20 points behind in the polls, as the Tories were 16 years ago. There is no domestic policy issue in 2006 to compare with the poll tax in 1990. There is no equivalent of Michael Heseltine poised for attack on the backbenches, Mr Brown having been no less assiduous a student of Tarzan and his mistakes. The procedure for deposing a Labour leader is so complex and so stacked in favour of the incumbent as to be virtually beyond deployment.

    Yet – as in 1990 – it is the fears of backbenchers, especially in marginal seats, that is driving the rush towards crisis. There are few species of panic as florid and inconsolable as the panic of an MP who thinks he or she is going to lose his or her seat because the party is stuck with the wrong leader. ~Matthew d’Ancona, The Spectator

    Students of political cynicism will recognise that the title is a quote from the opening line of House of Cards, the tale of the Machiavellian adventures of chief whip Francis Urquhart.  It is the political cynic’s guiding light in an age of excessive confidence in political leadership.  House of Cards was set at the end of the Thatcher era and portrayed how Urquhart, a loyal party functionary, turned against her successor when he was denied promotion and…well, I don’t want to give the whole thing away for those who haven’t seen it.  What I wonder is whether Labour will have an Urquhart who will sabotage and try to overthrow Brown once the Chancellor takes over.  As Mr. d’Ancona rightly notes, Brown’s tenure may very well become a repeat of the disastrous Major years.  Instead of that, Labour may well prefer to have a leader who comes in and puts a bit of stick about–which will mean, if Brown is smart (and he is smart), that the Blairites can look forward to having no influence in the future Government. 

    “Tonight is great victory for our party and for Florida,” Harris said. “It’s a great victory because it shows each of us we can overcome adversity to achieve extraordinary victories.” ~Forbes

    Harris must drink a lot of Starbucks coffee to remain this chipper, or perhaps this is just another aspect of her delusions.  How is it an extraordinary victory to win as the overwhelming favourite in a primary against three no-name challengers who have no political experience?  

    If there is anything that the Harris primary victory with 50% of the vote (20 points more than her closest challenger and 35 points better than the anointed candidate of all major state papers, former Adm. Collins) might show us, it is that name recognition will always matter more than what a candidate says (unless, apparently, he says ‘macaca’ while a camera is running), and there really may be no such thing as bad publicity.  However, the numbers for the general election suggest that crazy behaviour and sloppy comments will end up costing a candidate in the end. 

    The phrase “nation of immigrants” is surely one of the strangest phrases, and also one of the most ingenious rhetorical dodges, ever invented.  A nation is, literally from the Latin natio, a tribe or a people, and natio is the same word for birth, which implies that this is a tribe or people bound, as tribes normally are, by kinship.  Now it is possible for someone from outside a tribe to be adopted into it, but it is a contradiction in terms to speak of a “nation of immigrants,” unless one is describing an entire people that picked up and went to another country, since these immigrants have typically been overwhelmingly unrelated by kinship or, in many cases, even by ethnicity to the people that was already here.  To be a ”nation of immigrants,” being an immigrant would have to be the defining feature of everyone in the nation.  Whatever may have been true about great-granddad is not true of you, which means that you and most everyone around you are not part of any “nation of immigrants,” but of an American nation.   The ancient Israelites were perhaps such a “nation of immigrants,” but there are few other obvious examples. 

    The phrase is distinctly odd, since no nation today can correctly claim to be such a thing, as every people has been settled in more or less the same country for ages.  There are nations that have had a history of periodic large-scale immigration, and this is usually what is meant by the deceptive phrase “nation of immigrants,” though it has long been the case for most of the history of this country the immigrants were not constituting the nation but instead joined themselves, more or less, to the people that was already here.  If we spoke of a “nation of immigrants,” we might as well also speak of a “tradition of innovations” or a “constitution of amendments.” 

    But the reason why it is ingenious is that it forcibly identifies everyone in the debate–or at least everyone who concedes the use of the phrase–with the current immigrants.  If we are a nation of immigrants, this means that we are all immigrants, which ultimately means that we have no more right to this place than the new immigrants do, which is a manifest lie.  We do have more right to it, and will have at least until such time as we have been driven off the land, and perhaps our better claim will not cease even then. 

    Most peoples throughout history have created myths of heroic ancestors who first settled in a land and gave their name to it; most peoples will construct elaborate mythologies to establish their timeless claims to a piece of land.  With this preposterous rhetoric of being a “nation of immigrants” (who is responsible for this travesty of language?), Americans are among the few nations in the world who pride themselves on not being from the land that they live in and making no attempt to pretend otherwise.  That may have seemed clever when it allowed Americans to mock the Old World’s decrepitude and the New World’s possibilities, but now this attitude seems like a recipe for the eventual displacement of the nation and its recreation as something all together different.  Oh, granted, our grandchildren probably won’t see the final effects of that displacement, but if current trends continue they will see a large part of it.  It seems to me that no one can really look on with equanimity at the prospect of the gradual displacement of the peoples who fashioned this country–he is either dispirited at the prospect, or enthusiastic and chooses his policy options accordingly.

    There’s a couple ways to understand Ross’s talk of “common culture” and “national identity.” One way is illiberal, repugnant, and dangerous. According to the other way, our common culture and national identity is robust and not at all endangered.

    The stuff you’re toying with here is really poisonous, Michael. This is not conservatism. This is illiberal, authoritarian, nationalist collectivism, and there is almost nothing good to say on its behalf. Bad stuff. Bad bad bad. ~Will Wilkinson

    It is maddening to see the Minutemen stringing barbed-wire along the Mexican border because that is an attempt to erect a literal barrier to the exercise of our natural moral right to cooperate — to deny our ability to make strangers our friends (our figurative siblings, even) through exchange. I agree that there is something terribly wrong when millions of people have to break the law to excercise their moral rights. But the problem isn’t that people are trying and succeeding to exercise them. The problem is poor legislation that fails to acknowledge, accommodate, and protect those rights. We can do better. ~Will Wilkinson

    Facing so many obstacles, the town is slowly resigning itself to whatever Chiquimula makes of this New York village. Parking tickets are enforced on the high-school kids, but imposing our immigration, zoning, and quality of life laws on the immigrants is a task too great for Brewster. It is apparently better for property values to drop, for iconic small businesses to close, for the streets to become dirty than to be called racists. Putting aside the number of man hours it would take to check the legal status of village residents and the number of upset landlords and contractors, the town lacks the moral resources to enforce its laws on people whom it values so little as members of the community and so much as the bottom rung in the economy. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

    My recent post on libertarians and immigration elicited a serious protest from a reader: if I read more Mises and Rothbard, then I would know that no real libertarians talk about national identity in the flippant terms I attributed to them.  In fairness, I got a bit carried away and made some sloppy statements.  As I did acknowledge, though perhaps I did not stress it enough, there are well-known libertarians who have acknowledged the existence of natural communities, legitimate definitions of nationhood and the right of people in these groups to define their membership.  There are arguments in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed related to some of these points, and I tried to acknowledge those in the earlier post.  In any case, I acknowledge them in the comments section and again here. 

    Unlike Mr. Wilkinson, quoted above (once from an old comment thread on Michael’s blog, to which I responded here, and once from a post he wrote at Cato’s blog), there are libertarians who would argue that national groups are within their rights to control immigration, and this is based, as I understand it, in rights of property and association. 

    The rights of a people to determine their own future and define their own membership are fundamental to the existence of a people.  Describing the subversion of those rights with the euphemism of the “moral right of cooperation,” because economic forces have ravaged a small town and reduced it to the point where is desperately needs foreign labour to survive, hardly does what is happening the proper justice.  Michael’s hometown is slowly being changed beyond all recognition, as described in his article cited above–is this the result of a “moral right of cooperation” or an example of selling your birthright for a mess of pottage?  Is nothing sacred except making a deal?  There is perhaps one thing, as Mr. Wilkinson said all those months ago:

    Outside of the love, solidarity, and altruism of family, trade is the paradigmatic human moral relationship. 

    As I said in the comments, and as I will say again here, there is something actually rather horrifying about someone who regards trade as one of the two “paradigmatic human moral” relationships in life.  What can that really mean?  If trade is such a paradigmatic moral relationship (which suggests that all our other relationships are modeled on the making of contracts, which is not the case) what is to prevent us from regulating and defining that relationship as the political community deems necessary?  If such a thing as a “moral right to cooperation” exists, what prevents that right from being constrained as and when it is necessary for the common good?  If illegal immigration is an expression of the right of cooperation, why is it so difficult for those exercising their rights from cooperating with the Americans who have set up the legitimate processes for entering the country?  Or perhaps all criminals are expressing their moral right of cooperation and should be left in peace, free from the meddlesome arm of intrusive government? 

    Disregarding these rights of nations as Mr. Wilkinson seems to do suggests that he believes national self-definition and the defense of a nation’s boundaries, both cultural and physical, is actually immoral and violates someone’s natural rights.  This is not necessarily a universal libertarian view, but it does seem to be a prevalent one.   

    If it is true that some libertarians have taken natural nations seriously, do these ideas have much bearing on the immigration views of many prominent modern libertarians?  Particularly if we are not talking about the paleolibertarians, it becomes increasingly difficult to credit this claim.  When they talk about it at all, and it is not filled with dismissive references to nativism and Nazis, we get more and more into this vague language of the “moral right of cooperation” which presents to me a rather bizarre world where the right to exchange labour and services trumps all. 

    The key problem in these debates between libertarians and conservatives, as I said in my response to Mr. Wilkinson, is this:

    It isn’t that we and the libertarians agree 90 or 95% of the time and differ greatly about a few details on economics and trade here or there, but that we have entirely different understandings of human nature, society and the purpose of politics.

    It is therefore entirely reasonable that many libertarians do not have serious problems with mass immigration, because many of them do not even begin to understand society or national identity or, in some cases, the legitimacy of borders in the same way that we do.  When we say national identity, they hear collectivism, and when they say “moral right of cooperation,” I hear national disintegration, because we literally inhabit different mental universes.  If natural nations exist in their universe, it seems to have no relevance for what to do about mass immigration.  Free markets and free minds, and all that–no nations are really necessary in such a vision and tend to be impediments to the functioning of markets.  But the indifference to problems of national identity and immigration–which are for the average libertarian “non-problems”–strikes me as unusually naive, even for libertarians, when the inescapable reality of human existence is the persistence of tribal and ethnic identities that simply refuse to be bartered out of existence.  I can think of no better way to exacerbate the sharp edges of those identities and promote social instability than to press large numbers of different groups of people together in direct competition with one another for wealth, status and work.     

    Incidentally, what does it mean to favour “open borders”, as Reason’s Web editor Tim Cavanaugh clearly does (and whose chief editor recently wrote on “Non-militarized non-solutions to a non-problem,” i.e., immigration)?  If you favour having them be open, why have borders, and if you keep the formal borders around, is it not a tacit admission that they might in certain circumstances need to be closed?  But that would violate someone’s moral right to cooperate, wouldn’t it?  Wouldn’t it be best, from the perspective of a proponent of “open borders,” to dissolve them all together?  Indeed, that is just what some of them do propose.  Which brings me back to one of my original questions:

    Do any libertarians have an understanding of national identity that is more credible that does not fall back on the (from my perspective) creepy ideological definitions of the “proposition nation”?  Does anyone opposed to the “blood and soil” rhetoric have an idea of what constitutes national identity that does not lean on fatuous “nation of immigrants” and “proposition nation” slogans?  Anyone? 

    The Iraq War remains an albatross for President Bush, but it was an albatross in 2004, and that didn’t stop him from winning re-election, despite being a mediocre president and a terrible political candidate. Iraq has already cost Republicans some street-cred on national security issues, but they could reverse that if they’re willing to swallow hard, pass a border fence, and then campaign on Democrats’ perennial and continued resistance to the successfully-tested missile defense system that just might save us from North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il. ~David Freddoso, Brainwash

    Mr. Freddoso makes some smart observations, and it is never a bad idea for a political observer to dissent against the increasingly widespread conventional wisdom of a Democratic takeover of the House (the Senate does appear to be a much longer shot, though still not inconceivable).  But those things aside, I am not persuaded by Mr. Freddoso’s “great economy” argument, since it is clear that public dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush and the GOP majority does not generally have economic causes in the first place (though I admit it is worsened by high gas prices).  Between 2004 and now there was a minor event called Hurricane Katrina, which has shaped, for good or ill, public perceptions of the administration and the Congress.  There appears to be more of a general anti-incumbency trend combined with considerable conservative disaffection, which should worry an incumbent party that relies on very active and dedicated conservative supporters for its success.  Even if the majority could put together some sort of border fence bill (which they will not realistically do this year anyway), the Republicans’ use of immigration this close to the election will appear (whether it is fair or not that this is the case) as eleventh-hour desperation, which will only underscore how little they have accomplished to date. 

    The Iraq war wasn’t as much of an albatross in 2004, as poorly as things were going, because the war was still relatively new and we had yet to reach the many, many turning points of 2005 and 2006 that failed to result in any turning.  Two years later, the war has become very old and very aggravating to more and more people.  At the start of November 2004, 1,125 “coalition” personnel had died in Iraq; in two months’ time, there will have been over twice as many ”coalition” casualties, almost all of them American.  Maybe that shouldn’t make a difference, but apparently it does. 

    The public has wearied of the conflict significantly and has changed its mind about the necessity of the war–you did not see half the country saying that Iraq had no connection to the larger “war on terror” in 2004, but you do now.  You did not have mass waves of sectarian killings making the problems of Iraq even more insoluble two years ago, but you do now.  Two years ago Republicans could still defend the administration’s past incompetence because they believed the administration had a plan for making Iraq policy work; fewer and fewer of them believe any such thing now.  Even if they do not oppose administration policies, they are deeply demoralised and dispirited, and the administration’s appalling immigration position has only made things worse. 

    As for Mr. Freddoso’s observation that conservatives will vote this year, in spite of all this talk of depressed voter turnout, he may be right–but it isn’t at all clear that they will be turning out to vote for the Republican, except where very strong conservatives have beaten White House-backed moderates (as did indeed happen in Michigan).  The question remains whether strong conservative nominees can prevail in this electoral climate even with their traditional supporters’ votes; their base may turn out, but no one else may vote for them in an era where “conservative” itself has unfortunately taken on the negative connotations of being an administration loyalist. Paleos such as I may lament that this identification has occurred, but it is hard to separate the two when almost every strong pro-life or social conservative is also a war supporter and administration policy man on everything except immigration.  Those who aren’t Bush men, such as Hostettler in Indiana (the 7/17 issue of TAC has a great article by Jim Antle on Hostettler, which is unfortunately not online, so go find a back issue–I think it’s that good), get no credit for being principled conservative opponents of administration immigration and Iraq policies, but appear caught up in a generalised, nationwide repudiation of the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency

    I mean, seriously, folks, if a pro-life, anti-immigration, antiwar conservative like Hostettler can’t get any traction in Indiana, where can he get some?  He ought to be protected on every side as someone who has been both principled and substantially right on policy from a conservative perspective and as someone who has consistently been distant from the administration when he believed them to be wrong–if this is the age of the independent-thinking man who is not bound by sheer partisanship, John Hostettler should be walking home to victory.  That he is not says that the normal rules do not apply in this election and that something is out of joint.  But one rule may still apply: that of the six-year itch, where the party that holds the White House for two terms almost always suffers large losses in the sixth year.  Even counting on gerrymandering to reduce that risk, there is no reason to think that the GOP is immune to this pattern. 

    Arguably, Indiana is just a weird, localised anti-GOP backlash because of the poor stewardship of Mitch Daniels (who probably really wishes he’d stayed around as head of OMB!), who has managed to so infuriate people against his party with his decisions on a foreign company’s management of a toll road and, of all things, switching the state to Daylight Savings Time (which adversely affects counties split between Eastern and Central zones) that it is taking down unrelated Congressional candidates, three of whom are slated for likely defeat according to Evans-Novak.  Maybe these Indiana Republicans will weather the storm, but the fact that they are even in danger tells me that there is something much more visceral and widespread motivating voters’ choices that has nothing to do with the merits of the individual candidates. 

    Indiana Republicans are the kind of rock-solid, socially conservative Republicans that Thomas Frank-style liberals at Indiana-Bloomington love to hate (in 2004 they might as well have been asking, “What’s the Matter With Indiana?”).  If they are losing the faith, so to speak, their turning out to vote may not be good news for the GOP, since it may only increase the Republicans’ margin of defeat.

    If Democrats prove that they can hold their leads against the vulnerable GOP districts in the third and fourth columns, then they will press their advantage effectively and probe for more weaknesses until they start winning in seats in the second column of the chart (leans GOP) and even the first (likely Republican Retention). If this happens, it will be like a dike bursting for the GOP. Too many holes will appear to be plugged up, and Democrats will almost certainly take the House. Then we will have concrete reasons to expect a 25 or 26 seat GOP loss. ~Evans-Novak Political Report

    Still, Democrats know their credibility on security remains suspect. Thus, they’re fielding what they call the “fighting Dems” to challenge Republican incumbents.

    They include dozens of veterans, such as Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq and is now a congressional candidate in Illinois, and Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral now running in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

    “You’re not going to get anyone tougher than me,” Duckworth said in a recent interview. “But as far as I’m concerned, our national defense is more than just continuing to spend money without oversight in Iraq.

    “I will try to find a diplomatic solution. But when the fighting is necessary, I will be there. That’s why I stayed in the National Guard. I want to make sure that when that vote is cast in Congress, that it’s my butt that’s on the line.” ~Biloxi Sun Herald

    I earlier drew attention to Joe Sestak’s challenge to Curt Weldon, who has never had much serious opposition in his previous re-election fights and has found a formidable adversary in Sestak, a retired admiral who has made great strides on a strongly anti-war platform.  It also came to my attention today that there is an Iraq war veteran challenging Pete Roskam for Henry Hyde’s old seat and, according to a recent Evans-Novak poll (via the surprisingly titled blog Republicans for Duckworth), she has pulled ahead.  She has probably done this with her immigration position and by calling for a better policy to stabilise Iraq, while specifically not calling for withdrawal.  With candidates as different as Sestak and Duckworth running, the Democrats may be able to have it both ways on the war. 

    This race has particular interest for me, since I have family who live in DuPage County and my church is located in one of the suburbs in the district, so I am more than a little familiar with the area she will be representing.  Intriguingly, Ms. Duckworth is strongly opposed to amnesty and says control of the borders should be the top priority on immigration, which allows her to paint the current majority–and her opponent–as having failed to do anything on the issue.  Not being an Illinois voter, I haven’t paid very close attention to local races in the Chicagoland area, but this one looks to be a real chance of surprising Dem pickup in a part of Illinois that ought to be a lock for the Red Republicans.  If they are struggling in DuPage County, they are in bigger trouble than anyone thinks.

    It’s hard to imagine, but things have gotten better for the incumbent: A GOP survey of likely voters, conducted about a week ago, put Nelson up, 63 percent to 20 percent. Can it get any worse for Republicans in a state where they really ought to be competitive? ~John Miller

    If those numbers hold up, that would be more humiliating and lopsided than Alan Keyes’ loss to Barack Obama in a state where Harris has already held elective office and was not some last-minute carpetbagging joke of a candidate.  Harris is a joke of a candidate, but for entirely different reasons.  The question after today’s primary is this: how badly will a Harris Senate candidacy hurt the GOP across Florida?  Or, put another way, how many people might have turned out to vote Republican who will now simply stay home after two more months of the Crazy Kathy Show?  Will this have knock-on effects on House races that people aren’t even considering as competitive right now?  I have no idea, but Harris may prove to be more than an embarrassment to Florida Republicans–she may become the albatross that drags the national party down, too.

    Wretched, isn’t it?  Yet this somehow appeals to a certain segment of British conservatism, and the Cameron leadership appears to be playing to that segment.We’re seeing an example at the moment, as David Cameron is touring India and is talking about a new special relationship with that great democracy.  Now a strong Anglo-Indian alliance would be a good thing for the world, and for the US especially I think, so on the face of it this is a splendid policy stance.  There are two problems, however, that makes one wonder about the real intent.  First, the EU controls so much of British foreign affairs these days, most especially in trade policy, that, in a Cameron Ministry, Britain and India will find it difficult to conclude much meaningful dialogue without a re-examination of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  Second, the use of the phrase “special relationship” in this context will be recognized as a distancing from America, and his spin doctors will have used the phrase with exactly that in mind.  ~Iain Murray

    Of course, as Mr. Murray neglects to mention, in the week before September 11 2001 Mr. Bush was cosying up to Vicente Fox and saying all sorts of preposterous things about America’s “special relationship” with Mexico.  He used those very words.  Of course, this was a lot of nonsense designed to pave the way for the amnesty that he was intent upon pushing back then and is still intent upon pushing now.  When the attacks happened, I don’t remember a lot of help coming from Mexico.  If Mr. Cameron chooses to talk about a “special relationship” with India–though I find the phrase silly whenever it is used–he is doing the same kind of thing that Mr. Bush was doing with his remarks about Mexico.  That is, he is simply pandering to NRIs in Britain (”We share so many ties, not least the many people of Indian origin who live in Britain and make an enormous contribution to it”), trying to show, once again, what a swell, likeable guy he is and to prove that it isn’t just people like Robin Cook who like chicken tikka masala.

    “Even if we never win an election, at least we’ve met Nelson Mandela,” one of the Tory leader’s aides said to him after the meeting.

    ———————- 

    Britain, he will say, should be far more independent of America – and more willing to condemn aberrations such as Guantanamo Bay. In Mr Cameron’s view, the special relationship needs to be rebalanced; Mrs Thatcher was never afraid to have a row with Ronald Reagan and made sure everybody knew about it. As one aide put it to me: “We want lots of Love Actually moments.” It is telling that the Conservatives have invited John McCain, the Republican presidential hopeful, who has crossed swords with Mr Bush over everything from Iraq to climate change, to address their party conference next month. ~The Daily Telegraph

    I don’t quite know what it says that Cameron’s people think meeting Nelson Mandela is a sufficient consolation for remaining a permanent opposition party, but I think it says everything about Cameron that needs to be said.  Like or dislike Nelsona Mandela if you please, but to make a high priority of a sort of pop celeberity idolisation of a man of rather dubious political affiiliations (as far as most Tories are concerned anyway) is to betray a fatally frivolous side.  But the only thing that worries me more about Mr. Cameron than his frivolity is when he becomes terribly serious–or attempts to play at it–by such spectacles as his ridiculous attack on Thatcher’s view of the ANC

    Now I happen to like Love Actually on the whole (though, yes, there are problems with it, as there are with so many things in cinema these days) and I particularly enjoyed the scene where Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister gives the special relationship a good swift kick to the face.  The film came out at the peak of the Cult of Blair in this country (a cult, you may notice, which has fewer and fewer vocal members these days), and it was delightful to see that cult and the entire relationship that it represented mocked and ridiculed very effectively. 

    I fully expect other nations, including long-time allies, to take contrary positions as and when it suits their national interests to do so.  Only a tyrant ot a petulant child, or a petulantly childish tyrant, expects blind obedience from allies and reacts as so many Americans reacted when France and Germany “betrayed” us by taking up opposition to the Iraq war, as if they owed us something.  Many people believed that they did owe us something for past aid, as if sentimentality was a proper thing to introduce into foreign policy.  If there is anything more silly than complaining about being disliked in the world–Great Powers are never loved, but tolerated–it is the complaint about ungrateful foreigners who don’t appreciate all that we’ve done for them.  The question in foreign policy is no different from that in domestic politics: “What have you done for me lately?”  The British who ask Americans this question will be left with no answer, because there is none to give.  They have been used and abused, their good name tied to our appalling war in Iraq and further dragged down by their tacit association with our cheerleading for the devastation of Lebanon.  Tory “Cavaliers” and Labourites alike have very solid grounds for resenting the “special relationship,” and any American who respects Britain as something more than our forward base of operations or a loyal province that will do our bidding has to be chagrined at the treatment of the Mother Country by our government. 

    I have enjoyed my three visits to Britain, I typically enjoy British culture and I have good things to say about the Loyalists, though I don’t consider myself (orthography notwithstanding) an Anglophile or someone liable to idealise the good old days of Empire.  The Empire contributed impressively to the regions that it touched, and it also did a great deal of harm; it had a mixed record, as all things in this world do, but generally worked to the detriment of Britain itself in the end.  Now the phantom of Empire keeps urging British people on to attach themselves to the new hegemon so that they can keep being players in the Great Game.  The British people do not benefit from this, and have positively suffered because of it, and a critical reevaluation of the whole arrangement is long overdue.  To that extent, a new Tory-led direction away from the “special relationship” would be a good thing for both nations: it would teach Washington that it cannot assume British support in virtually everything, which would cultivate a new, different kind of respect for our old ally, and also allow Britain to pursue legitimate interests even when they diverge from ours.  That is the kind of healthy relationship that we should have with all states, rather than running our international relationships with all the tact and wisdom of a wife-beater. 

    Hegemons who batter and abuse their allies wind up suffering evil consequences if they are not careful.  Athens’ heavy-handed treatment of allies bred resentment and provided the occasion for her humiliation at the hands of Sparta; Rome was almost overwhelmed by the power of disgruntled, ill-used allies in the Social War, and we could very well have seen the rise of the Samnite Empire instead of the Roman thanks to the pettiness of Rome towards her allies.  Once the bonds of goodwill are snapped, they are not easily mended, and so we are very lucky that the British have not lost all patience with us.    

    While I consider it very important to emphasise the precisely British culture that is at the heart of being American (because American identity very quickly ceases to mean very much once we abandon this), and while I may seem unduly concerned with righting the old wrongs of 1642 and 1688 in a way that suggests an odd preoccupation with the internal quarrels of specifically British history, I do not believe in any “special relationship” with Britain. 

    Not only would I consider a genuine “special relationship” a bad idea if one existed (it savours of Hamiltonian Anglophilia, the Eastern Establishment and all things Wilsonian), but I literally don’t believe it exists anymore.  It may have existed in a sense once in Wilson’s or FDR’s time.  But today there is a relationship of domination and dependence, which is not “special,” except in the minds of Americans who fawn over the celebrity royals and the ignorant masses who have joined the Winston Churchill Fan Club.  But as silly people are wont to do, they mistake liking Britain or gushing over Jane Austen novels to be the same thing as sharing necessarily similar interests in international affairs.  It is democratic irrationality on the international scale: you are like me and I identify with you, therefore you must have the same goals that I have when it comes to Russia (or Iran or Iraq or China, etc.) policy. 

    As Love Actually portrayed so well, the relationship has been since Suez the relationship of master and servant.  The President proposes, and the Prime Minister disposes.  This is an appalling way of running an alliance, because sooner or later the weaker partner will seek a better deal from somebody else (or a group of others) and leave you, the stronger partner, in the lurch.  Lady Thatcher may have spoken her mind when she disagreed with Reagan, but she was still speaking from the position of a particularly cheeky servant, whether she or anyone else in Britain wanted to admit it or not.  Blair showed the depths to which a sycophantic Britain could sink, and most people in Britain rebelled at the servility they saw, which is why the “poodle” image caught on and became popular.  Some people in Britain may still want to play a part in the power politics of the world, but that is no reason for the Prime Minister to imitate all of the appearance of a Wormtongue. 

    It was, is, embarrassing for any self-respecting nation to kow-tow to any other in such an abased fashion.  The strange thing for me is that the people some Americans might expect to find most on the anti-hegemonist side among the Tories, the Euroskeptics, are too busy polishing their busts of Cromwell and talking about “compassionate conservatism” in between denunciations of Brussels to know what the British national interest is.  The oddity and the real misfortune in all this is that the Europhile Tories, so infuriatingly unwilling to defend British sovereignty vis-a-vis Europe, seem to be the only ones in their party who recognise the equally ruinous effects of American domination on British national interests.  Cameron’s turn against the “special relationship,” like his general attitude, is probably much more frivolous and ill-conceived than that of Sir Malcolm Rifkind.  He is doing it for the same reason he turned against Thatcher’s South Africa policy of engagement long after it had any practical importance to take a position on this: to show that he is a new kind of Tory, not beholden to the old ways.  If some previous Tory leaders have sought to become Mr. Bush’s lapdog to outdo the poodle at his own game (see William Hague), then Mr. Cameron will show that he is different–not necessarily because he really is different (though he might be), but because he thinks it will be advantageous if people think that he is.  Beyond this he has no more coherent sense of what defines British interests than Tony Blair does.  I will be glad to see the day when all talk of the “special relationship” is gone forever, but I am also eagerly anticipating the day when we will no longer have our intelligence insulted by the grinning buffoon who currently heads the Conservative Party.