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I don’t want to cause Ron Paul any extra grief, but I would note that Ron Paul stated his opposition to Lincoln and the War on national television just a few weeks ago and gave a reasonable answer when he was asked about this.  Among other things, he said:

How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years?  I mean, the hatred and all that existed.  So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. 

Those who would like to defend the Unionist cause should ask themselves: “Is there any other conflict where I would view the invading, aggressive party driven by ideology and, among a few, religious fanaticism as the obviously right side?”  The story of the War is that it was tragic, in that it was between two flawed peoples (as all peoples are more or less flawed) who warred against one another to the ultimate detriment of both.  Moreover, unlike in classical tragedies where the hero is destined to suffer, that conflict was avoidable. 

Nowadays, it is possible for some modern historians to see the massacres in the Vendee as a French-on-French ideological “genocide” of sorts, but it seems that we are still a surprisingly long way from coming to terms with our destructive revolutionary experience in the mid-19th century. 

By destroying the states’ right to secession, Abraham Lincoln opened the door to the kind of unconstrained, despotic, arrogant government we have today, something the framers of the Constitution could not have possibly imagined. States should again challenge Washington’s unconstitutional acts through nullification. ~Walter Williams, c. 1998

Via J.H. Huebert


Roger Cohen makes a correction to a previous column of his that I criticised:

I wrote last week of the Tudor-Stuart alternation; I meant succession.

For a Byzantine angle on Huckabee’s remark about Mormon beliefs (”Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”), I would note that the belief in the fraternity of Jesus and the devil has some loose similarities with the beliefs ascribed to the Bogomils, who allegedly taught something similar about Satan and Michael.  Aside from these associations, there is a more fundamental problem that this belief contradicts the understanding of Christ as the only-begotten (monogenes) Son, co-unoriginate with the Father.     

Update: In the “Huckabee is not running a sectarian campaign” file, you can add his apology to Romney for these entirely innocent remarks.

Appearing on National Public Radio’s light-hearted quiz show “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me,” which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ ” ~The Washington Post

Via Isaac Chotiner

Not exactly the best messenger for delivering warnings about Iran’s nuclear program and the dangers of WWIII breaking out, is she?  It’s enough to make you miss Tony Snow.

Audio here.

P.S.  She said later, “I feel like I’m in school everyday.”  I’m sure that’s true. 

The United States needs a new beginning. It cannot lie in the Tudor-Stuart-like alternation of the Bush-Clinton dynasties, nor in the macho militarism of Republicans who see war without end. It has to involve a fresh face that will reconcile the country with itself and the world, get over divisions — internal and external — and speak with honesty about American glory and shame. ~Roger Cohen

All right, Roger Cohen likes Obama, but what is this business about the “Tudor-Stuart alternation” of dynasties?  Isn’t Roger Cohen from Britain?  Wouldn’t he know that the Tudors and Stuarts did not alternate?  Apparently not.  One followed the other, and the latter came to power over both Scotland and England because there was no heir for the former (i.e., the Tudors–apologies for any confusion).  The Bushes and Clintons are nothing like the Tudors and Stuarts in this or in any other way.  Whatever else you might say about Cohen’s column, its historical parallels could use some work. 

Turkey’s strategic interests are much more dependent on good relations with the United States than vice versa. If we tolerate Turkey’s blackmail, we actually weaken our position in the strategic relationship and embolden others in the region to blackmail us. ~Roxanne Makasdjian

This is pretty much my view of the matter as well.

How are the mighty fallen! President George Bush, the crusader king who would draw the sword against the forces of Darkness and Evil, he who said there was only “them or us”, who would carry on, he claimed, an eternal conflict against “world terror” on our behalf; he turns out, well, to be a wimp. A clutch of Turkish generals and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign on behalf of Turkish Holocaust deniers have transformed the lion into a lamb. No, not even a lamb – for this animal is, by its nature, a symbol of innocence – but into a household mouse, a little diminutive creature which, seen from afar, can even be confused with a rat. ~Robert Fisk

It is still a little strange to find myself agreeing with Robert Fisk as often as I have in recent years, but on the subject of the Armenian genocide he has been absolutely right.  Fisk makes many of the points that I did in my column on the genocide last month (10/22 issue).  We have all heard the arguments claiming that “no one denies” that what happened to the Armenians was genocide (I have heard another one of these today), when there is a small industry dedicated to just this kind of denial and our government evidently cowers in fear of them.  Some people, who have gotten their history from some of the denialist historians, come to the debate misinformed and so react very strongly against charges of denialism, since they think (erroneously) there is some legitimate doubt about what happened.  There really isn’t.  Some who are better-informed, but apparently still unaware of the denialists, think it is redundant to say yet again what they believe everyone already acknowledges.  Yet the absurdity of the situation is clear: if “no one” denied the genocide, there would be no controversy over acknowledging it as genocide, since no one would have any stake in preventing recognition.  Clearly, some interested parties are very intent on preventing that recognition, or else there should scarcely have been much attention paid to a House non-binding resolution. 

Speaking of the Turkish threats against our supply lines, Fisk correctly notes: “In the real world, this is called blackmail…”  Exactly so.  And the administration yielded to it without hesitation.    

The main goal is to entirely eradicate European mechanisms of power transfer in Russia and to consolidate the Byzantine model of succession. ~ Sergei Kovalev

Really?  The “Byzantine model”?  Putin wants to create a system in which the previous ruler is either blinded or exiled to a monastery following debilitating civil war?  That was, as often as not, the “Byzantine model” for succession, since there wasn’t actually a “Byzantine model” for succession to the throne.  (Only in the last three centuries was there regularly a reasonably stable hereditary dynasty, which still didn’t necessarily stop the civil wars and assassinations, but simply limited it to members of the same family.)  It was in this respect much like the old Roman system, where contingents of the army rose up around a general or rival claimant and then knocked off the emperor to put their leader in his place.  In fact, I am positive that Putin does not want to institute such a system, since it means that his prime minister will be forced to have him blinded and tonsured in a little over a year.  The system Kovalev is actually describing is actually very unlike the way transfers of power were handled in Byzantium: the transfer promises to be peaceful and ratified by a formal popular vote.  There will be, I expect, no palace coups, no poisonings and no tongue-slitting.

Yes, I know Kovalev is just using Byzantine in the pejorative, ill-informed way that modern people often do–they use it to describe whatever it is they don’t like about another country or, in the case of some modern Russians, whatever they don’t like about their own.  Do you see how Kovalev uses it?  It is the opposite of European, the antithesis of the way things are supposed to be.  Along with the “Mongol yoke” thesis, the Byzantine role in creating modern Russian political culture is another preferred cop-out for explaining why Russian politics has been the way it has.  To refer to what is happening in modern Russia as a revival of Byzantine political practices would be like describing the schemes of Hu Jintao with references to the Tang dynasty.  We would all, I think, see the transparent silliness of that.

P.S. The article reached this silly claim about Byzantine models by trying to tell us about the deep and ancient servility bred into the Russian people (a trait, we are supposed to believe, that none of their Slavic and Baltic neighbours shares), which is the classic Westerniser’s complaint about why Russians don’t like people like him.  The truth is that mass democracy will favour candidates who can provide, or be perceived as providing, security and some measure of stability, because these are the political goods that most people expect from government above all else. 

My column sums up my views on the current debate, but I did have one more thing to say on the subject of the Armenian genocide.  This was brought to mind as I reviewing part of Bruce Clark’s Twice A Stranger this morning before lecturing on the Megali Idea.  Clark has written a fine book on the population exchanges following Lausanne.  In it he has a few sentences about the genocide on page 9:

In one of the most ghastly chapters of modern history, the entire Armenian population in most parts of Anatolia was deported southwards and at least 600,000 died as a result.  To this day, bitter arguments rage between the Turkish government, its defenders and critics over the cause of these deaths.  Were they the result of a deliberate policy of mass killing, or, so to speak, negligence?  A few courageous Turkish historians have argued for the absurdity of the latter position. [bold mine-DL]

And, of course, that is an absurd position, but it is one that you will see Ankara’s apologists use.

There has been a good deal of discussion of my rather angry rebuke to this City Journal piece, which made me wonder whether I had misread what the author was saying.  So I went back to the original piece to find that it said things like this:

In 1861, the faith that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the fruits of their industry was invoked as readily on the Rhine and the Neva as on the Potomac and the Thames.

Really?  As readily on the Neva as on the Potomac?  That must be why the history of Russian liberalism is so long and robust.  Oh, that’s right, this is absurd.  But it is the heart of Beran’s entire thesis: in 1861, America, Germany and Russia were all heading in a liberalising direction, but then something supposedly happened that contradicted or interrupted this. 

Beran wrote:

But in the decade that followed, a reaction gathered momentum. Around the world, privilege rose up to defend its prerogatives. In Russia, in Germany, and in America, grandees with their backs against the wall met the challenge of liberty with a new philosophy of coercion.

The “philosophy of coercion” was based, he says, in paternalism and “militant nationalism,” which, of course, Abraham Lincoln, German liberals and Russian Tsars did not espouse.  No, wait, that’s also untrue.  All of them espoused both to one degree or another.  (Militant nationalism was not the monopoly of 19th century liberals, but they promoted it very actively.)  If the liberals and reformers Beran champions likewise espoused paternalist and militant nationalist doctrines, what does that do to his entire bizarre reading of history?  I think it demolishes it entirely. 

First of all, many of his claims are simply wrong or so one-sided that they cannot be taken seriously.  Privilege did not “rise up” in Russia.  As for paternalism, German and Austrian liberals were very keen on rationalising and organising society according to their principles.  Once in power, they represented a small political elite that sought to institute universal reforms and were hostile to the particular and local institutions of different regions of their states.  Their paternalism was often anticlerical in nature, which hardly makes it less coercive or elitist.  These liberals were strongly nationalistic and became more so as they came to identify the German national cause with their own political doctrine, while they associated other nations (especially Slavic nations) with forces of reaction.  Hence their alliance with Bismarck.  If there were Southerners who wanted to expand into the Caribbean, it wasn’t out of a belief in the equality of nations or a lack of nationalism that kept Northerners from supporting those goals.  Indeed, once the “threat” of expanding slavery had been eliminated, it would be Northerners, particularly Northeasterners, who would become very keen on expanding political and economic power in the Caribbean and Latin America and beyond.  Our colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean were not “slave colonies,” but they were still subjugated against the will of the inhabitants and our rule over them justified in terms of racial and cultural supremacy. 

The likelihood of slavery taking hold in the free states was extremely remote, and the spectre of this takeover was a kind of “it’s them or us” propaganda.  While acknowledging that the claims appear vastly exaggerated in retrospect, Beran takes Lincoln’s rhetoric about “returning despotism” at face value, yet the same language of opposing tyranny and despotism being employed against Lincoln by Southerners naturally receives no attention.  It spoils the myth of noble champions of freedom fighting sinister forces of paternalism.  As Beran tells it, you might be forgiven for thinking that the South was filled with Metternich clones instead of Jeffersonians who  spoke of “the consent of the governed” and invoked the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.  The point is not to swap the roles in the myth around, but to challenge the sort of awful thinking that tries to reduce historical complexity into a simple morality play or ideological object lesson. 

Beran writes:

The coercive party in America, unbroken in spirit, might have realized its dream of a Caribbean slave empire. Cuba and the Philippines, after their conquest by the United States, might have become permanent slave colonies. Such a nation would have had little reason to resist Bismarck’s Second Reich, Hitler’s third one, or Russia’s Bolshevik empire.

That is the real point of this awful article.  The South had to be beaten so that we could fight the Nazis and become an anticommunist superpower.  In reality, the United States had no reason to “resist” Bismarck’s Second Reich, since we properly had no quarrel with Germany great enough to justify our entry into WWI, and regardless of how the war propaganda portrayed it we did not become involved primarily for ideological reasons.  The actual reason for fighting Hitler’s Germany was a desire to intervene on behalf of Britain and the German declaration of war against America–it was not really that liberalism compelled us to intervene.  His entire interpretation relies on the assumption that it was only the triumph of a liberal philosophy over a ”coercive” one that made it possible to “resist” the Germans and Soviets, as if fighting against other major powers required liberal ideology.

Furthermore, Beran believes that it would not have been enough to allow the South to go its own way, since they would have sided with the “bad guys”:

The historical probabilities would have been no less grim had Lincoln, after initiating his revolution, failed to preserve the U.S. as a unitary free state. The Southern Republic, having gained its independence, would almost certainly have formed alliances with regimes grounded in its own coercive philosophy; the successors of Jefferson Davis would have had every incentive to link arms with the successors of Otto von Bismarck.

As I have already said, this is not simply silly but it is also a terrible counterfactual.  The South had strong economic ties with Britain and France, and was broadly sympathetic to Jeffersonian political philosophy.  They had no strong cultural or ideological affinities with Wilhelmine Germany.  Besides being uninterested in intervening in European conflicts, as most Americans were through WWI and the interwar period, independent Southerners would have had little reason to ally with Wilhelmine Germany.  Beran shows here that he fundamentally doesn’t understand the pre-WWI American mind, and doesn’t understand American foreign policy before WWI.  Neither does he understand that alliances were not made in this period (or, for that matter, in most periods) on the basis of ideological similarity or solidarity (the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894 ought to be proof enough), but are based in the strategic interests of the states involved. 

Incidentally, in my view, it would have been an equally grave error for an independent Southern republic to become entangled in European conflicts just as it was an error for the U.S. to become so entangled, but there would have been nothing uniquely undesirable or sinister in allying with the Germans rather than with the Entente.  If there had been such an alliance, it would not have been on the basis of ideological affinity in any case, but on the basis of shared interests.   

Three cheers for decent historians:

A Vatican-backed historian has attacked the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age as a “distorted anti-papal travesty” that risks dividing the West just when it should be rediscovering its “common Christian roots” in the face of Islam.

Stuart Reid at The Spectator’s Coffee House blog is making sense:

Any depiction of those years that depicts Elizabeth as the good guy and Philip as the bad guy is comic-book history.

He is also even more hard-core than I am:

What a pity the Armada failed.

Reid and Cardini and I are not alone in our objections to the film:

The Catholic News Service, which is run by the United States Bishops Conference, said: “With the single exception of Mary, Queen of Scots, all the Catholics in the film are twisted, embittered intriguers.”

And even then their depiction of Mary Stuart isn’t exactly flattering.

Thanks to my Scene colleague Nick Desai, I have come across the most remarkable and simultaneously unspeakable article.  There are bad articles, Christopher Hitchens articles, Gerson articles and then there’s this, which is in a class all by itself.  It has practically every lazy assumption and misguided polemical trope that you’ve ever encountered.  There is, naturally, Lincoln-worship involved, and a hefty dose of Teutonophobia, which are the usual prerequisites for truly execrable historical analysis.  I am almost overwhelmed by its breathtaking awfulness, but I will try to make a few points.  Let’s start at the beginning:

In 1861, free institutions seemed poised to carry all before them. In Russia, Tsar Alexander II emancipated 22 million serfs. In Germany, lawmakers dedicated to free constitutional principles prepared to assert civilian control over Prussia’s feudal military caste. In America, Abraham Lincoln entered the White House pledged to a revolutionary policy of excluding human bondage from the nation’s territories.

Spot the nonsense.  It isn’t hard.  By March 1861, several states had seceded from the Union in protest against this “revolutionary” policy, and rather than being “poised to carry all before them,” according to Lincoln 1861 was the year in which free institutions were supposedly on the verge of being subverted and wiped from the face of the earth.  It was so endangered, in fact, because of the dangerous principle that voluntary Union was actually voluntary, which Lincoln made sure would not stand.  There was certainly a coercive reaction to the idea of the voluntary Union, and it was the so-called Unionists who did the coercing.  The “war to save the Union” was, of course, the assassination of the very principle that made it a Union. 

Lincoln was wrong, as he often was, but from the perspective of Mr. Beran 1861 seems an unusually poor year to mark the impending triumph of what he calls “free institutions.”  In Russia, the emancipation of the serfs was realised by the order of an autocrat.  A Christian, humane and decent-minded autocrat, probably the finest Russian ruler of the century, but an autocrat.  Free institutions?  In any meaningful sense, they did not yet exist in Russia.  Indeed, one might observe with some irony how much more easily an autocracy embraced a policy of emancipation than did a democracy, which might tell us something about democracy’s flaws, but no matter.  Meanwhile, in Germany the liberals became the allies of the Junkers, the Prussian “caste” to which Bismarck belonged, and Bismarck was himself the champion of a combination of liberal nationalism (down with all the reactionary Reichsfeinde and no Canossarepublik, he said) and nationalist and anti-socialist social legislation.  Those champions of “free constitutional principles” were the architects and leading cheerleaders of the Kulturkampf against German Catholics.  In this, German liberals exhibited precisely the same hostility that many American Catholics perceived in the Red Republicans, so called by Orestes Brownson and others because of the clear similarities with European liberal revolutionaries.  It is not surprising that many German exiles who had fled the suppression of the ‘48 revolution were sympathetic to the principles of the GOP.  By the way, none of this appears to me to be a compliment to Lincoln.

Beran isn’t done:

But in the decade that followed, a reaction gathered momentum. Around the world, privilege rose up to defend its prerogatives. 

Egads, reaction!  There is something truly strange about trying to associate the Republican Party with something other than privilege.  As a party, it represented (and Lincoln represented), and to some considerable extent still represents, the interests of corporations and finance, just as the Whigs had represented commercial and mercantile interests before them.  The causes of the War are many and complex, but if you said that it boiled down to a conflict between the landed and moneyed interest you would not be far wrong.  The latter won, and it replaced one kind of hierarchy and stratification with another while brutally centralising power into the hands of fewer and fewer people.  Someone will need to explain to me how this represents the victory of ”free institutions,” since I have a funny idea that arbitrary, coercive government is not really compatible with “free institutions.”

It gets even funnier:

The paternalists, Lord Macaulay wrote disapprovingly, wanted to “regulate the school, overlook the playground, fix the hours of labour and recreation, prescribe what ballads shall be sung, what tunes shall be played, what books shall be read, what physic shall be swallowed.”

It should be painfully obvious, but it was in Republican Party-dominated regions of the country where the uniform public school first appeared, and it was among Republican progressives at the turn of the century that you found some of the greatest advocates of regulation of business.  If there were paternalists in the post-War period, they were very often Republicans, the heirs of Lincoln.  Certainly, Southern aristocrats also accepted paternalistic ideas, but the Red Republicans wished to be paternalists for everyone in the country.

And again:

The second idea was militant nationalism—the right of certain (superior) peoples to impose their wills on other (inferior) peoples. Planters in the American South dreamed of enslaving Central America and the Caribbean. Germany’s nationalists aspired to incorporate Danish, French, and Polish provinces into a new German Reich [bold mine-DL]. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Panslav nationalists sought to rout the Ottoman Turks and impose Russia’s will on Byzantium.

It was the Republicans who preached American nationalism over against federal and decentralist principles, and it was Republicans who waged a war of unification–not unlike Bismarck, actually–to enforce that nationalism.  (Note that the “Danish, French and Polish provinces” in question were filled mostly with German-speaking Germans.)  It was, again, the Republicans who most forthrightly stated America’s imperial and civilising mission to “inferior” peoples, and who launched our imperialist wars in the Caribbean and the Pacific.  But don’t let that get in the way of a good story.  The Pan-Slavists were a force in Russian politics, and their objectives were shared by no less than that reformer, Tsar Aleksandr II, who waged war on behalf of the Slavs of the Balkans during the 1875-78 crisis. 

Speaking of imperialism, Beran writes:

Had Lincoln not forced his revolution in 1861, American slavery might have survived into the twentieth century, deriving fresh strength from new weapons in the coercive arsenal—“scientific” racism, social Darwinism, jingoistic imperialism, the ostensibly benevolent doctrines of paternalism.    

But, again, it was the esteemed Party of Lincoln where imperialists and progressives espousing such views very often found their home.  The devastation and ruination of the South and the elimination of slavery did nothing to stymy any of these things, but rather allowed them to prosper.  Lincoln’s political heirs embraced most, if not all, of them and promoted them.  It was in the name of both racial and cultural superiority that Americans sought to provide “uplift” for our “brown brothers” in the Philippines (minus those who died because of the war, naturally).

Then comes the ultimate idiocy:

The Southern Republic, having gained its independence, would almost certainly have formed alliances with regimes grounded in its own coercive philosophy; the successors of Jefferson Davis would have had every incentive to link arms with the successors of Otto von Bismarck.

It is amusing to consider that the one counterfactual author who has done the most to play around with the ideas of “what if the South won?”, Harry Turtledove (a Byzantinist by training!), comes to the exact opposite conclusion and held, I think correctly, that an independent CSA would have allied itself, to the extent that it was willing to go against the Jeffersonian grain against entangling alliances, with Britain and France.  Britain and France had been interested, for economic and strategic reasons, to see the Confederacy succeed, and had the South won it is easy to see the Confederacy having become, if anything, a strong supporter of either Britain or France in foreign policy.  It was the Unionists who were very cosy with the Prussian military during the War, and the Republicans who best represented the politics of Bismarck and the National Liberals on the American scene.  The Confederates were, however, heirs of the heritage of Jefferson and Jackson.  They were continentalists, and had a tradition of distrusting the British.  It is likely they would have pursued a strategy of influence and occasional expansion in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, but the odds of their linking arms with the Germans are very poor indeed.  The Yankees always had more in common with the Germans culturally and politically than did the Southrons.  However, since I am not a stupid Teutonophobe, I do not hold this against the Yankees.  I am not so desperate to vindicate the Confederate position, as Mr. Beran clearly is desperate to glorify Lincoln, that I feel compelled to vilify the political evolution of other nations and then randomly link that history with American historical figures that I dislike.   

Cross-posted at The American Scene

And on yet another level, that issue highlights the way the West, including the U.S., has been preoccupied with the killing of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by mostly Muslim Turks and Kurds. ~Leon Hadar

Certainly, there has been some attention drawn to the genocide in the West over the last 90 years, though the attention tended to be greatest when it was happening and has since settled into the background or vanished from collective memory.  But preoccupied?  The West has been anything but preoccupied with the Armenian genocide.  But for active lobbying by Armenians, scarcely anyone would give it a second thought.

Something very strange has happened.  Christopher Hitchens writes about the Armenian genocide resolution and actually makes sense:

If the Turks wish to continue lying officially about what happened to the Armenians, then we cannot be expected to oblige them by doing the same (and should certainly resent and repudiate any threats against ourselves or our allies that would ensue from our Congress affirming the truth).

This has generally been my view since the debate heated up again this autumn.  I have more to say along these lines in my next column in TAC.

I have no excuse.  There were warnings that the Elizabeth sequel was terrible, but I made the mistake of seeing for myself.  This is a perfect example of why movie reviewers are necessary.  You really should take Chris Orr’s word for it: it’s bad!  If anyone is tempted to go see it, just don’t.

When it isn’t painfully boring (which is most of the film), it’s sappy, and when it isn’t sappy it veers into some weird fusion of Patriot-esque speechmaking and retrojected values of liberal tolerance.  As Orr noted, the dialogue is often unpardonably lame.  At one point Elizabeth even gives a little talk on the evils of the Inquisition and England as the bastion of liberty of conscience and thought.  Since pretty much no one today likes the Inquisition, this is an easy way to make her the sympathetic champion of Freedom (her appearance before the assembled English soldiers does have a bit of the Gibsonian “they may take our lives…” element in it), but pretends as if “liberty of conscience” were some universal principle here rather than an invocation of Protestant polemic.  

The director, Shekhar Kumar, has stayed strangely faithful to the original Elizabeth’s studious reproduction of Protestant and English nationalist historiography on film.  Indeed, in the sequel Kumar has ratcheted up the anti-Catholicism of the first movie.  You could just as easily call this Black Legend: The Movie or The Catholics Are Coming To Get You.   

The portrayal of Philip, were it done to an American or British historical figure, would throw certain people into fits of hysteria.  The treatment of Mary Stuart was hardly any better.  The take-home message seemed to be: “The dagoes and Scots are trying to take away your freedom, so you have to kill them.”     Since English historians have long wanted to ignore the fact that Philip II was also briefly Philip I of England, it would hardly bother many to show Philip, as the movie shows him, as some sort of decrepit, superstitious eunuch who is afraid of the sunlight and talks to himself, or whatever it was we were supposed to conclude about him.

This was also the king who sent a significant portion of the fleet that won at Lepanto over the Ottomans, and who was probably among the most accomplished, albeit flawed, monarchs of the early modern period.  Naturally, Elizabeth’s apologists and myth-makers have always had to tear him down to make their heroine appear more important than she was.  This movie is just one of the more recent and execrable efforts along these lines.   

The opening “historical” introduction manages to ignore completely the contemporary Dutch rebels, whose resistance to Philip’s rule was the reason for Philip’s wars in northwestern Europe.  “Only England stands against him,” the writers pompously tell us.  The Dutch role in defeating the Armada is also ignored.  The Golden Age is the English version of Fred Thompson bombast: England stands alone for freedom!  Never mind that the Dutch kept fighting and dying against the Spanish for another two decades after the Armada was defeated and that Spain’s bankruptcy was related to its constant continental warfare against France to protect the Milan road.  We mustn’t diminish the reputation of the most overrated monarch in English history. 

P.S. Even Mike Potemra agrees on the anti-Catholicism of the movie, so it must be pretty obvious.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press’ catalogue just arrived, and it includes Andrew Louth’s forthcoming book in SVS’ “The Church in History” series, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071.  Fr. Andrew’s book will be available as of Nov. 15.  If it is as good as the two other volumes in the series that I have, Meyendorff’s Imperial Unity and Papadakis’ The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, we should all be in for a treat.

There is a very long, but fairly interesting New Republic book review article on the modern state of classical music, its popularity (or lack of it) and classical music’s apologists.  There’s a lot to it, but this part struck me as especially worthwhile:

The morally charged dichotomization of surface and depth is a romantic trope that–as the musicologist Holly Watkins has shown–goes back at least as far as the writings of Hoffmann. Between Hoffmann and Wagner, however, the metaphor of depth had been claimed by German writers as a national trait; and just as nationalism underwent its general transformation from a modernizing and liberalizing discourse into a belligerent and regressive one in the later nineteenth century, so the notion of spiritual depth had been turned into a weapon of national and racial aggrandizement in Wagner’s hands.

I remember Prof. Lukacs remarking in Democracy and Populism, I believe it was, on this tendency that he identified in German thinkers to ascribe superior value and truth in terms of such ”depth.”  However, I would challenge the idea that nationalism really underwent a transformation over the course of the nineteenth century, when the heart of romantic nationalist myths is the idea of an enduring essence or character that the nationalist scholar or artist claims to be able to define and interpret.  You often hear this–the “good” nationalism of the liberal revolutionaries turned into the “bad” nationalism of a Bismarck and so forth, but the “good” nationalism was almost always intent on unification (which usually involved war) and expansionistic (because it was liberal and therefore eager to spread the revolution and, on a less high-minded note, to open new markets for ”the nation”).  In the mid and late nineteenth century nationalists, many of whom remained political liberals throughout Europe well into the twentieth century, were even more likely to engage in warfare to “redeem” the “lost” territories and countrymen still living under foreign rule.  Nationalism was belligerent in no small part because it was liberalising and modernising.  The strange thing is that we still credit the early nationalists’ self-justifications for their enthusiasm for conflict, when we are quite willing to criticise their later heirs.  We imagine a transformation and a difference where there was neither. 

Used in an exclusionary way, as Wagner does in the citation given by Taruskin or as, say, Zambelios did when addressing Western folklorists who threatened to interpret Greek identity and culture in a way that contradicted his classicising impulses, this essentialism means that only those who truly belong to the nation can understand it or participate in its cultural life.  This rhetoric of depth and essence is, in fact, an appeal to abstraction and an actually very superficial, limited grasp on culture and is used as a means of shrinking cultural participation and production down to the confines of a national dogma. 

Nationalism was always belligerent, warring against the political status quo, against legitimate governments that “denied” national unification, often enough against the Church, and against the past of the nationalists’ own people(s) and country/countries.  It was the bane of the civilised world for most of the nineteenth century and for all of the twentieth, and it was fundamentally the same thing.  

It is, of course, history that has often suffered most violently at the hands of nationalist redactors, and nationalist theories of history are almost by definition “regressive,” so to speak, in that they are almost all defined in terms of a golden age, an age of decline, and the age of palingenesis, which, in theory, is simply the recovery of the supposed golden age (whose character is suitably re-imagined to match whatever suits the liberal nationalist fantasy about his own virtues).  On this point, for example, I have happened to see an English-language textbook on Romanian history sponsored by a Center for Romanian Studies in Iasi that treats the period of the Danubian Principalities as one in which “the Greeks” are merely an annoying, troublemaking intrusion that the Romanians were well rid of, and the enormously productive and active life of the Greco-Romanian culture of the Principalities receives little or no attention.  This is a travesty of a fairly impressive period in Romanian history.  (Of course, it was part of the pre-independence period, and therefore not to be credited with as much importance.)  Bucharest and Iasi were shining examples of an international cultural Hellenism in the early modern period, and the educated elites of the Balkans referred to themselves as Hellenes as a statement of their cultivation and status, taking a name that had no particular ethnic connotations for them, and embracing Greek language and literature much as the educated in western and central Europe used Latin.  Pre-Phanariot rulers cultivated at their courts an idea of a revived Byzantium, understood as a Christian empire and not along the strictly ethnic and irredentist lines of the Megali Idea.  Much or all of this is expurgated out of the history of the Romanians in question.           

I gave up on the dreadful Florida GOP debate before they ever got to foreign policy, but apparently Tom Tancredo had the nerve to attack the genocide resolution at one point.  Nothing new there, you might think, except that Tancredo was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.  He very quickly abandoned it once it became controversial.  Quoth Tancredo:

We can’t continue to go back to the dust bin of history to condemn actions by empires that no longer even exist.

It seems to me that this is what we do all the time.  We pore over the “dust bin” and dwell on the crimes of the Nazis and Soviets, and repeatedly, endlessly talk about those crimes and compare our present-day enemies with the perpetrators of these crimes.  Earlier this year, the President went to the Holocaust Museum and condemned the actions of an empire that no longer exists.  American politicians condemn the evils of Soviet communism as a matter of course, and are not concerned that this might hurt relations with the Russians.  Of course, there is usually an assumption that post-Soviet Russia is in significant ways still quite different from the old Soviet Union, which means that criticism of the latter need not extend to the modern successor state of the criminal regime. 

Yesterday I said in another post:

I suspect, but I cannot definitely prove, that another element is a weird, unseemly desire to keep the Nazis in the public imagination as the fons et origo of genocidal killing (which would also have to conveniently ignore the genocide of the Ukrainians) to sustain the mythology surrounding the entire WWII period.

Part of my point here was to make the point that the mythology about WWII to some extent requires holding up the Nazis as uniquely and especially evil in some unprecedented way.  They must remain the ultimate villains to better reinforce the memory of WWII as the ‘Good War’.  Part of the novelty and uniqueness of Nazi evil, according to President Bush’s own description, is that the Nazis allegedly introduced state-planned genocide:

Yet in places such as Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald, the world saw something new and terrible: the state-sanctioned extermination of a people — carried out with a chilling industrial efficiency of a so-called modern nation.

To argue that there was actually a precedent and a previous state-sanctioned, organised and planned extermination of a people is effectively to deny the newness and uniqueness of the Nazis’ crimes.  To acknowledge the Armenian genocide as genocide, then, endangers a key part of a certain narrative about WWII, because it means that there had already been something similar in nature to the Nazis’ genocidal killing.  For some bizarre reason, there really does seem to be a need on the part of Armenian genocide deniers to resist acknowledging that the Armenian genocide was the “first genocide of the 20th century,” which would at the very least make the Holocaust the second, as if some special or superior status were attached to being the first one.  The distinction is obviously chronological, not moral.  Later genocides do not matter less because they came after others, nor are earlier ones more significant.  However, the debate over this resolution seems to take it for granted that some are more important than others and some are more worthy of commemoration than others. 

The San Francisco Chronicle sullies its op-ed page with more of Bruce Fein’s denialist prattle.  Armenians in the Republic are taking a keen interest in the resolution’s fate.  Jay Tolson in U.S. News and World Report makes the obvious, but necessary point:

The question is whether Turkey will ever enter a debate in which the consensus of scholars holds that the killings and mass deportations of Armenians did indeed constitute a genocide. According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the historical record on the Armenian genocide is “unambiguous”: In the years approaching World War I, a new breed of Ottoman officials, the Young Turks, heirs to two centuries of imperial decline, saw themselves as the defenders of the Turkish remnant state in the Anatolian core of the empire. Embracing an ultranationalist and supposedly secular ideology, Young Turk leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress pointedly excluded non-Muslim minorities, particularly Armenians, from their vision of Turkish purity. The outbreak of war allowed these leaders to paint all Armenians as pro-Russian fifth columnists (which only a small number were) and undertake organized and widespread massacres and deportations that led to further deaths from starvation and disease.


The resolution is opposed by the Bush administration, not necessarily because it disagrees that genocide occurred nearly a century ago, but because such a resolution will inflame passions at a time when there are passions enough in the neighborhood. ~Cal Thomas

Via Sullivan

That must be why the White House said, “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  It doesn’t take a genius to come up with the formulation, “Yes, it was a genocide organised by a state that no longer exists, but this resolution is badly timed, provocative and strains an important alliance in wartime.”  That is not the White House’s position.  In fact, that is a fairly rare position in this debate–it is a view held, shockingly enough, by none other than Charles Krauthammer.  Meanwhile, the White House is taking the Ahmadinejad “we need more research” view of the question.  We call Ahmadinejad’s maneuver the tactic of a Holocaust denier.  The same standard should apply to the administration.

Returning to Lerner for another response, I will try to explain how flawed the article is.  As an earlier commenter has noted, Lerner has already tried to stack the deck rhetorically by making a comparison between an exterminationist party and ideological movement and an entire nation:

We must do it, Armenian genocide proponents [sic] tell us, because the Armenian tragedy was the original Holocaust: Armenians in World War I were like the Jews in World War II; Turks in 1915 were like the Germans in the 1940s. Thus, the only moral choice is to condemn the Turks, as we condemned the Nazis.

In fact, it was not “the Turks” who filled the role of genocidaires during WWI, but leaders and members of the CUP, Kurdish irregulars and some Ottoman soldiers.  To make blanket statements about “the Turks” is to go down Goldhagen’s road of collective guilt and engage in precisely the kind of reckless identitarian vilification that, as Kuehnelt-Leddihn has argued in another context, leads to the dehumanisation of an entire people and thus makes it easier to wage campaigns of annihilation against them.  Lerner has phrased things in such a way as to endorse Ankara’s portrayal of the efforts to recognise the genocide.  In this view, it is not just a recognition of crimes committed by agents within the Ottoman government and military, but an indictment of the entire Turkish nation.  If that was what we were talking about, I would also have to object to it, but it isn’t.  “The Turks” as a whole were not responsible, just as “the Turks” today are not responsible for what was done in those years, but it was rather specific groups of Turkish nationalists and Kurdish tribesmen who were responsible for what happened.  So, right away, Lerner clouds the issue by inaccurately describing the terms of the debate.

Lerner says:

The only enemies at home [in Germany in WWII] were the Jews, and they were never a real threat. They were scapegoats, not objective enemies, and they were being methodically eliminated, without exception, in all German-controlled territory.

The implication is that all Armenians in eastern Anatolia were an “objective enemy,” because there were some Armenians who raised rebellions or fought with the Russians, which somehow makes the genocidal campaign against the civilian Armenian population of eastern Anatolia less than genocidal.  In Lerner’s world, it’s only genocide if there are literally no members of the targeted population engaged in subversive or rebellious activity.  In framing things this way, Lerner has already conceded the morality of collective punishment of civilian populations in retaliation for the activities of guerrillas.  Presumably, as she sees it, there was also no genocide attempted against the Serbian population under German-Croat occupation, either, because “the Serbs” were an “objective enemy” engaged in resistance.  For Lerner, deliberate exterminationist campaigns are something other than genocide when they take place in a war zone, which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of the way most people understand the term.  Organised killing of a particular group of civilians bound by ethnic and religious ties is not genocide for Lerner if it comes as a “punishment” for the rebellion of a minority of the population.  It’s certainly a different kind of view, but it certainly isn’t moral.

She then obscures the issue by describing the Dardanelles campaign thus:

Fighting there was fierce, and continued until January 1916, but, on this front, there were relatively few civilian casualties, and no massacres.

There were relatively few civilian casualties because the front was largely static and confined to the narrow strips of land near Gallipoli.  There were no massacres because the Ottoman forces had their hands quite full with British and ANZAC forces.  There was also no sizeable Armenian population in the immediate vicinity of the Dardanelles, which makes the comparison seem almost pointless.

While Lerner acknowledges that Armenians fought on the Ottoman side, being subject to the general mobilisation conscription, she does not mention that Armenians in Ottoman units were disarmed after the Ottoman defeat at Sarikamis.  They were then executed. 

Of the aftermath of Sarikamis, Akcam writes on p. 143-44:

The defeat at Sarikamis was a turning point in the treatment of the Armenians, especially those in the army and labor batallions, who were no longer mistreated but frequently murdered.  In many regions, propaganda claimed that the Armenians had stabbed the Turks in the back.  Enver Pasha himself attempted to attribute the defeat to Armenian treachery, and referred to Armenians as a “threat.”….the first measure taken after the Sarikamis disaster was the order sent to army units on 25 February 1915, instructing them to disarm all Armenian soldiers….Reports followed, claiming that the annihilation of Armenians serving in the army had begun. 

Akcam writes more on page 144:

German missionary Jakob Kunzler, who worked with the medical personnel at the Urfa missionary hospital, recounts that the Armenians taken into the labor batallions were killed in March 1915, and that, “mostly knives were used, because the ammunition was needed for the foreign enemy.”  Something similar was related by Ambassador Morgenthau:

In almost all cases, the procedure was the same.  Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village.  Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp.  Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual, the Turks had stolen all their clothes.  In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims’ sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.

Other eyewitness accounts by foreigners serving in the area corroborate the fact that the murder of the labor batallions began only after the defeat at Sarikamis.

Sounds an awful lot like scapegoating to me. 

She also has nothing to say about the leading Armenians of Constantinople who were arrested on April 24, 1915 and subsequently executed.  She has nothing to say about these episodes because these would all point to an organised campaign of extermination.  In the end, Lerner cites the presence of Armenians fighting for the Russians (many of whom hailed from Russian Armenia all along, since the country was, as it has often been, divided between different empires) as if their possessing the same ethnicity gave the CUP or anyone else license to slaughter other, entirely unrelated Armenians.   

The only thing that Lerner can credibly claim is that the situations of the Armenians and Jews were very different.  The differences do not prove that there was no genocide, but only shows that genocide can take place under a number of different circumstances. 

Akcam has a passage on page 126 that happens to address the thrust of Lerner’s article directly:

It was not a coincidence that the Armenian genocide took place soon after the Sarikamis disaster and was contemporaneous with the empire’s struggle at Gallipoli.  As a rule, the acceleration of the process of a country’s decline and partition helps to strengthen a sense of desperation and “fighting with one’s back to the wall.”  As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, those who have failed to prevent the collapse become more hostile and aggressive.  When the crisis deepens, they resort to increasingly barbaric means, and come to believe “that only an absolute lack of mercy would allow one to avoid this loss of power and honor.”  A nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesitate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.

Update: Just to make another thing clear, there were also deportations of Armenians from western Anatolia and Thrace following the deportations from eastern Anatolia.  Those who would like to cast this as an eastern front wartime measure and leave it at that have no way to account for this. 

And why on earth should these public bodies lecture historians as to what they should be saying? ~Norman Stone

This is a standard line that I have heard a lot of these past few days.  Never have you encountered so many new passionate defenders of the independence of professional historians as in the last couple of weeks–the concern is truly touching.  Very clearly, Stone has never read the text of the resolution in question, or he would know that it has absolutely nothing to do with lecturing historians. 

The invocation of what we magical historians do bothers me most when someone talks about a matter “best left to historians” as another way of saying, “Let’s please stop talking about this subject publicly and leave it to those ghastly academics to worry about.”  Huckabee has done it before when it comes to debating the merits of the beginnings of the Iraq war (”it’s a question for historians to decide”), and it has now become the favourite refrain of the denialist.  Naturally, the denialist is not interested in proper historical research, nor does he care about interference with that research by “public bodies.”  The denialist complains about “political” interference with research when official bodies recognise the blatantly obvious, but will just as readily denounce as hopelessly biased any research that comes to conclusions that he dislikes.   

No one says that governments are “lecturing” historians when they commemorate the Holocaust or V-E Day or the Armistice or any other major historical event.  Governments commemorate things all the time, lending a certain sanction or authority to this or that reading of history.  As the Turkish government has shown, governments can use this power for distorting and corrupt ends.  That does not mean that we cease all commemorations and public acknowledgements of the past, but that we strive to be scrupulous in how we remember the past.  Certainly governments should not interfere with academics or dictate to them what they ought to say–that is fundamental.  That’s yet another reason to draw attention to the offically sanctioned denialism of the Republic of Turkey.  It is rather amazing to me how so many Westerners became so exercised over the threatened free speech rights of the people at Jyllands-Posten, but have suddenly lost all interest in free speech when it comes to Turkish academics and writers.  Many Westerners were put off by the idea that Muslims should apply the standards of their religion to everyone else and demand that others abide by those standards, but when it comes to abiding by the revisionist propaganda coming from Ankara they are more sanguine.        

It is not the government’s official approval or recognition, to address a concern my colleague James has raised, that adds any truth or significance to the event, and the historical reality would be the same whether or not it was ever officially acknowledged.  The genocide happened, whether or not Ankara and its small army of American and other lackeys will ever accept that reality.  But what we choose to commemorate and acknowledge does reflect on the kind of government one has and the kind of historical memory the citizens of a country have.  Refusal to commemorate and use the proper names for things also reflects on us. 

To cast the current (almost certainly now dead) resolution as a lecture to historians, as Stone does, is especially galling, since the main (indeed technically the only) intended audience of the resolution is the President, who is as much of an historian as I am a jet pilot.  The resolution is entitled: “Calling upon the President to ensure the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide and for other purposes.”

Were the resolution to pass, not one historian would be obliged to do anything.  No historians will have been lectured by a public body.  Most historians of the subject, who already acknowledge the genocide, will be unfazed by the terrible burden of a non-binding resolution.  The only historians who would be troubled are those who have, for whatever reason, chosen to deny the genocidal nature of the events.  In any case, they have not yet been persuaded by evidence or conscience to recognise and speak the truth–a vote by the House of Representatives will not weigh heavily on them, either.

Stone invokes Lewy, whose arguments are pretty effectively undermined here, while ignoring the work that directly contradicts that of Lewy.  The Inside Higher Ed refers to a future Akcam work that will reportedly make the case even more clear.  From the article:

To those like Lewy who have written books saying that there is no evidence, “I laugh at them,” Akçam said, because the documents he has already released rebut them, and the new book will do so even more. “There is no scholarly debate on this topic,” he said. 

P.S.  Note to Cohen: the text of the resolution itself includes mention of Lemkin’s views on the Armenian genocide.

The Economist covers the resolution in an editorial and discusses Turkish-Armenian relations in an article.  Naturally, I don’t agree with the editorial, but I’ve already said plenty on that subject for now.  The article is a good overview of the state of affairs in Turkey.

Via Massie, I see that Fallows wrote:

The Armenian genocide was real; many Turks pretend it wasn’t. They are wrong, and we should stand for what’s right. But it’s hard to think of a more willfully self-indulgent step than lecturing Turkey’s current government and people 90 years late.

Er, so it’s willfully self-indulgent to stand up for what’s right?  What do you call it when you permit those in the wrong to prevail?  Virtuous self-sacrifice?  As the last couple of weeks has made quite clear, it isn’t just “many Turks” who deny the genocide, but a small army of water-carrying American apologists as well.  Is it “self-indulgent” to try to defeat willing collaborators in genocide denial?       

There is something deeper wrong with Fallows’ response.  He is not alone in making this kind of argument, so this isn’t aimed just at him.  There is the idea that unless you simultaneously condemn every act of genocide or anything that might reasonably be defined as genocide in the history of the world, you really shouldn’t say anything about one particular genocide.  This is a very strange view to take.  Rather than strengthening the case against recognition and drawing attention to the particular genocide, it simply reminds us of how many such exterminationist campaigns most people never give a second thought.  It reminds us how lopsided and arbitrary our commemoration of past genocides has been up till now, and underscores how poor and limited our historical memory is.  There is something particularly strange about those who actually know about these other slaughters and wish to cite them as reasons for not acknowledging this or that genocide.  They might cry, “What about the Ukrainians?”  But should it ever come time to commemorate the Holodomor, they will turn around and cry, after having belittled the Armenian genocide resolution and the history that it represents, “What about the Armenians?” 

The odd thing is that this push to recognise and acknowledge an historical event requires very little of a nation.  Americans are not being called on to intervene in someone else’s conflict, nor are we being asked to take sides in complex, little-understood struggles on the other side of the world.  The only costs that we might incur derive from the threats of a putative ally.  Americans are being asked to acknowledge, through their representatives, the basic and obvious truth about a terrible, state-organised act of terror and violence against innocent people, and in response their representatives are being intimidated with invocations of the importance of this so-called ally in the “war on terror.”  The absurdity of it is plain for all to see.         

The liars are out in force these days.  Does National Review really want to be known as a venue for genocide deniers? 

She seems to think that a people cannot be made into a scapegoat when things at home are going badly, but only when they are going relatively well.  This is a very unique understanding of what scapegoating is.  It is rather stunning that so many hacks and amateurs can confidently deny what honest scholars of genocide studies and history affirm.  As for those who “excel” at propaganda, Ms. Lerner does not need to look very far, since her article is a classic example of that very thing. 

P.S. Incidentally, it is articles just like this one that confirm my view that passage of the resolution is highly desirable.  Every day that this resolution is blocked is another small victory for these genocide deniers.  Whenever someone argues that the resolution is redundant or “gratuitous” because no one questions that the Armenians experienced a genocidal campaign against them, I will simply point to this article and others like it to show that denialism is flourishing. 

Like Cohen’s shambles of a column the other day, Lerner’s article insists on defining what genocide is based on its identity with the circumstances of the Holocaust.  Since no other genocide in modern history has ever been identical to the Holocaust, this style of argument implicitly denies all the other acknowledged genocides of the 20th century by emphasising dissimilarity of circumstances.  Lerner’s article is a blatant example of “blaming the victim,” pinning the blame for the actions of a relative few revolutionaries on an entire population.  And of course the trials of guilty officers were conducted by the non-CUP elements of the Ottoman government, yet Lerner uses these trials as exculpatory evidence to the advantage of the CUP leadership. 

I don’t know how many times one needs to say this: there was a deliberate and organised campaign of extermination authored by the leaders of the CUP and carried out in a series of massacres and death marches on their orders.  As Akcam has shown, the CUP leaders would send our duelling sets of orders, with one set ordering humane and decent treatment of the deportees and the other ordering their annihilation.  These are obviously war crimes–that much hardly anyone will seriously dispute–and they very clearly meet all but the most peculiar definitions of genocide.  It’s not clear to me what could actually motivate someone to engage in Lerner’s morally abhorrent contortions. 

Here is a good Telegraph review of A Shameful Act.

Denialism is alive and well on the Web.  Here is a specimen of the type, complete with references to Kevorkian and “crafty” Armenians.  Naturally, this brave character does not publish his name–nor would I if I were in the business of spewing filth.

Mr. Krikorian is correct when he says:

First of all, it is simply inarguable that the Ottoman Empire tried to eradicate the Armenian people under the cover of World War I.

Why then do so many prominent Americans keep arguing against it, hedging their statements or tying themselves into knots to trivialise the events?  Of course, it is, or rather ought to be, inarguable, but so long as Ankara’s apologists are able to retain any credibility and cast doubt on the matter there will be a continuing “debate.”

He’s also right when he says:

Our policy toward modern Turkey should have nothing whatsoever to do with acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. But caving to Turkish pressure never to use “Armenian” and “genocide” in the same sentence is what has given the current resolution its impetus.

Critics are right that Congress has no business weighing in on historical controversies. But there is no controversy here [bold mine-DL]. This isn’t even a matter of the polite fictions necessary to international diplomacy. Denying the Armenian Genocide is simply a lie, and a lie propagated at the behest of a foreign power. It’s unworthy of us.

Amen to that.

“They have focused on the idea of objectivity, the idea of ‘on the one hand and the other hand,’ ” he said. “That’s very attractive on campuses to say that you should hear both sides of the story.” While Payaslian is quick to add that he doesn’t favor censoring anyone or firing anyone for their views, he believes that it is irresponsible to pretend that the history of the period is uncertain. And he thinks it is important to expose “the collaboration between the Turkish Embassy and scholars cooperating to promote this denialist argument.”

To many scholars, an added irony is that all of these calls for debating whether a genocide took place are coming at a time when emerging new scholarship on the period — based on unprecedented access to Ottoman archives — provides even more solid evidence of the intent of the Turkish authorities to slaughter the Armenians [bold mine-DL]. This new scholarship is seen as the ultimate smoking gun as it is based on the records of those who committed the genocide — which counters the arguments of Turkey over the years that the genocide view relies too much on the views of Armenian survivors.

Even further, some of the most significant new scholarship is being done by scholars who are Turkish, not Armenian, directly refuting the claim by some denial scholars that only Armenian professors believe a genocide took place. In some cases, these scholars have faced death threats as well as indictments by prosecutors in Turkey. ~Inside Higher Ed

Via Cliopatria

Well, there goes any respect I might have had for Bruce Fein (who works, it should be noted, for the Turkish Coalition of America, founded in that august, ancient time of February 2007):

Like Benito Mussolini, Armenians believe truth is an assertion at the head of a figurative bayonet.

Yes, don’t you see–the Armenians are deceitful and treacherous.  You can’t trust them.  Sound familiar?  Note that any similarly gross overgeneralisation about another group of people would be met with fierce denunciations from all sides.  The upshot of Fein’s article is that lots and lots of Turks died in the same period (true), there were atrocities carried out by Armenians in eastern Anatolia (also true) and there have been many Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish targets in the 20th century (true again).  The purpose of the article, of course, is to make light of the genocide and to equate the organising massacring and death march of over a million civilians by their own government (it is, of course, the intent and organised extermination, not the number, that ultimately matters) with the devastating consequences of near-total war between sovereign governments.  Sounds curiously like arguments that go something like, “Lots and lots of Germans died fighting in WWII, so state-run genocide isn’t that big of a deal.” 

My favourite bit is the accusation of religious bigotry (that would be bigotry against the Muslims, you see), the praise of the notorious genocide denier Shaw for his “academic courage,” and the immediate invocation of none other than Bernard Lewis.  Of course, it was in no small part religious bigotry and supremacism on the part of the perpetrators that fueled the genocide, as Akcam has made clear, and I suspect that it has been the fact that the Turks are Muslim and the Armenians Christian that has kept the genocide from being more widely publicised and recognised for what it was.   

Update: The Turkish Coalition of America takes mendacity to all new lows.  Consider this description of H. Res. 106:

[it] targets Turkish history and heritage, hurts US-Turkish relations and the US national interest.

Impressive how they hardly ever mention anything about the substance of the resolution.  That might make the “Turkish history and heritage” bit a little too hard for some folks to swallow.  This “Action Alert” section is also quite hilarious in a depressing, sickening way:

Sadly, our voice has mostly been absent in this debate.

If you believe that, they have a bridge in Istanbul to sell you. 

Almost a dozen lawmakers had shifted against the measure in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday night, accelerating a sudden exodus that has cast deep doubt over the measure’s prospects. Some made clear that they were heeding warnings from the White House, which has called the measure dangerously provocative, and from the Turkish government, which has said House passage would prompt Turkey to reconsider its ties to the United States, including logistical support for the Iraq war. ~The New York Times

Here’s a true champion of the moral high ground:

“We simply cannot allow the grievances of the past, as real as they may be, to in any way derail our efforts to prevent further atrocities for future history books,” said Representative Wally Herger, Republican of California.

That’s a good one.  Acknowledging genocide is now just a matter of ”grievances of the past.”  This is what people are reduced to saying.  What else can they possibly say?   

Rep. Sherman, a resolution supporter, took the words right out of my mouth:

Since when has it become fashionable for friends to threaten friends?

Alex Massie is right on the mark again:

But of course Lemkin himself deliberately cited the suffering of the Armenians when he first wrote about genocide. He didn’t seem to share Mr Cohen’s belief that there is only one kind of genocide.

I appreciate Mr. Massie picking up on this point.  After all, if someone confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust had been looking for precedents of coordinated state extermination of its own population the Armenian genocide would have been an obvious example in the 1940s.   

What strikes me as so strange about all this is that virtually no one in the Washington political or media establishment has ever applied this same level of skepticism to talk about genocide in Darfur, to say nothing of the much more dubious case of Kosovo.  I expect that I will look in vain for Cohen’s citations of Lemkin from the spring of 1999.  All that needed to be said in 1999 was the word “Balkan” and suddenly everyone who was anyone was convinced that genocide was about to happen again (not that any of the people who wanted to “crush Serb skulls” ever gave a second thought to the genocide of Serbs during WWII at the hands of the forerunners of our good friends and allies in Zagreb). 

Pundits and pols are very free with the word when the regime being accused is one that they don’t much like, which is why I have tended to be very skeptical about people who describe something as genocide in the present.  It has frequently become a one-sided and tendentious political weapon that seems to be deployed for other reasons.  Yet in this case, when the evidence is clear, the government responsible is long gone and all that is being asked of anyone is to recognise the obvious, everyone becomes terribly anxious and reticent.     

Massie also notes a ridiculous Hiatt op-ed:

Then there’s Fred Hiatt, the WaPo’s editorial page editor  who thinks the resolution should be spiked because, well, modern Armenia isn’t properly democratic. Or something like that.

I had seen Hiatt’s op-ed, and my first response was simply to move on to something else.  Then it occurred to me that Hiatt’s column quite unintentionally helps explain why the resolution is necessary.  Hiatt’s argument, such as it is, is that the Armenian Diaspora could have used their time and resources for much better purposes than lobbying for this resolution.  Think of what all that money and attention could for Armenia, Hiatt exulted!  Armenia is a poor and corrupt state with a dysfunctional government, and the Diaspora could work to change that. 

Not that Fred Hiatt has ever, to my knowledge, given a fig for what happened to the Republic of Armenia, mind you, but his tiresome lecture did make me think of something important.  It was, as some of us will remember, Hrant Dink’s argument that the Diasporans should stop fixating on the genocide and work to build a better Armenia.  Dink, a great man, argued that the preoccupation with the genocide would become “poison in the blood” for the people who continued to focus on it so intently.  Dink was actually arguing for the Armenians to move on and try to build a better future for the independent Armenian state that Armenians finally did have–the very thing that Hiatt has suddenly discovered as the right answer–and for his wise counsel he was indicted by the Turkish government for “insulting Turkishness.”  How could that be?  Well, his remarks about “poison in the blood” were taken entirely out of context and turned into an attack on Turks.  When he was talking about poison, according to the government, he was referring to Turks.  This was a malicious and obvious lie, as the government there must have known, but the hysteria in the press that the charges generated led in short order to Dink’s assassination by a Turkish nationalist. 

Dink was right–the genocide should not be an all-consuming passion, and Armenians should work to improve Armenia.  For his efforts to de-emphasise the focus on the genocide (while also insisting on the reality of the genocide), he was prosecuted and then murdered.  His son has since been indicted under the same charge and sentenced to a year in prison.  That is the government for whom the apologists are carrying water. 

Yet here is another reason why recognition of the genocide is important–without widespread recognition and pressure on Ankara to acknowledge the reality of the genocide, the Diasporans will never be able to let go and start the necessary work of building up Armenia.  Not, of course, that Turkey has had any interest in aiding the improvement or reform of Armenia, since they have kept the border sealed in solidarity with the Azeris.  The poverty, corruption and bad government of the Republic have more than a little to do with that situation, which Washington tacitly endorses with its alliances with Turkey and Azerbaijan.  Hiatt has quite unwittingly helped the argument for the resolution, by making clear that Armenia’s development depends in part on the Diasporans’ being able to turn their attention to other things besides this.

Richard Cohen started out all right, but then goes into the ditch:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared.

Not every Tutsi in Rwanda was “affected,” either, but we don’t quibble about that.  Of course, the Armenian elite in Constantinople was not spared, and tens of thousands of members of the Armenian community in Smyrna was massacred when Kemal’s forces took the city in 1922.  Frankly, this line of argument is a bit like saying, “Well, since there were some Jews left at the end of the war, it wasn’t that bad.”

Cohen is trying hard to reach moral equivalency:

Among them were the Armenians, an ancient people who had been among the first to adopt Christianity. By the end of the 19th century, they were engaged in guerrilla activity.

How nice it must be to sit back and talk about what “they,” the Armenians, all did.  Some Armenians were involved in guerrilla activity, but virtually the entire Armenian population of eastern Anatolia was “punished.”  The actions of a relative few neither explain nor justify the murderous response of the CUP.

Cohen says:

Within Turkey, Armenians were feared as a fifth column.

Set aside the obnoxious dismissal of the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal millet.”  Unlike many members of the Rum millet, the Armenians typically did not engage in separatist or subversive activities.  Of all the Christian subjects of the Ottomans, the Armenians had given the least cause for offense, yet they were the ones who suffered the full wrath of the empire to whom the overwhelming majority remained loyal.  Sound familiar?  Need I point out the obvious problem with talking about the nationalist delusions about minorities as if they were mitigating or justifying?  Nationalists and genocidaires routinely treat their victims as collaborators with an enemy, whether real or imagined.  Collaboration is often not happening in any form, but it is assumed by the ideologues for whom “those people” are all inherently treacherous and disloyal.  Sound familiar?


So contemporary Turkey is entitled to insist that things are not so simple. If you use the word genocide, it suggests the Holocaust — and that is not what happened in the Ottoman Empire.

Yes, the past is so very complicated!  Especially when the people who were butchered don’t have anything to do with you.  It’s much easier to talk about context and ambiguity when the humanity of the victims doesn’t really matter as much to you.  If you use the word genocide, it also suggests Rwanda, Cambodia, the Ukraine in the ’30s.  None of these is directly identifiable with the methods employed in the Holocaust, but each is a genocide.  It need not be done in organised camps with gas to count as the same crime.

Cohen then goes deeper into apologist mode:

Its modern leaders, beginning with the truly remarkable Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, have done a Herculean job of bringing the country from medievalism to modernity without, it should be noted, the usual bloodbath.

Except for the bloodbaths that made a more homogenous Turkish state possible, and except for the ongoing repression of the Kurds.  By all means, give Kemal his due for modernising Turkey, but let’s not pretend that it was all done through some pleasant and humane process.  It was brutal, coercive and, more often than his admirers like to recall, quite violent.

Cohen finally comes around, after all of this, to declare Turkey’s threats over the resolution and its efforts to suppress the truth to be unacceptable, but he took such an appalling route to get there I’m not sure that it matters.

Alex Massie gets it:

Ultimately it’s pretty simple: you either treat genocide as genocide or you don’t. But if you don’t at least have the decency to stay quiet about it rather than offering weasel excuses about the national interest and all the rest of it.

Besides it is humiliating to give in to Turkish bullying. To wit:

A top Turkish official warned Thursday that consequences “won’t be pleasant” if the full House approves the resolution.

“Yesterday some in Congress wanted to play hardball,” said Egemen Bagis, foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I can assure you Turkey knows how to play hardball.”

Screw them.

Spengler also has a number of good points, including this one:

The sorry spectacle of an American president begging Congress not to affirm what the whole civilized world knows to be true underlines the overall stupidity of US policy towards the Middle East. It is particularly despicable for a Western nation to avert its eyes from a Muslim genocide against a Christian population.

Thanks to commenter tcowan for the link to Spengler’s article.

During my few days in Toronto, I happened to visit St. Anne’s Anglican Church for the concert I mentioned earlier.  In St. Anne’s, which was inspired in its design and decoration by Hagia Sophia, there is a traditional war memorial to the war dead of WWI and WWII.  The phrasing of the memorial was worth mentioning, in light of the arrogant bluster of a certain American presidential candidate.  Referring to those from the parish who had fallen in battle, the plaques read:

In loving memory for those who gave their lives for the world’s freedom [bold mine-DL] in the Great War of 1914


In loving memory for those who gave their lives for the world’s freedom [bold mine-DL] in the Great War of 1939

You can say what you will about the exaggerated claims of these memorials.  In any case, the point is that the people who dedicated these memorials believed that their departed compatriots were shedding their blood for the freedom of the other peoples (indeed, for the freedom of the whole world).  They deserve respect and honour.  This isn’t hard to understand.  Unless, of course, your name is Fred Thompson. 

Only Turks question this history. ~Ralph Peters

There, of course, Mr. Peters is laughably wrong.  If “only” Turks questioned this history, there would be no debate whatever in any academic circles outside Turkey over “whether” there was a genocide.  You would not find academics readily spouting the official Ankara line, nor would you find pundits and hacks mouthing denialist rhetoric.  The truth is that there are a great many willing, non-Turkish collaborators who help cover up or apologise for this “questioning.”  At least Peters has the integrity, so to speak, to acknowledge that his opposition to the resolution is motivated out of his fidelity to the Iraq war.  He is quite happy to quash the resolution and tacitly abet genocide denial if it allows the war to continue.     

Michael Crowley raises a good point that the genocide resolution is providing hay for conservative talk show hosts, who would like to turn the entire question into a debate over national security and the war.  This angle had occurred to me, but Pelosi doesn’t strike me as  being nearly so clever as to engineer such a roundabout, indirect way of making the continuation of the war untenable, and attacks on her along these lines will not persuade anyone who isn’t already steadfastly behind the war.  Actually, if pro-war talk show hosts wanted to go down that road I think it could help the antiwar cause in one respect: it closely links support for the Iraq war to supporting, tacitly or not, genocide denial.  They can keep saying, in effect, “Genocide denial is essential to victory.”  I’d be interested to see how many people buy into such a corrupt bargain.

On a different point, when Pelosi says, “this is about the [former] Ottoman Empire,” she is clearly trying to distiguish between the condemnation of a genocide in the past and the perception that recognising this for what it is somehow entails equal condemnation of the current government or the Republic of Turkey.   

Update: Here is a roll call of the committee vote.

Back from Toronto.  I’ve come across Fisk’s latest on the Armenian genocide.  I also see that Turkey has recalled their ambassador over the House committee vote.  Look for my next column for more discussion of all this. 

Update: Can I just say how genuinely weird it is that everyone at The Washington Note is effectively taking the White House’s side in this dispute, while I support officially recognizing a genocide?  There is also a notion out there that the right way to handle Turkey is to give in to its demands over this, as if it is the proper behaviour of a government to enable its ally in one of its most self-damaging policies.  There is nothing “pro-Turkish” in encouraging the worst sort of behaviour in our ally, especially if you think that Turkey should be implementing the changes that will make it acceptable to the European Union.  I think Turkish entry would be a mistake by the EU, but if I supported Turkey’s bid I wouldn’t be backing them when they’re in the wrong over something that will definitely undermine their bid.  Turkey’s denialism is self-destructive and harmful to their own stated long-term goals, so it is simply amazing that they are willing to take things this far.

Chris Roach makes an excellent point here:

I would be sympathetic with complaints against this Congressional Resolution if they were lodged by consistent realists, who adopt an across-the-board policy rejecting interference with other nations’ internal affairs. But the defenders of Turkey’s right to live in a world without criticism are normal, run-of-the-mill western politicians–these, the same people that piously utter “never again” at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.  In Turkey’s defense, the Madeline Albrights and Cyrus Vances of the world are standing shoulder to shoulder.

My next column will be on the Armenian genocide resolution and the debate surrounding it, so I won’t pre-empt myself with more commentary before I go to Toronto.  However, James Bovard makes many of the right points:

It’s a helluva thing when a war on terror supposedly requires the U.S. Congress to pretend that genocide didn’t occur.  Bush’s assertion that “we all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people” is a lie.   Most people either don’t know or don’t care about the carnage.  And Bush apparently wants to keep it that way.



Here we go:

A congressional panel approved a resolution calling for the U.S. to designate the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, amid warnings that the measure would harm relations with Turkey.

Yglesias refers to a section on Habsburg history in the second part of Paul Schroeder’s article on Iraq in TAC as an “annoying detour,” which I suppose it might be for some people, were it not for the fact that the “annoying detour” was a central part of explaining Prof. Schroeder’s key insights into the essential flaws of the Iraq war.  Here is Prof. Schroeder:

Austria’s leaders were convinced that it was defending not just itself but the rights of all of Europe against international outlaws and that every decent government in Europe, understanding this and appreciating their stand, would support them even if it led to war. This moral hubris, the absolute value they assigned to Austria’s just cause, closed their minds not merely to political and strategic realities but also to competing moral values and judgments. Many Europeans understood Austria’s grievances but placed a higher value on peace, recognized other rights besides historic and legal ones, and understood the necessity and inevitability of change.

The same three strategic errors—a refusal to recognize when a position has become untenable, a reliance on military victory and power to achieve unattainable ends, and moral hubris leading to political and strategic miscalculation—have also brought the U.S. into its current mess in Iraq. 

It might also be worth noting at this point that Prof. Schroder is a modern European history professor who probably has relevant insights into lessons from the history of defunct empires.  Those would be some of those “annoying detours” Yglesias mentioned. 

If Belgium falls to sectarianism, what does that say about prospects for making Europe into a super-Belgium? ~Jonah Goldberg

But it isn’t sectarianism that is dividing Belgium, since sectarianism would imply, well, the existence of rival sects that serve as the basis for political and social divides.  In fact, one of the reasons for the creation of Belgium was the decided lack of sectarian divides among the Flemings and Walloons of the southern half of the southern provinces.  It was through common identity as Catholics that Belgians were originally lumped together.  With secularisation and the general decline of religion as a primary political loyalty, ethnic and linguistic differences inevitably have become more salient.  If Belgium breaks up, it will be partly on account of the breakdown in the original “sectarian” character of Belgian identity.

Alex Massie has more.

Speaking of Bernard Lewis, one of the more unpleasant facts about the man is that he has made a point, using his reputation as a serious Ottomanist, of maintaining the Ankara line on the Armenian genocide (i.e., that it wasn’t planned and wasn’t genocide).  Naturally, Armenian-Americans are rather unhappy that genocide deniers receive presidential awards, and I should think most everyone should be unsettled at the thought that one of the more influential historians advising or inspiring Republican views on the region is committed to denying a genocide.  Lewis’ privileged place as the administration’s reliable Middle East expert helps explain the White House’s fairly despicable attitude on the question of recognition.

Michael Crowley has been doing good work keeping track of the politicking and lobbying surrounding the Armenian genocide resolution, and he has a round-up of the latest news.  Most ridiculous (and depressing) line comes from the White House: “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  This comes from the same administration that has felt no compunction about labeling the conflict in Darfur a genocide and the House joined the administration in declaring it as such, whether or not that really is the most accurate term for it.  Mr. Bush has no problem invoking the Cambodian genocide in a tendentious and dishonest revisionist account of the end of the Vietnam War.  Yet the administration and its allies in the House are utterly spineless when it comes to properly describing the genocidal crimes of a regime that no longer even exists because it will offend an allied state.  This is all another very helpful reminder that for all together too many people that the recognition of a genocide that occurred in the past depends heavily on whether it serves or harms present political interests. 

Do you suppose that PM Erdogan would be received in the same way that Ahmadinejad was last month?  I doubt it.  He would be welcomed, cheered as a “moderate” and “reformed” Islamist and a strong ally of the United States, and so on.  He denies a genocide about which relatively few people care, and his government is allied with Israel, which makes his government’s affront to moral and historical truth rather more acceptable to a lot of the very same people who wanted to bar Ahmadinejad from setting foot on U.S. soil.  Erdogan is the head of government in a state that prosecutes people for engaging in just such “historical inquiry,” which is why Turkish historians who wish to speak truthfully about the genocide, such as Taner Akcam, have had to leave Turkey.  When Bush says that there should be more “historical inquiry” into the matter, what other politician does he sound like?

Here is a sentence from the introduction to the brand new Crisis of the Oikoumene:

Loyalty to the Empire that endured until the Monothelite crisis–involving a development on Monophysite Christology–prevented the [Three Chapters] schism from making a lasting mark on the African church.

Can I just tell you how troubling these lines about monotheletism are?  Every year there is some book that comes out about Orthodoxy, Christology, ecumenical councils or Byzantium and inevitably somewhere in such a book you will find a description of monotheletism like the one above.  It’s just not accurate, and yet it gets repeated on a regular basis.  I may have more to say about the book at Cliopatria in the coming weeks.  Christology buffs, stay tuned.  

Update: On the other hand, Richard Price’s chapter explaining the origins of the Three Chapters controversy is absolutely superb and definitely required reading for anyone interested in the question of the authority of Chalcedon and its supposed ‘Nestorianising’ tendencies on account of the reinstatements of Theodoret and Ibas.  I have rarely seen a scholarly treatment of this aspect of the controversy handled so carefully and thoughtfully.  Well worth the wait.

But McCain was precisely correct to say that Judeo-Christian values were a cornerstone of Enlightenment thinking that led men like Madison, Jefferson and Adams to believe in individual autonomy [bold mine-DL].

These men were critical of some aspects of Christianity. But to deny that Christian principles were a powerful force behind the founding of this nation, from the impulse to flee Europe to the justification for war to the guiding principles at the Constitutional Convention [bold mine-DL], is to deny historical reality. 

The political thinking of the Founders was profoundly shaped by Christian teaching. Pointing that out would hardly be controversial were not so many people irrationally afraid of religion in general and Christianity in particular. But as John Adams said, men “may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”  ~ New Hampshire Union-Leader

That first paragraph is remarkable.  Naturally, I don’t agree.  Far more overreaching than anything McCain said, which was ridiculous mostly because it was McCain saying it, the editorial maintains that “Judeo-Christian values were a cornerstone of Enlightenment thinking.”  To which I respond: “what part of the Enlightenment do we mean?”  I have been known to refer very broadly and negatively to “the Enlightenment,” when I am really objecting principally to political and social theories of Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau, and I have been reminded on a few occasions that it is worth keeping in mind the differences between Enlightenment thinkers.  Here this is especially worth doing. 

Leibniz, for example, was probably the closest to matching the image of an Aufklaerer who also respected what the editorial calls “Judeo-Christian values” (which is still pretty far removed from being “profoundly shaped by Christian teaching”), but he was an early figure and not representative of the kind of thought that influenced the Founding generation.  Algernon Sydney’s Discourse Concerning Government, which had a great influence on 18th century colonial political thought, is a weighty tome replete with references to Scripture, but it is not so much “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” as it is Whig political philosophy trying to shield itself against Filmer with the Bible.  It is difficult to say that Harrington and Bolingbroke, significant for us because of their influence on Montesqieu and the later Country tradition, were “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” beyond the reality that they belonged to Christian confessions and lived in a culture that was steeped in Christianity.  In my modern Greek history class, I could also say that Moisiodax and Korais were “profoundly influenced by Christian teaching”–profoundly influenced, that is, to run away from that teaching when it conflicted with their philosophical and political programs.  In general, wherever people have been ”profoundly influenced by Christian teaching” they have had no time for prattle about natural rights, the social contract and “individual autonomy.”  It seems right and good to me that they should respond in this way.  Understandably, Christians try to construct some preeminent place for Christianity in the story of “the Founding,” which has itself been given quasi-mystical status by nationalist historians and ideologues, because they have come to recognise that it is only through having a claim to being a key part of “the Founding” that they will be permitted to have any real role in a system dominated by Americanist/proposition nation ideology.  The problem lies not so much with attempts to baptise ”the Founding” as with the distorted and ideological treatment of the early republican period by later nationalist politicians and historians.  If Americanism and American identity itself are to be defined by political propositions, as the adherents of the proposition nation view would have it, it becomes necessary for people to interpret ”the Founding” in a such a way that their beliefs are discovered as the ultimate sources of those propositions.    

As a recent instructor of mine was fond of saying, let’s take this step by step.  It makes sense to describe America as a Christian nation in the following ways:

1) Anglo-American culture, what Russell Kirk referred to as our “British culture,” owes an enormous debt to European Christianity and is inconceivable without it.  North American colonial societies were and are derived from European and Christian civilisation and ultimately belong to that civilisation.  Christianity was a public religion and was, at the state level, an established religion in one form or another in many of the colonies, and this arrangement prevailed for many decades after independence.  Those who think they have found justification in the early republican period for their drive to push religion into the corner and isolate it from public life don’t know what they’re talking about.   

2) It is not possible to understand the evolution of America’s “language of liberty” without referring back to the 17th century religiously-charged constitutional struggles of the British Isles.  In this sense, our constitutional inheritance, which was at the heart of the War for Independence, depended on and derived from precedents that were set during a civil war that had both political and religious dimensions. 

However, the constitutional settlement that emerged out of these conflicts involved to a very large extent the complete abandonment of all political theology.  Any endorsement of ideas of “individual autonomy” would represent a significant departure from “Christian principles.”  “Judeo-Christian values,” fairly meaningless phrase that it is in this formulation, do not lead anyone to believe in individual autonomy.  On the contrary, whether in the Old Testament or the New, what we call individual autonomy is what Scripture defines as sin and pride.  Scripture is brimming with commands for social obligation, fraternity, charity, self-sacrifice and the corporate unity of the People of God.  Traditional Christian social teaching does not recognise an idea of “individual autonomy.”  Unity in the Body of Christ does not obliterate distinctions and personality, but it does preclude autonomy of any kind.  Enlightenment social theories along these lines were considered–and were–subversive because they contradicted the Christian teaching that allegedly so profoundly influenced the thought of Jefferson (!).  It should be enough that Jefferson was a great proponent of decentralism and liberty; we should not need to remake him into a crypto-theologian to appreciate his contribution to our country.  

It is correct to observe that Christian respect for the dignity and integrity of the human person and scholastic arguments on natural law paved the way for later applications of these reflections in political and legal reform.  It is true, as studies of the rhetoric of the Revolution have shown, that the use of originally religious language of covenants, which had already been introduced into political discourse during the English civil war, shaped broader popular understanding of the patriot cause more than did familiarity with Lockean contractual theory.  It is true that the broad mass of the population of the colonies was made up of professing Christians.  In this sense, the people constituted a nation of Christians.  To the extent that they still do, they may be called a Christian nation.  As Dr. Fleming said on this subject:

The United States was never a ‘Christian country’ in a confessional sense, though it was once a nation of mostly Christians.

Watch McCain pander:

I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, that’s a decision the American people would have to make, but personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.

Watch him completely abase himself:

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.

Whenever I hear the claim that “this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles,” much less that the Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” I have to wonder what people are thinking when they say these things.  In McCain’s case, it’s easy: he’s repeating what he thinks primary voters want to hear.  Never in his entire career, so far as I know, has McCain ever held forth on America as a Christian nation.  It would never have occurred to him.  The people who champion this or related ideas have been his adversaries within the GOP. 

It is true that America derives her religious culture from European Christianity, and it is true that Americans have been overwhelmingly Christian all along.  I think this religious heritage should be defended and extolled.  It is an integral part of American cultural identity.  What I really don’t understand is the need to make up these myths that the Republic is founded on “Christian principles” or that you can somehow find this claim in the Constitution.  First of all, these myths are unnecessary.  Second, it is an example of the mistaken drive to locate national and cultural identity in our political institutions and key political texts, when those identities really must be defined in other ways if we are not going to reduce them to ciphers or subordinates part of some political creedalism.   

Via Yglesias, I see that Perlstein has a good review of revisionist books on Vietnam.  Not that it will matter to Perlstein, who cannot recognise a basically sympathetic, if perhaps poorly phrased, argument when he sees one, but I happen to find the nationalist habit of revisionism in support of policies of ever-greater militarism and slaughter to be as abhorrent as he does.  His review also succeeds in drawing attention to the revisionists’ comfort with mass killing when it is being done by the ‘right’ people for the ‘right’ reasons, which should help put the crocodile tears many of the same people conveniently shed over the victims of the Cambodian genocide in perspective. 

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia seems to be working to his advantage back home and in our own press to some extent.  Bollinger’s introduction has been the focus of much of the criticism, which has apparently helped to create sympathy for Ahmadinejad.  It would have been better had the exchange never took place if the only “acceptable” way Bollinger could approach the encounter was as a hectoring critic.

Here’s an amusing item from the Time article/Ahmadinejad press release:

He notes that Americans don’t understand Iranian history, saying that the movie 300 — with which he seems intimately familiar — was a “complete distortion of Iranian history.” Iran, he says, has never invaded anyone in its history.

For modern Iran, this is certainly true.  If the Achaemenids count as being part of the same Iran (and they did call their country Iran), then this would be another one of Ahmadinejad’s “creative” history lessons. 

Via Ross, I see that Mark Steyn makes the right points about Fred “Our Casualty Numbers Are Bigger Than Yours” Thompson:

It’s unbecoming for a serious nation to get into a pissing match about whose pile of war dead is higher.


It should not be necessary in “supporting our troops” to denigrate everybody’s else. 


That’s President Reagan addressing “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” at Normandy in 1984. I know everyone wants Fred to be the new Ron, but I miss the old one’s generosity of spirit. 


But Senator Thompson’s line is a gross sentimentalization.

That all sounds right to me.

Someone else noticed Fred Thompson’s bit of stupidity that I criticised here.  It is apparently also a regular part of his stump routine.  The Post writer notes:

Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth (”a combination of nations,” in Thompson’s phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.

Even excluding WWI, which was a fight for the “rights of small nations” only in the delusional mind of Woodrow Wilson and his admirers, Thompson’s claim is false and obviously so.  Of course, in my original post, I didn’t talk about the Soviets, because the idea that the Soviets were fighting for “other people’s liberty” was ludicrous and obviously so.  The Post does itself no favours by even mentioning this, since it has a perfectly solid argument against Thompson’s claim by looking at the sacrifices made by all our free allies in WWII.  There might be another occasion for acknowledging the enormous losses suffered by the USSR in WWII, but this was not it.

Thompson’s claim wasn’t exactly “jingoistic,” though it might be employed in service of future jingoism, but it was certainly nationalist and was rather chauvinistic at that.  It is a declaration of vast American moral superiority over all other nations put together.  These are the words of someone who would be President?  He would be the one to represent our country to the world?  The President, whose words carry tremendous influence for good or ill, cannot long afford to be so reckless and sloppy in his language as this. 

Thompson’s statement was an insistence that Americans have sacrificed more than all other nations combined for the sake of liberty.  It was plainly inaccurate, which is bad enough, but the significance of the remark is much worse.  I say again that this is an example of appalling arrogance and a show of enormous disrespect to all those soldiers of free nations that fought alongside our soldiers.  We expect, no, we normally demand that western Europeans remember the sacrifices made by Americans on their behalf.  They should remember and respect our war dead, just as we should remember and respect theirs.  We were allies, fighting on the same side towards the same end.  

Republican politicians were not always so oblivious to the rest of the world.  We once had a President who proudly acknowledged the contributions of U.S. allies in Normandy:

Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers. 

“The impossible valor of the Poles” has no place in Fred Thompson’s view of what happened in WWII, nor do the forces of free France or the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.  Apparently, he thinks it’s all about us, or at least it is so much more about our role that everyone else just pales in comparison.  In his view, we must have done all the heavy lifting and all the real work.  The hundreds of thousands of Allied dead?  Fred Thompson doesn’t remember them, doesn’t even seem to know that they exist.  With his embarrassing statement, which he keeps reiterating, Fred Thompson is reminding us why he is not like that President and why he is not fit to be our next President. 

Taking pride in the achievements of our country is admirable and good, and we should be enormously grateful to those who served and those who lost their lives in America’s foreign wars.  Maybe that was Thompson’s original intention in saying what he did, but even the best of intentions do not excuse such historical ignorance and disrespect to some of our oldest, most reliable allies.  Patriots do not need to boast of the greatness of their country or the extent of the sacrifices made by their people.  They do not need to tally up casualties to prove their country’s value, nor do they need to constantly talk about how superior the country is.  Indeed, they can bring disrepute to their country by insisting on its superiority.  As we are reminded (a little too often) in other contexts, Americans have no monopoly on the love of liberty, nor have we outdone all other nations combined in the sacrifices made in its defense.  A patriot loves and admires his country and its people because they are his own and because they possess virtues peculiar to them–not because they are The Best Ever or The Most Heroic Ever.  Such an attitude seems to premise patriotism on the greatness of a people’s achievements, when patriotism should inspire the native of the tiniest, least powerful land in the world. 

It should be enough to say that our armies truly have fought and sacrificed for the sake of the freedom of other peoples.  That is true, that is admirable and that is something that should never be forgotten.  Neither should it be distorted or exaggerated into something that it is not–this is actually to fail to respect the actual achievements of our soldiers and to invent other achievements to take their place.  The reality of American sacrifice in WWII, for example, is sufficient to merit great honour and respect, and it does not need this exaggeration.  Chauvinists exaggerate the reality because they cannot tolerate other nations sharing in the praise and the glory of the achievement–they want it all for their own country.  Chauvinism of this kind is a disorder of the appetitive part of the soul.  It is an excess of pride. 

What can Thompson’s remarks be but a slight (unwitting and ignorant as it may be) to all those British, Commonwealth and free European soldiers who were there together with ours in France, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany?  How would Thompson’s defenders react if a foreign politician said something that excluded and ignored the sacrifices of Americans?  They’d scream bloody murder, that’s what they’d do, and they would have a point.  Well, it works both ways.  Some people have forgotten how to show respect to American allies over the last few years, and in the process they have forgotten that Americans will soon receive no respect if they do not show it towards other nations as well.   

Update: Alex Massie makes other good points related to WWII and modern American obliviousness about Allied contributions in his post on Gelernter.

We often hear about the Brits boffo counterinsurgency in Malaysia. But are the British still in Malaysia? Yes, it was a communist insurgency, which they defeated. But they also left, which presumably sapped the nationalist dimension from equation. ~Josh Marshall

As others have pointed out before, the Malayan case is much less encouraging for us, since the communist insurgents came primarily from the Chinese minority and so did not have nearly as much of a popular “sea” in which to swim.  It was more like a small pond.  The Muslim Malay majority was not sympathetic to their goals, and Malay nationalists supported the British effort in exchange for a promise of independence, which made the insurgents’ political marginalisation and defeat much, much easier.  Decolonisation and independence were already in the works, while communist revolution seemed both unnecessary and undesirable to the majority. 

Both Malaya and Vietnamese insurgencies grew out of the resistance to Japanese occupation, but the chief difference was that the Vietminh could appeal to national identity in ways that the communist insurgents in Malaya could not.  In other words, the Malayan insurgency lost in part because it could not count on a nationalist dimension in its fight, since the insurgents were not representing a nationalist cause, but rather an ideological one and one associated with a small minority group.  (Comparing the Malayan and Vietnamese cases seems to confirm Prof. Lukacs’ view that nationalism is the far more powerful and therefore potentially more dangerous modern ideology when compared to socialism and communism.)  Had the British opted to stay in Malaya indefinitely, as the French chose to try to do in Indochina, there might have been a broader-based anti-colonial rebellion, which would have probably been very different in its outcome. 

The Malayan case was also significantly different in the number of insurgents involved:

In the end the conflict involved up to a maximum of 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops against a peak of about 7–8,000 communist guerrillas.

Estimates of the insurgency’s size in Iraq vary, but I have seen figures this year as high as 60,000.  (As I understand this estimate, this refers only to Sunni insurgents.)  That’s seven to eight times the number of insurgents, while we have approximately four times as many soldiers fighting them.  If the optimal size of a counterinsurgency force is 10x larger than that of the insurgents, the British were much closer to the ideal and had the overwhelming support of the majority, and it still took them nine years before the crisis was formally ended.  The lesson from the Malayan experience is that you should fight very unpopular, isolated, highly ideological insurgencies and you should ally with the local nationalists if you want to win.  It is very difficult for a government, especially one backed by a foreign power, to compete with nationalist insurgents in the intensity and credibility of their nationalism. 

Reacting to these posts, a commenter at Ross’ blog wrote:

No wonder politicians give up and rely on scripts; this kind of henpecking the details and failing to engage on the larger point that Fred Thompson counts himself an unapologetic patriot who generally sees the US foreign policy as good. I’d think his judgement could be addressed on that point without dithering about body count.

Yes, why “dither” about facts?  Why be concerned with historical accuracy?  It’s not as if a deficient understanding of the past could have any consequences for the quality of policymaking. 

Speaking of “larger points,” one might engage the larger point that Thompson lends credibility to the stereotype of the ”unapologetic patriot” as unthinking, ignorant and boastful patriot, which in turn does so much to give proper American patriotism a bad name in the world.  One might engage the larger point that Thompson’s answer reflects not so much patriotism as it does chauvinism, since the patriot, as Chesteron said in Napoleon of Notting Hill, boasts not of the largeness of his country but of its smallness.  One might engage the point that Thompson largely ducked the question about America’s unpopularity today by jumping into a refrain about how much more Americans have sacrificed than all other nations for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Or a Thompson defender might engage the larger point that ignoring the contributions of our British, French, Commonwealth and other free European allies is an amazing thing for a presidential candidate to do in the announcement of his candidacy.  This is someone who allegedly wants to be President.  He claims to be prepared to run our foreign policy during what he regards as a crucially important time in a major worldwide struggle, and this struggle requires cultivating and tending alliances that have been badly strained over the past few years.  He chooses to launch that effort with an insult to some of our oldest and best allies. 

Suppose for a moment that Thompson genuinely doesn’t know that his statement was, in fact, false–is that supposed to encourage us to regard him well?  Haven’t we had quite enough of presidential candidates who relish their own lack of knowledge about the rest of the world and the history of other nations?  The gaffe, if we can call it that, is indicative of the sort of detail-free campaign he seems intent on running, and yet another example of a Republican who thinks that foreign policy is two parts nationalist rhetoric and one part bombast.  

Here’s another point.  If a Canadian or, God help us, a French politician were to make some similarly overblown statement, the reaction in certain circles in this country would be one of hysterical outrage at the expression of “anti-Americanism.”  Our pols are free to say whatever foolish, ignorant thing they please and can ignore U.S. allies whenever it suits them, but just watch those pols issue denunciations of those same allies the moment their leaders utter the ‘wrong’ thing or fail to show their gratitude to America for all that we have done for them.     

Ross has some good remarks on the previous post, and he’s right to note that WWII casualty estimates vary.  My original statements were based on this source, while the Wikipedia entry gives some different numbers.  While the figures are different, the other source does show that British, French and Commonwealth forces suffered more losses in absolute terms and in proportion to their national populations.  Let me repeat: I do not point this out to denigrate American sacrifice in WWII, which deserves the highest respect, but to insist that Americans remember the sacrifices of the other nations that were on our side in the war.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask from candidates aspiring to be President, or have I missed something?

Ross mentions that Thompson was responding to a question about the declining popularity of the United States.  His complete answer was this (quote near the bottom of the page):

Well, part of that comes with being the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world.  I think that goes with the territory.  We’re more unpopular than we need to be.  That’s for sure, but our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples in this country [sic] than all the other countries put together….And I don’t feel any need to apologize for the United States of America. 

America was also ”the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world” during earlier periods in the last century and this did not cause as much widespread hostility.  If some resentment and envy come with the territory of being a superpower, even this cannot account for the extent and depth of negative feeling towards our government (and perhaps towards our country).  Thompson says that he feels no need to apologise for the U.S., which is fine as far as it goes, but apparently he does feel the need to trumpet our vast moral, military and political superiority in just the sort of arrogant way that drives so many people around the world to resent America, or at least to resent our government.  It isn’t enough to say that we have more power and wealth than any country ever, but on top of that he feels he has to make the (false) claim that our nation has more accumulated virtue than all other nations on the planet put together.  For those seeking the beginning of an explanation of why even formerly relatively favourably inclined nations now have very sharply negative views (e.g., Turkey) of our government and our country,  they could do worse than to look at the mentality expressed in Thompson’s remarks.  

During his appearance on The Tonight Show, Fred said something that is rather stunningly and obviously untrue:

Our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples … than all the other countries put together.

There’s nothing terribly edifying in this kind of claim of national nobility-through-high body counts, but you have to wonder what the man could possibly have been thinking that would cause him to say this.  Even leaving aside WWI, where the claims to fighting for liberty are a bit more strained (and where all other belligerents lost far more people than America), this claim is demonstrably false.  It requires either an amazing ignorance about the past or contempt for American allies in WWII. 

Britain and France entered WWII at least officially to safeguard the independence of Poland, which I think gives them some right to claim that they suffered their losses for the sake of the “liberty” of other peoples.  In 1940 alone in a war fought on behalf of Poland, the French lost 90,000 KIA, and the British lost over 68,000.  The British, Commonwealth and Free French soldiers who died during the war were certainly fighting at least in part for “the liberty and freedom of other peoples,” and the number of their fatalities and casualities was necessarily higher than that of the United States.  Our casualties were on the order of 600,000 killed and wounded, while British and Commonwealth casualties (not including India’s 100,000) were approximately 915,000, which does not include civilian deaths in Britain and France.  If we were to judge these losses according to the size of the populations of the different countries, the disparity would be even greater.  Given how much smaller its population was, Britain’s losses were proportionally over three times as great as ours. 

None of this is to minimise the sacrifices that Americans have made.  But leave it to some showboating politician to take something noble and admirable and distort it as part of his talking points, insulting the war dead of our best allies in the process.  This claim of Thompson’s is just the sort of nationalist mythologising that we could stand to have much less of nowadays.  It doesn’t speak well for the management of foreign relations in any future Thompson Administration that the man has no idea how much the rest of the Allied nations sacrificed in WWII.

P.S. It might also be noted that Americans, like all other nations, did not enter the wars of the 20th century primarily because they were interested in fighting for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Those justifications followed once the country was already involved.  In the process of fighting for our own national interests, we also happened to be defending the cause of the “liberty and freedom of other peoples,” but had we not been provoked and had our government not already been so eager to intervene America would not have done much in the way of fighting on behalf of others’ freedom.  The reasons given for our involvement in the world wars were those of self-defense and retaliation, just as other nations were technically fulfilling their treaty obligations to allied states or fighting in self-defense as well.   

Before I go this morning, I wanted to mention that Fisk has an excellent article on the Armenian genocide.

Perhaps Steve Clemons should stick to foreign policy.  Affrerement, like adelphopoiesis in Byzantium (the terms mean the same thing), is not what the Boswells of the world would like us to think that it is, namely a medieval stamp of approval for homosexual relations.  Byzantinists understand that ceremonies for adelphopoiesis were not ceremonial approvals of homosexual erotic relationships, which neither secular nor ecclesiastical authorities would have approved, but were instead rites designed to formalise a strong social and emotional bond between men or as a mechanism for adoption.  It is strange that some moderns should have such difficulty imagining such fraternal bonds between friends. 

During the question session following his talk on his book Napoleon’s Egypt, Prof. Cole makes a brief remark (around 38:40) about Byzantine Egypt that caught my attention, since one of my professional hobbyhorses is the old claim that the dissenting populations of the Near East “welcomed” or did not put up much resistance to the Islamic invasions.  Of course, they didn’t put up much resistance, but this was not a function of their alienation from the empire.  (Indeed, evidence even for the existence of such alienation is very thin.)  In short, I think this idea that imperial religious policy contributed to the loss of the Near East is a myth fostered by modern historians, which I believe began with Gibbon, who were already biased against Byzantine “theocracy” and regarded the Christianisation of Rome to be a civilisational disaster.  Anything that might lend support to the idea that Christianity or Orthodoxy undermined the security of the state would be seized on, and the Christological controversies became favourite examples, since these controversies already seemed bizarre and ridiculous to many modern scholars.  This idea of disaffected religious dissidents yielding to invaders was also mixed up with some very anachronistic ideas about ethnic separatism and heresy functioning as the expression of national consciousness. 

The “evidence” to which Prof. Cole refers comes from, in fact, suppositions about what must have happened as a way of explaining the success of Islamic arms.  Depicting these provinces as ripe fruits waiting to fall into the lap of the Muslims, this view does not give the Muslims very much credit for their own conquests.  

There is not actually much evidence of local collaboration with or even satisfaction about the Islamic conquests, and there is more that tells us that the invasions were viewed very negatively.  Coptic chronicler John of Nikiu recorded the coming of Islam as a disaster for the empire, to which Copts and other non-Chalcedonians retained strong allegiance.  They just didn’t like that their confession wasn’t in control of religious policy and believed that God was punishing the empire because of the government’s Chalcedonianism.  There is some irony that secular historians have been reproducing a charge of anti-imperial disloyalty against religious dissidents in Byzantium that matched some of the official government views of these dissident groups.     

Prof. Cole said:

Towards the end, of course it was the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire that ruled Egypt, there’s some evidence that the Egyptians didn’t really fight to retain that government when the Arab Muslims came in because the Byzantines had attempted to impose Eastern Orthodoxy in Egypt and the Egyptians were Coptic and had their own [sic].  So even with the Romans towards the end, I think they were weakened by their social policies. 

It is perfectly understandable that Prof. Cole would say this, since this was a common view until not all that long ago.  If you are relying on Ostrogorsky’s classic text, you will come away convinced that this interpretation is right, and it does sound rather compelling at first.  If you are thinking about the intersection of political and religious loyalties from a post-Reformation perspective and assume that religious dissidents would mobilise (or fail to mobilise) politically because of their religious sympathies or disagreements with the authorities, you are going to misunderstand the late antique and early medieval worlds rather badly.  Neither Egyptian nor Syrian Byzantine subjects were organised or mobilised in the seventh century, and they would not have had much, if any, tradition of being mobilised for military service.  North Africa has even less supporting evidence for religious alienation, since Carthage fell some time after all religious controversies between Constantinople and the west had been settled, which has led to some very imaginative but rather far-fetched claims of some enduring legacy of Donatism. 

Their “failure” to fight did not signal a lack of loyalty to the empire as such, but rather reveals that antique and medieval imperial polities did not cultivate the kind of conscious political attachment to a state that might very well be expected in later periods.   Particularly in the absence of effective political leadership or organised military support, armed resistance by the population was extremely unlikely as a response to foreign invasion.  Cities would yield to invading armies because they wished to avoid sack and massacre, and not because they secretly wished for a chimerical “liberation” from religious oppression.  The “ease” of the Islamic invasions was facilitated by Byzantine political and military weakness following the Persian War and particularly by specific Byzantine defeats on the battlefield.  There is an understandable desire to find some “deeper” causes for such a momentous change in the history of the Near East, but there are good arguments that this change can be best understood through old-fashioned institutional and military history.     

Cross-posted at Cliopatria

The only thing wrong with his [Napoleon’s] theory was that it was 115 years ahead of its time. ~Prof. Juan Cole (at approx. 61:20) on Napoleon’s views of the Ottoman Empire during his lecture on his book, Napoleon’s Egypt

Via Antiwar Blog

If you have the time, watch the whole thing.  Prof. Cole’s video takes about an hour, but it is an interesting topic and of obvious relevance to our present predicament.  I would just add that the Egyptian campaign also follows the model of what was supposed to happen in the Fifth Crusade (capture Egypt to dominate/secure the Levant).

As an aside, it was notable, but not surprising, that our textbook this summer, Al-Kitaab, which incorporates some elements of a northern Egyptian dialect into its lessons, included 1798 in a list of famous dates.  (The list was designed to help us practice reading the eastern Arabic numeral system.) 

Update: Prof. Cole has a brief digression about other colonial episodes, saying, “The Americans could do it [dominate] in the Philippines at the estimated cost of 400,000 Filipino lives, by the way, and it tells you something about the callousness and brutality of the American power elite that they actually instanced the Philippines as a success story of American colonialism on the eve of going into Iraq.”  He isn’t referring directly to this, which I commented on here, but it is the same kind of thinking.

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. ~Michael Rubin

Via Yglesias

Well, there is certainly a big gap between historians who take the Turkish government’s view and those who actually properly handle the evidence.  I don’t know whether the Turkish historian Taner Akcam ranks as “prominent” in Mr. Rubin’s world, but the argument he lays out for the deliberate, central planning of the genocide is thorough and persuasive.  Even though it required quite a lot of political pressure to make it happen, the ADL’s belated, grudging and qualified acknowledgement of the genocide is to their credit. 

It goes without saying that similar agnosticism and references to the complexity of historical debate in connection with certain other genocides would be considered despicable, dehumanising to the victims and basically unwelcome in polite society.  The histories and historiographies of Cambodia and Rwanda were and are no less complex, but there were still deliberate genocides carried out in those countries.  Of course, neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Hutu Power maniacs have well-heeled lobbyists, a U.S.-allied government and willing apologists to help cast doubt and cover up for them. 

Update: Due credit to Jeff Jacoby for a good column on this.

Today’s dynamic and hopeful Asia — a region that brings us countless benefits — would not have been possible [bold mine-DL] without America’s presence and perseverance. ~George W. Bush

You know, if I were Japanese (or Taiwanese or Thai, to say nothing of Indian) I think I would get pretty tired of hearing this sort of thing.  Yes, I understand that this was a speech to the VFW and the President is obliged to pay his respects to veterans of the Pacific and Korean Wars, as well he should.  Nonetheless, we peddle these myths about our indispensible role in the reconstruction of many of these countries after the war, and this leads us to make mistakes in our current policies.  Thus Mr. Bush once again trots out post-WWII occupation and reconstruction as some sort of “proof” that current Iraq policy makes sense, which would be interesting, except that Japan was not like the way Iraq is and the two cases are not comparable at all.  If there were people who believed that Japan was unsuited to democracy (if today’s virtually permanent LDP rule they have there is what you want to call democracy), they were evidently too much in thrall to official propaganda about the nature of the Japanese regime, since the Japanese had already had universal manhood suffrage for decades.  They had a liberal constitutional monarchy, and their legal system was based on European models.  (Also, the implicit comparison the President makes between Shinto and Islam is unpersuasive for what I would hope are obvious reasons.) 

For people who normally get so edgy when Vietnam is mentioned in any negative connection with Iraq, the administration is strangely happy to make lame analogies with U.S. involvement with almost any  Asian country now.  For what it’s worth, Japan was fairly “dynamic” before the Pacific War, and they were, I suppose, “hopeful.”  It may have been the hopefulness of a would-be empire and regional overlord, but it was hopefulness all the same.  Indeed, they were rather too optimistic in what they thought they could accomplish.  That’s something worth bearing in mind.

There is one way in which Mr. Bush might have a small point, if he means to refer only to the postwar period and he wanted to talk specifically about, say, South Korea alone.  It was primarily the Japanese themselves who rebuilt their own country and transformed it into the economic dynamo that it became.  Having already industrialised significantly before and during the war, the Japanese were hardly unfamiliar with modern industry, finance and capitalism, and they had also had some experience with parliamentary government.  Having successfully created and sustained these things once before, they were prepared to rebuild and recreate anew.  Our role was to allow this without allowing Japan to rearm and resume its great power ambitions.      

Running throughout this speech is the idea that every nation in the world wants freedom and has the potential to do great things, but none of them could have done or will ever do anything if the Americans don’t show up to “help” or, more precisely, make them do it.  Especially if Mr. Bush is right about the potential and the desire of all peoples to live free, this is appalling arrogance to claim that their success is dependent on us.  On the other hand, if it is so heavily dependent on us, how will it be sustained if we should ever depart?  If the former, our involvement is redundant and pointless, and if the latter our involvement is ultimately futile. 

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. ~Alexander Kronemer

Additionally, Kronemer writes of a generic “Islamic Spain,” as if there were no difference between Umayyads, Almoravids and Almohads.  The latter two dynasties were decidedly much less interested in perpetuating whatever toleration and good intercommunal relations there had been before, and they were, in fact, much more fanatical.  It is remarkable how these dynasties play no role in Kronemer’s description of the worsening relations between Christians and Muslims in Spain.

Since most nations gain independence in armed struggle of one sort or another, armed struggle in which some civilians inevitably suffer, then by the “logic” of the ranteurs about “Naqba Denial” the existence of all those states should also be deemed catastrophes. But Israel alone is singled out for condemnation. ~Steven Plaut

Is it really?  Not by everyone.  The Greeks and Armenians remember their experiences with the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of their people for the sake of an ethnically homogenous nation-state in much the same way, or in even stronger terms: as the Megali Katastrofi or as the Tseghaspanut’yun respectively.  The Turkish government goes out of its way in the case of the Armenians to actively deny genocide and prosecutes those of its citizens who even hint that the extermination of the Armenians was planned and deliberate (as, of course, it was).  Naturally, any state that understands that its foundation lies on the graves of the innocent or is based on the forced expulsion or relocation of hundreds of thousands of civilians will be keen to ignore the record or deny the memory of these events.  Do such past crimes “delegitimise” the current state?  I don’t think so.  But the continued refusal to recognise the crimes for what they are is certainly not a legitimate method of defending a state against unreasonable or excessive attacks.   

Of course, the “inevitable” suffering of the civilian population during such conflicts is rather more inevitable when there is a plan of expulsion that results in massacres.  The final justifications in Plaut’s article, citing the far worse death tolls in the mayhem after the Partition or the ethnic cleansing and starvation of Germans after WWII, are typical diversionary moves.  Plaut does not, of course, care a whit about the German victims of these expulsions, nor would any attention be brought to their case except that the scale of suffering and devastation helps to make what happened to the Palestinians seem unimportant.  Rather than an old stand-by excuse that ”lots of bad things happened in that war,” Plaut has offered a different excuse: “lots of worse things have happened in other wars, which means that these events are irrelevant.”  He can impugn the integrity of some (though not all) of the revisionists, but he cannot wish away evidence.   

“We [the GOP] were founded as a reformist party,” he [Rove] said in our conversation this week, “not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead.” ~Michael Gerson

Er, actually, the party of “free labor, free soil, free men” was very much founded in direct ideological opposition to slavery and self-interested economic opposition to the low-tariff-supported agricultural interests of the South.  The GOP never had any interest in helping the “little guy” as such, and remained from its earliest days largely the protector of business and corporate interests through support for an impressively high import tariff, and then when multinationals needed lower tariffs the GOP dutifully became the party of “free trade.”  (Yes, there were also progressive Republicans who challenged some of the excesses of corporate power, but they did not define the party for most of its existence.)  This just might be why the “little guys” over the decades have tended to vote Democratic, and why it has only been a very recent development that the GOP has been winning over any of these voters thanks to nationalist, culturally populist and socially conservative appeals.  These voters come to support the GOP in spite of its continued privileging of the interests of corporations.  Perhaps someone could pen an argument in defense of this longstanding support for corporate interests (in which the words growth, progress, technology and modernisation would probably figure prominently), and make the case why it is better to put the government at the disposal of these interests for some greater good, but to describe the primary vehicle of corporations’ political influence as an organisation founded for the sake of helping the “little guy get ahead” is just appalling revisionism (even by the very, very low standards of Karl Rove).    

Update: Incidentally, it used to be an old stand-by of Republican rhetoric that it was not the proper role of government to “help the little guy get ahead.”  Instead, the goal was to remove the burden of government to allow citizens to flourish. 

India was also a real country before the British colonized it, whereas Iraq was a colonial contrivance from the outset. ~Fred Kaplan

Keeping the human losses of the Partition in mind as many throw around ideas of how to decentralise or partition Iraq is something worth doing, and much of Kaplan’s article makes for interesting reading, but I had to marvel at this statement.  Which India does Kaplan mean?  I don’t object to making distinctions between polities that have meaning for their inhabitants and those that have little or none–this is a significant difference between what we can call “artificial” states and “real” ones.  It is the difference between largely fictitious, failing states, such as Bosnia or Somalia, and more “real,” successful ones, such as a Slovenia or a Thailand.  Of course, it is important to recognise that all modern nation-states are to some extent founded on the ruin and death of other even more real countries that they gobbled up and suppressed, but even so there are nation-states today that actually have meaning for their citizens and many that mean next to nothing at all.  At some point, every nation-state is a contrivance and something imposed, because it seeks to unify any number of polities and peoples who have previously not identified or united with one another.  A crucial difference between successes and failures may be related to who is engaged in the contrivance.  With Iraq, the contrivance was largely introduced from outside, the product of gutting the Ottoman Empire and the need for an additional place on which to fob off another Hashemite on the locals.  In India’s case, the contrivance was less sudden, slightly less arbitrary and done with the participation of more of the people.  A longer experience of empire had fashioned a greater sense of identity and solidarity than could have been the case in Iraq.   

Still, Kaplan is attributing a pre-existing “reality,” unity and identity to “India” that certainly did not extend across all or even much of what is today’s India.  This may seem to be tangential to the main argument, but it is actually the crux of the issue.  What makes a state “real” and how it becomes “real” (i.e., able to inspire loyalty and something with which its members identify) are the two basic questions for Iraq today.   

It is significant that the modern nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is heavily, though not exclusively, North Indian in its definition of Hindutva and in its electoral support.  The preeminent place of the Hindi language is also representative of the connection between North Indian culture and the definition of national identity.  (Hochdeutsch played a similar role in unified Germany, and likewise the Tuscan dialect in Italy.)  While it is possible to speak of a shared Indian civilisation in which all of the Subcontinent (including Pakistan) participates, I think it goes too far to say that ”India” was a “real country” in the way Kaplan means it.  In a political sense, and as a matter of the self-identification of people living there, it was no such thing.  “India” was mostly an administrative fiction or more appropriately, as Metternich might have put it, a geographical expression in, say, 1800. 

The regions, polities, cultures and communities with which people identified (and this is true of so many places) were not on such a grand, abstract scale.  This is normal, and it even applied to our own country in the nineteenth century.  Our country, which Kaplan might grant possessed a certain reality, was a number of countries and a number of states bound together in a political federation.  In India, colonial-era railways served and increased political centralisation and more closely connected different parts of the Subcontinent; the shared experience of colonial domination also helped to forge a political-national identity across communities and regions.  Arguably, the numerous, more “real” countries of the Subcontinent were subordinated to the construction of a nation-state, which follows to some extent the model of modernisation and centralisation in Germany and Italy. 

It is true that the Mughals ruled over an expansive stretch of the Subcontinent prior to the arrival of the EIC (and it was a stretch that continued to expand up through the late eighteenth century), and it is true that the last Mughal emperor became a symbolic figurehead associated with nascent anti-colonialist “nationalism” during the Mutiny, but there are large parts of modern India (much of the Deccan, for example) where Mughal writ never ran (and where British influence took longer to be established).  Political fragmentation and weakness (the Peacock Throne didn’t up and leave Delhi on its own!) were the norm prior to colonisation, and it was the centralising, organising activity of British colonialism that created an administrative unit out of a number of very different regions, cultures, languages and polities.  Colonisation brought about administrative and political unification of a number of countries and states (which, I would hasten to add, are also not the same things), and also created the conditions for the forging of something closer to a shared identity.  There are two ways to look at this question: either the British colonisers stayed too briefly in Africa and the Near East to achieve the same results that they did in India, or they did tremendous violence to the many more “real” places and polities out of which they created what became India and Pakistan.  As the violent history after Partition suggests, war has a major role in building up nation-states as “real” states and inculcating shared national identity (which is why so many nationalists are typically very favourably disposed towards war, as they see it, to some extent correctly, as a glue for a variety of peoples who might otherwise see fewer and fewer reasons to remain in political union). 

While Kevin Drum continues to embarrass himself, Ross has another good post on one particular angle of the debate over the designation “progressive.”  The “meme” of progressives as supporters of eugenics and sterilisation comes from the history of early 20th century progressivism.  (Or you can try the short version: just watch Gattaca and see whose politics seem to have prevailed in that world.)  You can merely glance at this period and find progressives who endorsed or upheld either segregationist or sterilisation or eugenics policies: Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell “Three Generations Of Idiots Are Enough” Holmes, and Margaret Sanger.  Sanger saw birth control as a means to reduce the reproduction of undesirable populations.  Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born.  Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.   

Those three are not minor, fringe figures in the history of American progressivism.  They are part of the legacy that progressives today call to mind when they use this name.  Today, I assume progressives would abhor state-coerced sterilisation and overtly racist and eugenics rationales for birth control, but it was not always so.  Now there are those on the left who favour a “positive” eugenics that is supposed to be qualitatively different from the bad, old eugenics.  If Kevin Drum doesn’t know about that, that’s hardly Ross’ fault. 

In an otherwise superb piece on the (often cynical) political and lobbying battle over the Armenian genocide resolution, Michael Crowley has this unfortunate line:

Most Armenian-Americans are descended from survivors of the slaughter and grew up listening to stories about how the Turks, suspecting the Orthodox Christian Armenians of collaborating with their fellow Orthodox Christian Russians [bold mine-DL] during World War I, led their grandparents on death marches, massacred entire villages, and, in one signature tactic, nailed horseshoes to their victims’ feet.

This is almost entirely right, which makes the mistake all the more glaring.  Diasporan Armenians often do talk of nothing else when it comes to politics, and the official Turkish line is that Armenian collaboration with the Russians was the “justification” for the deportation of Armenians “away from” the front lines.  However, the main descriptive error here is obvious, or should be, since Armenian Apostolic Christians are of a different confession from the Russians and have been for a very, very long time.  Ironically, this allowed the Armenians inside Russia to enjoy relatively greater ecclesiastical independence as a non-Orthodox church than other non-Russian Orthodox churches, such as the Georgian, but that is a different matter.  The difference here is crucial because the genocide occurred against the “loyal” millet, the one Christian community that could not be directly implicated in the designs of Russian or Greek or some other Orthodox state’s foreign policy, because they were not Eastern Orthodox and were under their own religious authority that had no ties to Moscow or any other center of Orthodoxy.  There were some Armenian revolutionaries who sided against the Central Powers in the war, but they were not representative of Armenians in general, much less could the entire community be reasonably held responsible for the actions of a relative few.  This is what made the genocide that much more shocking and terrible to the Armenians–unlike the other Christian minorities, they had by and large remained loyal and law-abiding subjects.  For the ideologues of the CUP, however, one Christian minority was as much of a threat as any other.  To do full justice to the history of the genocide, it is exactly the difference between Armenian and Orthodox Christians that must be kept in mind.   

Matt Yglesias recommends to us an old Robert Kaplan article on the virtues of the AKP.  Since I am a pretty convinced AKP-phobe, if that is what we can call it, I thought I would take a look.  Within two sentences I decided that the article cannot be a very credible source of insight on modern Turkey, since it manages to get late Ottoman history so profoundly wrong:

The multi-ethnic Ottoman Turkish Empire, like the coeval multi-ethnic Hapsburg Austrian one, was more hospitable to minorities than the uni-ethnic democratic states that immediately succeeded it. The Ottoman caliphate welcomed Turkish, Kurdish, and other Muslims with open arms, and tolerated Christian Armenians and Jews.

First of all, you cannot seriously compare Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on this point.  During the same period of time in the late nineteenth century, before anyone had ever heard of Young Turks, the two empires treated their minorities in very different ways.  In the 1890s, there were large-scale, government-aided massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which had followed the massacres of the Bulgarians in the 1870s.  In Austria, nothing of the kind was happening–the emperor was the mediator and protector of all the subjects in his domains, and was a force working against, not with, any nationalist or supremacist forces within the empire.  Obviously, the Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire did not regard Ottoman rule quite so highly as Kaplan does in retrospect.  Second of all, it is not exactly true that the empire was more tolerant than the republic, since the empire had done most of the heavy lifting of genocide and expulsion of minorities from Anatolia.  The failure of the Greek invasion of 1919-22 and the Treaty of Lausanne did the rest of the damage.  The main difference is that the empire engaged in a lot of killing of non-Muslim minorities, while the republic turned its attention to oppressing non-Turkish minorities regardless of religion.  In a really twisted way, that’s a kind of progress.  

Kaplan would very much like to distinguish between the Young Turks who “brought down the empire” (small point–it was the Allies who “brought down the empire” and it was the Young Turks who were stupid enough to get into the war that destroyed the empire) and the quasi-constitutional monarchy that existed before 1908, which would be interesting, except that this is mostly a lot of rot.  Anyone familiar with Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act will know that things cannot be divvied up quite so nicely.  The Young Turks were by turns Pan-Turanian, Islamist or Ottomanist, depending on what the circumstances demanded, and to call them “secular-minded” as Kaplan does is to mistake later Kemalism for what the CUP represented when it came to power.  Kemal emerged out of the Young Turk movement, but it is rather obvious that this movement was not really “secular-minded.”  It was a fusion of Islam, nationalism and progressive reformism in one nasty bundle.  The triumvirate wasn’t being purely opportunistic in calling for a jihad during WWI. 

Why does this matter (besides getting the history right and shooting down weird pro-Ottoman sentiments in the West)?  It matters because AKP has been very keenly cultivating a neo-Ottomanist ideology–one that follows up on and goes beyond the neo-Ottomanism of Ozal that Kaplan thinks is so wonderful–that naturally regards the pre-republican period fondly as a time of Turkish greatness and relative Islamic (Sunni) unity.  It is also relevant that the poem that got Erdogan jailed in the first place was written by Ziya Gokalp, the leading ideologist of the CUP and one responsible for many of the nasty ideas that subsequently led to genocide.  Perhaps it tells us something that Erdogan chose to cite that particular author.  I am confident that if a European politician started publicly quoting from the works of fascist or Nazi writers, he would not be winning a lot of sympathy from Western audiences.

Those unfamiliar with this history can be forgiven for indulging in misplaced sympathy for the AKP, but Kaplan almost certainly knows better.  Like many a Western Turcophile, Kaplan finds the integration of Turkey into Europe a wholly good thing and seems willing to concoct the necessary arguments to make this most unpalatable idea go down more easily.

Update: Here is an April post of mine pouring cold water on another one of Yglesias’ “but the AKP isn’t so bad” arguments.

Dan McCarthy, who has reviewed Prof. Lukacs’ excellent George Kennan: A Study in Character for TAC, points us to the WSJ’s reviewer of the same book.  You can read both if you like, but if you’re pressed for time I recommend that you just read Dan’s.  As someone who has read the book and having written a review of it myself (publication to be announced later), I can say with confidence that Joffe does not really do justice to the subject of the study or to the work of the scholar who wrote it. 

Presented with a fascinating character study of an important, learned and serious historian and foreign policy analyst, Joffe takes the predictable route of checking off ideological boxes.  The problem with the review isn’t just that the reviewer gets hung up on Kennan’s lack of enthusiasm for parliamentary democracy in the 1930s (be honest–if you had been around in the 1930s, would you have thought much of parliamentary democratic systems?) and his admiration for certain conservative authoritarian rulers (which is so far from “baffling” that it is baffling that Joffe would find it baffling).  This focus hardly helps to get to the core of the book, which actually has less to do with Kennan’s attitudes towards democracy and dictatorship.  His political views are part of the story, but the brilliance of the book is its illumination of the inner life and, obviously, character of the man.  I don’t want to say more, lest I give away too many of my own thoughts about it. 

In the end, one gets the distinct impression that Joffe does not know, or does not know well, much of anything else that Prof. Lukacs has written, nor does he understand the close affinities between the author and subject that help to explain some elements of the book.  For instance, it is rather relevant that Prof. Lukacs has been a noted anti-anti-communist for decades, but a reader of Joffe’s review would have no idea about any of this.  It is sufficient for a WSJ reviewer to dismiss those lacking in ideological purity.  It is my strong sense that the George Kennan described in Prof. Lukacs’ fine work would not want even the faint praise of someone writing for that paper, since it has become the journalistic center of everything twisted and wrong with American foreign policy thinking in our time. 

I have already done most of the commenting on Mormonism that I am going to do, but since the topic has come up again in Ross’ latest bloggingheads and prompted a reply to Ross’ request for a clarification from Prof. Fox, a longtime friend of Eunomia, I thought I might add a few comments.  Prof. Fox writes:

For example: Matt Yglesias claims in the Bloggingheads video that the Mormon church teaches that “the New World, in pre-Columbian times, was dominated by two vast rival empires.” (Those would be “the Nephites,” the people who carried on the family name and traditions of an early prophet named Nephi, and “the Lamanites,” a group named after his brother and enemy, Laman.) While the history of Book of Mormon interpretation over the past 180 years is actually pretty complicated, the basic facts are that Matt here is correctly describing what most Mormons who read the book believed…up until about 20-30 years ago, that is. The Book of Mormon itself never suggests the existence of massive, continent-wide, roaming empires; rather, serious readers have come to recognize that in fact the book talks about a couple (or actually more than a couple) pretty densely populated yet nonetheless localized tribes, and nearly everything presented in the book as fact takes place, according to its own narrative, within an area that a person on foot could cross within week, if not less. This is what we Mormons called the “limited geography” thesis: specifically, that the book isn’t telling us the whole history of the Native Americans (which many Mormons admittedly thought the primary purpose of the book was for decades), but rather telling the story of some relatively restricted groups, whose story God thought important enough to make certain it would be preserved and brought forth in our day.

However, the official LDS version of the Book of Mormon has this passage (Helaman 3:8):

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea awest to the sea east.

And again, Helaman 11:20:

And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did acover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east.

There may be ways to reconcile this language with the “limited geography” thesis (perhaps the land between the two seas is exceedingly small?), and I won’t pretend that I am anything close to being thoroughly versed in these matters, but it appears at first glance that the earlier prevailing view of vast territories is one that seems to have some direct support in a central LDS scriptural text. 

Incidentally, there are other things that will leap out at the reader of the online version of the Book of Mormon (especially since they are hyperlinked).  For instance, there are several references to weapons made of steel.  Leaving aside the technological question, this creates another problem.  The official site does the cross-referencing work for you, pointing you to citations from the Bible that (in the traditional King James language) also refer to steel.  This seems a strange thing to draw attention to, since these passages about steel weapons from the Bible are English mistranslations of the adjective for a bow made of bronze (toxon chalkoun in the Septuagint versions of 2 Sam. 22:35 and Ps. 18:34/LXX 17:34), which tends to confirm that the language was taken directly from the King James mistranslation rather than echoing the content of the Old Testament books to which it is being compared. 

These are probably familiar arguments to Prof. Fox and others, and they may therefore be as tiresome to them as shocked secularist discoveries of contradictions between the Gospel accounts are to me.  Nonetheless, if a Mormon defense of the historicity of their scriptures’ claims is to persuade anyone, it will need to sort out these contradictions.

My Cliopatria post on David Halberstam’s final article is here.

My Scene colleague Cheryl Miller points to these three items.  Despite what seems like a perfectly crafted attempt to bait me into an extremely long response, I would make just a few points.  First, Ms. Grabar’s article was not “preposterous,” though it was weaker than it should have been.  Second, a Jane Austen Christianity is the Christianity of the safe, the unremarkable and the ordinary.  I do not claim that there is no need for such a thing or that it is unimportant, but the idea that it is actually more profound or more powerful than Dostoevsky’s vision seems, well, just silly. Third, no one who understands anything about Dostoevsky would say the following, as Tom West does:

Dostoevsky’s solution, for all its anti-European sentiment, seems to take its departure from the same post-Hegelian premise: only will, and not reason, can guide us.

The principal error of both Peter Verkhovensky (Demons) and Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) is to place their trust in the power of the will and the willingness to overstep the boundaries of the law, both human and divine.  Plainly, for Dostoevsky will alone cannot guide us, and in Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy–heavily influenced by the Slavophiles and indirectly by the Fathers–there is the understanding that will apart from or in opposition to God is death and isolation.  Willfulness against God is a mark of the demonic; it is at the heart of our ancestors’ rebellion in the Garden.  Further, it is the one-sidedness of reason alone, reason without faith, reason against God, that Dostoevsky, like the Slavophiles, repudiates when he critiques reason.  Likewise, no fair and accurate reading of The Grand Inquisitor could lead anyone to conclude the following about Dostoevsky:

For Dostoevsky, then, either we accept the absolute authority of the father and king and church, or we repudiate human reason and follow nothing but arbitrary will, personal or collective.    

Amazing.  This is totally wrong.  It is entirely backwards.  West claims to be reviewing a work by Joseph Frank, but the Frank works on Dostoevsky I have read would never have made such a claim.  In the story, who represents the (for Dostoevsky) unholy trinity of authority, miracle and bread?  The Grand Inquisitor.  Who represents a religion in harmony with human freedom in this story?  Christ.  Those who have read Dostoevsky’s Writer’s Diary cannot miss his frequent, polemical equations (in which he again echoes the Slavophiles) between socialism, Catholicism and rationalism.  The first two, in Dostoevsky’s view, both share a devotion to authority, miracle and bread.  Dostoevsky’s Christianity, his Orthodoxy, is the Orthodoxy in which Christ did not come down from the Cross because He so respected man’s freedom.  This is the same Dostoevsky who does not have Fr. Zosima’s body exuding the scent of myrrh after his death, because Dostoevsky does not wish to make faith an automatic response to a miracle, but a freely chosen embrace of the Incarnate Truth.  (A good argument can be made that Dostoevsky has gone too far in his opposition to both authority and miracle, since the Orthodox Church acknowledges the importance of both, but that is not at issue here.)  Dostoevsky’s vision is the one in which evil is the proof of human freedom–suffering will exist if man is to be free–and appeal to authority is the mark of a Christianity that seeks to supplant Christ.  His Winter Notes on Summer Impressions is another valuable source for understanding his priorities.  This was someone who did not discard the old scheme of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” but rather refused to let it be defined by liberals and socialists according to their lights.  Setting up Dostoevsky as some embodiment of the most ultra of reactionaries is satisfying to someone already intent on belittling traditionalism (so intent that he misses that Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn hold positions very close to one another in the end), but it does no justice to the complexity of Dostoevsky’s works and the mixture of his liberal background, his later Slavophile-inspired romantic conservative nationalism and renewed acceptance of Orthodoxy.     

What does this mean?  First, let’s consider idaafa.  Idaafa is a construction that expresses the possessive relationship between two nouns in Arabic.  The other day I likened it to the German genitive, and the more I learn about idaafa, the more I think that this is a very good analogy.  It is a very useful way to understand this idea, at least for those who have studied German.  For example, das Buch des Vaters is a genitive construction in German.  Arabic will have the exact same construction with kitab-u al-waalidi.  Like anything in a German genitive construction, the idaafa must take genitive case endings.  Tanween, meanwhile, is the concept of doubling the last vowel in a word.  To have the nominative indefinite, you double the damma, which is equivalent to our short ‘u’, but if you have the tanween al-fatha (this phrase is itself idaafa) you double the fatha (equivalent to a short ‘a’).  This has the effect of making the noun accusative, and you cannot have a random accusative floating around in a genitive construction.  At least, that’s what I’ve managed to understand so far.  Now admit it–you really wanted to know that.  

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So far as I can tell from parsing this solipsistic flapdoodle, John Updike thinks the New Deal should be judged a great success because FDR was politically skillful enough to persuade Updike’s Dad to become a Democrat. ~Ross Douthat

Ross has this right.  In response to Shlaes’ revisionism (in which she basically argues something rather obvious that I learned from the time I was old enough to understand English–namely that FDR made the Depression longer and worse than it had to be through his New Deal policies), Updike tells a story about the human costs of the Depression, which would be all the more compelling for the “governmment-as-human transaction” model Updike is pushing if Hoover had not also helped to deepen and worsen the Depression through his own economic interventionist policies.  Updike’s story is an interesting portrait of how government-exacerbated crises can work, perversely enough, to instill even greater support for the government: the Depression was so miserable that people became grateful for whatever assistance they could get, even though the very programs they were using were working, on a macro level, to perpetuate their misery.  The popular response to national security crises is much the same: rationally, the public should despise the government that allows major terrorist attacks to succeed on native soil, but every time the public rallies around the very government that dramatically failed them out of a mixture of loyalty, patriotism, fear, dependency and, bizarrely, gratitude. 

Shlaes’ counterargument would be, surely, that the very government intervention that Updike’s father found so appealing on a personal level was part of a raft of destructive policies that stifled any chance at economic recovery prior to the both inflationary and expansive pressures of wartime spending.  Whatever else might be said about the flaws of corporations and the real dangers of concentrated economic power, the solution to economic stagnation is not actually to demonise the “malefactors of great wealth” and tax them at exorbitant rates.  The solution to economic weakness is not actually to tighten the money supply by using the Fed as a blunt instrument to batter and crush what recovery had started coming into 1937.  Updike’s argument is, in miniature, everything that is wrong with old-style left-wing economic thinking: it doesn’t matter whether the policy actually works to alleviate poverty or spur economic activity, provided that the government is supposedly trying to do the “right thing” because government is “ultimately a human transaction.”  (As if commercial exchange is any less a “human” transaction than the coercive extraction and redistribution of resources by the state!  Theft is a human transaction, too.)

It would be interesting if sentimental invocations of family history and changed political preferences could trump all other arguments.  If that were the case, I could discredit interventionist foreign policy just by recounting the political conversion of my ancestors from conservative New Jersey Democrats to dedicated Republicans after WWI.  My dad’s family rejected the Democratic Party because of Wilsonian foreign policy, and they deepened in their hostility to the Democracy during the New Deal years.  They despised FDR, their descendants despised FDR and I grew up despising FDR.  So, I come by my opposition to foreign wars and the welfare state honestly.  My great-great grandfather’s brother even wrote a short pamphlet denouncing the New Deal as unconstitutional (which it was).  I think my ancestors were right to reject these things, because I think they were all very bad for the country, but I also think that there are rational arguments to be made against them that go beyond, “My great-grandmother really disliked Roosevelt.”  Of course, those of us who have to fight against conventional historical interpretation of the last century and the established institutions created by now-mythologised Presidents are compelled to make rational arguments, while their defenders can continue to wax poetic about Ol’ Pappy and the soup kitchen.

A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak. ~Joshua Muravchik

Except for the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Crimean War, the War of Secession, the Franco-Austrian War (1859) and the other Wars of Italian Unification, the War of the Triple Alliance (South America), Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish Wars, the War of the Pacific (South America), the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Sino-Japanese Wars, the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, WWI, the Spanish Civil War, Suez, Vietnam, Panama, the Bosnian War, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, the First and Second Congo Wars and the invasion of Iraq, Muravchik’s generalisation holds up pretty well.

I’m not sure we can make too much from the argument that the country has chosen the Southerner five times out of seven in the modern era. Seven is a very small sample! And several of the examples — like when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in 1976 — are much more easily attributed to historical context. ~Marc Ambinder

This seems right to me.  Leave aside for now the silliness of counting an Eastern transplant such as Bush as a representative of the South.  This was part of the reason why I insisted on pointing out the sheer lack of elected Southern Presidents between 1849 1850 and 1965.  For those keeping track at home, there were exactly two Presidents who took over because of the deaths of their predecessors who hailed from Confederate states at the time they took office (Wilson was a Virginian by birth, but didn’t live there for very long), and there was only one other who was elected while hailing from below the technical Mason-Dixon line.  That would be Harry Truman, who was about as Southern as I am Kenyan–and who only enjoyed his position as incumbent President because of FDR’s demise.  Untimely Yankee President deaths put more Southerners (very broadly defined) into the White House than voters did for over a century.  Until 1964, no one from the states that made up the Old Confederacy was actually elected to that position since Young Hickory Zachary Taylor  That is rather staggering when you think about it (of course, it can be readily explained by the greater population of the Northern states, the War, Reconstruction, etc.).  

Is it possible to imagine a similar span of time in which no one from the states making up the United States, c. 1865, had won the Presidency for 100 years?  Of course it isn’t.  Consider where most declared presidential candidates come from in each cycle: only a handful come from Southern states.  Lately, they have enjoyed success for specific, explicable reasons (it seems to me that Bush v. Gore had more to do with the 2000 election outcome than anti-Yankee sentiment, especially since both candidates were technically Southerners).  Complaining about this would be a bit like someone complaining in 1911 that the sinister New York-Ohio axis had dominated American politics for decades (from 1877 until 1913, every President but one–Benjamin Harrison–came from one of these two states), which would be to ignore all of the reasons why these were centers of political power for the two parties.  Only with Woodrow Wilson were we finally ”freed” from the grinding oppression of New York and Ohio, and that didn’t exactly work out all that well for the country.  

The 2008 field alone practically guarantees Yankee domination for years to come.  The Dems have one Southerner running and the GOP has a potential of three, if Fred will deign to grace us with his lofty presence.  This is actually backwards from the way it should be if the parties wanted to maximise their chances: the Dems need to be running relatively more Southerners and the GOP needs relatively fewer such candidates.  The South is more or less a lock for the GOP in any case, not because they only respond to Southern candidates or refuse to vote for Yankees (which is an unsupportable thesis), but because they prefer GOP candidates who will talk to them in their idiom (even if it is done in a condescending, “I have to please the rubes” way) and pay lip service to their concerns.  Granted, the GOP mostly just pays lip service to their concerns, but lip service is sometimes enough to keep voters loyal.  It works with Democrats and black voters, so why not Republicans and Southern whites? 

President Bush began by paying tribute to the founding father of Czech democracy. “Nine decades ago, Tomas Masaryk proclaimed Czechoslovakia’s independence based on the ‘ideals of democracy.’”

Well, that may be what the Masaryk said, but it is not exactly what he did. In 1918, he did indeed proclaim the independence of Czechoslovakia, confirmed by the Allies at Paris. But inside the new Czechoslovakia, built on the “ideals of democracy,” were 3 million dissident Germans who wished to remain with Austria and half a million Hungarians who wished to remain with Hungary. Many Catholic Slovaks had wanted to remain with Catholic Hungary. Against their will, all had been consigned to Masaryk’s Czech-dominated nation. ~Pat Buchanan

Of all the commentaries I have read in the past six months, this [Luttwak’s] stands out as the silliest. Its tone reminds me of the ill-judged contempt with which the English used to regard eastern Europe. Poland, John Maynard Keynes remarked in 1919, was “an economic impossibility with no industry but Jew-baiting”. Czechoslovakia was nothing more than a fancy name for “the mountains of Bohemia”.

The reality in Keynes’s eyes was that people in eastern Europe would always stew in their mutual hatreds and shared incompetence. The sooner the Germans took over the whole lousy region, the better. After all, it was economically next to worthless as far as Britain was concerned.

Such notions underpinned what would become the policy of appeasement in the Thirties. Later, the same prejudices could be heard to justify inaction when it was Stalin who was conquering Eastern Europe. Indeed, you could still hear the old talk about “quarrels in a far-away land between peoples of whom we know nothing” during the break-up of Yugoslavia 10 years ago. ~Niall Ferguson

It’s not surprising that Ferguson didn’t like Luttwak’s argument–I thought Luttwak was making a good deal of sense, and certainly more than Ferguson has managed in six years of commentary writing.  What is Ferguson’s counterargument?  The 1930s!  Yugoslavia!  He forgot to mention Chamberlain.  Even for many Europeans, Yugoslavia was a “far-away land” or at the very least one about which most Europeans knew little and all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia would have been better off had the West kept out of the entire fight.  Indeed, there might not have had to be quite so much fighting had the West not bolstered and backed the separatist states.  James Baker was later ridiculed for saying “we don’t have a dog in this fight,” but here we are seventeen years later and still haven’t learned the basic truth that Baker was right about that. 

What Ferguson fails to address is the question of whether eastern Europe was actually worth going to war over as far as Britain was concerned.  If eastern Europe was so worthless to Britain, why would any British Government make security guarantees to Poland (which it had no means to defend or resupply)?  In the end, Britain did go to war over eastern Europe, which proved to be a mighty foolish thing to have done, so there is some disconnect here.  The power vacuum created by Versailles and Trianon, the treaties that ripped the guts out of the German Reich and obliterated the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, was going to be filled by one great power or another.  Ferguson takes it as a given that Britain should have been deeply concerned about this, when it was Britain’s concern with eastern Europe that dragged it and France into the war before  their rearmament was anywhere near sufficient and helped bring on Dunkirk and the disaster of France in 1940.   

Anglophone peoples seem to love to get into fights over parts of the world they know nothing about.  Saying disdainful things about foreign lands about which people in your country genuinely did and do know nothing is a reasonable thing to do, provided that you do not then presume to think that these lands are absolutely vital to your national security.  Of course, those preaching intervention don’t know any more about these countries than their opponents and usually know less (this is why they think intervention is a good idea and that it will work).

Ferguson never once addresses the claims of the Near and Middle East’s geopolitical insignificance, its miniscule industrial capacity, its economic retardation and its political sclerosis.  On every matter of substance, Luttwak’s article has not even been touched, much less refuted.  What has Ferguson managed to say?  Ferguson doesn’t like the man’s tone!  Luttwak says outrageous things!  Luttwak is heartless!  Ferguson waves his arms around, moralises and hectors, but does not actually offer a real response.  My conclusion is that a rational argument for the great geopolitical significance of the Middle East is not to be found, or else Ferguson would have at least gestured in its direction.  Instead of that, we get vague and dire warnings about Armageddon, and we’re supposed to come away with the view that Luttwak is the silliest of them all? 

This would be seven successful attempts to win at least a third consecutive term. How many times has one party or the other failed to win a third consecutive term after having won two? Six: 1860, 1920, 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000. It is interesting to note that in three of these five failed attempts - 1960, 1968, and 2000 - only a fraction of the vote separated the two parties. ~Jay Cost

Mr. Cost’s election-counting would be a lot more persuasive if he took the same care with historical analysis that he insists other people take with methodology.  Why didn’t Donatelli include pre-War of Secession elections?  Could it be that the political context before the War was sufficiently different to make meaningful comparisons extremely difficult?  What possible value could be found in making comparisons with the six consecutive terms of Virginia Republicans in the early 19th century?  Is the America of 2007 in any way really politically comparable to America, c. 1807 or 1817?  Why might Donatelli not include war and Reconstruction-era elections?  The answer is obvious: 1860 was an unusually divided election, 1864 was fought under extraordinary domestic wartime conditions and during Reconstruction the game was effectively rigged each time in favour of the forces of occupation, er, the Republican Party.  The one time Tilden should have won, which ended up being the third consecutive GOP term following Grant’s two terms, his victory was taken from him in the “corrupt bargain.”  Properly speaking, the GOP did not actually legitimately win the election of 1876, but kept power as a result of the bargain.  Likewise, 1868 would not have been perceived as an election to a third consecutive Republican term, because most of Lincoln’s second term was served out by his Democratic Vice President.  1872 was obviously an incumbent’s election.  Because of the “corrupt bargain,” 1880 does not really belong to a string of consecutive GOP victories, but represents the break in between the Tilden and Cleveland victories.  FDR was excluded from any comparisons because the advantages of incumbency in 1940 made the contest fairly one-sided.  In other words, FDR’s third consecutive term is not a useful comparison, since no one before or after ever sought to be re-elected a second time.  Hence Donatelli’s qualifications about nonincumbents. 

I grant that Donatelli made a misleading statement when referring to Taft as the winner of a third consecutive term for his party.  It was the fourth consecutive election won by a Republican.  T.R.’s 1904 win is the relevant comparison we should look at, if we want a 2008 comparison, not Taft’s 1908 win.  However, the McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft sequence is highly unusual for at least one reason: most of Roosevelt’s first term was the completion of McKinley’s second, since McKinley was assassinated after his re-election.  Taft was succeeding a President who had been elected in his own right only once, but who had served the better part of two terms.  It might therefore seem at first glance as if Taft was succeeding a President who had won two consecutive elections, when he was actually only succeeding a one-time electoral victor.  The uniqueness of this sequence might tell us something about its poor value for comparison with other periods. 

The best comparison for the relatively unique 2008 cycle is 1928, when the party controlling the White House won the election but did not run an incumbent President or Vice President (where did you go when we needed you, Charles Dawes?*).  1904 and 1988 are poor comparisons for just this reason: the incumbent  President or Vice President was effectively running on a “four more years” platform.  To some degree, any nonincumbent, even if he is from the same party, cannot receive the same credit or blame that accrues to members of the current administration.  Indeed, the main hope that the GOP has is that their eventual nominee runs away from the current administration.  Since that seems unlikely, GOP chances of performing the difficult post-war task of winning a third consecutive term are even worse.  The circumstances in which each election takes place are all important: Hoover’s victory came during a time of peace and prosperity while 2008 will take place in a time of war and general dissatisfaction.  For that matter, 1904 and 1988 were also peacetime elections. 

What we can say with absolute confidence is that no nonincumbent member of an outgoing administration’s party has ever won an election during an ongoing war.  We can say this because the coincidence of an open election during a war that has lasted more than five years has never occurred in the past.  Wartime Presidents usually either win their wars, die in office or choose not to seek re-election.  It has never happened that a President has been re-elected during wartime and the war has continued beyond the end of the second term.  In this respect, there are no clear points of comparison for 2008.  All trends nonetheless point to a repudiation of the party responsible for the war, which is what happened in 1952 and 1968.

*This is a joke.

The communists had an imperial ideology that claimed to know the directions of history [bold mine-DL]. But in the end, it was overpowered by ordinary people who wanted to live their lives, and worship their God, and speak the truth to their children. ~President George W. Bush

The irony of Bush’s statement here–mocking the ideological determinism of the communists in a speech bristling with references to the certain judgements and direction of history–is simply overwhelming.  If I thought his speechwriters capable of it, I would say that they put this line in there as part of an inside joke at Mr. Bush’s expense. 

Mr. Bush’s Prague speech lays out plainly that he thinks modern history is the story of the progressive advance of freedom.  He is horribly wrong, but that isn’t my point.  He believes, as he insists at several points, that it is ”inevitable” that freedom will triumph.  This is a deterministic and ideological statement.  There is nothing inevitable in history.  It is a mark of actual human freedom–our free will–that ensures that there is no sure or straight or inevitable path of development for any one nation, much less for the whole world.  Indeed, if freedom were the inevitable outcome that cannot be denied, there would never really be much need to work for it, cultivate it or fight on its behalf.  It would just happen spontaneously.  Strangely, this is what pro-war ideologues believed would occur in post-invasion Iraq, yet the drive to invade was also fueled by the revolutionary desire to “liberate” and the missionary desire to spread “freedom.”  These are the people who believe that everyone is naturally free but is everywhere in chains and that it is their, our, obligation to break those chains to “restore” people to their natural state.  This consequently turns into a chaotic mess, since people are not naturally free and political freedom is not some spontaneously occuring weed that sprouts out of the ground. 

Why is it that the people who are most intent on spreading an ideology feel compelled to tell others that their ideology is the natural and unavoidable conclusion to which all people must eventually come?  If the claims of inevitability were true and if the truths being preached were actually “self-evident,” every nation would embrace them without any prompting from anyone else.  Yet that does not happen.  So why this talk of inevitability?  It is to soften resistance and weaken the resolve to oppose what others very much wish to oppose.  It is an ideologue’s version of “we will bury you.”  Like Agent Smith in The Matrix, Mr. Bush is saying, “The future is our time.”  As we have seen in Pessimism, however, those who invoke the future do so to legitimise the injustices they are committing in the present. 

But I think there is a sort of presumption in the idea that God is particularly interested in liberating people from Communism, let alone from the rule of Jimmy Carter or of the British Labor Party. His kingdom is not of this world, as Christ unambiguously said. Go to Poland now, and you will find that the church and the Christian faith are, if anything, weaker than they were under the heel of the Communists. I might add that Poland, though freed from the iron manacles of Moscow, is now instead wrapped up in the sticky marshmallow bonds of the European Union, a despotic, secretive, and lawless empire with the strong potential to get much worse than it already is. As for the U.S. and Britain, I will get round to that. I really wouldn’t like to speculate on what God might have wanted to happen, but if He was hoping for the current arrangements, I should be very much surprised. ~Peter Hitchens

There is some presumption in this, and it is the same kind of presumption that once guided confessional Protestant and then Anglo-American secular whiggish historiography, inspired whiggish “rights” theories and which even now creeps in with every claim that “freedom is God’s gift of humanity.”  God offers a different and a better liberation than the one offered by free-market gurus and democracy promoters.  He has loosed the bonds of death and sin–other forms of bondage here below, while they may be vicious, are not and never have been the priority for divine redemption.  The theological assumptions of the Social Gospel do not make any more sense when they are uttered by anticommunists. 

Hitchens has another great line later about Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI:

By contrast, the pope and his less-beloved but more dogged successor did hold fast against the satanic optimism of the free market and opposed both vainglorious Gulf Wars despite the unpopularity it caused them.

Of course, I tend to think that all optimism, rightly understood, is satanic after a fashion, but the one he mentions here is a particularly good example of it.

What Mr. Hitchens gets at here is an important lesson about the dangers of mythologising leaders of any kind, but especially political leaders.  The Reagan-Thatcher worship in particular is the right’s answer to the virtual deification of FDR.  Like the left, the Anglophone right wants to have its epochal, world-changing leaders, too, except that the mythology woven around FDR (”he got us out of the Depression,” “he won WWII,” etc.) is also to a very large degree bunk.  Liberals knock Republicans and conservatives today for their hero-worshipping ways, which is fair, because there is far too much of it and far too little thought, but they have always been great ones for idolatry of political figures, whether it was the posthumous honours bestowed on FDR by generations of liberal historians or the beatifications of the martyrs, JFK, RFK and MLK.  This tendency to revere and venerate political figures is a bad habit.  There may be something in human nature that calls us to do this.  As Dostoevsky said, man needs something to worship.  Yet if we are devoting our attention to enthusing over secular figures, it seems likely that we will lose sight of those actual saints and the Lord Himself Who sanctifies. 

The Psalmist says trust ye not in princes, and there is good reason for this.  The victory over Soviet communism was primarily the victory of the subject peoples of the evil empire over that empire’s rulers.  It was a moral and, in a way, a spiritual victory, and it was undoubtedly very good in itself.  We tell the story about how “we” won the Cold War, but exulting in triumphing over the Soviet system is a bit like congratulating oneself for having outrun and outlasted a paraplegic who was suffering from cancer.  

No stranger to Soviet affairs, George Kennan poured water on the myth of “Reagan won the Cold War” fifteen years ago:

The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous political upheaval, in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish. (quoted in Lukacs’ George Kennan: A Study of Character, p.181)

Communism failed, would always fail, because it was moral and political abomination contrary to human nature and the law of God.  There were wise and foolish policies that could have been pursued against the USSR, and by and large Reagan and Thatcher can be credited for pursuing wise ones.  However, the final lesson to be learned here is that we should be honest and humble about what it is that we believe our government has been able to accomplish in the past so that we do not foolishly presume that we can work miracles in the future.  Whether they are sincere or not, some Iraq war advocates claim that they took the end of communism in eastern Europe as an example of how they expected liberation in Iraq to proceed: through an outpouring of popular support and mostly peaceful political change.  It is hard not see how the kind of mythologising of the end of the Cold War contributed directly to profound misconceptions about what would happen in post-invasion Iraq.  For sizeable parts of the two generations either raised on or actively participating in this myth-making about the end of the USSR, the expectations of some miraculous democratic transformation were unreasonably high.  These people had come to genuinely believe that all that was necessary for liberal democracy to flourish was for the oppressive regime to go away.  Of course, this ignored vast differences of culture, history, religion, political traditions and all the rest of it that explained why events unfolded as they did in Europe and would not be the same in Iraq, but these errors of historical ignorance were compounded by more of the mad optimism that runs through the myths about 1989 that many on the right today hold dear.  It is not simply too soon for such “confident eulogies”–these eulogies and the mentality that creates them can be positively dangerous. 

Thanks to the invitation of Dr. Ralph Luker, in the near future I will also be starting blogging at History News Network’s Cliopatria.  It is a group blog of historians and history students, who cover all manner of topics from the strictly academic to the contemporary political scene, offering an historical perspective on current events.  I am looking forward to it.

554 years ago today, Constantinople, the God-guarded City, the Queen of Cities, fell to the assault of the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.  Three days of pillage and rapine followed.  The Byzantine Empire came to an end after 1,123 years.

Update: Paul Cella has a good commemoration here.  

Second Update: Dr. Trifkovic also has a very good piece on the Fall of Constantinople.

The suspicion of metaphysics would be more persuasive if, for another example, we imagine that religiously informed governments follow a pattern that invariably ends in some form of the Inquisition, granting civil police powers to religious authorities. ~Joseph Bottum

Mr. Bottum’s entire essay would be more persuasive if he didn’t pepper it with bizarre phrases like “the Counter-Enlightenment of the Left” and bizarre statements like the one quoted above.  The punishments meted out in “the Spanish Inquisition” were carried out by the secular arm.  Religious authorities were never vested with “civil police powers.”  The Inquisition investigated into whether people were heretics, infidels and the like, whereupon it fell to the secular authorities to carry out whatever sentences the law required for profession of heresy or apostasy, and so on.  The ecclesiastical office itself did not carry out any of the punishments that followed from these investigations.  This may seem like a minor point, but Bottum’s essay is riddled with these sorts of lazy claims. 

Having more or less stifled internal dissent, Russia is now ready to play a more aggressive role on the international stage. Remember, it was Putin who restored the old Soviet national anthem. And it was he who described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “national tragedy on an enormous scale.”

It would be a bigger tragedy if he or his successor tried to restore that evil empire. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the Weimar analogy predicts will happen. ~Niall Ferguson

Three points to start.  Putin restored the melody of the old Soviet anthem, but the words have been completely changed.  Call it grotesque, or call it appropriation of different pasts, call it the politicisation of nostalgia, or call it what you will, but he did not simply restore the Soviet anthem as it existed before 1991.  That is a rather misleading statement.  Second, if we understand that Putin is a nationalist and further understand that many Russian people living in the USSR saw the USSR as a Russian project in which Russians were the main actors, it will make a lot more sense that, as a nationalist, Putin will view the collapse of the USSR in terms of a collapse of Russian power and prestige.  Indeed, Russian power and prestige did collapse, and nationalists don’t like it when this happens to their state, but one need not necessarily read anything more into it than that.  None of this is necessarily to praise or defend Putin as such, but simply to understand the political realities of Russia today.  Third, a Weimar analogy does not suggest a revival of the empire that preceded the period of chaos, disillusionment with democratic parliamentarism and hyperinflation, but rather a transformation of the Weimar republican system into something else.  If Ferguson’s claim had been true of the Weimar period, it would have meant that the Hohenzollerns or some family like them would have reconstituted the Kaiserreich, which obviously did not happen.  Instead of a return to pre-1991 Soviet models or the evolution of a hyper-nationalist revisionist regime, we are seeing the development of a quasi-democratic authoritarian nationalist regime.  If there were any interwar comparison that would be more suitable to modern Russia, it would more likely be post-1938 Spain that serves as the model.  For a number of reasons, however, this is an unsatisfying comparison.   Unfortunately, Mr. Ferguson can be very good at understanding the past when he is not actively working on a political project in the present, but here he makes a hash of things.  Since he is part of McCain’s camp, it is no surprise that he would espouse alarmist and Russophobic sentiments.

Historical analogies are indeed inexact and imperfect, especially when they involve Weimar and Nazi Germany.  People find endless points of comparison between their own moment in history and this period, because this is one period they can be fairly sure the History Channel-addled minds  of their readership will be able to comprehend.  These people are also fairly sure that they can conjure up the appropriate reaction of fear and loathing for whatever it is that they are comparing to incipient Nazism.  The analogies are inexact because the arguments are always tendentious.  “Did you realise that Hitler was a vegetarian, and did you know that so-and-so is a vegetarian?  We should fear and hate so-and-so.  I rest my case.”    Read the rest of this entry »

But for me, the more-significant op-ed in today’s Journal is by historian Mark Moyar, whose work on the origins of the Vietnam War — based on part on new information from the communist side of the conflict — has been a revelation (here’s a hint: if Indonesia doesn’t immediately pop into your mind when you think about the reason for the Vietnam intervention, you haven’t read your Moyar). ~John Hood

Well, I haven’t read my Moyar, but it makes sense that there would have been concern about the implications for the region of a successful communist takeover of South Vietnam, since Indonesia was at that time under the rule of a partly Marxist and communist-friendly strongman, Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president and dictator (and father of the former President Sukarnoputri, the first elected post-Suharto Indonesian President).  This doesn’t require reading some guy named Moyar, but would require a basic knowledge of the region’s geography and political makeup in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Since smart people I respect seem to think so much of this VDH column, it seems necessary to point out some of the more fantastically crazy things Hanson says in that column:

Few believed that it was a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany; fought heroically by amateur French, British, and American soldiers who defeated the professionalism and skill of the German army (the most lethal land force that had yet appeared); and was a result of two different and largely antithetical visions of Europe. No one dared accept that the post-bellum failure to invade Germany, occupy Berlin, and demonstrate the utter lunacy of German militarism had caused World War II; the problem was that the victorious allies had been too mean rather than too fickle.

Yes, few believe these things, because these things are not true.  WWI wasn’t principally a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany.  It was the result of combined Austrian meddling, Russian folly, British hesitation and German diffidence.  The problem with Berlin in the July crisis was its passivity in guiding its allies’ policies, not in its aggressiveness.  German “aggressiveness” in the Schlieffen Plan was an unavoidable result of being encircled by the Franco-Russian alliance.  Blame that on stupid Wilhelmine Weltpolitik and the decision to drop the connection with Russia, which you certainly can do, but spare us the lectures about German aggression.  The two antithetical visions of Europe to which Hanson refers were the vision in which the Entente powers continued to dominate most of the world and the vision in which Germany would be permitted to join them as a first-rank power.  Scary!  It never ceases to amaze me how people can look at the vastly stronger, more powerful alliance in the Entente and see in it some poor victim of overmighty Germany and the allies that it had to carry for the duration. 

Hanson’s “On to Berlin!” idea is stunning.  To believe that this was even possible, much less desirable, by the time the Ludendorff offensive failed is to be quite wrong.  It was possible to occupy Paris because Napoleon had been beaten in the field, but the treatment of the defeated party ensured that it was incorporated into the system of European powers and not treated with the harshness that its aggression might have seemed to merit.  Not only does Hanson find the “Carthaginian peace” imposed on Germany lacking as a punishment, but he seems to think that humiliating and grinding the Germans under the boot even more would have stamped out German nationalism.  This is shockingly wrong.  What was the German response to the Napoleonic invasions and occupations?  It was in part the creation and cultivation of German nationalism.  Does anyone think, supposing it was actually possible to do (and the American public would never have tolerated prolonging the war to capture Berlin), that occupying Germany in the 1920s would have created a less bitter, less resentful, less nationalistic, less revanchist Germany?  Does anyone think that a liberal democratic constitution imposed by the Allied sword directly would have been more acceptable to German nationalists than the one adopted by Germans after the Armistice?  This would only have delayed the resumption of hostilities, but it would have ensured that the revenge meted out by the Germans on those who had occupied their country would have been even more severe.  This is a perfect example of the problem with Hanson’s whole view: whatever the problem, it could have been solved by the application of even more force.     

As I have already mentioned, Poulos’ post is outstanding.  In addition to pointing out the virtues and significance of deliberative rhetoric and its function in channeling political and legal conflict into peaceful forms of disputation, James cuts right to, and through, the heart of one of the more dreadful rhetorical tropes of certain conservative pundits of an empire-friendly bent: the frequent pairing of the “Unionist” assault on the Confederacy with the war against the Axis, in particular the fight against Nazi Germany, as if they were comparable in any meaningful way.  The only real point of comparison is that both wars were waged by the United States government and both resulted in victories for that government–after that, they are not all that similar.  I will return to the first point later, but let me say something about this pairing first. 

There are some obvious problems with this from the start.  The “Unionist” war against the South was fought in contravention of the Constitution (though, quite naturally, it was fought “in the name of” the Constitution, as so many usurpations ever after have been justified) and represented the concentrated effort by an assembly of polities to invade and conquer another.  WWII, whatever one wants to argue about the policies leading up to it and the negative effects that it had on the country (and there were more than a few), was nonetheless a constitutional, declared war fought as a response to an attack on American territory.  The opponents fought by the United States government in the two wars were scarcely comparable in ideological and political terms.  Where one sought to withdraw peaceably from a political arrangement, inasmuch as this was permitted, the other sought to expand its territory by conquering, suppressing and dominating all the nations around it.  One represented a social and political order that was, if anything, attempting to retain some combination of aristocratic and agrarian republican structures out of a profound respect for past precedents and classical models (which is, ironically, one of the reasons why Hanson, a classicist, hates the Old South so much), while the other was a rude, modernising revolutionary force that idolised the future.  At the risk of some oversimplification, the progressive Yankee nationalist could only see in the Southron his antithesis, the embodiment of virtually everything he wanted (and tried) to purge from his country, while the progressive 20th century New Dealer confronted in fascism a hostile variant of his own progressive nationalist managerial statism.  Mass democratic nationalism coupled with the beginnings of a managerial state found itself warring against an ideology with which it had a little too much affinity for some people’s comfort.  As Kuehnelt-Leddihn said of democracy, fascism and communism more generally, the intensity of the hostility between these different systems was that of a family feud, not one of diametrically opposed extremes.  The similarities between these different centralised, managerial statisms may help explain why fascism elicits so much more powerful emotional negative reactions from everyone across the spectrum, as if to overcompensate for these similarities through extra denunciation.    

James quotes from Fred Thompson:

Hansen writes [that’s Victor Davis Hanson we’re talking about here, sic; get out your copyeditors, NR-JP], “The hundred years of talking about slavery was not as important as two days at Gettysburg. The success or failure of Normandy affected Hitler more in an hour than had years of pleading with him in the 1930s.” If for no other reason than that we want to avoid war whenever we can, universities should at least offer the option of studying it.

James credits these assessments as more or less correct (”nothing in this sequence is untrue or inaccurate”), but says also that they miss certain important distinctions that he describes thus:

One is that between Gettysburg and Normandy. Another is between Hanson’s hour of decisive bloodshed and Fred’s hoped-for ideal of eternally postponed bloodshed. And the third is between pleading and studying.

James notes many of the key differences between the wars being mentioned in the same breath.  However, I must very respectfully disagree with my learned associate on the accuracy of the Hanson remarks that Thompson quoted.  On a slightly pedantic level, I would note that Gettysburg was a battle of three days and it was the third, final day that rather made all the difference in making it into a decisive defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia rather than an inconclusive draw.  This might not be such a major objection, except that it was the decisiveness of the battle that lends it its special significance as a “turning point” in the history of the war and so gives it whatever greater importance as an event that it possesses.  It does not exactly help the cause of reviving military history studies to state inaccurately a key detail of one of the best-known battles in American history.  A little less pedantic is the objection to the apparent interpretation (very common for Americans to make) that Normandy was somehow on par with Gettysburg’s significance in the War of Secession by being the decisive turning point in WWII, when that honour really must, for better or worse, belong to Stalingrad.  A more substantive point is that, as a matter of history, the Battle of Gettysburg is not “more important” than the hundred years of debate that preceded it.  If you tried to take that attitude into an American history class today or at any time in the past as a student, you would not do very well.  With respect to the outcome of the war, the battle was an extremely significant event that brought about a sizeable change in the course of the war by ending the Confederacy’s attempts to take the war into the North and hastening ultimate Confederate defeat.  Battles can and do change the course of events in dramatic ways (see Gaugamela, Actium, Yarmuk), because wars are events of profound transformation and wars turn in no small part on the outcome of battles, but this does not make them “more important” than the decades of political argument and struggle that paved the way for the war to happen in the first place.  It is just this sort of talk that can give the study of histoire evenementielle a bad name. 

Some of its partisans rightly want to emphasise that events can be decisive and that history is contingent on events, and they then get entirely carried away by elevating these events into a category of greater significancee than the mundane, plodding periods of peace and the very real structures of institutions and the mentalities of nations.  It is as if some of these partisans cannot argue for the significance of war as a transformative force in history without implicitly (or, in this case, explicitly) devaluing everything outside of war.  Just behind this language of greater importance is the notion that it would have been better to “resolve” the conflicts that these wars “solved” earlier…by means of an earlier war.  Far from seeing war as a catastrophic failure and a great enemy of civilisation, those making this kind of argument see it as a sort of quick fix, a simple answer to very knotty questions.  It declares animosity towards brokered deals, compromises and all of the accommodations that must be made for political life to continue without violent interruption.  The opponents of this approach will quite often attribute to them a tendency to offer simplistic answers, because that is very often the kind of answer they are offering–not because they are fools, but because they really think the answer is that simple. 

The threads of life over the course of decades in all their complexity jumble into something very much like a Gordian Knot, and these folks seem rather too eager to cut right through with a sword.   Behind this is an impatience with deliberation, an intolerance for fussing about with argument and, well, a dislike for basically everything that we know of as politics.  One is reminded of Gladiator’s version of Commodus speaking to the hero: “You are a man who knows what it is to command.  You give your orders, the orders are obeyed, and the battle is won.  But these senators, they scheme and squabble, flatter, deceive.  Maximus, we must save Rome from the politicians.”  So, actually, I think there is quite a lot wrong with Hanson’s statement as quoted by Thompson. 

Thompson himself is right that universities should provide courses in military history, which would, of course, require more institutional support for hiring those with interests in military history.  Part of the reason why there is less interest and less support for those working in this area is that it is seen as being heavily focused on institutions (the military being the main one) and events, which are two kinds of historical research that are not exactly tickets to success and prominence in the discipline today.  They are not popular or fashionable because I think they are viewed as approaches that neglect too many things, unduly privilege discrete events and resemble a little too much the “one damn thing after another” school.  This may be an unfair judgement in certain ways, but because of this atmosphere that makes it that much more important that military historians adapt to at least some contemporary expectations in paying attention to social and cultural dimensions of warfare (and good military historians do exactly this).  We are caught in something of a vicious cycle, where relatively few are being trained to study these things because the study of them in the past has been seen to be lacking, which is hardly helped by proponents of reviving the study of military history making bold statements about the vastly greater importance of single decisive events.

James Poulos has a masterful post on the importance of rhetorical combat and puts the renewed calls for the study of military history into some perspective.  Any post that coherently ties together mentions of Henry Clay and The Untouchables has to win some sort of special award for creativity.

Marty Peretz seems equally enamoured of two articles that flatly contradict one another.  Naturally, he has nothing to say about the merits of either argument, except to say that the dispute is “fascinating.”  This has the sound of the cheerful co-ed in a philosophy class who opines, “I think that everyone can have his or her own opinion and everyone is, like, totally right.”  Earlier, Peretz thought Lewis was absolutely right and obviously so:

This is the history of Western responses even to terrorism, especially to terrorism. We know the consequences.

According to Peretz, Lewis had penned a “cool analysis” and Lewis had forgotten more than his critics will ever know.  Well, his critics seem to include Efraim Karsh, who may not know as much as Lewis forgets, but he seems to know all of the things that Lewis has already forgotten. 

I suppose it is fascinating how Bernard Lewis can be shown in devastating fashion to be completely wrong about the modern history of the region about which he claims expertise.  Despite this, he will still be taken seriously by historically ignorant conservatives (and Marty Peretz) in this country as someone with almost oracular authority on things related to Near East policy.  Bernard Lewis takes a Munich-centric view that American problems in the Near and Middle East are the result of weakness, conciliatory gestures and appeasement (not like those tough Soviets), while Efraim Karsh (writing in the Sun, no less) completely repudiates virtually everything Lewis said, but still manages to make the conflict with jihadis into an unavoidable, epic struggle that apparently had nothing to do with U.S. policies.  Pick your interventionist poison.

Other takes on the Lewis piece are here and here.

It still seems like a decent idea to me, though: current events are intrinsically interesting, and learning about them make you genuinely curious about why the world ended up the way it did. If the lessons are structured with curiosity about causes in mind, this will make you interested in the Cold War, which in turn makes you interested in World War II, which in turn makes you interested in the Great Depression, etc. It’s a solution to the most obvious problem of teaching history: without any context, why should a 16-year-old care about dusty topics like the Missouri Compromise or the rise of the labor movement? ~Kevin Drum

It is hard to exaggerate how much I dislike this attitude towards the study of history.  In addition to confusing students about the workings of causality, giving them a completely skewed understanding of historical significance and basically endorsing quasi-Hegelian, teleological readings of history as the unfolding of some necessary, predetermined outcome and anachronistic “precursorism” as the desirable ways to think about the past, which ought to discredit the method right there, it betrays the assumption that there is something more intrinsically interesting about present events (which may or may not be terribly historically significant) than about events that we know are historically significant.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this method would take the music of System of a Down as a point of departure for talking about the Armenian genocide, rather than trying to show the causes for the genocide and mentioning, in passing, that modern Armenians still consider this to be a defining event in their history. 

This assumption that current events are more intrinsically interesting is one that I imagine the average teenager doesn’t share.  To the average teenager, what happens in contemporary European, Near Eastern or even American political life probably seems just as boring and irrelevant as the Missouri Compromise.  Indeed, the pursuit of relevance is misguided and doomed from the beginning–for example, WWII shouldn’t have to be relevant to you, the ignorant teenager, to make it worthy of study.  Besides, the job of the history teacher is to cause the students to take an interest in things that they would otherwise not be interested in.  Some might call this process “education” and others might call it “broadening” the “minds” of students.  There is nothing at all wrong in relating history to current events or using contemporary references to help explain a concept, but it is important not to muddle things or confuse students about chronology, when they often have a hard enough time appreciating the importance of chronology.  Teaching isn’t supposed to be spoonfeeding students what they already like and then hope, miraculously, that this translates into an interest into other things. 

“The assumption has always been that Mr Bush was planning to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor and that the Republicans in Congress would go along with him,” says Charlie Cook, a leading political analyst. “But that looks increasingly difficult by the day. We could be facing a Nixon in 1975 situation where senior Republicans ultimately prevail on George Bush to change course [bold mine-DL].” ~The Financial Times

I have no idea what this refers to, since Nixon had been gone for approximately four months by the start of 1975 (there was apparently some scandal) and it was not Republicans prevailing on Ford to change course that concluded American involvement in Vietnam.  It was the progress of the North Vietnamese offensive and Democratic opposition to the aid requested by Ford for South Vietnam that brought about the conclusion.  This is like an American newspaper citing a British political analyst talking about a “Margaret Thatcher in 1991 situation”–you have to hope that the analyst was misquoted and the editors and fact-checkers simply forgot to read over this story.  I have seen more or less plausible attempts to create parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, but this one doesn’t make any sense at all.

2008 will be a unique election, but Leon Hadar makes an argument that suggests why it will share many of the characteristics of the election of 1920:

But a more appropriate historical analogy in discussing the impact of the war in Mesopotamia is the disastrous outcome of American fighting in World War I.

The Wilson and Bush administrations have many things in common, and once we started to see Bush’s galloping Wilsonian idealism in action it was easy to imagine his Presidency ending in just as much failure and public repudiation as Wilson’s had done.  The two make for an interesting comparison, since Mr. Bush’s War has so far resulted in comparatively far fewer American deaths, it probably will not end up leading to a much greater slaughter a few decades hence and in contrast to Wilson Mr. Bush has not (yet) engaged in widespread efforts to round up and imprison dissidents against his war.  It is striking just how weak Mr. Bush has been as a President compared to the rather imperious Wilson (not that anyone should want him to start demonstrating Wilson’s sort of “strength”).  Inflexibility defines both men, but the man in the administration who most resembles Wilson’s demeanour–right down to the perpetual scowl on his face–is the Vice President.  Meanwhile, Mr. Bush seems to resemble no one in the Wilson administration more than Thomas Marshall, the Vice President so ineffectual and ridiculous that he refused to assume the Presidency after Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke for fear that it might appear to be a coup.  Mr. Bush has played the role of incurious legacy admission to Wilson’s obsessive academic.  Mr. Bush’s errors have proceeded from knowing little and being interested in even less, while Wilson’s were the errors of presuming to know and see all (even when he didn’t know much at all about the peoples and lands he was helping to divvy up).  Both certainly drank deeply from the poisoned well of optimism, but unfortunately for the world Wilson’s optimistic preaching was received by a weary and disillusioned world as a new hope rather than the misguided folly that it was.  With the benefit of the experience of the 20th century, most nations were less willing to embrace similarly unrealistic talk of hope, reform and liberation when Mr. Bush was offering it.  Wilson could speak as the representative of an America only just stepping fully onto the world stage, while Mr. Bush speaks as the representative of the world’s predominant power.  What sounded like a blessing coming from Wilson ends up sounding like a veiled threat coming from Mr. Bush.  Thus, bizarrely, Mr. Bush will probably be remembered more poorly than Wilson–who is still surprisingly highly regarded by many historians and politicians–despite the fact that he is merely a second-rate imitator of the far worse original.  (Not, let me insist again, that we want to have another Wilson!) 

As large as Iraq looms on the scene today, as politically significant as the war is today, and as much as it will sour the public on intervention in the near future, I think we may be surprised at how quickly the effects of the war pass away and recede into the distance.  Calamitous and awful as it has been, it still remains a war on a relatively limited scale and will wind up having a primarily regional impact.  It has acquired the prominence that it has because it involves the superpower, but it will ultimately probably possess the historical significance of the Boer War or some other colonial misadventure of the British Empire.  The disaster of Wilson’s intervention was global in nature, and it has continued to shape the history of the world ever since, almost entirely for the worse.  If the outbreak of war in 1914 was the most significant turning point in modern history (and it was), marking the end of old European civilisation and ushering in all of the horrors of the 20th century, American intervention in 1917-18 ensured that the consequences of the Great War would be even worse.  Princip’s bullet murdered nations, but Wilson’s overzealous conscience ruined whole continents. 

Mr. Bush’s legacy of failure will probably not be so enormous, but will be, like so much else he has touched, of minimal effect and importance.  Despite high ambitions and overblown rhetoric that mimic Wilsonian pretensions, mediocrity and smallness have been the chief characteristics of Mr. Bush’s policies.  Watching Mr. Bush trying to follow in Wilson’s disastrous footsteps is like watching someone of the stature and ability of Mussolini trying to reconstitute the Roman Empire.  Their ideological eyes are far bigger than their political stomachs.  Wilson really inaugurated and launched the idealist-interventionist school of American foreign policy, ensuring misery for many generations of Americans and foreigners, while Mr. Bush’s bungling will not even manage to kill off this dreadful thing. 

As Dr. Hadar suggests, there may well be a temporary “isolationist” backlash against the clumsy, mistake-ridden interventionism of the last several years.  Yet Mr. Bush will remembered as the head of an administration so incompetent in planning and execution that he could not even manage to fully discredit this approach to foreign policy, because he has ensured that the numerous mistakes in implementation will mask the fundamental mistake of meddling in other countries’ affairs. 

The years after September 11 have seen a welcome surge in the number of faculty positions and courses devoted to Islam and the Middle East, without producing any charges of a distorted intellectual agenda. ~David Bell

Well, yes and no.  There have not usually been charges of a “distorted intellectual agenda” from people who have something to do with these areas of study, but there are routinely accusations of a “distorted intellectual agenda” aimed at Middle Eastern Studies departments around the country.  The accusers both do and do not have a point.  They do have a point that scholars of the Middle East do not actively ridicule and belittle most of the peoples they study, and they have a point that people who know rather more about the region–and who have actually been to the region–tend be surprisingly less reflexively pro-Israel than many of their fellow citizens who do not even possess a passport.  On a more grave note, they have something of a point when it comes to Islamic studies, where scholars of Islam enjoy the luxury of studying something both supremely interesting to the public at the present time and something about which relatively few non-experts can effectively challenge their interpretations, however misleading or simplistic some of them might be.  This gives them a flexibility and level of control over the public debate that is less possible in other areas of study.  Most of the accusers are not concerned about the influence of Turkish denialist policy on Middle Eastern studies, since the Armenians and other such peoples do not interest them very much, but it is true that most Turcologists tend to be very tight-lipped or agnostic about the Armenian genocide because they cannot afford to be publicly associated with something that is illegal to talk about in the country where they must do their research.  This is very unfortunate.  This is not principally what Mr. Bell is talking about (he is writing about the decline of military history), but inasmuch as it does pertain to the history of WWI it is an interesting aspect of another part of the historical record that suffers for both obvious political reasons and reasons of shifts within the discipline.

When I studied alongside other social science students who were not historians, I was impressed by how they wanted to reduce history to nothing but a story of “kings and wars,” as they dismissively put it, so that they probably assume on the basis with their acquaintance with the History Channel (a.k.a., The Nazis We Have Known And Killed Channel) that the only kind of history that exists is political and military!  How disappointed they would be to find that there are so few classes that fit their idea of what history is.  It is interesting that they assume that history was nothing but talking about “kings and wars” and it is also interesting that it was because of this that they had decided years ago that they didn’t like it.  How many sociologists now pester the world because they became convinced of the uselessness of history because of this perceived preoccupation with nothing but political and military history?  This loss of interest in history (which is obviously the most interesting subject anyone could ever study), as I have said repeatedly over the years, is proof that they had poor or unimaginative history teachers. 

History for these social science students was literature done up with a scientific apparatus.  Indeed, I would not argue strongly for the scientific quality of history in the way that this word is applied to the hard sciences or even something like sociology.  For me, contingency and unrepeatability define historical experience and so make the study of history decidedly unscientific by design, but I do understand the impulse of historians who wish to use social scientific methods to advance their craft because they are very much concerned to establish history as a reputable discipline that can match up with any of the social sciences.  History requires rigour, evidence and accuracy, but it obviously cannot involve experimentation.  Even though there are plenty of historians who understand that you have to have a grasp on chronology, narrative and the “kings and wars” to make sense of anything else, they also want to make clear that history is not “just” a story of “kings and wars” (even though it is inevitable that enrollements for classes about “kings and wars” are always much higher than they are for Gender in Renaissance Florence or what-have-you).  Consequently, while every amateur historian wants to talk about Valmy, Gettysburg, Verdun and Kursk, among others, the professionals want to show you how much more there is to the craft of history by talking about things like “Meaning And Identity In The Romanian Fin-De-Siecle” or “The Construction Of Community In Early Modern Tuebingen” or, more obscurely, “The Implications Of Demetrios Of Lampe For Armenian Church Union.”  Most people look at these things and think, “How boring.”  Many of us working in this or that field of history look at the same things and think, “Why didn’t I think of that title?”  (These may not be the best titles, by the way, but they will do for now.)  This isn’t because we don’t think wars are important (they are supremely important as engines of social, cultural and political transformation; they define entire epochs, they change the ”course” of history in dramatic ways) or even that battles are unimportant (the fate of entire regions has sometimes turned on the outcome of a battle), but because we are, I think, attempting to fill out the rest of the story that is not comprehended by the dismissive description of “kings and wars.”   

There is a certain lovely irony that Nicolas Sarkozy is one of the foremost opponents of Turkish entry into the EU, since part of his family comes from Salonika (mod. Thessaloniki, classical and Byz. Thessalonika), which happens to have been the hometown of Mustafa Kemal and the heart of the CUP in its early days before the Balkan Wars restored it to the Greeks. 

Then again, it is quite appropriate that an heir to minor Hungarian aristocracy should be resisting the incorporation of Turkey into Europe, since it was long the mission of the Hungarians to keep Europe from being incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.  In those days Belgrade (Mag., Nandorfehervar) was the front line fortified point protecting the Hungarian Plain from invasion.  As someone who also has Hungarian ancestry, let me say to the soon-to-be President of France, Isten aldd meg a magyart.

This is all nonsense, according to senior White House officials. They say that Bush isn’t delusional at all and that history will vindicate him, just as it vindicated Lincoln and Truman. ~U.S. News and World Report

But “history” didn’t vindicate them and doesn’t vindicate anybody.  Progressive nationalist historians and historians inclined towards an internationalist perspective in foreign policy have worked at vindicating them ever since their terms ended, and for some reason otherwise intelligent people live their entire lives believing that Lincoln was a successful chief executive and Truman was a great leader of men.  Measured by the standard of whether they left their country better than when they took office, both must be counted as miserable failures, among the worst five to have ever held power in this county (Wilson, FDR and LBJ being the other top contenders).  As much as I dislike Mr. Bush and pretty much all of his works, he is actually not even in their league in terms of the damage he has wrought on this country.  A mediocrity in everything, even his flirtation with tyranny, with which these other men had torrid and passionate affairs, has been unimpressive.   

Truman’s and Acheson’s failure in blundering into the Korean War and then Truman’s failing to win it have not been “vindicated” by anyone–the continued division of Korea along a heavily armed border to this day marks one of the lasting legacies of the Truman Administration (even though, yes, the armistice was signed under Eisenhower).  God forbid that 55 years from now we have a division posted in Kurdistan to guard the border with Greater Iran–such might be Mr. Bush’s “vindication.”  Perhaps by then President Sasha Obama, her popularity plummeting thanks to our continued involvement in the Second Nigerian War, will find herself in some difficulty when she compares herself to that paragon of bold leadership, George W. Bush. 

Had Truman run and somehow been re-elected, despite the most abysmal approval ratings in the history of the modern Presidency, it is somewhat questionable whether South Korea would have survived at all.  Had Adlai Stevenson been elected, it is questionable whether we could have held Japan (I exaggerate a little).  Does anyone actually want to be compared with Truman?  Why?

This entire debate is a bit surreal to me, since my test of “great President” is a President who actually follows his oath of office and obeys the Constitution, which Lincoln and Truman were great ones for violating all the time.  Setting aside such quaint notions for a moment so that we can speak in a lingo more familiar to modern helots, Lincoln and Truman did have certain “accomplishments” after a fashion that have certainly been lasting, and so they may be said to have been “great men in history” who shape events.  Lincoln destroyed the constitutional republican Union of states, and Truman permanently and probably fatally subverted the republican nature of our government by committing us to international adventures for what now seems to be perpetuity.  Caesar helped to kill the Roman Republic, but he might at least argue that his hand was forced and he could also claim that he at least won his military engagements.  Pity the empire whose Caesars are men named Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.  Mr. Bush can only dream to achieve anything as lasting or permanent.  A failure to the end, his Presidency will not even fundamentally change the structures of government that he received from his predecessor.  As much as he is personally ridiculed and despised, he is really not much more than a placeholder President, a cipher, a nonentity.  It is because of this that his profound sense of self-importance and mission is especially disturbing, since even the Lord who chose to make those halting of speech into prophets is not this cruelly ironic.  Sometimes Presidents leave office in disgrace because they were thoroughly bad Presidents through and through, in the sense that they were just really bad at their jobs.  If he is anyone, Mr. Bush is Carter, not Truman. 

That, of course, is the heritage of this land. The people who came to Jamestown 400 years ago may not have all been saints. But they were all pioneers. They crossed the broadest waters and dreamed the grandest dreams. Their spirit is the American spirit. It is why America surpassed our native England to become the world’s most powerful nation. ~Mitt Romney

Dreamed the grandest dreams?  The early settlers in Virginia were primarily looking for land and money.  Nothing to be ashamed of, these things, since these are what pretty much all settlers, pioneers and immigrants are interested in finding.  Occasionally you will have sectarians who want to carry out their mission in a new land, but for the most part you will have normal people.  It is this plain, down-to-earth history of people seeking to find a plot of land and tend it that tells us a lot more about most traditional Americans down through the centuries than talking about people ”dreaming the grandest dreams.”  The New Englanders were more into dreaming, and look at all the trouble they–we–have managed to cause.  We would have done better to have even more sodbusters and even fewer dream-obsessed Yankee Puritans.  I say this as someone with a lot of New England Puritan and Yankee background. 

In any case, it’s nice to see that Romney’s Europhobic chauvinism extends also to the Mother Country, which is remarkable since the “American spirit” exhibited by the settlers at Jamestown was very much an “English spirit” and continued to be decidedly English or, if the last five defenders of the Union prefer, British.  Romney’s little remark is like something out of Hegelianism for Dummies: the American Geist has carried us along and caused us to triumph over all our adversaries. 

I have an alternative explanation for why the U.S. has outstripped the U.K. in world power: World Wars One and Two may have had a small part to play in dethroning England from global predominance.

The footnotes to the modern Armenian translation of Sayat Nova’s Angin akn vret sharats had an interesting explanation for what seemed a partly impenetrable line of verse.  The verse ran:

Khosrov pachayemen toghats, doon Tovoozi takht is, gozal.

Now, takht is the word for throne shared by Armenian, Persian and Urdu.  However, without the explanatory note linking this takht to the invasion of India and raid on Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, which was when he made off with the Peacock Throne, my Armenian teacher and I would not have readily made sense of what was meant.  Once Nadir Shah entered the picture, everything came together nicely.  Since this poem was probably written in 1758, Nadir Shah’s exploits would not have been such distant history for the ashugh.  The translation of the line would run as follows:

Left by King Khusrau, you are the Peacock Throne, beautiful one.


Skandari-Zoolghari toghats javahir is, angin lal is



Sharon is the bad guy who seemingly looks forward to a war. ~President Ronald Reagan, from private diary entry on Jan. 16, 1982

And, in fact, Laphroaig does taste like burning plastic. But it’s good burning plastic. ~Mencius Moldbug (that’s the name he uses–really)

I second that.  My introduction to Laphroaig was at the recent ISI/Liberty Fund colloquium at Mecosta.  We had received word from the Scotsman among us that this was good whiskey, and we were not likely to dismiss the informed opinion of a Scot on a matter as weighty as this one. 

As for the matter of restoring the Byzantine Empire, well, let me just say that I have heard of worse solutions to political problems in the Balkans and the Near East than this.  However, past attempts have not exactly done much for the well-being of Christians and Christianity in Anatolia, which therefore makes any resumption of the megali idea undesirable at the present time.  The main problem with reconstituting the empire, assuming it could be done, is that there would need to be a much better and formally defined procedure for succession.  Byzantium’s all-too-frequent usurpations and civil wars were obviously among its more unattractive qualities for those living inside the empire.  In some sense, this was a terribly traditionally Roman thing for them to be doing, but it did not really help in the long run.   

She is trying to have things both ways, a fact that she understands, because she is not stupid. At the same time, she believes she can have things both ways, because she believes that history is on her side. ~David Samuels

America’s public and intellectual elites do not know history. How can we say we know our enemies or know ourselves. [sic] Sun Tzu would be ashamed, no? ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Perhaps, or perhaps he would take it as evidence that we were pushovers ripe for an invasion.

More seriously, Michael’s post, inspired by Scott McConnell’s article comparing Iraq and Algeria (which Scott discusses at length on Antiwar Radio here), makes an important point about our collective historical ignorance creating the paucity of our foreign policy and geopolitical thinking.  A greater acquaintance with history, whether military or not, would be an invaluable resource for policymakers, pundits and the public alike.  Those familiar with the Mesopotamian campaign or the post-WWI rebellion in Iraq might have given more thought to meddling there in the first place.  Those who knew something of Valmy and Jena and Verdun would not belittle French martial prowess or courage, nor would someone actually familiar with the sweep of French history create preposterous narratives about eternal French enmity towards the Republic they helped to create.  The less educated in history a people is, the more easily it will be misled and confused by the half-learned ramblings of chauvinists and opportunists, and the less able it will be to scrutinise the rival claims of disputing controversialists.  Understanding of and respect for history are vital to remain free of the shackles of propagandists and ideologues who are constantly splicing, editing and redacting the story to serve their present goals (unfortunately, just as so many chroniclers over the centuries have also done).

So you have peculiar situations where authors can report an unending sequence of facts which suggest an epoch of relative material scarcity and decreased social complexity who just won’t admit that judged by these metrics there was a downsizing. ~Razib

I have a couple points expanding on my original response to Razib’s otherwise very good review of Ward-Perkins’ new book.  First, perhaps there are such people as Razib describes, but we would need to be specific about this.  Which authors actually say, “The cities shrank, everyone was poorer and trade weakened, but you cannot say that any of these things actually got worse in material terms“?  The entire argument revolves around which standards you are using to judge the civilisation.  Obviously when judged by material wealth, the scale and frequency of building, levels of trade, the size of the military, the vitality of civic institutions, etc., things got worse, especially after the 4th century and even more so in the sixth and seventh.  The curial class really did effectively collapse by the sixth century, both because the state made it an undesirable role to have and the function it fulfilled ceased to possess the significance that it once had; other institutions (the bureaucracy and Church mainly) were developing that proved more attractive to the leading men of the cities; reduced means and increased burdens made the responsibilities of the curiales harder and harder to meet.  I have no problem acknowledging that the curial class vanished and that this was a change for the worse if we’re talking about preserving the traditional form of the Roman city.  What I am not going to do is beat my breast and lament the departure from late Roman urbanism, since it is not really the purpose of an historian to approach things this way.  Besides, there’s more than one way to assess the accomplishments of a civilisation.  Arguably, given the reduced material conditions of the postclassical period the cultural production of the Mediterranean Christian world in these centuries should be regarded as even more impressive than they already are; these societies managed to produce works of enduring importance and, one might argue, greater value in much more straitened cirucmstances.  The point is not to get into some fruitless back-and-forth over whose period is better, but simply to insist that narratives that privilege one era over another have unhealthy distorting effects on the study of both periods and they cause scholars to constantly look for those things that “anticipate” the decline of the “‘higher” period rather than approaching the evidence less tendentiously.   

Second, it is more likely that the authors who stress change and transformation rather than speaking in terms of decline are historians primarily concerned with questions of meaning and social function, and so do not have much to say about the “relative material scarcity” except to acknowledge that it existed.  Consequently, the ways in which late antique society are not like its grand, paradigmatic classical forerunner are only interesting insofar as they actually illuminate the characteristics of late antique society.  It is better to understand why people lit a votive candle at a saint’s shrine than curse the “Dark Ages.” 

For good or ill (I tend to think it ill), institutional history today generally is in decline (though it has not yet fallen!), while narratives of ”decline and fall” has everything to do with the decline and fall of institutions, whether civic, fiscal, political or military.  Narratives of decline and fall are inevitably focused on the state.  In these narratives, state-building is civilisation is progress.  In a similarly overwrought way, disintegration of the state equals barbarism equals general decay.  There is also more than a little of this applied to the progressive nationalist telling of American, German and Italian (and even early Chinese) history.  According to these views, you are presented with the following absurdities: the genius of American republicanism was somehow secured and made better after the War of Secession under such giants as Grant and Hayes; Leibniz, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were the products of an inferior culture because they lived before  unification; the Quattrocento was the product of a period of Italian decadence because there was frequent warfare between the cities; it was better that the Warring States period that produced Confucius, Mo-tzu and Laotzu, among others, gave way to the stifling centralisation of the Ch’in and the Legalists.  It would seem clear that state-centered narratives of progress and decline are deeply flawed, which is one reason why late antique historians have done all they can to get rid of such a model of the late Roman period. 

Ironically, Byzantine studies is one of the last holdouts for scholars focusing on institutions, even though by the standards of the older classicists Byzantine institutions are all degraded and sub-par (don’t even get them started on the monasteries).  There is always a danger that history will fall into these patterns because so much of the record comes from state records or chronicles and other sources that tend to privilege what the political leadership is doing.  Of course, there is some truth in any narrative tying state formation with advantages in terms of internal security and peace, and there is certainly great importance in understanding institutional structures of any society.  What late antique historians will keep insisting on, I think, is that they want to keep those things in a balance with the study of society, culture and religion.  If man does not live by bread alone, neither should we measure the worth of a civilisation simply or primarily by the continuation of the annona.    

No, it was secular nationalism that killed them, the pseudo-religion that exalts the Turkish nation. ~Morning’s Minion

Undoubtedly pan-Turanism and Turkish nationalism masquerading as Ottomanism were profoundly significant ideological factors in driving the genocide, and I wouldn’t even object to allowing that they were the most significant factors for the architects of the genocide.  In addition to pointing to the basic Muslim identity of the irregulars, both Turkish and Kurdish, who carried out most of the actual looting and killing, I would point to an important feature of the ideology of the CUP leadership that is very often glossed over in many traditional accounts of this group.  Taner Akcam, who will probably not be mistaken for a “right-wing culture warrior” (though I might fairly be described as such), wrote in his masterful A Shameful Act on the Islamic background to the genocide:

In addition to the general subjugation of all its subjects, the Ottoman state specifically oppressed and discriminated against non-Muslims.  Indeed, in the course of Ottoman rule, long-standing assumptions of Muslim superiority evolved into the legal and cultural attitudes that created the background for genocide.  This is not to say that the Ottoman Empire rested only on violence, but that without a grasp of the particular circumstances of the Muslim-non-Muslim relationship, we cannot understand the process that led to a decision for a “final solution” to the Armenian question….The Muslim-Christian clashes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Armenian genocide must be considered against this background.  Accordingly, the view that relative peace prevailed prior to the emergence of nineteenth-century nationalism, [sic] is not only incorrect but also misleading. (p.19-20)

And again:

Solidarity among the empire’s Muslims, no matter what, was the psychological product of decline and disintegration coupled with the belief of being surrounded by hostile forces desiring the state’s elimination.  Thus Pan-Islamism was transformed into state ideology.

For this reason the attacks, mainly against the Armenians, had the nature of pogroms.  The state unleashed its attacks on the slightest provocation, calculating that this would bind Muslims more closely to the empire.  The Austrian ambassador to the Porte reported that Muslims were being armed and set into action against Christians, calling this a policy a “Muslim Crusade.”  From reportss of the various diplomatic missions in Istanbul and eyewitness accounts, it is clear that the massacres of 1894-96 were centrally planned. (p.44)

And again Dr. Akcam wrote:

For all their differences, these divergent currents–Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism, and Westernism–shared one core premise: the nationalism of a dominant ethnic group, which was understood to mean the Turks. (p.49)

Elsewhere he stresses the flexibility of the CUP in stressing different aspects of their ideology according to perceived need; when it helped to speak of jihad, they spoke of jihad, and when it helped to speak in racialist terms, they spoke as racialists.  Whichever way you slice it, this was a nasty bunch.  They were motivated by a number of different senses of their rightful superiority over Armenians and other minorities, one of which in this case was Islam, albeit an Islam as mediated through a particularly Turkist filter.

Speaking of “right-wing culture warriors” and the Armenian genocide together is notable for another reason, since relatively few “right-wing culture warriors” over here have any familiarity with the genocide and even fewer care very much.  I have noticed that almost the only people who have shown any interest in what I have had to say about the genocide have been on the left or center-left.  It is not for nothing that it is the Democrats who consistently push for recognition of the genocide, if only because Armenian-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic.  Christian conservatives, who might theoretically be natural allies for the Diasporan Armenians in this area, seem to be generally uninterested in the question. 

Depressingly, any sense of solidarity with Armenian Christians that one might think Christians in this country would or ought to have is virtually non-existent.  For obvious reasons, American Jews are much more aware of the genocide and they tend to be more involved in promoting knowledge about the Armenian genocide.  Likewise, the slaughter of the Assyrians undertaken at around the same time is also largely unknown to American Christians, just as the sorry fate of today’s Assyrians is overshadowed by an unfortunate commitment to Mr. Bush’s War.  This deplorable neglect of Near Eastern Christians is repeated time and again across much of the American right.  The response tends to be one of ignorance, indifference or some mixture of the two, so I would be very interested to see more “right-wing culture warriors” at least paying some lip service to remembering the Armenian genocide.

Tomorrow is April 24, the day on which Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide committed against their people.  That genocide began 92 years ago this month.  April 24 was chosen as the day of commemoration because it was on April 24, 1915 that the leading members of the Armenian community in Constantinople (Polis to the Armenians, Konstantiniye for the Turks) were arrested and taken away to be executed in the days and weeks that followed.  That gave the signal for the beginning of the organised attempt to annihilate the Armenians in all those places where they constituted more than 5-10% of the population; the goal was nothing less than the destruction of the Armenians throughout most of Anatolia.  Obviously, the Ottoman triumvirs directly responsible never publicly admitted their responsibility, much less were they punished for their crimes, and all attempts to hold other involved in the genocide were by and large stillborn thanks to post-WWI politics.  The new national government in Ankara early on rejected attempts to hold “the Turks” collectively responsible (this is understandable, in a way), and this hardened into the full-fledged policy of denialism that we see today.  At this point, denialism and Turkish republicanism have unfortunately combined; the hyper-nationalists today are only the most obnoxious of the denialists.  The Turkish Republic is the only ostensible democracy that I know of in which it is a crime to state publicly well-established historical facts.  In other democracies they make it a crime to deny genocides–in Turkish democracy, they make it a crime to use the word genocide.  It is a bad joke that the administration that wants to intervene in Sudan to stop a civil war that they (mistakenly) deem a genocide actively opposes a minimal effort to acknowledge a genocide that only Ankara and their apologists refuse to call by that name. 

Tomorrow Congress is preparing to pass still considering a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide as genocide and acknowledging the role of the Turkish government in it.  If West Germany had had a law on the books criminalising anyone who spoke of the Holocaust or the responsibility of the German government, it seems unlikely that Washington would respond well to threats from Bonn to the effect that relations would sour dramatically should Congress pass a purely symbolic resolution acknowledging the historical reality of the crime their government actively denies.  Today Ankara so threatens Washington with very real retribution for such a symbolic measure, when it is Ankara whose denialist law and repressive government combined to inflame public opinion against Hrant Dink, leading directly to his death.  That is only the most recent and dramatic example of how this genocide denialism has served as a mechanism for suppressing freedom of speech and whitewashing past crimes in Turkey.  It is appalling that such a government believes it is fit to join the nations of Europe as an equal; it is even more depressing that so many Americans are interested in currying favour with such an ally. 

Another tack seems to be to deemphasize material remains and cultural complexity, and suggest that the energies of the post-Roman Western world were funneled into Christianity. Ward-Perkins notes that encyclopedias of Late Antiquity are heavily tilted toward coverage of religious arguments, schisms and transformations, with relatively little space given to architecture, secular learning or politics. In other words, though Late Antiquity might be materially poorer than the Classical Imperial period, at least in the west, it was spiritually superior. Frankly, to me this is reminiscent of Communist era attempts to dismiss the consumer cornucopia of the capitalist world by suggesting that socialist man was spiritually richer if materially poorer. ~Razib

Ward-Perkins, like Liebeschuetz before him, is absolutely right to emphasise the archaeological and material evidence that shows undeniable economic contraction and the relative decline of Greco-Roman urbanism of the classical type.  Indeed, no one working in late antiquity really denies any of these claims of fact, and every decent history of late antiquity in the Mediterranean world takes account of these changed material realities.  Late antique historians certainly talk about architecture, for instance, at least as far as the Eastern Empire goes, since the modeling of church basilicas on secular halls and the magnificent achievement of Hagia Sophia are but two remarkable legacies of the late antique period.  If there is a great deal of attention paid to religious arguments and schisms in late antique studies (in my opinion, there is not nearly enough attention actually paid to religious controversy and heaps and heaps of attention paid to hagiography), that is because there were quite a few of them happening with rather significant consequences for the development of different parts of the Mediterranean world.  Each time you have someone sniff with Gibbonian disdain for religious contentions over an iota, you will wind up with five cultural historians who want to dedicate their lives to defending the importance of such contentions.  Each time someone comes along and says, “But, look, people really were poorer!  Things got worse!” the cultural historians will groan and say, “Yes, we understand.  Now let’s talk about something really interesting.”  These two approaches should not have to be at war with each other, since they are inherently complementary.  Obviously, comparisons of late antique scholarship to commie propaganda in any context will not encourage this sort of happy collaboration.   

Where the cultural and late antique historians part company with the late Romanists and archaeologists is in their evaluation of the worth of the period and its production, or rather the former believe that the period should receive the attention appropriate to a crucial period of transformation that contains answers for, among other things, how the medieval world came into being. 

Late antiquity had to be invented as a separate period and basically as a new concept because generations of classicists had told everyone that once the glory of Rome had passed everything went to hell and wasn’t really worth talking about.  Even traditional church history in the West used to stop at Chalcedon, as if the theologians were conceding that the fate of the empire and the fate of really interesting theology were inextricably linked. 

Church historians obviously have a hard time going along with a full-on decline and fall view, since it quite explicitly devalues the epoch of the Church’s great early efflourescence.  Tell them that the world of the 4th and 5th centuries are a “period of decline” and they will throw Chrysostom and Augustine back in your face, and they are right to do so.  Cultural historians are horrified at the idea that a whole range of centuries, in which cultural production of various kinds (including Neoplatonic philosophical works, the work of the 4th and 5th century rhetoricians and the secular court poetry of, say, Corripus and George of Pisidia) remained fairly high but had changed form, should be put on the back burner because those centuries represent a relative worsening of material conditions compared to an earlier period.  Imagine if early modernists took the same approach, ignoring the 17th century because life was so much more miserable and so much more full of religious controversy in many parts of Europe than in the 16th–how absurd would that be?

On the whole, late antique historians today try to avoid speaking in terms of either decline or superiority.  This is a result of cultural history dominating late antique studies, and there are certain things to be said against arguments about transformation that are so vague that one might conclude that no one is paying that much attention to content, but one has to understand the tremendous prejudices and biases built in to the traditional narrative sweep of European history that late antique historians battle against all the time.  They are compelled to speak in terms of transformation and change because so many people still think of the period as one of collapse and ruin.  The old apologetic interest in the Age of Faith is not what it once was and there is also a reluctance among the scholars, most of whom are not necessarily particularly religious, to engage in a lot of Christian triumphalism.  If anything, late antique studies of late have often been aimed at rehabilitating the religious deviants and heretics of the period to give a complete picture of the social fabric of that world.  That actually seems to me to be a very worthwhile thing to be doing (it is also, in a way, the kind of thing I am doing, though with less heretic-rehabilitation and more focus on the meaning deviant theologies had for their adherents), and it does not require us to dismiss or ignore material evidence and the realities of straitened conditions that this evidence shows.

A few wrote to remind him [Pope Benedict] that, as far as “reason” was concerned, it was Arab rationalists like Avicenna and Averroës who, with their commentaries on Aristotle, had saved Greek thought from obliteration during Europe’s undeniably dark Dark Ages. ~Jane Kramer

Via Reihan

This would be nice, if it were true.  Yes, Muslims preserved the Greek learning that they found in the lands they conquered, but it wasn’t as if Greek thought was ever in danger of “obliteration,” since the vast majority of Greek literature and history was preserved by the, er, Greeks in Byzantium.  Muslims were especially keen on philosophy and scientific texts, and these they made use of and recopied down through the centuries, which then facilitated their introduction into western Europe.  But they had little use for the playwrights, poets and historians, whose works we have primarily because of the Byzantines, who were also preserving the philosophical and scientific texts at the same time. 

It might also be worth noting that Avicenna and Averroes were notoriously “unorthodox” by the Islamic standards of their day with beliefs about the eternity of the world and the like standing in direct contradiction to Islamic revelation.  One of these philosophers felt the need to imagine truth as running on two tracks that did not intersect very often: the truths of reason and revelation were both true, but they were not going to fit together or be reconciled.  Even when Islam had a place for philosophy, it was never as a “handmaid” to theology, but usually more in the role of a scullery maid who would be allowed to scrub the floors as long as she made sure to stay out of the master’s way.  The obvious points would be that al-Kindi, Avicenna and Averroes represent a limited phenomenon that rather underscores and proves Pope Benedict’s Regensburg observation about the nature of Islam.  These three, with perhaps a couple others, represent the greatest achievements of Islamic philosophy for its first six centuries, but they are relatively few in number and ultimately had much less significance for the overall development of Islamic thought than the jurists and mystics had.  There was a moment when a kind of actually Islamic rationalism was on the rise, and it was squashed in the ninth century and never really fully reappeared.  Even then, it was a highly eccentric movement within Islam and one deemed to be wrong on fundamental questions of theology, as indeed it would have to have been if the divinity of Qur’anic authority was going to be confirmed. 

It’s a really sick time we live in when the Holocaust is considered a “contoversial subject” and denial of the atrocity is considered a valid alternative view. ~Philip Klein

Mr. Klein is right, but then it has already been a fairly sick time when the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides have been considered in certain scholarly and political circles to have been simply unfortunate episodes or perhaps even myths propagated by enemies of the revolution. 

This latest pandering to Muslim “sensibilities” in Britain is simply the application of the same politically motivated denialism that we see in the Armenian and Ukrainian cases to the one atrocity that has normally been deemed to be just about the only absolutely undeniable thing.  (Technically, virtually no one denies the events of the Armenian genocide, but they deny their significance, which amounts to the same thing.)  The twisted road by which we have reached the point where Pakistani Muslim schoolchildren in Britain would feel sufficiently offended by the history of WWII in Europe that a significant element of that history would have to be omitted is worthy of a series of posts at some point in the future.  All of this leaves in the background unmentioned the otherwise appalling ignorance of all British schoolchildren about world history outside of that sacred time of 1939-1945.  Those who would like to know “what happened to the Brits” might consider that many of ”the Brits” today have no grasp of some of the most rudimentary elements of British history, nor, thanks to official multiculti nonsense, do they have any sense of what that history has to do with their identity as part of the British people. 

It might be worth noting that this is a lesson in the importance of political expediency for promoting knowledge about past atrocities: the Holocaust became widely, publicly known because it was useful to the Allies to make it so, while the stories of the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides have had no such powerful advocates for their publicity and remembrance.  As much as I don’t like it, what is remembered from the past is tied inextricably to those who have the power to authorise and enforce official memory.  When those who have the power are more concerned to address present needs (such as avoiding Muslim discontent, riots and attacks), a new, airbrushed, revised story will be told.  When there are no victors to publicise an enemy’s atrocities, or when the victors are unable, for whatever reason, to do this, atrocities are usually softened or erased or justified as part of a founding mythology.  Then begins the talk of “necessity” and idealism, and it always sounds the same, whether it is uttered by a Benny Morris or a Turkish nationalist. 

Because of post-WWI squabbling over the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies were unsuccessful in holding most of the architects and agents of the genocide accountable.  The architects and agents of the Ukrainian genocide were heroes to people of a certain political persuasion, who might well have liked to expropriate a few kulaks in their part of the world, and were never going to be held accountable by their own government, which authorised what they were doing, nor by any other, which had no means of trying or punishing them.  Needless to say, the mass deaths of Germans following WWII are scarcely even remembered, since they are unique in having virtually no advocates for their memory and an unusual number of interested parties who would prefer to keep these events buried as much as possible.

Middle Eastern historians are, on the whole, very bad about repeating pro-Ottoman, pro-Turkish propaganda about the Armenian genocide, and only rarely does anyone bring up the genocide of the Ukrainians except as a tired debating point against people who use the Holocaust as a cudgel with which to beat political opponents.  The ‘wrong’ kind of people were doing the killing in those cases (Muslims, communists) and the ’wrong’ kinds of people (Christians, Slavs) were the victims.  Given the decades of pervasive anti-Christian and increasingly pro-Islamic biases in U.S. and European education, teaching the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians seems not only counterintuitive but perverse (since ”we” all ”know” that Christians are always the oppressor, never the oppressed). 

Sympathisers with the Soviets and communism generally could never really acknowledge that Stalin’s policies towards the Ukraine were fundamentally no different in revolutionary and nationalist motivations and hideous effect from the Holocaust.  To his cheerleaders abroad, Stalin was a “liberal in a hurry,” and if a few kulak eggs got broken, well, that’s the cost of progress.  Admirers of that famed Ottoman “tolerance” and latter-day proponents of the liberalisation and reform of the Islamic world have all been too deeply invested in their respective myths to face up to the hideous realities of what the marriage of progressive politics, Ottomanism and Islam could and did create, despite ample evidence not only of mass killings and deportations but extensive evidence (detailed in A Shameful Act) of government direction and coordination of the entire enterprise.   

Even if liberals detest the Crusades, however, there is no good reason for many of today’s Muslims to care about them, and there is no evidence that they think about the subject at all. ~Dinesh D’Souza

No reason not to welcome D’Souza back to the fold if he just forgets that recent nonsense about all our friends in the Muslim world, even among the mass murderers, who really like Christians and Jews. ~Richard Reeb

It’s true that Muslims historically had no great focus on the Crusades…until recent times when Muslims and Arab nationalists rediscovered the Crusades (and the defeat of the Crusades) as a useful historical precedent for what they saw as their own struggles against the West.  Similarly, few in Russia were ever probably aware of the details of the battle at Lake Ladoga or the Time of Troubles, but they were familiar with the heroic mythology of resistance against invasion that became useful for propaganda during the invasions of Germans.  Thus the communist Eisenstein could make a Russian nationalist epic film about Alexander Nevsky, someone venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church, because his defense of Novgorod against the Teutonic Knights, although largely incomparable to the Soviet situation, served as a potentially powerful symbol used to inspire people.  The basic message was this, as with all good nationalist propaganda films: those people have invaded before, they lost back then and they will lose again.  Memories of past successes become all the more important as a people has fewer and fewer successes in the present.  Hence it is not only the case that many Muslims today cultivate a grievance about the Crusades, but it was to some extent inevitable (especially with certain obvious geographical parallels with the foundation of Israel) since past victories were bound to become more important as Muslims suffered setback after setback even in the post-independence period. 

The fact that the Crusades have been taken up as a manufactured grievance to impart a sense of enduring resistance against European “aggression” to those who would very much like to model themselves on Saladin and Baybars does not make the real-world effects of that grievance any less potent or less real.  There is no evidence that anyone thinks about this stuff?  D’Souza should get out more.  Some people in Syria to this day celebrate Sultan Baybars’ victory against the Mongols and his successes against the dwindling Crusader kingdoms of the Levant.   

Of course, the Muslim rediscovery of the Crusades as a grievance is a political manipulation of history, not entirely unlike the sudden discovery of the virtue of the Crusades even among largely secular Westerners who would normally denounce the “intolerance” of pre-modern Christian Europe under any other circumstances.  But that sense of grievance does exist today.  That doesn’t mean that we have to make any concessions or blame the Crusaders for our problems today (problems we have, indeed, done much more to bring upon ourselves), but it does mean that D’Souza still doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 

This, of course, is the perplexing thing about the Munich analogy. It’s made with a sort of eerie constancy, like the world is just chock-a-block with Hitlers. The salient fact about Hitler, however, and the world situation in the 1930s, is that it was unusual time and Hitler an unusual person. The suggestion that we should make recourse to strategies that, allegedly, would have, in retrospect, have been optimal for coping with Hitler as our regular basis for dealing with foreign leaders who don’t eagerly submit to American hegemonic aspirations is daft. ~Matt Yglesias

Yes, it is daft.  It is also the sum total of the neoconservative understanding of how to run a foreign policy.  Naturally, Yglesias is commenting on a Ledeen post.  This post tagged Hagel as the “ideal standard-bearer” of appeasers (meaning, of course, all people who oppose Ledeen’s brand of mad interventionism of the “throw a crappy country against the wall every ten years” variety).  Given Hagel’s foreign policy views and his record, that’s like saying Lieberman is the “ideal standard-bearer” of pacifists or McCain is the “ideal standard-bearer” of paleocons.  Hagel is such an “appeaser” that he voted to authorise Bush to attack Iraq; he was such an “appeaser” that he supported the bombing of Yugoslavia and he gives you no reason to think that he would not have been a supporter of the Gulf War and Panama had he been in the Senate at the time…well, you get the point.  When it came time to put up or shut up, the man has never not backed the use of force since he was elected.  This lie about Hagel is very much like the reinvention of Jack Murtha as some sort of lily-livered peacenik–it is the only thing neocons have left in their arsenal when traditionally very hawkish and internationalist figures turn against their lunatic policies.  This does not mean that I think Hagel has actually turned against the war, but that even his pointed criticism of how the war is being fought is enough to put him in the ranks of the new Chamberlains.  This is absurd on every level, as you would expect from Ledeen.  The strange thing is that this view of Hagel is widespread on the right, so it cannot be explained away as the fantasy of Ledeen alone.  Brownback is getting similar treatment because he kinda sorta opposed the holy “surge” (but refused to vote for cloture to bring an anti-”surge” resolution to the floor). 

On the constant Munich and appeasement references of the “1938ist” jingoes, I wrote this last summer along similar lines:

Indeed, these paradigms are likely to distort and confuse us more than help our analysis of the situation, not least because certain examples–particularly the 1938 one–impose a moral and emotional weight on the debate that is dangerous and irresponsible.  If you treat this as 1938 and you really think Hitler is on the rise and about to launch his war, nothing is going to deter you from taking action against him, knowing what you know about Hitler.  This makes people get very excited and muddles their thinking.  There is also the problem that Hitler is dead and we are not actually facing Hitler redivivus.  Indeed, it may be that if we act now as some believe the West should have done in 1938 we will precipitate precisely the kind of disaster that we believe we are going to prevent.  Comparisons of this kind are fun, and they give us historians work to do, but they cannot be the basis for analysing international tensions with any effectiveness.  Besides, any ten year old can come up with these comparisons after watching enough History Channel propaganda.  Historians more than anyone know that it is our attention to historical differences that can tell us the most about any given period relative to others.  

This was a political show trial, and partisans of Joe Wilson will use the guilty verdict to declare vindication. ~James Taranto

Needless to say, perhaps, Fox’s Alan Colmes did a pathetic job of challenging Coulter’s flimsy defense. The whole segment was a show trial in reverse. ~Michael Crowley

I don’t know whether this represents some sort of trend in atrocious uses of language, but it is interesting that both of these ridiculous statements appeared on the same day.  The first refers, of course, to the Libby conviction, and the other to an appearance by Ann Coulter on Hannity & Colmes

You can believe that Fitzgerald’s prosecution was driven by political or personal vendetta, as some would like to believe, and you can believe that this case should never have been brought to trial.  I disagree fundamentally with both of these views, since I think that obstructing justice and perjury are wrong regardless of why someone does it (lots of Republicans used to believe the same thing) and that such crimes should be prosecuted if the charges can be proven, but it is possible to hold these other views without becoming a squawking buffoon.  James Taranto, as usual, bounds across that line and never looks back when he calls this a “political show trial,” demonstrating either his tremendous ignorance or his utter corruption of mind.   

A political show trial has a very definite meaning.  These were trials conducted during the Purges of the 1930s whose outcomes were predetermined by the Party and Stalin and therefore whose entire procedure was purely for “show.”  Hence the name.  (Incidentally, Republicans were very eager to talk about ”purges” during the Connecticut Senate primary last year, invoking a word chiefly associated with Bolshevik terror in the context of a domestic election, once again showing themselves to be unfit to comment on anything.)  These trials had no logic or purpose, except to provide a certain veneer of public legitimacy for the deposition of prominent Party men (including top figures such as Zinoviev and Kamenev) that paved the way for their exile, execution and elimination from the historical record.  Unless I have misunderstood the sentences for violations of federal perjury and obstruction of justice statutes, Libby does not stand in much danger of summary execution by NKVD operatives or their equivalent.  He has not been fraudulently charged with crimes he didn’t commit as a way of covering up a purely political prosecution.  The court will not “request” his suicide, nor will his picture be artificially scrubbed out from all official records.  Indeed, we all know that he is going to go scot-free with a pardon, because we are not ruled by laws but by particularly venal and self-serving men, so please spare me the whinging about how Libby is the victim of neo-Stalinist jurisprudence.  This is not only an insult to the millions of victims of Stalinism, but is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.  It is also particularly rich to read complaints about politicised justice coming from the pages of the right’s Pravda, which never thinks that anything the administration does in matters of national security or other policy is as heavily politicised as it obviously is. 

Now to the other example.  While I might theoretically enjoy comparisons of Hannity & Colmes to Stalinist purges, if only to show the relatively greater intellectual integrity of the latter, when someone is silly enough to refer to a cable talk show as a show trial, whether it is in “reverse” or not, it becomes immediately clear how wrong this use of language is.  Most of us do not, I think, make pithy comparisons between certain things we happen to dislike and, say, concentration camps, gas chambers or mass graves.  You don’t usually hear someone say, “Boy, this week’s Meet The Press was a sort of journalistic Kristallnacht–only in reverse!”  I leave it to my readers to puzzle out what “show trial in reverse” even means, but I think it prompts the promulgation of Larison’s First Law of Political Commentary (not to be confused with the Laws of Foreign Policy Commentary): unless you are referring specifically to a contemporary case of politically motivated kangaroo courts that serve as a pretext for the exile and/or execution of political enemies, you never get to compare anything in present-day domestic politics to a show trial; first-time violators should be prohibited from speaking about domestic politics for a period of not less than ten years; repeat offenders are banned for life.

Do my eyes deceive me, or does Stephen “Politics of the Future” Schwartz actually have the chutzpah to attack someone else’s views of the Spanish Civil War as unduly rose-coloured and propagandistic?  What did Schwartz miya have to say about the war a few months ago?  He wrote:

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. 

That this person was at the same time gamely trying to downplay the civil war in Iraq by making pathetic comparisons with the Spanish conflict only made this obnoxious view that much worse.

Stephen Schwartz's picture

Victory For POUM, Insh’allah

Can Schwartz miya really be so cheeky as to refer to someone else as a poseur?  But of course he can!  Look on in wonder as the old commie and neocon fellow traveler re-fights old fights over that old worry, “Who lost Spain to fascism?”  All of this might be interesting except for the problem that the Republicans weren’t fighting fascism and the Second Republic was a good example of how democracy can empower the fanatics who lead it to destruction.  Like another old commie, Ronald Radosh, who edited Spain Betrayed in the tradition of the anti-Stalinist radicals of the Republican cause, Schwartz miya is still mired in disputing over whether the Republic’s domination by the Soviets or its lack of domination and direction by them was its undoing.  It is the Soviets’ responsibility in undermining the Republican cause that so energises Schwartz miya, rather than the horrors inflicted by the Republicans in a war precipitated by their radicalism.  It would never cross the mind of this old lefty-turned-Muslim that the Republican side was itself in the wrong and deserved to lose if moral desert has anything to do with military outcomes (it doesn’t).  How neoconservatives can continue to consort with people like this and somehow pretend that they are not still at some level rehashing their old sectarian fights on the left, I do not pretend to know.   

While on quasi-hiatus, it is tempting to look in and remark on the odd ill-advised wager of steak or comment on the idiocy of the Senate’s failed cloture motion connected to the surge “debate” (Al Franken must have Coleman running scared–he even voted for cloture), but really of far greater interest for all, I think, is to comment on my recent reading of the first part of Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act in connection with my L.A. Armenian experience.

Over the weekend, I was in L.A. among many Armenians at a graduate student colloquium at UCLA.  The colloquium was well-done and successful all around, though there was the occasional, minor flaring-up of arevmtyan and arevelyan hay disputes that are fascinating in their subtlety and complete imperceptibility to most of us otarner (foreigners/non-Armenians).  For those who scarcely know what the Armenian language is, the distinction between the two major dialects is even more obscure, and so, too, are the slight cultural variations between the different Armenian communities.   

Part of the dispute is, of course, the different place of the genocide in the collective memory of the Diasporans around the world and the Eastern Armenians living in the Republic, and the other part is the related problem that the Diasporans–because their people came from eastern Anatolia in Van, Erzerum, Cilicia and elsewhere–tend not to see the Republic as their real home country.  This brings us back to the tragic story of Hrant Dink, whose prosecution by the Turkish state–leading to the incitement of the public and Mr. Dink’s murder at the hands of a nationalist fanatic–turned on the twisting of a phrase that he intended for a Diasporan audience.  He had said that the Diasporan preoccupation with Turkish guilt was acting like “poison in their blood,” which some time-serving goons in the Turkish government managed to twist into a claim that Turkish blood was poison.  Mr. Dink’s point, lost on so many Diasporans and even more Turks, was that obsession with recognition of the genocide, the extensive leaning on this one historical event as the definition of your identity, was crippling them as a people and diverting their energies from the necessary work of building up Armenia.  He was essentially right, but it is another tragedy that his murder by a Turkish nationalist will almost certainly drown out his reasonable appeal and make recognition of the genocide that much more of a priority over more practical concerns of aiding the actual state that Armenians finally have. 

As related in one of the talks at the colloquium, Western Armenians, scattered around the globe as they are, are focused more intensely on the nature of their national identity, while the Armenians in the Republic tend to be focused more on the bread-and-butter concerns of economic and political reform in their country.  This is not to say that Eastern Armenians aren’t concerned with their history, since they are very much concerned, or that Western Armenians aren’t concerned about Armenia, because they are quite concerned, but that the primary emphasis for each community, broadly speaking, often lies elsewhere.

This got me to thinking after having read the early parts of A Shameful Act (Dr. Akcam, by the way, will be speaking at the University of Chicago this Friday at the Oriental Institute at 7:00), because it occurred to me that, as often as various early republican Turkish officials insisted that the genocide had been necessary to pave the way for the Turkish national state (hence the Turkish Republic’s obsession with denial), the genocide also served ironically to artificially divide Armenians from the Diaspora and Armenia from one another to some degree.  The memory of this horror has proved to be so much more powerful and central for many Diasporan Armenians in a way that was never entirely possible for the Eastern Armenians whose ancestors did not experience it, and it has probably come to form a larger part of the Diasporan identity because it is directly part of their history–rather than part of a general national history in which their immediate kin never directly participated–and has thus managed to introduce a barrier of sorts between them and their fellow Armenians.  Its final bitter fruit has been to create something of a gap in understanding between the two largest parts of the Armenian world.  Of course, I think it is fair to say that almost all Armenians still desire recognition of the genocide as genocide from Turkey, but even then it is possible that this recognition will not mean quite the same thing–and so may have very different effects in the two communities–because the genocide does not have quite the same meaning for both.           

Matt Yglesias has lately started trying to clear a path through the impenetrable bramble that is the foreign policy non-debate about American-Israel relations and the influence of pro-Israel lobbying groups and pro-Israel hawks on the shape of American Near Eastern policy.  Predictably, he has received a lot of grief for making some observations that seem controversial mostly to those who foreign policy and pro-Israel views are more or less implicated in what he writes.  Ezra Klein has a little more on this point.   

It was therefore inevitable that someone should call forth the memory of Charles Lindbergh, every internationalist’s favourite American pinata and hate-figure from the 1930s.  Lindbergh is their target primarily because of his 1941 Des Moines speech for the America First Committee.  Yglesias replies here to the Lindbergh comparison.  In his response, Yglesias easily sees why Goldberg reached so very deep into his bag of tricks for this comparison (what with comparisons between foreign policy debates of today and the 1930s being so rare and unusual at NRO):

I’ll cop to not actually knowing anything about the real historical record of Lindberg [sic], but I take the point of the reference to be a not-so-thinly veiled effort to once again call Wesley Clark and myself anti-semites.

In fact, it isn’t veiled at all.  On the right today, flinging the name Lindbergh (even while pointing to posts where you acknowledge that the person being referred isn’t really nearly as dreadful as everyone would normally take him to be) at anyone has a very simple purpose: to impute on the one hand horrible anti-Jewish prejudice (of which Lindbergh was supposedly guilty) and to imply that the person’s foreign policy views are profoundly immoral (because they are like pre-WWII “isolationism” in some way).  Goldberg makes whatever qualifications about Lindbergh that he does in order to show that he seems to possess some more detailed understanding of the man than the “cartoonish demonization” of him allows, but essentially accepts the fruits of that demonization and relies on the “cartoonish demonization” to do most of the work in his anti-Yglesias post.  He takes it for granted that his audience will read the name Lindbergh and summon to mind the “cartoonish demonization” that generations of New Dealers, internationalists and jingoes have cultivated and made into a conventional part of the narrative of American history.  In this way, he endorses that demonisation and confirms that he is employing the comparison primarily for the purposes of demonising Yglesias. 

It’s a pretty effective, if unethical, rhetorical move, not entirely unlike the well-known Ciceronian ploy of vicious character assassination dressed up as a sort of concession to the accused, “I’m not going to talk about the man’s despicable nature and how he has betrayed his wife and friends…I am going to talk about the matter at hand.”  Thus Goldberg effectively says: “Have you noticed the similarities between Yglesias and Lindbergh, whom I despise?  They’re not entirely similar–they’re just similar in all of the worst possible, anti-Semitic ways.  But don’t take this as an insult, Matt, because I have relatively less contempt for Lindbergh than most people who use these sorts of shoddy attacks.”   

In the exceedingly simple calculations of certain interventionists who use these attacks, if Lindbergh was an anti-Semite and he opposed entry into WWII, it was probably from bad motives and sneaking sympathy with the Axis–both which have been pretty unfairly imputed to Col. Lindbergh.  You can read the Des Moines speech and see for yourself how well-deserved these charges of prejudice and sympathy with the Axis are.  I think it is fair to say that they are essentially untrue.  Those charges represent one of the more famous examples of disgusting lies being deployed against a sincere patriot trying to keep his country from needless war. 

It also somehow follows for such interventionists that whatever held “true” for Lindbergh could be applied in broadbrush fashion to pretty much anyone in the America First Committee and, later, to anyone who looks back at the AFC with anything other than mocking derision.  The demonised caricature of Lindbergh can be readily used against those modern-day non-interventionists who happen to be opposed to the foreign policy views of these very interventionists and pro-Israel hawks, especially when more than a few of these hawks are Jewish.  I’m not saying that any of the connections interventionist make along the way really make any sense, but it is what interventionists and internationalists today often do whenever they fear that a new crop of “isolationists” (i.e., conservatives who think American interests are not served by hyperactive foreign policy and at least one major military adventure per decade) is on the rise.   

Yglesias also catches Goldberg in one of his attempts to read in a message to his opponents’ views that isn’t there.  Goldberg wrote:

Regardless, Lindbergh believed Jews were pushing American foreign policy in an unhealthy direction, and so does Yglesias and, more significantly, so does Wes Clark.

That isn’t what Yglesias or Clark said.  They weren’t speaking about “Jews” as a whole or abstractly as some single-minded entity, as the criticism implies, since everyone understands that these claims are bound to be riddled with exceptions and it can be questionable even to make such sweeping claims.  Come to think of it, essentially no one makes such claims about “Jews” generally.  (This is why it is so crucial for interventionists to circulate the lie that neocon is a “code word” for Jew, so that they can pretend that opponents of these hypernationalist, pro-Israel militarists of all backgrounds are saying outlandish things about “the Jews” when they are not.) 

Goldberg often inserts such a gross overgeneralisation in someone else’s argument.  Here is one example that comes to mind immediately.  When someone makes a specific accusation about a certain faction or interest group, if any one of the accused is a Jewish person Goldberg will declare that the accuser has made outrageous generalisations about “the Jews.”  This allows him to dismiss the charge as absurd on its face and proof of the accuser’s bias, when the only one who has made outrageous generalisations and absurd claims has been Goldberg.  But Yglesias has some fun with this:

Look back through this current controversy and you’ll see that I don’t accuse “the Jews” of having a pernicious influence on anything. If you do want to talk about “the Jews” as a class, we’ve had a beneficial impact on US foreign policy lately, voting in overwhelming numbers for congressional Democrats, putting Nancy Pelosi in the Speaker’s Chair and thereby somewhat restraining Bush’s poor national security policies. 


The Armenian leadership openly sided with Turkey’s enemies, demanded a state on Ottoman land and formed anti-Ottoman militias. Many Turks were killed by these Armenian groups.

Turkey fears an official apology for the Armenian deaths would trigger claims on its land or on seized Armenian assets. Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations. (One such bill looks likely to pass the U.S. Congress in April.) Politics often seems to trump history. [bold mine-DL] Would the French Parliament have made it a crime last year to deny a “genocide” by the Turks if an unrelated desire to keep Turkey out of the European Union had not been prevalent? ~Hugh Pope

The first statement is a shocking overgeneralisation.  Mr. Pope has evidently written several books on Turkish history, so he ought to know better than to say broad and sweeping things about “the Armenian leadership.”  Much of the flower of Ottoman Armenian political and intellectual leadership in Constantinople (or Konstantiniye as it was still called at the time) was wiped out in the days and weeks following the mass arrests of Armenian journalists, professionals, clergy, scholars and parliamentarians on April 24, 1915 (April 24 is now the day when the genocide is now commemorated).  This leadership had remained quite loyal to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal” millet in contrast with the Orthodox Christian Slavs and Greeks who had been breaking away from the empire for decades.  For their loyalty, they were rewarded with death, and the deaths of these leading figures gave the signal to the Turkish and Kurdish irregulars in eastern Anatolia to begin the massacres and forced deportation of Armenians from Van, Erzerum and Cilicia, among other locations.  The Young Turk government during WWI coordinated with these irregulars to achieve maximum destruction of the Armenians in Anatolia.  After the Ottoman defeat, there were even some trials of some of those who had participated in the slaughter.  The slaughter was unfortunately not an entirely new thing, since there had been widespread massacres  of Armenians in 1894-96 in the previous generation and no foreign war on which they could later be conveniently blamed.  What was different starting in 1915 was the scale and organisation of the killing and the official backing of the government.   

There were some Armenian nationalists in eastern Anatolia who sided with the Russians in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenian republic (a goal which was briefly realised at war’s end before it was swallowed up by the Soviets and became Armenia SSR), but to refer to these people as “the Armenian leadership” or to treat the problem as if it were one of general subversion of the empire by the entire Armenian community in time of war when it was not the case is unworthy of someone who claims the role of historian.  Indeed, Mr. Pope’s column reads very much like something out of the Turkish government’s own propaganda, including the scare quotes around the word genocide and the outrageous statement that it is somehow the Turkish government that has history, rather than politics, on its side.  It is fairly obvious to most thoughtful people, whether Armenian, Turk or some other nationality, that the massacres did happen and did constitute the first modern genocide.  It has been the political repression of the evidence and speech about this inside Turkey that has been the only real source of doubt about the genocide.  It has been this persistent denial imposed by the Turkish government that has continued to frustrate and embitter the Armenian Diaspora. 

As the late Mr. Dink had tried to argue, preoccupation with Turkish acknowledgement of the genocide has become for many Diasporans a consuming passion, even an unhealthy one.  However, I can hardly blame them for wanting official acknowledgement that this did happen and was a deliberately orchestrated state-sanctioned attempt to annihilate an entire people.  I don’t know why exactly Mr. Pope feels obliged to carry water for Ankara and the argument that “lots of people died–hey, there was a war on!”, especially when the latter is typically the refuge of the Holocaust-denier, but he lends his name to a bad cause and does not do his duty as an historian by lending credibility to the Turkish government’s self-serving justifications of a horrendous crime.  Politics often seems to trump history all right, at least as far as Mr. Pope’s misleading description of the genocide goes.  

For those interested in what a more serious historian has to say about the matter, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is reputed to be an excellent study.  (I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to do so this year.)  It confirms, as one would expect, that the genocide was “a deliberate, centralized program of state-sponsored extermination.”  This is the work of a Turkish scholar who is keenly aware of the anxieties of Turks about acknowledging this crime, but who is also concerned to tell the truth about these terrible events.  That is the sort of historian we should be heeding.   

Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms.

8) If you are 18 and figuring out what course of study to pursue for the next 4 years what changes would you make to your educational path now that you have some hindsight?

I would study a lot more history. Thanks to my college’s refusal to tell its ignorant students what an educated person should know-heaven forbid that it actually exercise intellectual authority!-I was required to study no history and didn’t know enough to do so on my own. ~Heather Mac Donald

Okay, for those who are in danger of being all “Mac Donalded” out, I have just one more thing to say about Ms. Mac Donald’s review before I turn to other things.  The juxtaposition of the remark about theocons arguing for the necessity of religion and Ms. Mac Donald’s admitted lack of study of history caught my attention.  It struck me that her admitted lack of a proper education in history, which she laudably wishes to remedy, might explain a lot about Ms. Mac Donald’s atheism. 

Atheists are great ones for posing what they think are really baffling conundrums for believers, but their acquaintance with history, as far as religion is concerned, is typically with the black marks and scandals.  There was religious fanaticism!  Well, yes, and there was far, far worse atheist fanaticism, so which would you rather see dominating society?  They seem uninterested to query why it is that every organised society from the earliest tribes to the most technically sophisticated civilisations have had one form or another of propitiating, worshipping and otherwise interacting with the supernatural and divine.  If they do ask the question, they have ready-made answers handy: ignorance, fear of death, fear of the unknown, opiate of the masses, etc.  It usually does not seem to trouble them that the greatest minds in every period of our history not only acknowledged one divinity or another but insisted on the importance of reverence for God or the gods for the well-being and virtuous life of man.  They were caught up in the superstitions of their time, or they were afraid to challenge the religious authorities, the atheist will reply.  Maybe, but what of the numerous philosophers who claimed to be able to show, by means of reason, the necessity of the existence of God?  Though all these men considered the possibility of atheism, at least in passing, the absurdity of it always prevented them from embracing it. 

It is no wonder then that, when faced with something like the ontological proof, which they no longer even attempt to answer, most atheists retreat to tired arguments from theodicy.  Having repeatedly failed to disprove God’s existence in the realm of logic, which was their only real chance, they now hope to shame believers with the scandal of the fallenness of the world.  “Look, a tsunami!  What about your loving God now, eh?” they cry.  This can sometimes scandalise believers, but it does not do much to disprove God’s existence.  

Doesn’t the awesome weight of all of these historical precedents make the ”skeptical conservative,” the conservative atheist, think twice about whether he has gone awry somewhere?  Surely it is one of the marks of conservatism to defer to the authority of tradition on the assumption that the “individual is foolish, but the species is wise” and that the tradition has accumulated the wisdom of centuries as compared against your brief lifespan.  These are not definitive proofs in favour of the claims of the tradition (deference to tradition is based heavily on experience and an assumption that time-tested ways are best, which do not yield proofs as such), but for the conservative they are important claims that have to be taken into account when forming a view about anything. 

Perhaps the most stunning thing about atheism is the sheer presumption of it.  I don’t mean simply the presumption against God, which would be enough in itself, but the presumption that you and a few other adventurous souls have figured out something that the vast majority of mankind has never known about a subject for which the atheist can obviously have no empirical evidence one way or the other.  Heady stuff, indeed.  Say whatever else you will about it, this setting of the ideas of the self over and against the inherited wisdom of ages is one of the main things that is unconservative about atheism.  Even if atheists were right, we should be clear that there would be nothing conservative about their position, but would, if adopted by society as a whole, quite obviously involve a cultural revolution and destruction of a significant portion of our cultural inheritance.  In the end, what is it that atheists would conserve of our civilisation, when so much of the substance of our civilisation has its origins in Christianity or in the cultural derivatives thereof? 

Would greater familiarity with history weaken an atheist’s certainty that religion is unnecessary for the healthy flourishing of society?  I almost have to think that it would.  The nightmare of the 20th century, defined to such a great extent in so many parts of the world by organised godlessness and the official repudiation of all religion, should give any convinced atheist pause.  If man does not flourish in a godless regime, and if godless regimes have a record of unusually great barbarity and human cruelty, it does at the very least suggest that religion aids in human flourishing and probably has some moderating effect on the use of political power.  On sheer pragmatic grounds alone, someone familiar with the historical record would have to conclude that atheism, at least if embraced officially, is bad for the health of society.     

Since no one has yet offered me a large pot full of treasures that would keep me otherwise occupied, I thought I would point readers to an interesting article (via Razib) about the Alevi sect in Turkey.  This is one of the many sects that fill the fissiparous and wildly diverse universe of Shi’ism.  Somewhat like the Druze, they have roots in Shi’ism, but have developed into an entirely different religious group.

Speaking of fairly obscure Near Eastern sects, I was introduced indirectly to the existence of a small religious minority in Armenia through reading the beginning of Namus, one of the works of Armenian author Alexander ShirvanzadeNamus, as I have discovered, is a Mediterranean and Near Eastern code of honour, and would seem to form part of the Pashtuns’ pushtunwali surveyed by The Economist late last year. 

What was the obscure sect I discovered?  The Malakans (as transliterated from Armenian) or Molokans (as transliterated from Russian).  Not to be outdone by anyone else, the Molokans have their own webpage.  From what I have been able to learn about them so far, you could not find people less likely to follow anything remotely resembling pushtunwali than the Malakans, who appear to be the very embodiment of meekness and longsuffering. 

Relating this to some current events here in America, I would note that Molokans apparently also were supposed to have had a tradition of plural marriage at some point and were either pejoratively identified or otherwise associated with Mormons in the 19th century.  According to a 1993 New York Times article, the Molokans “comprise a rather late Russian sect that emerged at the close of the 18th century.”

The article continues:

Like other anti-clerical movements in Russia and in Europe, Molokan preachers focused on immediate personal contacts with God, refuting ritual and reverence for saints and icons as idolatry. They recognize as the sole fountainhead of truth the Holy Scriptures, emphasizing that both Old and New Testaments are to be viewed metaphorically not dogmatically.

Basic is meeting for prayer which reduce to hymn singing and the joint reading and interpretation of Scriptural texts. There is no hierarchy, with the congregations chaired by an Elder, usually one of the older and better educated members of the community. They resemble more the western Quakers and Baptists.

Apparently, along with other dissident sects, the Molokans were resettled in the Caucasus under Nicholas I.  This is presumably how they entered into the history of Armenia.

Update: Somehow I forgot to mention this earlier.  There is also a movie called Namus, which is based on Shirvanzade’s story.  There is now a restored version available.  From what I have heard about the story’s melodrama, it sounds as if it will be Armenia’s answer to a Bollywood plot.  Unfortunately, it is a silent film, so there won’t be any big song-and-dance numbers.

Needless to say, that final conclusion is open to debate. But it is true that leaders are susceptible to policies of escalation if they believe that victory can be achieved. That is because, as in Iraq, the potential rewards of victory outweigh the consequences of guaranteed defeat. Still, psychological errors are neither the lone nor the most important cause behind policymakers’ reluctance to “cut their losses.” Considerations of honor also play a factor, as do aspirations to glory—two concepts that go unmentioned in our social sciences (because they are difficult to quantify) and in our foreign-policy debate (because they are out of intellectual fashion).

But these two ideas, along with power, ideology, weakness, morality, and interest, are central to any comprehensive understanding of international relations. And they are key to understanding whether hawks or doves triumph in a given policy debate. That Kahneman and Renshon mention none of them in their essay only undermines its persuasiveness. That they restrict the scope of the biases they identify to hawks suggests their piece is less a work of social science than it is a polemic. One might even go so far as to say they exhibit clear biases of their own. ~Matt Continetti, Foreign Policy

Via Reihan

This conclusion of Mr. Continetti’s response to the Kahneman/Renshon FP essay (on the relationship between psychological biases and hawkish tendencies in foreign policy decision-making) reminded me of J.H. Elliott’s masterful biography of Olivares, the early seventeenth-century privado to the king and effective head of government of Habsburg Spain at the beginning of Spain’s slow, centuries-long decline from hegemon to second-rate power.  This is not just because Elliott’s biography is an outstanding portrait of how men in government can help bring greater ruin on their nation through activist foreign policy undertaken for the sake of reputacion above all else, but because it emphasises the centrality of reputacion in the considerations of 17th-century “policymakers.”  Its lessons can be applied to our current predicament. 

Honour and glory are relevant in any discussion of the administration’s refusal to withdrawal from Iraq–which is not to say that men in the administration are honourable men or that they have brought anything but disgrace upon our country.  Perhaps they believe they are keeping their word to Iraqis, such as it is, or perhaps they think that the only honourable thing in a war is to see it to its bitter end, no matter what.  It is, of course, precisely this confusion of insane pigheadedness with honour that has helped bring the very notion of honour into disrepute over the decades; it is the inability to distinguish selfish pride from the desire to have a clean and respectable reputation that made the idea of a “war for honour” appear to be the most horrible, meaningless kind of war.  It was because of such perversions that dulcet et decorum est became a ringing indictment of treacherous governments everywhere rather than an admirable expression of patriotic love.  Nonetheless, some distorted idea of honour lives on in high government circles that compels them to persist in the Iraq folly.  

No one in his right mind believes, for instance, that withdrawal from Iraq would constitute a strategic disaster for the United States.  It would lead to many ugly things, most of all for the Iraqis, and there would be damage in the short term to our credibility and our ability to project power (for those of us who see few occasions when we need to project power, this is less disturbing than it is for the hegemonists), but the damage would be done quickly and could be repaired relatively easily.  What many believe is that the appearance of the withdrawal will deal a powerful blow to national prestige.  The people worrying about this are usually the same people who cavalierly spat upon the opinion of the world only three and half years ago and declared that what the world thought of America was irrelevant when our “security” was at stake.  (Perhaps if our security had been at stake, world opinion might well have been irrelevant.)  Still, it is fascinating all the same to watch the people who practically only yesterday loathed the very idea of being in any way governed by concern about international reaction now start screaming about the damage to our reputation if we should now abandon Iraq to its fate.  Those who gleefully mocked any government, ally or no, that dared question the wisdom of the invasion are now terribly concerned that the same governments they once ridiculed as irrelevant will think less of American strength.  Trust me, folks, in some of these countries it is impossible to worsen the reputation of the United States, because there is nowhere for it to go but up.  Fears of further wrecking American prestige are misplaced–it is not possible to sink a wrecked ship a second time.  

There is something elemental and primal in their newfound concern for national reputation: no one wishes to appear to be a fool, and no one wishes to suffer the “humiliation” of having to acknowledge his limits.  Withdrawal from Iraq highlights the limits of what Americans are willing to tolerate and support for the sake of ambiguous, shifting or meaningless goals, which means that Americans have no stomach for wasteful expeditions of empire or hegemony or whatever you would like to call it.  This is embarrassing, most of all for those who think that the United States guarantees world stability.  Withdrawal would also be an admission of national folly and recklessness, which would vindicate to some degree the international critics and make the bulk of our foreign policy establishment look like a gang of idiots (the truth hurts, doesn’t it?). 

No one in or near that establishment really wants this to happen, which is why we now have the growing consensus that the Iraqis failed to make proper use of the glorious gift we gave them: why couldn’t they make more of their untidy freedom?  The idea that most of the political class and almost the entire professional foreign policy elite botched the biggest policy question of the last 15 years is too terrible for them to consider.  That is why they think we must keep fighting in Iraq: to help save their reputations long enough to shift the blame to the miserable people of “liberated” Iraq, all in the name of preserving the good name of the United States, in spite of the fact that they have already trashed our good name and made our nation’s name a curse in the mouths of the people who have “benefited” from our intervention

Reputacion is always the concern of people in government, concerned as they are as much with the appearance of things as with anything of substance, and it does drive policy decisions.  Unfortunately, as happened with Olivares’ costly and ultimately failed campaigns in the Netherlands and against France, wars fought for reputacion, not unlike wars fought for ideological or other intangible reasons, are wars that tend to go on for much longer than the state of affairs suggests they should and they tend to be much harder to terminate because calling off a war fought for the sake of reputacion is to put something as paltry as the good of the actual country and people ahead of the airy prestige of the government.  Few governments are willing to do that.  Democratically elected governments are among the worst in this regard, because they can, with some plausibility, claim to be acting out the will of the people, which can make concluding a war seem to be an act of betrayal of the nation (an accusation nationalists from 1918 to 1975 to today and forever after will always make about the end of wars they and people like them helped to start).  Sadly, only too many nations are willing to allow their governments to value reputacion more highly than those governments value the well-being of their peoples.  Reputacion does drive decision-making, but it is not at all clear that it should or that the importance of reputacion should be anything but a black mark against the policymakers who follow the imperatives of maintaining reputacion.  Some conception of honour is something we should keep in mind when we try to understand why governments go to war, but we must also remember that the government’s so-called honour usually comes at the expense of the people’s well-being, whereas the real honour of the nation is usually served when its government does not foment or seek conflict.  

Some libertarians, but of course not all, are political, not cultural, libertarians: they consider that state power should not be deployed to prevent individuals from selecting things to do. But cultural libertarians, on my view of things, consider that, even in the absence of state and statute, no social convention should prevent individuals from choosing things to do — with themselves and each other.

The distinction is crucial. On the first account, preventing the oppressive overreach of governmental tyranny — a unique power and danger in the world — is the goal, one that conservatives (sigh — generally) share. On the second, promoting the remissive outreach of personal autocracy — a unique power and danger in the world — is a goal no conservative can ever share, for once he or she does, he or she ceases to be a conservative in the decisive sense. Peisistratan tyranny may find even conservative sympathy; not so Calliclean tyranny. ~James Poulos

You would have a hard time convincing me that Peisistratos’ apparent maintenance of the Solonian reforms was the mark of bad government.  An abiding concern of the Athenian aristocracy was a well-ordered polity, for whose benefit they laboured and donated a great deal of wealth.  The sort of self-indulgence that today parades under the banner of “individual autonomy” and the idea of being autonomous from the political community were simply not considered legitimate or ethical alternatives in the life of the polis–this kind of apragmosyne had no place in the community. 

If nomos is not our ruler, but each is a nomos unto himself, you have a recipe for social anarchy sliding towards despotism.  Slavishness and passion truly are linked, and without restraint of the latter there is no way to escape the former.  If no restraints are imposed from within, constraints will be imposed from without.  Cultural libertarians are emancipating themselves straight into the prisonhouses of Leviathan. 

The problem for those who have tried to steer the United States away from its long history of expansiveness, then and now, is that Americans’ belief in the possibility of global transformation — the “messianic” impulse — is and always has been the more dominant strain in the nation’s character. It is rooted in the nation’s founding principles and is the hearty offspring of the marriage between Americans’ driving ambitions and their overpowering sense of righteousness. ~Robert Kagan

But, of course, this is all a lot of rot.  This is a clever set-up: the argument we are now having over foreign policy is a very old argument that goes all the way back to the beginning, but my side is the bigger, more powerful one and will always win (so stop arguing with me)!  But it isn’t true.  Not that it would make a messianic foreign policy wise or desirable even if it were, but just watch how interventionists twist history to give themselves a much older, more distinguished pedigree.  The best he can find is to dig up an old line about “empire” that Hamilton gives, which is to take Hamilton, who was an extremist even among the Federalists, as somehow representative of anything–this is a significant error in itself.    But Hamilton’s line about “empire” can be matched by a similar line from Benjamin Franklin that comes from before the War for Independence, but this does not mean that either Hamilton or Franklin necessarily believed in an activist or moralising or messianic foreign policy.  Even the more centralised government under the Constitution did not have the power or the ability to engage in such a foreign policy, and no one desired to give it so much power that it could engage in such a policy.  As for the statement itself, John Adams understood the word “empire” to mean a state subject to no fundamental law, a state that was sovereign–it was in this sense that Thomas Cromwell first designated England an “empire” in the time of Henry VIII in an assertion of the monarch’s rights vis-a-vis Rome (he did not therefore anticipate and foreshadow the Raj and the United Empire Loyalists!).  A constitutional state, by Adams’ definition, could not have been an empire in any case; a republic or other constitutional polity is subject to a fundamental law.  It is therefore not necessarily obvious what usage of ”empire” was being employed in every case, nor is it clear that saying favourable things about “empire” makes one a proto-interventionist, much less a raving mad messianic visionary in waiting.   

This is cherry-picking and teleological history at their worst: because we have an interventionist, meddlesome foreign policy and a messianic impulse to transform the world now, we must have always potentially had one.  A very bad historian will then find this eternally existing foreign policy by engaging in what R.W. Southern mockingly dubbed “precursorism” as he tries to read into earlier national debates our present-day conflicts.  People do the same thing in Western Civ-style history, lamely picking up on the precursor elements of modern democracy in the ancient German tribal things while ignoring most of what was actually interesting and important about the early medieval barbarian kingdoms or treating the Reformation as some great advance towards modern individualism when this is the last thing any of the Reformers desired and was exactly the opposite of what they were proposing.  It is a very superficial sort of intellectual history that presumes the seeds of a current debate or division must have existed from the beginning or from a very early stage of development.  In church history, we have long been treated to a very tired “search for the origins of the schism” in every minor dispute or disruption of communion in the 5th century between Rome and Constantinople.  Bad interpretations will say that the divisions of the 7th century presage and foreshadow the later schism in the 11th century, which is to see the 7th century in an entirely anachronistic and false way.  You would come away thinking that the churches become less united in the 7th century, when, in fact, they become more united; claims of papal authority actually become weaker because of the condemnation of Pope Honorius, etc. 

Likewise, Americans had debates over the nature of the Union and questions of territorial expansion, but these do not anticipate later debates over entirely different questions.  There was a national consensus on foreign policy for at least a century after independence that the affairs of the Old World especially were not really our problem and were best left to others.  Relations and commerce were desirable, but not entanglement. 

If the “messianic impulse” was always so dominant, it continually failed to dominate or express itself.  To the extent that “empire”-building and universal liberal ideals did find expression, it was over internal disputes about the nature of the Union.  But even then it does not follow that all, or even most, Northern Republicans believed in overseas intervention or advocated for such a policy.  At each stage where elite interests have pushed for a more expansive, activist foreign policy, the public has been reluctant to go along.  Interventionism has always needed some calamitous event or provocation to win broader public support–and even then, the public is often unwilling to endorse the “messianic impulse.”  Certainly, WWI stands out as a perfect example where the messianism of the President and the willingness to go to war of the Congress were completely unrepresentative of a large part of the country (70% in Apr. 1917 did not want to enter the European war and opposition continued to run at this high level until the end).  Even after the German declaration of war, Americans generally were not terribly interested in fighting Germany in 1942 and American soldiers were never able to work up the elemental hostility to Germans that they had for the Japanese (for one, the Germans had never attacked us, so our fight with them seemed much less obvious).  Americans grow weary of “nation-building” enterprises because, as much as they believe in the exceptional qualities of their own nation, this same exceptionalism militates against making other nations to imitate us.  If we are exceptional (and we are, properly speaking, not), it is even less likely that our model can be followed by anyone else.  

We have had the bad misfortune to suffer from people in the political class who believe as Kagan does, but the wilder ideas about “global transformation” do not belong to Americans generally but, at most, to a very specific subsection of Americans from back east and mainly from the Northeast and to a fairly limited circle of intellectuals and politicians.  This part of the country and this particularly narrow segment of the population have dictated the course of our foreign policy in the 20th century, and in every case they have represented an elite consensus that was deeply at odds with public sentiment, especially when it came to the wars resulting from the elite (mis)management of our foreign policy.  Wilson’s messianism was terrifically unpopular and not widely shared in his own time; each time it is revived–usually in some time of national security crisis, real or perceived–the people have gone along with it (because of the crisis) without ever sharing the messianic impulse.  Yes, Americans are generally exceptionalist.  They like to flatter themselves that history does not apply to them, and so are constantly baffled when it “catches up” with them.  What many frequently overlook, or what they often do not want to see, is that it is not “history” that has caught up with us (as in, the “holiday from history” coming to an end on 9/11) but that the consequences of bad elite foreign policy decisions have finally come about. 

What Americans want are leaders who have confidence in our ideals but who do not therefore believe it is necessary to send off military deployments to “advance” those ideals in all corners of the globe.  Americans who have sufficient confidence in those ideals do not believe in the need for crusades or militant messianism, since they assume that these ideals, if they are in any sense universal, will succeed abroad without recourse to the sword.  Those who believe strongly in these ideals, but who do not assume them to be simply universal, are even less enthusiastic in forcibly taking them out into the world because they are unsure that the ideals will take in foreign soil. 

History, of course, is not on anybody’s “side,” and you can tell a hack from an historian by whether or not he uses language like this, but if we do learn something from our own history it is that the American people will keep trying to throw off the yoke of a wild-eyed, utopian foreign policy elite and as a result will be treated to the pious hectoring of interventionist court historians who keep spreading the false story of the eternally messianic and interventionist America.  If there were no real danger of interventionism being discredited forever by disastrous misadventures like Iraq, if our “messianic” national spirit were so deeply ingrained and our desire to meddle so profound, all of these things would not need an army of apologists and deeply entrenched powerful supporters to keep them from being tossed out.  The only way that interventionists continue to have any hold on the imagination of any large part of the population is by distorting history and making interventionism into a long-standing national tradition (thus conning nationalists and some conservatives into embracing this supposedly ancient “tradition”) and by making the elite’s power interest in keeping interventionism around into a defense of high-minded American idealism (thus reducing its enemies to a kind of cynicism or, God help us, “realism” or “isolationism”).  In other words, interventionism survives only by distortion and deception, which is the only way that it ever achieved any prominence in the first place.  It is alien and contrary to the American tradition and the American spirit.  It can only thrive by perverting and abusing the native patriotism and trust of the people to other ends.  Because the government’s interests are served by an activist and meddlesome foreign policy, such a policy will be extremely hard to overthrow, but because it is so profoundly against the national interest and the welfare of the people there is always some small possibility that it will finally and permanently collapse. 

Peter Suderman points to this Apocalypto review in TNR, which led me to look at this story:

Gibson raised eyebrows when his “The Passion of the Christ” was done entirely in the archaic language of Aramaic. Now Diesel has revealed that he wants to make a three-part swords and sandals epic based on the life of Hannibal. And he wants to do the films all in Punic, the language that was spoken by the Alps-crossing conqueror, but not by anyone for 2,000 years.

That last note isn’t quite true.  There were apparently still Punic-speakers in the time of St. Augustine, as I believe he relates in his correspondence (and Wikipedia tells us that it might have survived into the 7th century, though I do not know of any references to Punic-speakers in the 7th century), but then the history of Punic is not something I would expect entertainment reporters to know all that well.  A Carthaginian trilogy would be great fun (but who would pay to make it?), and Hannibal is probably one of only a few great generals of classical antiquity whose story has never been, as far as I know, brought to film.  Shih-huang-di has been covered, but Ashoka fans everywhere are impatiently awaiting a proper adaptation of his life that does not have Kareena Kapoor in it. 

The question I have is this: when will the Armenians in Hollywood get their act together and produce a screen adaptation of the epic story of the Vardanank’ (entirely in Grabar, of course)?  For some background information on the Vardanank’, read the entry on the Battle of Avarayr (451). 

You can also read this, but try to ignore the Theodore Rshtuni worship in the section on the 7th century if you can.  If Theodore Rshtuni initiated a policy of “compromise between Arabs and Byzantines,” Vidkun Quisling was a hero to his country.  Rshtuni’s “compromise” was effectively to side with the Arabs against the Byzantines, who were still ruling the country at the time.  Some Armenian nationalists have long regarded him as one of the great national heroes because he helped overturn the church union with Constantinople, thus reestablishing Armenian “independence” in church matters at the expense of making a deal with the Muslims.  (And, yes, I do see the parallels with the Byzantines in the 15th century–but I would not therefore say that Lukas Notaras and Mark Evgenikos initiated a policy of compromise between the Latins and the Turks!)

However, telling the story of the Vardanank’ these days might be complicated by some recent developments.  Because Armenia has been pinned between the basically hostile states of Turkey and Azerbaijan, it has been forced to rely heavily on its ties to Moscow and Tehran, which has also necessarily hurt her position with Washington.  Partly as a result of this close relationship with Iran, the long and close connections between Armenian and Iranian cultures have become much more important for a lot of ethnic Armenian scholars and Western scholars of Armenian history (Armenian vocabulary is heavily dependent on Iranian words).  Part of this shift has involved something of a revisionist effort aimed at the Battle of Avarayr and the memory of Vardan Mamikonean, who is also commemorated as a martyr and saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church.  In some of these new interpretations–which are by no means widespread, but which are becoming more popular–seeing Avarayr as a fundamental clash between the Christian Armenian and Zoroastrian Iranian worlds has become less fashionable and there is a tendency to judge Vardan, who has hitherto been the archetypical national hero, as someone who led his people into disastrous resistance against an overwhelming foe.  (It is as if Scots started to belittle William Wallace for being too confrontational.) 

Earlier, pre-Soviet efforts by Armenian intellectuals to emphasise their people’s considerable common ties to the European and wider Christian world no longer necessarily command the attention that they once did, and the story of cultural exchange and interdependence between Armenians, Iranians and other peoples in the region has consequently gained in prestige.  Before the Vardanank’ suffers from the revisionist idiocy that has afflicted other great mythic moments of national struggle, we need a major feature about Vardan.  Maybe there is an opening in Gibson’s schedule. 

Historically victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over. ~Shelby Steele

Unless world history only extends from 1799 to 1945, this is a remarkably inaccurate statement.  If he is speaking strictly of American wars, this is once again not really true.  For much of history, and especially before the modern rise of insurgencies and guerrilla warfare, victory entailed defeating the enemy’s armies in the field, seizing the objectives of the war (which did not, until the modern period, normally even theoretically include the enemy’s capital) and extracting concessions from the defeated party.  It did not necessarily require the occupation of the enemy’s territory, much less the ability to dictate terms about how the enemy governed his own domain.  Only in uncivilised, total warfare or wars of conquest and empire does this definition of victory apply.  To think of war in this way is to think of it in WWII-centric terms, which is typical of a lot of Americans, for whom this war is now the standard and the archetype of all other wars (hey, they watch the History Channel–they know it is!), is to misunderstand every other kind of war.    

Take a couple famous examples across history of where this definition does not apply.  For instance, Heraclius’ war against Persia–which was a defensive war that he won through a large counteroffensive thrust into the heartland of the Persian empire–was concluded not by the establishment of Roman/Byzantine hegemony over the Persians, but by decisively defeating the Persians in the field, resulting in the overthrow of the Persian ruler.  The war was soon brought to an end by the new Persian government, which was favourable to the Byzantines but was not under their control. 

A modern example might seem less strange.  Victory over Germany and its allies in WWI was not total, but was the result of a negotiated settlement.  There was no viable way to impose hegemony on the Reich, and while there were significant changes of territory there was no question of dictating what kind of regime the Germans or any of the Habsburg peoples would have.

The trouble with defining victory in Iraq does not come from muddle-headed relativism or our fears of “international responsibility” (because victory is not always hegemonic, it does not have to be colonialist, either), but from the nature of the war itself.  This war does not allow for “complete military victory” without using the means of total war, which, as we all understand, involve killing large numbers of innocent people.  (This is why total war is barbaric, and why people who think of war primarily in terms of total war are so frustrated with the Iraq war, because it does not allow them to use the only template for warfighting they know.) 

Many modern insurgencies have been rebellions against imperial rulers or rebellions against a central government in one of these newly independent former colonies.  Victory for the old imperial ruler, like that for the later central governments, was the suppression of the insurgency and the restoration of a degree of effective control over the whole territory.  Reestablishing the monopoly of force was usually the goal and the standard by which military victory might be said to have been achieved.  In settling insurgencies successfully, there has often been a political settlement that tries to alleviate or address at least some of the causes of the rebellion, or that at least makes some deals with the local, native authorities in exchange for their securing the obedience of their fellows–otherwise, it would start all over again.  These deals were acceptable because the imperial power or central government probably wasn’t going anywhere.  When the empires failed to hold on to their possessions, as they continually failed to do in the 20th century, it was partly because there was a sense that it was now possible to make them leave and that there was no longer any need to accept the deals they offeredThere was always the hope of a better deal after independence. 

As occupiers who are merely passing through, and who have made it clear that we do not intend to stay forever, any deal we make is unreliable and obviously open to later revision.  Having gone to great lengths to endorse our puppet government as legitimate and independent, we are in the absurd situation where our puppets do not accept their role as puppets but believe, as we have been encouraging them to believe, that they are the sovereign government of Iraq.  The one intermediary mechanism we might have to attempt to control Iraq was the one we handed over to people of less than certain loyalties.  Because we are merely passing through (or so we tell everyone), anyone who works with us always has his eye on the exits, because he thinks he may be able to make a better arrangement for himself by working against us now and making alliances with the people who will probably still be there in 10 or 20 years.  This is not an accusation; they would be fools to do otherwise. 

We are invaders and occupiers, but we have none of the leverage of a real conqueror who imposes a settlement.  (Not that we should want to be conquerors, either.)  Full-on imperialism would have also been a disaster, but it would have taken a different shape (as all of Iraq would probably have risen in resistance, rather than different parts of the population at different times).  Our half-a-loaf imperialism combines the evils and consequences of aggression and domination with those of the absurd weakness of “nation-building” projects around the globe.  We manage to inspire the hate a subject people has towards a master and combine it with all of the idiocy of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa.  That is why there can be no agreement about what constitutes victory and why there can be no “complete military victory”–the government conceded long ago that there will be no military solution, which means that the government long ago committed to the success of a U.N. “nation-building” and peacekeeping model without having first brought an end to the war.     

No one speaks of how KFOR in Kosovo will one day achieve “victory,” because victory is not the goal (a cynic would say that enabling Albanian terrorism has been the goal of NATO and KFOR from the beginning); such operations in the Balkans work under the illusion that some kind of “victory” has been achieved, when all that has happened is that the conflict that “we” have supposedly brought to an end has simply gone into hibernation.  It will reawaken when we depart.  Even the appearance of victory can sometimes be misleading if we believe that it represents some fundamental political change in the country, when it has only briefly damped down the conflagration.   

Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about the hegemonists, after they have been condemned for their injustice, is that they do not even understand how to expand hegemony.  They want pliant, useful foreign governments to serve as the supports for that hegemony, preferring this kind of indirect rule to the costs of formal and direct rule, but they seem not to understand that there is no longer (if there ever was) any incentive for the peoples of other nations to abide by this arrangement.  Our presence in Iraq is less than permanent but of long enough duration that we have inherited all of the evils of occupation with none of the advantages of permanent dominion.  (Not, I hasten to add, that permanent dominion would be either desirable or justifiable.)  Direct rule and full hegemony would not have brought meaningful victory, but would have precipitated a different sort of war against us.  The only victory that we were ever going to be able to accomplish was against the formal regime of Saddam Hussein.  This the armed forces achieved with admirable speed and success.  Any hope of a definable victory after that was, it seems to me, an illusion. 

In those wars we fought against European tyrants and their allies, from the Kaiser to Hitler to Lenin, Stalin, and their heirs. We fought them because we knew that our survival was at stake. The tyrants would never stop attacking until they had defeated us, or we had defeated them. ~Sen. Rick Santorum(07/20/06)

I know this is a bit like kicking a guy when he’s down, but in searching for a transcript of his latest “gathering storm” speech I came across this oldie-but-goodie from earlier in the year.  Does Sen. Santorum really believe that WWI was a war for “our survival”?  Does he think that Kaiser Wilhelm and Bethmann-Hollweg were plotting the conquest and partition of the United States?  Does he think the Kaiser was a worse “tyrant” than Woodrow Wilson or Lloyd George, and if he does, can he explain why he thinks this? 

Two centuries ago, Europeans dreaming of reform and freedom must have felt just as crestfallen as they watched their continent’s ghoulish elder statesmen gather for the Congress of Vienna. Both assemblies symbolize a victory for the ancien régime, the bloody-minded refusal to accept that the world has changed profoundly and will continue to change. ~Ralph Peters

This would be the same Ralph Peters whose solution for Iraq is to start killing lots and lots and lots of people–but the Iraq Study Group is made up of “ghoulish elder statesmen.”  I suppose he must qualify as a revenant or perhaps one of the infected from 28 Days Later. 

I don’t really know why people like Ralph Peters are allowed to speak on matters of grave importance.  I say this because I cannot for the life of me understand how any sane, much less conservative, person (I have strong doubts about Peters on both counts) could look at the Congress of Vienna and see anything other than one of the great and good triumphs of the modern age.  Many things might be said against the Restoration era, but in its favour it must be emphasised that it marked a departure from decades of bloodshed, fanaticism and destruction.  If anyone could accomplish the same today in the Near East, he would be a hero to dozens of nations.  

After the anarchy and despotism of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, after the virtually constant warfare, death and destruction of two decades of conflict, Metternich and the Congress crafted an arrangement to secure the peace of much of Europe that was to last without major, long and devastating wars for almost a century.  There were wars, even between the Great Powers, but they tended to be sharp, short and decisive, rather than the regular and devastating campaigning of the beginning of the century. 

The champions of “reform” and “freedom” had been the “bloody-minded” ones who had brought death to every corner of the Continent and whose destructive example spurred on still more revolutionaries after them to continue to convulse European politics for generations to come.  When Metternich set about trying to suppress them, he was doing the only thing a sane man could have done.  When the world is changing for the worse, good men typically don’t throw up their hands and say, “Oh, well, that’s how it goes!”  They try to remedy the ills of their age or, if possible, crush them underfoot. 

Metternich and the Congress refused to yield to the insanities of liberal revolution and nationalism.  For this Ralph Peters hates them!  Given the later history of Europe where both returned with a vengeance, they ought to be lionised as some of the wisest statesmen of the last five hundred years.  The great calamity of European civilisation, WWI, occurred because the men responsible for the governments of Europe in the July crisis had none of the understanding and none of the European consciousness of their predecessors.  In so many ways petty, chauvinistic and limited in their understanding, they could not grasp the importance of a general European peace and so ushered in the death of a vital part of our common civilisation.    

The Iraq Study Group is, of course, nothing like the Congress of Vienna.  To compare James Baker to Metternich is a hideous insult to Metternich.  I will not allow this slight to Metternich to go unanswered.  Unlike Baker, Metternich actually succeeded as a diplomat and minister.  He had his failures, but in the greatest work of his career he succeeded as few others ever have. 

Baker is like Talleyrand, in that he never goes away, but entirely unlike him in that he has none of the talent or wit of the Frenchman.  There is no reason for him to stay around, and yet he does anyway.  If we must have a certain contempt for James Baker (and it seems to me that we must), then let us not muddy the waters with attacks on far better men now dead.  Were Metternich here today to aid us in making our foreign policy, we would have to count ourselves to be fairly lucky.  Unfortunately, we have no such figures at our disposal–at least none in any position of authority.  No, instead we have a President who is twice as daft as Emperor Ferdinand and a foreign policy establishment that is singularly unqualified to advise anyone about the rest of the world.  Thus we have been compelled to turn to a gang of has-beens and insiders so that they can offer up half-baked ideas designed to do nothing more than cover for the foreign policy and Washington establishments that so manifestly failed the country.  In a more sane system, such as the old Austrian one, these people would have all been replaced years ago.  As it is, in our fine, “representative” system of government, we are forced to endure the same incompetents from generation to generation.  That one of the alternatives is to be forced to listen to the caterwauling of a Ralph Peters and the like is perhaps the only thing that is even more depressing about all of this than the rank incompetence of the political and administrative classes. 

Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war — an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president’s right to attack another country “whenever he shall deem it necessary,” Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to “fix any limit” to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln’s warning. ~Eric Foner

One wishes even more that Lincoln could have managed to heed his own warning and not start a war (against other Americans, no less) when he deemed it necessary.  But pay no attention to that–he’s a great President!

Citizenship Roman style was a deeply aristocratic concept.  The social ties that held Roman society together were those of authority, rather than of fraternity.  It was a “communitarianim” of the “right” rather than of the “left,” which is part of the explanation why the ancien regime’s elite was drawn towards it (and also why most present-day “communitarians” turn to Greece instead of Rome). ~Andreas Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History

Untried men, without any experience in any affairs and ignorant, took their places in the assembly and then undertook useless wars, then they put factious men in charge of the state, and they drove the most deserving citizens out of the country. ~Cicero, Pro Flacco

Finally, the social constraints upon the farmer and the trader are different in two important ways.  Primo: farming produces rootedness, trade volatility.  The farmer has a stake in the land, which makes him much less mobile than the trader.  Also, his means of livelihood are much more secure than those of the trader, who can make huge profits one day and go broke the next.  As a consequence, the farmer is a lot more predictable and trustworthy than the trader.  In contrast to the latter, he can be relied upon to take a keen interest in and to take part in the preservation of the realm.

Secundo: the farmer depends on no one for his livelihood; he is independent.  He can therefore speak for or against anyone, as he wishes.  He can afford to be proud.  The trader in contrast is dependent upon the favorable opinion of others.  Trade therefore demands, or at least goads into deception. “Those who buy (..) and sell again immediately, should (..) be thought of as demeaning themselves.  For they would make no profit unless they told sufficient lies, and nothing is more dishonorable than vanitas–misrepresentation.”  Moreover, traders are likely to be sycophants; they cannot speak their minds freely, but have to fawn upon their customers and swallow their pride. ~Andreas Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History

It is enough to make one pine for the forces of Reaction. But is John Gray right that we live in irrevocably cosmopolitan times? That diversity has penetrated too deep to be reverted? That the hope for an Old Right-style unitary civilization is as foolish as the hope for a Neocon unitary civilization, a Neolib unitary civilization, or a Commie unitary civilization? Yes, as far as it goes — but Gray seems to miss out on the central truth of paleocon thought, and really conservative thought generally in the United States, which is: national monoculturalism was never the objective, never even a desire. That impulse for cultural absolutism in America was a purely Yankee phenomenon, and New England succeeded largely in Yankifying enough of the USA to establish a powerful cultural hegemony. Southerners and Westerners, on the other hand, fit into two general groups: one wanted to be left alone at some sub-cultural level (me, my family, my township) whereas the other wanted to be left to its own devices at the cultural level (Southern imperialists, Mormons, cotton interests, etc.). It should be clear that cultural imperialism aiming outside the United States, in the Southern style, is not to be cheered for or excused instead of internal cultural imperialism in the Northern style. But the brilliant point of the American Revolution was that a regime could be gotten out from under without overturning it; secession suggested that revolutions, as they had forever been known, were unnecessary. To get what I wanted I didn’t need to install myself Head Despot in Paris. I just had to quit the country. And this was okay — because I didn’t want absolute rule over the nation. I didn’t care about commanding the political and social and cultural lives of the People. I wanted my own portion of world, with those who lived and worked as I did. ~James Poulos

Mr. Poulos joins in the ever-widening circle (okay, so there are five of us now) debating Austin Bramwell’s recent TAC article on the state of conservatism and the merits of “ancestral loyalties” and the paleo and traditional conservative appeals to such natural affinities and attachments as central elements of what we are trying to conserve.  Closely related to this debate was the friendly scuffle Peter Suderman and I had a little while ago about “lifestyle conservatism”.

In the post cited above, I believe Mr. Poulos understands the paleocon position as well as any non-paleo ever has.  This is encouraging in and of itself.  As I understand it, this respect for regional and local diversity he mentions has been centered around two basic ideas: first, that it is far better to mind our own business and tend to the affairs of those around us, and, second, that complex and historically evolved social institutions and customs will never naturally fit a pre-determined uniform pattern or national standard and attempts to make them fit will do untold violence to the health of a society.  What is euphemistically called rationalisation is, like any appeal to equality, an appeal to coercion and the forcible uniforming of the rich variety of life.  Yankification (the word itself sounds painful) is such an appeal to coercion on the cultural plane, the desire to make everyone think in the same “freethinking way” that they do (as the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil put it so well) “without regard for station, or stature, or custom, or propriety.”  With the Freisinnigen and Red Republicans’ assaults on these hallmarks of civilised society, there can be no compromise.   The objection here is not to coercion per se, which will and must exist to some degree in a fallen world, but to the leveling and straightening of the developer and the centralist who would reduce the fine texture and lush growth of a vibrant social world to the grey goo of homogeneity.   

Before he gets to the part of his post quoted above, however, Mr. Poulos first frames the debate over ancestral loyalties with what are some of the central questions in that debate:

Basically the battle line is this: are paleoconservatives, with their God, grass, and genes position on the crucial function of religiosity and locality and family in the maintenance of social order, fools for a primitivist approach to human life that betrays enlightened (yes, loaded word) conservatism? Wouldn’t life be severely retarded if American society actually undertook the paleocon program? Haven’t the old myths of the loving-and-sacrosanct family and the loving-and-sacrosanct community been burst by decades and even centuries of internecine conflict of the most petty yet deep-seated sort? Hasn’t the noble skepticism of that other conservative tradition worked to beat back the oppressive power of clerisy and establish unitary yet benevolent national government and inspired rugged individualists to set out on their own and make what world they may?

The answer, as usual, is yes-but.

These questions reveal a fascinating, if somewhat annoying, divide among conservatives.  Let us begin with the last question and move back up the list, starting with the idea of the “unitary but benevolent national government.”  Benevolence is to some degree in the eye of the beholder.  A despotic government can be well-intentioned and can have good desires for its subjects, which does not mean that the attempt to bring these desires to fruition will do anything good for those subjects.  Besides, if we could trust that a unitary state would always remain benevolent, no one would have any reason to fear consolidation of power in a few hands; if the process of consolidation itself did not pervert and corrupt a government towards a certain unavoidable malevolence, no one would have ever complained about absolutism or usurpation. 

It might also be the case that a government might be benevolent to most, but rather wickedly brutal to a minority of those it claims to be under its jurisdiction (for instance, the Ottoman treatment of Armenians and Assyrians), or it might be benevolent to a narrow minority and cruel to the bulk of the population (e.g., the favouritism of all previous Iraqi regimes shown to Sunnis at the expense of other communities).  It has rarely, if ever, been the case that a government has been ”unitary” and also “benevolent” to all its charges.  Many unitary governments begin as the projection of power of one polity or a group of polities over others; others represent the perversion of a confederation into a consolidated state.  The kingdom or the states responsible for inaugurating the process of unification are always the overwhelming beneficiaries of that process (indeed, one of the main reasons for the struggle for unification is usually to secure such benefits), and those compelled to join or forced to remain are invariably the big losers in this process, sowing a basic structural and political injustice into the fabric of the “unitary but benevolent national government” against which the people of the losing states or kingdoms will always chafe and which they will always resent for as long as they remember something of the old arrangement.      

Then there is the claim about the government being
“national.”  It is difficult to have a unitary national government without nationalism, since a national government, which will allegedly embody and express the national will, is usually one of the first goals of any nationalist and where these nation-states appear nationalists are always behind them.  Nationalist myths, including our own, have always played up as noble and progressive the drive for unification as the realisation and fulfillment of the national potential.  This realisation is being held back and retarded, the nationalist might say, by the petty squabbles of different jurisdictions and the provincial interests of hidebound aristocrats.  In our case, the myth has been a story of moral as well as political and economic progress, a very Whiggish story that reassures us that every destroyed Southern town, every obliterated Indian tribe and every wrecked Filipino village have gone down to destruction for the sake of a greater good.  First the devastation, then, eventually, the benevolence.  In the German case, unification was driven by the desire to finally overcome the structural and political impediments to effective cooperation and mobilisation of resources that routinely prevented German states from being able to compete effectively against foreign adversaries (and even after unification, because the Reich was mostly consolidated by coordinated war efforts against non-Germans, the federal structure of the Reich continued to make it relatively unwieldy in comparison to the more highly centralised powers of Britain and France).  In the Italian case, it was the toxic mix of liberal idealism and dynastic ambition that laid southern Italy and Sicily to waste and planted a deep divide at the heart of the Kingdom, which festers in some form to this day in the Republic.  These are the most familiar examples of unification, but I imagine more could be found.  

Looking back to more ancient history, Chinese nationalists have admired Shih-huang-di for welding together the last seven kingdoms at the end of the Warring States period and creating the core of what they know to be Zhongguo.  The Emperor and the Assassin, one of the better Chinese dramas of recent years, portrays Zheng, the king of Qin, as sympathetically as he has probably ever been represented, showing him giving an emotional speech about protecting all of the people under heaven by bringing an end to the frequent wars between the several kingdoms.  He means well!  In the end, after much slaughter in the conquest of Zhou, we see the pitiable tyrant abandoned by his retainers and alone.  The hero of the piece, as the title would suggest, was the man sent to kill him.  This is a story I think a paleocon instinctively appreciates.  Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (Where they make a desert, they call it peace.)  Such was the old response to the Shih-huang-dis of the world, put into the mouth of the Briton Calgacus by Tacitus.  Our response is much the same.

Undoubtedly myths of “loving-and-sacrosanct” family and community have been burst asunder, but this was partly because these myths were put together and then reproduced at times when family and community were coming under immense strain and were cracking under the pressure.  Before both began to dissolve and break down with greater frequency, there was no need to romanticise them and treat them as ideals to which we must return.  No one who has ever been in a family needs to be reminded about the petty disputes and jealousies and inane rivalries that make up family life; were more Americans exposed to their extended families more often, they would experience still more of this.  No one who has ever been in a small community for very long (I hesitate to speak of “tight-knit” communities, lest I be accused of reifying myths about some harmonious Mayberry-in-Elysium) imagines that it is necessarily where everyone loves one another in some great web of interdependent communion.  To make a community or family lovely and loving, one must begin by loving it, which means first accepting it as it is while also seeing it with the eyes of a lover, which is necessarily to see it with a kind of distortion, if we are speaking “objectively.”  But then people in relationships do not speak objectively about their relations and acquaintances–not if they want their relationships to succeed, anyway–since it is not usually considered terribly good form to objectify one’s relations and acquaintances. 

Family and community should be “loving and sacrosanct,” if you will, but because of men’s flaws and fallenness they often are not.  A certain realism tells us that we cannot expect to be rid of the foibles, pettiness, gossip, social cruelties and the little imperfections that go with living with other people in something like close relationship.  With some of these things, we should probably acknowledge that they are unavoidable, endure them as best we can, do what we can not to participate in the worst of them and otherwise leave them be.  What we should not do is what many of us would like to do, and what all of us are tempted to do, which is to give up on something because it imposes burdens on us and requires things of us that we are not always wanting to give.  What we certainly not do is be satisfied with the ersatz community of the unitary consolidated nation when that nation can only acquire its fullest meaning for us through our local, state and regional attachments.  Abiding in a community and in a family means living with all of the limitations these things impose on us, and it means accepting the hassles, frustrations and disappointments that can come with these things because they are vital to a full, sane and humane life. 

If I might take a slight detour, parish church life provides an example of what I think a real community can be, what it can offer and also what it requires of us that, say, a megachurch or a large nondenominational church might not necessarily offer or require.  The advantage of the nondenominational church or the megachurch is that, in many ways, it caters to the individual and allows the individual sufficient “space” and anonymity to take what he wants from the experience and leave the rest if he so chooses.  Whether or not this is the design or the intention of those in charge of the church, this can often be the effect.  This does not rule out the possibility of becoming more involved and more integrated into the life of that church, but in these churches it is much easier to avoid taking on a larger role.  It is possible avoid such a role at a parish, but especially in smaller parishes it is impossible to have anonymity for very long at all.  At the best parishes, the people there want you to be there, and they want you to become involved in the life of the church and before long you find yourself committing what you might have originally thought was considerable time to the parish that now seems like no time at all.  A small community, such as a parish can be, inspires this response in people, because it is an eminently natural response.  Meanwhile, attending a megachurch like that of Joel Osteen in the old Summit in Houston, surrounded by tens of thousands of others watching the show on the jumbotron (rather than, say, participating in the work of the people), may leave you with some inspirational sayings and may leave you with some good feelings, but it also leaves you fundamentally disconnected from everyone else there.  It does not demand very much from you; the setting of Osteen’s services suggest that the entire experience is more one of spectacle and less one of worship.  It does not make a call to kenosis, and consequently cannot offer the same fullness.   

Finally, as Mr. Poulos said, we don’t care, or at least we don’t care very much, whether the entire nation lives exactly as we do, much less the entire world.  (We do think that rooted, small-scale community life is the most sane and sustainable way of life, and it would benefit everyone to live in such a way, and we will argue strongly for this, but in the end we want to mind our own business and be allowed to mind our own business–it would therefore be best for us if everyone else were convinced that minding one’s own business was an important part of justice.)  While we are far from unaware of or indifferent to the rest of the world, we do not go out in search of “broader canvasses” to paint.  This tends to give the forces of consolidation the initiative and the advantage, but I can see no way for us to imitate most of their methods without abandoning who we are.  Like the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil, we might well say:

That’s when I realized that the Yankees will surely win, because they believe everyone must live and think just like them. We don’t want to make everyone be like us. We shall surely lose because we don’t care how other people live-we just take care of ourselves.         

Perhaps because of this the Yankees will always win, but I see no reason why the rest of us should accept it or yield before the invaders. 

First of all, Afghanistan has a democratic government now. It is the democratically elected government of Afghanistan that wants international assistance — including Canada’s — in order to maintain itself against its enemies, namely the Taliban. ~Akrasia

This is cute.  Afghanistan has a democratic government!  Hamid Karzai is the President of Afghanistan!  The “Afghan government” has requested our “assistance”!  How quaint.  The famed loya jirga of 2002 was consensus-based politics, Afghan-style, in which the local heavies agreed to let Karzai be a powerless figurehead on the condition that they were allowed to continue doing what they were doing in their precincts.  This agreement has been honoured, and Afghanistan now has as much of a democratically-elected government as Pakistan.  There’s nothing surprising or scandalous about any of this.  At least, that is, not to those of us who don’t think that Afghanistan is a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word.  For those still operating under this pleasant fiction, it could be most alarming.

But Akrasia is not very clear on what democracy is, now, is he?  In a later comment he writes:

Suffice to say, it was an integral part of the western Allies’ (Britain and U.S.) post-war strategy that Germany and Japan be reconstructed as demoractic states. To suggest that Britain and the U.S. ‘didn’t give a crap’ is a patent falsehood. (How could it be otherwise with respect to Japan, which had no historical experience with democracy?)

When getting on the high horse of superior historical knowledge, it is best to know how to ride.  Alas, Akrasia sets himself up for a hard fall on this one, since his lecture to Pithlord declares that Japan had no experience with democracy, when it had enjoyed some considerable experience with universal manhood suffrage and elected government under a constitutional monarchy for the better part of three decades before the military effectively took over in the 1930s.  Even then, the structures and fictions of elected, representative government, with which the Japanese allegedly had no experience, were maintained.  To top off this supposedly damning indictment, he ironically invokes Santayana’s famous dictum about historical ignorance.  Not finished yet, Akrasia also manages to squeeze in an especially crass reference to Chamberlain and appeasement before he is done!  If he is ever out of work, I’m sure The Weekly Standard will have a place for him. 

In closing, I should state what I believe is *not* an ideology, since I must appear inordinately fond of calling everyone an ideologue. The world is generally too complex to understand without resort to simplifying assumptions; hence, for the most part, everyone who has informed political opinions is an ideologue, myself included [bold mine-DL]. The only persons are who are not ideologues are, first, radical quietists like Oakeshott who hew rigorously to the belief that political wisdom can’t be expressed in propositional form. They’re probably right. Second, those geniuses are not ideologues who are capable of seeing so far that they can recognize their own assumptions as such. These are the paragons of what Weber called the “ethics of responsibility.” All others, even the Reillyists, remain imprisoned in cages that they cannot see. ~Austin Bramwell

I stand corrected.  In his TAC article, Mr. Bramwell did not call for a pox on all houses.  It was only aimed at most houses, and only then to awaken us from our “dogmatic slumbers.”  Which dogmatic slumbers?  Why, those of ideology, of course, in which apparently “everyone who has informed political opinions” slumbers. 

Naturally, if at this point I were to say, “Surely Kirk thought that Burke held informed political opinions and yet was powerfully opposed to the spirit of ideology and was not an ideologue, which suggests that this definition of ideology is probably incorrect or less than useful,” I would simply be reifying my invisible cage of dogmatic commitments as confirmed by what I apparently consider to be Kirkian Revelation (not just revelation, but Revelation!).  To cite a reasonable authority on a matter becomes equivalent to waving Scripture in someone’s face and invoking God’s will.  I suspect that this will fail to convince very many, not least because it doesn’t seem to me to make very much sense.  That isn’t a problem, because almost anything I or anyone else will be able to say about it can be reduced, in the end, to the invisible cage of assumptions and commitments about which we are all supposedly unaware.

Let us consider what this definition of ideology means.  It means that when Mr. Bramwell said of Kirk that he had “almost no political opinions whatsoever,” this was actually a compliment for Kirk (it means that he was relatively non-ideological, which we all agree is generally a Good Thing).  So it was a compliment for him, in spite of the fact that it was a statement made in service of dismissing anyone who would desire “to return to its [the movement’s] alleged first principles,” such as those outlined by this same largely apolitical Russell Kirk, because the conservative movement supposedly never had any of these principles anyway.  Even though the “policy implications” of the ideas of Kirk, Weaver, et al. were obscure, and their ideas therefore apparently largely irrelevant to whatever it is that we ought to be doing (which at the end Mr. Bramwell suggests should be a search for wisdom, but one is left wondering what policy implications have to do with wisdom), to the extent that they were quietist and/or geniuses they were free from the taint of ideology.  So they are eccentric and their ideas of little use, but at least they aren’t ideological.  Except when they say silly things like, “ideas have consequences,” because we are supposed to think that people who say that believe that only ideas have consequences. 

All of which forces the question: what on earth is conservatism (which, to be “dogmatic” again, is the negation of ideology) if almost all conservatives of every stripe, who have undoubtedly had informed political opinions to one degree or another, are effectively ideologues?  The conservative protests in vain who says that he is not ideological, because the very attempt to respond will be considered simply a way of shoring up his ideological position.  

Then there is the question of the pre-political loyalties, which Mr. Bramwell says that he questioned.  Well, no, he didn’t question them.  He ridiculed them as “dangerously subversive” and in a reductio ad Mediorientem painted the bleak picture of what a society defined by “ancestral loyalties” must look like.  Missing then was his more qualified claim that all he meant was that pre-political and political loyalties must be balanced and neither should be allowed to go too far.  That makes a lot more sense than calling them dangerously subversive and alluding to the calamities of Iraqi and other Middle Eastern nations’ tribal and religious politics:

At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive. The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan. Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East.     

In his response to Jape, he now claims:

Conceding that I was being provocative, in discussing “ancestral loyalties,” I made nothing more than the self-evident-to-the-point-of-banal observation that not all “pre-political” loyalties are good things. On the contrary, just like political loyalties, they are sometimes good and sometimes bad.

But calling something “the curse of uncivilized peoples” and conjuring dark images of sectarian massacre that his readers would have imagined upon reading about “ancestral loyalties” in relation to the Middle East is not to say that these loyalties are “sometimes good and sometimes bad.”  What he clearly said was that, except perhaps for a brief moment in the 1950s, talking up such loyalties has generally been a very bad idea and inimical to…well, to something.  What is that something?  Ah, order.  Because, he tells us, those who place value on these “ancestral loyalties” have a poor grasp of how to obtain order and must endorse these attachments in such a way that they are inimical to what I might call good order.  Mr. Bramwell also adds:

But it is not clear that Burke did categorically oppose the cutting short of “pre-political” loyalties. On the contrary, it strikes me as quite imprudent and un-Burkean to set “pre-political” against “political” loyalties in the first place, rather than to say, sensibly, that both, within limits, have their place.

But setting the pre-political against the political in the first place is exactly what Mr. Bramwell did in his original article.  Scroll back up and see the statement Mr. Bramwell made on this very point.  For instance, he said, “The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers,” which sounds very different from saying that those loyalties have their proper place.  Something does not have a place when it has been extirpated.  Even granting some license for making an exaggerated statement to get our attention, one seriously wonders whether Burke would have viewed such extirpation of loyalties as anything other than Jacobin insanity.  This statement about the U.S. sounds like, I’m sorry to say, something some rationalising liberal nationalist of the late 18th or 19th centuries would say.  The War of Secession saw some ruthless extirpation of people’s old loyalties to their separate states, all right, and a great many people have been the worse for it.  Every centralist and liberal revolutionary of the 19th century found these attachments to be impediments to their vision of order, sure enough, and they saw them as impediments to the rational, constitutional state they were trying to create.  They were right–these attachments are impediments to a liberal vision of society and they are impediments to the state.  Those are two reasons, though certainly not the most important, why these attachments are very good.  (Can they be taken to excess and turned into unjust and inhuman idols?  Of course, but the reality that they are not the “curse of uncivilized peoples” and instead the foundations on which civilised life is built should be equally clear.) 

That is why it seems fairly clear (I wouldn’t say self-evident) why anyone interested in checking and restraining the state, for example, and actually enjoying the good order of a healthy society that is not cramped and straitened by the burdens of unjust and intrusive government (including the central state’s tendency to make war and steal the wealth of the people), would want to defend these loyalties with far more energy than they would want to defend the claims of the central state or any order that such a state might impose.  Peace, justice and prosperity seem reasonably good standards by which to judge the conservative-ness of a particular vision of order, and yet there is little in Mr. Bramwell’s response that suggests that his original objection to “ancestral loyalties” or even his more qualified balancing act between the different sets of loyalties measures up very well by comparison. 

Then there is Mr. Bramwell’s frankly embarrassing targeting of the so-called Reillyists on their arguments in favour of the social bonds of family, religion and community:

They allude frequently a certain vision of the Middle Ages-the same one that we get from Henry Adams-where each man knows his place in the order of things and unquestioningly does his duty. It seems to me, however, that Reillyists understand neither family, community nor the Middle Ages.

Of course, no one who knows anything about the Middle Ages subscribes to the view that the imaginary feudal hierarchical pyramid mentioned here ever existed, and I honestly don’t know any of these so-called Reillyists who think that medieval Europe was a place with a perfectly harmonious-but-stratified social structure.  One would have to be entirely ignorant of the history of medieval Germany, Italy and France, among other places, to think that this model held up in actual practice or that it was even the conscious ideal of most people living at the time.  This vision was the construction of medieval legal theorists on the one hand, who were trying to make some sense of the bewildering array and diversity of relationships of service and fealty (the bonds and relationships existed, but they did not fit into a neat, uniform pattern), and was also encouraged by the revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who condemned “feudal” society for all the same reasons that Romantics in the 19th century came to praise such a society.   

Then there is the questionable claim, related to the claim that the Middle Ages were a “revolutionary age,” that “Nobody tried harder to “immanentize the eschaton” than Hildebrand.”  Mr. Bramwell refers here, I assume, to Pope Gregory VII, and as much as I share Richard Weaver’s dislike for Pope Gregory I simply cannot agree with such an erroneous statement.  First of all, a great many medieval people–the Cathars, for instance–tried harder to immanentise the eschaton than Gregory VII, and second of all Gregory VII didn’t try to do any such thing.  Whatever I may think of the negative consequences the so-called Papal Revolution had on western Europe and the possibility of reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, I would never say something so exaggerated and overreaching about Pope Gregory VII.  In his defense, Pope Gregory was insisting on the canonical rights of the See of Rome with respect to the investiture of bishops, which had by long usage and customary practice been taken over by local secular rulers for reasons of convenience and political expediency.  The Papal Revolution was in many respects a Papal Reaction, an attempt to ”restore” a state of affairs that had, of course, never exactly existed before the 11th century but which represented an attempt to force the secular rulers of western Europe to adhere to the canons of the Catholic Church and to establish firmly the Papacy’s episcopal authority over other bishops.  This was an act of church reform that brought the practice of the Catholic Church into line with the canons.  It was quite far away from the spirit of gnosticism seeking to realise the Kingdom here below.  There were chiliasts in the Middle Ages, and there were several medieval mystics who taught, or who were believed to have taught, the imminent return of the Lord, whose way they believed they were preparing through spiritual or political action, but Gregory VII was as far removed from these people as anyone possibly could have been.   

All that having been said, preferring a society of deference, orders and hierarchy to one of rude egalitarianism and the emancipated individual need not appeal to medieval examples for its support (not that anyone today would be inclined to follow medieval examples if they were offered), but simply appeal to experience and the common sense respect for the fact that man is a social being that flourishes better when he belongs to a tightly-woven web of social bonds arising from his family, religion and neighbours.  More critical Byzantinists have regarded Byzantine society as distinct from its western medieval counterparts in the relative weakness of intermediary institutions (except for the Church) and the exposure of the individual and the nuclear family to the largely unmediated power of the autocrat.  As much as I admire and appreciate Byzantium, there is a lot of truth to this analysisand I think it is fair to say that that is the kind of order towards which Mr. Bramwell’s vision inevitably tends.  It has certain advantages, but it carries with it tremendous costs that I, for one, do not believe to be worth paying. 

Certainly in the present moment I can think of nothing more dangerously subversive of good order than emphasising the dangers from “ancestral” or “pre-political loyalties” while having nothing to say about the continuing expansion of the central state that continues to impose its dysnomia upon this country and the world. 

In an age of Big Government Conservatism, American Greatness Conservatism, Christian Conservativism, Crunchy Conservatism, South Park Republicanism, and more, it may be worth another look at a great political paradigm.  Classical Liberalism awaits.

It’s been a long time since many of us in the “conservative movement” have protested that we are not truly conservatives, but are rather classical liberals.  The media refuses to pick up the distinction and the mass society doesn’t grasp the point. ~Hunter Baker

Additionally, there is the small problem that, for “many of us,” it isn’t the least bit true.  It is true that George Grant hit a lot of his contemporary American conservatives with the simple observation that they were not really conservative at all, and he was making a lot of sense when he said this.  But if we are stuck with the general Anglo-American liberal tradition, and if we lack the more genuinely conservative tradition of our neighbours to the north or our cousins in Europe, we do not have to interpret that tradition as 19th century liberals did and as some consciouly “classical liberals” do today.  Bolingbroke offers us one way out of the Lockean swamp and the dank forest of whiggery, and Burke offers us another alternative as well.  We can respect the ancestral constitution and defend our chartered liberties without taking up the unfortunate label of “classical liberal.” 

If anything, being a classical liberal is an unfortunate thing that American conservatives might have to suffer and need to overcome; it is certainly not something to embrace, much less hold up as a point of pride.  There is something dreary and sad about the explanation, “I’m not really a conservative–I’m the true liberal, and you have departed from the liberal path,” as if there were still something deeply shameful about partaking of the broad conservative tradition that stands in opposition to the false ideas of 1789.  Classical liberals do not oppose those ideas and they do not think they are false.  But the conservatives of my persuasion assuredly do oppose them and do consider them to be false to a large degree.  Given the bloody and destructive legacy of those ideas, their abstract, ahistorical nature, and their inhuman and unnatural implications, I am often puzzled by why anyone is embarrassed to bear the name of the persistent opponents of these falsehoods.  Why does anyone feel the need to run back to some brief moment around, say, 1830 or 1848 or 1867 and say, “This is what liberalism really is, and I will stick by it come what may”? 

There were very good reasons why, when given half a chance, the vast majority of men in the societies where it existed rejected what we call classical liberalism: one was its hostility to public religion, namely Christianity and more specifically Catholicism, another was its subordination to mercantile, industrial and financial interests to the detriment of agriculturalists and workers, and another was its pervasive need to regularise and rationalise procedures and laws, all of which worked against the established institutions and precedents with which people were quite familiar.  Perhaps the most powerful reason behind classical liberalism’s defeat was its extremely narrow social and economic base, as its doctrines seemed to make no sense to anyone else except the urban professionals and businessmen who cultivated these ideas.  Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries here and in Europe, men of a certain kind of temperament and a basic sense of traditional Christianity viewed these freethinkers–for indeed, that is what they called themselves in some cases–with horror and dread, and with good reason Metternich regarded liberal conspirators as the subversive enemies of decent society and international stability. 

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose works were among the great influences on my political thinking, did refuse to take the name conservative and remained true to the Austrian liberalism of his home country, but in important respects he simply wished away the evil characteristics of that liberalism–its anticlericalism, its increasingly fanatical nationalism–as not being the “real” liberalism to which he subscribed.  Yet both of these things had been inherent in liberalism since its modern Continental birth in France, and those who want to champion classical liberalism today have to take account of its close historical ties to anti-Catholic fanaticism and nationalist extremism.  K-L himself was a complicated figure.  He was also someone who espoused monarchism and radical Catholic anarchism and urged us to fly the black banner shared by anarchism and reaction alike; no one who read his Black Banners would confuse him with the Viennese liberals of the 1870s-1890s.  We should prefer that spirit of K-L the radical to any kind of “classical liberalism.”   

On 5 November 1688, the usurper William’s mercenary army landed at Brixham in Devon in the opening stage of the Dutch War of Aggression, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Glorious Revolution, inaugurating two years of bloodshed and resulting in the foreign occupation of the British capital until 1690 and ultimately paving the way for the tyranny of the Robinarchy under Walpole and the Hanoverians.  This act of usurpation and invasion, aided by the party of treason and a few Tories, continued to convulse the politics of the United Kingdom for another half century as the rightful heirs to the throne continued to contest the power of the usurpers who followed after William.  The usurper William also plunged Britain into a war in service to the interests of his own United Netherlands, and in his reign began to be laid the institutional and financial foundations of what would become the anti-constitutionalist Court party.  The principles that animated, or were supposed to have animated, the party of treason were cast aside and the forces of consolidation and the power of the moneyed interest grew strong, betraying the cause for which the revolution had supposedly been fought and trampling on the ancestal constitution of Englishmen.  Thus we commemorate this evil day (with apologies to Bonfire Night enthusiasts):

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Whiggish treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Whig Party’s treason
Should ever be forgot.

The constant in this relation of those conditioned by concentration, commerce, and mass communication and those outside that now familiar nexus is identity conflict, not place or ideology.  And economics will explain neither the persistence nor the variety of the rhetorics by means of which the conflict is sustained.  It is my argument, however, that the dispute I have just described has been informative of the political life of my part of the country [the South] since earliest settlement, that it was fundamental to a number of colonial upheavals, such as Bacon’s Rebellion and the Regulator movement in North Carolina, that it provoked the agricultural revolts of the past century, that it played a part in certain major nineteenth century transfers of power (Jefferson, Jackson, etc.), and that, when used as a frame, it helps explain the American Revolution itself.  ~M.E. Bradford, A Better Guide Than Reason

I will be away for much of today, so I leave you with this important idea from Bradford as something to think on.

Ironically, the two major black marks often cited against Eisenhower — the CIA’s overthrow of leftist leaders Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala — are undeserved. The Cold War was on, and Ike was justified in blocking rising communist influence in these two countries, even if critics now say he overreacted. ~Max Boot, The Los Angeles Times

Now I know that history is not Max Boot’s strong suit (though he certainly likes to talk as if it were), but must we be subjected to this?  If there had been any real and considerable communist influence in Iran in 1953, Ike would have possibly been justified in checking it.  As some have understood for a long time, and as more are becoming aware, Mossadegh did not represent any such thing.  Since 1953 was little more than toppling a democratically elected Iranian government because of its dispute over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s holdings and installing a reliable dictator who would guarantee British interests and the oil supply, I can’t say that he gets off quite that easily.  It may have been the case that toppling Mossadegh was still the right thing to do to secure strategic U.S. interests, but it is not at all obvious.

But perhaps more objectionable than whitewashing 1953 as a good act of anticommunism, which every good Republican learned to do from the time he was knee-high to a statue of Churchill, is the downright bizarre part where he says that Eisenhower “presided over” the Suez crisis and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  He was President at the time.  That part is true.  But does Boot expect us to blame him for doing the right thing (objected to the aggression and latter-day imperialism of the allies in Suez) and the prudent thing (not going to war with the USSR over Hungary) respectively? 

It is very easy for us to sit here 50 years after the fact and declare that we should have gone to war over Hungary.  I am part Hungarian, and I sympathise tremendously with the patriotic heroes of 1956–the wrongdoing was to ever give them any hope that we would support them, when there was never a realistic chance of that happening.  If Eisenhower erred with Hungary, it was by making ludicrous promises he could not keep–on that, and that alone, Boot is right.  In other words, Eisenhower was wrong to do even as much as he did for the cause of rollback–a telling admission from someone who subscribes to something fairly similar with respect to U.S. policy in the Near East.  Yes, Eisenhower did run on the rollback platform.  Thank God he recognised what a mistake such a platform was when the real test came.  Had he stuck to that policy, in spite of all the good reasons why he shouldn’t, a massively devastating war could have followed. 

Boot’s misreading of Eisenhower’s Suez response is worse.  The “odious thug,” as Boot calls him, was at the time of the Suez crisis a potential American client dictator (happily, we had no significant problems, real or rhetorical, with such clients back then) and, if brought into the orbit of the West, would have been a powerful bulwark against Soviet penetration of the Near East.  There was also the small matter of international law and the U.N. Charter–the Charter we were upholding officially when we and the U.N. (no laughing, please) defended South Korea only a few years before.  It would have been the height of hypocrisy and double standards to invoke international law against a war of aggression in 1950 and then turn around and ignore it six years later when our allies were doing the attacking.  Eisenhower justified his opposition to the attack specifically in terms of the integrity of international law.  If this was “misguided” anti-colonial sentiment, what would rightly guided anti-colonial sentiment be? 

Obviously, Max Boot, neo-imperialist and “hard Wilsonian” (don’t call him a neocon!) has no problem with wars of aggression or ignoring international law, so for him the solution in Suez, 1956 would have been clear.  For Eisenhower, who was actually responsible for policy in 1956, the opposite response was equally clear and he considered it just as necessary.  The context in which the man made the decision is very important.  In the 1950s, in the age of decolonisation and Third World nationalism, it was not yet the misguided policy of the U.S. government to identify every nationalist and independence movement with international communism.  Eisenhower was attempting to keep these new nationalist regimes from all falling under Moscow’s influence.  Opposing latter-day colonialist invasions seemed to be pretty obviously central to that goal.  That we proceeded to deviate from this approach rather spectacularly in Vietnam is obvious.  

Eisenhower’s responses to these crises greatly outweigh his blunders elsewhere, and bear the mark of a true American statesman who was considering America’s just interests.  Was he a “near-great” President?  I have my doubts, especially on domestic policy (though not for the reasons Boot gives), but he certainly deserves better than to be ridiculed by the silly man who longs for khaki and pith helmets and the domain that rules over palm and pine.

We entered the Cold War only after Stalin’s aggression in the Middle East and Greece. In every case the evil was obvious, the threat indisputable, but the willingness to confront was in every case late and prohibitively costly. ~Rick Santorum

Say what?  Stalin’s aggression in the Middle East?  What?  Speaking of when we entered the Cold War: when was the doctrine of containment enunciated?  1947.  What about the old Truman Doctrine?  1947.  What was at the heart of the Truman Doctrine as originally expressed in March 1947?  Aiding Turkey and Greece to make sure they didn’t fall under Soviet influence.  When did Truman begin the massive reorganisation of intelligence and military bureaucratic structures?  1947.  When did Truman formally embrace containment?  1948.   When was the Berlin Airlift?  1948.  The beginning of “active containment”?  1950.  Pretty clearly, we entered the Cold War very rapidly after the end of WWII and helped in heading off communist subversion in Greece.  To portray American policy at this time as some sort of head-in-the-sand dithering is disingenuous and insulting to the people who conceived of the doctrine of containment.   

What was prohibitively costly?  To whom?  Didn’t Stalin abandon the Greek Communists?  Didn’t the commies lose in Greece and have to settle for peace in 1949?  Weren’t we backing the Nationalists in China (albeit perhaps ineffectively) all along?  You could accuse somebody of “losing China,” I suppose, but you couldn’t say that we entered into the battle late in the day!

Why on earth should we listen to Rick “Churchill” Santorum on “the gathering storm” today when he doesn’t even seem to know the history of the Cold War? 

If the hypotheses developed in this book make some sense, the established view of modernity is challenged in at least two fundamental ways.  In the first place, the lineage of the modern turns out to be much less ancient and glorious than is usually suggested.  Modernity is an upstart rather than a scion of an old and celebrated line.  Just like any parvenu on his way to the top it has fabricated a grand genealogy, whereas in truth its ancestry is ‘buried in the dirt’.  But if the roots of modernity in the world are much less secure than we have long thought, that leads to the further question how deeply modern the modern really is.  Concentrating, as the ruling approach does, on the new in the old, a blind spot for the old in the new is a priori built in.  If the demise of the old, as the author believes, was a matter of rhetoric rather than reality, if the old was driven underground rather than extinguished, if the old represents something deeply engraved in our souls, the romantic suggestion that we have become estranged from ourselves needs to be taken much more seriously than most of us, who define ourselves as moderns, are prepared to admit. ~Andreas A.K. Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History: Classicism in Political Thought

This is probably not a question that occurs to very many people.  It apparently does not occur to scholars of the late Roman/Byzantine empire.  I have (finally) received my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284-641, which appears to be fairly thorough and very well done from what I can tell so far.  It will likely make a first-rate textbook.  But given my own preoccupations with the seventh century I went looking to see what, if anything, the book had to say about my monotheletes.  Surprisingly, even though the book ends in 641, they receive no mention whatever–not even a passing, “oh, yes, and as the empire was falling apart there were new doctrinal developments that would convulse the empire for the rest of the century…”  I didn’t expect a long discussion of the doctrine or imperial religious policy (they come on the scene only in the 630s, but then again the Muslims only appear on the scene in the 620s and merit extensive treatment), but a brief mention might have been merited.  I understand that there is only so much space in any one book and choices have to be made, which requires omitting some details, but does it make sense to cut the doctrine out of the history of early seventh century Byzantium all together? 

I have been thinking about this in connection with my dissertation quite a lot.  Monotheletism often gets short shrift from scholars for one reason or another.  Even when it is noticed, it is usually dismissed as just so much of a “political” heresy.  No other doctrine has been subjected to this kind of dismissive redunctionism for so long.  What is surprising is that the controversy over it lasted roughly as long, at least inside the empire, as the controversy over Arianism. 

Monotheletism (638-681, 711-713) was the official or quasi-official doctrine of the empire for approximately as long as some form of Arianism was in the fourth century (some form of Arianism was the religion of the Eastern emperor from 337-361 and 363-378); in exact numbers, I think you will find that it was in power slightly longer than Arianism or semi-Arianism.  At most, Arianism had existed perhaps twenty years longer by the time that other forms of it were condemned by the second ecumenical council.  Yet you cannot find a volume dedicated to monotheletism itself, nor are there terribly lengthy treatments of it in books relating to the seventh century, while studies of “the Arian controversy” and studies of fourth century patristics are overflowing with attention to the various doctrines included under the label of Arianism.  Monotheletism has gotten a raw deal, as far as being a neglected subject of history.  It is the stepchild of ancient heresies, the Cinderella of medieval religion.  What did the monotheletes ever do to us to deserve such dismissive attitudes?  I am willing to guess that there is no other heresy that has been less studied or less well understood than monotheletism, and it does tend to baffle me. 

There are days and places in history when time seems to stand still and, in the space of a moment, the fate of future centuries is decided.  At dawn on October 7, 1571, the spectacle would have made a strong impression on anyone who looked out at the waters breaking upon the straits that join the Gulf of Patras to the Gulf of Corinth, formerly called the Gulf of Lepanto, after an old fortified city that rose up from the sea.  A gigantic fleet advanced slowly, with the south wind at its back.  About 270 galleys and a massive number of light craft formed an enormous and threatening semicircle that occupied the seas from the mountainous coasts of Albania to the north and the shoals of Peloponnesus to the south.  At the center of the advancing crescent, on the admiral’s flagship (the Sultana), a green banner waved in the breeze.  The flag had been brought all the way from Mecca, and into its fabric the name of Allah was woven in gold 28,900 times.  In September 622 of the Christian era, a man declaring himself the prophet of this deity had issued a call for the conquest of the world.  The religion he founded summed up its mission in its name: Islam, submission.

Now, confronting the power of Islam, came a smaller fleet.  Sailing into the wind, using only the power of oars, the ships lined up in the shape of a cross.  The red and white flagship, the Royal, was flying a blue damask silk standard bearing the image of a crucifix.  From the precious blood of this God made Man, crucified at Calvary, the Church developed and gave birth to a great civilization, the highest that has ever been known: Christendom.  This civilization was under attack. ~Roberto de Mattei, (April 2002, Chronicles)

It will probably not cause anyone reading this to weep or wail to find out that Damon Linker’s blog, aptly called The Apostate (formerly at the now-defunct address of, is kaput only a couple weeks after it came into being (hat tip: Caleb Stegall).  That has to the most rapidly concluded book blog since John Podhoretz started up a blog to ask us if You-Know-Who can be stopped.  I believe the story of the blog is about to be made into a feature: it will be called Ten Days In May, which is exactly how long the blog lasted.  Some book blogs are interesting because, well, the books themselves are interesting and generate conversation and debate.  Other book blogs are dreary because the blogger/author thinks that he has just accomplished Something Great and deigns to share his tidbits of wisdom with the rabble.  Then there are JPod books, which I daresay probably generate neither interest nor great sales. 

So Linker’s blog is history.  Unfortunately, Victor Davis Hanson’s Pajama Medias blog is still very much with us, where he gives us offerings such as this:

My rule of thumb is that almost every current, know-it-all critic, whether a Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Matthews (“we are all neo-cons now”), Francis Fukuyama, etc., at one time or another voiced support for removing Saddam and bringing war to Iraq.

One constant in their various escape hatches is that a particular lapse, a certain mistake alone explains their abandonment of earlier zeal—too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, not trisecting the country, the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld, etc.

In contrast, the simple truth is too bitter to confess: their support follows the pulse of the battlefield. When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history. But fast forward three years plus: after well over 2,000 battle deaths, and chaos in Iraq, most not only don’t wish to be associated with the stasis, but contort to assure that they never supported the war in the beginning (hard to do with footprints on the internet), or were supposedly betrayed by the incompetence of others. 

Being someone who opposed invading Iraq from the day the word Iraq first crossed Mr. Bush’s lips on January 29, 2002, I am sometimes unimpressed with the nature of former war supporters’ conversions to the opposition.  Some of it is opportunistic, and very often the same people (many of them “centrist” Democrats, but not all) who admit they made stunning errors of judgement on Iraq feel no shame in offering their assessment of the new and even graver threats from (your country’s name here).  But that is not what I want to focus on today.  It is actually just on one line from Hanson’s post that I didn’t even notice the first time around:

When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history.

Prominent people in punditry use this phrase “wrong side of history” all the time, along with “dustbin of history,” and so forth, so there is nothing uniquely Hansonian about this nonsense.  To make it clear that Hanson does indeed believe there are such sides and that being pro-war on Iraq is to be on the “right” side of history, I would note his de rigueur parallels with the War of Secession and WWII and the following amazing statement, which is followed by some explanation by Hanson: 

Everything and everyone now hinge on the outcome. [bold and italics mine-DL]  

The safety of millions of brave Iraqi reformers, the prestige of the United States and its military, the policy of fostering democratic reform in the Middle East, the end to the nexus between failed autocracies and scapegoating the West through terrorists; success of the Bush Administration; the effectiveness of the Democratic opposition; the divide between Europe and America; the attitude toward the United States of the Middle East autocracies; the reputation of the Islamic terrorists — all that will be adjudicated by the verdict in Iraq. Rarely have so many ideologies, so much politics, so many reputations been predicated on just a few thousand American combat soldiers and their Iraq allies.

So he seems to believe there is a “wrong” side to history (and, happily, I have always been on that side!), and more than that he seems to think that the outcome of the war will determine which side is which–though he is not seriously in doubt as to the outcome or which is the right side.  It is particularly egregious when Hanson refers to the “wrong side” of history, though, even when it is in passing, because as an historian he ought to know–if he knows anything–that history does not have “right” and “wrong” sides.  People on the political right would have every reason to be deeply depressed if there were two such sides, since that would mean that our steady retreat for several centuries was the result of a fairly inexorable and unstoppable historical process, which in turn would have some rather unfortunate implications for the reality of human freedom.  

Let me explain what I mean when I say there are no right or wrong sides in history before someone fears that I am endorsing some kind of moral indifference and relativism in the affairs of the world.  To be on the “right” side of history invariably means that you picked the side that happened to win.  It is an arbitrary valuation that suits the interests of those who have greater power.  This is the kind of thing that people with power or those who believe in the efficacy of Macht will affirm in complete seriousness.  It’s not exactly might makes right, but might demonstrates right.  It is a modern, secular kind of trial by combat.  There are ancient and medieval precedents for this kind of thinking (the Kharijites are a good example of believing literally that victory in battle = right and legitimacy), which still make the claim no more true.  In this sense, conservatives throughout the West have supposedly been on the “wrong” side because we have gone from reversal to reversal with few concrete successes to show for our efforts.  But you cannot be on a “wrong” side for the same reason that you cannot adhere to a “lost cause” (see T.S. Eliot)–there are no “gained causes” and there is no right side of history.  If we believe that Progress is a myth, we must believe the same thing about the Right Side of History, which is simply a part of the myth of Progress. 

Speaking of right and wrong sides implies a definite, discernible and necessary direction to history that simply does not exist.  If there is a direction to secular history, God alone knows what it is, and He has not told us the secret.  There are general, long-term trends that you can find in any period of human history, but they do not all tend in the same direction.  To be European and cosmopolitan in the 19th century was to be on the “wrong” side of history; now many would hold that defenders of the nation-state are on the “wrong,” that is to say, losing side.  In another century the nationalists will be in full stride all over the world (they are already picking up plenty of momentum)–or the categories of allegiances will be of an entirely different kind as we return to tribal or religious conflicts (all of which were supposed to be part of what fatuous people might call “the politics of the past”). 

Normally when people are talking about “right” and “wrong” sides of history they mean ”my side” and the other guy’s–it is a self-justifying story you tell yourself about your inevitable, historically-mandated triumph over your rivals.  A good way to know that this is a bogus way of thinking about history is to see how many of the defeated and destroyed empires of the last hundred years believed themselves to be fated to dominion over the world because historical inevitability favoured them and their system.  Today democratists tell us the same story about the global spread of democracy, and Fukuyama can say without irony that history is “against” this or that ideology or policy.  How does he know?  Because obviously history is “for” his ideology and policy, as it must be.  

In similar fashion, secularists in the 19th and early 20th century triumphantly expected religion to wither away and die–not because there was any good anthropological or historical reason for thinking this was the case, but because they wanted it to be true and had developed a theory about the irrationality of religion and the increasing rationality of modern man, which would have to result in religion’s downfall, that made it sound somewhat plausible.  Iraq war supporters might describe opponents of the war as being on the “wrong side” of history, not because it was obvious that deposing Hussein would usher in any of the good things they promised that would have made it an epochal, revolutionary change, but because it lent an aura of moral superiority and historical inevitability to the success of their project.     

When people say that so-and-so was on the wrong side of history, this invariably means that he was on the losing side of a war or a revolution, and when they say “wrong” side they usually mean it very much in terms of moral judgement.    This is what it means 95% of the time it is used.  Likewise, when your ideas are allegedly consigned to the “dustbin of history,” it is almost always because you lost a war.  Wars, in this view of history, prove the supremacy and value of some ideas over others.  This is simply untrue, but it does help explain why people who believe this–or at least talk as if they believe this–are perfectly happy to endorse wars for ideological causes, because they are already convinced that winning wars will vindicate and “prove” their ideas right.  Incidentally, that is why there are so many on the left and nominal right emphasising incompetence as the central flaw of the administration.  While real, dissident conservatives have stressed the evils of the administration’s ideological tunnel vision, incompetence has been the buzzword for all of the former war supporters who have since seen the light.  The script goes something like this: intervening militarily to democratise rogue states and enforce nonproliferation regimes is more or less a good solution, but this crowd has simply screwed it up too badly.  There are also those who are zealous war supporters but who focus on administration incompetence as a way of exculpating the ideas tied to the war–democratisation, interventionism, preemption, etc.–from the judgement that they think defeat in war imposes on whether ideas are sound or not.  Four out of five times these days when you find a born-again war opponent, he will cite his support for the principle of doing what we did in Iraq but will also lament the poor execution.  This is rather like the wisdom of the man who says, “If only I had been allowed to drive the car off the cliff, we wouldn’t have crashed.”

Neither having a sense of history nor wanting one, their calculations and policies are thoroughly infected with that disease fatal for good policy, for which a sense of history is the best prophylactic and cure—utopianism. It is the blind optimism, the utopianism of this administration, along with its dishonesty, that accounts for its record of repeated promises and calculations that anyone with a sound historical sense could tell were not going to work.  Their particular brand of utopianism, moreover, combines its two worst forms—a radical utopianism that believes that the evils to be fought are simple, readily identified, and easily capable of being rooted out and replaced with good, and the utopianism of Machtpolitik, the belief that with enough power resolutely applied one can do anything. ~Paul Schroeder, The American Conservative

My expertise is as a historian, a bird that flies backward and knows where it has been better than where it is going. Oddly, however, my analysis and predictions on the Iraq War and the so-called Global War on Terror in articles published since 9/11, a good number in this journal, hold up better now than those of most of the supposed experts.

There is a reason for this. The main intellectual defect in current American foreign policy is the lack of any sense of history, particularly as the British historian Lewis B. Namier defined it: a trained intuitive sense of the way things do not happen. (How they actually happen depends on the evidence.) America’s leaders and their advisers, including some so-called historians and political scientists, not only are ignorant of history and insensitive to it, they despise and repudiate it. Their favorite epithet for opponents is to accuse them of having a pre-9/11 mentality, of believing that history before September 2001 still tells us something. ~Paul Schroeder, The American Conservative

One of the most important things you can gain by the study of history is the perspective it provides.  It broadens your mind and shows you the myriad ways in which humans have lived and organised themselves, which teaches you a certain humility about the universal application of your own habits, while also reinforcing lessons about the basic structures of human existence that cannot be ignored, overcome, wished away or denied, which reminds you of your finite existence and limited power in this world.  History teaches the attentive student the tragic sense of life, which most Americans cannot grasp at all, and an awareness that some problems are not meant to be solved but are to be endured.  History provides the perspective that allows you to recognise flawed ideas because the same ideas have been tried and found wanting in another form before.  For instance, when some of us accuse certain people of being neo-Jacobins, it is not exactly to be pejorative and dismissive, but to drive home that the same contempt for history and inherited custom that they possess has motivated revolutionaries in the past and always brings them and their peoples to grief. 

History does not repeat itself, of course, but it does provide cautionary lessons to those who would take heed of them.  Among them are these basic truths: that great powers sow in the exercise of their own dominance the seeds of their collapse; that no victory is complete, no cause is ever truly vindicated by force of arms, and no defeat is final so long as people retain memory of it; that concentrated power is the ruin of a nation; that natural affinities and attachments to kith and kin are more enduring and powerful than almost any idea or belief known to man; that man has a deep need to worship and find meaning beyond himself, whether in the divine or the demonic; that man is impractical and irrational and will ensnare himself in fetters to acquire what he desires; that most men, if given the chance, will betray themselves and all they hold dear for the acquisition of power.  

Viereck has the agrarians in mind here, but not just the agrarians: “Their unhistorical appeal to history, their traditonless worship of tradition, characterize the conservatism of writers like Russell Kirk,” he writes.

The tradition that is alive is that of “liberal conservatism.” Viereck, unlike Kirk and most other modern conservatives, does not deny that the United States has fundamentally liberal origins. Our conservatism therefore has to be a species of liberalism, if it’s actually conserving something American. ~Dan McCarthy

I have read Conservatism Revisited and some of Viereck’s shorter works.  No one alive today could appreciate his praise of Metternich more than I do; my main complaint is that he was not enthusiastic enough for the Prince.  I appreciated Prof. Ryn’s introduction to the new Transaction edition and even said some complimentary things about Viereck and the new edition here.  I never did get done writing my critique of Viereck, and then the old fellow passed away and it seemed to be in poor taste to start tearing into his political writings at the time.  But now the gauntlet has been thrown down, as it were.  Viereck’s weird animus against the Agrarians and Kirk is one of the things about his writing I cannot understand, since he had so much more in common with them than with anyone else in the 1940s and 1950s and still would have had a great deal more in common with traditional conservatives than he would have ever had with anyone else. 

Phrases such as ”unhistorical appeal to history” are catchy because they sound really damning (like attacking something as anti-individualist individualism or unscientific science) but don’t actually mean anything.  How can you appeal to history except historically?  How do you venerate and honour a tradition without becoming part of it and thus becoming traditional in the process?  Traditions do not fall out of the sky or grow wild out of the ground–men make them, cultivate them and keep them alive.  Every so often they take seeds from plants that have been long dead and revive the species. 

As for the Agrarians themselves, their purpose in I’ll Take My Stand, as we learned at the TRI Summer School on The American Agrarian Tradition (I really haven’t given up writing entries for this, I promise!) last summer, was not to invoke History and Tradition the way that some buffoons today invoke Freedom, but to tell the story and give a defense of a way of life that existed at the time, to give expression to loyalties to a particular history, particular tradition, and particular place that they called their own.  They had no time for nostalgia or prattling on about tradition-in-the-abstract (is it ever really possible to do this for very long?).  The people who like to appeal to History are the godless gnostics who come to destroy settled traditions and sane societies.  If we appeal to precedent and prescription, that is something all together different.   

When Viereck wrote those things about Kirk, he had taken a dim view of the New Conservatives and the NR crowd generally for their enthusiasm for Republicans, some enthusiasm for capitalism (not among the New Conservatives, though, mind you) and their accommodation with nationalism.  Viereck, for reasons of principle and family history, was as allergic to every kind of nationalism as Kuehnelt-Leddihn was or Lukacs is, and on this score I have no beef with him.  Many of his attacks on ”Manchester liberalism” are excellent reading–and thus all the more bizarre for a “liberal conservative” to be making.  But he takes his disagreements with Kirk over, say, endorsing Goldwater or supporting McCarthy or not supporting Adlai Stevenson (whom Viereck admired way too much) and then translates them into a general view of what Kirkian conservatives get wrong.  In other words, he took a petty political disagreement and made it into the cause of a great theoretical divide–in this he resembles no one so much, I’m sorry to say, as Andrew Sullivan. 

Thus we get the folderol about “traditionless worship of tradition” (which has about as much substance to it as “Christianism”)–which implies that there is a tradition-full worship of tradition that Viereck understands but never seems inclined to tell us about.  Except that nobody worships tradition.  They live it and teach it to their children.  Anything else is pretty much just hot air. 

That brings me to “liberal conservatism.”  David Cameron has revived this phrase.  It is a wonderful phrase.  It can mean whatever you want it to mean, and very often that is all that it is good for.  In Cameronian terms, you are liberal if you support freedom–and who doesn’t support freedom?–and you are conservative if you recognise that man is flawed (and who really doesn’t know this, deep down?).  Well, then, that settles everything, doesn’t it?  Except that it tells you next to nothing.

A few points.  Kirk never denied the liberal origins of the political philosophy that has prevailed in the United States.  The man was too good of a scholar and too sensible of a person to believe that Enlightenment liberalism did not have a significant role in shaping American political thought.  No serious conservative thinker really denies this significant role.  Even Anglo-American conservatives were all basically reconciled to the settlement of 1688–just as Bolingbroke said!  Even those of us who regard this as a problem to be solved acknowledge the reality of it.  But that does not mean that one must concede “fundamentally liberal origins” for the country as a whole.  As Bradford, heir to the Agrarians, wrote in “Is The American Experience Conservative?”: “There is no way of understanding the origins of our fundamental law apart from 18th-century English constitutionalism, than which there is no doctrine more conservative.”  Understood in terms of chartered liberties, constitutional inheritance and legal precedent, our constitutionalist experience made us the antithesis of the “projectors” and terrible simplifiers–our fathers were defending something that they and their fathers had possessed from time out of mind.  In other words, our experience and history as a people with constitutional government rendered our embrace of institutions originally fashioned by liberals into the embrace of an inheritance, a tradition that had grown up with our people and which they held in high esteem because it was prescriptive, customary and traditional and not because it was liberal.  Indeed, they made it work, if you ask me, in spite of its liberal origins.  Except as part of a patrimony, I wouldn’t give you a penny for liberalism; as part of my people’s inheritance, it is worthy of some due consideration, provided that it is transmitted through the right sources (via, say, Bolingbroke and not Locke) and understood in the right way.   

It is a happy coincidence that I have been deluging my readers with my Bolingbroke reading of late, since Bolingbroke, the Country tradition and the Commonwealthmen Trenchard and Gordon all come together to espouse a radical commitment to “the ancient constitution” and mixed government.  It is they, not Walpole’s Whigs, who kept faith with the constitutional tradition, and it is to them that our forefathers looked for guidance in defending their patrimony.  The men of “traditionless tradition” are, if they are anyone, those who honour the 1688 revolution but abide by none of its principles or who talk of “liberal conservatism” while holding FDR’s coat and claiming that the New Deal had become part of the constitutional landscape–as soon as the 1950s!  The beauty of the appeal to the example of Bolingbroke and the Commonwealthmen is that they are part of the American tradition, as they were vital in the formation of the colonial embrace of the Country tradition critique and a whole array of assumptions about checks and balances–Bolingbroke thought about these things before Montesqieu–mixed government, restraining human passions, the evils of faction, the danger of foreign entanglements, and on and on.  We do not have to bow to the idol of Locke any longer (not that I was doing much bowing anyway)–we can be avowedly anti-liberal as Bolingbroke was without abandoning the ancient constitution that he defended against the Whigs.  We do not have to indulge fatuous theories about social contract or the state of nature when Bolingbroke offers some sensible Aristotle-rich social and political theory that is thoroughly in agreement with the Anglo-American experience.  We can tap into our rich and lustrous history without having to taste the bitter fruit of liberalism or the bland porridge of “liberal conservatism.”   

It is a mistake, however, to read Bolingbroke’s notions of natural law as if they culminate in optimistic rationalism with some implicit revolutionary call.  Burke was the first to misrepresent Bolingbroke in this way, when he suggested that Bolingbroke called upon reason to end the empire of prejudice and prescription.  This was not Bolingbroke’s intention.  He did write that men’s reason had been seduced by false appearances and that these seductions, confirmed by law and religion, had barred mankind from perfection.  But his recognition of imperfection did not lead him to assault the institutions and prejudices that barred the perfect realization of rational and natural law.  His reasons are clearly stated: “It was not in the councils of the most high, which it becomes us to adore and not to examine, that this should be so.”  God has made men such that passions, appetites, and ignorance often have greater force than reason, and thus irrational will often prevails over rational nature.  To the extent it does, it is determined by God that the state of mankind will be less than perfect; and that it will not attain the perfection of rational natural law.  In the Patriot King Bolingbroke cautions “that perfect schemes are not adapted to our imperfect state.”  He who would read Bolingbroke as an optimistic rationalist must remember Bolingbroke’s theodicy, and its central tenet, resignation before God’s incomprehensible order….It is no revolutionary rationalist who would say: “if our reasoning faculties were more perfect than they are, the order of intellectual beings would be broken unnecessarily, and man would be raised above his proper form…The reason he has is sufficient for him in the state allotted to him.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Leaving aside for the moment the problems of Bolingbroke’s theology and anthropology, according to which man is not intended for perfection in God’s plan, this is an important corrective to the Burkean calumny against Bolingbroke, which is also embodied in Burke’s satirical Vindication of Natural Society, which has normally been read as a mockery of Bolingbroke’s own ideas.  However, as this passage suggests, Burke misunderstood important aspects of Bolingbroke’s ideas and seemed strangely intent on misunderstanding and opposing Bolingbroke in other areas–particularly when it came to the man’s struggle with Walpole–in ways that are rather dispiriting to discover, since it seems clear that in his criticism of abstract rights and the “projecting” spirit of the age he and Burke are of a single temperament and mind.

Men were never solitary individuals “out of all society in their natural state.”  Locke’s doctrine is false because proper reasoning confirms what Bolingbroke had been saying: “Civil governments were formed not by the concurrence of individuals, but by the association of families.”

Bolingbroke was aware of the revolutionary potential of Locke’s ideas.  Locke’s stress on the natural independence of solitary individuals is related logically to his view of men “as equal one amongst another.”  Bolingbroke thought that Locke’s arguments based on the natural equality and freedom of mankind “carry his notions on the subject a little further than nature, and the reason of things will allow.”  Much more damning, however, is Bolingbroke’s conviction that such notions subvert the established order.  The principle of the hierarchical ordering of society is threatened when the principle of natural equality is adhered to.  Distinctions vanish, the social order can be overturned, and havoc ensues.  “He who sits on a throne would inhabit a cottage, and he who holds a plough would wield a sceptre.”  The conviction that a state of perfect freedom such as Locke described would result in total chaos and anarchy prompted Bolingbroke to suggest, as Shaftesbury had done earlier, that Locke was little different from Hobbes.  Mankind possessed of such freedom woulde have come into “a state of war and violence of mutual and alternate oppression, as really as that which Hobbes imagined to have been the state of nature.”  This anarchy would be compounded by each man’s right to execute the law of nature….Each man’s pretending to be judge and executioner of the law of nature would lead to a tyranny and oppression as brutish as ever conceived of by the philosopher of Malmesbury.  Thus it is, writes Bolingbroke, “that the state of mankind under the law of nature, according to Locke, would have been very little, if at all, better than the state of nature before there was any such thing as law, according to Hobbes.”


Bolingbroke turns his back on the liberal ideology of Locke as he asks “to what purpose it was to make any abstract system of rights, that never did nor could exist…a method of establishing civil government that never could be taken.”  Locke, he concludes, presents “a notion of natural liberty very different from the real constitution of nature.”  Our real nature demands that there always be authority; if it were ever lacking men would live in the nightmare world of the Hobbesian state of war. ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Nothing, however, can soften the challenge to Locke that Bolingbroke poses.  Locke’s ideas on the origin of political society were directly relevant to the emergence of bourgeois, liberal, and individualist notions of politics in his day; Bolingbroke’s rejection of these Lockean ideas was part of his overall rejection of the liberal world, which increasingly justified its existence with these very ideas: Bolingbroke’s political ideals are aristocratic and paternal.  Men are not naturally free and equal, nor is government instituted to protect natural rights.  His opposition to Locke is inevitable; the social forces he represented are very different from those whose champion Locke had become.  Locke’s political thought became the ideology of a middle class individualism that stressed individual freedom, self-interest, and competition as positive social values.  Bolingbroke’s political thought is the ideology of a family-centered aristocracy and gentry.  Fathers, paternal authority, subordination, rank, cooperation, and public service are the dimensions of this ideology’s superstructure.


In his polemical writings, Bolingbroke also decries as the great evils of his age the individualism, self interest, freedom, and equality depicted by these theorists as the state of nature.  These very ideals were those he found in the new economic and social order that was destroying the traditional structure of society.


It bears repeating, however, that Bolingbroke did not think of the covenant that is the basis for artificial civil government as a product of universal participation, and did not think it a covenant to protect rights.  There is no initial coming together of all to form a political community; political community already exists as a natural and God-given phenomenon….There is no mention of natural rights or their protection as the foundation of civil governments in the terms of the covenant….The ultimate end of government is to achieve the good of the people, and through contract “governors are therefore appointed for this end.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Like many of today’s British Muslims, Sayyid Qutb believed that the West was waging war against Islam, and the only way to defeat the Crusaders was to return to 7th-century Islam, a time when mighty Muslim armies were on the march conquering large swaths [sic] of the Persian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. ~Christopher Orlet, The American Spectator

Large swathes of the Persian empire, indeed.  More like the whole of the Persian empire.  But you can see why Sayyid Qutb would be excited about the 7th century, if early Islamic armies conquered large swathes of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, which would require either feats of time travel or the ability to conquer the same thing twice (no mean feat!).  It is at this point that I will indulge my Byzantinist pedant’s delight and remind Mr. Orlet and everyone else that the Byzantines called themselves Romans, considered themselves Romans and were considered to be Romans by their neighbours.  Byzantine was a name that they never used, except possibly for inhabitants of the City itself, and would not have accepted in its pejorative implications that their empire represented a somehow lower or lesser Roman empire.  This emphasis on being Roman later became tricky when the Carolingians set about continuing the Roman empire that was already doing very nicely in Constantinople, and western Europeans preferred to refer to the Byzantines derogatorily as Greeks or ‘Greeklings’ (Graeculi) to make it clear that they didn’t really believe them to be “real” Romans.  But in the 7th century there was only one Roman empire and it encompassed a large portion of the territory of the High Empire of the Antonines (obviously minus Gaul, most of Spain and all of Britain), and then subsequently lost quite a lot of that Roman territory to the Muslims. 

A pedantic point?  Perhaps.  But certainly no less ridiculous than an article dedicated to refuting the non-existent argument that the Iraq war created the threat of jihadi terrorism, which no one on this planet actually believes, and no less annoying than the tiresome claim that the war did not fuel jihadi terrorism because, gosh, jihadis take offense at lots of things.  That Mr. Orlet is unfamiliar with the specifics of 7th century history is not so surprising, since he is not all together on top of what is happening in the 21st century.

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

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

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

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. 

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

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.     

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

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

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.

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.” 

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.

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!

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.

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.  

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.

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.   

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. 

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. 

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. 

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?

Indeed, a debate rages over the very use of “Islamic fascism” to describe the creed of terrorist killers — as if those authoritarians who call for a return of the ancient caliphate, who wish to impose 7th-century sharia law, promise death to the Western “crusader” and “Jew,” and long to retreat into a mythical alternate universe of religious purity and harsh discipline, untainted by a “decadent” liberal West, are not fascists. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Yes, why would anyone dispute that?  But making a list of negative or objectionable traits is not proof of fascism. 

Never mind that fascism had to do with returning to primordial purity and strength of a nation and not the purity and strength of a religion, except perhaps for the “religion” of loyalty and devotion to the nation and the state.  But palingenesis alone does not a fascism make.   One major feature of fascism that none of these people seems aware of is the role of what Payne called “political liturgy” as part of the political religion: the mass spectacles at which the Leader appeared and conducted the crowd in a huge rally, the processions, the marches, all of them aimed at glorifying the nation and the Leader.  These are by and large almost nonexistent in the Islamic world among those who are expressly Islamists; they are certainly not defining features of Wahhabism, Salafism or any of the rest.  

Hanson’s own language betrays his confusion and muddled thinking: if Islamists are authoritarian, that does not prove that they are fascists; it proves that they are authoritarian.  Desiring the return of the ancient caliphate makes them, if anything, more like Islamic conservative romantics or arguably some kind of reactionaries–like Faisal out of Lawrence of Arabia dreaming of the glories of Cordoba, but without the geniality.  It is true that the Italian Fascists claimed to want to restore the Roman Empire, but precisely because it was the Roman Empire and was part of their national history and “national greatness.”  (Again, I will refrain from dwelling on the obvious connection with people who harp about “national greatness” in this country.)  Had the same people been desiring the restoration of Christendom and the unifying role of the Church (as did, for example, the Romantic Novalis), they would not have been fascists but something else all together different.  

Of course, “sharia law” didn’t exist in the 7th century, even if the purists and purifiers believe that it did in some sense, but a desire for religious purity and discipline makes them very plainly out to be religious fundamentalists or perhaps fanatics, not “religious fascists”–another phrase so daft that it boggles the mind that an historian of of any stature would use it.  The terror of identifying these people as primarily and basically religious in their motivations and ideals is palpable in every neocon defense of the phrase ”Islamic fascist.” 

It is imperative that they be made into fascists, so that we can easily compare them to our frame of reference, so that we can dismiss their ravings as a discredited ”ideology” that we have already “defeated” and leave it at that.  It saves us the much more troubling work of considering the reality that some religions do disproportionately breed fanatics while others do not, and that this is not some deviation or perversion or departure from the “real” religion but derives directly from the religion’s own authorities and traditions.  For secular people like these prominent neocons, it is horrifying to consider the possibility that some people have motivations that cannot be explained in secular language, because they, lacking in religious imagination of any kind, are at a loss to even begin to really understand what motivates a jihadi.  Even when they acknowledge the supposed goal of Paradise or the religious nature of the duty these people believe themselves to be carrying out, it is always with a certain level of incomprehension, almost as if they cannot really accept that anyone not attached to some intelligible ideology firmly bounded in this world really exists.  Their inability to understand the religious desire for transcendence in some of its most appalling forms stems, I suspect, in no small part from their own depressingly optimistic and immanentist ideology.  Their inability to understand a drive for religious purity and intolerance of other religions as anything other than fascism stems in part from their own reflexive commitments to religious pluralism and a latent or not-so-latent hostility to dogmatic Christianity: everything not on the side of pluralism and “freedom” somehow all gets pushed into a big box called fascism.  

The old neoconservatives were in many ways very good allies in the anticommunist fight, because they (like some of the early conservative figures of the ’50s) were personally familiar with the sort of mentality they were opposing, but the present neocons are possibly worthless allies in fighting jihadis because they have no grasp of this mentality and are forced to push it into the imprecise and misleading terminology of the intra-Western political wars of the last century.  Their inflexibility about using “Islamic fascist” tells us that they cannot work outside of the anachronistic political language of conflicts that are now over 60 years in the past.  Lacking in religious imagination, or imagination of most any kind, they cannot get out of their rut where it is always the 1930s and Freedom is always fighting Fascism.  I submit that people who cannot break out of such stale patterns of thinking cannot tell us much about our current predicament.     

But it is right to use the concept—the traditional language is clerical fascism—about movements like the Romanian one. ~Michael Ledeen

This is one of the more remarkable errors that Michael “Scholar of Fascism” Ledeen makes in his efforts to show his alleged superior understanding of fascism in defense of the abhorrent neologism Islamofascism and the phrase ”Islamic fascist.”  As those familiar with the Legion of the Archangel Michael’s history and the career of Codreanu, the founder of this genuinely very odd Romanian political movement, will know, the Legion was in no sense “clerical,” because it was a predominantly and overwhelmingly lay movement that had no official church support nor did it have widespread clerical involvement because of the Church’s hostility to it. 

It did claim to be an Orthodox Christian political movement, made Orthodoxy an important aspect of the Romanian national identity, and modeled its ideals and rhetoric on extreme asceticism and martyrdom, which included a willingness to die–but not therefore necessarily to kill–for Romania.  Its general lack of violence and hooliganism (which is not to say that its members did not sometimes engage in political violence) marks it out as as more of a peculiar Christian nationalist group that was not very fascistic except for the uniforms the salutes.  Stanley Payne has argued convincingly that of movements typically associated with fascism in interwar Europe it has one of the weakest claims to the name.  Payne certainly never used the name clerical fascism for the Legion, and tends to avoid using that name for any of what he more accurately described as conservative authoritarian regimes.  Before it was associated with the Antonescu government, the Legion was known mostly for how many of its members suffered death at the hands of the Romanian government and others, since Codreanu maintained a very bizarre attitude towards violence for someone conventionally associated with fascism: be killed for Romania, but don’t kill.  You may be able to guess why the movement did not catch on everywhere. 

The reasons why Codreanu has been associated with fascism are because the Legion was a mass “shirt” nationalist movement (I believe green was their preferred colour) that had a peculiar obsession with death for the nation, and even went so far as to say, “You must love Romania more than your own soul.”  Even granting some license for exaggeration, this was a bizarre statement for an expressly Christian movement to make. 

It is noteworthy that in all of this the Romanian Orthodox Church had virtually nothing to do with Codreanu and condemned his movement in support of government repression of the movement.  If there were individual priests who had anything to do with the movement, they did not have the official support of the hierarchy and would have suffered penalties for associating with the movement.  Mircea Eliade, the famous Romanian writer, who fled Romania around the time of the rise of the Antonescu government, came here to Chicago and later wrote how strange he found it that the Church had persecuted the only modern political movement even remotely related to Orthodox Christianity.  Under Antonescu, Legionaries did become willing tools of the collaborationist government and took on a very different character with respect to the general use of violence than they had had when Codreanu was still alive.  But even if in this later period they might be aligned with the Nazis in their collaboration and usually anti-Jewish violence, at no point were they “clerical fascist” in any meaningful sense. 

But being a Christian movement is not the same as being clericalist, much less clerical fascist (a bogus category, in my view, primarily invented to conjure up hatred for Catholic accommodations with Mussolini, the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Catholic corporatist and anti-Nazi regime in Austria from 1934-38 and for Franco’s regime).  The entire category clerical fascist was one invented by the sorts of people who don’t like conservative authoritarianism or Catholicism, and really don’t like them when they are combined (as they were, to some degree, in Austria and Spain)–in harping on it, Ledeen shows not so much his scholarly accomplishments (which his description of the Legion makes ever more suspect) but his own obsessions in militating against conservative authoritarian and religious regimes. 

Indeed, it is only when clerics are prominent in a political movement that it is really correct to call it clericalist, and then the system they usually hope to set up falls under a much more generic category of theocracy.  It is perfectly reasonable to describe Iran as a theocratic republic; it would be reasonable to call it clericalist, if one so desired.  But fascist? In what sense? 

There are, it is true, authoritarian, revolutionary and republican elements in the Iranian regime, but these seem to be markers not of fascism but of what might broadly be called an Islamic version of conservative authoritarianism.  If there are a few people in the entire Near East who are Muslims and also find themselves in sympathy with fascism, that’s all very interesting, but it tells us nothing about the people whom the adminsitration is labeling Islamic fascist–namely, members of Al Qaeda or Hizbullah or the government in Tehran, which are very clearly not claiming any kind of affinities or sympathies with fascism.  There may be Muslims (probably more secular than religious) who are political fascists, but if a Muslim is an Islamist he is almost by definition not a fascist, and that is what we’re arguing about. 

David Cameron made another break with his party’s past yesterday when he declared that Margaret Thatcher had been wrong to describe Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists during the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s.

The Tory leader also took a swipe at her famous - or to some infamous - remark that there was “no such thing as society”. He said there was such a thing as society, but it should not be confused with the state. ~The Daily Telegraph

As I have already noted before, John O’Sullivan delivered, and I seconded, the decisive answer to this particular piece of Cameronian falderal about Thatcher’s “society” line.  The first claim is more troubling, because it suggests not only that Mr. Cameron does not know what the word “terrorist” means and that he feels a compulsion to disagree with whatever aspect of Thatcherism that the British media have disliked the most and thus diverges from Thatcherism on these points in a calculated move to win good spin.  It is the kind of Blairesque move that is only equaled in mendacity by Blair’s own declaration that he is an heir of Margaret Thatcher.  Cameron announces with little declarations like this that this new brand of Tory will lack in loyalty to past Conservative leaders, moral discernment and intellectual heft, but he will assuredly ride his bicycle wherever he goes.  As a strategy to provide excellent material for satirists and bloggers for years to come, this is brilliant.  As a stategy to revive the still-shaky political fortunes of the Tories, it is absurd.  It also raises the question of whether Mr. Cameron even understands how apartheid was ended.  Indeed, if the end of apartheid was the goal, there is an argument to be made that then-PM Thatcher’s policy of engagement was more effective–as is usually the case–than the sanctions imposed on South Africa by other nations.  That would suggest that there was a legitimate, lawful way to bring the policy to a close that did not involve the use of violence.

We are all familiar with the Official Story of South Africa to which Mr. Cameron is now paying homage.  Bad Afrikaners ruled through apartheid, and this was very bad, which means that anyone who combated apartheid by any means must perforce be very good, and as the leader of this opposition no one was more good than Nelson Mandela.  It means that we ought not look into why Mr. Mandela was in prison lo those 27 years (convicted of terrorism and treason), and we do not talk about ANC terrorist attacks, but euphemistically call him a “political prisoner” and the ANC a political opposition group.  Now that’s what I call moral clarity.  Similarly, we do not question that the rise of ANC rule has been anything but a wonder for the people of South Africa, and we look back and laugh at the silly Western leaders who said all those atrocious things about Mr. Mandela and his friendly ANC comrades.

Of course, there are plenty of other examples of terrorist leaders becoming “respected” political figures–even if everyone acknowledges that the respect shown them as statesmen is a colossal act of self-deception to facilitate some kind of future political settlement–from the big names of Lenin and Mao to the better known examples of Begin and Arafat to the lower tier of Daniel Ortega and Hacim Thaci.  The first four are deceased, but perhaps Mr. Cameron can swing around to Nicaragua and Kosovo for some quick photo-ops to talk about these other “great men.”  

The majority of our political and pundit class associate “blood and soil” with the Third Reich, though they rarely associate the “proposition nation” with the Soviet Union. So, can we put those two horrors away for a moment? ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Many readers may have already come across Michael’s fun, fortune cookie takedown of neocon arguments elsewhere, but I highly recommend the original post and the follow-up.  On a more serious note (hardly anyone will ever accuse me of being too glib), the substance of Michael’s response to Foreign Policy’s James Forsyth’s post regarding Mr. Buchanan and State of Emergency is excellent, so let me quote a little more from it before I go on with my remarks:

Forsyth posits that anyone who “believes in the value” of certain ideas is an American. If I’m supposed to take him literally then there are a number of absurdities that result : anyone in Latvia, Belize, the Congo, or China IS an American if they believe in a certain ideology. They may not know George Washington is the Father of their country, they may not understand expressions like “mom and apple pie”, they may not be impressed with American ingenuity, or literature. They don’t have any of the thousands of cultural marks that being an American imprinted on them unconsciously. They don’t even have to speak English - they believe in an idea, you see.

He goes on to suggest that Mr. Forsyth’s views on what makes an American American are not necessarily all that interesting or meaningful, since Forsyth is not an American and might be missing out on a few important things that go into making Americans who we are.  Indeed, that would almost be worse than a recently naturalised citizen declaring people with generations of ancestors in this country unpatriotic because of policy differences–but that couldn’t happen here, could it? 

Unfortunately it can, and it is precisely the kind of thing that happens and will keep happening if we define being American–and by extension patriotic loyalty to America–in terms of the political positions we take and ideological commitments we make.  But before we can successfully combat this ideological turn, we need to make clear what the origins of the ideological “proposition nation” idea are and why this idea has been increasingly misleading us for 140 years.  At first it seemed very odd to me that, along with the usual list of texts and “values” that people embrace to become American, Mr. Forsyth also listed the Gettysburg Address, but the reason for its inclusion became clear to me soon enough.  This address is rightly understood as the seminal document that expresses the idea of the ahistorical, consolidated nation dedicated to a proposition, as the opening lines say very clearly:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The other day I referred to this as “mendacious revisionist propaganda,” which I think is a fair assessment of its character, but my reasons for saying so may be obscure to those who have not given much thought to the numerous problems with this text and the inordinate influence it has had on modern Americans’ conception of how the Union came into being. 

M.E. Bradford is our surest guide through the minefield of the Address, just as he is well-known for his powerful opposition to everything that the Address represents in the politics and rhetoric of our country.  In the following, I am including excerpts from his “Lincoln, the Declaration and Secular Puritanism: A Rhetoric For A Continuing Revolution” contained in A Better Guide Than Reason:

The reason behind this movement of mindless rehearsal into myth is then the success of Mr. Lincoln’s battlefield performance.  In such a cauldron history is easily remade.  For Lincoln’s Pennsylvania miracle is visible in the shape and surface of its accomplishment, a retreat from proposition, discussion, and argument into oracle and glorified announcement: an advance from discourse of what is believed to be into an assertion of what must be, and yet forever remain in the process of becoming.


For Americans, the effect of this epideictic encapsulation is what the Greeks called “Asiatic.” after observing its prevalence and usefulness among natiions living beyond their eastern boundaries.  It is a prerhetorical rhetoric, suited to judges, prophets, and priest/kings who instruct and command without explaining: that is, suitable to a “closed” world.  As no dispute concerning the materials it enshrined was imaginable, the end to which it was employed was obviously very different from that of the deliberative and forensic discoursings of which the Athenian philosophers approved.  Never did the epideictic serve in pure Hellenic “deciding before” or “judging after” a genuine choice.  Probably its intent was instead the affirmation of a common bond–often in its user, but always shared by those who heard or read after him.  Of course, as long as there have been “authorities” among or over their people, the style has remained a part of every rhetorician’s equipment, a magic to be used whenever what was there for the saying was less important than the saying itself.  Now, we may at first reasonably resist this association of Lincoln and Oriental despotism, especially if we know of Necessitarian Rationalism.  But before we resist too strongly, let us look at what the biblical style implies, and conceals, in his address, aqnd ask if he is not assuming the role of a Joshua, whose authority is such that he need only speak the command of the Lord for it to be obeyed.  

What troubled Bradford, and what should trouble us, is the move beyond discourse and deliberation in political rhetoric to declarations and affirmations of unchallengeable mystic truths.  The Address that fathered the idea of the “proposition nation” is spoken in the language of command and dictation–it and the idea that comes from it both demand unstinting obedience.  This rhetorical move by Lincoln began a tradition of taking sacred idiom and applying it to profane political disagreements that takes the gnostic step of seeking to realise the sacred through politics:

We were a fellowship of “the Book” and took all government and political philosophy–even the Constitution–to be practical and unworthy of mention in the same breath with Holy Scripture.  Politics might, within reason, be tested against revealed truth.  But we never imagined more than a tangency for the political and the sacred–never a holy beginning or conclusion by politics.

In this new confusion of the sacred and political, the creation of the “nation” (which he ahistorically locates in 1776) cannot be simply the separation of one political community from another, but a sign of a commitment to a timeless abstraction.  The Address’ abuse of the Declaration denies the importance of history and custom and all of the actual causes that the Declaration gives for the separation.  The substance of the Declaration itself has little to do with the timeless abstractions with which it is so often solely identified:

Prescriptive laws and kings and honor have nothing to do with the “self-evident” and “metaphysically” proved first principles of Burke’s doctors of the closet.  History is their “legitimate” ancestor; trial and error, reputation and disrepute, sifting and selection stand behind Jefferson’s appeal.  In weight, this argument from the record will not replace revelation or anointment by a Samuel.  But it is far removed from the abstractions of the Encyclopedists or mechanical universe of their perpetually absent “Creator”.  And therefore it does not pretend, despite “self-evident,” to bespeak His will.  Respected for what it is (and with its explosive sentences circumstantially grounded and converted into “mere argument” by a Whig rhetoric), the Declaration is agreeable enough.  Its implicit denial that there was a “founding”, its complexity and dialectic (recognized by most responsible American leaders who invoked the document before 1860, and acknowledged by the very different language of the 1787 Constitution) are, I repeat, inverted by Father Abraham.  And the forces which he thus released in manufacturing his “political religion” [bold added] find their tongue in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” 

So here we come to the heart of the matter.  Not merely a confusion of sacred and political, but the creation of a “political religion” that all good Americans now must confess to belong to the nation.  From the horrors of the twentieth century, we know the full destructive power that political religions can unleash, but, as Michael said, let us leave those horrors aside.  The “proposition nation” idea is even more dangerous than a generic idea of an ”ideological” nation, because it comes from our own history and possesses a mythology of its own.  The problem and the evil of the “proposition nation” idea are that this idea has been ingrained in our national consciousness; we have been to some degree initiated into the political religion of Lincoln from a very early age, perhaps before we could even reason, and many of us have been convinced that to turn against Lincoln and this religion is to set ourselves outside of the boundaries of the nation whose “founding” he invented and rhetorically invested with sacred purpose.  When someone suggests to us that being American is defined by the acceptance of certain values, the dedication to certain propositions, we are predisposed to heed this falsehood, because it is a homegrown falsehood and so it seems to us that there must be something to it. 

There has always been something deeply worrisome about the phrase “credal nation,” so closely tied as it is to a similar notion of “proposition nation”, and it is in the likening of the nation to the Church and the transformation of political ideals into the equivalent of the Deity.  If taken literally, this is blasphemy and idolatry.  Even if taken only metaphorically, it is extremely dangerous to the continuation of reasonable discourse and deliberative politics of the kind fundamental to our republican system and our common experience.  The “proposition nation” idea possesses all of the same dangers. 

In its potential to exclude or denounce dissenters as traitors or enemies of the nation, the “proposition nation” idea is perhaps the single most poisonous idea in American thought today.  That it is taken up with the greatest zeal by those who seem to glory in causing upheaval, violence and revolution around the world and by those who are the heirs of the prophet of “perpetual revolution” should not be a surprise.  It is a revolutionary idea designed for the furtherance and continuation of political revolution.  For this and other reasons, conservatives–if they are to be conservatives–cannot have anything to do with it. 

Musa was indeed one of the 12 Imams and is revered by Shiite Muslims, but does that make him a saint? In the generic sense, if there is one, I guess he is a revered as a saint, but as explained here, it’s not quite the same in Islam as it is in Christianity.

In the Protestant tradition, anyone who displays the qualities of a good follower of the faith can be considered a saint. While it’s fine to consider one’s grandmother a saint, in that generic sense, one would have difficulty tagging John Calvin or John Knox with the title.

In the same sense it is wrong to tag a Muslim Imam with the term in a journalistic setting because there are more accurate ways to refer to him and it places him in a category that doesn’t even officially exist in Islam. ~Daniel Pulliam, GetReligion

I suppose it is a fair point that it could be misleading for a Western audience when someone refers to one of the Imams as a saint, since this carries certain connotations in a Christian context that could create confusion about the figure being so described. But is it really an inaccurate or inappropriate term to use? Is it wrong to use the term saint when speaking of Islamic holy figures? I don’t think so, not least because the word itself simply means “holy one,” and there are numerous examples in Islam of venerating and praying to their holy figures to honour them and ask for intercession.

In modern literature on Sufism, it is commonplace for scholars to refer to fakirs, wonderworking mendicants, as saints and their graves as shrines. To be called wali Allah (friend of God) is to be acknowledged as just such a saint–this is a well-known popular title of Caliph Ali himself. Certainly the veneration their graves receive bears striking similarities to practises at the shrines of saints. This is an aspect of Islamic popular religion that may not always have express support in Islamic scripture or tradition, but which takes place nonetheless. In the centuries after his death, the mystic and “martyr” al-Hallaj was venerated in such a fashion because he was respected and honoured for his piety in spite of being executed in 922 for the blasphemous utterance, Ana al Haqq (I am the Truth). (It is of passing interest that this statement, so similar to that of the Lord in Jn. 14:6, led some early enthusiastic scholars of medieval Islam to suppose that he was some kind of oddball heretical mystic Christian, but this seems entirely untenable.) Further, the famous mystic of the 13th century, Ibn Arabi, got himself into some trouble by stressing the superiority of sainthood over that of prophethood; in any case, the distinct concept and category of Muslim holy figures comparable to those whom we would normally call saints was a well-established one in medieval Islamic thought. As the Wikipedia article Mr. Pulliam cited itself says of Muslim saints:

Saints are believed to have a power of intercession with God (Allah), and thus the ability to perform miracles and to give power or blessings known as baraka.

If this is true among Sunnis, how much more true is it among the Shia, whom takfir Sunnis routinely castigate for praying to men (i.e., the Imams)? Structurally, Shia Muslims treat the Imams as spiritual intercessors and holy figures in a way similar to, albeit not the same as, Christian venerations of saints. They do this in recognition of what they believe to be the special spiritual status and perfection of the Imams, whom they venerate in anticipation of the coming of the Mahdi. This is particularly true of Iranian Twelver Shi’ism, the branch to which Iraqi Shia belong.

But the Founders failed to see that they were setting a time bomb.  To begin with the autonomous individual and his rights is to open up a dynamic process, that of the sovereignty of the individual, in which the rights of man break every bond with nature.  It is to open the way to what was to come, to the results we see today.  Whereas Christian thought said, “Here are your duties, and may God help you,” contemporary thought declares, “Here are your rights, and to hell with you.” ~Philippe Beneton, Equality by Default

Prof. Beneton’s conclusions are very good, though I am not convinced that the Founders understood the rights they were defending as “the rights of man” in this sense or that they were “beginning with the autonomous individual.”  For them, constitutional rights came from the traditional inheritance of Englishmen in relationship with their past and with one another.  That their language of chartered liberties was then hijacked and appropriated into the language of the rights of the autonomous individual was a different, later process that now obscures the fundamentally historical and traditional understanding of legal rights that was decisive for the Founders.  More important for them than theoretical natural rights were the actual rights guaranteed them as part of the English constitutional tradition.

Your family could have arrived on the Mayflower or in the back of a van, but if you believe in the values of this country as embodied by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Civil Rights Act, then you are American. ~James Forsyth, Foreign Policy Blog

Hat tip to Michael Brendan Dougherty

I remember Bob Dole saying something like the first part of this in 1996: 

A family from Mexico arrives this morning legally has as much right to the American Dream as the direct descents [sic] of the Founding Fathers.

At the time, I was not old enough to vote, so it didn’t cost Dole my vote (it definitely cost him my father’s), but I found it offensive nonetheless.  This is because in such a statement lies a contempt for the historic America and the peoples who have comprised the historic America, as if any group of people from anywhere might have gathered together and created the same kind of country.  It expresses an indifference to inherited culture that would be incredible for a conservative to utter.  It assumes that the people who arrived today have the same claim and the same stake in this country as people whose ancestors have lived here for almost four centuries–this is deeply wrong.  It does make a difference and it should make a difference whether your family arrived in 1607 or 1997–and it does not matter where you are coming from.

Mr. Forsyth objects to Mr. Buchanan’s call for American identity to be rooted in “blood, soil, history and heroes.”  I confess to being perplexed as to why this call should actually be controversial.  Yes, I know why many people think it is controversial, but their position makes no sense.  No real national identity of any kind, and certainly none that ever lasted, has ever endured without being solidly based in these things.  Indeed, what else could our national identity plausibly be rooted in?  Most Americans today do not hold to the political philosophy of the Founders in their attitudes towards consolidated government and their preference for the rule of law over the rule of men.  This is unfortunate, but it will happen in the course of time that peoples adopt different and even diametrically opposed political creeds.  The Loyalists did not accept the ideas of the Declaration, but they were real Americans whose fathers had helped to create our country in its colonial days.  The Antifederalists did not accept the Constitution, but they were real Americans who helped win the War of Independence and forge the Confederation.  The Confederates would not have accepted the Gettysburg Address and did not accept the so-called “new birth of freedom” to be realised at the expense of Union and Liberty, but they were real Americans who maintained their fidelity to the principles of ‘87 and sought to reenact the drama of independence to secure the liberties protected for them by their ancestors.  In the same loyalty to the Constitution, much of the early modern conservative movement opposed the Civil Rights Act as the federal usurpation that it was (and is)–they, too, were real Americans.  Indeed, the formulation that Mr. Forsyth has put forward retroactively must strip many of our most noble and admirable patriots of the name American.  Any definition of American that could conceivably exclude Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee is a meaningless, ridiculous definition. 

As for myself, I have strong reservations about the “values” expressed in the Declaration, at least if we are to take the platitudes expressed therein as claims of truth about the real world; I respect and honour the Constitution, but recognise the serious consolidationist flaws in it; I cannot in good conscience accept anything in the Gettysburg Address, mendacious piece of revisionist propaganda that it was, nor can I accept the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act or the enthusiasm for egalitarianism that inspired it.  According to Mr. Forsyth, I am not an American, though some part of my people have been here since 1634 and most of my family has been here since the early 1700s.  I obviously cannot and will not accept such a definition of my nation that would put me–and a considerable number of my countrymen–outside its boundaries.  I cannot countenance a definition of national identity that makes one’s loyalty to a political position the basis for belonging to the nation.  I want no part of any “ideological,” “credal” or “proposition” nation–you cannot love a proposition. 

There is nothing more artificial, more insubstantial and more dangerous than categorising a nation according to ideology–this is to make honest disagreement over political principles a betrayal of the nation itself.  It is to make dissent into a kind of treason; it is to make fidelity to older traditions that contradict the reigning ideology a mark of disloyalty to the nation.  Fundamentally it is also to confuse ideas for concrete realities and to give them the loyalty we owe to real things.  It is to ignore the concrete realities of kin and place and our memory of our kin and place down through the centuries for the sake of abstractions.  This sort of thinking may very well make it easier for people to enter the country, but it makes it impossible to say any longer what kind of country it is, where it came from or who we are as a people.        

If you read nothing else at First Things this month, read Joseph Pearce’s piece on the true kings of England (and one rather entertaining pretender) where he refers to the “Inglorious Revolution.”  Here is a sample:

Thereafter, the Jacobites tried in vain to restore the true king to the throne, but as “King” Anthony rightly laments, we’ve had a dynasty of German usurpers on the throne ever since. It might indeed be the sad truth that the English are destined to wait until Doomsday for the Return of the King, but it is at least consoling to know that several of the true kings in exile are now buried in St. Peter’s in Rome. If the English monarchy is really dead and buried, then what better resting place than in the company of the saints and martyrs.

Maybe I just can’t help myself, but I’m afraid Mr. Douthat offers up a target too good to pass by.  Unfortunately, I don’t subscribe to the WSJ, so I have not read the editorial itself, but I did look over the synopsis at NYT.  The basic question is the year being invoked as the foreign policy comparison with the present moment.  Readers will already be familiar with my thoughts about the 1938 option.  Other contenders are 1942, 1948, 1972 and 1919.  Now I appreciate the 1919 comparison, which is described as the paleo view, but as tempting as it is to see the fires of self-determination/democratisation creating all sorts of disastrous consequences that will consume entire regions as a result of Mr. Bush’s policies I don’t think that’s really the most apt comparison in any case.   

If I believed in these sorts of comparisons, which I think are misleading and tend to produce the conclusions that you bring to the inquiry in the first place, I would put on my history cap and, in true reactionary fashion, say that our predicament resembles that of the Habsburgs c. 1630.  No measly 20th century examples for me, thank you. 

Pushing beyond the settlement in the Treaty of Luebeck (1629), Ferdinand II overreached and believed that he was on the verge of re-Catholicising the entire Empire and started abusing the Lutherans of the Empire accordingly.  This heavy-handed triumphalist measure succeeded in nothing so much as pulling Sweden (and France–on the side of Sweden) into the conflict and fundamentally altering the balance of power in the war for the next almost twenty years.  In the end the Empire lost ground and lost any chance of recovering the Protestant lands of the Empire for Rome, and even then only after decades more of conflict.  Thus, as Geoffrey Parker might say, success is never final

Lebanon might have been our 1629 moment of overreaching, when we thought we could show the Iranians who was boss by having our proxy smash their proxy.  The comparison is hardly exact, because these comparisons are always hodgepodges that never really work, but I think unfortunately that the arrogance and presumption behind the U.S.’s full support for the Lebanon war may mark the high-water mark of U.S. power in the region. 

But as this example shows, these comparisons are not very helpful.  Because this is what I think the current predicament is, I found a comparative example that suited what I already thought.  The neocons always think it’s 1938, because they have no way of thinking in any other terms: take away talk of appeasement and dictators, and they have no foreign policy expertise to offer.  Beinart is bound to think it’s 1948, because otherwise no one would pay any attention to all of his Truman-babble.  The stay-the-course geniuses have to say that it’s 1942 (presumably we’re looking at this from the American, and not the Axis, perspective) because it means that there can only be progress from here on out.  Paleoconservatives may see a replay of 1919, though probably the more pessimistic among us may think that this refers to the Russian Civil War and Wilson’s other stupid interventions in the Old World, but more likely other paleos would be skeptical of making these comparisons because of the unrepeatable contingencies of every period that make these sorts of arguments less than illuminating. 

So I would have to conclude that we are, in fact, in 2006 and we are in a situation that is basically new and unprecedented.  There has never been quite this confluence of forces in the region, and there has rarely been a moment before now where conventional military power has been of such limited value in deciding international disputes.  There are things we can glean from previous historical examples, but every difference in detail makes the present moment unique and almost guarantees that if we approach the current situation as if it were very similar to another situation we will make the wrong calculations and get ourselves into a bigger mess than we might have otherwise if we attended to what is actually happening now rather than riding our respective hobbyhorses and issuing dire warnings.  

Many of the miscalculations in the July crisis of 1914 were made because everyone relied on the experiences of the immediate past: Austria concluded that it could get away with punishing Serbia just as it had gotten away with formally annexing Bosnia; Germany concluded that it would not back down as it had in 1905; Russia decided that it must come to the aid of Serbia to check Austrian ambitions, unlike its inaction in 1908 after the annexation (of course, for some reason, the government did not ponder the consequences of their last ill-fated military adventure, which provoked widespread revolution).  All of them were in some sense foolish to think in this way.  (These three were the major Powers that contributed to the general war more than any other, except perhaps Britain with her dithering and indecision, so I focus on them.)  Instead of making decisions centered in the crisis of the moment, each Power assumed that the other would back down or act in precisely the same way as each one had done in the past; if everyone had done what he was “suposed” to do, if everyone had acted in just the same way as in 1908, there would have been no general war and the world would be much better off today.  Except that 1908 was unique and did not repeat, and because the July crisis was entirely different in nature–and this should have been clear to everyone at the time.  But the actors did not want, or were unable, to acknowledge many of the differences and plunged ahead. 

If it is a truism that every army fights the last war–and this is taken as an indictment of the military’s slowness to adapt to new circumstances–what can be said for foreign policy thinkers and public “intellectuals” (if we must call them that) who routinely embrace the idea of reliving the diplomacy and refighting the war of three or four wars ago?  If militaries are slow to adapt, these people show signs of being genuinely maladaptive in their inability to see things except through the lens of their preferred paradigmatic examples of international crisis.  Indeed, these paradigms are likely to distort and confuse us more than help our analysis of the situation, not least because certain examples–particularly the 1938 one–impose a moral and emotional weight on the debate that is dangerous and irresponsible.  If you treat this as 1938 and you really think Hitler is on the rise and about to launch his war, nothing is going to deter you from taking action against him, knowing what you know about Hitler.  This makes people get very excited and muddles their thinking.  There is also the problem that Hitler is dead and we are not actually facing Hitler redivivus.  Indeed, it may be that if we act now as some believe the West should have done in 1938 we will precipitate precisely the kind of disaster that we believe we are going to prevent.  Comparisons of this kind are fun, and they give us historians work to do, but they cannot be the basis for analysing international tensions with any effectiveness.  Besides, any ten year old can come up with these comparisons after watching enough History Channel propaganda.  Historians more than anyone know that it is our attention to historical differences that can tell us the most about any given period relative to others.  

Still, the Sunni terrorist would, and will once given the chance, make war on their Shi’ite counterparts once they inhabit the same expanse of land. Peel a layer off of the resentment and you’ll find the resurrected, feral war between Sunni and Shi’ite. ~Dennis Dale, Untethered

Mr. Dale’s post discusses the various problems of adhering strictly to the “occupation” narrative (hegemony breeds terrorism) in the light of the persistent hostility towards the West within Islam per se, and he makes a number of telling observations.  He is correct that hegemony and occupation do not explain everything, and they certainly don’t excuse anything that Islamic fanatics do.  But that isn’t actually what I wanted to talk about in relation to his post. 

What caught my attention was the above quote, which, in connection with the line from David Brooks the other day about the “Sunni-Shi’ite style of politics,” got me to thinking about something that I came across in recent years.  This was my discovery, hardly news to Islamicists (that is, scholars of the Islamic world), that the conventional description of the origins of the two sects in Islam–the dispute over succession to the Caliphate, made worse by the death of Husayn at the hands of Yazid–does not really describe the origin of the sharp sectarian divisions that later became much more stark, violent and significant.  The events of the seventh century acquired new and added significance as they were marshalled in the creation of much starker sectarian identities in later conflicts–perhaps similar to the process that early modern historians refer to as “confessionalisation.”  Though the first real hardening of the lines came in the ninth century, the establishment of the Fatimid caliphate in 969 was a significant event in re-politicising a dispute that had by and large had only limited political impact. 

I have heard it persuasively argued that real, ongoing sectarian hostility did not exist until it was actively fomented by the Safavids and the Ottomans starting in the late 16th century, as their fellow sectarians in the disputed lands in Mesopotamia became the tools of the rival imperial policies.  However, under the Qajars Iran exercised no aggressive foreign policy designs in the west and the sectarian rift ceased to have as much real political significance.  It is my impression that this had remained the case in most countries until very recently, except perhaps in Lebanon, where Shi’ites’ identity was strongly politicised during the civil war, and Pakistan.  In Iraq, however, obviously the disparity between the sect that had the preponderance of power and the sect that the government suppressed brutally in living memory politicised these divisions in a way that was not really typical of most other mixed Muslim communities (Pakistan, hotbed of jihadism, remains an important exception here). 

What brought all of this to mind was the description of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide as a “resurrected, feral war,” as if it were a primordial, visceral resentment based in centuries of traditional opposition, an “ancient hatred” to use the phrase invoked so often in the Balkans, when the communal hostility is of much more recent provenance with intelligible political causes.  Like the Serb-Croat bitterness inherited from the Croats’ genocidal handiwork in WWII, most of the scores being settled now in Iraq are likely to be relatively recent, probably even within the lifetime of the people settling the scores.  These conflicts draw on the ancient disputes and martyrs of the seventh century for their symbolism, but the violence we are seeing between the rival death squads is not so much “resurrected” from another time as it has simply been bottled up for years and then unleashed and allowed to run rampant.  Perhaps this is a lot of arguing over not much, but I recall that one of the basic problems Westerners had in understanding the Balkan conflicts was their presumption that they understood it by reference to the Schism of 1054 and the alleged “ancient hatred” that motivated the three sides, when the sources and reasons for their hatreds were very modern and rooted in the actions of the current actors’ immediate ancestors. 


Van Dyck’s Portrait of Charles I

If I had to think of one thing that prevented our War of Independence from degenerating into something like the dictatorship of the Commonwealth, I think it would have to be that our ancestors were never in a position to execute their King and were never forced to take that final, dreadful step of the revolutionary that so deeply tainted and marred the English, French and Russian Revolutions.  We could dismiss George III–we did not need to eliminate him.  In simply detaching ourselves from the monarchy, our rebellion remained identified with what our ancestors were fighting to preserve rather than institutions we were seeking to overthrow and destroy–though we were, of course, seeking to throw out the monarchy and its ministers–and so retained a basic sanity, a sense of limits and a respect for law that the Commonwealth, the Assembly and the Bolsheviks either never had or were unable to acquire after the shedding of royal blood.  It is interesting to note that Charles I was canonised by the Church of England after the Restoration for his refusal to reject the episcopacy, and Tsar-Martyr Nikolai is now venerated as a saint along with his family, the Holy Royal Martyrs, for their witness to the Faith at the time of their brutal execution by the Bolsheviks. 

This idea of a martyr-king typically strikes low church folks as obscene and tends to offend the more liberally inclined, even among the Orthodox, but it is something that all hierarchical churches seem to be able to understand and accept (the Catholics have St. Louis and pre-Conquest England had Edward the Confessor) in the conviction that the title Defensor Fidei or its equivalent means just what it says and is not a piece of grandiloquent fluff.  The martyr-king is the highest realisation of the role of Defensor Fidei, which makes his murderers by implication just about the epitome of apostasy and infidelity.  

Experience was the highest authority honored in their discourse of prudential things.  And by experience I mean, first of all, recorded  history, both written and remembered.  In Philadelphia, and then more frequently in the state ratification conventions, the Framers of the United States Constitution (Federalists and Antifederalists) argued from circumstance–from settled attachments, closed questions, prescriptive values, and the record–not from definition.  And, as we should learn to recognize, they reasoned thus with consequences that affected the final results of their exchange and the subsequent unfolding of our political history as a people. ~M.E. Bradford, Remembering Who We Are

In the political history of Western man, these narratives [of Iceland, Venice and the Netherlands] are not exceptional, but normative.  Quem patrem, what father, has more often than not been the political issue in the origination and development of European states which take their places on the stage of history before A.D. 1789.  I reflect on only a few of my favorites.  On that stage most men have either experienced despotism or the shelter of inherited rights.  On that stage almost no polity that was in any sense “founded” ever appears.  And those regimes which most thorough ignored the connection between ”the ancestral and the good” are those which we all despise: Cromwell’s England, Jacobin France, the Marxist tyrannies of the Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China, and Nazi Germany.  What modern men have done in the name of their favorite political paradigm is not an argument for a new Lycurgus or stricter devotion to what are usually called “political principles”–abstract theories concerning the essential nature of man before he enters the social condition. ~M.E. Bradford, Remembering Who We Are  

Israel is more than a country; it is an archetype.  The Jewish state is the supreme embodiment of the national principle: of the desire of every people to have their own state. ~Daniel Hannan, The Daily Telegraph

Do people who say these sorts of things expect to be taken seriously?  The nation-state has had many an “archetype” like this, many of them having rather unpleasant and destructive histories in service to an ideal principle of nationality.  Now I don’t begrudge these peoples their desires to have political independence; unlike most people, I do not run in terror from those who think that a community constituted of people mostly like themselves is the sane, normal and natural sort of community to have.  By and large, these sorts of people are right, and cosmopolitans, multiculturalists and the Church of Kumbayah are dead wrong when it comes to understanding what makes for functioning societies.  But I object strenuously to taking a real country with real people, which are far more important than any “national principle,” and making them seem less important than the abstraction that they are supposed to be embodying or representing.  “America is more than a country; it is a universal nation” is the sort of statement that makes me feel queasy, and the same goes when it is applied to other nations.  That Mr. Hannan dresses up his love of abstraction with support for British Euroskepticism (where does this come from?) and somehow makes this into an argument about Europe and basic assumptions about national and cultural identity is more annoying. 

That he would make the (in my view) appalling connection between “Zionist Conservatives” and the Roundheads and Whigs of Britain’s liberal tradition only serves to strengthen my feelings of contempt for this article, which has the outrageous title, “When we question Israel, we question democracy itself”.  Now, as readers will have gathered, I have no great love for democracy (the site is called Eunomia, after all), but this is a dirty rhetorical trick that can’t go unchallenged. 

What, you might ask, on God’s green earth do Roundheads have to do with Zionism (except perhaps for the Puritans’ rather unfortunate habit of identifying their dreadful regimes with the City on the Hill)?  Well, Mr. Hannan will tell you:

They [the Roundheads] believe in democracy, however messy its outcomes. They distrust elites and their opinions, and want power devolved to the lowest practicable level.

Yes, messy outcomes like massacre, regicide and oppression–”stuff happens,” does it not?  What that last part has to do with the concentrated power of a nation-state or a heavily socialised society such as one finds in Israel, no one can tell.  Of course, Roundheads also believed in treason, rebellion and regicide leading to republican despotism and government by the military.  They believed in religious oppression and social leveling.  The Whigs for their part were wealthy oligarchs who abused their positions to shape policy to suit private interests; they were traitors to their country on at least one prominent occasion; their understanding of human nature and society was risible.  If I were a Zionist, I would be deeply offended by the comparison, especially since this is supposed to be an argument in favour of Israel.  If I were a present-day democrat, I would be appalled that my values are being compared with those of Cromwell.  Parliamentary rule and revolutionary enthusiasms did lead to Cromwell’s dictatorship, which bears some characteristics of democratic depotism for that reason, but it was first and foremost a military dictatorship ruled by force and fear.

What about the other side?  Those Euro-loving Arabists?  Well, Mr. Hannan has a story about them, too:

The Euro-enthusiast/Arabists are Cavaliers. They think that democracy sometimes needs to be tempered by good sense, order and seemliness, and worry lest the wisdom of generations be overturned by a transient popular majority.

Now, mind you, this is showing up in the Telegraph, flagship paper of Toryism.  The modern Conservatives have relatively little to do with the Tories of old (alas), but British Toryism was foursquare in the tradition of the Cavaliers and the Royalists who came after them.  The name itself derives from a slur directed at Catholic Royalists in Ulster, toraigh (Gael., highwayman).  In short Mr. Hannan says that all good Conservatives today are the heirs of Lloyd George insofar as they support Israel and “democracy,” and anyone who dissents must be a “Cavalier”–as if this were some sort of insult for people who really understood what the old Tory tradition involved!  But I am confident it is intended as an insult–what greater ideological crime is there today than to be skeptical of democracy, much less a loyal defender of absolutist kings? 

Anyone who calls himself a Conservative and isn’t worried about tempering democracy with “good sense, order and seemliness” and who doesn’t worry that it will overturn the wisdom of generations in a fit of popular enthusiasm doesn’t know what conservatism is.  He doesn’t really have much business calling himself conservative at all, much less lecturing other people about what they as conservatives should or shouldn’t believe.

But there’s more.  Get a load of this contrast:

The Roundhead is philo-Semitic: it was Cromwell himself who brought Jews back to England. When he looks at the Middle East, his sympathy - in the literal sense of fellow-feeling - is with Israel, a state that, even while fighting for its survival, has retained a boisterous parliamentary system, a free press and independent courts.

The Cavalier, by contrast, regrets the displacement of a traditional, hierarchical society by a brash and consumerist one. His sympathy is with the simple Bedouin in his flowing robes. He admires Glubb Pasha and T. E. Lawrence, and believes that Britain has obligations to its old friends - Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies.

So Mr. Hannan apparently believes that Britain has no obligations to old friends and seems to align being philo-Semitic with an enthusiasm for brash consumerism (which, if uttered by one of the Arabists, would be taken as positive proof of the man’s anti-Semitism).  Is any of this supposed to make the Arabists feel that they have gone awry?  As far as I’m concerned any conservative worthy of the name regrets the onset of brash consumerism and the departure of traditional, hierarchical society.  That does not make him an automatic friend of Bedouin sheikhs, nor does it make him into a member of the T.E. Lawrence fan club.  There is hierarchical society, and then there’s hierarchical society.  What any of it has necessarily to do with a man’s view of Israel’s campaign in Lebanon or his view of Israel in general is entirely obscure. 

But it doesn’t stop there (how could it?):

The Roundhead is pro-American. He loves the story of a nation founded in a popular revolt against a remote regime. He inclines, in particular, toward the Republicans: heirs, both lineally and ideologically, to the American Whigs. He revels in the pluralism of US democracy, where everyone from the sheriff to the garbage man is elected. The Cavalier, on the other hand, thinks that so much democracy opens the door to populism and crassness. He thinks that American foreign policy, especially in its current form, is crowd-pleasing and lacking in subtlety.

But American foreign policy is lacking in subtlety.  Whether it is “crowd-pleasing” any longer is debatable (ask the 60% who oppose the Iraq war whether they are pleased or not).  Democracy does  open the door to populism and crassness–look around you!  Now it might be that democracy has virtues, or it might be that it is the best system of government available (I deny both claims), but to deny that is encourages the mediocre and debases the culture is to deny what the last century and a half of history in the West has shown us.  The Roundheads, Whigs and Red Republicans are linked together indeed, but why on earth would a sane Tory want to have anything to do with any of them?  Mr. Hannan then tells of one of the contemporary “Cavaliers”, a Mr. Soames, MP:

Like all good Cavaliers, he values outcomes over process, and frets that Britain’s interests are being jeopardised by a dogmatic foreign policy.

But isn’t it the democratist and neocon complaint that their opponents are obsessed with process and uninterested in concrete results?  Now the “Cavaliers” are preoccupied with outcomes and not process, and this is supposed to be a mark against them?  How?  How is valuing competence and success over idealistic procedures of voting and popular government the wrong way to go?  But before  he concludes he offers a horrifying vision of the future:

Time would seem to be on Mr Gove’s side. Most younger Tories are pro-Israel, pro-Washington, anti-Brussels. A majority of the new intake has endorsed the manifesto of Roundhead Conservatism, Direct Democracy, first serialised in this newspaper, which proposes the massive decentralisation and democratisation of the British state, and whose very language is Cromwellian: the authors call for a “New Model Party”, whose politicians should adopt a “Self-Denying Ordinance” towards the exercise of state power.

I cannot comprehend why anyone would boast of his intellectual and spiritual affinity to one of Europe’s first dictators.  If they are truly committed to decentralism, surely the language of Harrington or Bolingbroke or some other member of the Country tradition would be far more suitable.   I can entertain friendly thoughts about authoritarianism now and again under certain conditions, but full-on fanatical despotism backed by no legitimacy except brute force?  That is the language and symbolism that Tories have chosen to take into the future? 

Peter Hitchens is right–the Tories ought to be dissolved, if this is the sort of hideous political morality their younger members are imbibing.  Can you imagine a Frenchman boasting that his party’s members owe their inspiration to Robespierre?  Actually, that might not be surprising–Americans wrap themselves in the mantle of Lincoln with a sickening frequency, so what’s one more cult of personality for a brutal despot?  Perhaps Cromwell represents what Daniel Pipes called a “democratically-minded strongman.”  You know, like Chiang Kai-shek, friend of democracy.

So what was the point of this torturous journey through the highways and byways of Whiggish ideological fervour?  It is, as it began, all about Israel (or rather explaining why it isn’t really about Israel, which makes everything Israel has done OK):

The current controversy isn’t only about Israel. It is about whether sovereign states can act unilaterally, whether we trust the UN and other supra-national bodies, whether the West is prepared to use proportionate force in defence of its values and, ultimately, whether democracy is worth having.

This is almost unworthy of a response.  But it seems to be typical of today’s Roundheads: if you make reasonable criticisms of Israeli excesses, you are not only subverting the entire Western world (dubious) but are also attacking our very system of government at its roots (a lie).  No one on the British (or American) right rejected Israel’s right to defend itself; no one rejected Israel’s right to “act unilaterally”; no one rejected the objective of punishing Hizbullah’s provocations.  What many people, including “Cavaliers” on both sides of the ocean, have rejected is the excessive means Israel has used and the punishment it has inflicted on all of Lebanon, which might also have some claim to the same rights under the law of nations that Mr. Hannan so vigorously upholds on behalf of Israel. 

And another thing: if Israel were using proportionate force, I would have no strong objections to the campaign itself.  Certainly, my criticisms would be much less severe.  I might question the wisdom of it and ask whether the long-term consequences would be what Israel’s government wants them to be, but I would hardly have criticised the campaign itself to the extent that I have. 

But, to use the categories that Mr. Hannan has chosen to use, Israel’s apologists here and in Britain have typically cheered on the campaign or at least looked on it with indifference with the very same spirit of cruel fanaticism and violence that inspired the Roundheads.  The moderate, humane Cavalier gentlemen, by contrast, look at this zeal with the same horror that they felt when the rebels butchered their King or sold their country to a Dutch invader; they view with disdain the paper theories of Neo-Roundheads and Neo-Jacobins and consider them the source of great misery and human suffering, and not without reason.  Why the Tories should want to go down the dark path that leads to the feet (and boot) of Cromwell, whom all decent Tories have loathed since time immemorial, is a mystery; why Mr. Hannan thinks this love affair with Cromwell is something to celebrate is baffling. 

It would truly be a shame if honest sympathy and goodwiil for Israel, such as that displayed by Mr. Hitchens, were to be yoked inextricably to the revolutionary fanaticism of Pym and Cromwell, the Covenanters and the Whigs.  It is just such a fanatical mentality that precipitates these crises and encourages the worst instincts in men.  It has nothing to do with an appreciation for democracy, which would be rooted in a respect for all men, and it has no bearing on sympathy for Israel, which may finds its roots in a genuine feeling of belonging to a common history, and everything to do with a bizarre obsession with power, of which Cromwell’s illegitimate, bloody dictatorship is the perfect symbol. 

Perhaps there is need to dig up Cromwell’s body again and stage yet another mock execution, as Charles II did after the Restoration, to drive the point home that the man was a traitor and a scoundrel.  Those who would create a Cromwellian style in politics or use Cromwellian language are not simply unconservative; they are verging on very dark and troubled ideological territory.  If the new Roundheads cannot see the evils of Cromwell, why indeed should the “Cavaliers” take seriously their arguments about the morality of the war in Lebanon or indeed about much else?   

Over at NRO, Victor Davis Hanson once again indulges in the neocon obsession over the 1930’s, in a column titled “The Brink of Madness.” (Hanson may want to save that title for the next collection of his columns.) But this time, he also swings at some targets that no one at National Review would have attacked in the magazine’s heyday. He compares the “rise of fascism” in Spain to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, ignoring the fact that Franco fought to save Catholic Spain from Communist butchery, kept Spain neutral in World War II, and was later an American ally in the Cold War, facts well known to an earlier generation of National Review writers. Indeed, James Burnham’s successor as NR’s foreign affairs columnist was Brian Crozier, a biographer of Franco and an unabashed admirer.

Even more amazingly, he criticizes the “fantasies” of “Pope Pius,” writing that it is “baffling to consider that such men ever had any influence.” The great historian does not tell us which Pope Pius he is criticizing, Pius XI, who authored the anti-Nazi encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge” and told Belgian pilgrims in 1938 that “it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism,” or Pius XII, who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and who so enraged the Nazis that there were plans to kidnap him. In any event, either Pius is a giant in comparison to all the neocon pygmies such as Hanson, and the truly baffling thing is why anyone listens to the counsel of those who thought that Iraq would be a “cakewalk,” that American troops there would be welcomed as liberators, and that the example of Iraq would create a pro-American democratic movement throughout the Middle East. ~Tom Piatak, Cultural Revolutions Online (Chronicles)

Tom might also add that any real student of 20th century history would know that Franco’s regime had only a smattering of the syndicalist Falangists and that Franco consistently limited their influence and power in the regime.  Besides the Falangists, there were no fascist elements worth mentioning in the Franco regime, which was distinctly Catholic, conservative and authoritarian in nature, as Stanley Payne has set down in great detail in his History of Fascism and The Franco Regime.  Proper students of fascism are aware of the significant difference between conservative authoritarian regimes and genuine fascist regimes.  Inded, the careless, flippant (dare we say ignorant?) use of the term fascist by those on the neocon “right” not only betrays their debt to the tired harangues of Marxists but also their inability to categorise any political system they reject in terms that do not refer to 1930s-40s Germany and Italy.  Once again the sadly limited historical perspective of the neocons is on display.

The idea that contemporary Venezuela represents a social model superior to liberal democracy is absurd. ~Francis Fukuyama

Via Steve Sailer

Of course, it is absurd to think that contemporary Venezuela is superior to very many things.  But Fukuyama misses everything important when he says this, as he often does.  Something that seems to forever elude Fukuyama (in addition to his ignoring the salience of questions of race and ethnicity as forms of identity that are very powerful in driving history, as Steve Sailer notes correctly today) is that rival ideologies and worldviews might, in fact, be absurd, inferior and doomed to ongoing failure in their attempts to acquire the political and economic goods that could improve certain aspects of life for billions, but this is entirely irrelevant to whether or not people will embrace them.  It is irrelevant whether these ideologies actually ever “provide the goods” or are even capable of providing them: what matters is that the ideology appears to be true, appears to make sense and, in this day and age, appears to represent an alternative to American and Western models, be they “neo-liberal,” “neoconservative,” “liberal democratic” or what-have-you. 

Ideology is not so much a way of seeing the world as it is a set of blinders designed to keep you going in the ‘right’ direction, even when you would normally bolt and run the other way from horror at the sight of the place your faceless rider, Ideology, is taking you.  Read the rest of this entry »

Compare the English revolutions of 1642 and 1688. The first was violent; the second was not. ~Jesse Walker, Reason

I’m sorry, but this is hardly credible.  The armed invasion by William of Orange in 1688 was relatively less violent than the Great Rebellion because James II gave up before there could be a prolonged fight (there were two major battles in the last months of 1688 after the landing on 5 November and several instances of bloody anti-Catholic rioting), but that’s all.  It’s not as if there were any pacific intentions on the part of the stadholder and the Whig (and some Tory) traitors who aided him.  Once the Royalists rallied in Ireland and Scotland, the revolution became quite bloody and it would have been just as bloody earlier had James II stayed in England to continue to fight the usurper.  As it was, William offered James a way out, and James took it. 

But the war raged on for two years once James connected with his natural supporters.  Anyone familiar with the song Glencoe knows that the new regime was brutal and tyrannical in its suppression of hostile clans in the Highlands:

And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,

And murdered the house o’ MacDonald 

Its harsh treatment of Ireland and the bloody legacy of Orange victory in Ulster needs no introduction.  The “Glorious Revolution” was a coup for the benefit of a narrow oligarchy, a sort of establishment that everyone in the Country tradition of dissent from the Jacobites to Jefferson despised with good reason, in part because it did not diffuse power and instead concentrated it in the Whig oligarchy.  Whatever else might be said in favour of the constitutional protections  confirmed after this invasion abetted by traitors, it cannot be said that it was a “peaceful transformation.”  It is also rather hard to take that the 1688 revolution ”advanced religious liberty” when it came at the expense of murdered Catholics.    

But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Via Rod Dreher

Pardon the flip question in the title, but as someone who studies the seventh century in particular I do sometimes grow tired of hearing how we are fighting people from the middle ages or from the seventh century.  They are actually from our own time, as hard as it may be to believe.  I suppose I know what people who say this are trying to say: they are backwards, they have values from “the dark ages,” etc. 

But even when I realise that they are trying (and failing) to say this, I am unimpressed, because there is nothing more modern than guerrilla insurgents and ideological terrorism.  While Islam has been violent since its inception, and violence is written into its genes, so to speak, it is obscure at best to say that Israel or anyone else is fighting people from the seventh century, as if Muhammad himself were firing off the Katyushas (to a Muslim audience, this would make Hizbullah look even better than it already does!).  In fact, most Islamic revival movements desperately seek to restore the “purity” and “nobility” of the original Islam of the seventh century, so referring to Hizbullah as being from the seventh century is probably unwittingly a compliment of the highest order.  (That this sort of rhetoric about the medievalism of our enemies is often followed by invocations of the glories of Cordoba and the wonders of the Islamic Golden Age, which were nothing if not medieval, only makes things worse.)  

If it were literally true that the terrorists were from the seventh century, the modern folks ought to have a notable military advantage over people who would have to be getting up there in years and who would still not have figured out gunpowder.  It is a sloppy, stupid expression, the sort that I have come to expect from Mr. Hanson and many of his colleagues, because it betrays the sloppy thinking that leads them to conclude that we are re-living 1938 or 636 or whichever year is most convenient for scaring thinking people into quiet submission and acquiescence to an excessive military campaign.  This campaign has done nothing so much as to renew in the eyes of the Arab world Hizbullah’s hitherto defunct claim to be a resistance movement, thus doing more long-term damage to the interests of the “humane democracy” and more long-term good for those time-travelling terrorists than any “appeasement” (the word Mr. Hanson and many associates use for any policy that does not involve bombing someone) could have done.  Indeed, the deaths of approximately 900 civilians and the displacement of perhaps as many as one million Lebanese is so startling an example of overkill and overreaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers that Hanson must have recourse to the old remedy of shouting appeasement, because even he must know that the cause for which he is shilling has lost what honour it had.

Though the comparison is overused, it’s nevertheless hard to avoid comparisons between now and then. Earlier this year, speaking at the Pew Forum, Bernard Lewis remarked that to him, it feels like 1938 all over again, with the spirit of appeasement in the air. ~Rod Dreher

The comparison is overused, but I think it actually exceedingly easy to avoid comparisons between 1938 and 2006.  I have managed to go the entire year so far without making one such comparison, and I feel confident that I can hold out until the end of the year.  Besides the significant differences in geography, geopolitics, the relative disparity of power between the two sides, the ideology of the adversary (in this case, Hizbullah and, at a remove, Iran), the probability of the adversary annexing or conquering other countries (which at present for Hizbullah and Iran is zero), and the military-industrial capacity of the power we are ”appeasing” (which, in Iran’s case, is miniscule compared to our own), there is also the reality that history is a series of unrepeatable, unique events that will never be duplicated at any other time.  It cannot ever be “1938 all over again,” and it will not even be that close.  The number of contingencies that would have to repeat themselves to create circumstances even remotely similar boggles the mind, and this is true even when we set the bar low enough to allow for the repetition of the pattern “nasty authoritarian regime threatens others and embarks on series of wars.”  In fact, this is not making use of history at all, but the eternal replaying of the modern democratic morality play that itself caricatures history in which the besieged democracy or democracies are reluctantly dragged into conflict by yet another kooky authoritarian: Athens is forever under attack by Sparta and/or Persia.  It is a powerful construct, emphasising at once vulnerability and danger from the outside and the basic nobility and superiority of our institutions and people, which is why so many people accept it and wind up following the next Pied Piper to their doom.  The morality play may occasionally contain some truth (sometimes democracies are besieged by aggressive regimes, whether oligarchic, despotic or other), but it usually creates a fortress mentality among Westerners and causes them to make all sorts of dire apocalyptic pronouncements about present-day conflicts that are entirely out of proportion to the reality.   

Unrepeatability is one reason why history is not a science, because its phenomena cannot be reproduced and so cannot be subjected to the scientific method.  It is a common human impulse to want to see similarities and patterns, because they want to believe that we can avoid the mistakes of the past on the assumption that we know which past episode we are currently ”re-living.”  But we cannot avoid the mistakes of the past–for one thing, they are in the past.  We can only avoid the mistakes of the present, and we do this by making sober assessments of the dangers that exist, not conjuring up spectres of threats long dead and superimposing them on new threats so as to make them seem more dangerous than they really are.  Typically, those who engage in this summoning of spirits have a particular purpose in mind, and their agenda may not be the wisest course of action.  Three years ago, it was also 1938 in Iraq and we had to “do something” to stop the crazy dictator, except that it turned out to be much more like ”1920″ instead and we found ourselves to be imperialists in the middle of a Mesopotamian rebellion.  The 1938-ites were wrong then, and they are, alas, wrong again now, at least insofar as it concerns the scope and gravity of the threat, whether from Iran and Hizbullah or from another source. 

Past events do give us rough guidelines, the occasional hints for how we should proceed, but they do not provide us with ready-made models or paradigms for policy, and it is likely that an excessive obsession with viewing all crises through the lens of 1938 will cause people to miscalculate and make tragic errors that need not have happened but for their own overeagerness to stop the next Hitler.  The sentiments of never again have managed to bring quite a lot of unnecessary death and destruction to places as various as Yugoslavia, Iraq and perhaps also Lebanon, which is hardly what the people who first spoke them probably intended and which hardly does this sentiment much credit.  For his part, Prof. Lewis should know better than to say things like this, but his biases are, I’m sorry to say, hardly a secret when it comes to the contemporary politics of the Near East. 

If this alternate history teaches us anything about our own timeline, it is that the Union victory was a heaven-sent blessing. The timeline Turtledove constructed on the basis of a CSA victory is a much darker and nastier place, but it is a very plausible and convincing counterfactual. ~Prof. Bainbridge

The first rule of counterfactuals is that the assumptions of the historian writing the counterfactual effectively become a sort of iron law of history that shapes everything else that ‘happens’.  This is a case not just of bias shaping interpretation, but bias becoming the very logic of the new history itself.  Further, in writing counterfactuals Turtledove seems to start with the effect he wants to have happen, and then contrives the causes that will get him there.  If Turtledove already believed that the CSA was perfidious and nasty, he would set up his counterfactual timeline in such a way as to make the most out of this belief, and then, surprise, the alternate timeline he creates is also dark and nasty.  Not pulling any punches, he tells us that if the CSA won it would have, within a couple generations, been on the verge of racial genocide.  This is not the product of a carefully balanced consideration of probabilities and a weighing of possible consequences–this is a denunciation of the South, pure and simple, that forces the conclusions the author wants because he started from the assumption that the Confederacy was simply evil or something very close to it.  That Prof. Bainbridge swallows this and deems it “plausible” is most unfortunate.  

If this alternate history teaches us anything about our own timeline, it is that the Union victory was a heaven-sent blessing. The timeline Turtledove constructed on the basis of a CSA victory is a much darker and nastier place, but it is a very plausible and convincing counterfactual. If the South was able to justify slavery and Jim Crow, it’s not hard to imagine a CSA that loses World War I churning up a Hitler-clone with plans for a black Holocaust. Lincoln was right: The CSA had to be beaten to preserve the last best hope. ~Prof. Bainbridge

I should go easy on Harry Turtledove.  He is the only man I know of who got a degree in Byzantine studies and then went on to become very successful writing fiction novels, proving that there is life after a Ph.D. in Byzantine history and offering hope to all graduate students who have chosen to teach in a field that is only slightly more popular in the United States than French New Wave cinema.  

As a Byzantinist, Turtledove did a competent job translating into English an important section of the Chronographia of Theophanes Confessor, but then went on to fame and relative fortune as the author of a series of counterfactual historical novels that played out the consequences of a Southern victory in the War of Secession.  Whenever people ask what I plan to do professionally, I say, of course, that I intend become a history teacher.  Shortly after that fails to interest them, I will add: “Of course, Harry Turtledove became a novelist, so you never know….”  But, for all that, I have never been moved to read his counterfactual stories, because they seem to be irredeemably unimaginative in their overall structure.  As Prof. Bainbridge summarises well enough, Turtledove takes what actually happened in Europe from the unification of Germany through WWII, changes the names, identifies the Confederates with the presumed Bad Guys of our history and basically retells the same story, but with the CSA, not Germany, as the locus of all evil.  Read the rest of this entry »

But even if Israel somehow loses this war, through incompetent Israeli tactics or superior Hezbollah strategy, that does not, in itself, prove the war was unjust by reason of lacking a “reasonable chance of success.” The North came very close to losing the Civil War; if Early had taken Washington when he had the chance, or the bluecoats had broken at Gettysburg, the South might have won. Would those events have made Lincoln an unjust warrior? ~Joseph Bottum

This unfortunate question by Mr. Bottum, which comes in response to some interesting notes of limited skepticism about Lebanon and Iraq from Ross Douthat, is supposed to be a sort of rhetorical slam dunk: no one would be so crazy as to suggest that Father Abraham was not a “just warrior”!  There is also a reference to FDR, but that would take us too far afield into the history of that man’s particular tyranny.  But let that wait for a minute. 

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“Thanks to the Spanish Army and Franco the Communist attack on Catholic Spain was thwarted,” Prof. Giertych told the European Parliament. “The presence of such people in European politics as Franco guaranteed the maintenance of traditional values in Europe and we lack such statesmen today. Christian Europe is losing against atheistic socialists today and this has to change.”

“I thought it was necessary to remind listeners in the EU Parliament,” the Professor said later, “that this was not an anti-democratic movement, but a movement that was in defense of certain values that are inherent in the Catholic way of seeing things pertinent to government to run civil society. The uprising was a defense of Catholic Spain, so the civil war in Spain was a conflict between Catholic Spain and communist Spain.” The Professor also used his speech to praise António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal’s Catholic dictator who, like Franco, managed to keep his country free from the devastation of the Second World War. (Salazar was also a very close friend of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith, who claimed in his memoirs that if Salazar had lasted a few more years, Rhodesia would still exist today). ~Andrew Cusack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted at Enchridion Militis

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have been reading Lauro Martines’ Fire in the City, a revisionist account of Savonarola, which I plan to review more fully in another post. But let me offer some preliminary remarks first. The book goes a long way towards increasing my understanding and my respect for this often misunderstood and denigrated figure. If the purpose of history is to understand men in the past in terms of their own time and place, Martines’ Fire in the City is one of the best works of history I have ever read. It has also confirmed my impression that those who invoke Savonarola’s name as a term of abuse or compare their adversaries in debate to Savonarola as a way of dismissing their arguments must know next to nothing about the man’s career and unwittingly align themselves with forces of tyranny and moral corruption. This is not simply because Savonarola preached against moral corruption and the tyranny of the Medicis, though he did this, but that the targets of his preaching were in many respects every bit as bad as he made them out to be. His claims to a kind of prophecy were extreme and hard to credit, but as Martines explains 15th century Italian preachers frequently claimed that God was speaking through them.
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There is a historicist approach that is compatible with the notion of transhistorical order and probably even with the notion of transcendence, understood in a new way. ~Claes Ryn, “Defining Historicism,” Humanitas 11.2 (1998): 86-101

Thanks to reader Michael Keegan for sending me a copy of Prof. Ryn’s article on historicism. This presents a much more interesting view of an idea that I unfortunately first encountered by way of Karl Popper’s very odd interpretations of history and ideas in history.

On a somewhat related matter, it strikes me as particularly funny that those of us who were defending the “crunchy con” idea were frequently accused by one group of “sacralising politics” and putting too much emphasis on transcendence and the Permanent Things and now find ourselves accused on the other side of rejecting transcendent truth because we place too much importance on tradition. That suggests to me that we are probably close to the right balance, or we are at least headed in the right direction.

Here is some interesting news I discovered this morning: there is a new Savonarola book that has been published this year. It is called The Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence by Lauro Martines, and its dust jacket tells us that Prof. Martines offers a different, more sympathetic account for the 15th century Dominican friar of “bonfire of the vanities” fame.

There are possible pitfalls in any revisionist account of the friar’s career, which fall into the categories of the painfully anachronictic “forerunner of the Reformation” mythology with which Savonarola used to be more directly associated and the equally anachronistic “tribune of the people” or “voice of the oppressed” sort of interpretation that Marxists and postmodernists alike tend to apply to any “dissident” figure in pre-modern history. I am fairly hopeful that this will be neither, and will instead challenge the simplistic depiction of Savonarola as fanatic and demagogue and will attempt to understand the man in the context of his time and give a full accounting of the different aspects of his character and career. This will probably not make him out to be a saint, as some Dominicans have tried to make him out to be over the years, but it should show him as something more than the stereotype of a terrifying theocrat from Damon Linker’s nightmares. Those better versed in Italian history are in a better position to judge whether Prof. Martines has succeeded with this work, but I will offer my own meager assessment from my perspective as a student of another field of history once I have had a chance to read it.
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One might start the bill of particulars with the mask itself. It’s a caricature of Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 tried to blow up King James I and both houses of Parliament and as a consequence is burned in effigy each Nov. 5. It’s true, I suppose, that as time has passed, Fawkes’s memory has eroded into something warm and cozy. But the real Guy Fawkes was a bit of nasty business, and had he succeeded, it would have been the 9/11 of British history, and his reasons were as spurious as the guys’ who took the planes into the buildings: It was religion vs. religion. You’d think that stuff would be gone from the world, but four centuries later it’s still around. ~Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post

After reading the reviews by Daniel McCarthy and Leon Hadar, I was already looking forward to seeing V for Vendetta. Aware that John Podhoretz has trashed the movie, I was becoming very keen to see it on the assumption that someone so wrong about so many things also probably has bad taste in movies.

Then I read Stephen Hunter’s review, which in some ways actually strikes me as worse and more annoying than Podhoretz’s, but for an entirely different reason. He doesn’t like the movie, of course, but then he takes this odd shot at Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot with one of those statements that required just enough knowledge to show Mr. Hunter to be semi-educated.

It has reminded me of something else potentially far more worrying than strange characters blowing up government buildings: progressives really believe in Progress and think a significant part of Progress is the diminution or irrelevance of religious belief as a significant motivating factor in human affairs. After 400 years, it should be a thing of the past, yet it keeps cropping up–how unfortunate! After 400 years, shouldn’t we all have moved past even remembering, fondly or not so fondly, a character such as Guy Fawkes? Someone who moved to fight a tyrannical government from purely political motives (”for freedom”) would be lauded and approved, I suppose, but to do it for “spurious” reasons of religion suddenly makes Fawkes an undesirable.

Give a Guy a Chance!

One gets the impression that if Guy Fawkes had had “good” reasons to blow up Parliament (you know, like the promotion of greater democracy, which makes the bombardment of Iraqi villages moral and upright) everything would be fine. If, like Aristogeiton and Harmodios’ private murder of Hipparkhos, he had killed James I over a homosexual lovers’ quarrel, the official progressive story would tell us that Guy Fawkes was a hero and a great defender of the rights of Englishmen, etc. He would also be lionised out of all proportion as a conscientious hero, who fought against a regime that oppressed him and his fellow Catholics.

Oh, but wait, there’s the rub. You can’t be a Catholic fighting against Protestant oppression. Certainly not in the 17th century, and not really at any time after that. (It’s also very, very hard to be a traditional Catholic and engaged in a homosexual lovers’ quarrel.) Everyone who believes in Progress knows that Catholicism hasn’t got anything to do with resisting tyranny–no, in the official story, Catholicism is part of the oppression (as is Christianity more generally, but of the different kinds of Christianity Catholicism is among the ‘worst’ in the progressive hall of shame) and nothing more. I’ll leave it to actual Catholics to explain how the entire theory of the justified resistance to tyranny is one of their contributions to our civilisation, and to tell how no other religious tradition other than the Christian has ever so consistently and thoroughly elaborated such a theory.

In the progressive view, to commemorate Guy Fawkes would be like commemorating Andreas Hofer’s resistance against Napoleon or admiring the resistance of the Don Cossacks fighting the Bolsheviks. No one would want to say anything in praise of some “backwards” Tyrolean patriot resisting the godless French or the crude, often brutal Cossacks who had more of a sense of honour and decency in their moustaches than all the Bolsheviks combined possessed. No, it is far better to venerate right-thinking people who order whole cities to be fire-bombed, allow entire regions to be laid waste or order attacks on countries for reasons that are not so spurious as “religion vs. religion.” You know, like freedom.

That reminds me of a great quote from Chesterton’s Napoleon of Notting Hill (an unfortunately named, wonderful book–honestly, I have never understood Chesterton and Belloc’s enthusiasm for the French Revolution and her impious offspring). Here is Adam Wayne, the hero of the novel, speaking to the cynical King Auberon:

I say here, and I know well what I speak of, there were never any necessary wars but the religious wars. There were never any just wars but the religious wars. There were never any humane wars but the religious wars. For these men were fighting for something that claimed, at least, to be the happiness of man, the virtue of a man.

Ostensibly or actually “reactionary” opponents of tyranny and political insanity cannot be admired when they resist injustice, because the progressives’ commemorating opponents of injustice has usually had less to do with defending a principle of justice and more to do with using history to batter their opponents in the present. Thus the basically honourable men who fought on the “regressive” side of so many conflicts are treated with contempt, turned into jokes a la Guy Fawkes or simply forgotten, while the “progressive” side, no matter its atrocities, moral ambiguities and dishonourable conduct, will receive nothing but praise and lauds. In the official story, in which all that silly religious superstition ought to have died out long ago (and along with anyone supposedly daft enough to be motivated by his religion to take direct action), there can be no starkly religious opponents of injustice fighting against oppression commemorated, unless they fit into the far more “warm and cozy” mould of a Bonhoeffer. Once religion has been cast in the role of a prop for oppressors and the tool of villains, as it usually is for the progressives (and also perhaps for the makers of Vendetta), the idea of a committed religious person who is not simply using religious language as a prop for expressly political concerns (be it social justice or the Union) ceases to make sense. Someone who is at once traditionally religious and motivated by his religion to take political action of one kind or another can only be frightening and threatening, and not heroic in any way. Chesterton disagrees, and so do I.
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Islam has, throughout the history of its aggression against the West, benefited immensely by, and in many cases cunningly exploited the divisions within the West. Some of the first Byzantine provinces to fall after the Mohammedan Revolution were those, like Egypt and North Africa, whose internal repose had already been shattered by the conflagrations of the great heresies of Christian antiquity. Many Arian, Nestorian, and Donatist communities had been subject to oppressions and persecutions from the Empire in the decades immediately preceding the rise of Islam, and they welcomed the Muslim invader, even, in some cases, collaborated with him. ~Paul Cella, Enchiridion Militis

Paul Cella’s post makes on the one hand a very important, albeit somewhat indirect appeal for Christian unity against Islam and on the other points to the Islamic world’s capacity to absorb the resources of the regions it takes over and redirect them against its new foes. All of that makes a good deal of sense (though I am not quite so sanguine at the prospect of an Islamic Europe being in any meaningful sense preferrable to the current dispensation), and I applaud and recommend the post on those grounds.

However, the Byzantinist in me cannot really go along with the first paragraph of the post, because it is my firm opinion that the myth of collaboration, specifically monophysite collaboration, with the Islamic invader is unfounded in the evidence and anachronistic in its interpretation of the attitudes of the Roman Christians whose loyalty to their ecumenical polity is being traduced. Very simply, there is no evidence of monophysites collaborating with the Islamic invader. In fairness to Paul, this is something that Byzantinists have only been coming around to in the last 20 years or so and it has not penetrated very far beyond the scholars themselves. In fact, I am taking a view that is a bit contrarian, so you will be able to find a number of learned authors who would challenge the interpretation I’m giving here, but I want to assure everyone that this seems the most reliable interpretation of the evidence that we have so far.

There were cases of opportunistic individual collaboration during the invasions, as there always would have been, but every monophysite source we know condemns these collaborators and the invaders alike. There are examples in the seventh century of certain Armenian princes who sided with the Muslims as part of their resistance of the authority of the empire, and this was never entirely separate from resistance to church union imposed from Constantinople, but such collaboration as and when it did happen was determined by very specific political circumstances and was the exception and not the rule.

To the mind of the monophysite bishop and historian, John of Nikiu, who flourished at the end of the seventh century, the coming of Islam was a disaster brought on their empire by the Chalcedonians. Earlier, the Chalcedonian poet George of Pisidia had regarded the monophysites as Persian collaborators–not because there was evidence of any real collaboration during the invasion, but because they were supposedly objectively hostile to the Roman empire on account of their false doctrines. They had to be collaborators, because collaboration is the sort of thing heretics would do. But all other evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Moderns who may be looking for popular guerrilla uprisings of monophysites against the Islamic invaders or the like (which is apparently the only thing that would convince some people that the schism had little significance for the success of Islam) are expecting to see something that would never have happened in a late antique or early medieval society. Attributing capitulations of cities to religious dissent overlooks rather more straightforward answers, such as wanting to avoid having one’s city sacked and devastated, and seeks deep structural reasons for Byzantine military failure that are sometimes as easy to explain as the Byzantines’ losing particular engagements in the field for reasons that are mostly limited to the tactical situation in the battle itself.

The polemical constructions of seventh century imperial elites and the very modern assumptions of historians about what religious loyalties must have meant for pre-modern political loyalties (heretics must be traitors in an Orthodox empire when push comes to shove), based more in the history of the 16th and 17th centuries or perhaps even in the experiences of colonialism, have conspired to make the monophysites into the people who practically opened the gates to the Islamic invasions. However much it might flatter certain attitudes towards the monophysites, it was not the case and we should not base any analysis on history that is this badly flawed.
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Heraclius had better luck against the Persians…

This blog is usually political, cultural and religious in its focus, and scholarly and professional questions usually come up only tangentially. But there is an interesting shift in some of the thinking about Rome and late antiquity that is taking place that should be of more general interest and merits a few comments.

Just from the brief summaries of two new books on late Roman history that have come out recently, I sense that the scholarship is turning back to the model of decline and fall that late antique historians, especially cultural historians, have worked so strenuously to put in the background. Part of this was surely necessary, as the claim that Roman cities underwent “change” but not “decline” was simply a way of avoiding taking the real structural, physical and economic changes in account. It was also a way of protecting late antiquity against the charges of being a derivative and inferior age, charges from which it (and Byzantium along with it) has only just recently begun to escape.

With the increasing prominence of archaeology in general studies of late antique history, it has become much harder to ignore the physical shrinking of the Roman city and a fundamental transformation in its character. Prof. Liebeschuetz in The Decline and Fall of the Roman City sets forth the archaeological evidence that shows this very convincingly.

It is very right to recognise that the breakdown of the curial classes was part and parcel of the creation of the new Byzantine state and its Christianised society (as the exemptions granted to curiales for work in the civil service, clery and Constantinopolitan senatorial aristocracy sucked the lifeblood from traditional Roman urbanism, or, to put it less dramatically, transferred these resources to other goods), but to do this one has to take account of the real consequences this had for the cities, and these consequences were, at a structural level, largely negative.

If later Roman historians are now demolishing this and other aspects of the rhetoric of “transformation” in late antique history, answering Piganiol’s question about the death of Rome (assassination or natural causes?) with a definite, if not quite so blunt, “assassination” verdict (which, as far as the west was concerned, Jones had accepted long ago), it bears remembering why the rhetoric of “transformation” seemed compelling for many scholars over the last 40 years.

There were two good reasons why late antique historians took this approach. First, there was a real need to shore up the idea of the period from roughly 395-600 (or 284-717 or 306-622–the boundaries are always a bit fuzzy) as something other than its conventional, dismissive association with the idea of a general “Dark Ages” bequeathed to us by classicists and liberal historians for whom the collapse of empire and the consequent birth of Christendom were the great calamities of ancient history. Second, on a related point, inherent in modern classicism and the liberal slant given to it by Gibbon and others who shared his prejudice against Christianity is the conviction that not only did political institutions and economic life decline in this period, but also that late antique culture was basically inferior in every respect that mattered to classicists: the literature was worse, because there was less secular literature and reams of theological and hagiographical writing, and the religion supposedly less reasonable and more fanatical almost by definition. Changes of meaning were viewed through the same lens of decline, which implicitly devalued and belittled the cultural achievements of the Christian empire.

These judgements could not stand and, happily, have been fading for decades, almost certain never to return in their older, cruder forms. Unfortunately, in the enthusiasm to rehabilitate this period and its cultural transformation as things to be studied in their own right, and not viewed distastefully from the Olympian heights of the classical ideal, late antique historians overreached and rejected even thinking in terms of decline, because of the unfortunate legacy of that idea in the historiography. This has opened them up very easily to the powerful criticisms that Profs. Heather and Ward-Perkins are probably making, though I will have to wait to judge on just how powerful they are until I see them.

Our Shadowed Present shows that the past offers more than its disparagers think. Clark makes a persuasive case that the provocative conceptual frameworks that dominate academe are passing fads like the flies of summer. Humane skepticism and a stress on empiricism and contingency constitute an approach to intellectual life that remains a fecund and fundamentally Tory source of understanding. As William Faulkner observed in a different context, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” ~William Anthony Hay, Modern Age

Via Orthodoxy Today Blog.

And where does Byzantium fit into this picture? The whole story of the “fall” of Rome and the coming of the Dark Ages becomes quite a bit more muddled if we but turn our gaze eastward, where we will see with little difficulty that the Roman Empire endured and light never vanished. Classical civilization did not really die when the Eternal City fell to the barbarians: It moved east with the Eastern Empire.

The Byzantines called themselves Roman—and for good reason—for a further thousand years. But when classical civilization retreated to the east, darkness did fall on Western Europe, and from the ruins of those former Roman provinces, a new thing emerged: a thing possessed of its own unity and integrity—unity and integrity that were, in turn, threatened with dissolution with the successive waves of revolution of the Modern Age.

That Christianity was integral to each of the eras of the West is evident to all but the most benighted; that it was the creative engine of all but the latter stages of our era (when true creativity was abandoned) is more controversial but still true. But that the same institutional manifestation of Christianity lies behind each is, it seems to me, an argument the author of a book like this—published by a secular publisher with no indication that it is written solely for Catholics who accept its central assumption—must lay out at some length. ~Paul Cella III

Via Paul Cella.

When I had first read somewhere that Mr. Cella had criticised Prof. Woods’ new book, I was intrigued. Fortunately, for those of us who do not subscribe to Touchstone, Mr. Cella provided an electronic copy of his review.

It seems quite clear to me that the universities and schoolmen were of decisive importance in the future development, both good and ill, of Catholic Europe, and the most notable technical and scientific thought from the late middle ages through early modernity came from Catholic countries or through the sponsorship of Catholic monarchs. Oddly enough, though I am obviously not a Catholic, I am more sympathetic to the idea of institutional continuity as a historical matter than Mr. Cella precisely because of the example of Byzantium. Many people would laugh if I told them that the Roman Empire fell on May 29, 1453, but I think that is a perfectly accurate statement, because the Byzantines called themselves Romans not in any pretentious, affected way (not even the Germans in the Holy Roman Empire maintained an idea that they were Romans) but as a statement of fact. Their state had been the empire of the Romans in 450 and so it was in 1450.

That there were changes and elaborations in the structures of the state and radical transformations of the culture over that millennium is in no way denied, just as I think Prof. Woods would not deny that the Papacy of Leo X was markedly changed from that of Pope Leo I. He would argue, I think, that in significant ways, in substantial ways, continuity outweighed change and that there was a conscious effort both in Rome and Constantinople to cultivate a sense of the eternal and unchanging so that these institutions changed fairly little. Perhaps Prof. Woods did not flesh out this point in his book, but Prof. Woods’ point does not have to be a confessional one or one made on an unproven assumption. If he takes the continuity of the Roman Catholic Church for granted, it is because it is very difficult to see where that continuity breaks down. I think it fair to say that the historian assumes change and must prove continuity, but in some cases the continuity simply stares us in the face and fills us with astonishment.

I am grateful to Mr. Cella for rising to the defense of Byzantium, and I would strongly agree that any account of the building of “Western,” much less Christian civilisation that omits or obscures the role of Byzantium is a partial and incomplete account. It depends a great deal on what we are willing to include as part of our civilisation and what we allow to belong to it. We Byzantinists do like to point out that if Justinian had never re-codified Roman law and reconquered Italy, the law school at Bologna and the revival of Roman law in western Europe, for example, would have been unthinkable, but there was something qualitatively different about the western medieval re-appropriation of things the Byzantines had possessed all along, and this substantially affected how those things were used.

The Byzantines had most of the Aristotelian texts that promoted the expansion of scientific learning in the west, and it is mostly the Byzantines whom we owe for transmitting the bulk of what we still have from Greek antiquity, but for various reasons (including, I think, a more thoroughly Christianised culture than prevailed hitherto in the west) they did not make terribly great use of them. The Byzantines devoted most of their energies to the study of divinity, as we might put it, and saw everything in terms of its importance for salvation and deification. Thus they retained as a culture that certain practical, “Roman” genius for building and engineering, but did not engage in the theoretical science and speculation more typically associated with their ancient Greek ancestors because of a basic lack of incentive. If for the scholastics theology was still the queen of the sciences, for Byzantines it was the only science of any ultimate importance and so the one on which most of the educated men spent most of their time. I think it fair to say that Byzantium was responsible for laying up much of the Deposit of Faith, and so I regard it, from a Christian perspective, as a superior civilisation in spite of its relative lack of technical and theoretical curiosity and experiment, while the Western church was responsible for laying the groundwork for later theoretical and scientific advances.

Razib at Gene Expression has interviewed Byzantine Studies Prof. Warren Treadgold here. It has a few interesting points for anyone keen to learn more about Byzantium.

Via Russian Dilettante.

Three historical topics make most modern conservatives terribly uncomfortable: the Civil War, the civil rights movement and WWII. They are uncomfortable because all their principles and their instincts tell them that the outcome of these events in American history were, in one way or another, ruinous for the Republic and the country that they love, but they are also keenly aware that the received history of these events instructs them to believe the opposite. In the official version, not only were these events not disastrous, they were the defining moments of what America is, those moments when some among us rose to embrace the full calling of the high ideals of the Founders while the intransigent reactionaries of one sort or another blocked the way. Such valorisation is rubbish historical investigation, but it also does as much violence to the evidence as can be done. Lately, following the 60th anniversary of V-E Day commemorated by Presidents Bush and Putin, traditional conservatives have been reflecting on American participation in WWII, the outcome of that war and, in short, whether the war was worthwhile or not.

Prof. Andrew Bacevich, an international relations scholar, regular contributor to The American Conservative and foremost critic of American empire and the phenomenon he has labeled with the title of his new book, The New American Militarism, has also joined in the debate in the June 20 issue of TAC. His argument was essentially threefold: traditional conservatives are uniquely situated to reinterpret and define the history of American international relations against the inadequate narrative of the internationalists (thus creating a “usable past”), it would be folly to exhaust our energies in fruitlessly rehashing the problems of American involvement in WWII, and the Old Right arguments against Roosevelt’s chicanery getting us into the war, American involvement in the war generally and Roosevelt’s sell-out of eastern Europe are utterly wrong. Obviously, it is the third point that is surprising and disheartening.

Suffice it to say that reading such a vigorous defense of the thorough rightness of WWII and the relative blamelessness of Franklin Roosevelt in a journal that self-consciously prides itself on its America First heritage and convictions comes as a bit of a shock. Coming from a major contemporary critic of liberal internationalism and American hegemony, it is rather astonishing. Faithful readers of TAC are well aware of the splendid variety of ideas that the editors and contributors bring to the magazine for our general edification, and arguments favourable to American involvement in WWII should be entertained and engaged on their merits. It is precisely here that Prof. Bacevich has so disappointed.

He has reproduced nothing other than the utterly conventional rhetoric that we have all heard in our American history courses, read in our textbooks and received from our sloganeering politicians: Germany posed “a compelling and immediate threat to America’s future well-being,” and allowing Nazi Germany to establish itself in Europe was to “court suicide.” Most surprisingly, Bacevich claimed that “Roosevelt yielded to Stalin only what the Soviet dictator already owned.” The last point is quite misleading, especially as far as eastern Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were concerned–Patton’s forces could have reached most of the territory of those countries before the Red Army and was deliberately held back by the administration. But that is to quibble about what should have been done at the end of a war in which we should never have been involved. That sort of quibbling is not my concern here. It is the inaccurate and tendentious claims of a Nazi threat to American security and welfare that puzzle and disturb me, and I will now turn to answering them.

Pejoratively labeling the concern for truth about the war “neuralgia,” Prof. Bacevich dismisses the America First critique of the war with his two extraordinary claims about the Nazi threat and national suicide. Besides the logical problem that there cannot be an “immediate” threat to “future well-being,” as he awkwardly put it, this is the sort of claim that needs a great deal of evidence, but this evidence is always lacking. How did Germany pose a “compelling and immediate threat” to the United States? Notice how the debate always centers on the European theater, the part of the war for which we had less compelling justification and far less visceral motivation. This is because, I think, we all know that no one could credibly argue that Japan posed a “compelling and immediate threat” to the United States, except insofar as it was provoked into war with us, and even after that the Japanese never posed a serious threat to America itself.

The question is: why do we believe this about Germany, which was never able to strike at American possessions even once, when we do not believe it about the Japanese who almost entirely destroyed our Pacific fleet? German power on land was formidable, and German submarines were always been powerful weapons in naval warfare, but in what fantasy world must one live in to imagine Germans posing a trans-Atlantic threat to the security or welfare of the United States? Had the Germans constructed a massive surface fleet in the wake of some imaginary victory over Britain (since the Germans could not accomplish this even in 1941 with fighting on no other fronts before we were involved, it defies understanding how they were supposed to have done it later on), America would have had years to prepare coastal defenses and a considerable fleet of our own.

In what way did they, or could they, threaten American well-being? Economically? This is at least possible, but in an age when our currency was backed by specie and we were not awash in imports it is difficult to see how the American economy would have suffered unduly from any single power controlling all of Europe. None of this is to say that such domination would have been beneficial for any of the peoples of Europe, or that it would have been anything other than the coercive domination that it was. But what must be answered is this: what business of ours was it? Prof. Bacevich does not answer that, but in this he is hardly the first and will not be the last to dodge the question by invoking frightening Nazism, as if it really were as invincible as the Nazis themselves believed it to be. What we do not like to admit is that the creaking nightmare of the Soviet Union did almost all of the heavy lifting in WWII and would have defeated Germany eventually through sheer attrition and single-mindedness or would have so worn down the German war machine and pushed back German armies that the spectre of a unified Nazi Europe is probably just that.

No one doubts that western Europe was better off in the post-war period for the defeat of Nazi Germany, and no one really doubts that eastern Europe was generally better off for the defeat of the USSR, but what is not apparent in either of these cases is that it was America’s responsibility to defeat them or contribute to their defeat. It seems to me inescapable and undeniable that America would today be more free, more prosperous and more faithful to her own cultural and constitutional traditions had Roosevelt never involved our country in WWII. She may have become “dictatress of the world,” but she is no longer “mistress of her own spirit,” and Roosevelt bears a large share of the blame in stealing her, our, spirit.

Surely, the United States themselves and American commerce were under much greater threat during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, yet our statesmen saw that studied neutrality was the safest and wisest course overall. It did not matter, from the American perspective, whether Napoleon and Tsar Aleksandr ruled all of Europe together, or if one of them ruled it alone, or if Napoleon was gone and the “balance of power” was restored. I submit that the same was true in the 20th century in WWI and WWII, and that our involvement solved Europe’s perennial problem of internal conflict at the cost of taking on the conflicts in various parts of the world unrelated to any continental American interests. To fear that Nazi Germany would or could have seriously threatened the United States is to overestimate grossly the potential of that state to project power, the limits of which had already been reached in 1942 even before the first Americans had encountered the Wehrmacht. It is to credit the regime with far more ambition and staying power than it did, in fact, possess.

Let us suppose that, instead of FDR’s liberal internationalist regime, some conservative Garner-like Democrat or Coolidge-like Republican administration had been in power in the 1930s. Would America have been ruined or conquered without Rooseveltian skulduggery leading us into the maelstrom of war? How, and at what point, would German domination of Europe have been detrimental to American interests to such an extent that a far-seeing statesman of the 1930s would have seen a vital American interest in going to war to prevent this from happening? If the threat was so “compelling and immediate,” I don’t suppose it should have to have waited for anything so technical as the German declaration of war–the idea of an “immediate” threat to “future well-being” begins to sound an awful lot like the justification for preventive war bandied about by neocons in 2002. But there was no compelling threat to America from Germany in 1938, 1939, 1940 or 1941. The Germans were rather preoccupied with other matters. When would it have arisen? After Germany supposedly defeated all of the powers arrayed against it?

At what point do we pretend that American security would have been in peril from a German-dominated Europe? More to the point, even if the threat did come into existence, how would a counterfactual German-dominated Europe have differed substantially from the actual Soviet-dominated one, except that it would have been more internally free, more prosperous and less inclined to encourage subversion of governments abroad? Instead of the historical commitment to nuclear war to defend western Europe, in the counterfactual world America would have only been responsible for defending herself. Prof. Bacevich needs to explain how this scenario is either seriously flawed or how this would have constituted national “suicide.” Would it not have been rather less suicidal as a nation to preserve the lives of the 500,000 men we lost, as well as avoiding the hundreds of thousands more wounded, than in frittering them away for no appreciable gain? From the American perspective, staying out sounds eminently sensible and responsible.

Prof. Bacevich concludes with a curious statement: “After all, the history that cries out for reassessment is not the history of 1939-1945 but the history of 1914-1938 and especially of 1946-2001, during which the habits, routines, and doctrines of liberal internationalists gave rise to the policies that have landed us in our current predicament.” The WWI and inter-war period has undergone excruciating and extensive revision by conservative interpreters and non-political professional historians. Tom Fleming’s book on Wilson and WWI is just one example of the revision that has long been in the works. Conservatives no longer feel obliged to apologise for the Senate defeating the Versailles Treaty ratification, nor do they maintain the illusion that the League of Nations would have worked with American involvement. They recognise that the follies of Wilson and the vindictiveness of the Allies produced much of what went wrong in the inter-war period. Traditional conservatives have also been rediscovering the wisdom of Robert Taft in his opposition to many of the basic structures of the Cold War, and lately they have rediscovered George Kennan’s wisdom in opposing the militarisation of containment as well as his criticism of limitless intervention. We know where American foreign policy went awry in 1914-38 and 1946-2001, and some of us know where it went wrong in 1939-45, but somehow to examine that period seriously from a non-interventionist, indeed America First perspective, is to discredit ourselves before we begin. That cannot be right. We cannot pretend that the internationalism and ‘idealism’ that misguided Wilson and Truman (and now Bush) were somehow different from the internationalism and ‘idealism’ that misguided Roosevelt, who belonged to the same foreign policy tradition, political party and general worldview as the internationalists on either side of him in time.

1914-38 and 1946-2001 are the periods least in need of reassessment–we have already been doing that, and we are well on our way to developing our alternative histories of those periods. Besides, one cannot as a good historian pluck out one event or period from an entire century, when the misinterpretation of the century inevitably affects how we understand one period and the misinterpretation of that one, central period shapes how we think about the rest of the century. As far as I know, there has been scarcely any revision of the conventional history of WWII since its modern, politically correct version emerged in the 1970s. No one has wanted to challenge the basic ‘goodness’ of the ‘Good War’, either because it is professional suicide among modern historians or simply because people have been drowned in so much bad history about the origins of the war that they could not formulate an intelligent argument advancing a different view.

WWII is the sacred cow of American historiography, in many ways more untouchable than the myths of the Civil War’s inherent rightness and necessity, because in the case of the latter there is an entire section of the country and an entire historiographical tradition that repudiated that myth from the beginning (it is also much harder to avoid the conservative critique that it irreparably destroyed the Constitution). The reason why it is too painful for some to critique WWII is that we are still too near to it in time, and many of our parents or grandparents who fought in it are still alive. It was, only very technically, a war of defense and so retains a certain mystique because of that, and in conservative circles wars are usually mistaken for moments of great patriotism (the soldiers are being patriotic, of course, but no real patriot statesman has ever sought out a war). Some might feel as if a new generation was being ungrateful for what the soldiers suffered on behalf of our country, but that is certainly not the case. Every non-interventionist, young or old, is grateful to WWII soldiers, but this does not change our responsibility to inquire and understand all of our past with the same critical thinking that we should apply to everything else.

Prof. Bacevich has roped off WWII from revision, as if to say, “This history is off limits to serious criticism, at least from the right.” If this were simply a matter of political tactics (i.e., it is not helpful to contemporary foreign policy arguments to revisit arguments about WWII), he might have a very good point, but that is not what he said. Prof. Bacevich has told us that to challenge the idea that WWII was necessary and right for American national interest is “dead wrong,” just as the America Firsters themselves were “dead wrong.” So much for a variety of ideas on the Right! It is difficult to understand why he holds this view and still finds fault with the disastrous internationalism of the rest of the century, except that we all know that this is the view of WWII all good Americans are supposed to hold. He certainly chose the right audience to address, if his goal was to insult a fundamental historical assumption and the intelligence of most traditional conservatives who read the magazine.

The central logical problem with the entire argument is that the post-war internationalism from which we suffer today was a product of American involvement in WWII, and there was very little chance, as Sen. Taft and George Kennan discovered in subsequent years, of reeling back the impulse to interventionism once the old restraints of American neutrality had been destroyed by Roosevelt’s mischief. Retrospectively, if we regret the ongoing ruin caused by interventionism, as Prof. Bacevich also does, we cannot applaud or defend the involvement in the war that made that interventionism possible and also made it seem necessary. In fact, I would be rather more sympathetic in understanding the choices of the men, who were confronted with the harsh realities of the post-war world and the perceived lethality of the communist threat and who erred in their interventionist schemes, than I would be towards Roosevelt, who was under no obligation, moral or legal, to involve us in any conflicts overseas and still did so. Many of the architects of the Cold War were stuck cleaning up Roosevelt’s mess, while others were simply continuing in his footsteps in making more entanglements for our country. We cannot revise our understanding of the last sixty years of American history if we are not allowed to question the value of entering WWII, because the two are too closely intertwined and how we think about the war shapes how we think about the post-war world.

What Prof. Bacevich does not seriously address in his article is the illegal and underhanded way in which President Roosevelt helped to provoke the German declaration of war through a year of open American naval warfare in the North Atlantic, or the internationally illegal interruption of normal trade in peacetime with Japan that ultimately provoked the Japanese attack in 1941. He dismisses this briefly with reference to “Roosevelt’s deviousness in the months leading up to war,” which Bacevich claims not to endorse, but assures us later that the war was “just and necessary,” even though without that “deviousness” there would have been no American war with the Axis powers. Perhaps Prof. Bacevich sides with those liberal historians who acknowledge that Roosevelt’s “deviousness” was necessary to get into the war, and that this is perfectly excusable in view of the necessity of fighting Hitler–if so, his ideas obviously have nothing to do with constitutional republicanism or non-interventionist foreign policy. Once the war began at Roosevelt’s provocation, there might have been a certain justice to it (that is the genius of getting the other fellow to fire first), but how was it necessary?

Roosevelt should have been impeached and removed from office for what he was doing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and he knew he would have been if many of his activities had been known at the time. If these are “hoary” or baseless attacks, then I insist Prof. Bacevich demonstrate that they are rather than peddling interpretations more suitable for the bankrupt ruler cult of a tyrant. For real conservatives, this is not a minor issue–FDR is either one of the two worst, most anti-constitutional presidential tyrants in our history and the war he provoked is one of the greatest disasters of our history, or the traditional conservative and constitutionalist vision of government and foreign policy have no meaning. We cannot hold to the latter if we do not insist upon the former. For us, Prof. Bacevich’s “usable past” is of no use.

These charges against Roosevelt are not in any way comparable to leftist apologies for Alger Hiss or the Communist Party–that Prof. Bacevich believed these to be appropriate for comparison is simply baffling. It is certainly ironic that he should choose to invoke leftist denial of Hiss’ communist espionage when it was under the wretched Roosevelt that Soviet spies infiltrated American government at very high levels (the only thing debatable about this is whether Roosevelt knew about them at the time)–but that is another aspect of Roosevelt’s dreadful presidency that awaits comment some other day. Roosevelt ought to suffer damnatio memoriae for what he did to this country with his foreign policy alone, except that abolishing his name from memory would allow us to forget the crimes he perpetrated against our people. He certainly does not need any more defenders, least of all in the pages of a conservative magazine and from a contributor who should know better.

None of this was inevitable. If the horrors of the Napoleonic wars had remained fresh in people’s minds – rather than having conquests glorified by “progressives” – and if the laissez faire policies of Richard Cobden and John Bright had been continued, there never would have been a world war. Maintaining a separation of the economy and the state would have prevented politicians from turning business competition into political and military conflicts. There wouldn’t have been nasty trade wars and empire building, contributing to paranoia and the arms race. If governments had let people live their lives as freely on one side of a border as on the other, there wouldn’t have been much political support for war. What would have been the point? ~Jim Powell

Mr. Powell presents a sweeping case that laissez faire and unfettered free trade will secure peace among nations. This is one of the oldest liberal myths. It relies on the assumption that the greed of the state for power and territory will somehow be magically restrained by the prospect of better long-term profits in the private sector, as well as the idea that people do not identify with their nations but with rational economic self-interest. Above all, it works from the mistake that wars usually have economic causes, when most have not–they are almost always disputes over the right to rule a state or a quarrel over a particular patch of land. Our own War for Independence is a sterling example of how economic interests have relatively little to do with political conflicts: the costs of the taxes imposed by Britain were minimal, almost farcically small, but our forefathers insisted on the principle that was at stake. No trade policy will eliminate those disputes, and no amount of economic interdependence between neighbours or any two nations will be able to overcome a policy conceived to be in the national interest. Instead of economic causes, men will find patriotic, ideological or specifically nationalist reasons to go to war.

What Mr. Powell consistently neglected to mention in his summary of 19th century history is that there were not even nominally liberal governments outside of Britain for the first 40 or 50 years after the Congress of Vienna. Half a century of peace was accomplished under those terrible Restoration monarchies and their benighted trade policies! The only great violent disturbances of those first 50 years were the liberal revolutions themselves, most of which were thankfully put down.

In his run-down of the backlash against liberalism in Europe, he neglected to mention the reason for the backlash in the 1870s and afterwards: the franchise was opened up to all the people disadvantaged, dislocated and generally ruined by the introduction of laissez faire and free trade, and not surprisingly they voted their economic interest and chucked the liberals out in every country save Britain. What became of all the poor liberals beset by a tide of economic irrationality? Almost to a man they either embraced nationalism, never very far from the liberal heart and the principles of 1789 they embraced in the first place, or lost their faith in laissez-faire and became socialists. What is more, without the success of the liberal revolutionaries in the 1860s and 1870s, the flourishing of nationalism in central Europe and elsewhere would not have been possible. The ousting of Metternich, who represented all that was international, pacific and honourable in the Old Europe, as the price of quelling the Vienna rabble of 1848 was the first step to European self-immolation. Well done, liberals.

If Disraeli ordered quite a few overseas wars, it was only to compete with the imperialism of Gladstone’s Liberals who inaugurated the imperialist frenzy in the conviction that they were civilising and liberating those whom they subjected to British rule. Sound familiar?

When I was a student in college, my Russian history professor, James Simms, argued that Russian history could be generally understood according to a three-step political process that formed a theme that recurred throughout modern Russian history. There are undoubtedly a number of other ways to view Russian history, and there are disadvantages to interpreting a country’s history in terms of its foreign relations, but I remembered this theme as I was reflecting on the year’s events in and around Russia. The theme was very straightforward and likely applicable to a number of other countries: Russia would be confronted with an international challenge, political mobilisation would follow and this would lead to a series of political changes.
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