December 31, 2003

Recommendation, and Happy New Year

Anticipatory Retaliation has the second installment in a magnum opus on the origins and evolution of the impulse to war, that's worth a look. I have a few problems with the role of chaos theory or "emergence" in such theories, but he has laid out a nicely ambitious starting point for a fruitful discussion about the tension between conflict and cooperation. It is clear that liberalism attempts to strike the correct balance between the two, but has not yet been able to manifest an overwhelmingly obvious winning formula. It is tremendously important that we publish, in some fasion, our own personal understandings of this liberal project, not because any one of us is necessarily right about everything, but because there's still a lot of unexpressed deadwood out there, and knowing about it allows us to approach a real understanding of ourselves that is more than skin-deep.

I want to encourage A.R. to publish part three when he has the time, and I'll do my best to respond as soon as the hangover from the New Years celebration wears off. I sincerely hope that there's something transcendantly profound about our attempt to publish our best throughts about the nature of the human predicament in the 21st Century, and I suspect that we'll begin to turn the tide in 2004. We've dicovered not only new insights into the nature of our society, but a new humor genre. Pretty robust human response. Smarter than your average bear. I'm going to cook some black-eyed peas and drink a decent Argentine Malbec in anticipation of one whale of a year. Happy New Years, everyone. May it live up to your work and preparation.

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December 30, 2003

VDH Shaming the Shameless

Victor Davis Hanson makes yet another impressive but vain attempt to shame the shameless. Key graf:

Both Western pontificators and the mob in the Middle East feed off each other. Paul Krugman would rarely write a column about how abjectly immoral it was that thousands mourned the death of a mass murderer when one can say worse things about an American president who chose not to use American dollars to hire French companies to rebuild Iraq. Bob Herbert can falsely rant about a Florida election “rigged,” but seldom about an election never occurring in the Arab world.

The so-called Arab street and its phony intellectuals sense that influential progressive Westerners will never censure Middle Eastern felonies if there is a chance to rage about Western misdemeanors. It is precisely this parasitic relationship between the foreign and domestic critics of the West that explains much of the strange confidence of those who planned September 11.

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December 28, 2003

Anyone see David Brooks on Face the Nation?

There was a discussion on today's Face the Nation, with Bob Schiffer, about the polarization of politics in the US. It started to head downhill in a well-travelled rut toward an often-trumpeted one-dimensional discussion about "the red and the blue," until David Brooks made a show-saving comment. He said that we're actually less polarized on most issues now, with the exception of attitudes about the President himself. Schiffer and the others began to fumble around urgently in their priestly robes after this obvious display of good sense undercut their entire thesis, trying desperately to come up with some tidbit that reestablished their status as sages of the media's divine order. But they just came off looking like the driver who pays more attention to the rear view mirror than the road.

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Wishing al Qaeda Away, with Pixie Dust

Some of my old friends are touting the notion that al Qaeda isn't real, based on the common-sense logic that if it were we'd have destroyed it by now. Never mind that AIDS is real (though some think it isn't) or that the Cold War took 70 years to win. They believe the concept was invented after 9-11 as an explanation for a kind of generic and disorganized anti-US sentiment that at least sympathetically explains (if not justifies) violence against the heart of the capitalist enterprise. And some also believe the Mujahadeen and the Taliban are synonyms, the former having acquired the latter designation only when the US was finished exploiting them after the Cold War. Well, I have several books that were published about al Qaeda prior to 9-11, and the Taliban aren't the Mujahadeen. (Most were children during the war with the Soviets.) But the real issue isn't that the fantasy is implausible. That's obvious. The real issue is that the fall of the World Trade Center has become not merely the image of an attack against the US or even world capitalism. It's also a metaphor for the decline and fall of the western left. As planes controlled by al Qaeda destroyed the support structures of the World Trade Center they also tore though the self image that had been painfully constructed to weather the fall of the Soviet Union, and is nostalgically recalled in Mike Nichols' adaptation of Angels in America.

A stew of wishful thoughts and nightmares has fascinated the left lately, represented in views expressed by some of its popular heroes (most of whom, ironically, are American). I've speculated elsewhere that this wishful thinking is motivated by the fact that they have no coherent response to calamity, because it doesn't figure into their worldview at all. And Andrew Sullivan has expressed the related opinion that their decline is compelled by an inability to grasp the reality of an enemy that's even more despicable than classically liberal or religious Republicans (or their British counterpart), or neo-conservative Republicans or Democrats (or their British equivalent).

It's not as though the neo-cons or the classical liberals have the world of foreign and domestic public policy sewn up. Nor do they have a monopoly, necessarily, on good ideas. There are not only significant gaps in their problematique, but their implementation is sometimes bungled. So there's plenty of room for an opposition based on good ideas, and competent praxis. The problem is that the left-endians have been in the driver's seat of government for so long they've forgotten how the heck to think critically or creatively. They're like drivers who spend more time looking in the rearview than watching the road. It has been a shock to discover that Democratic Party membership is no longer a majority, having shrunk to about a third of registered voters. And so the Deanites have simply energized the wishful-thinking core of what remains of the Democratic Party, by a powerful, and competent, appeal to community. Meanwhile on the fringe, which tends to define the energized core nowadays, this new but obscure-to-the-point-of-invisibility threat, represented by the cryptic designation "the base," is simply folded into the club of more familiar enemies of capitalism... through some hermeneutic legerdemain that's all-too-typical of Moore and Chomsky admirers. It's not very well thought through, but so what? Wishes aren't exactly based on hard-headed realism. The foundations upon which they rest are more like pixie dust. To whit, they're more like the dust that settled on Manhattan by the ton a few short years ago.

Which brings me to a personal revelation I had while watching Mike Nichol's adaptation of Tony Kushner's Angels in America recently. Steeped in the left myself, for decades, my view of my ideological peers, whether gay or straight, was that they were good people... and almost certainly the only good people. Conservatives just didn't understand misfortune, or even human frailty, very well. I recall an aunt offering the not-too-sensitive opinion that homeless people were homeless because they wanted to be. Faced with that sort of nonsense, which itself resembled a kind of naive wishful thinking in reverse, what choice did I have but to become a "progressive?" One couldn't trust conservatives, not only with government, but with anything personal or revealing.

Andrew Sullivan describes Angels in America as a "leftist screed," but I don't think that's really accurate. There are only a few screed-like passages, at least in the Nichols adaptation, and their tone is self conscious rather than self righteous. Ignoring the dimension of homosexuality, which obscures what my personal revelation was about, the screen adaptation (because I never saw the play) is more a kind of documentary about how the left viewed itself, in the 9-10 era. My moment of self-revelation was about the fact that I know most on the left are good people. But I no longer think they're quite as good as they believe they are, nor do I think any longer that they're the only "good people." My views on that score have changed drastically, and I doubt that I'm alone. So I had forgotten the way I used to see the world, and Angels reminded me. It was a bit like a sojourn I once took to my old boarding school. I spent four years of my life within the confines of that campus (except for summers), and although I hadn't thought about it in years the experience all came flooding back the minute I stepped on the campus some 40 years later.

I had even forgotten the critical role of the token "good conservative," portrayed in the character Hannah Pitt, Mormon mother of a gay son, played in Angels by Meryl Steep. But she was a "convert" to the left by virtue of the contrivance that she wasn't anti-gay... which in that worldview could only be an attitude consistent with an essentially left-endian "human nature." And she was also a natural heretic (a Mormon, after all) whose primary identification was with the sense of community that permeates the left, and both sustains and deludes it.

And this illustrates my point. The Hannah Pitt character was the glue that made the whole worldview seem plausible and legitimate. Without this portrayal, that counterintuitively accommodates "the honorable enemy," the emblem of the left in the screenplay becomes Streep's other portrayal: the traitorous Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg. And without the Hannah Pitt counterweight, it's simply impossible to rehabilitate the left's self image, based on the Rosenberg character, no matter how much you soften her image with chicken-soup Jewish-mother homilies. America is a community founded on the basis of an ideology that Rosenberg betrayed. And if one makes the rectitude of that betrayal the primary test of legitimacy, no matter how evil the portrayal of her nemesis Roy Cohn, there's just no way the left wins that contest.

It's been tough for me to swallow the fact that this community of which I was so long a part was a kind whose acceptance was not as unconditional as it seemed. The Hannah Pitts were transient. A gap, that has far less to do with politics than with who qualifies for social allegiance, friendship, confidences, or even civility, has opened up between people who used to unequivocally all regard themselves as "good," but whose deeper convictions were actually very different. There's the left of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, and then there's the left of Chris Hitchens, Bernard Kouchner, and Paul Berman. And they're not in the same universe any longer. They're as far apart as Paul Faure and Leon Blum were in the late 1930s, in fact. The wise are no longer wise by virtue of their ideological allegiances, but foolish... believing thinly disguised apologist fantasies about tyrants or indulging in indefensible moral equivalencies or outrageous grand conspiracy theories; while the mean, heartless, selfish (or sometimes just naive?) conservatives are on the side of justice and freedom in a way they haven't been since Lincoln, or perhaps Churchill.

(I daresay that for many "liberals" Bush represents the worst of both: the bumpkinlike crudity of Lincoln merged with the class elitism of Churchill. It's a mythic creature, and depending your perspective either has two heads and no tail, or...)

An ancient and unhealed wound was just waiting for a solid whack to be opened by this imaginary entity, al Qaeda. And now that it has been opened it won't tamely heal. It festers, becomes more corrupt, gets deeper and closer to vital processes. In that sense the fall of the WTC towers is also an image of the fall of the western left. Rooted in a self image from the past that Angels so nostalgically documents, people can't let go to recognize how radically things have really changed. If they did they'd no longer be "good" in quite the way that they've seen themselves for decades. How could you possibly feel good about yourself, if you felt in opposition to that? If you no longer saw McCarthyism as the single greatest evil on the planet?

Angels in America is an historical and cultural dramatization, but it's not about America. It's about a bygone era that was literally blown to bits on Sept. 11, 2001. So of course the issue isn't defeating al Qaeda, because its existence was never acceptable. The best remaining option is to wish it away. And any sort of pixie dust will do, because the substance is in the belief, not the quality of the dust. And that encapsulates the tragic descent of the left since 9-11-2001.

[Note: For those interested in al Qaeda, and lack a stake in wishing it away Winds of Change has a nice rundown on the players that'll help put some meat on the bones of "Totalitarianism 3.x." It's still evolving and adapting.]

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December 27, 2003

Where's the SPAM?

Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but up until about a week ago I was getting 30 to 50 spam emails a day. I've had 0 to 5 a day since last weekend. Granted, some of that decline in volume is probably due to the fact that the spammers are taking a holiday, but isn't that stuff mostly automated? I mean, isn't that the appeal..., that they avoid productive work? Is it possible that the recent anti-spam legislation is actually having an impact?

I did get my first piece of blog/comment spam last week, though.

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December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas: For Doubters

I've decided that it's not Christmas that's to blame, but the scam about Christmas. Just look around and note the reality (absent the scam) and it's basically an excuse to legitimate love and acceptance. There's a kind of underground subversive wisdom that says anything that's cooperative, but not Marxist, is subversive. It's a kind of hateful and superficial cynicism,
that simply evaporates if you ignore it. Phony as a 2 dollar bill, as they used to say.

I just had a nice romp by the creek with a couple of local kids, where we discussed sneaky ways to get across the high water. They were pulling the same scam I used to pull on adults when I was their age. Act innocent, but devise a plan of "escape" to the kid's world of rampant fantasy and adventure. The youngest one was barely intellibible to humans, but with an ancient air of inscrutibility and wisdom. The older one will probably grow up to be a lawyer, or a football coach.

I was high on tryptophan and recollection, of course.

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December 23, 2003

Is Sullivan Becoming a Bigot?

What the heck is up with this post, which opens with the words: "A lovely email I just received about boomer idiocy?"

At which point the emailer proceeds to characterize a couple of peacenik fifty-somethings in a bar as emblematic of their entire generation. I mean, George W. is a "boomer" for heaven's sake! Pardon me, but if you have to denigrate and pigeonhole people according to an age category, how is that significantly better than doing the same by their sexual orientation? After all, the frequency of gays who believe in this wishful-thinking idiocy is far greater than the frequency of boomers who buy into it. Should I simply forget that Sullivan is atypical, and start refering to the antiwar position as "gay idiocy" from now on? Of all people, Andrew Sullivan ought to know better. Sheesh.

And a Merry Christams to you too, Andrew!

Update: Andrew apologizes: "My stereotyping of all boomers was dumb and glib. I'm sorry."

I ought to point out that there was a perfectly appropriate opposition to the Vietnam War, that included Reinhold Niebuhr, so it's not necessarily inconsistent to have opposed that war and yet be pro-war now. The point is that they are not comparable.

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Clinton Administration Took Qaeda/Iraq Link Seriously

The al Shifa pharmaceutical plant represents yet another instance where a campaign of disinformation from the left, together with a certain complacency, or inappropriate analysis, from the media, has distorted the historical record. Typically the bombing of the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan by the Clinton administration, in retaliation for the embassy bombings in Africa, has been represented as a grievous mistake. The bombastic Noam Chomsky even presented it as an instance of American atrocity, not only killing people on the site itself, but depriving untold thousands of Africans of life-saving pharmaceuticals and thereby representing a greater crime (or at least an offsetting justification) for 9/11. But according to a recent article by Steven Hayes in the Weekly Standard the Clinton administration was not only on solid ground when it identified the plant as a WMD site, but the plant was also a part of what the CIA concluded were overlapping interests between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

The clincher, however, came later in the spring of 1998, when the CIA secretly gathered a soil sample from 60 feet outside of the plant's main gate. The sample showed high levels of O-ethylmethylphosphonothioic acid, known as EMPTA, which is a key ingredient for the deadly nerve agent VX. A senior intelligence official who briefed reporters at the time was asked which countries make VX using EMPTA. "Iraq is the only country we're aware of," the official said. "There are a variety of ways of making VX, a variety of recipes, and EMPTA is fairly unique."

That briefing came on August 24, 1998, four days after the Clinton administration launched cruise-missile strikes against al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan (Osama bin Laden's headquarters from 1992-96), including the al Shifa plant. The missile strikes came 13 days after bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 257 people--including 12 Americans--and injured nearly 5,000. Clinton administration officials said that the attacks were in part retaliatory and in part preemptive.

In spite of the disinformation, and the widespread impression sewn to the contrary, former Clinton officials stand by the intelligence that links the plant to al Qaeda.

"The bottom line for me is that the targeting was justified and appropriate," said Daniel Benjamin, director of counterterrorism on Clinton's National Security Council, in an emailed response to questions. "I would be surprised if any president--with the evidence of al Qaeda's intentions evident in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the intelligence on [chemical weapons] that was at hand from Sudan--would have made a different decision about bombing the plant."

But even though the plant also apparently had strong ties to the Hussein regime in Iraq, the transitive conclusion, that if A is related to B, and B is related to C, then A must be related to C, is played down now. Back in 1998, however, the same administration used the A to C link as a justification for the bombing. What's up? How did we arrive at a "conventional wisdom" that is so counterintuitive? I mean, skepticism is fine, but so far not one single piece of evidence pointing to a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda has been discredited. Such evidence is simply ignored, or explained away by the ubiquitous "secularists never smooch with religionists" platitude. Isn't it about time that we began to consider the obvious to be at least plausible? After all, when my bowling ball is bearing down squarely on the 1 and 2 pins, I'm thinking "strike." 95% of the time I'm right. Every once in awhile I'll leave the 7-10, but it's not something I'd bet money on...

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December 22, 2003

Strategic Diplomacy

Ordinary "soft" diplomacy is the sort of thing friends do with one another, when they eschew mentioning a recent divorce, or a family tragedy. It's not the way to run a world, where "social sanctions" are worth next to nothing. Strategic diplomacy involves some realistic threat inducement, and making the threat real by carrying it out once in awhile actually reduces or eliminates the need for action in all but the worst cases. That's what happened recently with Libya. Steven Den Beste has a roundup of the attempts, by Bush political opponents, to deny credit for the Gadaffi capitulation. It just won't wash, because it simply doesn't make sense.

Key graf:

The idea that this was somehow a triumph of diplomacy and soft power pressure (e.g. sanctions), as is variously claimed by China, Russia, France, and Solana at the EU doesn't stand up to the light of day. Why was it the British (and indirectly the Americans) that Libya contacted, not China or Russia or France or the EU or the UN? Why did Qaddafi begin his diplomacy last March, and not earlier or later? And why the final agreement now, rather than last August or next August?

They really have no choice but to try to spin it this way, but it doesn't convince any who are willing to look at it with an open mind. And you can detect just a hint of a feeling that somehow this is cheating. They were the ones advocating diplomacy while we seemed to be violent brutes looking for someone to crush; it hardly seems fair that we were the ones to pull off such a major diplomatic achievement and not them.

Based on reports, it looks as if Qaddafi first made contact with the British just after the Americans and British abandoned attempts to deal with the UN and made the decision to attack Iraq without formal UNSC authorization. In other words, Qaddafi called London once it became clear that the UN was not capable of preventing America from going to war. That's when negotiations began.

Was it coincidence that the negotiations were concluded only days after Saddam was captured? Probably not. Likely there were a few final sticking points, and when Saddam was found, and was so totally disgraced by his condition, circumstances and lack of resistance, Qaddafi felt a chill wind blowing down his spine and gave in.

This is important, not because we must give credit where it's due, but because we need to recognize and internalize the principle. Saddam was able to play a rope-a-dope strategy with the UN for 12 years because he knew that the UN regarded the use of force only as an extraordinary cost, rather than a tool. And that made their "or else" ultimatums something of a joke. Gadaffi was more fortunate than Saddam, in the sense that he was provided with an object lesson. And as Den Beste observes, he did not even bother with the fiction of making a deal with the UN, which couldn't even maintain a diplomatic mission within Iraq after Saddam had been removed. The UN is no longer more than a bit player in the drama. (Hat tip: Instapundit)

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December 19, 2003

Moammar Finally Gets the Calculus

that most of the rest of Islam is still missing, and that's spelled out by Steve Den Beste in a recent post. Key graf:

Whatever else you might have to say about genocide, the one thing everyone can agree on is that once completed it is conclusive and irrevocable. (But nearly everything else you will probably want to say about genocide is negative.) If you face an implacable foe who refuses to be dissuaded or deterred from trying to kill you, you must kill or die. At the level of nations, you must commit genocide or become a victim of genocide.

If we reach that terrible eventuality, where we must commit genocide or succumb to it, we would not rely on anything as clumsy as fleets of aircraft indiscriminately scattering bombs over enemy cities. For an information age military, it's still one bomb per target, only the targets would be cities and the bombs would be thermonuclear, and the destruction would be total.

[Seriously, read the whole thing. The block quote doesn't do it justice.]

The fact that states could enlist and hide behind surrogates to deliver their WMD without a return address only grants a reprieve from a genocidal response if the damage inflicted is below a certain (unknown) threshold, and the odds of surviving such a genocidal response, if you've been "cleared with a good houskeeping seal" are marginally better than the odds for those nations that are keeping their aces up their sleeves. Ultimately the only thing that WMD possession will buy you in this strategic situation is a higher place on the genocide response list, which is more than a waste of resources. It's positively insane, especially when you can get a big dose of foreign aid by compliance.

So, hopefully, this is a turning point... and the calculus has begun to shift in the heads of the autocratic rulers in the Muslim world. There's nothing good-natured about it. It's fueled by the certainty of a ferocious response from the liberal democracies, and only by that.

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The Right Flyer

The point is about the notion of democratizing the Middle East, starting with Iraq, and the role played by Democrat candidates for the Presidency. You could take the position, analogous to the position of the press prior to the flight of the Wright Flyer in Dec., 1903, that it'll take a thousand years to achieve..., or you can "just do it." And once you've adopted the latter attitude it then becomes a matter of who "has the goods." And regardless of what you think of Bush's plan, or its implementation, the undeniable fact is that the opposition doesn't have one. Not even a bad one. Not even one that'll take a thousand years.

The Democrat candidates have decided to stick with riding the old mule, even though it'll mean they just keep losing ground. About the most you could say of such an election "plan" is that success rests on catastrophic failure of America's economic and foreign policy interests. Not very admirable. Morbid, in fact.

Recent polls among Democrats suggest that a candidate who simply agreed wholeheartedly with the Bush objectives, but proposed an implementation that was serious and lacked a lot of the ad hoc blundering, would be not only capable of winning the nomination, but of winning in Nov., 2004. And the issue is, why is there no such candidate? You can look at recent speeches by Dean to see that he's beginning to perceive a looming gap... if he were only credible in the critical role, and halfway understood it. The notion that he'd buy the PNAC program, but refine and perfect it, is just not likely to convince anyone, and his current funding would dry up like a mirage in the desert if he went very quickly that direction. (Quickly and unambiguously enough to actually be credible, that is.) So about the most he'd ever be able to come up with is some sort of half-assed version of the Bush program... and that's just not going to sell. It wouldn't sell even if the Bush program were perceived as "three-quarter-assed." We're through with half-assed measures, as of September, 2001.

We're going all out for powered flight now, which means we'll either succeed big or fail big. It's achetypal Americanism. And the basic choice is between a practical and balanced analytical/experimental approach like that of the Wright Brothers, or an ill-considered and power-biased one like that of Samuel P. Langley. If the Democrats don't see an opening here, it's because they're still on the wrong side of history.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Anti-Semitism is a Binary Poison

The recent suppression of an EU report on anti-Semitism in Europe, this Weekly Standard article on the European Social Forum, these two posts on Winds of Change about "idiotarianism" (uno, dos), as well as the Belmont Club's post on The Decline and Fall (of the left), point to a phenomenon that may profoundly impact the War on Terrorism. Some people might be inclined to regard this phenomenon, and the rising popularity of anti-Semitic gurus like David Icke or Jeff Rense, as primarily one affecting the mentally imbalanced, but that attitude is too passive.

The problem is it's quite possible for people who would never exhibit psychotic tendancies as individuals, to become part of a group psychosis. They need not walk in the door nuts, just susceptible.

Post and Robins speculate that the particular formula that Hitler came up with fit the German psyche like a key in a lock. Although ethnocentric, Germans weren't particularly anti-Semitic prior to the rise of the Nazis. Not like the French, anyway. And the Protocols wasn't a German forgery, after all. What the Germans were, was a marginalized and shamed population as a result of their defeat in WWI, their demotion in the hierarchy of national powers, and the collapse of their economy during the Depression.

Now consider the frustrations of increasingly marginalized people on the left in Europe and the US (marginalized by some of their own "religion-like" belief patterns, as Michael Crichton argues), especially after the demise of the USSR "flagship." It's not difficult to see how the affinity with the Islamists and Palestinians developed. They have many of the same grievances.

But it's time to step back a bit, and get a little distance. The Palestinian problem is not amenable to easy or quick answers, no matter what you think needs to be done. Which suggests an almost certain rise in anti-Semitism tied to this "cause" over time. At some point it's destined to become quite irrational, and whatever distinctions you believe exist between "Zionists" and "Jews" will simply disappear in a predictable desire to simplify all the complexities and conundrums.

Like a binary poison, there seem to be two ingredients necessary for widespread group psychoses: 1. an intractable problem; and 2. a "status gap" that runs along the old ethnic or factional lines, especially a gap that violates the expectations of the lower-status group, that then becomes susceptible.

I think we're in for quite a ride here, and Iraq is almost certainly a turning point. It would sure be great if the press paid a little more attention to the successes, than to the trial of a high status ideosyncratic child molester, whose guilt or innocence won't matter a whit to history.

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December 18, 2003

Emerging Lights in a Darkened Mind

The following post, from Daniel Morris, is monstrously eloquent... illuminating for me an aspect not only of his unfamiliar experience, but the behavior of a friend with "chronic fatigue syndrome." There are enormous cognative gaps between people, the comprehension of which somehow help me to understand my own ideosyncratic identity. From Behind the Wall of Sleep is becoming one of my favorite blogs. Excerpt:

I saw it clearly in this way: my mind was like a city. It was an oval, and as you moved in towards the center the structures grew higher and higher. All of them were lit. They were bright. Golden-yellow. My mind was a standing island of living fire.

My encephalitis changed all that. Following my sickness, it felt as if there was a course around the periphery of my mind that was bright and glowing. But! The depths, the high structures and the bright center were dark. I remember thinking that I could only think shallow thoughts. Thin thoughts. Narrow ones. The tall, bright, gleaming fires in the middle of my mind were denied to me; I had a narrow band, a little racecourse around the edges, and all my thoughts lived within its compass. -- Daniel Morris, From the Inside

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December 17, 2003

The Pugnacious Small Mindedness of Howard Dean

Mark Steyn holds forth elequently on the selective passion of the Deanites and their fearless leader here (Tip: Sullivan.) Key graf:

Because all the big ideas failed, culminating in 1989 in Eastern Europe with the comprehensive failure of the biggest idea of all, the left retreated to all the small ideas: in a phrase, bike paths. That's what Bill Clinton meant when he said the era of big government was over; instead, he'd be ushering in the era of lots and lots of itsy bits of small government that, when you tote 'em up, works out even more expensive than the era of big government. That's what Howard Dean represents--the passion of the Bike-Path Left.

My term for this is "little democracy," as distinguished from the "Big Democracy" advocated by the Neocons and the Bush Administration.

It's as though these folks are chronically compelled to look through the wrong end of the policy telescope, which has a certain novelty, I guess. But just for the record, the really impassioned cyclists are opposed to bike paths, viewing them as wasteful and even dangerous.

The Effective Cycling advocates, led by cycling guru John Forester, see bike paths as more dangerous for both cyclists and motorists than cycling in the street, because bike paths invariably cross roadways putting cyclists in a position where they're unable to avoid doing things that surprise motorists. And these surprises create accidents. In addition, collisions between cyclists and pedestrians are rather frequent on bike paths, and while rarely fatal they often result in significant injury. There is, in fact, some pretty good data to back this position up.[1] So Howard's passion about bike paths doesn't even really conform to the more impassioned policy positions within his own little democracy crowd. It's just a relatively safe compromise position, taken in order to cultivate the environmental and "quality of life" vote.

What Dean is into is passionate ineffectiveness and relatively uninformed judgment. It's a strategy that may have worked for Clinton during a time of peace... but it's a losing proposition during wartime.

[1] As a long time cyclist myself, I think Forester's counterintuitive approach is probably correct, although I hasten to add that I don't regard it as a big idea. And if we are going to build bike paths, some careful and rather atypical attention to design, especially at intersections, is in order.

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December 15, 2003

Angels in America: The Ensemble Lie, Part II

As I said after viewing Part I of this HBO series, I was pretty concerned about what I call the "ensemble lie." This is what happens when a bunch of very talented people get together who can shade the truth and deftly pull the right manipulative emotional strings to present a distorted version of reality. That's the sort of thing that happened with Oliver Stone's JFK. I was mainly concerned that Angels would propagate the myth, almost universally believed in the gay community, that the AIDS epidemic was manipulated in order to create a kind of genocide of gays. I worried about that because I hadn't seen the play, and all I had to go on was the testimony of some people like Andrew Sullivan, who had. Now, I've seen it and it's not what I expected.

The movie version seems to have omitted that detail about the cynical manipulation of the AIDS epidemic, or else I just completely missed it. It may have been a prominent aspect of Kushner's original stage play, but apparently Nichols saw fit to make some adjustments. Although it's clear that Kushner's understanding of "conservatives" is cartoonish at best, and only the "liberals" (including one converted "liberal") participate in the togetherness wrap up at the end, it's not surprising that Kushner doesn't perceive conservatives as part of the same community of understanding. But the main thing I noticed about the film (or mini-series) is how dated its ideological references are. That pre-9/11 theme, that "movement" depends on a progressive-left political outlook, now seems almost quaint. The silly notion that America is essentially conservative and that the latter eschews change (personified in the "Angel of the American Continental Principality"), naturally casting "progressives" as the sympathetic and heroic agents of change, has been completely reversed since 9/11. So the plot simply doesn't make sense in todays terms. It is now the so-called "progressives" who are dragging their feet, apparently stuck in the past.

Because, actually, America isn't conservative in that sense at all. It never has been. It has a conservative-leaning business establishment, but what nation doesn't? Business people always prefer stability. And sometimes, if they're reasonably well informed, that longing for stability leads to constructive change. The emergence of the Rule of Law in England after the Norman conquest was such a case, where the cost of feuds became so clear and distasteful that the barons chose to place themselves under the authority of the King's Bench rather than continue to tolerate the social (and economic) disruption. And something like that is happening now, as the world wakes to the fact that autocracy and local sovereignty, coupled with the growing threat posed by superempowered terrorists using WMD (the direct analog of medieval feuds) is just too costly in just too many ways.

What has happened to the left reminds me of the reaction someone might have at an unexpected crossroads. Informed mainly by their wishful thinking map of the human endeavor they see that we've taken a fork they had not planned for, and that wasn't on their map. So they stand at the crossroads and complain incessantly, whining that we all need to backtrack and stick to their plan. This detour shouldn't exist, so it must be a mistake. And this genuinely understandable "conservative" attitude prevails across the spectrum of the left "establishment" from communitarians like Amitae Etzioni to big media, and even to the US State Department. They'll just have to get over it, eventually, because we've taken a road seldom travelled. And we know where the well-travelled road leads...

Scratch an American "conservative" and you'll find a liberal idealogue under the skin. In fact, the most conservative elements of the government are to be found in the US State Department, which to my mind doesn't understand political change or democracy very well at all. Nor, for that matter, do they understand the world very well, or the nature of the enemy. If they were running things they'd, without a doubt, be busy setting the stage for the next total war.

Perhaps the clearest example of how things have become stirred up and how unfamiliar the territory has become concerns the role of the conventional media. I'm not sure what's going on with them. They are clearly left-leaning (except for FOX and a few radio outlets), but they're also lazy and hidebound, which might be a more accurate term than "conservative.". I saw Andrea Mitchell's incompetent wrap up of the state of knowledge about the Saddam/Qaeda link on CNN yesterday, reflecting assumptions that are about 5 months old, and apparently oblivious to the fact that there's pretty much an intelligence consensus that the link is real and long-standing, and probably involved support and training of the 9/11 hijackers. She has a media persona, is married to Greenspan, so doesn't have to do much homework or catching up. She has automatic credibility so yesterday's news is "good enough" for today's analysis Thank God for the blogosphere. Without it we wouldn't know what the heck was going on.

So, I don't think Angels in America lived up either to its negative or positive hype. It was really rather innocuous--almost a nostalgic look at what the left thought it was in a bygone era. It was almost sweet, and unintentionally revealing. Times sure are a-changin', huh?

Have a happy holiday season everyone. Justice broke through yesterday in Iraq. May we see more of it.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 14, 2003

Got Him!


Doesn't look too happy, does he?

This could become a major element in the transfer of charismatic legitimacy currently vested in the US, to the institutions of the future government of Iraq. Surrender of the person of the former dictator for trial in Iraq, by Iraqis, could become the central image in the "peaceful transition of power" that marks the establishment of a new democratic government. This is certainly the trickiest phase in the birth of any new government, and the point at which the prospects for that government are the most fragile. But it's a formula that is workable, and that has a track record of success.

The other benefit of the capture is clearly that we may be able to piece together what the WMD situation actually was in the hours leading up to the start of the war, and why no such weapons have been uncovered to date. Was there a plan to bury the weapons, or transport them to Syria? Was there a plan to actually deploy tactical chemical weapons that was simply not implemented by cammanders in the field, as at least one former military official has claimed? Did they have a JIT production plan of some sort? Was there a strategy to restart the WMD program when world attention began to waiver? Was there a kissing relationship with al Qaeda? If anyone has answers to these questions this fellow has them.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 13, 2003

Signs of the Times

The problem with fundamentalist belief, whether Judeo/Christian or Muslim, is that it never applied to anything other than a change in the political and social order of the era. Essentially the apocalypse predicted in scriptures has already happened, but it took 2,000 years rather than the blink of an eye. What we have is a world where the spirit, rather than the letter, of religious conviction can rule. And the only relation to the Crucifixion is that it symbolized the enormous sacrifice that would be required to arrive at reformed religious belief, open society, rational science and the rule of law. And the sacrifice isn't over, because the ancient enemy still lives... and is apparently making some sort of last stand.

The signs of the times are written everywhere, on every surface that can hold a mark..., from clouds in the sky to complex highway systems, and even in places so hidden only the destitute ever see them. Only willful ignorance makes these signs difficult to see or interpret.

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December 12, 2003

Angels in America: The Ensemble Lie

I'm not quite sure what to think about HBO's Angels in America. Andrew Sullivan describes it as "a pretentious left-wing screed," and I'm inclined to agree. Because I've only seen the first half, however, I can't say with 100% certainty that it's always "left-wing." But the bid to sell the story as profound by clumsily bolting on segments of phantasmagorical religious imagery strikes me as not only pretentious, but sophomoric. And the leftist ideology seems dredged from the same source. So far the element of the drama that is most clearly leftist involves the willfully ignorant presentation of patriotism as either cynical or naively conflicted, through the portrayals Al Pacino as the infamous Roy Cohn and his Mormon/gay acolyte.

But the notion that a group of highly talented entertainers can get together and present a drama filled with deliberately manipulative emotional nuance in order to sell a false version of reality is a little frightening. For an example of the corrosive potential of such a project see almost any Oliver Stone movie, especially JFK which sells the travesty of Garrison's destructive and half-insane conspiracy theory (planted by the KGB, according to recently revealed documents) as fact, even though it has been thoroughly debunked and even though the climactic court case resulted in the wrongful conviction and public destruction of an innocent man.

Other ensemble lies have been less obvious, from The Matrix series, to HBO's inscrutable Carnivale, primarily because they've been so heavily camouflaged that they're all but incoherent. (Although it isn't surprising that the Washington, DC sniper, John Lee Malvo, was apparently addicted to the Matrix series.) Scorsese's Gangs of New York belongs in the same destructive category as JFK, because it deliberately distorts history in order to sell an ideological perspective that is otherwise insupportable: the notion that the anti-war riots in New York City weren't exactly what they seemed, a short-sighted and ugly manifestation of naked racism and traitorous self-interest. It's the sort of distortion the Stalinists turned into an art form. No creative rendering of "fact" is too outrageous or off-limits. The race riots in New York during the Civil War couldn't possibly have been motivated by the same Democrat susceptibilities that infected the Copperheads and McClellanites (and the current anti-war, anti-American left). It must therefore have been the result of capitalist manipulation of some sort, as transparent and shameless an example of Karl Marx's discredited "theory of false consciousness" as one can imagine.

Considerable talent and resources are invested in these orchestrated ensemble lies. I'm not certain what distortion Angels is ultimately selling , because only the first half has been presented so far, and I never saw the stage production. Sullivan says it's the fiction that the right deliberately sought to perpetrate genocide on the gay community by denying treatment, undermining or failing to fund research efforts to find cures or a vaccine. Something like that anyway. This has become an almost universally accepted meme of the gay/left establishment, even though nearly all empirical evidence points to a contrary conclusion.

But one image in the first part of the series is particularly repellent. This is the scene that presents Ethel Rosenberg as a magnanimous ghost/angel, played by Meryl Streep, appearing in order to mildly scold and then phone in an ambulance request for the man who helped ensure her execution, Roy Cohn. The not-so-subtle suggestion is that traitors are well-intentioned and admirable people that ought to be trusted. This rehabilitation of an executed criminal through the device of fantasy actually reveals the preposterous nature of the ideology that underlies the production. And, fortunately, the effort even confuses those in sympathy:

But maybe "Angels" is not meant to be thoroughly understood and fully dissected. Maybe all the noble speeches and crazy tangents are supposed to wash over you, like Al Green's music or Robin Williams at full rant.

And maybe it's just camouflage for vaporous crap? The problem with these orchestrated Hollywood ensemble lies is the substitution of "virtual reality" for fact, because the contest has already been lost in the world of ideas, and the left's fantasy has been thoroughly rejected in the objective world of reality. The only hope is subjective emotional deception and misdirection. And it's all getting to be a tiresome waste of time and talent, isn't it?

Posted by Demosophist at 01:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 08, 2003

Tom Friedman Special on Israel/Pastine

This Wednesday on the Discovery Channel: "Straddling the Fence." Plays again at 1:00 AM if you miss the 10:00 PM showing.

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Saudi Funding of Islamism

Good article in US News about the Saudi funding of Islamism here. Excerpt:

The Saudi funding program, Alexiev says, is "the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted"--dwarfing the Soviets' propaganda efforts at the height of the Cold War. The Saudi weekly Ain al-Yaqeen last year reported the cost as "astronomical" and boasted of the results: some 1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges, and nearly 2,000 schools in non-Islamic countries.

The bad news is that this has already created a global problem. The good news is that stopping the flow of money will put a serious crimp in the operations of both the terrorists and the Wahhabi proselytizing campaign. That, however, will mean that the Iranian version of Islamism will have no competition other than with Western Liberalism, so if we dry up the Saudi funding pipeline we're going to have to do something pretty quickly about Iran. (Hat tip: Winds of Change)

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December 07, 2003

Sunday Morning Clinton

Nearly all of the Sunday morning talk shows on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor featured a lengthy appearence by Hillary. They also featured the recent assessment by Newt Gingrich that we're confronting a dismal situation in Iraq. I have no problem with the assessments made by Hillary and Newt in terms of their specific recommendations. I'm sure we need to consider the role of the coincidence between the upcoming Hajj and troop rotations. I'm glad Hillary is knowledgable about such nitty gritty. But I see no reason to regard their assessments of the general situation as any more valid or coherent than anyone else's. What all of the Sunday talk shows are missing, and especially the Chris Matthews Show, which will find some sort of mustard seed for faith in the Democrat ancien regime no matter how furiously it has to dig, is the fact that we are winning, not losing, the war against the insurgents in Iraq. That is what an article in WaPo highlighting input from field commanders makes clear: A key graf from Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a commander in Tikrit:

What we see is the enemy getting weaker and fewer in number in Tikrit. When he shows his hand, he pays for it. He has been unable to recruit effectively. The numbers of Iraqi men joining the police force, the civil defense forces and legitimate government jobs by comparison is telling. They obviously are voting by their actions for the new Iraq and they are showing confidence in their government and police forces unlike before. The cooperation we are now getting from the average citizen exceeds that which the terrorists receive.

Now, why the devil is the primary TV media completely discounting the assessments of the few people in this debate that are in a position to actually know something? Is it the same as Jack Shafer's "calico cat" explanation for why they discount a pretty good argument by Jay Epstein that Saddam was involved in 9/11, or an even better argument by Stephen Hayes that Saddam had longstanding ties to al Qaeda? Is it just plain laziness? This really could have longer range implications for the health of our open society than the misnamed "War on Terrorism." (We aren't at war with a strategic method, but with the ideological movements that employ it.) What in the world do we do about this? Stop watching TV news? Have things always been this screwed up, and we just didn't notice it because there was no spin-cancelling blogosphere?

Posted by Demosophist at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

More Thoughts on a Post-Qaeda Islam

One of the comments to the Feser article in TCS, by "Mark Plus," makes an empirical observation gleaned from the World Values Survey, that points out some serious flaws in Feser's approach:

Protestant European countries, followed closely by Britain and the more developed Catholic European countries (not to mention Confucian Japan) have all converged towards a set of values that the social scientists who have conducted the survey describe as both 'secular/rational' and pro 'self expression,' a luxury available to people who feel secure from want (thanks to European social democracy).

Muslim societies, by contrast, have clustered around the exact opposite set of values, namely, traditional (especially authoritarian and religious) and survival-centered.

Given the empirical evidence of two radically different social outcomes, I don't see how anyone could argue that Protestantism and Islam are fundamentally similar. If anything, conservative Catholic values tend more to resemble Islamic ones.

According to the extremely coherent literature of "American Exceptionalism" that began with Tocqueville, the American Ideology possesses three core institutional beliefs that render it different from European societies, including the mother country. These involve the role of anti-statism and individual sovereignty, religious sectarianism, and a belief in equality of opportunity. Those are clearly elements that derive from the experience as well as the belief system of Protestantism. The issue is whether beliefs created or followed experience. If the latter, then there is considerable hope for a profound change in the Islamic world.

Another empirical strategy that might have helped to inform this debate about a reformed, or "tamed" Islam, would have been to look at the dimension of the decentralization of religious authority within Christendom, before looking at Islam. Such a strategy has the virtue of holding the core religious orientation constant, and allowing the variation of the instrumental variable, and thereby avoid the mistake of confounding the role of one religious belief with another. It's quite clear that as you move from the Protestant nations (US, England, Holland, etc.) to the Roman Catholic nations of Western Europe, and finally to the Eastern Orthodox nations of Eastern Europe and Russia, you are moving from less to more centralized authority, and from more to less prosperity and freedom.

And while it is true that, as Feser observes, Islam is sectarian, the ground of competition between the Muslim sects is not the same as in Protestantism. It is not a competition of ideas and their ability to render "religious service" more satisfying to the client than the competition, where believers have the consumer sovereignty to leave by the back door as quickly as they walk in by the front. The Muslim sectarian competition, including the ancient competion between Persia and Arabia, (now manifested as the competition between Sunni Wahabbism and the Ayatollahs of Iranian Shiism) rests on the ability to dominate by force. And that, in turn derives ultimately from a radically different belief in predestination... which in Islam applies to the events of this world, while it applies primarily to the events of the next world in Calvinism. The other Protestant sects exist on a continuum of belief in "worldly asceticism," but the ultimate emphasis of destination belief is, non-rationally, on the next world while the emphasis of everyday practice is, rationally, on this world. In the Muslim sects the relative emphais between ultimate destination and everyday practice is reversed. Protestantism is a rebellion against fate, motivated primarily by fear. Islam is an attempt to compel the larger currents of history to surrender to fate. The former takes the form of acquisition, and success in a "calling;" the latter the form of warrior cults.

The difference between the world of Christendom and Islam in general, therefore, has to do with the nature of the competition between decentralized sects, which in turn is either a function of the specific beliefs, or a response to foreclosing the force option of sectarian competition. Is there room for Islam to adopt beliefs compatible with "worldly asceticism" and voluntary conversion? That, I think, remains an open question.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Has Islam Had Its Last Cromwell?

In a new TCS article Edward Feser speculates that what Islam needs is not a Martin Luther, but a Pope. Well, he's partly right. Islam needs to put a cap on its unending Reformation. That's part of the story. It may need an ecumenical hierarchy, such as the one that now exists in Iran, in order to set that up. But Islam also needs its Oliver Protector. One of the problems with the Islamic world is that accounts were never settled. But the other is that their religious history evolved to a point where martyrdom was their only option, while that's where ours began. It's not that simple, of course. Nothing is that tidy.

The fact of the matter is that those aspects of Islam that seem to put it unalterably at odds with the modern world are, for the most part, precisely those that it shares in common with Protestantism; and that those features of modern Western civilization most crucial to the maintenance of liberty and scientific reason owe far more to the Catholic Church than they do to Luther and Calvin.

It might have been a good idea for Feser to temper his philosophical bent by adopting a little crass empiricism, as did the remarkable social scientist Max Weber. The fact is that the Protestant nations that adopted an outlook Weber called "worldly asceticism" performed far better, economically, than those that remained under the control of more "traditional" outlooks. Not only that, but even within nations Protestant enclaves did better than Catholic enclaves. What's important is the legitimation of behavior in a society, a concept that Hayek never really grasped, and that Dr. Feser ought to have at least considered.

Although Hayek was a brilliant economist, he was a lousy sociologist. For instance, he insisted on attributing the "rule of law" to a phenomenon he called "emergence," which is a bit like believing that babies come from storks. The barons who established the rule of law and the common law in England did so for very practical reasons, and its origins predated the main thrust of the Reformation by at least four centuries. The rule of law didn't emerge from some black box. People planned it, very deliberately. And while England was under a Pope at the time, the primary difference in England was that the Norman Conquest led to the creation of the "Doomsday Book," which was a massive accounting exercise designed so that the Normans wouldn't inadvertently miss any treasure with their suction hoses. It was, in other words, the determination to make precise accounts, ironically to secure war booty, that led to the realization that feuds, and therefore feudalism, cost more than they were worth. The Pope had nothing to do with it. Nor did Calvin or John Locke, for that matter. Now, it did happen in a Roman Catholic world, whereas nothing like it happened under Eastern Orthodoxy. And in that sense you can identify a dividing line between reasonably prosperous Western Europe, and the poverty-stricken lands east of the Carpathians. So, it's a continuum in which Roman Catholicism had an advantage because it was more resilient and adaptive, but also because it had better geography.

I think if you want a cogent and learned analysis of this issue as it relates to Islam and the Umma then Ernest Gellner's Conditions of Liberty is a much better place to start than Hayek. The problem with Islam is not that it hasn't had a Reformation, but that its Reformation has been perpetual. And Islam's Adam Ferguson, a fellow named Ibn Khaldun, made it clear why this was so. The "High Islam" of the metropolitan centers has always been dependent on the "Low Islam" of the villages for leadership and military expertise. Catholicism too had a high version that was more "rational" and a low, or village, version that was influenced by traditional and even magical beliefs and superstition. And it is true that the organization of the Catholic church, at the time of Luther, played a critical role in that shift to a rationalizing worldview. But this wasn't the case in its early stages where, if anything, Protestantism was more intolerant and rigid than Catholicism.

Again, the issue was legitimation of behavior, not the "rule of law," which had already been established (no thanks to the Pope). And the specific behavior that was legitimated was the acquisition of wealth. When that became a religious good, or even an imperative, then the engine of rationalization was off and running... because that allowed, even demanded, that people plan the arc of their lives in a way that traditionalism was content to leave to chance, or fate. Calvinism was a rebellion against fate, motivated by fear.

And Weber even goes so far as to point out a specific difference between the predestination belief of Islam, which lead to fatalism and militarism, and the predestination beliefs of the Calvinists, which led to worldly acquisition. It was the "dual decree." Those who were not predestined for elect status were not merely left out, they were damned for eternity. Even worldly acquisition couldn't affect that awful judgment, for which humans had been destined before they were even born. But worldly acquisition could be a "sign" of what only God could really know for certain. And that had to suffice.

Islam, in contrast, applied predestination to the events of this world rather than the next, in a much more active way. There was no "dual decree" hanging over a Muslim's head. Those who were unsuccessful had no less hope in election after life than those who ruled. All that was at issue was a vague and popular sense of "kismet," or fate, and the ability to succeed in conquest. Men need not plan their lives, which could be redeemed by a single act. And it is more than Ironic that Sayyid Qutb has now linked that element of predestination to martyrdom, as Islamism makes a kind of last stand. The question is whether the Islamic world will legitimate that connection, when it appears to be a direct contradiction of other aspects of the faith. It is one thing to sacrifice your life as a demonstration for a greater good. But it is quite another to use that sacrifice to murder others, including the innocent. And this barbarism derives not from Islam, but from the underbelly of the European Counter-enlightenment. In the case of both the Nazis and the Phalange, which were the modern equivalent of the "Fifth Monarchists" of Cromwell's era, the barbaric innovation of suicide terrorism derived from a Counter-reformation.

What is not certain, at this point, is whether this difference in orientation toward the doctrine of predestination ("this world" for Islam, and "the next world" for the Calvinists) was a direct consequence of Cromwell's defeat. In other words the early Calvinists were militant and had a powerful belief in Providence that applied to "this world." And the emphasis seems to have shifted after their bid to establish a theocracy of sorts in England failed. The emphasis of Providence certainly shifted geographically to America's "City on a Hill," and it also may have shifted doctrinally to the afterlife. If that's the case, then bin Laden may become Islam's Cromwell...

Posted by Demosophist at 03:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 03, 2003

The Subliminal Democrat Strategy

In "The Campaign of Hate and Fear" Orson Scott Card makes the following observation:

Watching the primary campaigns among this year's pathetic crop of Democratic candidates, I can't help but think that their campaigns would be vastly improved if they would only rise to the level of "Death to the Republicans."

Instead, their platforms range from Howard Dean's "Bush is the devil" to everybody else's "I'll make you rich and Bush is quite similar to the devil."

Since Bush is quite plainly not the devil, one wonders why anyone in the Democratic Party thinks this ploy will play with the general public. (Hat tip: Andrew)

And in the mean time watch Hillary. She's clearly positioning herself to pick up the pieces that the Democrats have dashed themselves into under thrall to the left's futile effort to wear away the mountains of Americanism by spitting on them.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:50 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Is America Liberal?

Even the comments to James Pinkerton's TCS article "Is America Conservative?" seem forbidingly learned, but it's a trick question. It's definitely provocative to ask whether American "conservatives" are really conservative, but of course we know that the United States is the archetypal liberal society, in just about every sense. Indeed, it virtually defined liberalism institutionally. In other words it's both liberal in the classical sense, and "liberal" in the sense that drove Frederich Engels and Louis Hartz nuts: more "socialistic" than socialism. At its founding the very notion of a representative government was not merely liberal, but radical. The conservatives were the royalists, many of whom fled to counter-revolutionary Canada. And those very noblesse oblige conservative traditions created, both directly and indirectly, the socialist movement in Europe as well as the later "third way" compromise.

So the notion that it's radical to expand the American franchise on representative government, even to societies that have as little democratic tradition as, say, 1940s Japan and Germany, or 2003 Iraq, is perfectly true--and perfectly in keeping with American values.

The dilemma of American Exceptionalism is that if we really are outliers then democracy really wouldn't have been possible for any other polity, so in that sense only Frenchman believe in strict American Exceptionalism (typically ignoring their own experience). But the franchise was even expanded to France (more or less) and this was in large part because the American Ideology is fundamentally charismatic in nature. It is not simply a set of dry formulas, nor is it even the words of the Constitution, which have been repeated unsuccessfully by many illiberal regimes throughout history. The "magic" lies in the institutions that were originally infused with the charisma of the founders who, rather than ascending an emperor's throne, transmuted the quality of transcending limits into the very foundations and population of the Republic itself... by leaving power, in their wake. And every success the United States has ever had in "nation building," whether directly or indirectly, has followed the same formula. It is a repeatable phenomenon.

Is it not passing strange that even the most popular anti-Americans are American? Indeed the only competition in the contest for charismatic authority is that paltry skinny sickly ranting fellow hiding in a cave somewhere in the Northwest Provinces... and his days are truly numbered.

The United States represents, through its institutions and its sprit, that elemental quality that has escaped all individual leaders, no matter how blessed they seem: the self regenerating and perpetually young charismatic society and culture. And it is this that primarily fuels George W. Bush's faith.

Radical? Of course. America was never conservative, only pragmatically cautious when our lack of power required it. And we lost that luxury of caution on 9/11. So what you see is as inevitable, and as natural, as a Spring rain.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack