Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


I liked Ryan Sager's TCS column "Rethinking Libertarian Minimalism," which I thought offered libertarians a way out of the hole they have dug for themselves on foreign-policy issues. A lot of people didn't. It's sparked a debate, and I guess I might as well put a word in. (Warning: it's not a particularly civil debate.)

So far, Justin Logan has a response to Sager on his blog; Max Borders responds to Justin Logan on his blog; and Justin replies. Meanwhile, Radley Balko of the Cato Institute puts a very long reply to Sager at TCS-- I'm amazed they gave him so much space!-- point by point, while sometimes missing the point. Sager responds on his blog.

So there's plenty to chew on.

I'll start with the synopsis of libertarian arguments on war and peace midway through Justin Logan's post.

Most libertarians believe, as Robert Nozick did, that: "Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights.)" I believe this, too. For me, this group of rights includes the right to one's own life. This right is possessed by all people, even Iraqis.

To save Iraqi lives seems a very odd reason to oppose the Iraq war considering the character of Saddam's regime:

The numbers [killed by Saddam] are fuzzy simply because they are so vast. The Shiite estimate of 6 million is considerably higher than previously published victim totals, but even the Arab press acknowledges that the death toll at the hands of Saddam's executioners numbers in the millions.

But Justin goes on:

This claim [the right to life] is not absolute, and can be overridden by other claims, such as the claims to protect a people from impending attack or to prevent a prior attacker from attacking again.

So we're not talking Gandhian pacifism here. Too bad; that's a much more intelligible and appealing position...

In my world, though, it does not mean that Iraqis' right to their lives can be overcome by Ryan Sager's (or President Bush's) ideology about how things need to be run in the Middle East.

But, it seems, Justin is willing to let Iraqis' right to life be "overcome" (in far greater numbers!) by Saddam's ideology about how things need to be run in the Middle East. Which is odd.

The U.S. government, for all the arguments that have been made to the contrary, is not responsible for those who were murdered by Saddam Hussein.

Well, responsibility is hard to trace. But we did help bring Saddam to power. We backed him in the war against Iran. The reason he didn't have WMDs when we showed up in 2003 is that we had effectively contained him through sanctions, but those sanctions also (from what I've read) caused the deaths of half a million children. (The link is to Madeleine Albright's disgusting statement that this was "worth it.") I would submit that a bit of angst is called for about whether we maybe were a little bit responsible for those deaths. Justin continues:

There are mediated consequences and unmediated consequences, and they are not of the same moral importance. When the U.S. government drops a bomb on an innocent Iraqi, his death is an unmediated consequence of the act. When Saddam Hussein murdered an Iraqi, the Iraqi's death was, at most, a mediated consequence of the U.S.'s failure to depose Saddam Hussein. Putting the same moral weight on the two is absurd.

Absurd? Let's have a bit of humility here: I suspect there's a "human life is human life" position available here that deserves not to be so easily dismissed. Anyway, I like Justin's "mediated"/"unmediated" distinction. It's a good response to the Lancet study finding that the Iraq war has caused 100,000 deaths, which is regularly spun into the claim that "coalition forces have killed 100,000 Iraqis." No, they haven't: most of those 100,000 are "mediated" deaths, including many killed by terrorists and insurgents. The number killed by coalition forces is certainly much lower, and the number of innocent civilians killed, of course, much lower still.

But for the sake of argument, let's call all the Iraq war deaths "unmediated" and all Saddam's murders "mediated." Justin is essentially asking us to let millions die in order to avoid getting the blood of 100,000 on our hands. I am reminded of Komarovsky's remark to Dr. Zhivago at the end of Pasternak's classic: "Is your delicacy so exorbitant that you would sacrifice to it a mother and her child?" Or in this case, hundreds of thousands of them. It strikes me as a "sanctimonious" position, in Max Borders' words. Chillingly sanctimonious. Elsewhere I've called this "the Pontius Pilate solution."

Much of Justin's post consists of banging on about how Cato was right all along. Stuff like this:

Well, it seems that in the wake of the sweeping warmaking principles put forth by the Bush administration, one might want to look back and see how things worked out.

Justin apparently presumes that "how things worked out" is, disastrously. Well, I disagree. Having read a lot of news sources including Iraqi bloggers over the past year and a half, with a bit of help from the fine film "Voices of Iraq," I have no doubt that life has gotten better for Iraqis as a result of the war, and not much doubt that it will improve dramatically in the future. And they know it. That's debatable, sure, but what's odd is that Justin Logan just takes his side for granted. It leaves me wondering, why is this so obvious to him? What are his evaluative criteria? My evaluative criteria are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom to speak one's mind, to "live in truth," as Vaclav Havel put it, is of particular importance for me. I say, with Patrick Henry, or with the Fadhil brothers, to use a contemporary example, give me liberty or give me death! And in particular, the liberty to say what I believe, to speak my mind, to worship as I see fit. Iraqis lacked that for 35 years, now they have it. Of course, 1200 American soldiers have died. They are volunteers. They chose to risk their lives to fight for freedom. We regret their loss, of course. But they did not die in vain: on the contrary. They have brought freedom to millions. They are heroes, and we honor them. That's part of what soldiering is all about. And, of course, there is the chaos in the Sunni triangle and all that. Is security more important than freedom? For a libertarian?

Justin Logan and Radley Balko both get on Sager's case for seeming to ignore or not to have read some of Cato's output. They don't realize they are illustrating Sager's point about being written off, about the national debate passing them by. If people like Ryan Sager haven't read their stuff, this is a sign that their stuff isn't being read. Patrick Basham's repeatedly-mentioned paper "Can Iraq Be Democratic?" is an example. It's serious scholarship, sure, marred by the title. The question is too transparently rhetorical, if only because it comes from the Cato Institute. And it hints at the paper's irrelevance. "How America Can Improve the Chances for Iraqi Democracy" would be the title of a more relevant work, given that we're already there. The other thing is that the article is not libertarian. Claims like this one--

The building blocks of a modern democratic political culture are not institutional in nature. The building blocks are not elections, parties, and legislatures. Rather, the building blocks of democracy are supportive cultural values--the long-term survival of democratic institutions requires a particular political culture.

are in a traditionalist, conservative tradition. And this claim--

Paradoxically, a more democratic Iraq may also be a repressive one.

shows scant faith in the libertarian credo that people want freedom.

As I see it, libertarians had two major contributions they could have made to the Iraq debate.

1. Legitimate government is based on consent of the governed. While this comes in various forms and degrees, in the case of Saddam's government, there was no consent, and Saddam's rule was based on murder and fear. That international law recognizes such a regime as legitimate is a travesty and a disgrace. Any free state has a right (though not a duty) to attack such a state and to remove the regime if it can.

2. Totalitarianism is bad. If you put it that simply, of course, the point sounds banal. But this should be libertarians' forte, and it's a point that deserves repetition. 1984 is a libertarian classic, yet, faced with a real live Big Brother, libertarians wanted to leave him in power.

If Cato had concentrated all its firepower on these two big points, it would be a highly influential voice in the foreign policy debate today. Nor would making these points have obligated them to support the Iraq war; they could have remained neutral, raising doubts about the right of the US government to spend taxpayers' money on the cause of liberation, however noble. But of course, this emphasis would have had the effect of supporting the war, even if Cato didn't make that its institutional position. So instead they chose to climb awkwardly on the anti-war bandwagon, along with UN-loving lefties, and they began to lip sync to the arguments of their new friends. The end result: if you care about liberty for Americans only, you won't find a better friend than the Cato Institute; but if you love liberty, full stop, George Bush is your man.

James K. Glassman reviews a new report on US-Asian relations. This is the key:

Roy added that, while anti-Americanism exists in Asia, the animosity is "qualitatively different" from anti-Americanism in Europe, which is "more visceral."

I think we should look to re-orient our policy towards Asia in the coming years. Europe's anti-Americanism, with its vicious elitism and near-racism combined with naivete and barely cloaked ambition, is too irrational to be straightforwardly dealt with. Economic stagnation is likely to make it worse. Reason has a much better chance in Asia. I agree with this too:

Any U.S. effort to promote the containment of China would be at best premature, and at worst, highly counterproductive. No important Asian country would join such an effort, and the U.S. would forfeit China’s help in managing vital challenges in the region and elsewhere. A more attractive alternative would involve continuing to cultivate all the key powers in Asia while seeking to use those relationships to resolve outstanding disputes and consolidate a generally favorable political and territorial status quo. This would require the maintenance of U.S. alliances and substantial forward-based military forces in the region, and more in-depth strategic discussions with China, official and non-official.

Except for one thing: Taiwan should get its independence. To let an authoritarian state gobble up its democratic neighbor would be too deep a betrayal of America's basic reason to play a role in the world at all. I'm not saying we should force this. I'd suggest "Socratic diplomacy": ask the world to articulate what principles, other than the pure cynicism of might-makes-right, could possibly justify a Chinese takeover of Taiwan. And I don't think America should pay lip service to the "one China" principle: such insidious doublespeak has no place in the land of the free.

My take on the rise of China.

Monday, November 29, 2004


I was fascinated by this Guardian story:

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked "chestnut revolution" are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Wow. My congratulations to Yushchenko, to Ukraine, and to American democracy-promoters, if they pull it off. I support freedom of the press and transparency and all that, so it's good news. But there's another side to the story.

To view the collapse of the Soviet Union as the liberation of oppressed nations from the yoke of Russian imperialism is highly misleading. It was the other way around: Boris Yeltsin became president of the Russian Federation and declared independence from the Soviet Union! Only the Baltic republics (and Ukraine a little bit) pushed for independence; the others had it thrust upon them.

My sister was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan. Islam Karimov, the Soviet toady-turned-Uzbek dictator, originally opposed independence for Uzbekistan. This came as a surprise to her students, because now Karimov poses as the leader of a national liberation movement against Russia. It's an illustration of how nations are "imagined communities," a social construct much more malleable than people realize.

In Ukraine, anti-Soviet resentment is the legacy of a horrible famine under Stalin in the 1930s. Kiev is one of the three great cities of historic Russia, along with Moscow and St. Petersburg. Ukrainian nationalism looks to Kievan Rus, in the 12th century, and to the freedom-fighting Cossacks of the 17th century. But it has been part of the Russian empire for most of modern history. The Ukrainian language, long submerged by Russian, was pushed by Soviet nationality policy in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 19th century, no one would have imagined that Ukraine would become an independent nation. And one province of Ukraine, the Crimea, was transferred from Russia to Ukraine by Khrushchev on a whim, and is mostly inhabited by Russians.

The breakup of the Soviet Union, as opposed to the end of communism, can be seen as a tragic historical accident. If we let every province and every ethnicity in the world vote to secede from larger nations it is part of, there would be many more countries in the world, and the map would be littered with a lot more borders. Would this make the world a better place? Ukrainian independence is a fact and I'm not proposing to reverse it, but liberal sympathy with underdog nationalisms can be too facile.

[UPDATE: But I am glad to see what's happening in Ukraine! I'm not a "freedom-hater," as Anne Applebaum entitled a WaPo column. As a Bush-supporting Russophile, I'm a bit conflicted here. Russians can still travel throughout the former Soviet Union; if Ukraine joined the EU, they would no longer be able to travel freely to Kiev. It's as if New England seceded and joined Canada, and then red-staters were forbidden to travel there. I'm sensitive to the Russian interests at stake, but I do welcome the advent of Ukrainian democracy, if that's what this turns out to be. This article (about Russia's reaction) is also interesting.]


This Buttonwood column highlights how Asian countries are propping up the sinking dollar and concludes on this rather damning note:

The incentives to flee the Asian cartel (to give it its proper name) thus increase the bigger the game becomes. Why take the risk that another central bank will leave you carrying the can? Better to get out early. Because the game is thus so unstable it will come to an end, and probably a messy one. And what will then happen to the dollar? It is hard to imagine its hegemony remaining unchallenged when so many will have lost so much. And doubly so given that America has abused the dollar’s reserve-currency role so egregiously that its finances now look more like those of a banana republic than an economic superpower.

This raises the interesting question: was our "abuse" of our reserve-currency role voluntary or involuntary? People who dislike Bush will point to the deficit and say that this administration has been squandering our reserve-currency status. But the trade deficit has trended upwards for more than a decade. It grew even faster in the late 1990s when the government was running a surplus. It appears rather as if the "twin deficits" are independent of each other, and in particular that the country will spend, one way or another, the extra slack it gets for borrowing from printing the world's reserve currency. If the government doesn't, the private sector will. (On the other hand, Jagadeesh Gokhale argues that our low savings rate results from the increased annuitization of incomes among the elderly, as a result of the Social Security program.)

If having the world's reserve currency causes us to run a trade deficit, would we be better off without it? My old prof Ricardo Hausmann liked to emphasize that some of developing countries' chronic instability was a result of being unable to borrow in their own currencies; he calls this "original sin." Now The Economist hints that the US could end up like a banana republic... On the other hand, the Asian countries do just fine without owning the world's reserve currency. They work hard, save more, spend less, and run trade surpluses. If "the dollar's demise" stops the inflow of foreign capital, boosts the competitiveness of our exports, and pushes up inflation and interest rates, we could find ourselves doing just that: working harder, saving more, spending less, and running trade surpluses. And growing faster than ever. All that is fine by me. I do think, though, that the dollar has a certain propaganda power abroad, for better or worse: not the flag, but the dollar, is the most recognizable rectangular symbol of America.

But if we want to keep our reserve-currency role, let's remember we have one BIG asset we're still stashing in the cupboard: the right to live, work and travel in the US, which many foreigners want, and which we sell much less freely than we could. At present, it is very difficult for foreigners to visit the US. The process is long and tortuous, and dependent on the discretion of a US State Department official. We could establish a simple visa process: say, deposit $5,000 plus the price of a plane ticket at a US consulate abroad, and get a one-year work-and-travel visa within a week. (People could borrow the $5,000 using collateral in their home countries.) If you find a job here, we would convert your visa to a guest-worker visa. If you are admitted to a university, we would convert your visa to a student visa. Such a visa system would put a safety net under the dollar, because whenever the trade deficit spilled too many dollars abroad, foreign tourists and students and investors would buoy it back up.

And by the way, tourism is a good industry to be in. It creates the right incentives to make your country real nice and fun. Being the world's college town is a great job too: you get all smart and have lots of jobs for academics.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


"Give thanks for immigrants," writes Rupert Murdoch. "And for a president who understands their importance." Let me second that thought. And let me second Tamar Jacoby's praise for "Bush's immigration gamble." Jacoby remarks:

[A]n immigration initiative could conceivably pay off over the long term. Latinos — even second- and third-generation Latinos — could react to an overhaul much as blacks reacted to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, flocking all but permanently to the party that passed the landmark legislation.

While I doubt the electoral payoff will be as big as that, I think immigration is the civil rights movement of our generation in other ways. It is a cause in which freedom and equality are on the same side. A policy both unjust and inefficient is allowed to persist because a major social group is disenfranchised. As with civil rights, immigration reform brings foreign-policy idealism home:

And we see millions of immigrants living in an undocumented, vulnerable, sub-legal situation while they try to feed their families by providing services that our economy needs. If dark-skinned Third World nations were once persuaded by communist propaganda that portrayed white Americans as exploitative bourgeois pigs, it was because white Americans were behaving like exploitative bourgeois pigs towards dark-skinned Americans here at home. Likewise, if the images from Abu Ghraib strike hundreds of millions around the world the world as an accurate symbol of America, it is because scenes like those at Abu Ghraib are enacted every day in US embassies all over the world. No, there is no stripping naked and no hooding. But foreigners who pay us the compliment of wanting to come to our country are rewarded by being frisked and hustled through military checkpoints, crammed in endless lines, finger-printed, background-checked and eyed with suspicion like criminals, charged huge fees which will never be repaid even if the visa is denied, then have their lives and futures subjected to the arbitrary power of an official of Colin Powell's State Department, questioned and told to wait, left hanging with no information for a while, then, usually, denied, barred from a job or an education or a visit to friends and loved ones by US brute force. If they have to come illegally, they are deprived of the protection of the law and of basic life needs like a driver's license, deprived of the "inalienable rights" which the Declaration of Independence (written, significantly, by the slaveowning hand of Jefferson—this hypocrisy is a long tradition) proclaims. Of course, the American-born, who know they will never suffer the immigrant's indignities, tend to look at all this differently. But it is no wonder that Arabs, Iranians, Russians, Africans, Indians and Chinese find the images of Abu Ghraib so poignant, so symbolic, so familiar, so true.

And one more thing: I think this civil rights movement will require civil disobedience. In a way, that's already happening: ten million people are breaking the "law" (or at any rate, defying the threat of state-sanctioned violence) to live in the US; and many others are violating the law by employing them, and by not turning them in to the police. But this civil disobedience needs to be more organized, to come out of the shadows. I want to see an America where idealistic employers put up signs: "Help Wanted. Illegals Welcome." Where illegal immigrants, and college students and libertarians and liberals who sympathize with them, stage marches and demonstrations. If they start building a wall across the border, I want to have organizations in place that will drive out into the desert and start tearing it down as soon as it's built. A key part of civil disobedience is to be willing to do jail time. If you are ready to risk jail time, you can do everything in public. You can organize in public, you can attract the cameras, you can mobilize. When you face the cameras and do jail time with a clear conscience, when the state can employ violence against you but it cannot put you in the wrong, you delegitimize the law. And then you begin to test the will of the state to enforce injustice. Eventually, that will will break, and a great advance for freedom will be accomplished.

I want to start a movement here, folks. Or if the movement is already underway, I want to join it. Please, link your friends to this post. If you know of sites where activism is getting started, put a comment with the url and I'll check them out. We'll hope for a snowball effect. The goal: that all people, regardless of place of birth, should enjoy the right to live and work in the United States.


"Immigration enforcement grows weaker" reports the Washington Times.

Immigration enforcement efforts actually have become more lax since the September 11 attacks and have had "no meaningful impact" on the growing number of immigrants now in the United States — which has reached a record high of 34 million, according to a report released yesterday.

A 13 percent increase of U.S. immigrants, more than 4 million, since 2000 included more than 2 million illegal aliens, who now total about 10 million or 30 percent of the immigrant population, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said in its report, based on as-yet-unpublished U.S. Census Bureau data.

My heartfelt welcome to all who have come to our country. Your presence is an honor for us, whether you have come to experience or enjoy our country, to make a living, or to build a new life. Our thanks to you for preserving one of America's proudest traditions, the tradition that validates and gives life to all the rest by underlining the universality of our principles. My welcome goes out in particular to the illegals, along with my deepest apologies about the deterioration of our hospitality over the years. Unfortunately, America contains a lot of jerks who want to slam the door in the face of people who ask nothing of us but wish to come here and earn their living peacefully. Apologies for the fear of the police, the inability to make flights on airplanes, the lack of drivers' licenses, and all the other inconveniences. Very embarrassing to us that you have to go through that... But I hope your stay is pleasant and profitable nonetheless. We'll work on fixing all those problems one of these days.

The intra-Republican civil war is beginning, reports David Brooks. Excellent. When all the good ideas are in one party, you need debate to happen within that party.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


In the comments of a recent post, Nato uses the phrase "secular bigotry." Hmm. So people who think religious people are crazy are "secular bigots?"

It seems to me we censor opinions all the time. Education may be considered a process of censorship. Certain opinions, e.g. that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1782, or that Canada is located to the south of the US, are punished with red pens and low test scores. As you climb the education ladder, an ever-larger range of views are dismissed as incorrect or untenable. We consider a person crazy who believes that the earth is flat, or that the ancient Greeks lived in the territory of present-day Montreal, or who stands by the the theory of four elements, earth, water, fire, and wind. We shun these people and prefer to exclude them from positions of power. Why not consider people who believe that there is a God crazy? Assuming, as I suppose we must for these purposes that the answer "Because there is a God" is off-limits.

Behind Nato's remark, I think there is an implied distinction between form or rules of discourse and substance of discourse. The distinction is useful because our definition of the rules of discourse (it should be "tolerant") can be independent of the substance of discourse (since we can't agree on that). But I'm not sure the distinction is tenable.

I love Bush:

SANTIAGO, Chile — President Bush vowed Sunday to push a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States as guest workers even though it appears less likely to win backing in a Congress that grew more conservative in this month's elections.

Bush made the commitment during a half-hour meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox in the Chilean capital, where the two leaders are attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. But neither Bush nor his aides could offer any details of where the plan stood on Capitol Hill.

"I told President Fox that I had campaigned on this issue," Bush told reporters as he sat with Fox in the Hyatt Regency hotel in an upscale Santiago neighborhood with views of the snow-capped Andes mountains.

"I made it very clear, my position that we need to make sure that where there's a willing worker and a willing employer, that that job ought to be filled legally in cases where Americans will not fill that job," Bush said.

The encounter brought the two neighbors full circle on the most complex and contentious issue between them. Bush and Fox began their terms within months of each other, promising reforms to ease the flow of migrants across their more than 2,000-mile border. But the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, quickly pushed immigration off a Washington agenda that came to be dominated by security concerns.

On Sunday, Bush conceded a point that Fox and his aides have been making: Legalizing the flow of large numbers of immigrants would free the U.S. Border Patrol to concentrate on terrorists, drug smugglers and other security threats.

"We share a mutual concern to make sure our border is secure," Bush said. "One way to make sure the border is secure is to have reasonable immigration policies."

He said he was undeterred by congressional opposition and intended to change minds by "working it."

"I'm going to find supporters on the Hill and move it," he told reporters Sunday night, during a news conference with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos at the presidential palace.

Asked about a letter sent to him by nearly two dozen lawmakers claiming the plan amounted to an amnesty program for undocumented workers, Bush said he was unfazed.

"I get letters all the time from people that are trying to steer me one way or the other when it comes to legislation," the president said. "But I'm going to move forward. In the letter, I noticed that they said, well, this is because … they're objecting to the program because it's an amnesty program. It's not an amnesty program; it's a worker program."

A senior U.S. official, who briefed reporters on condition that his name not be used, said the Bush administration had begun "consultations up on the Hill, and this is going to be part of the president's legislative agenda for this coming session of the Congress."

Bush's plan, not yet written into a bill, would be the first overhaul of immigration rules in 18 years. It would allow three-year work visas for an undetermined number of the millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.


That's been the lesson of the past three years, but this account of the battle of Fallujah drives it home. It brought tears to my eyes. Not of sorrow, and not exactly of joy; of hope, and of wonder. Like Moses before the Burning Bush. Excerpting doesn't do it justice, and don't let it deter you from reading it, but here are a few bits:

The whole time the enemy was firing mortars and rockets at the apartments. Honest to God, I don't think I saw a single Marine even distracted by the enemy fire.


My whole life I have read about the greatest generation and sat in wonder at their accomplishments. For the first time, as I watch these Marines and Soldiers, I am eager for the future as this is just the beginning for them. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of all is that the morale of the men is sky high. They hurt for the wounded and the dead but they are eager to continue to attack. Further, not one of them would be comfortable with being called a hero even though they clearly are.

Extraordinary, remarks Andrew Sullivan. (Which is where I got the link.) Maybe. Or maybe it's quite ordinary. Maybe a lot of Americans would put their lives on the line for a cause if the time came. Maybe in the way they do, every day. Well, not rich kids, not trust fund kids, but the working poor who could fall through the cracks and starve if they screw up, and yet they find the strength to push on. Courage, whether in Fallujah or in the daily operations of capitalism and economic growth, reverberates to the ends of the earth.

And this appeared on The Corner (hat tip, Tim Blair):

I am also a professor at a military-related institution, and my little brother is an enlisted Marine (a sniper with 1-3) in Fallujah. This weekend he called for the first time since the battle began. He informed us that a large number of the residents of Fallujah, before fleeing the battle, left blankets and bedding for the Marines and Soldiers along with notes thanking the Americans for liberating their city from the terrorists, as well as invitations to the Marines and Soldiers to sleep in their houses.

That is so sweet!


More intolerance-of-intolerance...

The Belgians have banned the country's most popular party because it's "racist." Michael Totten offers this cryptic but cogent remark:

The center cannot hold if the state decrees the center doesn't exist, that the only choice is between left-wing fantasy and right-wing lunacy.

More from the Telegraph:

"This is an attack on democracy and free speech. Our political opponents have changed the racism laws six times in a campaign to have us condemned. What they have done today is shocking," he said.

The party leaders plan to relaunch it next week with a new name, Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, and a manifesto extolling women's rights, the secular state and the rule of law.

Analysts say attempts to muzzle the group have invariably failed, adding to its mystique as the victim of a reviled establishment that has saddled Belgium with a huge national debt and some of the highest taxes in the world.

The Vlaams Blok has risen from murky neo-fascist roots to reinvent itself as a modern, free-market party and become the biggest in Dutch-speaking Flanders, the richest part of Belgium with 60 percent of the population.

My two cents: the prohibition of racism is actually more serious illustration of the paradox of toleration in modern democracies. Racist remarks and racist beliefs are unacceptable in many areas of our society. Not just socially unacceptable; it goes a bit beyond that; people in many walks of life could lose their jobs for a racist remark. I'm conflicted on this because I really like not having to listen to racism. At the same time I think the way we've purged ourselves of racism has left scars on the American intellect.

I remember a book a while back in which a woman was trying to catalog instances of racial violence against blacks, and she started quoting a scholar who argued that whites were on average smarter than blacks, based on some kind of sociobiological argument how survival of the fittest operated comparatively in Europe and Africa. At some point, it might even have been a private conversation, he made the remark, "Either bigger brains or a bigger penis, you can't have both." What's illustrative is that this quote served as her refutation of the argument. She didn't evaluate the guy's logic, or facts. It's as if it would scarcely have occurred to her to do so. Or maybe it would even have seemed racist to dignify his arguments with an argumentative rebuttal.

Anti-racist witch-hunting can spill over into suppression of critical thought. I am actually skeptical about whether those who disbelieve in the human soul can, reasonably and in good faith, be wholly non-racist. If you think IQ is genetic, then some families will be smarter than others-- why shouldn't some races be smarter than others? Indeed, wouldn't it be almost infinitely improbable, statistically, if some races were not smarter than others? (My own non-racism derives from a belief that intelligence is a function of the soul rather than the body.)

I think America has purged racism from our society, and I'm proud of it. At 26, I can say I have never, to my knowledge, met a racist American in my life. I have never heard a (white) American make a remark that is unambiguously racist, and very few that were even reasonably interpretable as racist. This is a phenomenal achievement. And I'm not sure we could have done it as quickly without the assistance of the PC thought police. And yet a sad consequence is that we are unable to recognize our triumph. Just as Soviet Russia kept seeing Trotskyists under the bed long after they had been exterminated or sent to the gulag, Americans remain haunted by the specter of racism.

This tidbit illustrates the disturbing phenomenon brilliantly:

One of the tracts, denouncing female circumcision in Islamic countries, was written by a Turkish-born woman member of the Vlaams Blok but the court ruled that the arguments were intended to foment anti-Muslim feeling.

From tolerance to relativism. From relativism to the suppression of moral judgment. And then the capacity for moral reasoning disintegrates. (Which, in turn, helps to explain why Europe opposed the Iraq war.)

Monday, November 22, 2004


History unfolds; The Economist reports. Whatever its faults, there's no rival for comprehensive coverage of the world scene.

The press has treated the recent election in Ukraine as an important one. And they liked Yushchenko. Whereas President Putin of Russia, as well as the former president, Leonid Kuchma, backed Yanukovych. Yanukovych is said to have won; Yushchenko is arguing the election was stolen, and that the exit polls were not reliable. Funny, it's the other side of the world, and yet it seems so close to home! The Economist seems to want Yushchenko to fight the election result. Is that really a good idea? Unless there's good evidence of fraud (much better than unreliable polls) wouldn't it be better for Ukraine's democracy for him to concede?

Poor media. None of these elections are going their way. But Putin is doing well: the candidates he endorses keep winning!

Meanwhile, this is the sort of article that makes The Economist worth reading: no one clarifies the mystery of global currency movements better (at least, that I've found). And this stuff is deeply important. Sometimes the most important forces are the hardest to understand.

The dollar continues to slide. Alan Greenspan thinks the trade deficit is unsustainable:

In a speech in Frankfurt on Friday November 19th, Mr Greenspan helpfully drew attention to these risks. America's creditors (central banks and private investors alike) will eventually grow wary of adding dollar assets to their portfolios, he said. Rather than leaving all of their eggs in the same dollar basket, they will seek to diversify into other currencies. Only if America compensates them with better returns will they keep faith with the dollar, he said. But as its creditors grow harder to satisfy, America will find it more costly to live beyond its means. Its current-account deficit will, Mr Greenspan said, grow “less tenable”.

That Asians keep buying up depreciating dollars is good for us in one way: they are subsidizing our consumption and getting less than the value of their subsidy in return. But it depends on whether you want to consume more or to work more. If you prefer working and producing, the falling dollar, which will reduce our imports and boost our exports, is good news.

Dems often claim hysterically that George Bush will turn this into a Third World country. In a way, they may be right: if current trends continue, we may become more similar to the Asian tigers, with low unemployment, a high rate of productivity growth, an undervalued currency and strong exports.

Belmont Club answers the Bush-as-Hitler canard by revisiting the radical and anti-traditional features of the Nazi movement: an embrace of extra-marital childbearing and other "alternative family arrangements", disdain for the classics, contempt for Christianity. That the Nazis are called "right-wing" is one of the odd misunderstandings of modern times. The Nazis are another offshoot of the modern age's great world religion, socialism.


MaxedOutMama links to a thread from Democratic Underground that calls Condi crazy for being religious and adds:

The Constitution is constantly reinterpreted on the basis of people's beliefs and ethical outlook of the time. I have no faith that the Bill of Rights will not be reinterpreted as excluding those with religious beliefs from public political life. This very interpretation is gaining grounds as we speak.

Some remarks from Garrison Keillor illustrate this trend even better:

Not one to shy away from speaking his mind, Keillor proposed a solution to what he deemed a fundamental problem with U.S. elections. “I’m trying to organize support for a constitutional amendment to deny voting rights to born-again Christians,” Keillor smirked. “I feel if your citizenship is in Heaven—like a born again Christian’s is—you should give up your citizenship. Sorry, but this is my new cause. If born again Christians are allowed to vote in this country, then why not Canadians?”

Keillor was joking, but... Well, anyway, these guys lost the election, so I wouldn't worry too much. I agree that constitutional provisions can get re-interpreted: a dramatic example of this is the way the intra-Protestant religious neutrality that the founders intended in the public schools was hijacked by secularists as a pretext from rigorously excluding God from the education system. But freedom of speech is pretty entrenched in this country, and religion is pretty strong. We shouldn't get too easily spooked.

In the comments, Nato adds this puzzling retort:

I'm too busy working on what I perceive as the much more intrusive flip side here in the US [i.e. intolerance from the right]. I mean, my brother still can't get married in his state, there are still a lot of elected officials who want to [b]an abortion in one way or another and so on.

Now, what do gay marriage and abortion have to do with a discussion on tolernace? Oh, yes: to some people it's intolerant to prevent the taking of the lives of the unborn, and/or to decline to mimic the ceremony which marks the union of man and wife on behalf of homosexual men or women. Now, whether allowing abortion and gay marriage are good ideas is one question; but to consider this in any way related to tolerance or toleration strikes me as odd. To ban abortion simply combines the well-accepted prohibition of murder with the controversial belief that the fetus is a person. As for gay marriage: isn't toleration a negative right, the right to be left alone? Yet Nato is demanding a positive action on the part of the state, namely, recognizing and protecting a certain legal status.

With all due respect, I think MaxedOutMama and Nato are illustrating how problematic toleration really is. Nato wants to impose certain policies on the public in the name of toleration. MaxedOutMama feels threatened by the view that religious people are crazy and should be excluded from public life-- but the paradox of toleration is that even intolerant views must be tolerated. To suppress intolerant views in the name of tolerance is a new form of intolerance. And these Doppelgangers of tolerance, too, must be tolerated. Confused? A lot of people are.

Toleration makes sense as a particular phase in the continuing historical quest to build the Christian res publica. As an answer to the Catholic Church, Protestants came to emphasize the pure voluntarism of faith. Coercion was abandoned, not rationally but from religious zeal, in favor of persuasion. During the Great Awakenings, a clamor of competing religiosities dissolved the constituency of the established churches into a sea of toleration. Voltaire's dictum-- "Though I loathe what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it"-- is clever, and useful, but the French revolutionaries, who reverenced Voltaire, did little to honor it. And indeed, can Voltaire's statement be believed as other than a rhetorical flourish. Imagine a Norwegian libertarian charging the prison gates with a gun fighting to the death for the freedom of the disgusting homophobic pastor. A hero? Or a freak? People fight and die for the sake of their own beliefs, not those of others. Toleration occurs when the people who win in the fighting and dying hold the strange and quixotic belief that one must sit still and take it as you are endlessly abused and hated.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I just posted a new article on my website: "Guelfs and Ghibellines." About why the country votes Republican and the city Democrats. And the latent power of the UN. And some other things.

[UPDATE: Belmont Club has a great post about the competing worldviews of Jacques Chirac and Paul Wolfowitz, on which I might impose my own labels "Guelf" and "Ghibelline." His conclusion is great:

History may remember Jacques Chirac as one of the most prolific institution builders of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The European Union and the United Nations are but some of the multilateral projects he sought to strengthen in the belief they would serve as a prototype for the future ordering of the world. Wolfowitz's vision seems altogether more complex. He seems unwilling to speak of institutions outside the context of empowerment, as if to speak of instruments of governance without freedoms was tantamount to prescribing tyranny. Their difference of opinion may be rooted, not so much in an argument over bureaucratic arrangements, but in their view of the nature of man himself.

Guelfs love order and systems; Ghibellines are attracted to adventure and to personality...]

Friday, November 19, 2004


An excellent post describing the erosion of tolerance by secular fundamentalists in Europe. A Swedish pastor got a month in jail for preaching a sermon against homosexuality. And Rocco Buttiglione recalls Alexander Hamilton's belief that agencies other than politics had to foster the civic virtue necessary to sustain a democratic republic. Rousseau, on the other hand, advocated a civil religion to which the churches were subordinated. Buttiglione was vetoed for the EU Commission based on his view that homosexuality was morally wrong.

I think the odds are about 1 in 4 that the EU will evolve into a variant of the (later) Soviet Union, with a stagnant socialistic economy, a censored and propagandistic press, repressive secularism, and a pseudo-democratic oligarchic constitution.

"German Blood Only for Oil" is another good post.

Ryan Sager thinks libertarians need to rethink their foreign-policy minimalism. Amen! If liberty matters so much at home, why doesn't liberty matter abroad?


A morbid but gripping read about how the Coalition of the Just will solve the Arab question. I assume James Pinkerton is being ironic. But how ironic, and to what ends? Is he a super-hawk engaged in lawyer's bargaining, demanding more than he wants in hopes of a compromise that is just right? Has he written a warning? Does he think things will actually happen this way? The essay is readable, clever, funny, dark, but most of all cryptic. I felt I was being persuaded by it, but persuaded of what?


Senator John Kyl has a point about Kofi Annan and the UN:

In it, Annan voiced his increasing concern at the "prospect of an escalation in violence," particularly the reports of major military offensives being planned for Falluja. "Ultimately," Annan argued, "the problem of insecurity can only be addressed through dialogue and an inclusive political process."

It boggles the mind that a world leader could display such naivete in the face of efforts by thousands of insurgents and foreign fighters to terrorize and impose a Taliban-style rule in Fallujah, complete with summary executions. Reaction from those on the ground was swift and angry. "I don't know what pressure he has to bear on the insurgents," Allawi said in an interview with the BBC. "If he can stop [them] from inflicting damage and killing Iraqis, then he's welcome."

Ben Shapiro of Townhall piles on about "The Insanity of International Law":

Mr. Annan and his brethren do not rely on simple statements of moral equivalence. They back them up by citing international law. While Saddam Hussein slew thousands of his own people, supported terrorists throughout the Middle East, and routinely violated the terms of his 1991 cease-fire agreement, the United Nations did nothing except coquettishly lisp at him occasionally. Yet when America invaded Iraq with the help of over 30 countries, Annan denounced the action as “illegal.” His latest charade? He sent an angry letter to President Bush, Tony Blair, and Iyad Allawi complaining that the “threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation … but would also reinforce perceptions … of a
continued military occupation.”

That’s the beauty of international law: it means whatever Kofi Annan wants it to mean.

And yet I have a feeling there's something futile about Shapiro's and Kyl's critiques, because views like theirs are never going to get a hearing on the relevant stage, which is the world.

The Economist, a UN sympathizer, offers an interesting report on efforts to reform the UN. I think the UN is more likely to emerge strengthened from the crisis than to go away. I wrote in "Robin Hood Imperialism":

So there is a world constitution of sorts, and what’s more, it’s a pretty lousy one. Take the General Assembly: it is admirably “democratic,” one-country-one-vote, whether that country has a billion or a million. Petty dictators have as many votes as the Western democracies. But then, maybe this is all right since the General Assembly is pretty powerless. More important is the Security Council, which has the opposite problem: in a concession to the realpolitik of long ago, the US, France, Russia, Britain and China sit permanently on the Council and wield mighty vetoes over all its actions. It is in these vetoes that Saddam Hussein hopes for salvation. The UN has very strict rules against inter-state aggression but none about how states may treat their own people. So while the world constitution has a “democratic,” or at least consultative, skin, its core is Hobbesian. Whoever takes power may keep it, even if he is a genocidal (though, admittedly, only on occasion) tyrant like Saddam Hussein. If no one manages to, you can no longer import order from your neighbors by being conquered: instead, enter the failed state, where life is nasty, brutish and short. Don’t forget human rights conventions, either—they allow free countries to preen themselves on their virtue, while obligating dictators (who, in Julius Caesar’s day, used to be fairly honest) to engage in more hypocrisy. Enforcement seems not to be the point: many human rights groups opposed even the war in world-champion human-rights-abuser Afghanistan, and hardly any signatories of human rights conventions back a war against Iraq, the best hope of Iraqis gaining the rights to free speech and the vote.

For all that, more people worldwide are likely to agree with Kofi Annan:

The poor old United Nations is indeed a flawed and defective organisation: the action, or more often the inaction, of its members, as well as its own intrinsic faults, have made it so. But, as its secretary-general warned the General Assembly last September: “Let's not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it, we will find any more effective instrument.”

[UPDATE: For an example of how the executive of a trans-national organization traditionally feeble but with high moral stature and a broad notional constituency can humiliate a power with far superior military resources, read Wikipedia's description of how Pope Gregory VII made the German emperor stand in the snow for three days before the castle of Canossa, begging the pope to lift the ban of excommunication which had cost him his crown.]

Thursday, November 18, 2004


I've always been a fan of Timothy Garton Ash, who has some wonderful writings about the Velvet Revolution in eastern Europe. And in this Guardian piece he is trying to be conciliatory. But unfortunately, he seems not to have followed lefties like Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and Tony Blair and converted to sympathy for the neoconservatives, who are giving Iraqis the chance that he so eloquently celebrated eastern Europeans getting. Instead, he's in thrall to the usual knee-jerk anti-Bush prejudice. He doesn't even give the American Right a hearing. He calls this "defense of the Enlightenment."

Battle may soon be joined to preserve the strict separation of church and state that the founding fathers intended. Or, to put it another way, to defend the legacy of the Enlightenment.

First, this is not what "the founding fathers intended." The key word in the First Amendment, which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

is Congress. Massachusetts had church-attendance laws at the time, which were understood not to be overturned by the Constitution. The founders meant simply that religion is a matter for the states. I wouldn't expect Ash to be aware of little-known facts like that, but I do wonder, how does he think separation of Church and state is threatened? In a way, I agree: the state has become the active propagandist of a secular humanist church, and compulsory taxpayer-funded education in which the government controls the curriculum should be unconstitutional, in an ideal world. But what does Ash mean by it? Here's a clue:

The United States is torn not just about what America should do but about what America should be. If Bush nominates to the supreme court judges who, for example, want to ban gay marriage or abortion, this could split the country, as such nominations have in the past.

Now, first: no one thinks the Supreme Court would "ban abortion." What they might do is overturn Roe vs. Wade, which would leave abortion to the states, many of which would surely keep it legal. But how would it be a betrayal of the Enlightenment to ban abortion? I've read a lot of Enlightenment writings and I don't recall abortion even being mentioned.

The gay marriage example is even weirder. Bush proposes to ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment, not through the courts. Surely Ash knows this, so what does he mean? I suppose he means supreme court judges who would fail to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and thus keep gay marriage banned in most of the country. Or judges who would fail to overturn the various amendments at the state level. Unless Ash is just ignorant, he seems not only to want gay marriage imposed by judicial fiat on an unwilling electorate, but he is willing to label this radical and anti-democratic innovation "the Enlightenment" and equate it with "separation of Church and state."

Ash gets one thing right:

We [in Europe] don't have so many Christian fundamentalists any more. Compared with the American religious right, Rocco Buttiglione, the withdrawn Italian Catholic candidate for European commissioner, is a dangerous liberal. But we do have Islamic fundamentalists, in growing numbers. And, I would say, we have secular fundamentalists: people who believe that to live by the tenets of Islam, or other religions, is incompatible with what it is to be fully human, and want citizens to be educated and the state to legislate accordingly. (me emphasis)

Does Ash imagine that he is not one of these secular fundamentalists? Clerics have no legal authority in this country, so if Ash wants to separate Church and state further, he will have to somehow prevent people from letting religion influence their decision how to vote. And he is ready to resort to judicial fiat when he thinks religiously-motivated voting is giving the wrong result.

I stand by what I wrote about the neocons in my Bush endorsement:

I first encountered neocon thought in the revisionist histories of Paul Johnson and Niall Ferguson, whose work is infused with a brave reassertion of truths which had become unfashionable, such as the superiority of market capitalism, the unique virtue of Western civilization and its traditions, the moral necessity of particular civic freedoms, and that the lethal horrors of the 20th century not only must be condemned, but also discredited the various communist and national socialist ideologies which had caused them, in Europe and in the post-colonial Third World. The original neocons were ex-Trotskyist Jews, and the radical roots of neoconservatism merit new emphasis now that neocons have taken to going abroad in search of Bastiles to destroy. The neoconservative movement is a bit like the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement that believes in liberty and individualism, checks and balances in government, popular sovereignty, free inquiry and market economics. Yet neocons also consciously reject the legacy of the Enlightenment inasmuch as it planted the seeds of so many murderous revolutions. So they respect tradition, cultural conservatism, and religious faith—they are their heirs both of Thomas Paine and of Edmund Burke.

But let me add that maybe the most outstanding legacy of the Enlightenment is that of free reasoning and debate. And free reasoning and debate involves listening to the arguments of the other side. Not resorting to name-calling ("fundamentalist") against those who disagree with you. Not subordinating society to a secular clerisy. Ash and his fellow Euro-lefties are on the wrong side of the Enlightenment legacy.


The Swiss have just signed an agreement for passport-free movement with Europe. But the catch is that they have to surrender information about Europeans' holdings in Swiss bank accounts, thus undermining their status as a tax haven. What's disturbing here is the means the EU used to get their way:

And so the EU decided to tighten the screws on the land-locked Helvetian Republic. In March 2004, Germany imposed stringent checks on her border with Switzerland, effectively bringing traffic between the two countries to a halt. That was a departure from the casual way in which the Germans treated Swiss traffic in the past. The German border authorities claimed ignorance, but the Swiss knew the real reasons behind the border blockade. As Jacques Strahm, who headed border authorities in the French-speaking cantons, opined, "I think it's a way of applying pressure on Switzerland.... It could be linked to bilateral treaties." German Socialist Finance Minister Hans Eichel, who recently made the news by attempting to bully the new members of the EU into raising their corporate taxes, confirmed the political nature of the measure. According to Eichel, "I assume that no country in Europe wants to make its living in part by making itself into a hideout for tax-evaders from other countries.... I assume this is also [true] of Switzerland."

As a consequence, Switzerland has been forced to allow the governments of the EU member states access to information about EU citizens' Swiss bank account deposits. Under the euphemism of "information sharing," Swiss banks will be required to inform on the amount of money the EU citizens hold in Swiss bank accounts, or else will have to assess a 35 percent tax on the EU citizens' savings, 75 percent of which will be repatriated to the appropriate EU governments. In exchange, German police will no longer harass Swiss traders and travellers-at least for now.

It's interesting that while conquest is no longer tolerated, the EU has pioneered a new form of expansionism. Peaceful expansion, yes, even democratic, and after the fall of communism the eastern European countries welcomed the opportunity for EU membership, to make a clean break with the communist legacy. In EU expansion into eastern Europe there was an element of altruism, considering that the wealthy countries of western Europe provide "structural aid" to poorer newcomers, and suffer from competition with their low-wage, low-tax environments. Mostly it's a good thing, then, (like Iraq) but there's something colonial, too, about forcing the eastern European nations to adopt thousands of pages of EU law. (Actually, colonialism often had an element of altruism, and of consent.) And now this bullying of Switzerland. What will the EU model develop into?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Someone else thinks "Europe Doesn't Believe in Democracy":

It may sound apocalyptic, but I do believe that the democratic experiment in continental Europe, begun just over 200 years or so ago, is coming to a close.

The European Union is creating what it hopes will be a benign oligarchy.
Real political power will reside once again within elite circles (as it does
already in France) which will conduct their business in the corridors rather
than in the assemblies.

Like I said.

Give the people power and they do bad things. Like Robespierre's Terror. Or the Bolshevik revolution. Or bringing Hitler to power. Or re-electing George W. Bush.

[UPDATE: Also note that Chirac and Schroeder are unpopular, but their anti-American foreign policy stance is popular. It's a lesser version of the phenomenon you see in the Arab countries, where the ruling class deflects popular anger from domestic stagnation to external enemies. Just in case I'm sounding too negative on Europe, it has a lot of good people, beautiful landscapes and scenery, and absolutely wonderful history. The Europeans seem to be walking into a strange twilight... The Wrong Nation?]

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Europe can't win.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Robert Kaplan is one of my formative influences (see my article "Bush and Kerry in Robert Kaplan's World"), but he can't hit his stride lately. Does he have to pose as a regretful hawk--

Whether one views the war in Iraq as a noble effort in democratization or a brutal exercise in imperialism, there can be little doubt that it has proved the proverbial "bridge too far" for those who planned and, like myself, supported it.
in this NYT column? If you read the column, I don't think he's changed his mind about supporting the war. Anyway, if you ignore the misleading concession at the beginning (which may just be the price of admission to the pages of the Times) it's an insightful article. Kaplan has acquired the unfortunate habit of stating insights just as they are becoming obvious (in contrast to his earlier work) this point is well-stated, with the help of a historical analogy:

By invading Iraq, Republican neoconservatives - the most fervent of Wilsonians - simply took that liberal idealist argument of the 1990's to its logical conclusion. Indeed, given that Saddam Hussein was ultimately responsible for the violent deaths of several times more people than the Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, how could any liberal in favor of intervention in the Balkans not also favor it in the case of Iraq? And because the human rights abuses in Iraq showed no sign of abatement, much like those in the Balkans, our intervention was justified in order to stop an ongoing rape-and-killing machine.

But rather than a replay of the Balkans in 1995 and 1999, Iraq has turned out like the Indian mutiny against the British in 1857 and 1858, when the attempts of Evangelical and Utilitarian reformers in London to modernize and Christianize India - to make it more like England - were met with a violent revolt against imperial rule. Delhi, Lucknow and other cities were besieged and captured, before being retaken by colonial forces.

The bloody debacle did not signal the end of the British Empire, which expanded for another century. But it did signal a transition: away from an ad hoc imperium fired by an intemperate lust to impose domestic values abroad, and toward a calmer, more pragmatic empire built on international trade and technology.

In that vein, it seems inevitable that the coming four years will be a time of consolidation for America rather than of expansion; for it may take that long to bring Iraq to a level of stability equivalent to that of the post-conflict Balkans. Only after Iraq is secure will it be possible for our diplomats to work credibly on behalf of democracy throughout the Middle East.


This post is funny. (And quite good.) This one is sad. But it is good news for recruitment. Young men: you have the chance for adventure and heroism that an "old warhorse" longs for. Don't miss it.

(All right, so I'm a young man too. I should take my own advice. Here's my excuse: my fiancee doesn't want me to join the Reserves. I figure, if she's marrying me, she should have a say in it. She's toyed with the idea of returning to the Mormon Church, which I'm against. So I made a deal: she can rejoin the Church if she wants, but if she does, I get to join the Reserves. So there's a chance.)

I met a Marine last weekend who had been stationed in Djibouti for a while. He described how they live in ten-man tents and go into each other's rooms because they have nothing to do. He said he would have liked to be in Iraq. Andrew Sullivan is renewing his call for more troops:

MORE TROOPS, PLEASE: It's pointless to reiterate this, since the administration will never listen, but the evidence is still overwhelming that we do not have sufficient military manpower - American or Iraqi - to keep order in Iraq.

I've been dubious of Sullivan's armchair-generalling before. But heck, if there are a lot of military guys who want to help out with building democracy in Iraq and aren't getting the chance, maybe we should do it. Boost morale. (Yeah, I know, two data points are not enough to draw conclusions...)


So Powell will resign. And Condi will replace him.

I keep changing my mind about Colin Powell. I like him in a lot of ways. And I know people in the State Department and the military like him. He cares about the troops. That matters.

At one point, I hoped he would become Secretary of Defense in place of Rumsfeld, to set a new tone for the second Bush term. At another time, I thought he should take the fall for feeding false intelligence to the UN.

A Christopher Hitchens article last week turned me against him. For example, I didn't realize this:

The Europeans failed their very first post-Cold War test, in directly neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and had to implore American help. The Gulf Arabs, and their partial allies in Egypt and Syria, could not have recovered statehood for Kuwait on their own, and had to beseech the help of the United States, which—on that basis—was able to recruit an overpowering majority in the United Nations. Colin Powell as national security advisor and Colin Powell as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff sternly opposed both rescue operations until the balance in Washington shifted decisively against him.

Sounds like John Kerry. And this sounds like MoveOn:

In addition to this, we gathered from Wilkerson, it had been a bit much putting up with all the neoconservatives the president had also seen fit to hire. A bit more than a bit much, to judge by this remark: “I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz.” (This allusion to Washingtonian Bolshevism is eclipsed in an undenied remark in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, in which the secretary himself refers to Dick Cheney supporters in the Pentagon as the “Gestapo office.”)

Was it useful to have someone, so to speak, "soft" fronting the administration's policy? Or would it have been better to have a true believer in Bush's strategy of freedom preaching it to the world? Who knows.

The Economist, whose coverage of world affairs has many virtues but astuteness is not one of them, entitles their article "Farewell to Powell and his doctrine." That doctrine being:

"America should only use force in defence of its vital national interests; when it does so, it should use force overwhelmingly and should have a clear exit strategy. A corollary of this is that the building of multilateral alliances and the use of “soft” power (ie, diplomatic and economic pressure) should be preferred to unilateralism and “hard” power (ie, military muscle). "

Ironically, I think the Bush administration will have to follow the Powell doctrine in its second term. Even the neocons don't have the stomach for new liberations at the moment. Condi Rice will preach the forward strategy of freedom and vindicate the war in Iraq, while America takes a more laid-back approach. There's a weird, slightly disturbing logic to this pattern of appointing secretary of states who are out of sync with the Zeitgeist. To do one thing and say the other is a sort of compromise: each side gets a little of what they want.


I don't think we can stop Iran from getting a nuke.

Henry Sokolski at The Weekly Standard has some helpful suggestions on how to "rethink nuclear proliferation, before it's too late." But honestly now, isn't it already too late?

Nuts and bolts:

1. Iran wants nukes. Surely their actions make that clear.

2. Europe likes to negotiate and provide incentives. But none of the carrots they can offer are worth more than nukes. (Even if we could bribe Iran not to go nuclear, it would set a very bad precedent.) As for sticks, we know Europe would never seriously consider a pre-emptive strike.

3. With Bush re-elected, America's tough image is intact. But the Bush administration doesn't have nearly enough political capital, at home or abroad, to go to war with Iran. Even though the Iranian people would probably like to be liberated by the US, Bush won't do it while we're still tied up in Iraq, and while our alliances are still under serious strain.

4. Iran is on track to get a nuke before we have time to repair our alliances and stabilize Iraq.

So that's it. Iran will get a nuke. What can you do? We'll just have to live with it.

Disclaimer: I have a soft spot for Iran. I'm fascinated by Persian culture. One reason for that is that I spent two of the most wonderful days of my life in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, a city where most of the population is Tajik, a people related to the Persians. The markets and the mosques, the Registan, the watermelons, the friendly people, a certain sensuous sculpture in those walls, haunt me to this day. Of course, it had something to do with the girl I was with, a Russian who had just run off with me to Uzbekistan for a week. It had something to do with a fairy tale I told her in the night, in a $20-a-night guesthouse with a courtyard and fountain in it... paradise... For me, Iran has a halo of romance.

Hmm... All the more reason to liberate it, you say?


China is helping Latin America by boosting the demand for raw materials.

Some predictions about China:

1. China's economic links will turn into diplomatic capital, as happened with the US early in the Cold War.

2. China's political culture will gradually liberalize as more Chinese travel abroad, and as wealthier Chinese demand freedom as part of a rising living standard.

3. China's economic development model is more attractive than anything on offer from the World Bank, the IMF, or the developed West, and other developing countries will increasingly study it. Many will go there to study it.

4. Christianity is spreading rapidly in China, and this trend will continue. Possibly, China will even become a predominantly Christian country.

5. As China liberalizes, emerges to rival the US as the world's most important market, becomes an ideological influence thanks to its political stability and successful growth model, China's poverty (albeit diminishing) will itself become an asset to its foreign policy. Other developing countries (most of the world's population) will envy the US but see China as one of their own.

Clinton said a few years back that China was "on the wrong side of history." But history is full of odd reversals, of the last becoming first, the first last. I think Clinton may turn out to be wrong.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Nato's latest response to my overwrought post yesterday is up. Some highlights:

I'm wondering if he thinks atheists are attempting to prohibit theists from
speaking on the radio, teaching in schools and etc.

No. Didn't mean to suggest that. Religious messages do not suffer from state-sanctioned discrimination in most spheres, and I'm grateful for it. Just in the schools.

Really, atheists have a sort of unfair advantage that the founders never really
foresaw. By requiring the government to take no positive position, they
essentially made the government atheist in the same way private citizens are.
Since the government never advises children about God, a child might get the
idea that there's no God about which to be advised: the classic null case.

Well put. Except for the part about "the founders": in their day it was taken for granted that school curricula were basically Protestant, and nothing would have amazed them more than to discover that something they had written actually, against their will, prohibited public schools from teaching children that God created the world. That's a twentieth-century innovation. Anyway, I'd add that it's not that the government takes no positive position in general, just on questions of "religion." What is "religion?" I don't think it would be possible to offer a philosophically satisfactory definition of religion that would justify the particular pattern of exclusion found in the public schools. But we do have a sort of historical enumerated-list definition of religion: there's Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, various forms of aboriginal polytheism, etc. We exclude whatever relates to one of those faiths. Atheism, the "null case," benefits from this exclusion; secular humanism is a worldview which, it seems to me, flows into the gaps left by the public schools' exclusion of "religion."

In a way, the current anti-religious discrimination of the schools is poetic justice for Protestants' former close-mindedness about other religions. C. S. Lewis pointed out that the schools in his day assumed the truth of Christianity but were completely dismissive of all other religions. They adopted the same attitude towards the ancient pagan gods, or the Hindu gods, that atheists adopt towards the Christian God. It was therefore an easy step for the schools to take the logical next step and treat the religious passions of the Pilgrims the way they had treated the religious passions of devotees of the Dionysian mysteries.

For the record, I don't think things would change all that much with a voucher system. The curriculum would stay mostly the same. Probably things would shift over time towards more teaching of the Bible (Western civilization's most important text, after all) and more infusion of religious ideas, but only in a minority of schools; most schools would continue the pattern of excluding religion, although-- and this is a big though symbolic improvement-- students would understand that the secular humanist curriculum was just one of many choices, not absolute truth.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Nato gives two examples of secular democratic states:

[T]he closest thing we have to naturally occurring atheist states are countries
like Japan and perhaps the Netherlands. Since abandoning the ambulatory phase of
Shinto/Buddhism that gave rise to early 20th century nationalism, they've not
been particularly authoritarian, especially compared to far more religious
neighbors like Taiwan and South Korea. The Netherlands is only incrementally
more atheist (55% describe themselves as Secular Humanists as opposed to 25-40%
in the rest of Western Europe) than its neighbors, but it's also incrementally
more libertarian than its continental neighbors - especially socially, but also
economically. The UK's economy is considerably more economically libertarian, of
course, but England's entire industrial-age experience has been radically
different from the rest of Europe's.

But are post-WWII Japan and the Netherlands really independent states?

Before WWI, independent states had their own armies and took responsibility for their own defense. They enjoyed foreign-policy independence. There was no United Nations, no NATO. During the Cold War, the US blocked the advance of communism in western Europe, not only through military containment of Soviet power, but also through CIA operations that promoted moderate left-wing publications, through public diplomacy (Italian-Americans wrote to their relatives and encouraged them to vote against the Communists) and other means. Western European governments relied on the US nuclear guarantee, and followed Washington's line. Some notional sovereignty had been leaked upwards from states to the UN; some practical sovereignty had leaked west across the Atlantic.

France and Italy could easily have gone communist after WWII. Christian Democratic politicians and the Marshall Plan were crucial in preventing this.

Despite the stunning economic success of the new capitalist, pro-American order, leftist and communist-sympathetic thought flourished in Europe. One French-trained leftie, Khieu Samphan, inspired the ruralization policy of the Khmer Rouge. Khieu Samphan was not the only French leftie ready to dream up weird social experiments. Why did Latin Quarter leftism lead to social experiments in Cambodia, but not in Western Europe? Well, at least one sufficient reason is obvious enough: western Europe was occupied by American troops, who would not have allowed it.

The Iraq war inspired talk of a "declaration of independence" for Europe. From the US, that is. Interesting. If they succeed, I suppose Nato will have a better example of a "naturally occurring atheist state" to study. More of my misgivings here.

My and Nato's debate about secularism, religion, tolerance and authoritarianism continues in the comments of my "Atheism and Tolerance" post, and Nato has also added a new post on "Atheism and Authoritarianism" on his blog. His post makes my blood boil, but it's not his fault really: he's just voicing the condescendion towards religion that characterizes broad swaths of the general culure. He calls the repressive nature of atheist states a "tautology," but points out that when atheism emerges peacefully in the context of a tolerant state, this is correlated with a tolerant state. He doesn't deal with the key points that undergird my position: that tolerance emerged in Christian countries motivated by Christian arguments; and that the secular religions which have been synonymous with atheism in many places and linked with modern atheism for most of its history are not merely repressive but totalitarian, grotesquely surpassing the repressiveness of any regimes that preceded them. Whatever... There's a very good thread at Belmont Club on the topic of religion and democracy if you want more on this question. Let's start with the condescension:

And of course, failing to control the message the children of the faithful receive is rightly perceived as a threat. Lancelot Finn, for example, worries that merely "conveying a vague sense that the whole world can be explained without reference to God" is sufficient to "turn my son into an atheist".

Failing to control the message? Earth to Nato: no one is proposing to pull scientific books off the shelves, to prohibit atheists from speaking on the radio and television, or even to bar atheists from teaching in the schools. It is not Christians who feel the need for message control here. But we need the resources-- children's time, facilities, personnel, and so on-- to positively instill the message. Christianity may be faith in part but it also involves a tremendous amount of learning. Christian theology, though ultimately aspires to signpost various errors to keep the faithful on the "strait and narrow path" towards the mystery of faith which can never be finally articulated, is complex, and has built up over many centuries. One could devote one's entire education only to learning Christianity (though the study would lead a person into many other disciplines along the way) and still one's knowledge would be incomplete. What we are afraid of is not that a rival, secularist synthesis of knowledge will eclipse the Christian worldview; we are afraid that the vast amount of tax dollars and of our children's time that is devoted to constructing this rival, secularist synthesis will leave us without the space to instill a knowledge of what the Christian faith is in our children. The Christian faith will never be refuted, but it can be marginalized and (in large part) forgotten.

Nato speculates that:

I think the persecution complex evinced by so many Christians is really an excuse explaining away the long-term decline of their faith.

This is a variation of the "secularization hypothesis," but this hypothesis is being discredited:

One of the apparent surprises of the last decades of the twentieth century was
the explosion of religious vitality throughout most of the world. The "surprise"
included the surge of Islam from the Middle East across through Indonesia and of
Evangelical and Pentecostal movements in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the
United States. The term most often used by the media and other elites for this
surge of religiosity is "fundamentalism"–a term that conveys the very bias that
causes them to be surprised by the phenomenon.

Indeed, Nato is right that "religious belief has actually fared worse in industrialized states with official religions," but this does not prove that "the government" is not "acting as a missionary proxy for secular humanism," which it certainly is. This is merely the latest incarnation of Tertullian's old saying, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Religion has flourished in America, where there has never been an established church, but declined in Britain, where there is one. Now in Russia Orthodoxy, long since decimated by Soviet persecution, is undergoing a revival. Ultimately, the atheist indoctrination of the Soviets, or the secular humanist indoctrination imposed on us by American liberals on the pretext of bogus constitutional interpretation, backfires, because those trained in scientific materialism soon come to understand it as implausible and a form of insane nihilism [see below], and ultimately return to religion, which recognizes the human soul and has some capacity to acknowledge and to answer existential questions.

A partisan of Christianity might reason, then: bring on the persecution, it will only make us stronger! But I disagree. For even if the Church always survives, persecution ultimately carries huge costs. People become confused and unhappy. Sometimes great crimes are committed as people's moral compasses go haywire. The birthrate falls as people lose touch with the moral framework that motivates family life. The love of adventure cools, the intellect atrophies, art fizzles out. Russia, after seventy years of communism, is an Orthodox country once again, but it remains deeply ravaged and spiritually impoverished by the ordeal of communism. America's years under the "liberals" left a legacy of social breakdown, of slowing economic growth, and of intellectual sophistry which we are now slowing struggling to roll back-- though it was much less severe than in Russia, since America's Christian backbone was never broken. As for modern Europe, the contrast between its glorious past and its humdrum present hardly needs highlighting.

[UPDATE: Hmm... "insane nihilism?"... should've edited this more before posting... I was rushed... I think I'd gotten myself worked up with indignation against the Bolsheviks ravaging Russia. Got carried away. I'm not a pro at this yet, sometimes I misfire.

But I wanted to add: One cost of persecution is that religion is impoverished and often takes more dogmatic forms. A person deprived of a Christian education is more likely to insist on the literal truth of the Bible.]


Ryan Lizza (of the Kerry-supporting New Republic) attacks Kerry and his campaign; Jonathan Last (of the Bush-supportingWeekly Standard) defends him. Yet it's not clear that they really disagree. Lizza writes:

The largest caucus of recriminators, one that spans ideological boundaries and includes critics from every corner of the party, argues that Kerry failed to offer a compelling message. As Kerry seemed to realize in his speech Saturday night, the no-message critique is congealing into conventional wisdom. I heard it in every conceivable permutation from almost everyone I interviewed. "I don't know that we ever knew what it was we were saying about George W. Bush," says one senior member of the team, whose job it was to come up with a message about Bush. It was a problem that plagued the campaign as soon as they stumbled, penniless, from the primaries into the general election. "When we got into the general, nobody knew how to go against Bush," says a senior campaign official. "[Senior adviser Bob] Shrum and [pollster Mark] Mellman built this strategy against Bush, 'Stronger at home, respected in the world.' What does that mean? We never even had strategy memos." By the fall, things were no better. "If there was a clear message in September about why you elect Kerry and defeat Bush, most of the people in the campaign were unaware of it," says one senior strategist hired late in the campaign.

Where Last writes:

I have to assume that many of these critics never actually followed the candidate around, because close-up, Kerry was a pretty good candidate. I saw Kerry blow away crowds in New Hampshire. He gave a very good convention speech. He was excellent in the first presidential debate (but for the "global test" line, which haunted him afterwards). His day-to-day performance on the stump was also very fine--I saw him handle tough questions from voters with aplomb; and when he was interacting with a crowd, his rich and haughty caricature disappeared completely.

And let's not forget his résumé: Volunteered for service in Vietnam, saw combat, served as a prosecutor and then for two decades as a United States senator. In many ways, Kerry was a better candidate than Bush.

Put it together and you get this story: Kerry was articulate and had an effective presence as a campaigner, but he failed for lack of message. The Democrats' basic problem is not in personalities or strategies or image: it is being wrong. Last adds revealingly that Joe Lieberman, whom Marty Peretz says could have beat Bush, but Last points out that "Joe Lieberman had a better chance of winning the Republican nomination." I hope the Dems' center of gravity has shifted by 2008.


I watched the scenes of Arafat's funeral on Fox yesterday morning, and I was moved. Arafat was an evil man, as Jeff Jacoby and Max Boot remind us. It was still sad to see the end of a man so many people loved (albeit wrongly).

My sister lived in the Gaza strip once, and a couple of stories she brought back have always haunted me. If you told anyone Gaza is small (it is) they would say, "No, it's not, it's the largest prison in the world."

Once she played a game with her student (of English) called "I never." For vocabulary practice. Everyone sits in a circle. You go around the circle, and each person says something that they've never done. If you've done the thing they mention, that's a point against you. You count the points on your fingers. Five points and you're out.

My sister was out fast. The Palestinian women said things like:

"I've never been outside of Gaza City."

"I've never been in a movie theater."

"I've never crossed the city without being escorted by a man."


Arafat's picture was on the wall of every Palestinian home. Two Palestinian men proposed marriage to my sister; for Palestinian men to marry Christian women was justified by reference to Arafat's example: "See, Arafat has a Christian wife, so it's allowed." That the Palestinian people were so deprived of decent role models that they adulated such a disgusting mass-murderer is sadder even than the pitifully narrow horizons of my sister's women students. I hope that with Arafat's passing a better future is in store for them.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Further thoughts on Nato's post. He writes:

There's nothing about atheism qua atheism that requires it to tolerate anyone. There's nothing in atheism that indicts mass murder, torture, rape, pillage, sophistry, or poor government, for the very simple reason that atheism is not an integrated world view, but rather consists entirely of the lack of any theistic belief. It prohibits nothing morally, and only obliquely indicts theistic belief on epistemic grounds.

Of course this is not really new information, but sometimes one must be reminded that atheism doesn't equate to secular humanism, which which it is usually associated. Of course, sometimes it's associated with communism, or Naziism, or Mormonism, but I generally regard those as mistakes. I lost faith in technocracy and other top-down management ideologies somewhat before I became an actual atheist.

Mormonism? Mormons are theists. But anyway...

Nato quotes the Council of Secular Humanism as evidence of secular humanists' tolerance. Having lived through secular humanist public schools, I'm skeptical, but I will say this: Some conscientious atheists, like Nato, become libertarian. Certainly, libertarians are tolerant in the extreme. But historically, atheists trend more to socialism than to libertarianism.

This correlation held in 19th-century Russia, where Dostoyevsky wrote of his character Alyosha that if he had not believed in immortality he would have joined the "atheists and socialists." And a Jewish friend of mine, whose relatives lived in pre-WWII Poland, said that everyone was either Orthodox or Communist.

It held in 1970s Iran, where the writer V. S. Naipaul was warned to introduce himself to the mullahs as a "Protestant" because if he said he was atheist or agnostic they would assume he was a communist. It held, broadly, throughout the 20th-century Third World.

And it holds in the developed world today. Post-Christian Europe is heavily socialistic. And most secular humanists and non-churchgoers in the US support the Democrats, who support heavy regulation and large government programs. Among atheists, I'm afraid libertarians like Nato are honorable exceptions.

I think this historical trend has philosophical roots. Once you stop believing in God, your ethics tend to default to utilitarianism. And utilitarians tend to lack principled reasons to constrain governments, and are led to some variant of socialism.

Socialism is a secular religion. It is a religion which lacks the deeply paradoxical and subversive ethos of holy poverty and nonviolence present in the Gospels, the ethos which assures that Christian spirituality perpetually exiles itself from power and creates a dialectic between faith and state. Not necessarily between Church and state-- the Church is sometimes absorbed into the State, or sometimes becomes a state-- but faith and state. The martyred Thomas Becket, drawing hordes of pilgrims, humbles his murderer the king.

In America, "political correctness" is a symptom of this problem. The left places so little value on freedom of speech that they impose neologisms like "African-American" (for black), "disabled" (for retarded), and many more. I don't think this is trivial: the invasion of language by politics is the quintessential signature of totalitarianism. In Europe the problem is more serious. The media are virulently biased in favor of the European project. In Germany Mein Kampf is restricted; I met a German who came to America and was surprised to find that here it was located on the bookstore shelves. Europeans are hysterical about the death penalty; they worship international law-- on these issues, they do not want to hear any dissent. Having lost the moral compass provided by Christianity (or even libertarianism) tolerance takes strange turns: see Andrew Sullivan's coverage of the strange case of the film-maker murdered by Muslim fanatics for an example. But for an example closer to home, take a look at these lines from Nato's earlier comment:

my brother would like to adopt children with his partner some day, I hope to have children free of preconceived notions about how they must be to fit their gender, I’d like my friends to be able to conduct their sexual lives in safe ways they see fit... None of these actions require anything of Christians, yet it seems a great number of said Christians (as well as Muslims, etc) feel the need to impose laws against them. (my italics)

How does Nato plan to free his children of preconceived gender roles? Won't they absorb those through normal contact with other children? And people can already have sex with anyone they want to as far as the law is concerned? No one is seriously proposing laws against pre-marital, extra-marital or gay sex. He's attacking a straw man here. Or is he? Even if his friends have sex with whomever they wish, a lot of people will disapprove. Is that what he, or his friends, object to? Maybe we need to force people to be tolerant, then. Force them to abandon "preconceived" gender roles. (Why is it so difficult? Perhaps the gender roles were natural all along?) Force them to keep their disapproval of homosexuality, or of free love, to themselves. Once we get the anti-modern views out of the way, then we can have real tolerance. Right?

It is because America is a Christian country that I expect to remain free.