Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, July 25, 2005


Today was my last day working at the Cato Institute. It was vaguely sad, feeling as if there were opportunities missed somehow. I've already started working at the World Bank, on a five-month contract that runs till December. (Some commenters have complained that my blog lacked an "About Me" section." Well, here's a little bit...)

I've had a lot of exposure to libertarian ideas in the past year, then, which raises the question: Am I a libertarian? I'd say no, all in all. But of course, they've got a lot of things right: free markets and spontaneous order, limited government, the importance of civil liberties, a rejection of the idea of a social safety net. And anti-totalitarianism, except lately.

I've missed blogging some important events this week. A few comments:

1. John Roberts. Being no lawyer, and having no interest in reading up on all his cases, all I can do is comment on the commentary, which has been almost exclusively positive. However, what's rubbed off on me is not just a glowing opinion of John Roberts; I've come to have a much more positive image of the law itself. I guess what's remarkable is that it's possible for a jurist to be respected on both sides for his "high qualifications"-- apparently there really is some agreement about the merits of the law, and it's not just a pure political tug-of-war. If a man like John Roberts, whom even his opponents have good words about, can make the law his profession and stay honest, as well as funny and kind, maybe its a less depraved and sophistical endeavor than I thought.

2. The Chinese currency move. It seems hugely significant to me, because it's likely to lead to more appreciations and to convertibility. For all its growth, China's economy has a lot of knots it needs to untangle within, particularly in its financial system. I didn't expect them to revalue the yuan, because I thought they couldn't afford to float, couldn't afford to let the light of day into their financial system. If they do that, Chinese financial muscle will begin to reshape the world economy as Chinese industrialization has already largely done. Probably the cleverest people when it comes to foreign affairs are those who have already moved on from Iraq and the Global War on Terror to the transformative effects of the rise of China. And yes, the rise of China may sound like old news. But that's an illusion. Trends are harder to pay attention to than crises, but they matter more.

I'm going on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Please come back then. I don't want to lose loyal readers. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Christopher Hitchens debunks the Rove "scandal." What's frustrating about the pseudo-scandals surrounding Karl Rove and Tom DeLay is that they force me to support officials whom I would otherwise prefer to see the back of. I don't like Tom DeLay. He's too hard-line, and some of his comments on judges were kind of scary. I'd prefer a less disciplined Republican House. As for Rove, it's alleged that he channels a lot of federal dollars as pork to shore up key Republican constituencies. The ultimate blame here is on Bush, who ought to have more backbone when it comes to resisting domestic spending. But maybe if Rove weren't around with his porkbarreling wizardry, the temptation would be less.

However, it's a key principle that politicians shouldn't be hamstrung by the ever-present threat of pseudo-scandals. Legislators should have more latitude to get input from constituents. If they're letting special interests buy votes that run counter to the public interest, let the electorate punish them. There's limits to this, of course, and some laws constraining campaign contributions are surely warranted, but the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of tying legislators' hands. The Rove scandal is even sillier. Or rather, it's about the CIA, namely that a fool like Joe Wilson was sent on a sensitive government mission by his wife. One always suspects that the curtain of secrecy that protects the CIA from foreign enemies actually protects a gross and comprehensive incompetence from public scrutiny. If Valerie Plame sent her loony-tunes husband to investigate a very serious matter, namely Saddam's possible search for nuclear weapons, well, let's just say it becomes a lot less surprising that the CIA failed to prevent 9/11, got everything wrong about Saddam's WMDs, etc., etc.

And now the Democrats want Rove fired. Well, it would set a terrible precedent for responsible, democrat governments if we allowed a media, partisan, and reckless-federal-bureaucrat lynch mob to take down a close confidant of our highest elected official. And even if Tom DeLay and Karl Rove step down for, ostensibly, some other reason, it will look like the phony scandals did their work. So it's now essential that they stay on for a couple more years to avoid rewarding the scandal-mongers. Thanks, Democrats.

One more step towards an Indo-U.S. alliance: America has agreed to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear energy, and thus brought India closer to regular membership in the nuclear club. But we won't endorse their bid for permanent membership on the UN Security Council. Why? I'm for it. A durable democracy with a billion people deserve a heavyweight say in the world. We're popular there. It's a counter-weight to China. Etc...

Friday, July 15, 2005

The London bombings were the work of an Islamist "enemy within," as Charles Krauthammer recounts. Reading about Europe's angry, unassimilated Muslims makes me grateful that America's immigrant masses are Catholic Latinos. Catholicism is, of course, the faith of tens of millions of native-born Americans already, so religion is not a barrier to assimilation, but actually, even language isn't such a barrier. It's a truism that Europeans have brilliant linguistic talents that Americans lack. Yet I suspect that a lot more native-born, Anglo Americans know Spanish than Brits know the languages of the Muslim homelands of their immigrant populations.

A British columnist calls for a renewed drive for Britishness (this is the Tories' big chance) and asks:

We seem to have pulled off the rare feat of breeding suicide bombers determined to attack the very society that incubated them; and the question is why. Why does America import its suicide bombers, while we produce our own?

Thursday, July 14, 2005


An intriguing article about the fiery libertarian judges recently promoted by the Republicans: Janice Rogers Brown. Asks Jon Rauch:

Here arises a question for Republicans. If Brown's views were defensible, why not defend them?

Two possibilities present themselves. One is expediency, or, to use the sort of strong language that Brown herself sometimes favors, cowardice. On this theory, Republicans agree with Brown but know her views are controversial, indeed unpopular, and prefer not to make a case for them...

A second possibility is that Republicans ran from Brown's views because they regard them with ambivalence, or even embarrassment. On this theory, what Republicans support is not so much Brown's philosophy as her life story and the opportunity to put a conservative black woman on the federal bench. After all, Brown is a small-government ideologue in an age of Big Government conservatism.

Brown's appointment is mysterious, and remarkable. Bush and Clinton are both center-pushers: Clinton in a sense outflanked the Republicans on the right when he signed welfare reform, and Bush outflanked the Democrats on the left with his farm bill, Medicare bill, and education bill. In each case, center-pushing was politically successful: it brought Clinton six years of power and popularity after he was humiliated in 1994, and it delivered Bush re-election and Republican domination of Congress. But center-pushing leaves the parties internally conflicted, because electoral pragmatism problematizes political philosophy. The post-Clinton Democrats, lacking a viable ethos, are confused, bitter and irresponsible. We must hope that the contradictions within the Republican coalition prove more fertile. The confirmation of Judge Brown exemplifies those contradictions.


Andrew Sullivan, the most respectable of the Gitmo-torture-alarmist crowd, has just written an eloquent and very interesting post drawing on something called the Schmidt report. Sullivan is determined to blame Bush for the incidents and sometimes overdraws the case. Thus the top entry is entitled "Abu Ghraib -- Authorized," but within the paragraph this turns out to mean "some of these techniques were authorized," and later it turns out that "the report calls [the practices] 'the creative application of authorized interrogation techniques,' and the interrogators 'believed they were acting within existing guidance.'" To some extent, people do have to be held accountable for the "creative interpretations" of what they authorize by underlings. On the other hand, it's untenable to expect a president to understand all the implications of some technical note on military detention procedures that he signs. A president has to delegate, and those he delegates to delegate too, and that's the only way an entity with responsibilities as vast as those of the US government could operate. Sullivan concludes: "When president George Bush said that the vile practices recorded at Abu Ghraib did not represent America, he was right. They don't. They represent his administration and his policies. Of that there can no longer be any reasonable doubt." To drive a wedge between Bush and America may be useful in agitating against torture, or whatever, but it undermines accountability in our system, because it encourages a lack of realism about how power is wielded. For decades the left has hurled these kind of charges against whoever is in power at a given time. It can always be done if you're clever enough. And then the left turned around and became the de facto ally of Saddam Hussein in 2002-03. Moral purity in its shriller forms goes easily and spectacularly astray.

But what's really interesting is the stories Sullivan tells! A lot of writers have declared that this is a war of "civilization against barbarism". Well, that's a two-way street:

He said he had been sexually abused: "female interrogators removed their BDU tops and rubbed themselves against the detainee, fondled his genitals, and made lewd sexual comments, noises and gestures." The report concludes that the interrogators "used their status as females" to interrogate, but cannot corrobroate the specific charges.

Some guys would like that, of course. Some guys would pay for it. For a Muslim, it seems like a weird cross between torture and temptation. But who's the barbarian here? Protecting the honor of women has been a hallmark of civilization for much of its history, as perhaps it is today, with women far better protected against rape in the United States than in, say, sub-Saharan Africa. From the point of view of a Muslim, or even of Victorian England, it is the detainees who are on the side of civilization, here.

It's also interesting to note what our people did not seem to do to detainees. In particular, they seem to prefer psychological torments to inflicting sharp physical pain. There is no stabbing or cutting with sharp objects. Dogs are brought in and bare their teeth but are apparently not unleashed to bite prisoners. Whatever classifies as physical suffering is mild. Water is poured over prisoners. They are "kept awake for 18 - 20 hours a day for 48 of 54 consecutive days," which reminds me of college. The inventiveness of the psychological torments seems to be motivated by a need to create a strong incentive for prisoners to break down, without resorting to hard-core physical torture. Is that better? I don't know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Ruy Teixeira thinks he knows how Democrats can make a "simple, common sense statement of a case for a change of leadership that both democratic base voters and disillusioned Bush voters can easily accept and which the opinion data clearly indicate a solid majority of American voters can support." How? By criticizing Bush as too stubborn to realize he'd made a mistake-- not necessarily by going into Iraq, but by the way he went in. I disagree with that assessment. (To the extent that we made a mistake in Iraq, I think it was in embracing the "Pottery Barn Rule." No, we didn't break it, Saddam did. And we don't own it.) But this is the problem for Teixeira: what's the use (for Democrats) in convincing America we need a change of leadership now? The election is over. There won't be another change of presidential leadership until 2008. And then there's sure to be one, it's just a question of new Democrat president or new Republican president. So I don't see the electoral advantage to Democrats in attacking Bush's character flaws, even if they succeed. What Democrats need to do, rather, is to adopt a new political philosophy, by co-opting some Republican ideas and themes. Like Clinton did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


The current leader of the ethnic cleansing lobby in America is Tom Tancredo:

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican... is one of the nation's strongest advocates for tougher actions to crack down on illegal immigration... Tancredo is now promising to run for president if no other candidates come forward with plans to deal with these questions... In an interview, [Tancredo] said he wants three things:

• "A secure border, including the application of military assets until the time when the border patrol can be brought up to speed on it."

• "Aggressively go after all employers who are illegally hiring people who are undocumented because (employers) are the demand side of the problem."

• "No amnesty of any kind, shape or variety."

Tancredo represents the dark side in each of us, the part of us that hears Spanish spoken on the street and responds with fear and hatred instead of curiosity and affection. A successful struggle against this dark side within ourselves lies at the heart of the moral progress that we call civilization, in the best sense. Many have said that a retreat into barbarism is now underway on the part of America. I believe they are mistaken; but if Tancredo is elected, I'll be forced to admit that they were right.

A victory for President Tancredo would be a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda. Foreigners would be on notice that we hate and fear them; many would respond in kind. Inasmuch as the changes Tancredo advises were motivated by a fear that terrorists could slip in over the laxly guarded border-- though of course it's far more likely that terrorists would come in on student visas or from Europe-- then the terrorists would have succeeded in changing our way of life, and setting back the cause of freedom.

My own neighborhood is a delightful ethnic mix-- white, black, and Hispanic, with the occasional Asian. Almost every day I stop into a grocery store where most of the personnel speak little or no English. "Veinte cuatro dolares," they'll tell me. "Credito o debito?" I love it. The prices there are lower than at Safeway, catering to their mostly Mexican and Salvadoran clientele. So I benefit materially from immigration. It's my favorite neighborhood in Washington, DC. The mixture makes me feel safer than in all-black neighborhoods.

Tancredo wants to rip this community apart. He wants us to live in fear of the police. How can I not consider him worse than any foreign enemy? And why? He may be under the impression that this will "protect American jobs" or something, yet the unemployment rate is already a low 5%. Or is it just hatred for the Other?

What will happen to the people, those who have worked so hard providing me with apples and chicken gizzards and ice cream? Where will they go? How will they live? Does Tancredo care?

Bush, on the other hand, is on the side of the angels. Already I'm proud and thrilled to say that Bush's amnesty proposal is encouraging immigration:

President Bush's proposal for a guest worker program to help stem the tide of illegal immigration actually prompted a surge of illegal border-crossings...

Judicial Watch, a Washington-based public interest group, said the survey, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that 61 percent of a sample of detainees who had been caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border in the wake of Bush's proposal said they had been informed by the Mexican government or the media that the Bush administration was offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. Nearly 45 percent said the purported amnesty influenced their decision to enter the United States illegally, Judicial Watch said.

Why did Bush say it then? Because (I think) he is a Christian with conscience enough to know that it is right. The phrase "compassionate conservative" comes to mind. As long as a man like Bush is in the White House and men like Tancredo are in the shadows, I'll proudly call myself a Republican. But future GOP candidate had better stand up to the ethnic cleansing lobby, or I'm gone.

Monday, July 11, 2005


This portrait of Bashar Assad is quite readable, and fairly flattering. Assad is not worried about regime change because:

Well, was he worried that they may indeed strike from somewhere? "No," he said, as a wry smile formed on his lips. "I think the experience in Iraq has not" -- he hesitated for a beat -- "worked out."

Assad's wife is British-born, and has lived in New York. Assad himself adopts the pose of a ruler trying to groom his country for democracy. Assad echoes the West in all sorts of ways, and when he says these words, he is echoing the West, too; telling a New York Times journalist what he wants to hear. After all, what would it mean for the Iraq experience to "work out?" What were the administration's objectives in embarking on it? The central objective of the Bush administration was to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that's the logical yardstick to measure the war by. But a huge swath of the West, from hard left to soft left and sometimes including segments of the right, and including most of the intelligentsia, has preferred to evade this logic, preferring "subtler" and fallacious opinions.

The real reason that Assad is right not to fear regime change is not that the Bush administration has met a nasty surprise in Iarq and been cured of its former naivete. Rather, we all knew from the beginning that regime change would be costly and dangerous, and only an utterly evil regime like Saddam's was worth the sacrifice. Assad's is not a bad enough regime that changing it through foreign invasion would be beneficial. Probably at some level Assad understands this. Indeed, he probably also knows that his survival may well depend on not being a bad enough regime to be worth changing, and all the "earnest talk of bureaucratic reform" that the article describes is driven in part by the Iraq War. This is not to say that Bashar Assad is a would-be monstrous dictator whose efforts to treat his people humanely and move his country towards democracy are only because of fear of America. Rather, like all of us, he has both good and evil impulses. Like all of us, he needs to be held accountable. In the wake of Iraq, Arab rulers are accountable in a new way.

Instead of admitting this, Assad naturally prefers to adopt his best New York Times tone of voice and say "the experience in Iraq has not... worked out," even if this doesn't make much sense. He knows that this journalist will not follow up by asking, "What do you mean when you say it 'hasn't worked out'? What would be the criteria for success, from the American administration's point of view?" He will not ask, "You think, then, that the Bush administration wishes it had left the Baathist prison-state in power?" Assad and the journalist will enjoy their moment of feeling superior to Bush, and move on.

UPDATE: Tom Reasoner just made an interesting but hardly persuasive comment, which concludes: "We might be making his political life tough with our demands and accusations, but as far as democratic reforms go, we've had a minimal (possibly negative) impact on the region, at least in the short term." What?! The revolution in Lebanon? Multiparty elections in Egypt? Abbas's election in Palestine? The whole Arab spring in general is a coincidence, or even in spite of our intervention? (In this blogging age it's common for people to make one-liners that expose them to ridicule. Tom should watch his step.)

Tom writes that "Bashar Al-Asad has been preaching democratic reforms since he succeeded his father as ruler of Syria in June of 2000." That is true. But the article he links to also reports that:

[W]hat began as a promising reform process (nicknamed the New Spring) foundered. The higher echelons of power seemed more interested in reverting back to the old-guard policies of tight state control.

Now, by contrast:

[T]here was a debate in Washington over whether he was in control of his government. I asked his view. He laughed. ''That was before our conference,'' he said, referring to the Baath Party congress that had just ended. Several senior figures had stepped down; Assad had now replaced all but 6 of the 21 members of the Syrian Baath Party's top panel, its Regional Command, and in replacing them, he had whittled their total number to 15.

Accountability does not apply only to Bashar Assad himself, but to the government in general, strengthening Assad's reformist side vis-a-vis the reactionary elements in the same regime. Plenty of dictators and totalitarians have "preached democratic reforms" at one time or another; many totalitarian movements, in any case, are cloaked in democratic garb. But if regimes and rulers are to practice what they preach, accountability helps.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Thanks to intermittent commenter Strophyx for linking me to this post from Don Boudreaux on the benefits of immigration. Boudreaux argues that children are beneficial to society:

More people in a free society mean more creativity, more discovery, more problem-solving, more effort, and a deeper and more productive division of labor. In short, more people in a free society mean more resources and higher living standards.

But that there is a "market failure" in that parents bear all the costs of childrearing while the benefits are diffuse. But immigrants have larger families than citizens. So he writes:

Speaking as someone who knowingly behaves selfishly – I have only one child and plan to have no more – I offer special thanks and praise to immigrants who not only work especially hard here in America but who also are creating and rearing ‘ultimate resources’ that will benefits us all enormously when they reach adulthood.

To make this more concrete, immigrants right now are buoying housing prices and holding down inflation. Tens of millions of Americans have (in part) immigrants to thank for large capital gains on their homes. And we have immigrants to thank that the Fed has been able to keep interest rates rather low, rather than having to drive them up in order to fend off the inflation that would be accelerating right now without the cheap labor of immigrants to hold down prices. That's why the idea that immigrants take American jobs is misguided. Rising house prices and lower interest rates help the economy to create jobs, probably about the same amount of jobs that they themselves take, so we're no worse off, and most of us are better off.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


New York was attacked on September 11, 2001 because it was, as boastful placards in the city put it, the "Millennium Capital of the World," the symbolic center of diplomacy, finance, and industry.

It would be too much, no doubt, to say that London was attacked because it inherited New York's leadership role. Still, if there is any single location where a terrorist attack is a symbolic strike against all of modern civilization today, London may be that place. The schism between America and Continental Europe is wide enough now that Frenchmen wouldn't feel "we are all Americans now," if they ever did. Likewise, Americans would not feel that an attack on Paris or Berlin was an attack on them. And Spain, let alone Bali or Istanbul, is too remote to have the same impact.

But London. Churchill long ago envisioned England as the intersection of three worlds: the British Empire, the English-speaking world, and Europe. Now, with Britain being a leader in international development, suddenly influential in Europe in the wake of the French No, and with the highest prestige in America that it has had for a couple of generations, Britain has come strangely close to fulfilling Churchill's vision. It enjoys (or suffers from, as the case may be) an importance in the world out of proportion to its size.

The terrorist attacks serve to underline that. They are a bitter, back-handed tribute to Blair's leadership.

An e-mailer to Andrew Sullivan has an interesting idea:

Brits will demand that we hand over the calm south to Iraqis and move troops (in particular SAS) to Afghanistan. There are some people in the mountains that we need to settle a score with.

That's a thought about how we could repay the British for their friendship. We could call up a few more troops to relieve the British in southern Iraq, so that they could move them to Afghanistan, which has tended to be neglected. Maybe we could ask the Aussies to contribute a few more too, out of solidarity with the British. And we could use the Londond attacks to pressure Musharraf to let the campaign against al-Qaeda move into the northern Pakistan.

However, I'm mouthing off about things I don't know much about. I better stop before I write something stupid.


Al-Qaeda claims responsibility:

A group called The Secret Organisation of al-Qaida in Europe today said it carried out the series of blasts in London in retaliation for Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group's statement appeared on a website popular with Islamic militants, according to Elaph, a secular Arabic-language news website, and Der Spiegel magazine in Berlin, which both published the text on their sites.

The statement, which also threatened attacks against Italy and Denmark, said: "Rejoice, Islamic nation. Rejoice, Arab world. The time has come for vengeance against the Zionist crusader government of Britain in response to the massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note the hypocrisy of the statement. Al-Qaeda is committing massacres in Iraq, blowing up innocent civilians with car bombs and IEDs, every day. They kill the brave Iraqi policemen and security forces who try to avenge the massacres that they are committing. We will continue to do what al-Qaeda hypocritically claims to do: fight against those who commit massacres in Iraq.

Is al-Qaeda's end merely vengeance? Presumably they also want Britain to leave Iraq, but for what? So that they can lay down their arms and allow the elected Iraqi government do its work? Or so that they can overthrow the elected Iraqi government and... do what? Restore Saddam? Restore a hybrid regime of collaborating Baathists and jihadists? And will they be content then, or do they want to carry the war elsewhere? Do they want Iran to get a nuke, and use it to defy and make war on the West? Or, being Sunnis, are they anti-Iran too? Do they want to overthrow the House of Saud and make Mecca the center of a new caliphate? What portion of the earth would this caliphate include? North Africa and the Middle East, presumably-- and Israel-- but what about Pakistan? India? Spain? Would the Islamic lands of Southeast Asia be included, and would sharia be imposed in, say, Malaysia? If all the lands historically controlled by Islam were brought under the rule of the caliphate, would they want to expand further? I suppose capitalism has to go since the sharia forbids lending at interest. Classical Islamic civilization practiced slavery on a huge scale, feeding their slave markets by kidnapping Europeans and Africans-- would that practice be resumed? What is it, exactly, that they want? What dream is it for which those warm, breathing people became corpses today? Can al-Qaeda tell the world? Or do they even know?


Maybe the phrase sounds so trite and cliche now that only a satirist like Scott Ott could write it, but there's truth in it. Is it possible for America to stand by Britain as faithfully as Blair did for us after 9/11?

The trouble is that if Bush were to send an offer to, say, "help" Britain in its struggle with terror, the offer would be worse than useless. We're obviously fighting terror pretty hard, and harder than most Britons would like, already, for reasons of our own. "Not in our name," Britons would say, and with good reason.

There may be a backlash in favor of the war on terror in Britain in the wake of the bombings, but we should not attempt to exploit it. Instead, we should offer help and solidarity to Britain, but in the name of seeking global peace. That's the message I'd want to send to the British.


In a way, it's surprising that terrorism didn't hit London sooner, considering Blair's leading position in the war on terror, the political vulnerability of a pro-US stance there, and the large and angry Muslim population there. Will Britain's reaction be like America's, or like Spain's? And will this be the first in a new string of terror attacks? If so, will they be in Britain, in Europe, or in America too?

Monday, July 04, 2005


My wife and I rented a car this weekend and traveled a bit around Washington, DC in the mid-Atlantic states.

The first day we took with us a Russian, a Hungarian and a Spaniard. All of them are here on an exchange program, working in a Girl Scout camp in western Virginia. They spend their weeks at canoeing, archery, singing camp songs, and so forth. It sounds fun. (My wife was jealous.) All of them speak English adequately, but none of them really well. It leaves me reflecting on how splendid is labor mobility. Why does the Girl Scout camp bring in foreigners? No doubt it's because it's hard to find enough Americans to fill the job-- even though it sounds like a fairly fun job. For the camp, it's cheap labor; for the foreigners, it's a chance to travel, improve their English, broaden their life experiences; for the girls, it's a fun few days in the wild; and for the parents, it's a couple of days off from parenting and at the same time a way to express parental love. I was struck by how remarkable and wonderful the whole situation is, that we have a chance to benefit others by benefiting ourselves. And to think that some people look askance at the whole situation, wanting to close the borders?

Patriotism for me is tied to the melting pot, the Statue of Liberty, and immigration. When people oppose immigration in the name of patriotism, of course, you wonder whether they really love their own country or merely hate other countries, which is not patriotism; but I'll go further than that. I think that either it is impossible both to be a patriot and to oppose immigration and that those who claim they are and do are lying (perhaps to themselves); or at any rate that how patriotism and opposition to immigration are compatible is a mystery which I have little interest in understanding.

If you love this country, if you think this country is great, if you're excited about this country, wouldn't you want to spread the word, and to let others see it and experience it? If you see a great film, you tell your friends to go see it too? It's the same with my country: I want to spread the word! I think it was great to spend Fourth of July weekend in the car with four foreigners (my wife is Russian) seeing the American land with fresh eyes, their minds filling up with impressions that will color the word "America" for the rest of their lives.

And never forget that America is at least in one respect what the Pilgrims hoped it would become: we are a city on a hill, the whole world is watching, more than ever. Our movies, TV and popular music are watched and heard worldwide. I've heard American music played over radios from Africa to China to Moscow almost to Mongolia. But now, what with the global currency of the English language and the internet and the blogosphere, people are exposed to our culture through the written word as well, in a more diverse, abundant, and immediate fashion than ever before. We may justly take pride in that, but it also means more people want to come here. Pilgrimage, the desire to stand upon the soil where great things have been said and done, is an impulse natural to the human condition. Would Islam have maintained its hold on the hearts and minds of people from Jakarta to Casablanca, from Kazan to Djibouti, for so many centuries, if the rulers of Arabia had blocked the pilgrimage to Mecca? Nor should we expect the faith of liberal-democratic modernity to maintain its sway if we slam the door in the faces of those who would pay us homage. It's no coincidence that the history's bloodiest war, and the most dangerous moment for America, came two decades after the illiberal Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which restricted immigration from any country to 3% of those already living here.

Of course, you might love this country and fear it cannot survive an influx of immigrants. But if you believe this country is so weak that the arrival of a few million willing workers will somehow cause it to collapse, is that patriotism? To be a patriot is to love this country, yes, but also to believe in it. A patriot believes that our ideals are persuasive enough, our culture magnetic and rich enough, our economy robust and resilient enough, that immigrants will willingly learn and absorb American culture, that their children will become Americans with their blessing. And this hardly requires a leap of faith, for history resoundingly reaffirms it: already tens of generations bear witness to America's ability to assimilate immigrants. All around him the linguistically sophisticated patriot recognizes German, Slavic, and Italian surnames, etymological evidence of an awesome historical event-- the creation of Americans from foreigners, usually in one generation or less, on a massive scale, unprecedented in all the history of mankind-- for which there is no evidence in speech, dress, musical taste, often even in religion, but only in the consonants and vowels of the surname. Indeed, nowadays, the guardians of cultures beyond the sea are frightened that their youngsters will assimilate to the American way even without immigrating! The nativist who hears Spanish spoken in the grocery store and pays credence to grim prophecies about unassimilated minorities spoiling the national culture falls short in understanding history, but above all, he falls short in understanding America. Opponents of immigration like Pat Buchanan and Samuel Huntingdon want to protect America because they believe America is in decline. The only way these men will turn out to be right is in the manner of self-fulfilling prophecies.

And to the extent that they, deliberately or not, maintain some of their culture and traditions and resist assimilation in some ways, they will add to the rich tapestry of sub-cultures that makes up American life. Which brings me to the Amish. My wife and I and the three foreigners drove left DC and set sail on America's mighty highways, gradually extricated ourselves from the city, and after a while we found ourselves drifting through the alternating cornfields and forests of south-eastern Pennsylvania. Our destination was Lancaster County, home of the Amish. We bought potato roles and tomatoes and went on a horse-and-buggy ride through a farm, and the driver told us about the country.

"95% of the farms around here are Amish," he told us. He explained that the Amish make their money from milk, and the corn we saw growing around us was feed for the animals. "You'd go broke" if you just raised and sold corn, he explained in answer to my question. "The Amish are just like everyone else except their religion tells them certain things they can't do. Technologies came along and the Amish had to say yes or no. Some they said yes, some no." They can use engines on a plough, for example, if it's pulled by a horse. "Cars were seen as too individualistic. They can ride public transit because you're with other people, there's accountability..." (no doubt I paraphrase slightly...)

Our driver was raised as an Amish himself. He left when he was fifteen, because he came to believe that "salvation is a free gift," as opposed to the Amish, who try to achieve salvation through a way of life that helps them avoid sin. How many leave, we asked. "10%," he said. And he had more stories about that. "A lot of Amish boys-- not the girls-- will get together and party [in their teens]... Some will own a car, and they'll drive on the weekends. Their parents let them because if they tell Johnny he can't, he'll leave, and be lost. Sooner or later he'll fall in love with an Amish girl, and leave all that behind." Amish youth also congregate in Florida during spring break. "They'll all go to one place, from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illionis, Indiana, Missouri. And sometimes a boy and a girl will meet and marry, and lead a normal [Amish] life, and you'll never know..."

What's strange is that while the Amish are almost the paradigm case of an unassimilated immigrant group, still speaking a dialect of German at home-- and since they use High Geman in church services they actually use three languages-- they embody a hatful of American traditions. Like the Pilgrims, like the Quakers, they came here to practice their religion. To practice their religion in community, please note, and this should color the traditional statement that people came here for "religious freedom." "The Old Order Amish are the only ones that are growing," our driver explained. "They've doubled over the last twenty years. They're growing because they shun. The New Order Amish don't shun, so their children leave. Shunning just means they can't eat at table with you. They won't disown you." But apparently that's enough. This is religious freedom; but it is not exactly religious tolerance; rather, it is non-violence, the doctrine of "no coercion in religion," and, more than that, no coercion whatsoever.

And yet the Amish no doubt sell their milk to the nearby Hershey company, and we eat it in our chocolate bars. "Be ye separate," the Amish believe, and yet they are bound up in this great country, America.

Hershey, Pennsylvania was where we went next. We learned about Milton Hershey.

Milton Hershey turned Swiss milk chocolate, then a luxury item, into a good for mass consumption. Democratic capitalism in America does not mean merely that a democratic form of government is affixed to a capitalist economy. Capitalism itself is deeply, potently democratic. John Kerry boasts that he will give you a health care plan as good as what your senator enjoys. If elected to do so, he would have made the health system grotesquely expensive, ballooned the federal budget, cause widespread rationing in the health system, raised taxes, etc. But Milton Hershey says, "I'll give the common man chocolate as good as what the plutocrats eat," and then he does it. Indeed, maybe there's another connection to the Amish here, besides that he's buying their milk; like an ambitious Democratic senatorial windbag, Hershey wanted to deliver to the common man something that only the well-off then enjoyed, but he wanted to deliver it without resorting to coercion.

Hmm. Must return rental car. Patriotic travelogue will have to wait...

Friday, July 01, 2005


Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement is great news. I'm not a lawyer, but my impression is that she was not very smart, and had an extremely arrogant view of the role of the judiciary, but that since was a "swing vote," i.e. unprincipled and manipulable, lawyers constantly flattered her hoping to win her over, which made the problem worse. Good riddance.

UPDATE: Nato thinks that this is too harsh for a mere "impression." Hehe. All right, maybe so, but let me add that the impression was formed under the influence of my father, a law professor, who on a few occasions during long car drives has gone on long, exasperated tirades against O'Connor's jurisprudence. I was channeling him, but you can take my view with a grain of salt, since I heard extensive arguments and evidence in its favor from my dad, but you didn't.

I'm less inclined to opine on the Court than on other topics, and one excuse I offer is "I'm not a lawyer." That's partly ironic. Constitutional law seems like an intellectual quagmire to me. The only school of Constitutional interpretation which is based on a plausible theory of meaning is originalism. The idea of a "living Constitution" is as dishonest as a kid who, upon being given $20 to go to the store and buy milk and eggs, instead spends the money at the video arcade and on candy bars, and, upon returning home, tells his mother that he saw her instructions as "living instructions," whose meaning could change with time. And the Constitution, in its original meaning, intended to establish a state far more (in some respects) (what would be called today) libertarian and (in other respects) (what would be called today) conservative than we have. Franklin D. Roosevelt dragged the country off the Constitutional straight and narrow, and ever since there's been a sharp divergence between our Constitution and our polity. But what can you do about it? Even if we could appoint nine libertarians to the Supreme Court and strike down the New Deal and most of what came after, would we want to? What legitimacy would there be in that? Why should a flourishing democracy of 300 million people, people who are broadly speaking rich, well-educated and free, be bound to be abide by an eighteenth-century document, anyway, and that document written by many slaveholders, at a time when the country was far poorer, less populous, and less educated than today? If nine justices were to carry out a revolution from above in the name of that document, what kind of legitimacy would that revolution have? We the people continue to venerate the Constitution, of course, but we also believe, falsely, that it establishes and guides the polity we live in. Our reverence for the Constitution is linked to our reverence for our country and its institutions. If we had to choose between the Constitution and the New Deal, which would we pick? Some people, probably a bit fewer than the share who voted for Goldwater in 1964, would pick the Constitution. Democrats and liberals, and people who like receiving Social Security checks or farm subsidies etc., would go with the New Deal.

The Supreme Court Justices have to help us evade that choice. It's like building an edifice on a foundation that has been shattered by an earthquake, while pretending that the foundation is sound. I don't envy them.

Good luck to the Democrats on this one. Every now and then, they do perform the role of a responsible opposition.