Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope

National Review has an interview with Bill Bennett about his new popular history book, America: The Last Best Hope. Here are a couple things from the interview that piqued my interest.

The contemporary conflict between the West and radical Islam seems to have prompted Bennett to delve deeper into the historical relationship between Muslims and the West and how that relationship affected America in particular. He acknowledges some of his insights may be considered "politically incorrect":
Radical Islam or Militant Islam was trouble for us from before day one. The European empires go west because they don’t want to deal with these guys in the east. Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates was taken up after more than one million Europeans had been made slaves by Muslim traders. John Adams was opposed to the war, by the way, saying prophetically that if we fought these militant Muslims we’d be fighting them forever.
I'm not sure if Bennett's preemptive categorization of his treatment of the history of the tension between Islam and the West is a case of him forecasting the kind of negative reaction he expects to get regarding that portion of the book or if he is merely setting up a straw-man. I guess I'll have to wait for the reaction itself. Nonetheless, to my knowledge, Bennett may be the first to emphasize (if that's indeed what it is) the relationship between Islam and America in a popular history. He deserves credit for that.

Refreshingly, Bennett tried to provide a bit of levity, too:
I’ve tried to find really funny, really memorable lines. Try this for example, General Sherman said “Grant stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand by each other always.” Great quote. Funny. Bracing. Uplifting. How about two more in connection with Teddy Roosevelt? Joe Wheeler, an ex-confederate officer, was chasing retreating Spaniards in 1898 somewhere near San Juan Hill: “We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!” he yelled at his men. But it was former Sergeant Buck Taylor of the same war who, when later campaigning for Roosevelt, said to crowds: “He kept every promise he ever made to us, and he will to you as well. He led us up San Juan Hill like sheep to the slaughter, and so will he lead you.”
If Bennett's humorous examples are sprinkled throughout, I for one will be happy. Funny things do happen in history, after all.

When asked who his MVP of American History was, Bennett replied:
Well it’s Lincoln and Washington, no surprise there. But, in my top-ten, maybe top-five, I put Frederick Douglass—a guy I didn’t know that well before. You know I don’t the think the left likes Douglass, and I don’t think the right and the center have given him his due. I hope I have.
Bennett's comments about Douglass are also interesting and encouraging and may point to the first recorded instance of a conservative engaged in revisionism! (Just kidding).

To conclude, he also explained why he thought America--slavery and all--was indeed the "Last Best Hope":
The question there is “compared to whom?” [Patrick] Moynihan said, “Am I embarrassed to speak for less than a perfect democracy? Not one bit. Have we done terrible things, yes we have.” But as Lino Graglia says, “In the long story of inhumanity and misery that is history, the American achievement is high, and unique.” By the way, if we are such a bad place, as many have it today (and some have always had it), why are we flooded with people who want to come here? With students, I talk about “the gates test.” I say, you want to find out whether a country is good or not, give it the gates test: when you raise the gates, which way do people run? In or out? In America, when we raise the gates, the people flood in. Even with the gates down, they flood in, as today’s headlines make plain. People all over the world have been voting for America with their feet, for a very long time.
Finally, I suspect that Bennett tells both the good and bad of U.S. history, but doesn't allow the instances in which America has fallen short of its founding ideals to overshadow the ideals themselves or the continued attempt to live up to them.

As a preview, he has been releasing excerpts from the book (in place of his columns) over the last couple weeks: America: The Last Best Hope; Jefferson's crisis; Preserving our federal union. It is with a portion--indeed, perhaps the very premise-- of the second excerpt ("Jefferson's Crisis") that I disagree with Bennett. But more on that later.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Peterman's Guide to Excellence

It's now official: yesterday I graduated from Providence College with an MA in History. The commencement speaker was actor John O'Hurley ('76 grad), though he's probably better known asthe Seinfeld character J. Peterman, the over-the-top, mail-order clothing outfitter with a famous catalogue (and subject of at least one apparently scholarly piece). O'Hurley's address had it's humorous parts, but the most important was THE PETERMAN GUIDE TO THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE:

An extraordinary life, as I've come to understand it, has three simple elements. And these elements are common to everyone who has ever taken that journey. An extraordinary life is a life of Achievement, a life of Meaning, and a life of reflection.

Achievement begins with imagination. If you only take one thing from this precious time we have together today; remember this -- what you imagine has value. What you imagine has value. It is as tragic as it is true, but the greatest plans on earth still lie in the minds of people who still think that everybody else has a better idea than they do. Dream large, dream small, but trust what you imagine, because what you daydream about is what you are supposed to do. What you imagine is one of the only ways God can talk to you.

When you trust what you imagine amazing things happen. You become willing to make the leap to achieve what you imagine. I say "leap" because nothing worth achieving is ever close at hand. It's always farther away than a comfortable reach. It involves risk. But, believe me, if you leap the net will appear. When you leap, the net will appear.

When you learn to value what you imagine, you will also learn to finish what you start. You will take the ball across the goal line. You will put the ball through the hoop. You will put the puck in the net. As you will soon experience, the world is littered with ideas that were dropped at the five yard line. The world that you are inheriting is too competitive, too uncertain, and too hair-triggered to place any value in half hearted attempts. Choose to be a champion because a champion always closes the deal.

But Achievement alone, does not an extraordinary life make. Achievement, alone, is not enough. Hollywood and the rest of entertainment world are filled with people who seem to accomplish much, but live lives that are otherwise without much value, except for their ability to fill the pages of magazines that seem to dedicate themselves weekly to their confusion.

An extraordinary life has meaning, and meaning comes only from love. Love for another, love for God, and love for yourself. When we learn to love another we experience the joy of selflessness because we extend ourselves for their good. When we love God we experience the gift of humility, and the comfort of knowing that we are never alone. When we love ourselves, and perhaps this is the toughest kind of love, we learn that we are a gift. We protect that gift and avoid destructive behavior. We develop a sense of humor about ourselves and the world around us. As G.K. Chesterton so poignantly wrote, "Angels fly, because they take themselves lightly"

The final aspect of the extraordinary life is what makes it all worthwhile, and that is perspective. You have heard people tell you "Never look back, always look forward." I say, nonsense -- always look back and as often as you can. It is the only way you know how far you have come. Like today. That half-look over your shoulder at the child you were and the person you've become, and all that you have achieved in between is your story, your history. The enjoyment of that progress will make you appreciate all those who were part of your story -- your parents, your family, your friends, your teachers and places like Providence College.

And from your appreciation will come what is perhaps the greatest virtue of the extraordinary life -- and that is generosity. You will give back, because you know you have been given so much.

So there you have it -- the Peterman Guide to the Extraordinary Life. I invite you to consider it and make it your own. But I will share this one thought -- the moment that I realized the choice of an ordinary life or an extraordinary life; the day that I realized what I imagined had value, that if I leapt, the net would appear, that I must finish what I start; the day that I realized that there is only meaning in who we love and how we love; the day that I realized that by looking back over my shoulder was the only way I could ever see how far I've come; that was the day that I began the slow, deliberate walk to this podium, because until then, I had nothin' to tell ya'.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sons of Providence, American Archetypes

I previously noted that Charles Rappleye's Sons of Providence : The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution, about the roles played by John and Moses Brown during the Founding period, had been well received here in Rhode Island. Since then, the book has also received a positive review in the N.Y. Times.

Last night Rappleye wrapped up his month-long book tour at a book signing hosted by The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and the local NAACP chapter (ed-page not loading, but here's a cached version) at Providence's historic Benificent Church. Both I and my colleague Andrew Morse (we both contribute to another blog) were invited to attend by local political reporter (and Charles' brother) Bill Rappleye.

To keep the summary brief, Rappleye has concluded that Rhode Island and New England in general had a much larger part to play in the slave trade than most people realize. In the Brown brothers, Rappleye found good examples of two of the divergent notions of freedom and democracy that were developing in our nascent nation. John Brown embodied the free-market, capitalist archetype who privileges property rights and his right to make money. Moses Brown-- especially after the death of his wife and subsequent conversion to Quakerism-- embodied a more egalitarian world view with an emphasis on devotion to his fellow man (though his fortune helped him promote this view).

Predictably--given the subject matter and the audience--the post-presentation Q&A was much broader than just a discussion on the Brown brothers and their relationship.

There was some discussion over the reticence of various members of the Brown family to acknowledge their role in the slave trade. Rappleye disclosed that, while some members were reluctant, others were very helpful to him in his research. Allusion was made to Brown University's investigation (by the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice) into the role that the slave trade played in its founding. Also mentioned was the reluctance of the John Brown House to acknowledge that its namesake had been a slaveholder at all. Rappleye pointed out that while the Brown family and Brown University may have some "blood money" on their hands, the fact of the matter was that it was also the Brown family who produced one of the first effective abolitionist leaders in the person of Moses Brown.

Andrew and I had a chance to talk to Rappleye after the formal discussion and he explained how John and Moses are sort of the archetypes of the prevalent American ideologies of freedom and liberty even to this day. He also said that much of the debate between the brothers could be chalked up to good old fashioned sibling rivalry. Finally, he also provided a useful analogy: that slavery was the engine of the global economy at that time, much as oil is today.

I hope to finish reading the book soon and expect to offer more thoughts at some point. In the meantime, Andrew has up his review over at Anchor Rising.

Here are some other stories related to both Rappleye's book and the controversy surrounding Brown University. First, from the Brown [University] Daily Herald is an account of book signing at Brown University, a report on Brown's "nuanced" past, a story about waiting for the report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice and a story about a Brown family member who is writing her own version of the family history. Additionally, the Providence Journal had a series on the Rhode Island slave trade, with The Unrighteous Traffick- Part 5, "Brown vs. Brown: Brothers Go Head to Head" being the most relevant to this topic. Finally, The Unrighteous Traffick- Part 6, "Living Off the Trade: Bristol and the DeWolfs" is about another Rhode Island family that was heavily involved in the slave trade.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Founders are Blogging!

Some guys who call themselves The Founders are all blogging about current events. Here's George, Alex, Ben, Tom, John and Jim. Interesting reading, though they seem a little, well, old-fashioned.

Cook's "Endeavor" Located?

Marine archeaologists have been poking around Newport, RI for a few years now. Part of the motivation has been to determine whether or not Captain Cook's Endeavor may have met a rather inauspicious end as a Revolutionary War era British transport that sank off of Newport. Originally, two of these transports had been located, but now that more have been found, the chances that the Endeavor is among them has increased.

Searching Newport Harbor for historic treasure, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project has located the remains of four more shipwrecks dating back to the Revolutionary War.

The discovery gives Rhode Island the right to boast that it has the "largest fleet of Revolutionary shipwrecks" in the world, according to D.K. Abbass, director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project. The ships are believed to be part of a private fleet of 13 British transport ships sunk during the war, said Abbass.

Previously, RIMAP had discovered two shipwrecks in the harbor. Now that six have been located, it is increasingly likely that what is down there is the 13-ship fleet that included the Endeavour, which Capt. James Cook sailed to Australia on his trip around the world between 1768 and 1771, said Abbass...

Here is more (if a bit dated) information from RIMAP's website regarding its efforts to locate the Endeavor, and here is a more scholarly explanation.

Friday, May 12, 2006

How American Idol is Like Politics

John Podhoretz (sub. req'd.--free) explains how the American Idol voting patterns can teach us--particularly the young, I'd add--about regular old politics.

The number of votes seems to remain remarkably constant (this year, somewhere north of 40 million) week to week. This indicates the same people continue to vote each week. It also means that the people who voted for the contestant who was kicked off go ahead and just choose somebody new to vote for.

This is a direct parallel to the presidential primary process. In the early primaries, candidates who do poorly usually drop out of the race, leaving those who would have supported them in other states high and dry. Those supporters then have to pick somebody else among the surviving candidates to vote for.

This winnowing process allows the most appealing candidates to pick up steam by adding new voters to their cadre of supporters. And as they do so, the field continues to be winnowed, until finally there are only one or two candidates left standing. The single-issue candidate, the flash-in-the-pan, the guy who has one fantastic debate - they may all have their moments, but in the end, the candidate with the most broad-based appeal will usually win.

And this is what explains Chris Daughtry's stunning loss this week on "American Idol." He has a distinctive voice and distinctive appeal. The problem is that he never broadened his base very much. If you liked him from the start, you stayed with him - which is why he remained solidly among the top contenders through most of the show's run.

But if you didn't much like his sound when there were still 9 contestants remaining, you weren't suddenly going to decide you liked his sound when there were only 4 remaining.

The key to winning "American Idol" isn't being overwhelmingly popular in the early stages. The key is having a sound that makes it possible for you to pick up votes from people whose favorites have gotten booted off the show. Because if you don't get those votes, somebody else is going to get them.

Whoda thunk? American Idol as a modern Civics class!

"Decline and Fall of the Roman Myth"

The Celts were more sophisticated than the Romans in some aspects. Celtic culture and history isn't my area, except where it bumps up against the Early MA Germans. What both didn't give us--and what Rome did--was a written record. That, as they say, has made all the difference. Until now.
It has been easy to underestimate Celtic technological achievements because so much has vanished or been misunderstood. Of course, it was thoughtless of the Celts not to leave us anything much in the way of written records — they should have known that the lack of books putting forward their own propaganda would weight the evidence firmly in favour of the Romans.

Western society’s enthusiasm since the renaissance for all things Roman has persuaded us to see much of the past through Roman eyes, even when contrary evidence stares us in the face. Once we turn the picture upside-down and look at history from a non-Roman point of view, things start to look very, very different.
I'd also add that doing away with assumptions of ethnic and cultural homogeneity is also crucial (cf; Patrick Geary's work). All this and more can be found in Terry Jones' (yup, the Python one) new book Barbarians.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beware of Conservative Populism II

Urged on by John Derbyshire and an anonymous reader, Johah Goldberg revised and extended (a bit) his column on conservative populism.
Derb- I think you nail it on the head. I agree with you entirely that populism invariably yields a kind of elitism. The left has tried for centuries to obscure this point. Because populists claim to be speaking for "the people" and because they pursue redistributionist economics, the left eagerly ignores the elitist nature of the regime. One need only look at Castro's Cuba and its fawning, sweaty-palmed sycophants in the west to see this phenomenon on full display. Castro is on the side of "the people" and therefore his police state is entirely justified. Meanwhile, someone like Pinochet — who was hardly without sin — allowed a civil society to develop while avoiding redistributionist policies and is therefor one of the all-time villains according to the left.

Fascism addressed this contradiction honestly. It was objectively and proudly populist while at the same time fascists openly argued for an elite cadre of superior, if not super, men who would run the country. The Leninists had a similar argument with all that avant-garde of the proletariat and whatnot.

In America, I think a big, big, big part of the problem is the permanent civil service bureaucracy which is naturally sympathetic to big government and parties that champion big government. These governmental elites, in collusion with academia and the "helping professions," take it upon themselves to find new ways to "run" the society (These groups, as John O'Sullivan has ably demonstrated are rapidly migrating to the global stage — he calls them transnational elites — where they are trying to turn the UN and various NGOs into post-democratic institutions). Whenever a political movement arises — like American conservatism — which challenges the elite-bureaucracy's authority they are accused of working against "the people" and the "downtrodden." Just look at all of the silly things people say about John Bolton. Journalists are key to this process because they share the bureaucratic elite's vision of both government and the masses.

I think in this sense our biggest disagreement is semantic, if that. I think the best way to look at this elite is as a secular priesthood. But that's a conversation for later.
D.B. Light has some thoughts about the long term ramifications, too.
The rise of a technocratic/bureaucratic "New Class" is a well-documented phenomenon [for a Marxist take on the process see this; I favor Eric Blair's description of the new class in 1984 -- "The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians."]. In the context of American history the emergence of this class is associated with the "Progressive" political movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in the cultural realm it is associated with the rise of "modernism." The political and cultural influence of this "New Class" grew through the first half of the Twentieth Century and it came to dominance in the middle decades of the century. By the 1980's it was in decline and in recent years that decline has been precipitous.

Through this period of decline the liberal wing of the Democratic party has served as the primary political expression of the new class. Its decline parallels the fortunes of that class. Today it is under assault from both the far left and the right.

Most of the new class's recent opponents have styled themselves "populists," "libertarians," or "small-d democrats". But, as Jonah notes, such movements have the potential, indeed the historical tendency, to establish new elites as problematic in their own way as the ones they seek to displace...

Both "populism" and modern "liberalism" are terms appropriate to the modern era which is rapidly disappearing. Neither is adequate to represent the current state of becoming in the political realm. What we need is not further critique of the past, but a new terminology and a new set of organizing principles adequate to the emerging political and cultural landscape. "Post modernism" will simply not do. I welcome any suggestions.
I left a comment suggesting "Neocrats" as a term for the leaders of this undefined, nascent movement, though I'm not entirely happy with it. At least it's a start. I'll put some more thought into what such a political ideology could be called.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Beware of Conservative Populism

Jonah Goldberg--noting that conservatism was born in Edmund Burke's reaction to the populism of the French Revolution--explains why the recent conservative populism that has been expressed in both the immigration debate and in opposition to th Dubai ports deal should be considered carefully.
I think [the immigration and ports controversies are] useful illustration[s] of the problem with populism. Being on the wrong side of “the people” is automatically seen as betrayal, rather than mere disagreement. I’d been bee-bopping and scatting against liberal populism and no one cared; when I was skeptical about an issue conservative populists treasure, I was inundated with pronouncements about the glories of people power.

Second, I’m not trying to say that conservatives who resort to populist arguments are crypto-left-wingers or anything like that. But I do believe that the logic of populism can be corrosive if not held in check. One need only look at Pat Buchanan to see how completely it can eat away classically liberal views.

That said, I think populist rhetoric and passion can be healthy in small doses. After all, sometimes elites and their institutions are arrayed against the people; 2+2=4 when people say it does and when people say it doesn’t, and it isn’t any less true when it’s being frantically chanted by a mass of people. I understand that political protagonists must sometimes show they have an authentic connection with the people they represent; I have an abiding faith in the goodness of the American people, and I think William F. Buckley’s populist flirtation, encapsulated in his observation that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook than by the faculty of Harvard University, was absolutely right and proper. But you will note that he believed in the concept of governing per se; he implicitly (and explicitly elsewhere) accepted the Burkean view that our representatives owe us their judgment, even at the occasional expense of popular will and, often, in defiance of popular passion.
John Derbyshire complemented Goldberg and asked him to be "Fair and Balanced" and do an "equally scathing piece" on elitism. To which Goldberg responded that, sorry, he actually liked elitism, rightly understood.
Elitism... in the words of William Henry, means "some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study."

We talk of elite athletes, elite scientists, elite craftsmen, or elite soldiers, and everyone understands that these people are simply better, more expert at what they do than the rest of us. It is only when we get closer to those realms where experts have decided to bend every fact and twist every standard — in an effort to mend the bruised egos of backward nations and boutique domestic victim groups — that "elite" becomes pejorative. This is a tragedy, because conservatism will become meaningless if, in an effort to displace the current elite from its perch, we embrace the notion that nobody has a right to that perch.

Right now, the word-elite of journalists and academics are the ones asking, "Who are we to judge?" This elite is the one incapable of discerning the difference between a bone through the nose and the moon launch. It is this elite which says that the canon isn't worth reading; that the Constitution is a fig leaf for white racism; that the Enlightenment wasn't worth the trouble; that freedom and democracy are just "abstractions"; that beauty is just so much lookism....The task, for conservatives especially, is to fire the teachers and journalists who believe that a bone through the nose is equivalent to a moon launch — not to eliminate altogether the positions they should rightly hold.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Immigration Debate: Same As Before?

Michael Powell argues in "U.S. Immigration Debate Is a Road Well Traveled" that, well, history is repeating itself.

The bitter arguments of the past echo loudly these days as Congress debates toughening the nation's immigration laws and immigrants from Latin America and Asia swell the streets of U.S. cities in protest. Most of the concerns voiced today -- that too many immigrants seek economic advantage and fail to understand democracy, that they refuse to learn English, overcrowd homes and overwhelm public services -- were heard a century ago. And there was a nub of truth to some complaints, not least that the vast influx of immigrants drove down working-class wages.

...Advocates of stricter enforcement argue that those who came a century ago were different because they arrived legally...Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, wrote about her Irish forebears in a Wall Street Journal column: "They waited in line. They passed the tests. They had to get permission to come. . . . They had to get through Ellis Island . . . get questioned and eyeballed by a bureaucrat with a badge."

But these accounts are flawed, historians say. Until 1918, the United States did not require passports; the term "illegal immigrant" had no meaning. New arrivals were required only to prove their identity and find a relative or friend who could vouch for them.

Jonah Goldberg disagrees and believes that some important differences between then and now is being left out:
But there are real differences... The first difference is that we never shared a 2,000 mile long border with Germany, Italy or Ireland. A second is that we did not have a generous welfare state when those immigrants came here. A third is that Germans, Italian and Irish ideologues never dreamed of claiming that American soil rightly belonged to their nation. I can think of others, but I think those will do for now. I'm not arguing for a specific policy by mentioning these facts, but I think it's silly for people to pretend the issue with Mexican Americans is perfectly analogous to previous eras. There are important similarities and there are important differences.

Sons of Providence

Sons of Providence : The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye has been getting some positive reviews here in Rhode Island and is also garnering some critical acclaim nationwide. This past weekend, Rappleye was interviewed on a local TV station. (Incidentally, his brother--Bill-- is the political reporter for the same station, a fact they made clear).

One important point Rappleye brought up is how much slavery was accepted at the time as just being a normal state of things. The most interesting observation he made was that slaves were the equivalent of oil today: slave power was the back bone of not only the American economy but also the economies of the European powers of the day.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Of Genghis Kahn and a Horde of RINO's

Ralph Luker has called attention to an incident in which he took issue with my usage of the term "RINO" within the context of a Conservativenet discussion (threads 8-11 contain the entire, larger discussion) regarding RI politics and Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Ralph said that:
As a charter member of the Republican Left and a proto-RINO, I blanched at and objected to Marc's use of the term [RINO] as the stigmata those of us to the left of Genghis Khan and David Horowitz must bear these days.
While noting the irony of Ralph taking exception to the usage of RINO while implying that anyone to his right is akin to Genghis Khan, here's a bit more on the subject.

Here's where I mentioned the "R" word (with some context):
I agree that it is unrealistic to attempt to achieve some sort of conservative purity within the Republican Party, especially in a liberal state like Rhode Island. But it is certainly not delusional for a party's base to want to elect someone closer to them on the issues, is it? For example, Sen. Chafee was the only Republican Sen. to vote against Justice Alito and then only after all of the other votes were counted (so to speak). Of the so-called moderate Republicans, he is by far the most liberal. When having the luxury of looking at RI from afar, it's easy to think that RI Republicans should be content to even have 1 Republican in Congress--even if he is a "RINO"--and that any attempt by them to get a more conservative candidate is too risky.
To which Ralph replied:
Readers at Conservativenet surely understand that the label "RINO" is obnoxious, an excuse to create a Republican Party in which dissent is not even tolerated. I am surprised, perplexed and disappointed that my friend Marc Comtois uses it. I have yet to label him an un-Republican.
The title of the the discussion thread--"the Galluping Rino Syndrome"--was not created by me, which--among other things--I explained to Ralph in my response:

First, let me say that, as I understand it, this is "Conservativenet" and not "Republicannet" and though the intersection of conservatism and Republicanism is obvious, they are not necessarily one and the same. As such, I don't mind if Ralph decides to label me an un-Republican so long as he doesn't call me un-conservative!

I'm a big boy, spent a stint in the Merchant Marine and have been called much worse. But the thickness of my skin isn't the issue, I guess. I was unaware that "RINO" was so offensive (incidentally, I only mentioned it in "scare quotes" once and I didn't provide the title to this post thread). I was also unaware that usage of the term carried with it the implication of the stifling of internal party debate characterized by Ralph.

I understand that the usage of such shortcut terms is often done to marginalize dissident voices within a group. Additionally--despite the convenience of using such shortcut terminology--it is probably also intellectually lazy to fall back on such terms....
Mea culpa, Ralph.

Now I'll get back to the Mongol Horde.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jumping to Conclusions

We've heard Iraq War commentary, second-guessing and "what-if" scenarios from historians and generals and now retired general and historian Robert H. Scales (a 1966 graduate from the United States Military Academy who holds a Ph.D. in history from Duke University)--inspired by reading Cobra II--offers up his own "what-if" scenario (via Michael Barone). He does so to emphasize his real point that retired generals and other war commentators are being too quick to make "final" evaluations about a War that is still being fought:
Of course there was no such book [as Cobra II] written [during World War II]. There were no calls for impeachment, dismissal or relief. None of this happened because military men of that age understood war as the most unpredictable of all human endeavors. Our grandfathers realized that unlike lawyers or doctors, soldiers practice their craft infrequently and often get it wrong at first. Thus, even the greatest military men make mistakes that all too often cost lives.

Sure, soldiers of that era carped about the human shortcomings of their leaders but they kept their own counsel because they realized that there was, first and foremost, a war to be won. They forgave the difficulties experienced by an army that had no choice but to learn to fight by fighting, the most wasteful form of education in the art of war. And they came home to a grateful nation sure in the confidence that they had done their part to destroy a great evil. . .

Let's take a page out of the book not written by the greatest generation. Pull some punches and breathe into a bag for awhile. I believe that it's OK for commentators to challenge general defense policies and programs in wartime. I do that quite often. But just as a book written at Christmas time in 1944 might not have offered a meaningful picture of the course of World War II, any commentary on the course of this war might be off the mark just now.

In the interest of winning this war we all must defer judgments about the efficacy of our wartime leaders to the wisdom of the American voters and the 20-20 hindsight of historians like me...after our soldiers and Marines come home.

Globalization is Causing Tribalization

RALPH PETERS notes that globalization may indeed be ocurring for the 21st century aristocrats, but it is also reinforcing tribal identity among the masses.

Rather than making the masses feel connected (on the Internet or otherwise), the tempest of forces we lump together as "globalization" leave men and women around the world feeling threatened and disoriented. In consequence, they turn to what they trust: exclusive identities, local beliefs and fundamentalist religion...


What the globalist prophets are witnessing isn't the convergence of the masses for a chorus of "We are the world," but the rise of a new, globe-spanning aristocracy. . . . Just as yesteryear's aristos did, today's nobility of wealth and culture see themselves as above nationality. Patriotism is fodder for the peasants (unless it can be exploited for profit). They have far more in common with business partners across the globe than with the guy who fixes their plumbing. They intermarry across borders and forge alliances based on their own interests - as the Tudors, Valois and Medici did before them.

Brown University and Slavery

Joshua Zeitz reviews Charles Rappleye's new book, Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution:
The story of the Brown brothers has assumed new importance in recent years, as Brown University—the Ivy League institution they helped build, and which bears their name—has impaneled a committee of administrators and faculty members to investigate the relationship between the university’s early financing and the Brown family’s profit from the slave trade. Although the Sally’s mission proved a dismal failure, it seems likely that John Brown experienced at least some financial payoff from his other ventures in the trade, and since he and Moses both gave freely of their personal fortunes to help jumpstart what was then called Rhode Island College, many at the university are eager to arrive at a full moral accounting of the institution’s origins.

Rappleye does more than just tell an important story. He does a fine job of demonstrating how the rhetoric of the Revolution, with its references to colonial “enslavement” at the hands of the diabolical British parliament, compelled many men like Moses Brown to rethink the morality of actual slavery. Also he reminds readers that slavery was at the time a national, not sectional, problem. Indeed at one point in its colonial history, Rhode Island’s sea merchants were importing more than two thirds of all the African slaves who arrived in North America.

Rappleye’s book has lasting importance today, as does the Brown family legacy. Look around Providence and you can still see the streets—Bowen, Angell, Hope—that bear the names of the book’s characters. Or visit the stately red-brick administrative building, University Hall, that Nicholas, Moses, and John Brown financed in 1770. There presides Ruth Simmons, the first African-American president of an Ivy League university. She sits at the helm of a college that may have been built partly on the sweat and tears of her ancestors but whose transformation over the years testifies to the long sweep of Rhode Island’s, and America’s, history.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Spanish Version of US National Anthem

I'm for using common sense on this whole immigration thing, which includes not conflating immigration with "illegal" immigration. Primarily, I say that the U.S. has the right--as does any sovereign nation--to determine their immigration policy. That being said, the decades of ambivelance has left us with a mess. As such, I think first we fix the borders, then we deal with the illegals in a pragmatic way while keeping in that we're a nation of immigrants and that there was no "illegal" until relatively recently, but neither was there a social welfare system back then, etc.

But now there's something that has really got me riled up. A Spanish language version of the U.S. national anthem was commissioned by the U.S. government!!!

In 1919.


Academic Left and White Guilt

Todd Gitlin wrote an autopsy on the Academic Left, but David French makes an important point:
[Gitlin's] opening [paragraph] is a temper-tantrum version of a common argument against the conservative academic freedom movement. “If, after 40 years of leftist campus activism, there is a Republican president, Republican congress, and a conservative Supreme Court, how could you possibly argue that the academy matters?”

In fact, this argument is sometimes even used by conservatives to dismiss the relative importance of campus radicals. Yet it ignores an essential truth: The academy is not—and has never been—particularly effect[ive] at partisan politics (i.e., winning elections or individual legislative battles). Its strength lies in its ability to influence long-term cultural trends.
Could an example of this influence be found in their attempt to "Vietnamize" every war by playing on what Shelby Steele calls "white guilt"?
I call this white guilt not because it is a guilt of conscience but because people stigmatized with moral crimes--here racism and imperialism--lack moral authority and so act guiltily whether they feel guilt or not.

They struggle, above all else, to dissociate themselves from the past sins they are stigmatized with. When they behave in ways that invoke the memory of those sins, they must labor to prove that they have not relapsed into their group's former sinfulness. So when America--the greatest embodiment of Western power--goes to war in Third World Iraq, it must also labor to dissociate that action from the great Western sin of imperialism. Thus, in Iraq we are in two wars, one against an insurgency and another against the past--two fronts, two victories to win, one military, the other a victory of dissociation.

The collapse of white supremacy--and the resulting white guilt--introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world...

Anti-Americanism, whether in Europe or on the American left, works by the mechanism of white guilt. It stigmatizes America with all the imperialistic and racist ugliness of the white Western past so that America becomes a kind of straw man, a construct of Western sin. (The Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons were the focus of such stigmatization campaigns.) Once the stigma is in place, one need only be anti-American in order to be "good," in order to have an automatic moral legitimacy and power in relation to America. (People as seemingly desperate as President Jacques Chirac and the Rev. Al Sharpton are devoted pursuers of the moral high ground to be had in anti-Americanism.) This formula is the most dependable source of power for today's international left. Virtue and power by mere anti-Americanism. And it is all the more appealing since, unlike real virtues, it requires no sacrifice or effort--only outrage at every slight echo of the imperialist past.
UPDATE: Caleb McDaniel takes Steele to task for flawed logic.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Democracy's Dumbing Down Effect

Nicolas Tenzer doesn't think today's mass media is doing democracy any favors (What? With so many people getting their "news" from comedians or People? Who cares if it's not true? It's so entertaining and funny, it's so ironic...) He pulls out the Tocqueville to help prove his point:
For Tocqueville, democracy’s systemic effects could lead citizens to deprive themselves of reasoned thought. They could pretend to judge events and values on their own while in reality they would merely copy the rough and simplified opinions of the masses. Indeed, what Tocqueville called the hold of “social power” on opinion is probably strongest in democratic regimes — a view that foretells the growth of modern-day demagogy and media manipulation.

Tocqueville believed that there are no effective long-term constraints on this tendency. Neither local democracy nor small societies, neither governmental checks and balances nor civil rights, can prevent the decline of critical thought that democracy seems to cause. Schools have the power to be little more than enclaves from the corrosive strength of social influences on how the mind works. Similarly, while Tocqueville thought that pursuing virtue as the ancients did, or having a religious faith, could sometimes elevate the soul, both conflict with the democratic ideal if they become officially prescribed in public life.

In this sense, Tocqueville’s intellectual heirs include the neo-Marxist theorists of the Frankfurt school, as well as Hannah Arendt, all of whom feared above all the disintegration of reason in modern societies. Indeed, the French philosopher Marcel Gauchet named a recent book Democracy Against Itself. The democratic way of life, these writers argue, tends to destroy original thought and to suppress “high” culture, yielding a mediocrity that leaves citizens vulnerable to democracy’s enemies.

But, while history is replete with murderous regimes applauded by cowed and deceived masses, the greater risk for democratic nations is that their citizens withdraw into apathy and short-term thinking for immediate gratification. The past — despite rituals that seek to commemorate historic moments — is obliterated by an addiction to the now and the new. Even the supposedly well-educated ruling class is subject to this bewitchment. The essential problem of the democratic mind is its lack of historical consciousness.

Do the defects of democracy really mean, as Tocqueville claimed, that resigned pessimism is the only — realistic but unsustainable — path open to us? I don’t think so. There are means to fight against what might be called today’s growing “democratic stupidity”.

The first defence is to push for an educational system that really forms critical minds, namely through the (nowadays) largely neglected subjects of literature, history, and philosophy. If an informed and critical citizenry, that democracy requires, is to be formed, our schools must stop pandering to the latest popular fads and begin to sharpen the analytical capacities of students.

The biggest impediment to such an education is the mass media, with its tendency to cultivate superficiality and amusement. Many people nowadays spend more of their lives watching television than they do in classrooms. The passivity that mass media encourages is the polar opposite of the active engagement that democratic citizens need.