Raise your hand if you’re a conservative who has cited Edmund Burke without actually having read him closely.
Really—you’re all scholars of the Irish-born MP and oft-celebrated “father of modern conservatism”?
Okay, what did Burke mean by the phrase “the little platoon”?
Yuval Levin explains in his wonderful new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left:
The division of citizens into distinct groups and classes, Burke writes, “composes a strong barrier against the excesses of despotism,” by establishing habits and obligations of restraint in ruler and ruled alike grounded in the relations of groups or classes in society. To remove these traditional restraints, which hold in check both the individual and the state, would mean empowering only the state to restrain the individual, and in turn restraining the state with only principles and rules, or parchment barriers. Neither, Burke thought, could be stronger or more effective than the restraints of habit and custom that grow out of group identity and loyalty. Burke’s famous reference to the little platoon—“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections”—is often cited as an example of a case for local government or allegiance to place, but in its context in the Reflections, the passage is very clearly a reference to social class.
Still feeling Burkean? Ready to go the pipe-and-slippers, Brideshead cultist route and declare yourself a loyal subject of the queen?
Levin reminds us that the context in which Burke wrote those words was a long-running intellectual dispute with a European-born radical, a man who was cheering on the secular revolution in France—and, oh, by the way, also one of the forefathers of our own revolution, favored by none other than Ronald Reagan himself—the Common Sense and The Crisis pamphleteer Thomas Paine.
That the rivalry between Burke and Paine cuts both ways through our hearts—this is precisely the kind of dialectic, if you will, that Levin hopes to provoke in the reader.
Make no mistake, though; Levin is a Burkean. In fact, the most eloquent exponent of Burkean conservatism, properly understood, since George Will circa 1983’s Statecraft as Soulcraft.
While scholarly and measured in tone, The Great Debate is a readable intellectual history that fairly crackles with contemporary relevance.
Indeed, The Great Debate is the must-read book of the year for conservatives—especially those conservatives who are profoundly and genuinely baffled by the declining popularity of the GOP as a national party. How can America, these conservatives ask, the land of the rugged individual, the conquerors of the frontier, choose statism and collectivism over freedom and liberty?!
Levin’s book provides the answer: You’re looking at the Democratic Party all wrong. It’s just as individualist as you are—maybe more so.
And that is the problem!
In a significant if veiled rebuff to the Netanyahu-Mark Kirk maintain-the-hate line, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz yesterday came out in favor of Obama and the rest of the P5+1′s negotiations with Iran. The two former secretaries of state opened their Wall Street Journal op-ed with piles of hawkish rhetoric, including the moving the goalposts assertion that the United States is “unalterably opposed to an Iranian military nuclear capability”. (The stated American position is that the United States will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.) Their tone is often somewhat overheated, with intimations that Iran threatens to lead an “Islamist” coalition devoted to an “anti-Western concept of world order.”
That said, it is more significant that Kissinger and Shultz did not denounce last month’s interim agreement at Geneva as a “bad deal,” nor did they condemn Obama’s secret diplomacy which preceded and prepared it, nor did they abhor the very idea of negotiation with the “mad mullahs.” They concluded their piece with the sensible admonition:
The next six months of diplomacy will be decisive in determining whether the Geneva agreement opens the door to a potential diplomatic breakthrough or to ratifying a major strategic setback. We should be open to the possibility of pursing an agenda of long-term cooperation. But not without Iran dismantling or mothballing a strategically significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure.
The course of negotiations will determine whether Iran and the P5+1 can agree on what kind of dismantling Iran needs to do. But I thought it significant that Kissinger and Shultz entertained the possibility of “long term cooperation” with Iran—a concept altogether alien to the John McCain, Mark Kirk, Lindsay Graham universe. Essentially their message is “negotiate a good deal,” which I’m pretty sure Kerry and his aides are trying to do. They precede that advice with the vague but evocative “Some adjustments are inherent in the inevitable process of historic evolution.” One can read this in various ways, and perhaps it’s merely a profound sounding throwaway line. But I don’t think so, and (as someone who has long respected, if not always agreed with, Kissinger) I’d read it as a rather subtle way of saying, “Look Iran is a strategically significant country with a large, educated and fairly pro-American middle class, and it makes no sense to treat it as a permanent enemy just because various so-called “traditional” allies may want you to.”
The test scores are in, and the U.S. is lagging far behind. That’s the headline rippling across America’s newspapers this week as the Programme for International Student Assessment has released its 2012 evaluations of schoolchildren across the world, and Americans are once again finding out that they are far from being #1.
The New York Times noted that “The United States’ underperformance was particularly striking in math, where 29 countries or education systems had higher test scores. In science, students in 22 countries did better than Americans, and in reading, 19 countries.” NBC News anchor Brian Williams opened his PISA segment by describing “the big and sobering news tonight about the state of American education and just how quickly the rest of the world is passing us by.”
The thing is, we’ve always flunked these tests. Since international comparative testing programs began in the 1960s, education reform advocate Diane Ravitch notes “U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.” And for the past half-century, the periodic release of these results have sent American politicians and journalists into a tizzy about the declining competitiveness of the American classroom, a dark phenomenon heralding national decline.
Despite those mediocre test scores, however, one would have to say that the United States has done rather well for itself. We have had our troubles in the intervening years to be sure, but it’s not like the French have overtaken us and are now running away with the world thanks to their superior education. Some scholarly experts warn that even so, we’re in a new era now and decline is once again just around the street corner. The Times quoted Stanford professor Eric A. Hanushek as saying,
Our economy has still been strong because we have a very good economic system that is able to overcome the deficiencies of our education system … But increasingly, we have to rely on the skills of our work force, and if we don’t improve that, we’re going to be slipping.
With due deference to Dr. Hanushek, I rather suspect things may be the other way around. More rigorously organized cultures like Germany, China, South Korea, France, etc. have crafted their educational systems around the primacy of the test, and have driven their students to excel in it. They also often use these tests to sort their students into the tracks determining what further education they will receive. Do well on your eighth grade exams, go to university. Score differently, and get an apprenticeship. The United States has a much more free-wheeling system that industrial employers lament is failing to sufficiently supply them with diesel engine experts.
What we do have, though (and regular readers brace yourselves), is Silicon Valley. The entrepreneur may be overrated in the GOP at the moment, but a creative culture that fosters innovative risks shouldn’t be taken for granted. Moreover, having even the remnant of a liberal arts education circulating in our educational drinking water provides an essential enriching service to our culture. Diesel engine builders may not need to read To Kill a Mockingbird, or Joseph Conrad, or to stare hopelessly at whatever seemingly nonsensical Shakespeare sits in front of them. But we offer every kid the chance to be captured by beauty, and to remember a high school reading when they grow up and realize what Kafkaesque really means.
Ravitch quotes from Keith Baker’s essay “Are International Tests Worth Anything?”: “What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”
That sounds about right.
John Hannah here argues that Saudi fear and loathing of Iran destroys the case for negotiating with Tehran. He proposes that we walk the Saudis “back from the ledge” by promising to bomb Iran if Tehran doesn’t surrender virtually entirely its nuclear enrichment program. Inadvertently, he provides a textbook example of a superpower being led around by its “allies”—if we don’t do what they want, they will destabilize the region, find other partners, acquire their own nuclear weapons, etc.
Perhaps here one should recall a salient part of Hannah’s biography: he is one of several low profile but highly placed Bush and Cheney aides who worked to set the stage for the Iraq invasion. Hannah was instrumental in channeling (“stovepiping” is the term of art) false information from an anti-Saddam Iraqi exile group into the White House, circumventing regular US intelligence vetting. He wrote the original draft of Colin Powell’s famous pre-invasion U.N. speech, in which Powell made a false but tragically effective presentation about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. So we aren’t speaking here of a random neocon bloviating about Neville Chamberlin; Hannah is a man with an actual track record in making wars happen, one who understands that facts, or “false facts,” can acquire a life of their own within a complex government bureaucracy if you know how to insert them and get them repeated in the right places. It is a process somewhat analogous to money laundering, a sort of information laundering: if you get a lie reported as fact in New York Times, you can then uses it as source, and perhaps get Colin Powell to repeat it before a global audience. And the lie (Saddam’s nuclear weapons program) assumes a life of its own.
You might think that a record like this would be detrimental to one’s career. Not really. In Washington, a neoconservative hawk never has to say he’s sorry. After his “government service” as a Cheney aide, Hannah was snapped up by the Sheldon Adelson-financed Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he now works to set the stage for a war with Iran. (It should be pointed out that the Saudis vociferously opposed the Iraq invasion. What did Hannah think about Saudi concerns back then?)
The Beltway worry used to be that Iran would get a nuclear bomb, which would would set off a “cascade of proliferation” throughout the Middle East. But any successful diplomacy with Iran will ensure that Iran not have a nuclear bomb, but a scaled down and tightly monitored uranium enrichment program. Nevertheless, Hannah deploys the same overheated language, as if it makes no difference whether five Security Council members (plus Germany) had just reached agreement to allow Iran a bomb program, or, as is actually the case, not. Hannah rails against Iran’s “march to the bomb”; he refers to John Kerry’s “stab in the back” diplomacy (a trope oft-used in early Nazi propaganda against the Weimar government; one wonders if Hannah is aware of that).
In all candor, we don’t know what the Saudi reaction to an eventual American rapprochement with Iran might be. Serious people who study the matter doubt that even if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon the Saudis would try to do the same. It’s not clear how they would acquire one, even if they wanted to. It’s not as if Saudi Arabia produces a lot of nuclear physicists.
Reduced to its essence, Hannah’s argument is that American diplomacy should be tied, apparently forever, to the fears and ambitions of a reactionary medieval monarchy. But why on earth should it? Hannah invites us to share Saudi remorse that the United States didn’t “strike” Syria, as the Saudis hoped, in order to overthrow Syria’s tyrant and replace him with some Saudi-favored jihadists. Why is that an American interest? When one reads counsel like this, from someone who was once, and may be again, highly placed in Republican foreign policy circles, one can only note how far America has strayed from George Washington’s admonition about “entangling alliances. ”
The Foreign Policy comments following Hannah’s article are caustic and often illuminating. There is clearly an informed public that won’t get fooled again. One wishes one could say the same for elected Republicans.
While many Americans give during the holiday season, the religious are most likely to feel charitable: according to a new book by David E. Campbell, American Grace, U.S. giving has always been heavily tied to religion. Those affiliated with a religion are most likely to contribute time and money to various philanthropic causes. But Campbell proposes that the actual motivator behind charitable giving is not God or a specific doctrine of charity. It’s actually the religious community, as he explained in a Thursday TIME article:
Rather than religious beliefs, we found that the “secret ingredient” for charitable giving among religious Americans is the social networks formed within religious congregations. The more friends someone has within a religious congregation, the more likely that person is to give time, money, or both, to charitable causes. In fact, even non-religious people who have friends within a religious congregation (typically, because their spouse is a believer) are highly charitable—more so than strong believers who have few social ties within a congregation.
Campbell goes on to propose secular, tight-knit organizations (such as atheistic churches) to help encourage charity amongst non-religious people.
But what is it about community, specifically, that encourages giving? Campbell doesn’t elaborate on this. Perhaps it is the love fostered through relationship. It could also be a sense of accountability derived from close community: if your best friend sponsors a child overseas, you may be prompted to do so as well. Community may also lend a feeling of immediacy to various issues: we may not be next-door to those fighting poverty, but we’re next-door to those fighting it.
This sense of immediacy may be one of the most important factors in charitable giving: The Atlantic shared thoughts Monday from bioethics professor Peter Singer’s “practical ethics” class at Princeton. He believes a feeling of remoteness can significantly affect giving:
It’s human nature to feel compelled to save those who are close to us—our immediate kin, our friends, the little boy we stumble upon whose desperate movements in the water tug at our hearts. It’s much harder to feel that sympathy for faceless children somewhere else (whether in another neighborhood in our town, or halfway across the world). Studies have shown that people tend to give more generously when they are shown a photo and told a story about one, identifiable, specific child.
How do we combat this geographical apathy? Interestingly, Singer points to research as an antidote: he instructs students to research four organizations, and determine which is the most meritorious. Through this exercise, the students “learn that their money will always go much further overseas: that a very small amount of money for an American can be life-saving to someone who is desperately poor. In other words, they learn about the tenets of effective altruism: how to evaluate organizations for transparency and benefits, and figure out which forms of aid are the most cost-effective. This is information that tends to inspire more giving.”
But Singer’s research-based tactic takes the human face away from charity—and according to Campbell’s research, this human face is an essential facet to long-term giving. Additionally, while it makes most logical sense to put your dollar where it will have the greatest practical benefit, Singer’s “effective altruism” distances the giver from the need. If community and immediacy are key ingredients to philanthropic giving, then this method—while useful in a utilitarian sense—may falter faster than community-fostered giving.
When Montecore, one of two white tigers in the Las Vegas act of Siegfried and Roy, turned and almost killed Roy on stage, the reaction was that the tame and complacent beast had gone berserk.
Comedian Chris Rock was nearer the mark: ”That tiger ain’t go crazy; that tiger went tiger.”
Seems our Asian tiger is going tiger as well.
Sharply escalating its clash with Japan over ownership of the Senkaku Islands, Beijing has established an air defense identification zone over the islands and a huge stretch of the East China Sea. Before entering its ADIZ, says Beijing, all planes must now notify China.
The United States responded by flying two B-52s through the zone. Japan and South Korea sent fighter jets through, also without permission. China then sent a squadron of fighters over the islands.
Now, in a move that has startled Tokyo, the United States has advised U.S. airliners entering China’s new ADIZ to alert China. Japan considers this tacit U.S. recognition of China’s territorial claim.
While America is not a party to the dispute over who owns the islands, under our security treaty, we are obligated to come to Japan’s defense if islands administered by Tokyo are attacked.
And since Richard Nixon returned Okinawa in 1972, Tokyo has administered the uninhabited Senkakus, which were first claimed by the Japanese Empire in the late 19th century.
China’s contends that all territories acquired by the Japanese Empire were forfeit and should have been vacated with the Japanese surrender in 1945. Before Japan’s seizure of the islands, says Beijing, they had been Chinese territory.
Yet, now, with naval vessels of both nations plying the waters around the islands and fighter jets overflying these rocks, it is hard see either the China of Xi Jinping or the Japan of Shinzo Abe backing down before a clash occurs.
And should that happen, we are in it.
Haven’t you heard? Amazon is debuting its very own delivery-by-drone. So Jeff Bezos revealed to Charlie Rose in last night’s
Cyber Monday infomercial ”60 Minutes” report. In the ensuing commentary on Twitter, though, McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed noted that
Lots of these Amazon drone tweets remind me of this 1995 Newsweek essay on how the whole internet thing is hype: http://t.co/IpelTyr2r8
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) December 2, 2013
Clifford Stoll’s 1995 essay quickly circulated as the epitome of myopic grouching, with Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute musing
Seriously, this ’95 Newsweek column on internet-boosting hucksters may be least prescient thing ever written http://t.co/QJw94jIgau
— Scott Winship (@swinshi) December 2, 2013
Yet not all of Stoll’s criticisms are wholly wrongheaded, and pulling apart what he got (very) wrong from what still stands can teach us about technology’s ability to live up to the hype. Back in February 1995, Michael Jordan was a baseball player, the Dow Jones was hitting 4,000 for the very first time, and Pamela Anderson was joined in holy matrimony with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. Stoll looked around himself, and wrote that
Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
The funny thing is, that’s exactly what many futurists of today are still heralding, nearly 20 years later. Given the pace of digital advancements and the rapid development of internet technology, you would hope they’d have a new future to sell us on, once the old one was thoroughly obtained. Then Stoll got himself in his first sticky situation, saying “The truth in [sic] no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” As Jeff Bezos himself can attest, the daily newspaper is not faring well compared to its online competition. Yet Stoll’s second two points are sound. For all the MOOC hype, teaching really is a fundamentally human activity, born of interaction and guidance, response and customization. Information may be able to be transmitted and tested online, but an education will only be obtained from a teacher. And as much as the digital age has changed parts of our politics, the tasks of governance and compromise have remained stubbornly resistant to solution by algorithm. If anything, the internet has given the government new things to fail at.
Nearly every day, an article pops up on Twitter stating, “We need more women to become [fill in the blank].” From engineers to CEOs, writers to philosophers, women are told there is such-and-such a position they must fill in order to bring balance to the galaxy. To further this goal, Germany has created a new plan:
According to a new agreement between the parties negotiating to form Germany’s next governing coalition, supervisory boards for companies registered on the German stock exchange will need to be at least 30 percent female starting in 2016 … From the U.S., where women held only 16.1 percent of board seats by last count, it’s an intriguing experiment to watch for several reasons. Government-directed quotas are potentially unconstitutional, and even private companies seeking to set quotas have been told affirmative action plans need to meet pretty strict requirements to survive an equal protection or Civil Rights Act-based challenge. But many of the folks following women’s lack of progress on Wall Street would like to see the U.S. be, well, a little more Teutonic.
It’s an interesting proposition, and seems to promote a sort of necessary balance. But there are some problems with this idea of “egalitarianism” that Micah Mattix identified well in a Tuesday TAC post:
On the one hand, it is asserted that there are no differences between men and women; therefore, every vocation, every position type, should reflect the country’s gender ratio. If the ratio is not reflected, it is the result of some injustice, again because there is no reason other than discrimination for fewer women in this or that vocation. On the other hand, is asserted that having more women in a certain profession or vocation would make it better because it would add something that was missing. But if there is no difference between men and women, what could possibly be missing?
To put it simply: these articles argue that there are no differences between men and women as such. They believe men and women only differentiate on an individual basis. But if this is true, one shouldn’t need gender quotas to help promote a “missing” element.
Now, if women are truly being discriminated against, then this is a problem. If women were failing the bar exam because of a discriminatory system, or if a company refused to hire women CEO’s simply because of their gender, it would be a serious problem. But this seems better remedied on a case-by-case basis than through a statewide quota.
Germany is a democratic country. If women aren’t vying for certain company positions, might it be because some don’t actually want those positions? According to Katrin Bennhold, that’s the problem: in a 2011 New York Times story, she said gender stereotypes (specifically, “the mother myth”) perpetuated throughout Germany’s history have deceived the female populace. She quotes Angelika Dammann, the “first and only female board member at software giant SAP”: “We are still very far from a situation where it’s as normal for women as for men to want both a career and family—even among young women. When you have children, you’re expected to stay home for a significant period; otherwise you are considered a bad mother.”
Perhaps this is a backward question; but must all women want both a career and family? If women deserve the right to pursue whatever vocation they want, then shouldn’t they be allowed to choose family over career? Should the girl who dreams of becoming a “homemaker” be forced onto the supervisory board of a company simply to fulfill some gender quota? No one seems to suggest such a thing. Yet the mothers who choose family over career are treated with a sort of disdain, as if they’ve been brainwashed by an ancient “mother myth.”
It seems only fair that women should be able to choose any vocation, whether engineering or motherhood—not in order to fulfill some gender quota or to appease the feminists of their age, but purely out of love for the vocation they pursue.
Driving from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta this Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to read Burkhard Bilger’s great New Yorker article on the development of self-driving cars. It’s a long, involved story melding technical accomplishments with personal storytelling, and throws in a healthy dash of historical context. I was able to take the time to work through the full thing because I was in the back seat, freed from driving responsibilities by my absence from the rental car agreement my parents had signed up in York, PA. From time to time I booted up my laptop, and started surfing the web using a Verizon wireless hotspot, at full 4G LTE speeds. My sister used this same arrangement to watch movies streaming from Netflix, one more way to pass the tedium. We are just old enough (mid-twenties) to still be able to occasionally gasp at the seeming absurdity of streaming high quality video and maintaining instantaneous communication with the wider world while hurtling down the highway at 70 miles an hour. The road trip entertainment of our childhood was strictly restricted to the print and personal variety.
We now have ever more activities to occupy our time, and a worldwide connection that can follow us nearly anywhere we go. We don’t need to lose connection when we take off or land in a plane. Why shouldn’t the driver be able to get in on the fun?
From the consumer’s point of view, this is the great appeal of self-driving vehicles: liberation from the monotony of hurtling down empty expanses of highway, or inching along in the gridlock of the commute. Bilger cites an earlier advertisement for the long prophesied self-driving cars as depicting a family turned toward the each other, playing checkers as they move. But as Bilger describes Google’s motivations in pouring its resources into developing this technology, the men of Mountain View have more on their mind than consumer convenience. Relief from tedium through automation was the promise of the last century, the pitch that sold a thousand washing machines.
Instead, Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, wants nothing more than to (wait for it) “fundamentally change the world with this.” He looks out on the expanse of America’s urban landscape and sees wide swaths of wasted land as cars are used for a couple hours a day at most, then occupy prime real estate unproductively the rest of the day. His self-driving cars can become a fleet, providing personal car service to commuters at a far higher efficiency than today’s taxies, yet more flexible than metro, bus, or light-rail systems. As Brin said, “We’re not trying to fit into an existing business model … We are just on such a different planet.” At least so far, though, that different planet doesn’t let free the driver from his responsibility behind the wheel. Attentive human beings are required to be at the ready in case the car needs to hand off responsibility, having become confused. Even assuming as we surely should that Google makes enormous strides in ironing out what few errors remain, it already takes measurable seconds for a human in the driver’s seat to reorient to the situation after being distracted. Imagine if that person first had to be spun around from their checkers match with the kids. Read More…
When, after the massacres at Newtown and the Washington Navy Yard, Republicans refused to outlaw the AR-15 rifle or require background checks for gun purchasers, we were told the party had committed suicide by defying 90 percent of the nation.
When Republicans rejected amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, we were told the GOP had just forfeited its future.
When House Republicans refused to fund Obamacare, the government was shut down and the Tea Party was blamed, word went forth: The GOP has destroyed its brand. Republicans face a wipeout in 2014. It will take a generation to remove this mark of Cain.
Eight weeks later, Obama’s approval is below 40 percent. Most Americans find him untrustworthy. And the GOP is favored to hold the seats it has in the House while making gains in the Senate.
For this reversal of fortunes, Republicans can thank the rollout of Obamacare—the website that does not work, the revelation that, contrary to Obama’s promise, millions are losing health care plans that they liked, and the reports of soaring premiums and sinking benefits.
Democrats, however, might take comfort in the old maxim: If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a while.
For, egged on by Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli Lobby AIPAC, the neocons are anticipating the return of Congress to start work on new sanctions on Iran. Should they succeed, they just might abort the Geneva talks or even torpedo the six-month deal with Iran.
While shaking a fist in the face of the Ayatollah will rally the Republican base, it does not appear to be a formula for winning the nation. Read More…