Daniel Larison

Scruton Addresses the Vlaams Belang

Every society depends on an experience of membership: a sense of who ‘we’ are, why we belong together, and what we share. This experience is pre-political: it precedes all political institutions, and provides our reason for accepting them. It unites left and right, blue-collar and white-collar, man and woman, parent and child. To threaten this ‘first-person plural’ is to open the way to atomisation, as people cease to recognize any general duty to their neighbours, and set out to pillage the accumulated resources while they can. Without membership we risk a new ‘tragedy of the commons’, as our inherited social assets are seized for present use. ~Roger Scruton

Via Brussels Journal and Right Reason

Mr. Scruton makes many excellent points, including his valuable discussion of his neologism oikophobia (fear of home, fear of one’s own), but I do wonder about this claim:

Communities founded on a national rather than a religious conception of membership are inherently open to newcomers, in the way that religious communities are not. An immigrant to a religious community must be prepared to convert; an immigrant to a national community need only obey the law.

At the risk of being pedantic, communities founded on a national conception of membership raise the bar much higher than religious communities, if by “national conception of membership” we mean belonging to the nation, the natio, the tribe. Perhaps Mr. Scruton means something else, in which case the following will be redundant, but I do not really know what it would mean to describe a “national conception of membership” if it does not mean this. It is possible to become a member of another nation, but the resistance to newcomers is surely greater in a community defined by nationality than one defnied by religion.

The Byzantines could welcome Theophobos and his Persian soldiers, provided they converted, and nothing else save the obvious loyalty to the empire was required. Because religion is so fundamental, particularly to traditional peoples, this requirement can seem a heavier burden, but it is practically much more open to newcomers who wish to become part of the community. There are actually fewer and less daunting barriers to changing religious identity than attempting to enter into a community that defines itself along “national” lines, as joining a national community–as we are re-discovering again and again–is not simply a question of obeying laws but also a question of the identity of that national community and the extent to which newcomers must embrace a new identity in order to belong. A national community often expects its newcomers to adapt linguistically, culturally and, broadly speaking, morally in the habits they must discard and adopt. Failure to expect, indeed require, this adaptation seems to frequently result in failed long-term integration and the breakdown of social relations between immigrants and natives.

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis

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What the Freisinnigen Want

Conservatives venerate the free market and see smaller government as an end in itself. Liberals do not venerate government in the same way, and we do not see larger government as an end in and of itself. For us, everything works on a case-by-case basis. Should government provide everybody’s education? Yes. Should government manufacture everybody’s blue jeans? No. And so on.

Now, it’s true that conservative Republicans have done an awful job of limiting government. But that doesn’t stop Republicans from communicating their ideology. Everybody knows what they stand for. They’re for lower taxes, strong defense and less spending–even if they habitually fail at the spending part and have royally screwed up the defense portion of late.

But nobody knows what Democrats stand for because you cannot, and should not, formulate sweeping dogmas when you’re operating on a case-by-case basis. ~Jonathan Chait, The New Republic

Via Ross Douthat

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis

It must be one of the oddest consequences of the Bush years that the GOP has managed to associate the name of conservatism, which is by definition non-ideological and anti-ideological, with a universally applicable ideology that ignores all realistic constraints or considerations of casuistry, when it has always properly been the Freisinnigen who want a single standard and universal solutions for all problems.

Somehow liberals like Mr. Chait have gotten it into their heads that they do not espouse this same kind of blinkered universalism, even though they routinely determine policy positions based on abstract commitments to human rights, “justice” and “equality.” Unless Mr. Chait was being ironic when he said that liberals take things on a case-by-case basis, what he must have meant was this: “We take things on a case-by-case basis, and our response to every case is always the same.” See The New Republic‘s position on Darfur as one example of this predictable response.

The “case-by-case” rhetoric is another maneuver in a long tradition of liberalism’s pretense to neutrality and rationality: other people embrace inflexible ideological positions, whereas we liberals respond reasonably and according to what the situation demands. This fits nicely with the current climate that frowns on dogmatism and certainty: if the neocons haven’t much use for the “reality-based community,” liberals haven’t much use for anything rooted in traditional definitions of truth.

To the extent that this “case-by-case” approach may be true of Democratic politicians, it has probably been the fruit of opportunism. This is not to belittle approaching things on a more “case-by-case” basis, but to highlight that it is not characteristic of the liberal mind. It seems to me undeniable that liberals (and especially those who prefer to call themselves progressives) have very definite universalist commitments to which they expect everyone else to submit as a matter of right and “justice.” Failure to comply on the part of the insufficiently enlightened has historically resulted in liberal recourse to coercion or the sword. Regional and local variation on the single standard is permissible only if it advances some larger purpose of subverting traditional institutions and culture.

Mr. Chait is right about one thing–progressives do not see larger government as an end in itself as such (not, of course, that conservatives actually see small government as an end in itself), but as a means to eradicate hierarchies, traditions and authorities that bar the way to the “benevolent” despotism of liberal rationality and modernity. If time-honoured constitutional restrictions and protections become obstacles to the progressives’ progress, they will be done away with or reinterpreted to suit the times.

Government is the acid that destroys the dense webs of relationships and habits that make up local and traditional societies. As acid burns flesh, it will typically destroy living communities and living traditions the more it comes in contact with them. It is predictable that the conservative should want to contain this acid as much as possible and preserve his community against its ravages, while the liberal and revolutionary should want to throw the acid on the thick growth of long-established custom and venerable tradition to make way for his own model. To the extent that capitalism and market forces possess this same destructive and acidic quality, liberals of the 19th century embraced them and even modern liberals have accommodated themselves to these forces for the same reasons that they have embraced centralised and consolidated government.

This is why, as a general rule, liberals will always prefer to strengthen the government and conservatives will prefer to constrain, limit and check it; it is not an exhaustive definition of the difference between the two, rightly understood, but it remains an important difference. You can, however, reliably use it as a guide in determining who real conservatives are and who the fraudulent poseurs playing at being conservative are.

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The Pathetic Philanthropists

There is much to be said in favor of the classical liberal tradition, even in its extreme libertarian form. But where has this tradition ended up: in the adulation of rich zombies who are the perfect illustration of all that has gone wrong in America life, our stupidity, our weakness and cowardice, our complete inability to enjoy life unless it is enhanced by Japanese computer graphics and soaked in MSG and sugar. A real human being, given a few billion dollars, might make himself dangerous or at least obnoxious, but America’s billionaires are too weak and silly to do anything but what will make them Time magazine’s Man of the Year. ~Thomas Fleming

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New Blog to Watch

Daniel McCarthy points out a new blog by libertarian (or is it Jeremytarian?) Jeremy Lott, author of the new book, In Defense of Hypocrisy. He also happens to be acquainted with Michael Brendan Dougherty (I know, I know, who ISN’T acquainted with Michael Brendan Dougherty?). Due to some technical problems, I cannot yet add his site to my blogroll, but I thought I should draw attention to it in some way.

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Australia Is Great–Why Make It a Prop for Interventionist Claptrap?

Leave it to Charles Krauthammer to take something as simple and decent as a paean to a country he loves and admires (in this case, Australia) and turn it into another tendentious argument about interventionist foreign policy:

That bravery breeds affection in America for another reason as well. Australia is the only country that has fought with the United States in every one of its major conflicts since 1914, the good and the bad, the winning and the losing.

Why? Because Australia’s geographic and historical isolation has bred a wisdom about the structure of peace — a wisdom that eludes most other countries. Australia has no illusions about the “international community” and its feckless institutions. An island of tranquility in a roiling region, Australia understands that peace and prosperity do not come with the air we breathe but are maintained by power — once the power of the British Empire, now the power of the United States.

There are actually things in life that don’t relate to the debate about American hegemony, the war in Iraq or the deployment of military forces overseas, but somehow no Krauthammer column would be complete without setting his appreciation for Australian plain speaking, common sense and bravery in the context of warmongering.

Yes, the Australians have been in every major conflict alongside the U.S. since 1914, except for the abomination of Kosovo. So, as it happens, have the Canadians, who were “with us” in Kosovo and not Vietnam, though they get no credit from the Canadian refugee Krauthammer for being almost as steadfast. However, they have typically had better reasons to be in some of these fights than we have. The Australians arguably had actual compelling reasons of immediate national defense and national interest in WWII and, less directly, Vietnam (the success of communism in southeast Asia probably would have seemed of more immediate importance to Australian security than it would have reasonably been for America). Unlike Washington Canberra has typically not gone looking for fights to involve itself in. But what Krauthammer never asks (I’m sure it does not occur to him) is whether Australia and America being in all of these conflicts together has actually been better for either nation. On the American side, I see scant benefit. Perhaps there are Australians out there who can explain how these wars have benefited their country.

Sadly, Krauthammer describes Australian involvement in WWI and WWII in this way:

Australia joined the faraway wars of early-20th-century Europe not out of imperial nostalgia but out of a deep understanding that its fate and the fate of liberty were intimately bound with that of the British Empire as principal underwriter of the international system. Today the underwriter is America, and Australia understands that an American retreat or defeat — a chastening consummation devoutly, if secretly, wished by many a Western ally — would be catastrophic for Australia and for the world.

This is risible, in part because it is not correct but mostly because it is opportunistic nonsense. Australians were sent to fight in Britain’s wars precisely out of a sense of imperial loyalty and solidarity. Typically, the Australians were ill-served for their loyalty. The “transcendent courage” at Gallipoli was necessary in part because of the monumental arrogance and incompetence of the imperialists in London–the Australian, New Zealander and Commonwealth soldiers there rose to the impossible occasion brought about by a quarrel among European powers on the other side of the world. The Australians today might be forgiven for thinking that their men were used (and, to some small degree, are still being used) as cannon fodder in wars that have had nothing to do with them. Do Australians now really want to hold the coat of another hegemon? Krauthammer seems to think so. I hope the Australians, who are a great people regardless of which foreign policy they choose to follow, prove him wrong.

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Kossacks and “New Republicans” In Blogwar: Hurrah, The Wolves Are Devouring Each Other!

Unbeknownst to anyone on the Right, we have received a defector in the form of The New Republic! So says Kos himself here. Jonathan Chait at TNR complains about the Kossacks’ “sectarian” mentality and Kos’ own “paranoid” mentality. Is there any way that we could return said defector to his home country? We certainly don’t want TNR! Having seen Markos Moulitsas on some of the talk shows when Yearly Kos was going on in Vegas, I can well imagine that the paranoid charge is true–there is something about the man’s eyes that suggest some kind of madness. As for Kos’ recommendation to stop purchasing TNR, I can only encourage this sentiment and hope that a great many “progressive” people will listen to Kos on this point alone. The Kossacks may be annoying, but the New Republicans are dangerous interventionists, and if fellow liberals want to take them down to serve their own ends I am all for it.

Though I am not a party to these internecine liberal (or, if you like, “progressive”) quarrels, I still find it fascinating to observe how the Democratic Party loyalist Kossacks and neocon-like “New Republicans” attack and belittle each other. It takes on a very different dynamic from the quarrels on what is normally counted as being the political Right, which is today dominated by a broad but thin, superficial consensus centered around the security state and nationalism. Part of the difference is that the Kossacks and New Republicans are beating each other up over how to contest GOP power from their position in the opposition party, whereas those of us on the Right keep beating up on each other whether any of “us” are in power or not.

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And Elvis Is Alive!

That’s Leon Hadar’s very good, sarcastic response to the latest jingo “news” stories. I’m still waiting for Mr. Bush to tell us about the great opportunity to buy prime oceanfront property in Midland, or perhaps Rick Santorum will offer to sell us a bridge in Brooklyn.

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What Part of “Degraded” Do They Not Understand?

Just when I might have been starting to feel sorry that he was going to get humiliated in this fall’s election (he is the closest thing to a traditional conservative on social issues in the Senate), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) reminds me why I will not be sorry to see him go. In the latest chapter of the GOP’s inexplicable kamikaze election year strategy of closely identifying themselves with the President’s most generally unpopular policy (no doubt because it is “the right thing to do,” eh?), Sen. Santorum announced that 500 degraded mustard and sarin nerve gas shells had been found in Iraq since the invasion. This is apparently supposed to be the justification the jingoes have been seeking for three years. If I were a true believer in this war, I think I might be a bit underwhelmed. 500 degraded shells? That’s all? I would guarantee right now that there must be several countries, hostile and allied, that possess a significantly greater quantity of chemical weapons than this. Scott Richert, Clark Stooksbury and Matt Barganier at Antiwar’s blog have more comment, all of which shows pretty clearly that this “revelation” is not very meaningful and that the War Party is getting pathetically desperate in this latest bid to revive the WMD aspect of their argument.

I’m not a chemical weapons expert, nor am I someone with military experience, but if these shells are degraded chemical weapons this would probably mean two things: they are relatively much less dangerous than they are intended to be, which makes them even less than the small threat they would otherwise be, and they have been sitting around, unused, for a substantial period of time. As Scott notes, the evidence would point to a pre-1991 date for these weapons, which would reconfirm (for the nth time) that Iraq’s weapons programs were debilitated and controlled by the inspections and sanctions regime. As Dr. Fleming has noted before, when the administration said that they knew that WMDs existed in Iraq, they were lying when they said they knew something they very plainly did not and, as it turns out, could not have known (because, for starters, there were no weapons or facilities to know about).

The Iraqis’ failure to maintain even a small cache of fully lethal chemical weapon shells must point up the stunning weakness of their chemical weapons program in the intervening years since 1991; it would suggest that so few resources were dedicated to the manufacture and maintenance of such weapons that the Iraqis did not even have a reasonably large supply of chemical weapons to be used in basic artillery, which I suspect must be one of the easier ways to deploy such weapons, to say nothing of more elaborate distribution systems or delivery vehicles. Does Mr. Santorum really want to base his support for the war on such flimsy, nay, irrelevant evidence? Apparently he does. But that would be no different from what war supporters have done from the beginning.

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In 1956, The Hungarians Probably Hated the Soviets “For Their Freedom,” Right?

Now, even George Bush’s speechwriters know that the Hungarians did not actually succeed in 1956, nor did they actually overthrow their own Communist dictatorship nor expel the Soviets. The Soviet Union was the “Evil Empire” that claimed to have liberated Eastern Europe and establish true democracy. Eventually that Evil Empire died of its own excesses, and the Russians had to abandon their subject nations.

What the President is obviously telling the world is that Iraq, too, has been occupied by an empire that promised democracy but delivered only tyranny and violence, and the only hope he holds out for Iraq is the eventual dissolution of the American Empire.

I conclude from this speech that David Frum has been replaced by Stephen Colbert. ~Thomas Fleming

Dr. Fleming’s remarks are spot on. On a slightly different note, it is offensive to me, especially as someone with Hungarian ancestors, that Mr. Bush would dare to use the example of the rebellion of 1956 to justify his dreadful policy. The obvious anti-imperialist, anti-hegemonist nature of the 1956 rebellion is a standing repudiation of the foreign policy of any great power that seeks to dictate the political life of a small country through force of arms. 1956 was the failed, but heroic, attempt to reassert patriotic loyalty and the interests of the Hungarian people over the requirements of imported ideology and empire. It continues to puzzle me at least a little why the sons of those who rose up in 1956 have also so readily signed on with Brussels and Washington for another round of both.

Why the heirs of the victors of 1956 would join is no mystery. I would note that it was the “reformed” communists on the Socialist Party who threw their support behind the Iraq war and Mr. Bush, not the parties of the Hungarian right. Viktor Orban’s Fidesz consistently criticised and opposed Hungarian involvement in Iraq. The “New Europeans” the neocons and their friends are so keen to push as our best allies are typically the center-left and ex-communists of the old communist bloc, the ideological and political heirs of the very people who butchered the Hungarian patriots of 1956. Those are the sorts of people Mr. Bush joins hands with now, even as he desecrates the memory of 1956 with his opportunistic propagandising.

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Much “Addo” About Nothing

I have so far refrained from commenting on the World Cup, pro or con, even though it seems to have become the thing bloggers want to discuss, either as a jumping-off point for some other political argument or as an exercise in Franklin Foer-like expertise on a sport about which most American bloggers, like their countrymen, do not really care very much. Franklin Foer “and friends” at TNR have cornered the blogging market, so to speak, on World Cup commentary, but this would not have required very much effort, as there is hardly any competition for this particular job. On the right, the competition has mostly been to come up with new and clever ways to see soccer as a threat to the American way of life (as usual).

In fact, outside of the blogosphere, the loyal sports junkies tuned to ESPN and actual American soccer fans who watch soccer matches in non-World Cup years (including the obnoxious ones, such as Foer, who feel the need to refer to “the pitch” rather than “the field”), I have to wonder how many Americans were aware that their national team was playing in Nuremberg today. Of those who knew, how many cared, much less took the time this morning to watch?

As with many other things in life, ignorance would have been bliss, as the U.S. team was outmatched and outplayed (again) in a 2-1 loss to Ghana. American fans will complain, rightly, about the bogus penalty kick given to the Ghanaians that gave them the go-ahead goal, but this would be to forget the painfully weak play against a competent but hardly dominating Ghana squad.

The game was full of the sort of melodramatic fake injuries that make soccer seem to any American who has played any other contact sport to be a pathetic shadow of a real athletic contest (that the referees encourage this drama queen routine, especially this year, by inventing fouls and throwing yellow cards around as if they were confetti only exacerbates a problem that has long plagued international soccer). This display came on the heels of the Italy match, which was so poorly officiated that it would cause any casual American observer to conclude that the game was entirely arbitrary and futile. (It should be noted that there is a growing consensus that this is one of the worst-officiated World Cups ever.) Add to that the rather pitiful American performance, following the excessive billing of the USA team as the greatest soccer force ever assembled by this country, and you have the recipe for complete disinterest and disenchantment.

Ghana.jpg

Do You Know Where Ghana Is?

One of my working theories on why most Americans, myself excepted, find soccer boring is that they lack a sufficiently strong rooting interest in most soccer matches, in part because so few Americans know where most of the countries participating in the World Cup actually are on the planet. Take Ghana as an extreme example. If surprisingly few American youths can locate their own country on a map, imagine how much trouble they would have in finding the west African nation of Ghana! To be fair, I consider myself to be fairly well-informed on geography and I probably could not have told you two weeks ago very much about Ghana except for its capital (Accra) and its location (between Ivory Coast and Togo).

Imagine how uninteresting it would have to be for Americans, who might be only vaguely familiar with where countries such as Croatia and Switzerland are, to watch match after match of a game they may have never played (or only played in childhood) according to rules that seem shabbily and arbitrarily enforced in the only sport in the world where crying like a girl will concretely help your team. That is not necessarily how soccer has to be played, but it is how soccer under this year’s FIFA rules is being played in Germany.

In the matches between quality teams (the Germany-Ecuador match earlier this week, for example) or the close games with surprise underdog performances (the Mexico-Angola tie last week), soccer can be genuinely entertaining and exciting. It has its tremendous lulls, of course, and soccer between mediocre teams is mind-numbingly dull and sloppy (as is any mediocre performance in any sport–see the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals as Exhibit A), but it has started to strike me as odd that Americans can complain about the boring quality of soccer considering that two of our national sports (football, baseball) have more time where nothing is happening than any other sports in the world. There are moments when soccer can rise to its billing as “the beautiful game,” but between the horrible officiating, melodramatic players and lacklustre play of more than a few allegedly world-class teams those moments are becoming fewer and fewer.

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