Daniel Larison

There Are Opportunities Wherever Disaster Strikes

But I’m amazed by the opportunity, I’m amazed by the hope that I feel down here. ~George W. Bush

Between all the “opportunities” down on the Gulf Coast and over in the Near East, I think people might just want to rethink this whole “opportunity society” idea.

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But The Question Bush Has To Ask Is: Is Our Houses Begetting?

And I suspect that what you’ll see, Toby, is there will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses. [sic] ~George W. Bush

And, lo, the jobs smote unemployment hip and thigh with a great slaughter!  And Bernanke spoke unto the people: “Thus saith the Fed, fear inflation and touch it not.  You shall have no loose money supply among you, but a higher reserve rate ye shall keep all the days of your life.”  And the people murmured against Bernanke and grew sullen against the king.

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Every Distinction Shall Vanish, And Every Trace Of Vitality Shall Pass Away

Philippe Beneton conjures for us the image of a horrifying future (or, if your name is Anthony Sacramone, a comforting utopia).  You may, of course, replace the name of the company in question with any other, be it the corporation so many love to hate, Wal-Mart, or any other megacorp, multinational or one of their imitators (as Beneton says, “By McDonald’s, of course, I mean more than McDonald’s.”):

The McDonald’s system is also a triumph of procedural rationality, a rationality appropriate to a market economy.  There, as in the supermarket, the pure spirit of the market reigns.  Nothing troubles the purely functional, abstract, impersonal relationship between the seller and the buyer.  Here every person, whoever he or she may be, is exactly like all the others; he or she is a consumer, nothing but a consumer, entirely a consumer, a consumer from head to toe.  McDonald’s is universalist; its calling is to embrace the whole world without regard to divisions.  Once one passes through its doors, an alchemy takes over and erases whatever distinguishes and separates; the person becomes a consumer and every consumer’s money is as good as any other’s.  This is the wonder of the system: it neutralizes differences and divisions among people, differences in traits of character, as well as social, natiional, political, religious, or other differences.  It makes coexistence and cooperation possible among people who have nothing in common except respect for the same rules of the game.  All over the world, in New York, Paris, Istanbul, or Beijing, McDonald’s restaurants welcome in the same way (automatic smile, guaranteed hygiene, industrial food), whether you are of the left or of the right, Turk or Kurd, Chinese apparatchik or dissident, a child or his grandfather, a policeman or a criminal, a racist or an antiracist.  McDonald’s is the missionary of a new humanity, the builder of a new world, in collaboration with all the other businesses set to conquer the world market and sharing this great cause with a view to the greatest profit.  This new world is undifferentiated, destined to unify itself on the basis of uniform consumption–an egalitarian world, except of course for the only distinction that matters (money), a world called to achieve unity by the grace of the market.  The political problem par excellence, the problem that arises from differences among human beings, is finally about to be resolved: consumers of all lands, unite over a Big Mac!

This vision of uniformity, dullness and mediocrity terrifies.  It is the world, as he says, “at once perfected and decivilized.”  It abolishes differences in time, and as for consideration for manners, propriety, station, custom, meaning, beauty, love–these are completely banished from such a world.  As he says later, “Who would declare his love over a cheeseburger?”  And before someone volunteers, let me suggest that anyone who would do such a thing profanes love and mocks his beloved. 

It summons to mind the absurd self-justifying essay of Mr. Meilaender, who prefers the tedious hegemony of Burger King (quote via Spengler): 

Making a long drive home from a meeting late last summer, I found myself hungry in the early afternoon. I needed something that would be quick inexpensive, and good. And there (providentally?) was the sign: a Burger King off the next exit. I felt like a flame-grilled Whopper, and the beauty of it is that you can “have it your way” which in my case meant hold the tomato and mayo, add justard. Hear is a realm of life where being pro-choice is just the thing for me…As I began to eat, two young boys (probaby about ten and eight years old) sat down with their parents at an adjoining table. Both boys had on Chief Wahoo caps, so I would have known they were Cleveland Indians fans even if they had not been discussing the previous night’s game, whcih they had seen on ESPN. It happened that in my hotel room I had myself spent the last part of the evening watching that same game. I decided therefore to venture a brief conversational gambit. “Go Tribe,” I said to the younger of the two boys…Our ability to watch the Indians on television even though we did not live near Cleveland created a little shared community among us as we sat there eating in Burger King. The experience was so satisfying that I went back up tot he counter for a Hershey’s Sundae Pie and stayed longer than I’d planned.

As I noted at the time, this is a deeply troubled view, and Fr. Jape agrees. If Fr. Jape agrees, there must be something to it. But Beneton’s description of what is to come (indeed it is already here!) is terrifying not just in the hideous future it holds out–and Beneton makes clear here that this is the future of a world of globalisation and multinationals–but in the recognition that breaks in as you read it that a great many Westerners would find themselves nodding in eager anticipation of its arrival. The libertarian would say, “Yes, you see, the millennium of peace and brotherhood is coming, and it will be brought to you by The Marketâ„¢!”

The people who yearn for this age of uniformity are the people whom Adam Wayne fought in the streets of Notting Hill; they are the people who built the Crystal Palace; these are people who still believe that the Golden Age is coming, and expect that it will be televised and available in high definition. I find it hard to conclude that they are not the enemies, unwitting though they may be, of everything vital and real in human life, another gang of political optimists with a different scheme but just as misguided and deluded as all the rest.

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Peguy Vs. The Economist

Finally, vital differences among individuals are effaced.  For the economist, all human beings are alike, not of course because they have some higher calling in common but because they all rationally pursued objectives that are equally irrational.  Homo economicus is cold, rational, and utilitarian; he is gifted in calculating but empty of substance.  Human beings are indistinguishable in their way of being; they can only be distinguished by their incomes, their levels of consumption or productivity.  Here, everything that Peguy loves, all that he celebrates–good manners and morals, fine workmanship, beautiful language, simple joys, bonds of the flesh, the honor of the poor, the genius of Homer–none of this has any meaning.  We are indeed in the world of equality by default. ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default

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Perhaps If Our Coalitions Weren’t Quite So Ridiculous…

It’s not as if our investment is yielding great returns. In Iraq, our coalition has neither increased the likelihood of victory nor reduced costs.

What’s more, the resources devoted to our coalition have done little to help the United States gain legitimacy. According to a recent Pew Global Attitudes survey, few people worldwide believe that the United States pays attention to the interests of others when making policy decisions. In the international community, the perception of America as unilateralist is pervasive. ~Patricia Weitsman, The New York Times

But why would most of the world take seriously claims to international cooperation founded on the bought-off governments of such world powers as Mongolia and Estonia?  One basic rule of power politics is that if you can readily buy off a country, it is probably not important enough to buy off and so not worth the trouble in the first place.  If the goal is to share the burden of a war, you typically don’t ally yourself with countries that have GDPs smaller than that of Nebraska.  There has been a lot of yapping about “New Europe” over the past four years, as if we had just found a new island chain in the South Pacific full of resplendently militant Europeans who desire to do our bidding (call it Nuropa for short).  The problem with the “New Europe” story was that it was agitprop cooked up by Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar (you remember him, the ex-prime minister of Spain?), stage managed by the warmongers at The Wall Street Journal and foisted on several of the poor countries of Nuropa by their typically ex-commie governments.  The countries that were signatories to the infamous Vilnius Letter were all NATO-wannabe allies (Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovakia) or countries only recently admitted to NATO (Slovenia, the Baltics, Romania, Bulgaria).  This would include the Albanian government that sponsored the KLA, the heirs of the Ustasha, and the Slovak government that actively discriminates against its Hungarian citizens.  The rest of Nuropa consisted of the ’96 admittees to NATO, with the Czechs committed to Iraq by Vaclav Havel on his way out the door, the Poles led by “reformed” communist Kwasniewski and the Hungarians (over the objections of a vocal opposition) by former commie regime agent Peter Medgyessy, then Socialist Prime Minister. 

It was assuredly an odd group to join together for the freedom of mankind–or perhaps not so odd when you see the project as a mad revolutionary “war of liberation” like those waged on the countries of Nuropa by another, um, benevolent hegemon.  The entire Nuropean coalition would have seemed much more notable if the governments of the nations involved did not give the impression that they were, as a Russian-American friend of mine put it very aptly, ” bootlicking eastern Europeans.”  That Nuropa was joined in the fight by mighty El Salvador and the indomitable Philippines (which probably had as much real choice in the matter as the new NATO allies did) and every other small nation of no geopolitical importance did not help to dispel the impression that this was the war of the master who was calling on his lackeys and retainers to do his bidding.  One notable exception to this list of nice, charming countries with no power was Japan, which has, of course, determined to leave Iraq.

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DeConcini, Domenici–Who Can Tell The Difference?

Moreover, reporters slowly began to pay unaccustomed attention to these “ethnic” voters and to the leaders who were rising from their ranks, such as Mario Cuomo in New York, Richard Celeste and George V. Voinovich in Ohio, Dennis DeConcini in New Mexico, Peter Domenici in Arizona, and Barbara Mikulski in Maryland. ~Michael Novak

Now, goodness knows that everyone can make a mistake, but as a New Mexican I feel obliged (if that is the right word) to set the record straight and make it clear that Pete Domenici (perhaps his mother called him Peter, but nobody else I know does) is our Senator and DeConcini once represented the state to our west.  Pete still is our senior Senator, and probably has more seniority now than just about anybody on the GOP side since Thurmond’s departure.  As the Budget chairman, Domenici is hardly an unknown in Washington, and he is surely memorable as the poor soul who seems to be responsible for all the “Viva Bush” bumper stickers one will see on cars all over Albuquerque–presumably on the cars of Anglos who know all of ten words in Spanish, but who think that it is cute to have Spanish slogans for their politicians (perhaps they are preparing for the future?).  Dennis DeConcini, on the other hand, finished his time in the Senate in ’95.  Rather crucially, Pete has been a Republican his entire Senate career, and DeConcini was a Democrat, which should make them even harder to mix up. 

I know it is hard for folks back east to tell the difference between all those big, wide-open states in flyover country (I should be grateful that Mr. Novak even remembers that New Mexico is part of the United States–something that is all too frequently overlooked), and apparently even harder to remember which Italian Catholic lives where, but in my book this is pretty much the equivalent of a no-brainer.

Update: The error has been corrected at First Things.

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Sir Alfred Sherman (1919-2006), Requiescat In Pace

A law of history is that power tends to generate countervailing power. It is not for me to trace how this will come about. We can do little more than guard against arrogance and over-extension and minimize the pointless sacrifices they usually entail. I am proud to have taken part in this struggle, the struggle to bring the powerful to their senses before they plunge into reckless, ruthless folly. This struggle carries no guarantee of success, for it is the quest for sanity that epitomizes the struggle of suffering humanity throughout the ages. ~Sir Alfred Sherman (via Srdja Trifkovic)

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You Need To Have Something Worth Fighting For

The truth is that U.S. forces and the IDF looked good fighting Arabs only as long as Arab political leaders insisted on fighting on Western terms. As long as they persisted in pitting tank against tank or fighter plane against fighter plane, Arabs were never going to get the better of either the Americans or the Israelis. His stupidity perhaps matched only by his ruthlessness, Saddam may well have been the last Arab leader to figure this out. ~Andrew Bacevich, The American Conservative

I am reminded of that old Italian joke that sprang up after WWII, “What is the Italian salute?”  (The very un-PC answer is holding up both your hands in surrender.)  For students of Italian military history, this is a grievous insult, since Italian arms have been famous for good reason for centuries before the unification of Italy.  This joke only makes sense in the context of the poor morale and complete lack of zeal that Italian soldiers had in fighting for Mussolini and more generally in fighting for the Republic since unification.  Why was Mario from Naples going to die for some idiotic northern Italian warmonger who wanted to conquer Greece?  Who wanted to die for fascism?  (Yet another reason, gentle reader, why Islamofascism is a very, very stupid word–most of the soldiers fighting for the actual Fascists had little zeal for the cause, much less a willingness to embrace death!)  Long after the Romans made their small contribution to military history, Italians have been legendary fighters and Italy has produced some of the greatest generals (Prince Eugene of Savoy, though of mixed heritage and in service to the Habsburg emperor, was such a one)–when they were fighting for something or someone to whom they had a real attachment and loyalty.  But to die for La Reppublica?  Who will fight to the last for that?  There may be some who will, but just as no one will die “for the free market” (in Beneton’s catchy phrase), relatively few people want to die for an artificial republic that does not necessarily have anything to do with their sense of local patriotism or religious faith. 

In the same way, the ill-fated Arab nationalist armies of 1956, 1967 and 1973 did not fail because of their method of warfare but because their morale, organisation and commitment to their respective nations’ causes were all of poor or middling quality.  What conscript really was ready to die for Nasser and the United Arab Republic?  The absurdity of the question already provides the answer.  Thus the Arab armies in these wars were not as effective, suffered from poor organisation and often suffered large scale desertion or surrender–not because the method of war they were using was faulty or because they were incapable or using this method, but because they did not have the moral elements needed to make that way of war succeed against highly motivated, well-organised and disciplined forces and, in my obligatory Clausewitz reference, we should remember that the moral is to the material element in war as three to one. 

Any state that loses air superiority as quickly as Iraq did in 1991 (by flying a large part of its air force out of the country for “safe keeping”–whoops!) cannot fight an open-desert tank war and not get slaughtered.  This may have convinced some Arabs that this kind of warfare was foolish (or at least that fighting this kind of war against Israel and America was foolish), and I’m sure it convinced a lot of Westerners that Hussein was a buffoon, but it does not demonstrate that it would necessarily be ineffective if Arab states could combine the kind of cohesion and zeal that Hizbullah possesses with the technological means and know-how that several of them do possess.  The trouble is that the governments of the Arab states typically cannot generate the loyalty or zeal that Hizbullah does because, well, they have no credibility and they represent nothing that anyone wants to believe in. 

Partisan warfare, though effective to a degree, did not make “the Western way of war” obsolete in 1944, and modern guerrilla fighters do not necessarily make it obsolete now.   If Israel had combined its air assault with a large ground invasion and if it had been willing to accept the casualties that go with such an invasion and if it had been willing to fight a much longer, more arduous campaign than it has fought in the past and if it were in the political position to continue a hot war against an Arab country for months or even years, Hizbullah might very well have been defeated once and for all.  Whether that would have “solved” Israel’s security problems in the north or not is another question, but the outcome of the Lebanon war, remarkable as it is, does not necessarily prove any obvious superiority of Hizbullah’s method of warfare.  It took them longer to not lose a war that was called to a halt by international intervention, but it is not clear that they could have ultimately “won” except insofar as winning means staying alive.  Their method is superior only in the sense that they can significantly drive up the costs of their enemy’s victory to a point where he is less inclined to continue to fight. 

As Prof. Van Creveld suggested in the same issue, Israel was in a sense fighting with at least one arm tied behind its back (that it chose to use its other arm to devastate an entire country to no clear purpose unfortunately does not rate much mention in his article), in no small part because of the mistaken model used for the attack on Lebanon, namely Kosovo.  Following the Kosovo script assumes two things: 1) air power alone is sufficient to achieve the objective and 2) that you have three months to bomb the enemy into submission.  The first was a flawed conclusion from the beginning, and as it turned out Israel was not going to be allowed that much time.  Had NATO called off its unjust bombings after five weeks, it would have had similarly disappointing results, because the “Western way of war” being employed in Kosovo and Lebanon is not the same kind of Western war that was applied in the Arab-Israeli wars or the Gulf War, because the nature of these conflicts differs significantly.  They represent trying to dislodge an entrenched force that is in its own country vs. conventional fighting in the open field with massive air superiority on one side.  Had the Germans fought in Yugoslavia with nothing but the Luftwaffe, they would scarcely have gotten anywhere.

However, I do take Prof. Bacevich’s larger points that, so long as Western governments wage wars as they have been doing for the last 15 years, the guerrillas and insurgents of the Islamic world are able to “deny us victory” and that there is not a military solution to the political problems of the Near East.  But we should take care not to assume that differences in the method of warfare are the crucial difference in the relatively greater success of Arab peoples in war; if they are dedicated and trained Muslim fighters, their motivation seems remarkably greater than any ever inspired by the nationalist cause, and if they are particularly fanatical in their religion they possess a moral advantage that, if coupled with the conventional arsenal of a modernised Near Eastern military, could be quite formidable.  That is not to run around  like a little child screaming that we face impending doom, but to bear in mind that having something worth fighting for sometimes makes all the difference in determining the outcomes of conflicts.      

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Even If Military Hegemony “Works,” It Is A Mistake

Attempting to maintain military hegemony in the Middle East is not in U.S. interests and runs contrary to American values and that would be the case even if the majority of Iraqis would have welcomed U.S. troops with flowers. And Israel’s long-term interest lies in making peace with its Arab neighbors and ending its occupation of the Palestinians even if Israel would have been able to maintain its military supremacy for ever and its control of the West Bank and Gaza with minimum costs. ~Leon Hadar

Mr. Hadar delivers a succinct and correct rebuttal to Prof. Bacevich’s recent TAC article.  While I think Mr. Hadar and I are both in complete agreement that Iraq and Lebanon were blunders of the first order and should have been avoided, and while I certainly think we should depart from Iraq post-haste, there is sometimes a tendency among war critics to imagine some kind of indomitable insurgent force that is as invincible as the hegemonists believe the superpower to be.  Indeed, the hegemonists are continually chafing at the restraints that common decency imposes on the current war efforts, depriving them of the sight of fire-bombed cities and civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands.  The unfortunate thing is that the jingoes might be right to the extent that worst of the insurgency in Iraq might end if we were willing to inflict a level of destruction and terror on the entire population comparable to what was unjustly done to the civilian populations of Germany and Japan.  There are no guarantees that even this would work, of course, since massive death and devastation did not break the Vietnamese will to fight, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that this is unusually counterproductive in counterinsurgency.  The native insurgent or guerrilla’s advantage lies in the hegemon’s inability to reshape the political loyalties of the people through the massive use of force necessary to severely weaken the insurgents and guerrillas.  That is why hegemony in the Near East is doomed to failure–not because their military resistance is so effective, but because their political opposition to our hegemony is unyielding.  

However, even if the massive use of force would “work,” I would like to think that no decent person in this country wishes to lay waste to an entire country to break an insurgency against an occupation that shouldn’t even be taking place.  Besides not being in our national interest, neither the indefinite perpetuation of the occupation nor some neocon fantasy of raining thousands of bombs (or just a few nukes) on women and children can be morally justified. 

The Boer War, or the South African War as it is less colloquially called, was won through some of the most appalling methods of its time.  Long after the Transvaal and Orange republics had capitulated to the overwhelming military superiority of the British aggressors, Afrikaner kommandos (it was the Afrikaners who gave us this word) carried on the war to the proverbial bitter end while their farms and homes were put to the torch and their displaced families rounded up in horrible, disease-ridden concentration camps.  The virtual take-no-prisoners approach to the kommandos, as represented so strikingly and movingly in my favourite film, Breaker Morant, was brutal and ugly but finally ‘effective’ (and in Morant we see again how the lowest imperial grunts are made to take the blame for the Empire’s sake).  More and more of the countryside was fenced in until the bittereinders were finally compelled to surrender.  The insurgency lasted approximately three times as long as the formal war of 1899. 

Of course, the British had a relatively larger military presence and overwhelming advantages in controlling the supply lines into South Africa that make their success harder to duplicate in a larger territory with less secure borders and a much more broadly based resistance as we have in Iraq, which is now complicated by the activities of Shi’ite militias.  But the point is that the British were able to crush the Afrikaner insurgency, but only by methods that the rest of the world, including the strongly pro-Boer American public (still not fully recovered from their fit of anti-British jingoism of 1895-96), regarded as unjust and barbarous. 

If we were willing to break out the B-52s and start carpet bombing Anbar, the Sunni insurgency might eventually break due to a lack of Sunnis willing to fight–but such attacks would today be widely and correctly regarded as war crimes.  As we saw in Lebanon, indiscriminate bombing and collective punishment often have no effect on the popularity of the insurgents and instead drive the people into their arms, if only for a little while.  Once you go down that path, you can make no pretense to being a liberator or friend, but have become very simply a conqueror of the most brutal kind.  That would undoubtedly suit the more bloody-minded of our neo-imperialists, but it would betray everything our people claim to aspire to and betray every claim the government has made about “helping” Iraq.

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What Is The Goal?

Rather than being inept ideologues who want to somehow Christianize science and academe, I think Dembski and Marsden have made fatal concessions to the deeper institutional and ideological structures they purportedly wish to change. They are figureheads for two strategically similar negotiations between Evangelicals and established elites in the institutions and regimes of expertise, mainly the academic world. ID is a very hard-line, anti-positivist, anti-materialist-reductionist movement with specific agendas, but it actually makes major concessions to positivism and materialist reductionism as the necessary rules of the game to which one must adhere to get any hearing at all. Marsden represents or helped foment a soft and very loosely organized movement with a vague agenda of softening or subverting anti-religious secularism in universities. Unlike ID, no particular scholarly theory or goal is prescribed; this is simply advocacy for (surely not every instance of) “Christian scholarship” that proceeds by appealing (and thus conceding) to the the rules of “tolerance” and “inclusivity”—the “multicultural” model of “pluralism” that prevails in academe and other segments of American society today and which is rightly perceived by many as inherently an assault on Anglo-European and Judaeo-Christian history, culture, and tradition. Though similar as “wedge strategies,” Intelligent Design and “the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship” are not at all comfortably united efforts to purchase status, credibility (if not authority), and influence for certain Christians. (It is odd that Balmer does not seem to see the internal divisions and that Wilson was not moved to point them out.)

These “wedge strategies” have been concocted in order to make superficial gains—to acquire some mainstream intellectual careers for certain Christians of approximately one’s own kind. It has, predictably, become very much a game of “Who benefits?” (Marsden’s Pew-funded purse fed “Evangelical” and then broadly “Christian” scholars, including certain Catholics and others who are not necessarily Evangelicals in the usual sense and who may or may not be differently “evangelical” than Evangelicals.) The great common ground has been simply a desire for “Access” that is at times more and less disguised as a process of “cultural transformation” or “redemption.” This very Evangelical desire to be an “instrument” ends up becoming more than a means to an end but an end in itself as a pillar of identity. There is little discussion and no real answer to the question about ends. Why would it be good to have a Deistic Theism regarded as respectable and relevant in science? Why would it be good to have “Christian perspectives” regarded as respectable and relevant in all fields of research and education? Good, I mean, in results other than greater cultural prestige, access, and authority for certain religionists. ~The Japery

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