Gene Callahan invokes John Stuart Mill to show that liberals boycotting Barilla—for its chairman’s views about homosexuals—are behaving illiberally. Mill not only favors legally free speech, but he’s sensitive (as some legalistic libertarians are not) to the illiberal power of social conformism. Interestingly, in the passage of On Liberty that Gene cites, Mill makes a rather social-democratic economic point that perhaps cuts against Gene’s position. Look again, with new emphasis added:
In respect to all persons but those whose pecuniary circumstances make them independent of the good will of other people, opinion, on this subject, is as efficacious as law; men might as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread. Those whose bread is already secured, and who desire no favours from men in power, or from bodies of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear from the open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and ill-spoken of, and this it ought not to require a very heroic mould to enable them to bear.
Is Guido Barilla—chairman of and heir to the biggest pasta brand in the U.S. and Italy—really a victim of the tyranny of opinion, with his “bread” at risk from the stigma to which he’s subject? Unless his finances are a lot less secure than his pedigree and position would suggest, he’s more likely to be one of those “whose bread is already secured” and thus “have nothing to fear from the open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and ill-spoken of…”
But that’s really a matter of interpretation. There’s a more fundamental point that needs to be brought out here that has nothing to do with how wealthy Mr. Barilla is or isn’t. Namely, Mill takes for granted that whether one is bravely bucking public opinion or cravenly enforcing it is a clear-cut matter. It’s not, and that’s why well-meaning people will reach different conclusions about a case like Barilla’s. Read More…
You have a lot of freedom in reading a book. I’m unable, for some reason, to read books from beginning to end. I have to go to what interests me most in the book. And if I like that, I start going backwards and forwards. And it starts to become a really complicated endeavor of just reading the parts of the books once and not sort of overlapping. I don’t know why I have to sort of re-edit the books myself. I don’t know why I can’t read a prologue and read a first chapter. I mean, if I really love a book I’ll get to them too. For some reason, I usually find them deadly dull, the prologues.
Samuel Johnson also read as Stillman does—“A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?”
Certainly a great many nonfiction works might well be treated as reference books—to dip into for an idea or anecdote and read only as much as one pleases. Relatively few authors are subtle enough to require a sequential reading. Think of popular music: how many albums really reward listening from start to finish? Those that do are outstanding; with most, it’s safe to skip to the best tracks. Even reasonably good nonfiction likewise tends to involve a lot of padding: superfluous detail, scene-setting formalities, diversions from the main narrative. (It’s one reason I think many books would be better as essays, and why introductions can be so enjoyable—a good essayist writing an introduction to someone else’s work can pare it down to the essence.)
There’s some irony in that Stillman’s medium of choice for his own work is conventionally thought to be unsuitable for browsing or skimming—although YouTube may be changing that. (And really, catching bits and pieces of a film on TV is much the same—the best way to watch many a movie.) Trailers may or may not hit the mark: they can be like perfunctory author prologues to written works, and not only programmatic but too direct as well.
Whether that applies to the tasters Stillman’s films, you be the judge.
Willmoore Kendall is one of the most overlooked founding fathers of the conservative movement and also one of the most interesting. He’s overlooked in part because he never wrote a “big book”—The Conservative Affirmation is a collection of essays and reviews rather than a manifesto—and in part because he doesn’t fit into any right-wing factional stereotype. He wasn’t a libertarian. He became Catholic, but his scholarly interest in American institutions set him apart from most traditionalists. He admired Leo Strauss, and also Eric Voegelin, but he was too distinctive a thinker to be subsumed into anyone else’s school. William F. Buckley Jr., Brent Bozell Jr., Garry Wills, and George Carey were all greatly influenced by him, but in idiosyncratic ways.
(Kendall edited and helped polish the first books by his Yale students Buckley and Bozell—God and Man at Yale and McCarthy and His Enemies—and Buckley’s quip that he’d rather be governed by the first 400 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard reflects Kendall’s thinking at least as much as Buckley’s.)
Kendall was in truth the top Americanist of the postwar conservative movement, more concerned to relate his ideas to the Constitution and the The Federalist than to, say, a wider Anglo-American Burkean tradition (as in the case of Russell Kirk) or to a modern Machiavellian outlook (in the case of James Burnham) or to an abstract set of libertarian or other principles (in the case of Frank Meyer and many natural-rights proponents). It’s perhaps ironic that Kendall’s all-American political philosophy found the fewest adherents on the late 20th-century right, but perhaps the future will be kinder to him.
Kendall is remembered most of all today by those who misunderstand him. Harry Jaffa, who propounds an Americanism very different from Kendall’s, has over the decades portrayed Kendall as a neo-Confederate. Kendall died in 1968, but Jaffa is still alive, age 94, and still misrepresenting a dead man who can’t defend himself. In his new book, Crisis of the Strauss Divided, Jaffa refers to “that old Confederate Willmoore Kendall” and claims “that Calhoun… was Kendall’s and Wills’s hero.”
You wouldn’t know it from reading Jaffa, but in The Conservative Affirmation, Kendall had explicitly written that conservatism as he understood it can “do no business with Calhoun. … Its highest political loyalty, in fine, is to the institutions and way to life bequeathed to us by the Philadelphia Convention.” Read More…
“Scandal at Clinton Inc.” is quite a title for a story that amounts to a Bill Clinton aide taking kickbacks from shady businessmen for providing access to the former president. It doesn’t sound as if the aide in question, Doug Band, is suspected of doing anything illegal, and while he certainly comes off as, shall we say, “ethically challenged,” Alec Macgillis’s story doesn’t do much to tie Band’s mischief to former president Clinton, who’s presented as basically a victim. The Clinton who might actually be on a presidential ticket three years from now hardly figures in the story.
Am I missing something? A few throwaway lines tease more scandalous, or at least salacious, stories that Macgillis doesn’t pursue: Ron Burkle’s private plane, frequently flown by Clinton, being known by the billionaire’s employees as “Air Fuck One,” Hillary aide (and Anthony Weiner wife) Huma Abedin getting investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee to see if her work for Band’s international consulting firm, Teneo, conflicted with her work for the State Department. (The Christian Science Monitor has reported on the Abedin story here.) Band used his influence to get an apparently inflated price from the Post Office for a parcel of land his father owned, but that detail is almost lost in the piece amid all the banal insider gossip. Band didn’t get along with Obama’s re-election people last year—so bloody what?
The big story isn’t that billionaires and corporations were buying access to Bill Clinton, but what exactly they were getting, something Macgillis shows no interest in. Instead the focus is entirely on middleman, Doug Band. He’s not the story.
I was pinch hitter for Sam Tanenhaus at Cato’s panel on The United States of Paranoia earlier this week—Tanenhaus was waylaid by trouble with Amtrak, so I joined author Jesse Walker and Cato’s own Gene Healy to theorize about conspiracy theories. Here’s the video:
Jonathan Kay’s review of the book for TAC is here. The current issue also features an appreciative take on Jesse’s tome from Bill Kauffman. U.S. of P. is one of the buzz books of the season in our circles.
Obama was the anti-Bush of 2008, a peace candidate whose antiwar supporters’ hopes were symbolized after his election by the Nobel Prize he won in 2009.
John Kerry was the anti-Bush of 2004, a man who may have accepted the military pageantry of his nominating convention but who had, after all, made his name with Vietnam Veterans Against the War and famously said in 1971, “How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?”
Chuck Hagel, meanwhile, would have been the dream candidate of the realist right, a Republican veteran who may have voted for the Iraq War but regretted it and strongly opposed the “surge.”
These alternatives to the man who took us to war in Iraq now make America’s foreign policy. And they propose to attack a Mideast country over a Baathist dictator’s weapons of mass destruction.
Yet irony aside, the foreign policy we’re getting is exactly the one you would expect from these men: not a peace policy—not noninterventionism—but a conflicted war policy. And it had to be like this: if U.S. strategy is to change, this is the ugly way it has to come about. A President Rand Paul wouldn’t have any easier a time of it than Barack Obama is having, for reasons that are worth exploring.
Since at least the Reagan era the notion that the U.S. can advance its interests with limited military actions—micro-wars—has been presidential doctrine. Cruise missiles and bombing sorties, and now drones, have displaced covert action and the use of foreign proxies as keystones of U.S. power. Not that we don’t still engage in plenty of covert operations, but the tools Washington is most comfortable with today are mechanical. During the Cold War, presidents could readily support dictators who would serve our interests; today that’s considered unhygienic. We prefer “surgical strikes.”
Such strikes do not often achieve their strategic objectives: they don’t dissuade terrorism, they’re not sufficient to effect regime change–remember the “decapitation” strikes that preceded “boots on the ground” in Iraq?—and they don’t do much to prevent humanitarian catastrophes. They do, however, have a ritual value: a president can fire missiles to show that he’s not sitting passively by as something we don’t like takes place. That his action has no decisive practical effect on the situation just can’t be helped; the alternative—doing nothing—would be equally ineffective, while also burdening the president’s conscience (not just his poll numbers) with a sense of impotence and failure.
Until the George W. Bush administration, presidents had hoped that relatively small deployments of troops could do what bombs and missiles could not. So we had a succession of minor conflicts quite different from the big ones of Vietnam and Korea: Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans. The first Bush’s Gulf War and the second’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved more men and longer deployments than the others, but were still meant to be cakewalks not quagmires. And in one sense, they were: the first Gulf War, the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 were all swiftly and rather painlessly accomplished. The trouble was what came after.
So now Obama, Kerry, and Hagel are confronted with this: the tools customarily at their disposal are either ineffective (bombing) or too expensive (boots on the ground—costly above all in moral and political terms). A return to the dictator-friendly Realpolitik of the Cold War hardly seems possible. What can an electable “peace” politician do? Read More…
Perhaps the best analogy for the “unbelievably small” airstrikes the Obama administration is contemplating against Syria would be Ronald Reagan’s April 1986 bombing of Libya. That campaign, too, was meant to be punitive and deterrent, and although Gaddafi himself was targeted, regime-change wasn’t an immediate goal of Reagan’s actions. Gaddafi was responsible for the bombing earlier in April of a Berlin discotheque in which two American servicemen were killed and 79 injured, and the Libyan dictator had generally been happy to sponsor terrorists of many flavors in Western Europe as retaliation for Western support of anti-regime elements in his own country.
What was the effect of Reagan’s bombing? Gaddafi struck back with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing some 270 people in all. A year later he also bombed UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara, killing 170. The attempt to punish and deter Gaddafi with “pinprick” strikes not only failed but led to revenge attacks more lethal than Gaddafi’s earlier crimes.
Reagan’s experience with Gaddafi is hardly the only case that casts doubt on the deterrent power of airstrikes. Remember Bill Clinton’s cruise-missile strikes on terrorist camps in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998? That was punitive action in response to terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But far from being deterred, al-Qaeda went on to bomb the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and perpetrate the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
That’s not to say that Assad or his allies in the Shi’ite world—Iran and Hezbollah—would want to retaliate directly against the U.S. in response to an attack launched by the Obama administration. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think that’s likely. But the idea that limited bombing campaigns are any kind of deterrent to bad behavior on the part of regimes like Assad’s, Gaddafi’s, or the Taliban (which continued to host bin Laden despite Clinton’s attacks) is disproved by history. If Assad considers it in his interest to use chemical weapons, there is no evidence to suggest that American missiles will change his mind.
If Bashar Assad faces the choice of winding up like Saddam and Gaddafi or gassing his own people, what decision do you expect him to make, knowing what you know of his character?
Obama’s punitive strike won’t deprive Assad of his weapon or change his survival calculus. What the attack will do is change the calculus for rebel groups everywhere that would like to enlist U.S. cruise missiles in their cause. All they’ll have to do in the future is stage an Aum Shinrikyo-style gas attack and blame it on whatever government they’re attempting to overthrow. What’s more, each time a dictator like Gaddafi or Assad falls, his chemical weapons don’t just disappear—they wind up in the hands of a new, equally untrustworthy regime, and amid the chaos of a regime’s collapse they have the potential to find their way into the arsenals of non-state actors.
There’s a reasonably good chance that chemical weapons will be used again in Syria after Obama’s attack (assuming he gets his way with Congress). What then? More symbolic remote-control killing of Arabs—or will Obama accede to the pressure John McCain is already putting on him to “finish the job” with regime change? In that case the brightest scenario is one that looks like Libya, only with the U.S. not (wisely) leading from behind but playing the primary role in toppling the Assad regime. Libya doesn’t exactly make most Americans feel warm and fuzzy these days.
And if an attempt at regime-change-by-airpower fails, then do we invade? Does the president back down at that point, once he’s already raised the stakes and thereby lost more “credibility” than is at risk in this month’s congressional vote? If Bill Kristol and James Ceasar are really concerned about presidential credibility, they had better hope Congress tells Obama “no” before this train even leaves the station.
There’s no danger to the U.S. in not going to war with Syria. There are grave dangers, of an escalating nature, if the U.S. does go to war. The principle of discouraging chemical-weapons use cannot realistically be supported through the means Obama proposes—but certainly it can be undermined in this way. The president has never articulated a clear foreign-policy vision; he’s run hard up against the impossibility of reconciling his vaguely antiwar leanings with the realities of U.S. power. Now he’s made a mistake in proposing a war that he cannot, on several strategic levels, win. His best course is to stop before the shooting begins. This isn’t the way to control WMD, and Obama isn’t prepared to pay the consequences of failure.
When I heard Saturday morning that the president was going to give a Rose Garden address that afternoon, I assumed he’d announce he had made up his mind to bomb Syria. And he did announce that—but he’s going to ask Congress for permission first. He’s chosen the occasion of a war that over 50 percent of Americans oppose to teach a civics lesson. It’s perhaps the best thing he’s done as president.
“This could be the biggest miscalculation of his presidency,” is what a “a senior House Democrat” tells Politico. I suspect Obama has a pretty good count on how Congress will vote, but nobody thinks it’s absolutely a forgone conclusion that he’ll get his war. (There’s maybe a 10 percent chance he won’t get it—not great odds for the cause of peace, but a lot better than what they’d be if Obama acted alone.)
Obama insists that he doesn’t strictly need congressional authorization. The problem with that is threefold:
1.) It doesn’t square with what Obama told the Boston Globe in 2008—”The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”—or with what then-Sen. Joe Biden said a year earlier about the prospect of Bush attacking Iran: “if he takes this nation to war in Iran, without congressional approval—I will make it my business to impeach him.”
2.) Politically, it’s to Obama’s advantage to have the Republicans in Congress as exposed as he is if the war metastasizes—though I suspect the cover he’ll get from having Boehner or McCain with him won’t help a Democrat in 2016 facing someone like Rand Paul.
3.) Less cynically, and even apart from the legal and constitutional issues, war requires a degree of national resolve beyond what the executive branch alone can supply. If Obama and his allies in Congress can’t get the votes, that will be an deafeningly clear signal to the president just what dangers other Americans perceive in this operation.
Obama hasn’t always seemed comfortable wielding executive power—he didn’t have any experience with it when he came to the Oval Office, and as his 2008 remarks recall, he first established himself as a national figure in opposition to the way George W. Bush had handled the office. That opposition was never as deep as his admirers liked to think, but if the pre-presidential Obama wasn’t entirely a facade, there’s perhaps still a trace of that personality lurking in the commander in chief’s skull. Enough of a trace that he prefers to teach his own version of a constitutional-law lesson—his own version, I stress, with his reservation that asking Congress is just polite, not required—rather than take the path of least resistance to starting the war he wants to wage.
Allowing even the slightest theoretical possibility that the president may not have unilateral power to wage war anywhere, any time, for any reason has already disturbed Bill Kristol, who in a Weekly Standard blog post oh-so-unironically titled “Congressional Republicans: Hail Ceasar!” quotes UVA’s James Ceasar—a Straussian with the penchant for executive authority characteristic of many of that breed—telling Republicans to vote for Obama’s war
even if they think that the President’s policy will prove ineffective, do no good, waste money, or entail unforeseen risks; they should do so even if they think he has gotten the nation into this situation by blunders, fecklessness, arrogance, or naiveté; and they should so even if, and especially, if they have no confidence in his judgment. The simple fact is that the nation and our allies will be at further risk if the world sees a presidency that is weakened and that has no credibility to act.
“Further at risk” of what, O Ceasar? The president’s power to respond to immediate threats isn’t at stake here, only his power to launch a war of choice on a collapsing state that poses no threat to the United States. I wish Kristol and his gang would offer a civics lesson as clear as Obama’s—let them campaign for outright martial law and the removal of any check on the president’s power to commit Americans to killing and dying overseas. Until that’s the law, though, it seems like these are questions that ought to be debated by Congress and the people.
Legislators ought to take the president’s request in this instance as an opportunity to teach a lesson of their own, namely that Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution is still in force, and when Congress says “no” that means “no.”
H.P. Lovecraft was capable of purple prose, but Peter Damien is wrong to call him a “godawful writer.” The passage Sam Goldman provides in support of Damien’s point actually proves the contrary. Read it out loud to yourself. It’s poetry—absolutely lucid, rhythmically perfect:
Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken once more, for the Vigilant sailed over the spot after the April storm; but his ministers on earth still bellow and prance and slay around idol-capped monoliths in lonely places. He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come—but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.
This is artful writing, and if it’s melodramatic, that’s only appropriate to the genre. Lovecraft thinks carefully about sound, rhythm, and the meaning of his words; not a syllable is wasted here. A paragraph like the one above is packed with literary devices that enhance the reader’s enjoyment and even the meaning of the text, without drawing too much attention to themselves—ars celare artem. Consider:
1.) Consonance, assonance, and internal rhyme:
since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken.
All the sibilance is significant—air is leaking out from something; Cthulhu hisses in his slumber; it’s the sound of Satan snoring.
idol capped monoliths in lonely places.
Note not only the internal rhyme but also the “l” and “n” sounds gliding around the key syllables: -ol, -nol, -lon. Mournful, desolate sounds.
caution before audacity
whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy.
Here too, there’s more: alliterative “by” and “be,” the rhyming “be” and “screaming.”
3.) The only awkward line in the paragraph is awkward for effect: an emdash and then a struggle for expression “—but I must and cannot think!”
4.) Imagery augmented by rhyming recollection:
his ministers on earth on earth still bellow and prance and slay … Let me pray
Very artful, since “pray” here may mean only “ask,” or more even loosely “hope,” yet it can’t escape its religious connotation. To what or whom does our protagonist pray, and what of use is it to pray when Cthulhu’s ministers, not praying meekly but bellowing and prancing, slay?
Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.
Note the cinematic effect whereby Lovecraft closes with a concrete noun—an organ, an eye. It’s a close-up. The executors will “see” that this “other eye” doesn’t see the manuscript. The resonance of a “thing unseen” recalls Cthulhu himself “within his black abyss” and the “chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young.” The paragraph begins and ends with life bereft of illumination.
These are just the more obvious effects Lovecraft has written into a seemingly simple expository paragraph. The sound is deliberately, painstakingly layered, musical, economical. It takes skill to get that much poetry into clear prose.
Compare all this to Coleridge:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure dome decree
where Aleph the sacred river ran
through caverns measureless to man
down to a sunless sea.
Lovecraft is certainly not on par with Coleridge as a poet, but he deploys quite effectively in a mere monster story effects of rhythm and sound that we conventionally identify with poetry.
No, Lovecraft isn’t always successful. But he’s successful often enough that his prose as well as his imagination has an enduring appeal. When he’s good, he’s a very good writer indeed.
The “flaw” in Lovecraft’s work isn’t his sometimes dull, sometimes purple (but often royal purple) prose, it’s that his stories are devoid of character development and all but the rudiments of a plot. A Lovecraft story, almost without exception, is a first-person narration in which the protagonist is trapped in his own head and gradually—or not so gradually—loses his mind, always in the impeccably orderly fashion of a New England professional. “Stories” like “Under the Pyramids” or “The Shadow Out of Time” are actually just descriptions of mysterious settings that provide the narrator synopses of long-dead inhuman civilizations. But the flatness of Lovecraft’s storytelling is very much the point—the indifference of the cosmos to humanity and man’s realization that he is no more than an ant, an ant unlucky enough to perceive something of its insignificance. The ancient civilizations Lovecraft’s narrators encounter have all long collapsed, never to return; they outstrip human achievements in every respect but are themselves nothing. This existential terror and awe are what Lovecraft is all about, and nobody does it better.