Saturday, May 10, 2003

The British education secretary, Charles Clarke, has gotten into trouble for supposedly saying that Medieval historians are useless and shouldn't receive funding; an uproar has resulted (I don't know why -- I don't see anything wrong with cutting back on Medievalism -- but if the government tries to touch the Early Modernists, I'm gonna be pissed off!)
Now, in fact, Clarke didn't say that -- which is the good news. The bad news is what he DID say. This was that the 'Medieval conception' of the university, as a community of scholars, was outmoded, and didn't justify public support for the universities; such support was only justified by the university's function in providing training and turning out socially useful individuals.
We have a word for this. It's philistinism.
Yes, a large part of the good universities do -- and a reason why the should be supported -- is turn out graduates with (ideally) knowledge, and training in how to think, that they would otherwise lack. This is an important job of the university. Universities are also valuable, and worthy of public support, because of what they do for students, in providing them with knowledge, opportunities, and experiences that they would otherwise miss. This -- the good done for the lives and, for want of a better word, souls, of individual students is quite a separate matter from the good done for society as a whole; and it is a sign of the disturbingly communitarian drift of British political rhetoric that the education secretary should frame universities' utility in public/communal, rather than individual, terms (but I guess it's partly a necessary reaction to the excesses of Thatcherism, during which the Iron Lady herself declared that society doesn't exist. Sheesh. It's comments like that that give communitarianism a good name!) (In case anyone's guessed, for all my admiration for some communitarians, such as Michael Walzer and Charles Taylor, I'm not a communitarian. Despite what the below might suggest. Well, I never claimed to be consistent.)
But this doesn't exhaust the value, or worthiness, of universities. The good of society, and the good of individual students, are both central to the goals of univerities and the education they provide. But they do not occupy the whole of the center. The ideal of the university as a community of scholars remains vital.
I'm afraid I can't really provide much in the way of argument here. It's difficult for me to explain why this ideal is important, so central is it to my life. Not religious myself, the life of the mind takes the place of a religious vocation for me -- and the university is therefore like my church. But I do think this goes beyond personal commitment and faith; or, let's say I think my faith is a rational one.
We live in a world in which the lowest common denominator often wins out, a worlf awash in not merely ignorance and vulgarity, but aggressive thoughtlessness, contempt for contemplation, complexity, disinterested pursuit of truth, intellectual sophistication and rigour, scholarly exactitude and scruple. We can lament this all we want; but the fact is, that's the way things are -- and this culture is to a large extent the price we pay for a society that is open, less hierarchical, more diverse and fluid and permissive than in the past -- and this is, by and large, a good thing. But within such a society it is vital that some oasis be maintained where truth, beauty, scholarship, contemplation, free and informed and intense debate, creativity and its frequent companion, wild eccentricity -- all that were once called civilization -- may be pursued, and nurtured, and cherished. Without the existence of such an intellectual life -- such a community of scholars (including the students as well as the faculty -- for, indeed, in the community of scholars, everyone is a student), much of that which makes life worth living, and civilization sometimes worth fighting and dying for -- that which holds out the rare and fragile possibility of redemption and progress of some sort -- will be lost, swept aside by a thoughtless instrumentalism which will, because it is blind, ultimately wind up degenerating into souless and mindless mediocrity.
Of course, the life of a student -- a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the cultivation of thought -- is not the only, or the most, valid or useful life. Not everyone will want to be, or be able to be, a student; and even fewer will want, or be able to, devote their entire lives to being students. But those who do serve an important purpose -- a purpose not reducible to social utility, but without which society is impoverished; and in order to serve this purpose, in order to pursue the lives they are suited and devoted to, they need to have a place where they can do so -- a community of fellow students. This idea, these communities, are among the most extraordinary and precious of the achievments of human civilization; and to sacrifice, or even subordinate, them, would mean the diminishment, perhaps the death, of that which is most noble in our world.
So. There. That's why I'm pissed off at the secretary for education.
Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Eugene Volokh has a great post up on the complexity of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazism. Highly recommended as an antidote to an overly simplistic view of history -- and contemporary politics -- which seems so often to prevail.

The British author Maragaret Drabble is, as she admits, a sick woman. The disease: anti-Americanism. And this diseases has caused her to vomit out a quite vicious, quite poisonous stream of bile, masquerading as an essay, in the Daily Telegraph.
I’m not going to argue with Drabble’s argument. First of all, there is no argument. Second of all, much of what she says about particular US policies and actions and habits is true. I also think the US’s application of the death penalty is revolting and inhumane; I also think that its detainment of the not-quite-prisoners-of-war at Guantanamo Bay should not continue, but should be sorted out in proper, legal fashion; I also find Bush and Rumsfeld appalling. No argument there.
And yet, Drabble’s piece is profoundly disturbing, and exhibits a terrible failure of judgment and feeling. Where does she go wrong?
First, by conflating America’s worst actions with all that America is. It isn’t that she’s anti- American policy; she’s anti-AMERICAN. This is, indeed, a disease – a blind hatred of an entire nation, and entire people. In short, it is bigotry.
Second, by conflating America’s serious sins with its trivial failings. Drabble doesn’t confine herself to attacking the US’s bombing of Iraq; she also declares that she hates Disneyland, hamburgers, and coca-cola (I’m with her on the first two; coke I quite like. It’s sure a hell of a lot better than the swill that passes for domestic British cola. But no matter.) This is to descend into triviality – and reflects a large, and I think ignoble, part of Drabble’s complaint. She doesn’t just dislike America because it is powerful, or callous, or aggressive; she dislikes it because it is all of these things, and more – and all of these things are so, well, common. Drabble’s anti-Americanism is a mixture of genuine humanitarian feeling, and equally genuine snobbery. She seems more upset by the fact that there are smiley faces painted on our planes, than that the planes are killing people (oh, to be sure, she’s upset about the killing; but it’s on the smiley faces that she fixates.)
Drabble despises everything about American culture as irresponsible, vulgar, crude. She doesn’t bother to notice that her own country is quite as bad in these many respects. She jumps on America’s imperialism; she doesn’t mention that her own nation – which she calls the country of Shakespeare – taught America how imperialism is done (and did much to create the mess that we’re currently still dealing with in the Middle East.) No mention of France’s shamefully venal foreign policy; nor of Russia’s current ‘war on terror’ in Chechnya, or the repressiveness of it’s post-Soviet government, or its social pathology (and I’m not talking about tATu) China – nevermind.
Of course, the old ‘they all do it’ argument is no excuse for America’s crimes. But America’s real crimes aren’t any excuse, either, for vilifying America – while ignoring all other injustices, and their perpetrators, around the world.
Drabble invokes Orwell’s metaphor of a boot trampling the human face forever. She then says that she’s had enough of boots – British boots, American boots, Iraqi boots. Thus conflating the US’s actions, with those of the Ba’ath. Not for a moment does she actually pause to consider exactly what it is that America has ‘done to’ Iraq, for which she hates us (not it; us) so much; not for a moment does she consider, with her sophisticated, fine novelist’s brain, that the images of Iraqi children with shrapnel wounds in hospitals have to be set aside those of statues of the tyrant falling, the people of Iraq, for all their fear and all their resentment of the occupying troops, rejoicing at liberation. Not for a moment does she consider the charnal house that Iraq under Saddam was – and not for a moment will she give the US any credit for, for whatever reason, and with however many tragic blunders, bringing it to an end.
Ms. Drabble, if you want to see what a boot trampling the human face forever looks like, look into Iraqi prisons under Saddam. And then reflect, for just a moment, that these Americans you hate and despise so much, with such scrupulous, high-minded hauteur, were the ones – and practically the only ones – who were willing, and able, to stop that boot. Maybe then you’ll be forced to let go of your comforting, self-ennobling hatred, and start to grapple with the far more difficult, far less enjoyable, but far more adult feeling of ambivalence, confusion – and grief.
Ultimately, Drabble’s anti-Americanism is really just a form of misanthropy – intense misanthropy which, by focusing all of its force on one particular group of people, becomes still more intense, until it indeed becomes consuming. Such selective misanthropy has a tendency to feed fanaticism. At best, it merely consumes it’s bearer, turning him or her into an embittered, blinkered crank (see Harold Pinter – who was once a great artist.) At worst, it is the stuff of which suicide bombers are made.
Happily, Margaret Drabble is a bit old, and I imagine a bit too puka, for anything like that. She may hate America; but she won’t do anything violent or truly vile against it – to do so might mean getting dirt under her fingernails; and we can’t have that.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Josh, thanks for posting this. I have recently felt quite broken, mentally and politically, and I had been concerned that I had degenerated into a partisan hack as a necessary crutch in these times of confusion. It's nice to see that some respected Left leaners are even more broken than me.
I think the comparisons he makes here are incorrect and unhelpful. At the same time, I can sympathize. Reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, I couldn't help but see some similarities between the Republican Actions and the Communist Party in Spain. They both speak to great values of liberty and equality, but they don't seem to deliver. More disturbingly, the harsh rhetoric and the use of war and fear to pound through a unrelated domestic agenda is very reminiscent. When I see the Dixie Chicks and Tom Daschle being equated with Saddam, when I hear people suggesting that the Left is in league with Saddam, and when Republican Senators like Snowe and Vovoiovich are linked with the French (and implicitly, Saddam) for their stance on the tax cut, I am reminded of the way the Communists accused Anarchists of being the Fascist's fifth column. The way the White House seems so intent on strengthening its power through every possible means, often abandoning principles of federalism, is reminiscent of power hungry Communists. the press's inability or unwillingness to inform the American people that there is no link between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks reminds me of the pliant press that Orwell describes. The fact that Bush was NOT elected adds a certain taint to everything. More disturbing are Karl Rove's attempts to get state legislatures in Colorodo and Texas to redistrict more favorably for Republicans, despite the fact that they just did redistrict and aren't supposed to for 8 more years. That doesn't sound very Democratic to me. Maybe this is common, but I've never heard of it. Certainly, Maryland's legislature was controlled by Democrats for 10 years and still sent 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats to the House until they were scheduled to redistrict (we now send 6 Democrats and 2 Republicans - which more closely matches the make-up of our state where 2/3 of the population are registered Democrats)
Comparisons to NAZIs and Communists should be used sparingly. Certainly, the Republicans support invasion for profit at worst, not conquest. They have no intention of committing Genocide, and the American Polity's attitudes are such that they veer away from overt insult upon ethnic, religious, or racial minorities. They also have no intention of ending elections. Indeed, they have structured things to maximize their electoral chances. See James Moore in the LA Times:
" (Karl Rove - Bush's POLITICAL advisor) was also reported to be present at a war strategy meeting concerning whether to attack Syria after Iraq. Rove said the timing was not right. Yet. Having the political advisor involved in that decision is wrong."
Now, this isn't communist or totalitarian. They have every intention of seeking reelection. At the same time, I think we are seeing a greater amount of media control and manipulation than we have seen in this country in a long time. I don't think the country is becoming Totalitarian, but I think there are reasons to be concerned that our country is becoming less Democratic or at least more manipulated. Perhaps it will backfire. Certainly they are more accountable than totalitarians, and if things go bad so that they actually impact average americans in an obvious way, they'll be out.
Still, I think we are seeing something bad happening here, and I don't think its typical of our country. Maybe I've simply forgotten the past. Maybe I never understood or knew it. It just seems that present political perversions are going to really hamper our ability to tackle the complex problems of national security, public health, environmental degradation, and economic well being that we face. At the same time, when have we ever tackled those problems well?

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

CORRUPTING THE YOUTH? It is a salutary thing, for aspirant political theorists such as myself, to be reminded of just how silly even the best of us can be. This being the case, Sheldon Wolin is to be commended for his essay in the Nation.
Wolin is the doyen of democratic theorists; throughout a long, distinguished, influential career, primarily at Berkeley (where he helped inspire the passion for ‘participatory democracy’ in the ‘60s) and Princeton, he has made democracy – and with it, his own distinctive vision of ‘politics’ and ‘the political' – his great goal and loadstar. Wolin’s book Politics and Vision helped inspire a generation of political theorists; his early critiques of positivistic social science and technocratic administrative managerialism, as well as his studies of early modern thinkers such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, deserve to be as influential as they have, in fact, been.
So, it’s sad to see him slipping now.
In his essay, 'Inverted Totalitarianism', Wolin warns that empire and ‘superpower’ are incompatible with democracy. He also claims that the Republican Party, being ‘ruthless’ and ‘ideologically driven’, is reminiscent of ‘20th century regimes seeking total power’ – i.e. Nazism and Communism. He portrays the electorate as driven into a state of terror and apathy by a corporate-controlled media and manipulative, threatening government; elections are shams, representatives unrepresentative, corporations rule and corrupt all, there is no democratic legitimacy, no true popular rule.
Wolin claims that this has led to a new political system or regime, ‘inverted totalitarianism.’ The Bushies “share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism”. The current regime differs from the Nazis in being controlled by, rather than seeking to control, big business; and in using the power of government against the democratic resistance of the ‘streets’, rather than seeking to overthrow the government from the ‘streets’, as the Nazis did in Weimar.
We shouldn’t be fooled by little details like, oh, the lack of concentration camps.; since, “for the most part, Nazi terror was not applied to the population generally; rather, the aim was to promote a certain type of shadowy fear--rumors of torture--that would aid in managing and manipulating the populace. Stated positively, the Nazis wanted a mobilized society eager to support endless warfare, expansion and sacrifice for the nation.” (They also wanted it to be Judenfrei, but that's apparently a minor detail) While Nazism tried to inspire the people to maniacal strength, the current regime seeks to lull or terrify them into passivity and weakness; in this respect, it seems, it is even MORE opposed to democracy than Nazism.
Guantanemo Bay is a ‘Devil’s Island’; attempts to cut or do away with government benefits are an attempt to increase dependency on the government – rather, as one might have thought, to ween people, rightly or wrongly, from such dependency and make them more self-reliant. But no; it's all part of the fiendishness of the Republican Party to make it appear as if they're devolving power and scaling-back government, when, in fact, they are making the citizenry slaves of the state.
All in all, the present regime, and present course of events, tend towards a situation where the economically powerful hold a monopoly on political power, which they use to hold the weak in a condition of perpetual servitude and terror, while mobilizing for a permanent war for global domination.
Poor Sheldom Wolin! If he believes all this, he must be a very, very unhappy old man.
Perhaps I’m just young, naïve, foolish, deluded along with the rest of the herd; but, while some of it is founded on a valid critique of current American society and politics, and the policies of the Republican Party, I think that the overall picture that Wolin paints is, well, poppycock.
First, let’s confront the Nazi/Republican analogy head-on. Now, the Republican Party contains some people who want to do what I think are some pretty despicable, unjust things. Their policies towards the poor, towards gays, towards many criminals, towards suspect criminals, towards immigrants, towards many other nations, range from the merely unjust, to the monstrous. But, to liken even the worst of these policies to those of the Nazis (or the Communists, whom I notice Wolin doesn’t spend much time talking about …) is ridiculous. The Republicans do not aim at genocide, they do not aim at racial purity, their nationalism is less aggressive than Hitler’s, their treatment of those they vanquish or conquer far more humane – even if the occupation of Iraq is unjust, even if the occupying forces make mistakes and commit injustices, can one compare it to German behaviour in Poland and the Baltics, or even the Low Countries and France, during WWII? Well, apparently one can; but to do so, one needs to be an idiot.
Furthermore, Wolin commits one of the great sins of a political theorist – he misuses the tools of the trade, that is, politically denotive words. Totalitarianism refers to a particular system of government, in which the state, commanded by an individual or elite immune to the rule of law, comes to control every aspect of life through direct, tyrannical control. What Wolin describes is an oligarchic domination of society and government, a de facto aristocracy masquerading as representative democracy. A bad thing, yes; equivalent to totalitarianism? No.
Wolin falls into one of the age-old traps of political theorists, especially on the Left: to equate all injustices, all coercive action, with complete tyranny. But there is a difference between the opportunistic, and perhaps mendacious, use of a sense of danger for purposes of political persuasion, and state-enforced brain-washing. What scare-mongering there is in the US at present doesn’t compare to the situation during WWI, WWII, or the Cold War. Was the US totalitarian then? Well, actually, many have said so. They also insisted that this meant that the US was morally equivalent to the Soviet Union, if not worse. I’ll get back to this point in a moment; for the time being, let’s merely note that most people wouldn’t say that now.
In Wolin’s terms, any governmental control, any unjust actions or arrangements, become a form of totalitarianism. The alternatives are Wolin’s own preferred model of popular participatory democracy, in which citizens are in control, the majority rules – and yet somehow the minority is also protected and empowered (how does that work exactly? Never mind); and totalitarianism. One can worry about the erosion of political liberties, and the rhetorical assault on dissent, in the US today – I do. But to call it totalitarian, or even see it as part of a slide towards totalitarianism, is to lose perspective, muddle words, and misperceive reality.
One might also point out that the Nazis always, and the Communists sometimes, quite frankly declared that they were working against liberty, democracy, individual rights (at least as conceived by liberals), etc. At least some Republicans, I think, actually believe it when they claim to be fighting for democracy and security. And you know, maybe they are; maybe they’re not. And maybe they’re doing a good job; and maybe they’re not. But this sort of political demonisation seems to me unjust; and dangerous. Indeed, it seems to have not a little I common, temperamentally, with the demonisation of their enemies by the Republican Right itself – or, dare one say it, totalitarian movements.
A more measured, realistic version of Wolin’s critique might serve some good, in mobilizing people to question and oppose the current state of things. But Wolin’s argument, as it stands, seems to me delusional, deceptive, and thus dangerous.
Why dangerous? First, there is the talk of resistance from the streets. Wolin concludes with an invocation for action in the next national elections. Yet the whole tendency of his essay is to make one despair of the effectiveness of electoral politics in such a corrupt system, to see this system as a tyranny which deserves to be, and which must be, destroyed. This, coupled with the wispy romanticism of popular insurrection which continues to cling to Wolin’s vision, seems to me point, not to a reliance on conventional political activity – for, if Wolin is right, that is likely to be useless – but to a rejection of such futile activity in favour of something more assertive, dramatic, forceful – and perhaps violent.
If Wolin’s argument is reminiscent of the visions of insurrectionary resistance that inspired the New Left and other revolutionary movements before them, his conflation of the current US regime with totalitarianism is reminiscent of the moral equivalency argument that was used by supporters of the Soviet Union, both in the 1930s, and during the Cold War. As such, it was pernicious, and remains so; for it leads us to lose our sense of perspective, our ability to differentiate between different degrees of social and political control, of the distribution of power, of injustice; between different forms of government, and different political goals. There is a world of difference between discouraging someone from voting, and actually barring him or her from voting through violence, whether legal or illegal but permitted by the authorities (ask older African-Americans in the South about what it really feels like to be dis-enfranchised – or Cubans or Iraqis). There is a world of difference between making it extremely difficult to move up the social ladder, and making it impossible; between allowing the wealthy to exercise political influence, or concentrating all political and economic authority in the same set of hands, and making the economic-political masters immune to external oversight or criticism (as happened under Communism). There is also a world of difference, whatever a cynic might say, between fighting a war for freedom, fighting a war for profit or power, and fighting a war to destroy or enslave a people. The US claims to have done the first; perhaps it has actually done the second. But even if it has, it is innocent of the third.
To ignore this, to ignore all these things, is to lose one’s ability to differentiate between the dubious, the bad, the dangerous, and the evil. And if we do so, we may not only anathemise as evil those who are not, and devote ourselves to railing and fighting against phantom dangers; but also find ourselves unable to recognize, and effectively battle, the evil when we actually do confront it
Wolin was once a beloved teacher of the young. Today he seems to me a false teacher; and for all my respect for his work, I cannot help but hope that the young will not hear or learn from him. He has adopted the tone and stance of a prophet in the wilderness; let us venerate him for having the courage and conviction to do so – but then, let us leave him there.

NOT A GOOD SIGN FOR DE-BAATHIFICATION: The WaPost reports that the US is allowing hundreds of Baath party members back into high-ranking government posts in Iraq. It seems that many Iraqis are, not surprisingly, unhappy about this.
I've written about the importance of de-Baathification for the future of Iraq before; and I think, clearly, allowing those who collaborated with Saddam's thuggish regime is both unjust, and probably impolitic. I can see why the US would be anxious to restore order as quickly as possible; but I find it hard to believe there isn't a better way to do so. And, as so often, I don't understand why, given the likely political fallout as well as its inherent injustice, the US would do such a thing; I just don't understand at all.
One thing to look forward to, though: The Oxford Democracy Forum, of which I'm a proud member, has called for serious de-Baathification. Even now, I confidently predict that David, and Josh (if he's not too pre-occupied with his American tour), and Patrick are sharpening their long knives of rhetorical brilliance and (well, usually) tight logic to provide denunciations of this move far more cogent and persuasive than I can manage; I look forward to hearing from them on this.

A SWIPE AT OXBLOG: David Adesnik reports (permalink currently not working; the post is from Tuesday, 9:50 PM) that, according to the Chicago Tribune, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum was far less extensive -- only 38 valuable items taken -- than was originally reported. David says that, if this is true, he'll be 'pissed off' -- because the media just assumed, and reported, heavier losses.
Well, my response is a bit different from David's. IF this turns out to be true (and, so far, the only report on it I've heard of is that in the ChiTrib, which I haven't been able to read as it's only available to subscribers; the NY Times, WaPo, British broadsheet press, BBC, CNN, all don't have anything on it at this point; despite this, David seems to give the story a good deal of credence), I'll mainly just be very, very relieved, and happy for the people of Iraq and the world. Will I be irritated with the press for causing me, and so many other people, false anguish? Sure. But that doesn't seem to me to be the most important thing here.
I don't think that David's accusation that the media is hunting for American failures rather than reporting the news is fair. It seemed, from all the evidence available to it -- the wreckage of the museum, the testimony of the Museum's management and employees -- that a disastrous looting had occured; the media reported this. They may have jumped to conclusions too soon -- but it seems to me that so is David, by treating this early and isolated report in the Trib as almost conclusive. I think the media did probably jump to conclusions too quickly; that's one of the great problems with the speed of news reporting -- and the demand for speedy reporting -- that dominates news coverage today. And David seems to me to also be jumping to conclusions pretty quickly: though he does, rightly, begin by saying 'if this turns out to be true,' he then goes on to make his accusations against the media as if it WERE true.
Final criticism of David's post: he says, at the end, that it appears that those who stole the actual valuable were professional theives, not ordinary Iraqis going on a looting spree. Granting for the moment that this is true -- I don't know, but it seems plausible -- his conclusion from that -- "So you can't exactly hold the US armed forces responsible" -- seems to me not to follow at all. It would seem to me that the professional theives would've taken advantage of the same lack of security around the museum, the same chaos and lawlessness, as the looters; if the US had posted guards around, if not in, the museum, wouldn't they have been able to keep ALL the thieves out? Does OxBlog think so little of our armed forces, as to think they can't keep out a bunch of art thieves? This surely can't be. So, what gives with this argument?

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Amazing. I started that post ranting about Democratic failings, and I still ended on Republican ones. Wow.

Lack of Democratic Leadership:
OK, I just want to vent, “where is our leadership”!? Where are they hiding? Why can’t we find them? And, really, where have they been for the last 23 odd years of my odd life? I’ve never really felt like I had good leadership. I’m so young and idealistic, and I yearn to be led! Clinton was slick, but I rarely felt like he was providing “Leadership”. He seemed so poll driven and centrist on most issues. Now, I feel like we’ve got no one articulating a leftist vision (except maybe Krugman. Now, put Krugman in Hugh Jackman’s body and you’ve got the perfect man. But I digress. (Don’t worry, by next week there will be a new person whose mind belongs in Hugh Jackman. The Ideal mind changes, but the ideal body remains the same.))

I started writing about the failure of the Democratic Party to put forth a positive foreign policy / national security vision. Then I realized this stemmed from the disagreement within the party about issues like Iraq. Upon further reflection, it doesn’t seem like the Republicans have any REAL foreign policy vision. They used warlords to take out the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then they failed to take the necessary steps to restructure that country. They invaded Iraq on the flimsiest national security basis (no WMD, no threatening conventional army, no real terrorist ties). They have threatened Syria. They have blustered at North Korea and got them to start up their faster nuke program. They then blustered more at North Korea but now seem prepared to appease them. It’s unclear how they plan to rebuild Iraq. They have no plans beyond this point in fact. Democracy should bloom in Iraq and then throughout the Middle East. This new “Domino Theory” is questionable at best.
So, What is their policy, exactly? Beyond the Middle East, do they even have the semblance of one? They usually support lots of defense spending and they tend to enjoy wars where we win easy. Otherwise, they seem to lack and real vision (I’m talking about the Republican Party here, not the neocons, who I think are hardly representative of the Republican Party).

Now, I think the Republican lack of foreign policy becomes particularly obvious outside of the Middle East. We’ve heard a lot about spreading Democracy. BUT let’s look back for a second:
Look back at his administration’s reaction to the Venezuelan coup in 2002. When Chavez was forced from office in April of 2002, Bush supported the coup, as did many American newspapers: http://www.fair.org/press-releases/venezuela-editorials.html
Now, I don’t know a lot about Chavez, but NO ONE criticized him for political repression or other crimes of that nature. His failings were his divisiveness and poor performance economically. None of these strikes me as sufficient reason to support a coup against an elected president by military forces. Here Bush revealed a complete disrespect for Democracy and Constitutionalism.
Luckily, the coup didn’t stick, and Chavez returned to power. It was a close call, and Venezuela could have been plunged into a Civil War. The support of Washington MIGHT have made the difference in this course of events, and Bush’s move was to side with militarism over Democracy.
Is this Republican foreign policy at work? Where’s the Democracy blooming? Or is that a middle eastern thing?

GALLOWAY UPDATE: Anti-Gulf War MP George Galloway, who is currently suing the Telegraph Newspapers and Christian Science Monitor over their allegations that he received money from Saddam Hussein's government, has been expelled from the Labour Party -- not for his alleged ties to Saddam, but for his comments in an interview with Abu Dhabi TV in which he called on other Arab nations to join with Iraq in fighting the coalition, called Blair and Bush 'wolves', etc.
Galloway, of course, is livid with righteous indignation, claiming: “It really is grotesque that someone can be suspended from the party for speaking against a war.” Well, maybe; but I don't think so. I think that Galloway hasn't been suspended for speaking against the war - many other MPs from the Labour Party have done so, and nothing's happened to them. And I don't think he's been suspended as part of a big conspiracy to bring him down, between the Blair government, the Telegraph, the US intelligence forces, etc. I think he's been suspended, not for criticising the war, but because, in doing so, he also incited the whole Arab world to rise up -- and KILL HIS OWN NATION'S TROOPS. And I think that, if you encourage the killing of your own people, you might justly be deprived -- not of your right to voice your views -- but of your right to be a member of, and hold positions of power in, the ruling party or government.
Galloway enjoys playing the martyr; but let us not forget that, if his words had had effect, it would have been others -- the young British and American men and women fighting in the Gulf -- who would have lost their lives, not George; and it is they who risked, and in some cases lost, their lives, in toppling the oppressor of the Iraqi people, not George. Oh, no, never George.

HERMENEUTICS OF THE FORCE: As this somewhat silly set of photos convincingly suggests, Hans-Georg Gadamer, probably the greatest theorist of hermeneutics of the 20th century, looked an awful lot like a certain Jedi Master. See 4th photo from the bottom.
(In comparison, in the photo on the frontpage of the Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library, Berlin, pictured with his wife, looks like a fat, bespectacled turtle. Though he, too, had his vaguely Yoda-ish moments later in life.) (Josh Chafetz thinks the picture of Berlin on the cover of The Crooked Timber of Humanity looks like a gremlin. This I don't see. I think Josh is mis-interpreting things. Anyone who agrees with me is welcome to e-mail me expressing their support -- and e-mail Josh telling him he's crazy. Anyone who agrees with Josh can, well, bite me.) (Sorry; couldn't resist. I've had too much caffeine after too little sleep, I think.)

AGAIN WITH THE CONSPIRATORIAL CABAL OF STRAUSSIAN ADVISERS! An article by Sy Hersh, in the New Yorker, takes up the investigation of the reach into the current administration of the tentacles of Straussianism. Now, I'm not going to dispute Hersh's depiction of the circle of intelligence analysts whose baneful influence he describes; I don't know enough. It may be wholly accurate. But his treatment of Strauss isn't exactly reassuring. (More of my thoughts on Strauss in response to recent investigations into his influence can be found by clicking here.)
First of all, though I don't know this, I find it doubtful that Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky, a Pentagon adviser on whom the article focuses, really "received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972". First, I believe that by that point Strauss had left Chicago. Secondly, it suggests that Strauss was their doctoral adviser. Yet both men were scholars of international relations -- so are unlikely to have had a political theorist as their primary adviser. It's conceivable that he was on their committees, though I doubt even that; more likely, each took a few classes, at most, with him. [UPDATE: As I note in a later post, turns out I was half-wrong -- Shulsky did his graduate work on political philosophy, and did his MA and PhD with Strauss. Wolfowitz, though, didn't. And Strauss had left Chicago by 1972)
As for Strauss's alleged "tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership" -- well, as Hersh notes, Strauss didn't write about international relations. Strauss's few statements to this effect -- his praise of Churchill, for example -- arose out the onslaught against the free world by Nazism and, to a lesser extent, Communism; it was not, so far as I know, advanced as a view of the permanent nature of international order.
Hersh quotes two critics of Strauss, Robert Pippin and Stephen Holmes. Now, Pippin has written some very good things about Strauss, and is an acute and serious thinker; and what he says -- "“Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way” -- seems to me a pungent simplification for a layman, but not a gross distortion (so long as one adds that Strauss and his followers did NOT embrace the idea of monarchy -- so the talk of the 'King' here is distorting; Pippin should've used the Straussian term, 'statesman.') Holmes, on the other hand, has a sort of attack-dog approach to political philosophy; some of his work is very good indeed, but he tends to go overboard, and to be too uncharitable, with regards to those philosophers with whom he disagrees -- that is, all critics of the particular brand of modern liberalism to which Holmes, I think, subscribes. Holmes projects onto Strauss and his disciples the language of friend and enemy as describing the fundamental nature of political life. But this wasn't Strauss's view (I think) at all; it was that of Carl Schmitt, his sometime interlocutor and supporter, who became a sort of official legal philosopher of Nazism (and has been duly taken up and praised lately by -- radical Leftwing political theorists? Strange, but true). Holmes tends to see Strauss and Schmitt as basically in agreement, despite Strauss's professed disagreement; in holding this view, he echoes Strauss's less absurd (I'm not sure how much less absurd) claim about Hobbes and Locke. Ah, irony.
As for the one supporter of Strauss Hersh quotes -- Joseph Cropsey, Strauss's literary executor (who's also a staunch atheist who once declared that the model of 'democratic virtue' was Rosa Parks; fit that into your set of ideological preconceptions!), he says that Strauss's thought favours "prudence and sound judgment" in international affairs, not pre-emptive action (or, presumably, imperial over-reaching, though Cropsey doesn't say this.) Well, this sounds a bit unimpressive, but so far as I can tell, it's true. And who can object to prudence and sound judgment?
All of that said, Hersh does make one interesting point about Strauss -- lifted from Shulsky himself (along with a Straussian political scientist named Gary Schmitt): Strauss's close attention to detail, his skill at teasing out hidden meanings, actually provide a good model for an intelligence analyst; his exploration of duplicity is useful in confronting nations (such as the Soviet Union) that live on lies; and that his attention to the natures of regimes, and the impact they have on the character of their subjects, can illuminate our way of thinking about, and dealing with, hostile regimes and their subjects.
Well, this all seems to me at least partly true. All the usual cautions and caveats apply. It's important not to let philosophical preconceptions blind one to emergent realities. But, treated with proper caution and flexibility, the insights -- or, better, the suggestions and ideas -- that Strauss provides can be very useful to the statesman. If these ideas do harden into dogma -- and if certain Straussians within the government come to believe, as one official alleges they have, that intelligence supporting their view is there because it HAS to be there, well, that could well be a personal failing of intellectual discipline on their part, rather than a result of Strauss's sinister influence.
Hersh also notes the clannishness of the Straussians within the government, who according to the same former official, “reinforce each other because they’re the only friends they have, and they all work together." Well, maybe this tendency is reinforced by the suspicion and hostility directed towards Straussians -- a tendency articles like Hersh's exemplify.
UPDATE: Since writing the above I've had a chance to see an on-line interview with Hersh in connection with the article discussed above. The account that he gives of Strauss's influence in the interview still seems to me a little over-blown -- he claims that there are many Straussians in the government, but only cites three, one of whom -- Stephen Cambone -- I don't know anything about; he might be a Straussian, but if so that's news to me. Still, the rest of what Hersh says -- about how Strauss's ideas about esoteric writing and the role of deception in politics may've influenced Shulsky's approach, and this may've had an impact on policy -- sounds entirely reasonable and plausible to me. So, maybe I mis-interpreted the original article, and the fault lies not in Hersh himself, but in the larger tendency of conspiracy-mongering to which his article has, perhaps unwittingly, contributed. If so, mea culpa.

LIST OF SHAME: The following artists and intellectuals have signed a petition opposing US aggression (which at this point means criticism, though they claim it could lead to invasion) against Cuba, in the wake of Castro's latest crackdown on human rights. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

Álvarez, Federico
Flores Olea, Víctor
González Casanova, Pablo
Henestrosa, Andrés
Labastida, Jaime
León Portilla, Miguel
López y Rivas, Gilberto
Rojo, María
Sánchez Vázquez, Adolfo
Zea, Leopoldo

García Márquez, Gabriel
Gordimer, Nadine
Menchú, Rigoberta
Pérez Esquivel, Adolfo

Islam Khan, Uzman
Aharonian, Coriun
Aínsa, Fernando
Albert, Michael
Alday Torre, Francisco
Alegría, Claribel
Ali, Tareq
Alifano Benítez, Mercedes
Alleg, Henri
Allen, Chude
Amezcua Dromundo, Cuauhtemoc
Aquino, María Pilar
Argumedo, Arcira
Ariza, Raúl
Auer, Eduardo
Aznárez, Carlos
Baires, Miguel
Balmes, José
Barbieri, Patricia
Barbosa, Marilia
Barkham, David
Barros Valero, Cristina
Bauer, Tristan
Baxandall, Rosalyn
Belchaus, Günther
Belgrano Rawson, Eduardo
Bellafonte, Harry
Benedetti, Mario
Benedicto, René
Berg, Edgardo
Bertacani, Rina
Blum, William
Bonasso, Miguel
Borón, Atilio
Brisky, Norman
Brizuela, Leopoldo
Brodsky, Patricio A.
Brown, Roy
Buarque, Chico
Buenrrostro, Marco
Butazzoni, Fernando
Cabezas, Omar
Cabieses Donoso, Manuel
Calderón Sanchez de Rojas, Francisco
Callau, Manuel
Calloni, Stella
Camba, Alejandra
Beatriz Campione, Daniel
Carabeli, Julio
Carboni, Florence
Carcas, Sergio
Cardenal, Ernesto
Carvajal, Carlos
Carvalho, Beth
Casartelli, Mario
Castellanos Guerrero, Alicia
Castillo, Abelardo
Ceceña, Ana Esther
Celano, Héctor
Chomsky, Noam
Clark, Ramsey
Cockcroft, James
Correa, Angela
Couffon, Claude
Currie, Roberto
da Silva, Deonisio
de Abreu Figuereido, Vera
De Alencar, Francisco
de Bonafini, Hebe
de la Peña, María Dolores
De Mario, Ana
de Mauro, Martín
de Melo, Thiago
Declercq, Stefaan
Díaz Sarvide, Rodolfo
Dietrich Steffan, Heinz
Dorfman, Ariel
dos Santos, Theotonio
Du Boff, Richard B.
Dunbar Ortiz, Roxana
dÄlessio De Velarde, Rosa María
Eibenschutz, Caty
Ellis, Keith
Enrique Adoum, Jorge
Escudero Baltasar, Ana
Espinosa, Gervasio
Estrade, Paul
Etcheverry, Gerardo D.
Falbo, Bia
Feinmann, José Pablo
Ferreira Lobo, Elza
Figueredo, Mauricio
Franklin, Jane
Fridman, Cecilia
Gades, Antonio
Galeano, Eduardo
Gambina, Julio C.
García, Fernando
García, Santiago
Gasser, Michael
Gazzera, Carlos
Gebrim, Ricardo
Giardinelli, Mempo
Girardi, Giulio
Glover, Danny
Gnisci, Armando
González, Horacio
Harnecker, Marta
Heredia, Víctor
Herman, Edward S.
Hermida, Rodolfo
Herrero, Liliana
Hingey, Austin
Hoag Hope, Leslie
Hormigón, Juan Antonio
Huerta, Marcos
Iddia, Beitia
Iparraguirre, Sylvia
Izaguirre, Inés
Jinkings, Ivana
Jitrik, Noé
Jrapko, Alicia
Kajt, Beatriz
Kissinger, Charles
Kohan, Néstor
Korol, Claudia
Lajland, Beatriz
Lamparero, Felipe
Landau, Saul
Lebowitz, Michael
Lekensdorf, Carlos
Lekensdorf, Gudrun
Livingstong, Rodolfo
López Ewchagüe, Hernán
Lowy, Michael
Maestri, Mario Mamani,
Mamani Mancieri, José Luis
Marcano, Pablo
Mariaca Iturri, Guillermo
Mercado, Tununa
Mignogna, Eduardo
Miná, Gianni
Miró, Antonio
Mogollón, María Esther
Monteleone, Jorge
Morales Ramírez, Josefina
Muñoz, Diego
Navarrete González, Pancho
Niemeyer, Oscar
Núñez Montoto,
Norma Orozco, Efrén
Ortiz, Simón J.
Osorio, Nelson
Palacios, Beatriz
Pavlovsky, Eduardo
Pelliza, Alicia
Pérez, Hildebrando
Petras, James
Pinero, Mayté
Pixley, Jorge
Poerner, Arthur
Poumier, María
Prada Oropeza, Renato
Pussy, Dolly
Quilodrán, Fernando
Rajchenberg, Enrique
Randall, Margaret
Randazzo, Daniel
Ranis, Peter
Ribeiro, Rosa
Riccio, Alessandra
Rice, Nancy
Rivera, Daniel
Andrés Rivera, Danny
Robles, Rosa María
Rodrigues, Claufe
Rodrigues Filho, Nelson
Roig, Arturo Andrés
Ronconi, José L.
Rosenblum, Graciela
Rosset, Peter
Ruiz, Alberto Pablo
Russo, Miguel
Ryan, Tony
Saccomano, Guillermo
Sader, Emir
Salazar, Pedro
Sanjinés, Jorge
Sastre, Alfonso
Sbriller, Carlos
Scaglione, Matías
Segal, Louis
Sepúlveda, Luis
Solanas, Pino
Stantic, Lita
Stedile, Joao Pedro
Stuart, Alejandro
Szmukler, Beinusz
Teitelboim, Volodia
Urbano, Miguel
Valenzuela, Luisa
Vayo, Miguel
Vázquez, Inés
Vicente, Rosa
Vieira, Constanza
Viglietti, Daniel
Villar, Evaristo
Vivarelli, Piero
Willson, S. Brian
Zack, María José
Zamora, Daysi
Zamorano, Carlos
Zibechi, Raúl
Zúñiga, Rosa Elvira

Monday, May 05, 2003

FRANK MANUEL IS DEAD.* Manuel -- born in a Jewish immigrant community in Boston in 1910, and the recipient of a doctorate from Harvard in 1933 -- was one of the great intellectual historians of his day -- which is to say, the middle and later parts of the twentieth century. He wrote path-breaking studies of individual thinkers -- Comte Henri de Saint-Simon, Isaac Newton, Karl Marx -- many of which remain useful, and in some cases indispensable, to students 4 or 5 decades later (as I myself know, in the case of his Saint-Simon book); he also wrote, with his wife, one of the great works of American scholarship on the history of ideas, a big fat tome on the history of Utopian thought in the Western world; it is one of my prized posessions, and very unlikely to be superceded in the forseable future. He also pioneered the application of the resources of Freudian psycho-analysis to intellectual history; so far as I know, he did so more judiciously than many.
Manuel died April 23; I didn't realize this until I saw that The New Republic had published an obituary of him by his former student, Martin Peretz. This is only available online to subscribers (damn new New Republic online policy!); but I encourage anyone reading this to check it out on Lexis-Nexis, if you have acces to it. Peretz convey's Manuel's profound learning and insight -- and also his personal fearsomness. I know one academic who, on graduating from college, was considering studying intellectual history under Manuel, then at NYU. An interview with the great scholar was enough to drive the prospective disciple away, not only from Manuel and NYU, but from the historical profession entirely (and, indeed, ultimately into the hands of the Straussians -- see below -- but that's another matter). My friend wasn't the only one: Peretz himself wound up pursuing his doctorate, and teaching career, in Government rather than History, because Manuel told him that he'd never make a good historian -- his reading of texts was too shallow (an incident Peretz omits to mention in his obituary). But Peretz's account does make the man's rigour clear:
"Manuel, I will admit, taught a little by terror. It was the brave student who showed up in class not having done the prescribed reading. "Tell us, Mister Gordon," Manuel would suddenly thunder, "which of Fourier's typologies do you find most unrealistic, and why?" This is not the kind of challenge to which one could improvise a response. At ten after the hour, the class door was shut. No one could enter. "
Not to speak ill of the -- very really -- illustrious dead; but shutting doors, of any kind in any way, seems to me precisely what a good teacher shouldn't do.
Yet Manuel sounds like he was a good teacher; Peretz vividly remembers, and portrays, the professor, who lost a leg in World War II, in class:
"It may be that he actually had notes, but he was too restless to depend on them. He moved agilely around, on one leg and two braced crutches. He spoke in polished paragraphs, dense thought made vivid by a poetry of history--metaphoric, evocative, allusive, and always crammed with facts." Peretz also remembers Manuel as a politically conscious intellectual who, while not partisan in his work (though his master-work on Utopia is marked by a deep scepticism towards the ideals of its subjects -- an unsympathetic attitude which grows more noticeable the closer the book comes to the Manuels' own day, until it becomes positively contemptuous in its account of the counter-cultural communists of the 1960s), was aware of the tragedies and disasters of his time, and was ready to take a stand on them: he recalls the moment at a public meeting when, in the wake of the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (a watershed event for Western intellectuals), and his Brandeis colleague Herbert Marcuse's stupid declaration that "between the anti-communist revolutionaries favored by the CIA and the Soviet Red Army, he preferred the Red Army", Manuel "maneuvered his way up the stage and to the podium. He looked at the audience with his dark, penetrating eyes. He was silent for a time, and then he said, "I've come to tell you that a people can be crushed." '
The horrors of his day, as well as Manuel's own tough, clear-sighted, exacting character -- his intellectual integrity -- made him a stubborn sceptic. When Peretz asked Manuel -- whose teaching style was described by one colleague as 'rabbinic', and whom Peretz indeed, rightly, seems to have regarded as an acolyte regards his rebbe -- the secret of his wisdom, Manuel replied: "Be skeptical of enthusiasms, your own and those of others." Not the sort of words that are likely to inspire the young --or, indeed, the middle-aged or old. But wise words indeed. It is true that scepticism alone is not enough; that scepticism without passion and conviction becomes desicated and futile. But, on the other hand, the world has and will always suffer from a shortage, rather than a surfeit, of scepticism; and for true scholars, true intellectuals, those who care more about the truth than about happiness, or comfort, or convenience -- scepticism is a necessary, salutary discipline -- especially scepticism applied to them(our)selves; for one of the great lessons of intellectual history, of which Manuel was such a master, is that even the most brilliant thinkers and scholars have all too often exempted themselves from the insight, questioning, and criticism which they applied to others. Not so Manuel. In his works he practiced and conveyed, and in so doing advocated and taught, that saving scepticism which is one of the greatest gifts a thinking human being can bequeath. RIP.
*Anyone who can correctly identify the reference here will receive a free beverage of his/her choice, on me. Somehow or other.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

SPEAKING OF CABALS OF JEWISH ADVISORS (you know that, when you start off a post that way, it's a bad day): The NY Times Week in Review (influenced by this article, originally from Le Monde -- it's much better than the Times article, though badly translated) jumps on the 'the Straussians did it' bandwagon (contributions to the literature on how the disciples of the venerable Leo effectively made the war on Iraq are apparently in the works by Sy Hersh for the New Yorker and Sam Tannenhaus for Vanity Fair).
Whoo boy. This again. Here we go, on the topic of Strauss ...
But first, a declaration. As an undergraduate, I studied under one of the infamous Straussians, a wonderful scholar and teacher, with whom I became, and remain, good friends. I disagree pretty strongly with many of Strauss' claims as a political philsopher historian of political philosophy (though I'm sympathetic to some), find his methodology in some cases questionable, in others revelatory, and find the tendency of many of his students and students' students to become right-wing ideologues disturbing. But the man had one of the most penetrating, as well as learned, minds of the 20th century; the sheer intellectual power of his work is overwhelming, mesmerizing, puzzling, unsettling. He deserves to be taken, and studied, very seriously, and not for the putative impact of his teachings on US policy. But, it is not, naturally, with his ideas that the Times is most concerned. So, moving along.
First, there's the confusion between the terms 'Straussian' and 'neo-conservative'. These have, of late, often been conflated. Now, many Straussians are best categorized, politically, as neo-cons; and many of today's most prominent neo-con intellectuals are Straussians -- such as Bill Kristol -- or influenced by Strauss and his students. HOWEVER, neo-conservatism and Straussianism are historically distinct. Neo-conservatism has become a pretty confused term, since today's neo-cons -- call them 2nd-generation neo-cons -- differ quite a bit from the movement's original position. The original neo-cons were Cold War liberals who became sceptical of the efficacy of the welfare state, and were appalled by the student revolts and social upheavals of the '60s. Over time, some of them drifted ever-further right, becoming Reaganites and fathers (often quite literally) of the current crop of neo-cons (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and their respective consorts, Gertrude Himmelfarb (aka Bea Kristol) and Midge Decter); others, as appalled by Reagan's radicalism as by McGovern's, remained within the Democratic Party and became largely indistinguishable from other moderate liberals (Dan Bell, Pat Moynihan); some remained somewhere in the middle (Nat Glazer).
But none of these people were Straussians. Irving Kristol was somewhat sympathetic to Strauss, perhaps; but it was his son Bill, and other students of Strauss's disciples (Harvey Mansfield, who taught Bill Kristol at Harvard, and Allan Bloom, who was Wolfowitz's teacher at Cornell), who came under the influence of Strauss's teachings. These students of students spread an admiration for Strauss's work to their ideological comrades in the neo-conservative movement; and, Strauss being the mesmerizing thinker that he is, many neo-cons developed an admiration for him. But few really became 'Straussians' -- few really plumbed the depths of Strauss's writings, or became preoccupied with his dominant concerns, or adopted his distinctive, often peculiar vocabulary (the use of which is the surest sign of a genuine Straussian -- or, at least, someone trying to be a genuine Straussian). Few, too, became enwrapped in the often cultish world of interpretation of and argument over the Master's true teachings which, for a time at least, dominated -- and damaged -- Straussian intellectual life (though in recent years this seems to have gotten better - now the interpretation of Strauss's own thought can actually be explicitly discussed, even in print!)
The Times identifies Wolfowitz’s and Perle’s mentor, Albert Wohlstetter, as a Straussian; but, so far as I know, while Wohlstetter’s thinking had some affinities with Strauss’s – and while both had originally trained as mathematicians (ditto Wolfowitz) – Wohlstetter was not a Straussian (as the Le Monde article asserts. When the NY Times starts seeing conspiratorial connections between American Jewish intellectuals that Le Monde explicitly refutes, you know things are getting weird) . Nor are either Richard or Daniel Pipes, both of whom Le Monde names as neo-cons. Neo-cons, yes; Straussians, no. What all of them have in common, along with many of the other neo-cons, is that all are Jewish, and were/are either themselves immigrants from Europe (‘Old Europe’, one might say), or the children of immigrants. But this does not, in itself, a unified ideology make. (Others are lumped in who are neither Jewish, nor Straussian: Andrew Sullivan, for example, also named by Le Monde. Now, as one might expect from a grad student of Mansfield’s, Sullivan’s read Strauss, and is sympathetic; but being influenced by reading Strauss, and being an actual Straussian, are two different things. So far as I can tell, Sullivan is no more of a Straussian than I am – though he is more of a neo-conservative). (Also, very strangely, neither article makes any mention of one of the few died-in-the-wool Straussians, aside from Wolfowitz, to be embraced by the Bush administration -- bio-ethicist Leon Kass)
The Times, like Le Monde, also doesn’t mention the ‘Claremont Straussians’, who for a time were carrying on a civil war for Strauss’s mantle with the Chicago-Cornell-Harvard affiliated Straussians. The Claremont camp tends to be more ideologically purist; it’s capo is Harry Jaffa, a distinguished scholar of American political thought who was a speechwriter to Barry Goldwater during his ill-fated presidential campaign. And while the le Monde article notes the curious bond between Strauss and the great French intellectual Raymond Aron, neither article fully explores the various strains of philosophical cross-breeding between Strauss and his philosophical peers in the work of their common disciples (the le Monde article quotes a number of French Aronian-Straussians, such as Pierre Hassner and Pierre Manent – no doubt because they’re among the few French thinkers who know and respect Strauss’s work; but it doesn’t explore how Manent, for instance, has developed his own thought in drawing from both Strauss and Aron – nor does it explore the influence of Strauss, along with Arendt, Berlin, Rousseau, and Montaigne [!!!] on Tzetvan Todorov. The Times mentions Francis Fukuyama, but doesn’t explain that Fukuyama’s idea of ‘the End of History’ drew more from the thought of Alexandre Kojeve, a Russian-born French Hegelian philosopher and bureaucrat [and, according to recent revelations, Soviet agent] who corresponded with Strauss, and whose thought was admired and transmitted to America by Strauss’s disciple, and Fukuyama’s, teacher, Allan Bloom.)
As for Strauss himself: his erudition was indeed immense, but tended to center on Medieval Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophy, and not on scripture, as the Le Monde article says (indeed, the difference between the study of Scripture, or revelation, and the project of philosophy, based, even in its Medieval, doctrinal forms, on reason, was a central theme of Strauss’s work) The Le Monde article, unlike the Times article, offers a decent account of at least some aspects of Strauss’s thought – his critique of modernity, which stemmed from his attempt to understand why the Weimar Republic collapsed, and totalitarianism – in the form of both Nazism and Communism – came to power; and his ambivalent and complicated embrace of liberal, constitutional democracy as the best of modern regimes – that is, the one most conducive to allowing for, if not inspiring, the search for the truth and the good.
One very important difference – noted by both articles, though really only adequately articulated in the le Monde article – between Strauss (and, in their different way, the original neo-cons), and the current neo-cons, is the tendency towards an optimistic, and even eschatological, vision on the part of so many of today's more prominent neo-cons. Strauss was a world apart from the early neo-cons, many of whom were social scientists (the critique of modern social science was one of Strauss's most central concerns; and the critique that he offered, one of his greatest achievments); but both were distinguished by their deep pessimism (not to be confused with nihilism, which Strauss devoted his career to attacking). Strauss’s view of modern democracy and liberalism appears deeply ambivalent, and is often expressed ambiguously – enough so that some scholars (Stephen Holmes, John McCormick) have accused him of being a fundamentally anti-liberal thinker, not so far removed, philosophically, from the Nazis whom he fled. This seems to me a somewhat hysterical and ungenerous view; but it does at least reflect the fact that Strauss was no liberal-democratic fundamentalist, unlike some present-day neo-con intellectuals (of course, there are probably some Leftists who regard the neo-cons as fascistic, too).
Indeed, Strauss was, in his writings, above all a sceptic, a Socratic gadfly who was concerned with asking provoking, difficult questions. What distinguished Strauss from many other sceptics of his day was that he seems to have believed in, and cared about, virtue; and directed his questioning to strengthening virtue, rather than undermining it – in large part by seeking to undermine those he regarded as the underminers. But a sceptic he remained, trying to test assumptions and counter-assumptions alike, in order to inspire his readers -- or at some of them -- to search towards the truth of things; but also in order to make them realize how difficult this search for the truth was. The embrace if intellectual complexity and strenuous philosophical searching are not exactly things one associates with the Bush White House.
Strauss also emphasized that one of the great errors of modernity was the faith that human beings could, through an assertion of will, overcome nature and fortune; Strauss, while far from existentialism in most ways, shared in its insistence on human limitation. Strauss might therefore believe that the war on Iraq was morally justified – and I doubt he’d have had that much patience for talk of the legal authority of the UN – and the term ‘regime change’ might have been music to his ears, with it’s invocation of classical theories concerning the nature of regimes. However, I think Strauss would’ve been rather more cautious than some contemporary neo-con publicists. But this is, perhaps, the difference between a philosopher, and intellectuals or would-be statesmen.
(If the reader cares to inquire further into the nature of Strauss’s teachings, and the world of his students, there is an excellent, and somewhat frightening, web-site devoted to Strauss and the Straussians -- straussian.net (!); it is particularly helpful for its fairly comprehensive listing of Straussians, as well as links to many articles dealing both with Strauss’s thought, and his influence and relationship to the neo-conservative movement.
ADDENDUM: Hm. It appears that the Straussians are actually leftist social-democrats -- as well as agents of Israel. Naturally they are, being Jews. More pearls of wisdom from lewrockwell.com.

DALYELL, CONT'D: Just who is this Tam Dalyell guy, you might ask? Well, I did, anyway.
Well, the gentleman for Linlithgow, in contrast to his friend George Galloway (whom Dalyell seems not to resemble in having a long record of either speaking out against human rights abuses in Iraq, or later mysteriously embracing Saddam Hussein), comes from a comfy background -- a hereditary baronet, he was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. The dominating preoccupations of his Parliamentary career -- one might almost say obsessions -- have been Lockerbie (investigate), Libya and Iraq (lift sanctions, don't attack), and the Balkans (leave poor Serbia alone!) He also voted for an all-appointed, as opposed to an elected, House of Lords; so, not an opponent of Labour Government (or any Government) power, then. HE voted against lowering the age of consent for gay sex to be equal to that for heterosexual sex; on the other hand, he also voted to allow gays and un-married couples to adopt children -- so good for him on that, at least. Also opposed war with Afghanistan, and is pro-Europe (and pro-fox-hunting). So, he's generally opposed the government from the Left, and gone along with some, but not all, of its more socially progressive measures -- though he also seems to have voted against an attempt to keep the government from lowering benefits for single parents, which is an odd thing for a Left-wing maverick to do. The fiercely indepedent Dalyell has been called a pacifist, though the ex-serviceman denies this. He seems to generally exhibit an independence (not to say eccentricity) of judgment, and a stubborn outspokeness, typical of Britain's tradition of public-spirited, self-assured -- and indeed, rather heavy-handed -- aristocratic rebels. He also seems to have acquired some of the legendary boorishness of his former boos, Labour politician Richard Crossman (who was once called, by a former colleague from his days as a fellow at New College, Oxford, a 'left-wing Nazi' -- that is, someone who was in love with brute power).
So, hero, or bore? Perhaps a bit of both. One must certainly respect Dalyell's courage, independence, and dedication to what he judges to be right. One just wishes that his judgment were a bit sounder and more reliable -- and kept him away from, say, conspiracy theories of Jewish power.

Cool Fact: Dalyell shares his name with a 17th century ancestor, an ardent Scottish monarchist who seems to have been just as bloody-minded as his descendant -- and a great deal more bloody-handed.

A WEASEL SCOT*:(Courtesy of Patrick at OxBlog) Apparently having run out of things to say in support of his good chum George Galloway, Labour MP (and fierce opponent of the war on Iraq) Tam Dalyell has accused the PM of being unduly influenced by a 'cabal' of Jewish advisors (he named three. One is named Levy -- ok, it's a fair cop, guvnor. Another, Peter Mandelson, has a Jewish father, but doesn't consider himself, and wasn't raised, Jewish. The third, Jack Straw, has a Jewish grandparent apparently -- so he'd be Jewish under the Nuremburg Laws I suppose. Which seems to be the measure that Dalyell is using? Am I the only one who finds that disturbing?)
Dalyell has since defended himself by saying that he was merely being 'candid'. Many have scoffed at this (including Patrick) But we ought not. I'm sure that Dalyell was being candid, and we should all be very grateful to him. For he has had the courage -- and the self-righteous foolhardiness -- to say what I suspect many think. At the same time, we should condemn his statement -- and him. For his accusations of the control of US and British foreign policy by a Jewish cabal not only reflects a poisonous mindset; it also appeals to a similar toxicity in others -- and makes that toxicity seem more acceptable. Let's make no mistake: Dalyell, sincerely or not, was using an age-old libel against the Jews to attack a policy that he opposes.
This does raise an interesting question: are Left-wing ideologues such as Dalyell influenced by anti-Semitism; or do they appeal to anti-Semitism in order to win people to their agenda? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Either way, the egg's rotten, the chicken diseased; we should scorn both.
As for Tony Blair: far from being controlled by a group of Jewish plotters, he seems to be driven by his own, very personal, and very decidedly Christian, faith. I've long thought Blair a crypto-Catholic, actually ; but, given the Pope's opposition to the war, one can hardly say that the Vatican has any control over British policy. No: Blair is, as they say, his own man; his stance in urging, and then going to, war echoed and drew its strength from Martin Luther's immortal declaration before the Church, 'Here I stand; I can do no other.' I do not, I need hardly say, share Mr. Blair's faith; and I'm not sure if the strength it gives him has been well-directed, or not (though I will say that his faith seems to me more honourable, more representative of what faith should be -- humbler, more self-questioning, more contemplative -- than the smug piety of certain American politicians. Such as, oh, say, George W ....) But I do respect Blair's adherence to conviction -- all the more so because he is able to hold firm without descending into hatred and bigotry towards those with whom he disagrees. Something which Mr. Dalyell would do well to learn from.

*DISCLAIMER: I mean no offense to the Scots -- a fine people, from all that I've seen. And, in both their history of oppression -- albeit shorter and less catastrophic -- and tendency to disproportionately rise to positions of power in the worlds of business, intellectual life, and politics, not unlike the Jews.

MORE ON THE PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI CONFLICT. Anatol Lieven’s essay on the responsibility of liberal Jews (especially if they are American and intellectuals) to speak up against Israeli policy (and American support for Israeli policy) towards the Palestinians is deeply irksome and frustrating. This is not because Lieven is wrong, not because he is blind or bigoted or unjust. It is because he makes enough good points for one to wish to be able to agree with him more whole-heartedly – and wish that he had written a different article than he has; and because he has, in fact, written the article he has, has sprinkled it with dubious arguments and still more dubious rhetorical assertions, and has chosen to focus on a central thesis which seems unhelpful, a bit unfair, and possibly a bit dangerous.
I agree with much of Lieven’ opening analysis of the dangers facing the US during the occupation of Iraq (note that this was written while the war was still in progress) -- though I’m hanged if I know what he means by “the military frivolity and the racist arrogance with which it has been planned by the US administration” If by ‘racist arrogance’ he means the assumption that Iraqis would welcome the US with open arms, then he may have a point on the arrogance, but the claim that this arrogance was due to racism, as opposed to an under-estimation of how much the US was distrusted and how powerful Saddam’s grip of terror was, seems to me dubious – and Lieven weakens the persuasiveness of his argument by making it. As for ‘military frivolity’, many of us believed, with considerable alarm, that the planners of the war had made a serious miscalculation in laying their plans, and that things were going to turn nasty, at some point during the war; yet the war proved to be nearly as quick as many hawks predicted, and if somewhat bloodier, not much. Frivolity? Again, who’s to say; with whatever mood the DOD and CentCom approached the war, it seems to have served them reasonably well, at least in the short-term.
Lieven predicts an understandable rebellion of British pride at having to make “sacrifices for US and Israeli strategies over which Britain has no say”. But Britain did have say over US policy—Blair was able to get the Bush administration, against its inclinations, to try to go through the UN in prosecuting war on Saddam (and look how well that turned out for all concerned …). And I don’t really see what sacrifices Britain has made for Israeli strategies. Unless that means Britain’s participation in the war? Oh, right, the war was the work of a Jewish – er, I mean Right-wing Zionist – er, I mean ‘neo-conservative -- conspiracy – so Israeli strategy. Since we all know that US and Israeli strategy is one, and mutually agreed on. Ah-hah.
I have no reason to assume that Lieven meant to convey this; but I suspect he did convey this to much of his audience, and that the effectiveness of his argument is increased by this belief. Which I find a bit problematic. Also, should Britain’s offended pride really be all that large a factor in determining policy?
A tangent, though I think a significant one: when did nations suddenly become, not just individuals, but 8-year-old ones? It seems like an awful lot of recent diplomatic fracas have been motivated by wounded pride. The current US leadership is offended by, and does its (very effective) best to offend France, Russia, Germany, etc. And we’ve seen what ‘pride’ – really a murderous belief in one’s own virtue and victimization and the invalidity of one’s opponents claims to a scrap of respect or consideration – has done in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Britain thus far is practically the only nation involved in all these debacles that hasn’t at some point declared that it was picking up its marbles, and going home – and done so. If the British decide that they’re going to do so, it will diminish their very real cause for pride, even if it enhances their illusory sense of it.
Anyway, Lieven argues that a change of American policy – which means, getting America to apply more pressure to Israel (to do what? Lieven, incredibly, doesn’t really say. This is, well, a very weird oversight) “would have to mean first and foremost active support for Powell or his successors by Jewish Americans and, above all, Jewish liberal intellectuals, politicians and journalists, encouraged by those of Britain.” (Why encouraged by those of Britain? Again, Lieven doesn’t explain.) According to Lieven, only such liberal Jews “are in a position to fight the nationalist right in the Israeli lobby from a standpoint of unquestionable loyalty to Israel … [and] finally get US policymakers to focus on the disastrous role of the Jewish settlements in radicalising ordinary Palestinians. “
Well, gee. It’s nice to feel so important.
Lieven of course has a good point here. Indeed, I very nearly wholly agree with him that liberal Jews, who do care about both Israel, and the causes of peace and justice, have a responsibility to criticize unjust or unwise Israeli policies in the name of Israel’s real interests, and true responsibilities. I don’t think Jewish intellectuals have any greater responsibility to speak up for responsible and just policies with regards to Israel, and I don’t see why they should be expected to lead the way; but it is true that they – or we, perhaps I should say – are particularly well placed to argue that support for Israel, and support for the policies of the Likud hard-right, are not identical.
But I’m not sure exactly what Lieven is hoping to effect through this declaration. As he acknowledges, “By far the most cogent and determined critique of Israeli policies has, in fact, been mounted by Jewish intellectuals (often Israeli)” in the NY Review of Books (which Lieven cites), Dissent (which he doesn’t), and elsewhere. Indeed; these are in fact among the best sources for intelligent and responsible commentary on the what one of the best of these intellectuals, Michael Walzer, has called the wars of Israel-Palestine. So, liberal Jewish intellectuals ARE doing their job. What’s Lieven’s problem?
It is that, apparently, these intellectuals “remain a distinct minority. The wider Jewish liberal community has tended to lapse into silence, or even to defend Sharon.” Lieven doesn’t really offer evidence for this – again. He doesn’t cite any examples of the “Jewish liberal community” embracing Sharon. It’s true that the “liberal Jewish community” as a whole hasn’t spoken out loudly condemning the settlements or Sharon’s methods of putting down Palestinian violence. Well, what community has spoken with unanimity on such deeply divisive issues? To expect such unanimity of the Jewish community, above all, with it’s traditions of decentralization, diversity, and, indeed, quarrelsomeness and ambivalence (‘two Jews, three opinions’ ‘Two Jews are marooned on an island. When they are discovered there years later by a passing ship, it’s been discovered that they’ve built 3 synagogues – one for one, one for the other, and one to be the synagogue that neither of them goes to.’) is particularly odd. Lieven argues that there is a duty for liberal Jews to express their opinions politically – by which I assume he means, broadcasting them. Well, I’m not sure if every individual does have a duty to express his or her opinions politically – this seems an uncomfortable doctrine. But why should liberal American Jews be singled out to do so? How about a call for liberal-minded, moderate Arab intellectuals –and others – to speak out in favour of recognizing Israel’s right to exist in those Arab nations that support Palestinian terrorism? Surely they, too, have a responsibility? (Of course, this assumes that they actually believe that Arab support for Palestinian terrorism, and opposition to the existence of Israel, are wrong. Which I hope they do. But I’m not sure. And what does that tell us?)
As for the linkage of the demonisation of Arabs and Europeans to uncritical US support for Israel – well, maybe. But I think this demonisation has a good deal to do with the fact that many Arabs and Europeans tend to demonise Israel – and America. Who calls whom the ‘Great Satan’? Is there a ‘Protocols of the Council of the Elders of Palestine’? This is not to say that one side is guilty, and the other innocent. It is to say that Lieven probably exaggerates how much overly-indulgent support for Israel is responsible for certain pathologies of US policy and sentiment – and makes too little of how much damage European and Arab attitudes to the US and to Israel do to the cause of Palestinian independence.
But, let me give Lieven his due here. He does make a valid point that many in the US are too quickly dismissive, or fearful, of the sentiments and perspectives of Arabs. And he is surely right that the hard-Right variant of Zionism, in part through its stomach-churning alliance with the Christian far-right, has been a formidable, and despicable, force for fighting against efforts to use America’s leverage to push Israel towards fairer and more pacific policies.
With most of the rest of Lieven’s arguments – the final third or so of his essay, I’d say – I have no, or very little, argument. But I would have been much less uncomfortable with his argument if it were less concentrated on arguing that liberal Jews should bear an especially heavy burden of responsibility – and if it had failed to discuss the responsibility of others (especially of those European nations – and the influential liberal intellectuals within them – who have made a habit of condemning Israel and supporting the cause of the Palestinians in their words, but have done nothing to try to bring the two sides together, or attempt to convince them to embrace a more just and generous attitude towards one another). Nor do I share Lieven’s apparent view that liberal Jewish intellectuals have so much power, and thus such particularly heavy responsibility.
Their – our – responsibility is no different from that of any other intellectuals – or any other human beings: to seek the truth, and speak it so far as we think we’ve attained it; to stand up and fight for what we think just and right, while remaining open to the arguments of others, and the possibility that we may be wrong. Thus far, I don’t think liberal Jews have done a better or worse job of doing this than any other group of individuals; we have no reason for complacency, no excuse for compliance with what we know to be wrong; but we have nothing, as a group, to feel ashamed of either.
As individuals, on the other hand, we no doubt all have plenty to feel ashamed of – not all or most of it necessarily related to Israel/Palestine. When all Jews and Palestinians, Europeans and Americans, judge, and are judged, as individuals, then maybe we’ll get somewhere. However, when even decent European liberal intellectuals such as Lieven judge, or give the appearance, of judging Jews as a collective – well, we’re in bad shape indeed.

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