Saturday, November 08, 2003

MARXISTS POLL: Suggested by Norm Geras's suggestion that a certain Russian revolutionary whose birthday it is was 'one of the top three Marxists of all time' (my Norm likes his rankings), as well as Norm's frequent surveys of his readers, I've decided to run a little poll for the top five Marxists of all time. This is, I admit, in part to see how many people actual read my blog; but, mainly, I'm curious. (For the purposes of this contest, Karl 'I am not a Marxist' Marx doesn't count; anyone else who has claimed to be a follower of his does).
So, e-mail me at the address on sidebar of this page with a numbered list, 1 being the top, of Marxists -- please. The contest will go until, well, I get sufficient responses, or realize that no-one reads this page and give up. But sooner is better.
ADDENDUM: One astute reader has pointed out to me that the request for a list of 'top Marxists' is somewhat vague. To clarify: by 'Marxists' I mean both theoreticians, and activists; both those who remained fairly close to Marx's own views, or what seem to be his views, and those who, while claiming to be Marxists, strayed very far indeed from his views (e.g. most actual Communists to achieve power). As for 'top', that's up to you -- it can either be the 5 Marxists you think objectively 'top' -- the most important, or effective, or distinguished, or those who you consider subjectively 'top' -- i.e. your personal favourites.
ADDENDUM II: Norm Geras, in addition to kindly linking to this poll, correctly surmises that the poll also excludes Groucho (as well as Harpo -- the political philosopher and genuine Leftist of the family -- and Groucho's disciples, such as Woody Allen). This is for the same reason that Karl is excluded: if either were included, they'd obviously take up first and second place (though which one would get which would be interesting to see. My vote would be for Groucho, but then I'm a bourgeois liberal at heart...)
Thanks to both Norm and Chris Brooke for the linkage.
UPDATE: In good Marxist fashion, this poll has already provoked internal dissension and, indeed, attack -- in this case directed by one English, Oxford-educated Rousseau scholar named Chris against another, as Chris Bertram takes Chris Brooke to task for his Euro-weenie-ish penchant for Frankfurt-school theorists (or Frankfurters, as I like to call them. This is a penchant that I largely share, as will become clear when I reveal my own picks, after all the results are in. But then, I'm not myself a Marxist, nor even a real socialist, so my preferences can perhaps be understood, if not excused, and discounted by the genuine faithful ...)
For those interested in how things are going, so far the most popular picks (I won't say how popular) are Trotsky, Lenin, and Luxembourg, with Gramsci a ways behind and Marcuse and Ernest Mandel making surprisingly good showings (not to try to sway responses or tinker with the results, but: people, if Marcuse winds up being the most popular Frankfurter, I'm going to be distressed ...). As far as the respondents (whose selections I won't publicise) so far, two hold appointments at the fine University at which I currently study, and five have their own blogs. Thus far the focus seems to be on theorists, rather than political activists (to the extent that the two can be distinguished in the case of an intellectual-political movement devoted to the unity of theory and practice) - so figures who were politically extremely important to the development of Marxism (even if that influence was wholly negative), but who made scant lasting theoretical contributions, haven't shown up (no Stalin, no Castro, no Pol Pot, no Ho Chi Minh, very little Che or Mao).
Also related to this, the '60s Western Leftist fad for third-world revolutionary leaders hasn't been much represented: Che may still grace many a dormroom wall, but he and his Latin American comrades, as well as their Asian and African analogues, haven't made much of a showing. I don't know whether this reflects a larger change, or the readership of this, and other, blogs.
One thing remains constant, though: so far the Mensheviks are still in the dustheap of history where they were consigned way back in 1917. (So it would seem Chris Bertram is indeed right: Trotsky really has made a decisive theoretical difference. Ah well.)
ADDENDUM III (This is getting ridiculous ...) It occurs to me that part of what may be behind the difference of opinion between the two Chris B's is a certain misunderstanding deriving from the vagueness of the poll topic. Chris Bertram seems to have interpreted the poll as for the GREATEST Marxists. However, by saying 'Top Marxists', I meant to encompass both lists of the 5 greatest, or most important, Marxists, and lists of people's five FAVOURITE Marxists. Chris Bertram's list makes good sense as a response to the first possible meaning, Chris Brookes as a response to the second (it also makes sense as a response, albeit in my opinion a sometimes quite arguable one, to a poll for the top 5 Marxist PHILOSOPHERS or theoreticians).
Of course, some might say that making lists of one's favourite Marxists as opposed to the greatest ones is a silly, useless waste of times, a hoplessly subjective undertaking that ignores the primacy of historical effectiveness and celebrates a romantic, and thus unrealistic and unhistorical, view of human worth.
If one did, one would be a good Marxist (at least on one reading of Marx, which I rather favour, but many of my respondents probably don't). However, this is a bourgeois-liberal-subjectivist-romantic site, so expressions of personal liking are also permitted, indeed welcomed.
Anyway, there's currently a terrific big debate going on in the comments section of Chris Bertram's post at Crooked Timber, to which I've contributed, and where the Mensheviks and Revisionists are finally having their day -- go check it out!
FINAL UPDATE: Results now in!

Friday, November 07, 2003

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, FROM INSIDE IRAQ: This piece, by a returning Iraqi exile, offers what seems to me a compellingly and credibly mixed picture of the state of things in Iraq. On the one hand, the initial tide of anarchy does seem to be subsiding, some insitutions of civil society are beginning to emerge from the rubble, and the Iraqi people do seem to accept, and even desire, the continued and long-term presence of the US. On the other hand, they don't seem to be terribly trusting or fond of the US troops, and tribalism and religious fundamentalism seem to be rising as political forces. And, of course, the place is teeming with terrorists. That, at least, is the impression I got reading it. But you should really read it for yourself.

BRAVO, JOSH!!! No, it's not self-congratulation day here at Sitting on a Fence. The Josh in question is OxBlogger and fellow-OxDemer Josh Chafetz, who spoke last night at the Oxford Union against the proposition "This House believes that we are losing the Peace [in Iraq]." Josh had about 24 hours notice or so to prepare, and was up against two MPs, including Tam Dalyell, who is I believe the longest-sitting MP, and a noted anti-war firebrand.
As both Josh and our friend Steve Sachs note, Josh trounced the motion handily, despite short notice, big-gun opposition, a rising death-toll in Iraq, and the far from rabidly pro-war mood of Oxford University. He even won warm plaudits from Dalyell himself, who proclaimed Josh's speech the best prepared speech he had heard over his 17 appearances at the OU.
I must admit, I was afraid that Josh was going to get torn apart by a couple of practiced and rabid rhetoricians and a hostile house. This should be a reminder to me never to underestimate the remarkable Mr. Chafetz (Josh has also posted the text of his speech at OxBlog; and it is certainly one of the best, if not the best, statement I've seen in favour of, not sunny and groundless optimism to be sure, but for hope, perserverence, and caution of judgment against despair.)
Well done, Josh. I owe you a drink one of these days.

ARE THE DEMOCRACY DOMINOES FALLING YET? Chris Bertram has a very good post up over at Crooked Timber on the (thus far) fouled-up occupation of Iraq. Chris, and most of the contributors to the comment thread, express the justified anger of those (this blogger included) who either supported the war (however worriedly), or at least retained an open mind and hoped that something good might come out of it -- and who, as Chris rightly observes, should be all the more angry at the Bush administration's mishandling of it.
I don't have anything to add to Chris's excellent piece. I do just want to say a couple of words for myself, though. First, I think that the Bush Administration's misleading and often incoherent rationale for the war and incompetent and, thus far, deeply costly in terms of human life handling of the war and subsequent occupation hurts more than the troops currently stationed in Iraq and the many Iraqis who have lost their lives or been subjected to crime since their liberation (which was, indeed, a genuine liberation -- a fact we should remember and rejoice at, but which is hard to simply rejoice at when one considers the cost the Iraqi people have had to pay for their liberty -- a cost which the US could have done more, I believe, to minimize). It has also utterly undermined the US's credibility in the eyes of many of our allies (and not just raving leftist anti-American Euro-weenies, contra what the American right might think; there are lots of reasonable and moderate and not unfriendly people here who really don't like the US's behaviour right now). And it has deeply damaged the cause and the promise of humanitarian intervention and a genuinely muscular enforcement of international norms of human rights in the eyes of many who would like to believe that such a course is possible, but who, seeing the hash the Bush Administration has made of it, have begun to doubt the very possibility of using military intervention to liberate peoples and prevent disaster. Including this blogger.
Indeed, I feel like, thus far, the lesson I'm likely to take away from all of this is one of distrust -- not to trust the hopes of my neo-con, interventionist friends, and not to trust the promises or competence of Bush and his minions (or to trust them even less than I was willing to do before). I feel like this whole exercise could, if the situation isn't turned around, have a similar effect on me and at least some members of my generation as Vietnam* had on our parents: to make us distrustful of the government and averse to foreign intervention, and generally pessimistic about the US's ability to make the world a better place. This is, obviously, far from a bad lesson; and these are conclusions that the Bush Administration has made all too plausible.
But I do regret it. I think that the 'Vietnam syndrome' hampered us and prevented us from doing necessary and potentially very good things -- that it instilled or justified moral cowardice and the abandonment of many peoples, such as the Bosniacs and Tutsis, to their awful faits. I was very glad when it seemed like we were moving beyond it, in Kosovo and Afghanistan. And now I fear that we'll be overtaken by it again. And those of us who do favour the idea of the US promoting democracy and protecting human rights through military force may have no-one to blame but ourselves -- no-one, that is, except for the over-confident, cavalier clowns in the White House.
*Lest I be accused of falling into the fallacy of the Vietnam-Iraq analogy, let me make it clear that I'm making no such claim. I think that it was a mistake to get involved in Vietnam in the first place, and that the war couldn't have turned out well; it was not merely a matter of poor execution, it was a basic mistake (contra the revisionism of Michael Lind et.al.). I'm not so sure about Iraq. It may've just been a mistake; and it may have been impossible to pull off any better than it has been. But I, perhaps with a stubborn lack of realism, continue to think both that the war to remove Saddam was justified, and that it could have been handled better. The most significant difference though is that, while some wise observers at the time recognized that pulling out of Vietnam would involve terrible costs and injustices, withdrawal was ultimately the right thing to do, and no other course was really tenable. In this case, the opposite seems to me to be true.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

SAGE WINS PRIZE: The Library of Congress has awarded the Kluge Prize in the Humanities to Leszek Kolakowski. The Library could not have made a better choice. Kolakowski -- now a fellow at All Souls, previously a professor on the Committee for Social Thought at Chicago, and before that a professor in the famed History of Philosophy unit at Warsaw, until he was expelled for heresy (in effect) in 1968 -- is a wide-ranging thinker, a distinguished scholar who's master-work is probably the monumental and magestrial Main Currents of Marxism, but who has also written important works on myth and religion, early modern philosophy, the philosophical problem of modernity, among other topics, as well as many witty and profound essays (one of my favourites being a political credo called 'How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist'). He can also claim to have been, over the course of his life, a soldier in the cause of human liberty (to paraphrase Heine's proud claim for himself), having been a precursor, mentor, and supporter of the Polish dissident movement which eventually gave rise to Solidarity and did so much to topple Soviet Communism. A great man; and a good decision on the part of the L of C.
UPDATE: It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this blog that Brian Leiter (as quoted by Jacob Levy at Volokh) disagrees with the judgment above. There's not much I can say in argument, really; indeed, the above will no doubt confirm Prof. Leiter in his opinion of both my, and Kolakowski's, lack of merit (on the other hand, to be included in the same category as Kolakowski -- even if it happens to only be on the list of those Brian Leiter doesn't particularly respect -- is one of the greater honours I can think of.) But, I'll still say something.
First, Prof. Leiter objects that Kolakowski doesn't deserve the prize because he's not respected by his philosophical peers. But the prize isn't in philosophy, but in the 'human sciences'; and part of Kolakowski's distinction is precisely that he's ranged across the human sciences. Prof. Leiter is no doubt well-qualified to judge Kolakowski's work as a philosopher; but I wonder, given his frequently-evinced lack of respect for other intellectual approaches and goals, whether he is the best person to provide a fair appreciation of Kolakowski's contributions to other fields.
Take, for instance, the claim that Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism is useful as a reference work, and nothing more. The view that the book is only useful as a reference work, and that this is a minor achievement, seems to me to betray an all too familiar analytic-philosophical prejudice against the history of ideas as an autanomous, intellectually rigourous and important, field. In fact, Main Currents is a remarkably wide-ranging and comprehensive, yet also detailed and, so far as I can tell, fairly accurate and incisive, work of both historical scholarship and interpretation (as well as being a fairly balanced one, given Kolakowski's own persecution in the name of Marxism). It may be true that Kolakowski's work on the history of philosophy, on religion, on the problem of 'modernity', are little-known to philosophers; so much the worse for them. These works -- or at least those of them with which I'm familiar -- certainly aren't analytically rigourous; but they are deeply thought-provoking, suggestive, challenging. They're good to think with -- which is surely what any philosopher most wants in a book, even if he or she has to do a lot of the thinking for him/herself? And for those interested in the history of ideas, political theory, religion, anthropology, etc., they're very interesting indeed.
I'd suggest that Prof. Leiter's charge that Kolakowski isn't highly regarded by his peers in philosophy (aside from the philosopher-economist Amartya Sen, apparently, who Leiter says should be ashamed of his involvement in making the selection -- an example, I think, of emotional excess) misses the point. Kolakowski doesn't have any peers in philosophy; he is not, in Prof. Leiter's sense of the term, a philosopher. He is intellectually sui generis; and, as I understand it, this fact was a part of his being awarded this prize, which seems to be directed not at those who remain within the confines of a single discipline, but range widely over different subjects that generally fall into different disciplines, and produce a cohesive and significant body of work out of this ranging.
(I also wonder how well-founded it is; as Jacob Levy points out in his own temperate and quite convincing response to Leiter, Kolakowski has been praised by other philosophers -- Levy cites Jon Elster for one [no analytic slouch he, so far as I know]. Jacob also points out that many of the subjects that Kolakowski writes about aren't ones that Prof. Leiter is especially expert on -- in part, no doubt, because they lie outside the general purview of analytical philosophy).
As for Prof. Leiter's charge that the selection was politically motivated: this could be, though I'm afraid I can't help but think that couching this in political terms says more about Prof. Leiter's proclivity for politicizing disputes than the Library of Congress's. But this is perhaps an unfair reaction -- I certainly cannot pretend to objectivity here --and he does, in fact, make a good point here. As Prof. Leiter points out, there are certainly a number of other names that might pop to mind as possible recipients of this prize. Not all of them, contra Prof. Leiter's own list, are left-leaning (or far-left-wing, as a mysteriously high proportion of the names on his own list are); but many are. Not all of them are patently MORE deserving than Kolakowski; but many are AT LEAST AS deserving. That Kolakowski -- who is indeed a more obscure name than many of those Prof. Leiter names -- should get the prize ahead of, say, Habermas (who isn't on Leiter's list), say -- is somewhat odd. Fishy, even. I'd sort of like to think that the award was given to Kolakowski in part BECASE of his relative obscurity -- that the award committee decided to use the prize to call attention to a distinguished but little-known thinker, rather than following the tides of fashion. However, the fact that Kolakowski's association with anti-Communism would make him more acceptable to conservatives (and moderates) than, say, Chomsky or Hobsbawm, can't be ignored. So, I'd like to think Leiter is wrong here; and if he's suggesting that political bias could be the ONLY reason for Kolakowski's selection, I think he is wrong. But the suggestion that political bias did play SOME role in the decision is, I fear, only too plausible, if far from as certain as Leiter seems to present it.
However, I'd like to take issue with his classification of Kolakowski as right-wing. Kolakowski has indeed of late evinced an increasingly conservative outlook. But he was for many years a socialist, and still seems to me to be, however warily, a supporter of liberal societies. But, let's face it, Kolakowski's primarily known as an opponent of Soviet Communism. If that makes him right-wing, or a politcally motivated choice for right-wingers, so be it. But associating anti-Communism with the right seems to me one of the worst thing that a leftist can do for the left, and one of the best things anyone can do for the right (I speak of a principles anti-Communism, such as that associated with disciples of Kolakowski such as Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron -- hardly right-wingers they! -- rather than what all too often justified itself under the name of anti-Communism in the Western world.)
I'd suggest that Prof. Leiter is, in fact, in going so far as to condemn Kolakowski and the award of the prize to him so categorically and strongly, acting out of both political bias -- not so much knee-jerk opposition to any right-of-centre thinker, but suspicion of right-wing political biases and motives everywhere (one perhaps develops such sensitivities after living in Texas long enough ...) -- and disciplinary bias -- dismissing those who Jacob Levy refers to tellingly and nicely as 'humanist intellectuals' because they fail to meet the criteria of analytic philosophy (though he does seem to object more to thinkers of whom this is true on the right, as his suggesting of Edward Said, among others, suggests. Incidentally, I think that Leiter's own list of names is a pretty good one, and I would certainly be all in favour of the Kluge Prize being awarded to Geertz, Chomsky, Skinner, Said or Wollheim if they were alive, or Hobsbawm [though I'll admit that I'd be less delighted if the prize went to someone with whom I was more out of sympathy with politically -- as would be so with Said, Chomsky, or Hobsbawm -- than I am with Kolakowski. I wouldn't, however, call such an award a travesty or a shame] I think that many of those Leiter names -- as well as those Levy does -- are certainly as deserving of the prize as Kolakowski, and I'd probably say that some of them were probably more deserving, though with a certain amount of reservation [for the record, I'd probably put Habermas, Hirschmann, and Geertz ahead of Kolakowski, and Walzer, Taylor, Bailyn, Chomsky, and Elster head-to-head with Kolakowski; I'd also think about adding Martha Nussbaum, Peter Gay, Daniel Bell, Stuart Hampshire, Paul Ricoeur, just to take the first five who come to mind])
Anyway. I doubt that any of this will do anything than further confirm Prof. Leiter (should he see it; though I must admit that I rather hope he's no longer reading this blog, since I think it's certainly a waste of his time and perhaps a rather painful chore for him) or those of his mind in his and their opinions of me. Certainly, Prof. Letier's continuing tendency to condemn, in fairly strong terms and pretty categorically, those who do not share his own conception of philosophy or view of the world and do not conform to the standards of his own camp within his own discipline -- without evincing a great understanding of those intellectual activities which those of different minds from his own puruse -- does little more than confirm the opinion I've formed (rather reluctantly) of him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

BAD WEEK: No, I'm not talking about events in Iraq -- though lord knows, that could qualify. No, I'm talking about the deaths of several people -- people who, unlike most of those whose lives have been abruptly ended by violence in Iraq (and elsewhere), reached the end of their long, honourable lives peacefully and naturally. First noted, though it was the last to occur, was the death of Richard Wollheim (see below). Now I learn that Christabel Bielenberg, a truly remarkable woman, has died; for the story of her eventful life, see here and here; as has Richard Neustadt, the distinguished American political scientist, who both studied the presidency and advised, and taught, Presidents (or would-be Presidents; he was one of Al Gore's mentors when Gore was an undergrad)-- see here, here (for a rather underwhelming obit -- say what you will about the British press, they still do obits better than even their best American counterparts. Though it is sort of nice to see an obit of Neustadt that doesn't identify him as Shirley Williams's husband in the first paragraph), and, for an especially nice obit, here.

RICHARD ARTHUR WOLLHEIM, 1923-2003: RIP Richard Wollheim, the Oxford-trained philosopher of mind, aesthetics, psychology, politics, and ethics has died at the age of 83. Wollheim, who taught at University College London, Columbia, and Berkeley, was unusual among his colleagues for both his commitment to and his wide-ranging and original work in the field of aesthetics, as well as in his interest in psychoanalysis and wide-ranging cultural knowledge and sympathies. I don't know his work well enough to comment on its quality or contribution. But reading Wollheim and hearing him speak, I was impressed by a genuinely independent, honest, uninhibited and unafraid mind, a mind capable both of careful argument and of making surprising, provocative pronouncements. I don't know if Wollheim's work on art, on the emotions, and on human nature will be of enduring influence and value, but I would be somewhat surprised if they weren't. With him philosophy has lost yet another modern great.
(News via Norm Geras)
UPDATE: The erudite Chris Brooke, not surprisingly given his talent for finding just the right passage to quote and his special fondness for dead socialists, has a fitting tribute to Wollheim in the form of a passage from the end of one of Jerry Cohen's essays; check it out, for a sense of Wollheim's influence and special qualities as a teacher. There is also a brief tribute from Chris at Crooked Timber, through which I found Chris Brooke's post.

SILLY ONLINE TEST OF THE WEEK: The latest rage in the political blogosphere seems to be the Political Compass Test; numerous bloggers have taken it, and most of those who have, have posted their results. Deltoid has put together a chart mapping where various bloggers fall on the political compass (interestingly, it seems like, so far, more left-leaning bloggers than right-leaning ones have entered their stats.)
I've joined the ranks of those on the Deltoid chart, which any readers of this blog can check out. I should, however, explain something. My place on the Deltoid chart is somewhat misleading. In fact, you might call it downright dishonest.
This is the thing. You see, I'm a fairly ambivalent person; I often am not sure exactly what side I come down on on certain issues; I see the merits of both sides, or even if I only see the merits of one side, how strongly I feel about those merits varies. So, I generally find it useful to take these sorts of tests more than once, some time apart. This is what I've done with the Political Compass test thingy. More specifically, I took it while in a fairly calm, reasonable, indecisive mood, and again in a somewhat more assertive mood. The first time 'round I got a Left/Right score of -3.75, and a libertarian/authoritarian score of -3.44 The second time 'round I got -4.25 and -4.67, respectively. I then just averaged the scores, and submitted the results to the Deltoid chart.
As for what I think of all of this: it seems to me somewhat silly, but fairly interesting; and the impression it gives of people's political/ideological positions doesn't seem to me to be that far off. I suspect, though, that it to some extent conflates temperament with ideology. It would seem, if I understand the way the test works correctly, that saying you strongly agree with something puts you further away from the center of the graph. But this may not be the case; one may have fairly moderate ideological positions, but feel very strongly about them -- or one may adopt a fairly far-from-center ideology, such as libertarianism or strong communitarianism/democratic socialism, but be fairly mild-mannered or self-critical about it, and so tend to put down 'agree' or 'disagree' rather than 'strongly agree' or 'strongly disagree'.
Improbable? Well, maybe, though I have known some pretty dogmatic and fiery centrists, and some pretty mild-mannered and open-minded libertarians, socialists, neo-cons, etc. (admittedly fewer of the latter than of the former). Illogical? Again, maybe; but I tend to think ideological loyalty, like so much else, tends to be illogical.

Monday, November 03, 2003

PATTERN RECOGNITION: A couple of weeks or so ago, the NY Review of Books ran an essay by "General Wesley K. Clark" (as his byline calls him) giving his analysis of what went wrong with the US's intervention in Iraq. Now, the latest issue has an article about General Clark's candidacy, which includes a fairly flattering (by the usual standards) cartoon of Clark by David Levine. Both articles have been prominently displayed in both the print and electronic editions of the NY Review. Neither one is, in fact, a review of a book.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say that the NY Review's editors were trying to lend their support to the Clark campaign.
Actually, that last bit is completely facetious. From what I hear, the NYRev's editors actually ARE trying to lend their support to the Clark campaign.
And, hey, with the NYRev on his side, how can Clark lose?
(NB: I like the NYRev, a lot. But I can't quite keep myself from occasionally twitting it a bit.)

MORE MR. NICE GUY: In welcome to the ever-present epidemic of snarkiness going around the blogosphere, Brett Marston is devoting his blog to saying nice things. It's very cute.
So, to follow his fine example: I like Brett Marston. Go check out his blog.

HELPFUL ADVICE: Matt Yglesias has some thought-provoking advice for those he describes as "hawkish liberals or ex-liberal hawks or whatever you want to call them." Here is the response of someone whom you might call a liberal ex-hawk.
Leaving aside the general tone of condescension that marrs the piece (and which Matt, at the end, acknowledges. Self-awareness and attendant irony about these things can be quite winning of course, and does make one come across better than one would if one lacked self-knowledge and irony, and therefore any saving amount of humility, completely. Still, I think it's better, if one can restrain oneself [which, as I know all too well, is very hard to do] from adopting such a tone, than adopting it and then adding a sentence that says, 'Oh, look, I know I'm being a bit of a pissant here, but, hey, I get points of knowing that, right?'), Matt's list of points is a somewhat mixed bag. As it is, despite finding some of his snarkiness off-putting, I think I'm in complete agreement with Matt over what I take to be his basic point -- that liberals who supported the war shouldn't jump ship to the GOP. But some of what Matt says does seem to me to be inherently somewhat problematic. Let's take them point-by-point:
1."Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror. Take another deep breath. Look at some photos of your liberal friends and family. Ask yourself: Do you really believe that they opposed the Iraq War because they wanted Saddam Hussein to stay in power; do you really think they don't care if your hometown gets destroyed by terrorists?"
A fair and good point against certain over-heated, ad hominem attacks (attacks which i tend to think come more often from the Right than from liberal hawks, though there have been cases where liberal or semi-liberal hawks have been guilty of this too). But not a good argument for necessarily changing one's mind on the issues. I take it for granted that my liberal hawk and liberal dove friends have alike taken the positions they've taken based on good motives and reasoning that, were it accurate, would be fully reasonable and convincing. But good intentions, while they matter for how one judges people morally, should not, I think, play that big a role in how one evaluates the merits of someone's argument. OF COURSE, most of those who opposed the war didn't want Saddam Hussein to stay in power. But opposing the war did, in fact, mean leaving Saddam Hussein in power. Ultimately, those who opposed the war believed that leaving Saddam Hussein in power was less bad than undertaking the war. They may've been right about that; they may've been wrong. But that is what their position came down to, and they should have had and have the intellectual honesty to admit that, and defend that position for what it is. And OF COURSE opponents of the war don't want their or anyone else's home town to get destroyed by terrorists. The question is whether they were right that undertaking the war would do nothing to proect against terrorist attacks, and might in fact encourage them, or whether the doves were wrong about that. Whether the opponents of the war are good, well-meaning people or not seems to me an entirely separate questions from whether one should have supported the war, or not.
2."Try reading some actual policy statements put out by Democratic foreign-policy hands, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and members of the Armed Services Committee. Ask yourself: Do the views expressed therein really sound like the characterizations of them you've read on NRO and the hawk blogs?"
A perfectly good point. I do think that there are problems with some of what the Dems have said and done regarding the war -- as readers of this blog know, I was rather put-out by the attempt to make money spent on reconstruction a loan rather than a grant. But I also do think that the portrayal of the Dems by NRO, etc., has generally been unfair, and indeed ludicrous. Reading the Dems actual statements won't, and shouldn't, necessarily lead to complete agreement; but it will lead, I think, to a higher opinion of them than reading the mischaracterizations of others. So on to the next point:
3."Look again in the mirror, focusing this time on your hairline and that little space next to your eyes that gets wrinkly when you squint. There's no easy way to say this, but . . . you're getting old. I am too. It's scary, it happens to us all. Ask yourself: Has the left really changed, or am I just that cliché guy who stopped really caring about the poor as I aged?"
A truly masterful ad hominem argument, combining as it does ill-founded and undemonstrated assumptions with irrelevancy.
Point one: yes, people change as they get older. Often, it's suggested that people get more conservative as they get older (most often those doing the suggesting are young and left-wing, or old and right-wing). Often, this is true. Others, however, get more liberal as they get older. Psychological research suggests, apparently (I have this at second-hand from a reliable authority) that people generally get more moderate as they get older -- that they move towards the centre from wherever they started. But others get more radical as they get older -- look at Bertrand Russell, or Noam Chomsky.
But; so what? Why should the changes of view that come with age be a bad thing, or something to guard against? Do we really think that the traditional association between age and wisdom is so ill-founded? Oh, certainly, age does not necessarily brign wisdom. But are we so sure that the young are morally or intellectually superior to the old? When anyone suggests this, I think it's somewhat silly -- an example of the youth-worshipping romanticism that seems to have pretty thoroughly gripped our society, a manifestation of the fear of getting old. When someone who's young says this, it just sounds arrogant.
Sure, as we get older, we often (not always) lose some of our idealism, and maybe some of our clear-headedness, some of our passionate, even ruthless, honesty; we acquire too much that we don't want to lose, we become too invested in various things, we become less flexible, less insecure and self-conscious and thus less open to change and the claims of others. But I think we also come to appreciate complexity and limitation and imperfection far more, we gain in a sort of practical wisdom and sense of perspective -- if we're lucky, and if we work hard on ourselves -- which does offer us a more mature perspective. This isn't a better perspective in EVERY way, but it is better in some, indeed, many ways.
As for caring about the poor: I don't think it's necessarily true that a loss of youthful idealism or a move to the centre is equivalent to ceasing to care about the poor. But I think that, in this case, one doesn't even have to make that argument. Where does caring about the poor come into this? I thought we were talking about Iraq. Of course, if, as I take it, Matt is trying to convince people not to vote for Bush next time round, that's a fine point -- since voting for Bush probably will be pretty harmful for the poor. Still, I think one needs to make a clear distinction, first, between supporting the war, and even supporting Bush over the war, and ceasing to care about the poor; and between putting concerns for the poor first among one's political considerations, and caring for the poor, period.
4."Take a look at the transcript of the latest White House press conference. Find some other examples where the president had to respond on-the-fly to questions. Ask yourself: Given the perilous international situation, am I really comfortable with the fact that a total moron is president of the United States."
Again, I don't have anything to say in disagreement with the point made here. Oh, I might have liked it if Matt had been able to restrain himself and find a way of criticizing our President's failures of judgment and lack of curiosity and critical-self-awareness than calling him a 'total moron'. But I agree with the substantive point, as I take it: if one wants to succeed in Iraq, supporting Bush's handling of the situation is not necessarily the best policy. In fact, it probably isn't a good idea at all.
5. "Read this post again. Consider the condescending tone, the cheap psychoanalysis, the refusal to confront your actual arguments. Ask yourself: Isn't this exactly what I've been doing all this time[?]"
Well, that depends on who's reading the post. For some liberal or ex-liberal hawks, I fear that the honest answer would have to be, yes. But not for all. So, this point either hits or misses depending on the reader; and if it's not on target, then it would seem to me to not be likely to be very effective; if it is on target -- well, it's also not likely to be very effective.
Anyway, those are my initial responses on reading Matt's post, for what it's worth. For the sometimes overlapping, generally better, responses of others, see Michael Totten here, and Armed Liberal here.

PANDERING, OR HONESTY? The number of my friends I speak to who are pro-Dean (or more pro-Dean than any of the other candidates for the Dem nomination) continues to grow. It makes me feel like I really must be missing something.
I'm not completely; I do often think that Dean is the most politically effective and thus electable of the Democratic candidates. The moments when I think this alternate, though, with moments when I think he'd in fact be a vulnerable and disastrous candidate. This is partly wishful thinking -- I really hope that things improve greatly in Iraq, thus making his relentlessly anti-war credentials less of an advantage. But if things do continue to go pear-shaped, Dean would be in a much better position than his less consistent or coherent -- or consistently but unappealingly pro-war -- opponents.
But Dean is prone to gaffes, and he's prone to what appears to me to be some embarassingly obvious self-reversals. I can see Karl Rove salivating over possible attack-adds now (though that's true for just about all the candidates. Hell, I suspect Karl Rove could launch an effective attack-campaign on Mahatma Gandhi).
Now comes the latest Dean gaffe: invoking the Confederate Flag.
He has of course been attacked by the other candidates; and his campaign has of course responded by accusing the other candidates of seizing on this to attack Dean, and Dean has offered a clarification of his statement.
All of this requires further inspection, because it seems to me to say a lot about Dean.
What Dean actually said was: "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks... We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats."
Now, the first thing to note is that Dean's actually making a point about election strategy which may well be valid -- though it isn't necessarily. Frankly, I don't think the Dems can win the South, at least not without making ideological compromises that would likely lead to lower turnout for the Dems core constituencies and significant desertion to the Greens. And I don't think the Dems need the South to win (though they do need at least part of the Midwest, which will probably require ideological moderation on certain issues.) But, still, Dean may have a good point here; and if he could (as he sought to do, more clearly, in an earlier version of his Confederate Flag statement) convince working-class, socially conservative, Southern whites that Bush's programs actually hurt them, that would be a very good thing.
That said, it was a pretty poor way to make the point. And the fact that Dean didn't foresee or manage to avoid appealing to this deeply charged symbol suggests to me a lack of political sensitivity.
Maybe I'm making too much of this. But it does seem to me that appeals to the Confederate flag, at this point, are just a bad idea. And not just a bad idea. They're also, to a good many people, pretty damn offensive -- and rightly so.
As for Dean's attempt at clarification, I suspect that how effective one finds it will depend on one's previous feelings about Dean. Dean's statement says: "I want people with Confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic." Now, this is nicely said; the problem is that it manifestly isn't what Dean originally said, at least according to the quotes I've seen (which may of course be taken out of context). The quotes I've seen cited say nothing about convincing people who fly Conderate flags or have Confederate flag decals on their pickup trucks to forsake their racist ways (some will protest that displaying Confederate flags isn't racist. Very well; it isn't necessarily racist. But it's probably racist, and if not, it reflects either great insensitivity, or a rather poor historical memory). They suggest that the Dems need to appeal to these people based on their existing interests, and win them over to the Democratic party. To actually get such people to support the Dems would, in the end, require either convincing them to change their minds about certain matters, or distancing the Dems from the civil rights community. And Dean's original statements don't suggest to me that he favours the latter course. Furthermore, I see no inherent connection between taking down the Confederate flags and voting Democratic -- as just said, the Dems could reconcile themselves to the Confederate flag and what it represents, though I think they oughtn't.
So, I do think Dean's statement was pretty dumb. And I do think it's really serious (if you don't think speaking of the Confederate flag this way is so serious, try substituting for 'Confederate flag' 'Swastika'. Not the same, you say? Tell that to the descendant of a slave, or the victims of Souther racist violence.)
Now, all of the Democratic candidates have, at some point or another, said dumb things; all have engaged in pandering, and all have also said things that will alienate some people. And this statement alone shouldn't be the single decisive factor in one's judgment of Dean.
It's just another reason why I remain less impressed with Dean than a lot of my friends.
UPDATE: There's a good, balanced, but ultimately quite critical response to Dean's comments over at the relatively new Room With a View blog; check it out.
UPDATE: At TNR, Clay Risen makes an interesting, non-knee-jerk, and I think quite good point about another problem with Dean's comments; while Adam Kushner defends Dean, in part.

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