More on Obama Running as a Prophet

Good piece by Karen Tumulty in Time Magazine.

He brings in crowds and spectacles and he bakes the people and their leaders. And often he does so in a very conversational non-hyped tone. And yet the people keep returning in mind-boggling numbers.

He has the summer to get his game ready for the National Debates come Fall. Mickey Kaus predicts he will destroy Hillary. We’ll see if he’s right.

Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Romney on Dept. of Reconstruction

Barnett’s everywhere.

Third, we need to dramatically and fundamentally
transform our civilian capabilities to promote peace, security, and freedom around
the world.

Today, there is no such unity among our international
nonmilitary resources. There is no clear leadership and no clear line of authority.
Too often, we struggle to integrate our nonmilitary instruments into coherent, timely,
and effective operations. For instance, even as we face the need to strengthen the
democratic underpinnings of a country such as Lebanon, our resources in education,
health, banking, energy, commerce, law enforcement, and diplomacy are spread across
separate bureaucracies and are under separate leadership. As a result, we have had
to look on as Hezbollah has brought health care and schools to areas of Lebanon.

And guess who the people followed when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon broke
out last summer?

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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kissinger on Iraq

Baker-Hamilton really back in vogue.

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Two lessons emerge from this account. A strategic design cannot be achieved on a fixed, arbitrary deadline; it must reflect conditions on the ground. But it also must not test the endurance of the American public to a point where the outcome can no longer be sustained by our political process. In Iraq, rapid, unilateral withdrawal would be disastrous. At the same time, a political solution remains imperative.

A political settlement has to be distilled from the partly conflicting, partly overlapping views of the Iraqi parties, Iraq’s neighbors and other affected states, based on a conviction that the caldron of Iraq would otherwise overflow and engulf everybody. The essential prerequisite is staying power in the near term. President Bush owes it to his successor to make as much progress toward this goal as possible; not to hand the problem over but to reduce it to more manageable proportions. What we need most is a rebuilding of bipartisanship in both this presidency and in the next.
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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Paul Berman II

The previous post covered the main outlines of Berman’s thinking:

Liberalism under attack from transgressive myth, cult of death, embodied in totalitarian movements. The battle is mostly one of ideas.

So I want to get into the battle of ideas bit.

This links back up with my noting Berman’s stance on the Iraq War because I think it is connected. Namely has the Iraqi invasion helped with the war against totalitarian impulse? I think overall it is hurt, but I understand there is a lot of subjectivity involved in that decision.

The overthrow of Hussein has sent the death knell of one of the two forms of Arab totalitarianism mentioned by Berman: pan-Arabism.

It was already seriously damaged in its credibility by the loss of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Hussein represented the Baath but it could be argued that he like the House of Saud, Mubarak, Assad is just an Arab dictator who ruled through tribes. That Pan-Arabism was long ago dead.

The new “ism” is pan Sunni-ism promoted by the Arab autocrats against the so-called Shia Crescent.

But what Iraq certainly has done is give an transfusion, an infusion to Islamism that it did not have prior to the invasion. This is why I thought it was a bad idea and it was certainly a bad idea to become an occupier in the heart of the Arab world and have no plan for extrication or securing the area.

But either way it’s done and now the question is how to move forward. With the battle of ideas. If using the totalitarian analogy think Eastern Europe. Individuals like Reagan argued from abroad that we were on their side and was smart enough to still deal with the Soviets.

But how much do we think the Czecks and Slovaks would have favored a US invasion of their homeland that say expelled Russians but then caused the break between the two groups, civil sectarian bloodshed, and lack of security? As a battle of ideas issue.

Why do we think it is any different in the Iraqi sphere or more broadly the Arab world? Particularly unlike the Soviet example, the US has been aligned with the authoritarian, if not, totalitarian governments, e.g. Saudis, Mubarak, etc.

This gets back to an issue I have with Berman’s analysis, the blanket monolithic nature of Islamism.

In other words, what is the alternative to continued despotic rule for the Arab world? Particularly now given the bloodshed in Iraq and the more to come once the Americans start the pullout. Not to mention the US promotion of elections in Lebanon and esp. Iraq & Palestinian territories where the results were not accepted because they didn’t accord with the US definition of what group(s) should have been voted in by the people.

Not all Islamism is the same. Even Berman knows better in his profile of Tariq Ramadan for TNR here.

The US can not be winning the battle of ideas if there is no future for people to look forward that they can create themselves (key conservative concept btw).

Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Paul Berman I

Following on the last post, Peter Berkowitz mentions that for Leo Strauss while he supported constitutional government Strauss also:

saw that modern doctrines of natural right contained debilitating tendencies, which, increasingly, provided support for stupefying and intolerant dogmas.

A perfect segue for Paul Berman. I’m going to be quoting from an interview at Carnegie Council which you can read here. Berman is a liberal interventionist like most of the staff of the The New Republic, of which he is a frequent contributor. He like Peter Beinart, Kevin Pollack, not to mention Tony Blair supported the war in Iraq from the liberal interventionist standpoint. I point that out because it gives him an interesting stand, being both anti-Bush and (say unlike Beinart who has said he was wrong) stuck by his opinion.

But that is not the central issue. The key piece I’m interested in is Berman’s book Terror and Liberalism. I want to spend a few posts digesting the piece because he covers an enormous amount of material briefly (and quite lucidly). The main reason I like his work is that he takes seriously the history of ideas and does not reduce all political thinking to social forces or historical materialism.

What he is ultimately after is the argument that democratic liberalism does have inherent flaws in the system which strangely allow for the continued reappearance of anti-liberal (totalitarian) movements. Further these totalitarian movements are sourced in what he terms the Ur myth of the 20th century: The Book of Revelation. He calls this adoption of the myth over liberalism “transgressive” (which is a perfect term to which I will return later).

First I’m going to go through some of the main lines of the argument and then take it a step further and show (using integral concepts) why for example this flaw in liberalism manifests as collectivists totalitarian mythic movements.

Berman sets the context in late nineteenth century Western thinking:

1) In the nineteenth century, the belief arose that the secret of human progress had been discovered and had been proved to be correct. This secret was thought to be a belief in the many instead of the one, a belief that each aspect of life should be allowed to remain in its own sphere — the public and the private, the state and society, the religious and the civil. There was a belief that society ought to govern itself through rational analysis.

The reference to the many over the one is a key one often forgotten. The argument threaded through historical narrative in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality is precisely this point. In short: Western thought up until the modern period (minus few geniuses like Plotinus, Eckhart who got both the One and the Many) focused on the One over the Many.

This manifested socially in a rigid hierarchical feudal Western European order power ascending to an apex, pinnacle point, whether the Emperor or the Pope, both of whom considered themselves God’s representative on Earth.

The modern world began with the Differentiation of the Spheres as Habermas called it and focused on the Many-ness over the One.

As Berman points out however this 19th c. liberal synthesis already back then had detractors:

First, there was a rebellion within the romantic literary tradition, in romantic poetry. An important sign of this was Victor Hugo’s verse play Hernani in 1830, which already broached certain themes. The play ends with the attempted assassination of the King of Spain and a triple suicide. The theme of murder and suicide in the context of rebellion had already been broached. Baudelaire picks up the same theme. In the second edition of The Flowers of Evil, the inscription mentions enrolling in the rhetorical school of Satan. And, in fact, there is a religious subtext that underlies this notion of rebellion, which is the romantic cult of Satan, which, within the literary tradition, begins to mean a cult of murder and suicide as literary postures.

Then the religious aesthetic revolt:

This new version is not the cult of Satan. It is a series of images that come out of the Book of Revelation. There is a Millenarian idea, of an impending calamity, that something unspeakable is about to occur. You can see it in Yeats. This idea emerges as the new religious underpinning.

As a result:

At the end of the First World War, these currents in poetry, from the romantic to the symbolist poets at the end of the century and the beginning of the new century, finally convert themselves into a series of political movements, which are mass movements against the idea of liberalism. They are movements of rebellion against the belief in the many instead of the one, against the idea that life should be divided into a series of spheres — the public and the private, the state and society, the civil and the religious — and at some level, in different ways, they are movements of rebellion against the idea of rational analysis. Instead, they are movements in favor of the one, the solid, the granite, of authority, as opposed to rational analysis — sometimes of mysticism, but in any case of authority.

These trends connect Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Lenin.

The Ur myth of the Book of Revelation:

The story in the Book of Revelation says: There is a people of God; the people of God are being afflicted and polluted by forces from within their own society, who worship at the synagogue of Satan. At the same time, the people of God are being afflicted by cosmic foes from abroad.

The enemies from within were often Jews, liberals, Masons, from without Allied Forces, capitalist West, etc.

And being transgressive they could not result in achievement:

5) All of these movements proposed impractical programs which were unachievable except in one way, which was through mass death. Mass death showed that these were movements of transgressive rebellion, not movements of reform, not conservative movements of reform or social democratic movements of reform, Left or Right, but movements that would break through the ordinary morality of behavior, thus would break through the existing world view.

And worse:

6) The liberal society which in its weaknesses and contradictions and inability to conceive of the dark in human nature, the liberal society which in some way had inspired these movements and against which these movements now arose in rebellion, also had a great deal of trouble in identifying what these movements were.

Liberals Berman argues do not know the extent of human evil and their naivete often plays into and in fact is necessary for the rise of totalitarianism.

The totalitarian impulse also manifested in two non-European mutations: Islamism and pan-Arabism.

Berman interestingly notes that like fascism and communism, which are often seem to be divergent (far right vs. far left), so Islamism (religious) and Pan-Arabism (secular) are thought to be opposite poles but actually are much more closely related:

In the case of Baathism and Islamism, these similarities are easy to see. There is a people of God. The people of God should be described as the “true Muslims” in the case of the Islamists, or as the “true Arabs” in the case of the Baath. The people of God are afflicted by internal corruptors within Muslim society. These internal corruptors are the Jews or the Masons or the Muslim hypocrites. The people of God are afflicted by sinister external foes, Western imperialists or the worldwide Zionist conspiracy. The people of God will resist these internal foes and external foes in a gigantic war of Armageddon. This war will be the liberation of Jerusalem or it will be the jihad. Afterwards the reign of purity will be established and this reign of purity is described in the case of both of those movements in the same way: it is the re-resurrection of the Caliphate of the seventh century in the years after the Prophet Mohammed. The Caliphate is described by each of these movements in a slightly different way. For the Islamists, it means the reinstating of Shar’iah or Qur’anic law. For the Baathists the emphasis is secular; it is the recreating, the resurrecting, of the Arab empire when the Arab empire was on the march.

And as a solution:

Each of these movements in the past was defeated not militarily but ideologically. World War II was violent and military, but although D-Day was important, de-Nazification was the actual victory. The defeat of Nazism militarily would not have been all that helpful if Germany, which is inherently an extremely wealthy and powerful society, had continued to remain a society of millions and millions of convinced Nazis. The same is true now. The struggle we are involved in now has, had, and will continue to have a military aspect, but this aspect must be secondary to the ideological aspect, to the war of ideas.

The war of ideas–next post.

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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 2:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Varieties of Conservatisms

The history and movements parsed by Peter Berkowitz (of the Hoover Institute) in an op-ed for WSJ. Read here. (Hat tip: Powerline).

It’s a good piece, but unfortunately wastes too much space at the front-end arguing that the battle of ideas rages on the right conservative side of the spectrum but not on the left. That the left is now monolithic in thinking. I think this is a garbage view, but anyway it’s incidental to the main thrust of the place (hence I think it was unnecessary but so be it).


One source of the divisions evident today is the tension in modern conservatism between its commitment to individual liberty, and its lively appreciation of the need to preserve the beliefs, practices, associations and institutions that form citizens capable of preserving liberty. The conservative reflex to resist change must often be overcome, because prudent change is necessary to defend liberty. Yet the tension within often compels conservatives to wrestle with the consequences of change more fully than progressives–for whom change itself is often seen as good, and change that contributes to the equalization of social conditions as a very important good.

The individual liberty/preservation of beliefs is I think an uniquely American brand of conservatism. [The Conservative Party in Britain, the Thachterites being a possible variation]. The European brand of conservatism stressed the need to preserve the institutions of that day–monarchy, church. The US conservatism never had this attachment to the Ancien Regime.

Again Berkowitz:

In contrast to much European conservatism, which harks back to premodern times and the political preeminence of religion and royalty, in America–which lacked a feudal past to preserve or recover–conservatism has always revolved around the preservation of individual liberty. Of course modern conservatism generally admires virtues embodied in religious faith and the aristocratic devotion to excellence. It also tends to emphasize the weaknesses of human nature, the ironies and tragedies of history, and the limitations of reason and politics. At the same time, it wishes to put these virtues and this knowledge in liberty’s service.

And then Berkowitz offers this helpful way of assessing the main variants of contemporary American conservatism:

The divisions within contemporary American conservatism–social conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives–arise from differences over which goods most urgently need to be preserved, to what extent, and with what role for government.

As emblematic of these three schools of American conservatism Berkowtiz offers three great names/figures in the movement.

Russell Kirk (social conservatism): emphasis on traditions, esp. religious
Frederick Hayek (libertarianism): limited government, extension of liberty-individual choice
Leo Strauss (neoconservatism): natural right, democracy around globe

So for Strauss the big government aspect if you like is (at least in his descendants) is the military Leviathan to enable attacks around the world.

For the social cons, the “big” government element is moral guardian watchdog of the society.

And Hayek government should be small, small as possible.

There are points of agreement though as Berkowitz points out. For example:
–The neocons were all former New Dealers, more properly anti-Stalinist socialists who turned against welfare.
–Hayek was anti-welfare of course.
–And the Social cons while they want federal amendments banning gay marriage and such, they tend to be anti-welfare state as well.

Berkowitz ends by suggesting in light of the implosion of Bush Republicanism and as conservatives and Republicans shine the light on themselves and think about where they should go and are going in the future (e.g. Sam’s Clubs Republicans) they should return to these three key figures. Good idea I think.

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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I Meant When I Raised my Hand

By Sam Brownback

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The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

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Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

NEWT level ideas

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Gingrich has been criticized lately by some conservatives—most notably DeLay—for spending too much time reaching out to center-right voters; he advocates modernizing the government rather than making it smaller. (Gingrich and DeLay barely speak; their relationship came apart in the late nineteen-nineties, when Gingrich suspected DeLay of engineering an attempted coup.) It is true, Gingrich said, that he wants to bring the center into a coalition with the right, “because I want to give the right power. The right can have power only by being allied with the center.”

That, Gingrich said, was Rove’s mistake. “I think he didn’t understand the second-order effect of base mobilization. The second-order effect is that you drive away the center because you become more and more strident at the base.” What you end up with, he said, is cases like Schiavo’s, and the feeling that Republicans risk alienating “America’s natural majority.”

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Published in: on May 29, 2007 at 8:30 am  Leave a Comment  



Eleven-month old Jada Chow wears a Princess Leia costume during the opening day of “Star Wars Celebration IV” in Los Angeles May 24, 2007. The five-day convention celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars saga. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)

Published in: on May 26, 2007 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Community as and for the Future

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Contrary to my previous culturally conditioned interpretation of the word “community,” I now see our most important philosophically and spiritually based relationships as the only ground upon which conscious or intentional evolution can actually occur. Without being deeply connected with others in a conscious commitment to a shared ideal, there is no way that we will be able to create any kind of future that we are going to want to live in!

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Published in: on May 26, 2007 at 3:26 pm  Comments (1)