Thursday, April 24, 2008 90 Comments

Open letter pt. 2: more historical anomalies

In part 1, which should be read first, we looked at three anomalies in progressive political thought: a surprising definition of the word independence, an oscillatory ambivalence around the concept of nationalism, and a chiral gradient in sensitivity to human rights violations.

These particular anomalies are not just progressive. They are in fact modern. They are generally shared across the conservative-progressive spectrum. They are even shared by most libertarians - except maybe the Randians, who have epistemic troubles of their own. They are simply as close to universal as it comes.

Unless, of course, the past is allowed to dissent. Because when we look backward a little, we see that these ideas come along quite recently. They are fresh. Very fresh. To a progressive, of course, this is mere progress. But if you are also an evolutionary geneticist, you might also call it a selective sweep. Obviously, our anomalies have some competitive advantage. But what might that advantage be?

Well, perhaps the anomalies have prevailed because - in some way that we maybe don't quite understand completely yet - they are good and sweet and true. After all, people would rather think thoughts that are good and sweet and true. They would also prefer to share such with their friends. Because it is so obvious, so elegant, and so widely believed, we'll label this the null hypothesis.

I'm going to interrupt the discussion for a moment and digress. Since this is after all the 21st century, perhaps we can enliven our proceedings with a little mixed media.

Here's a YouTube clip of a protester in the recent violence in Kenya. As far as I can tell, no one is harmed in this 80-second clip, but otherwise it's as dramatic as it gets: it has a talky start, a shocking climax, and a happy ending.



Well, it's sort of a happy ending. At least, the blue car gets away. BTW, I lied: the "protester" is hard to follow, but his corner seems to be here. "Metro" is this. If you were fooled (sorry), try watching it again with this perspective.

I think this clip is a good litmus test for whether you've sneaked into the auditorium without a permission slip, or whether you really are a progressive.

If you really are a progressive, when you try to connect the clip above (which might well have been staged) with the broad sweep of human history, you will think of Hitler or Mussolini or maybe even George W. Bush.

Why? Because our protagonist is behaving exactly like them. His actions are tribal, territorial, and predatory. As one of our great Vulcan thinkers once put it: "every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." I'm sure the people who decided to invade Iraq had many goals, all of which they imagined in entirely benevolent terms. But I really have trouble believing that this wasn't at least one of them.

If you sneaked in - who knows what you think. Something awful, I suspect. Kids, this presentation is not for you. Can't you just slink back to your slimy holes for once? (Note to all: in case you ever find your nice, clean, progressive discussion forums overrun with Nazis, you can drive them away by making the Jew-noise: "Joo! Joo!" It's better than the Mosquito.)

In any case, thanks for participating in our first experimental test of URTV. More videos are not coming soon. Let's get back to these anomalies.

We will continue by assuming two things about the null hypothesis. One is that it's basically true. Two is that any small ways in which it may be imperfect are (a) minor, (b) accidental, and (c) either self-correcting or at least correctable. Since this is basically what progressives (and most non-progressives) believe, it is only fair to start with it.

It's a pity, though, that it leaves us with these odd asymmetries. It is easy to note that progressives, as well as most non-progressives, express these mental adaptations. It is hard to understand why. This is especially true since progressive thought seems to lack any sort of theology, which can explain just about anything. (Why are people with red hair and blue eyes evil? Because that's how Baal made them.)

So our three anomalies have three things in common. One: progressives have explanations for all of them, but these explanations seem less than usually compelling. Two: these strained explanations are generally shared not just by progressives, but also by their enemies, the "conservatives."

And three: there is a single anti-progressive hypothesis, which is obviously on its face wrong or at least incomplete, but can at least be explained in terms that do not require a gentleman to hurl his Sartor Resartus at his dinner companions, and seems to explain them all quite nicely with plenty of headroom left over.

The hypothesis is that the "international community" - a phrase we see used on a pretty regular basis, although perhaps we are not quite as clear as we might be as to what exactly it might mean - is, and always has been, a fundamentally predatory force.

The fact that falsifies the hypothesis - at least for me - is that my father was a US diplomat, and if the "international community" means anything it must mean Foggy Bottom. And I can tell you that it is simply impossible to mistake a transnational bureaucrat (or tranzi) for an SS officer, or vice versa. If the Third Reich is your image of an international predator - and why shouldn't it be? Can't we make Hitler work for us? - the adjective is clearly misapplied.

As anyone who has ever known any number of progressives knows, progressives are generally decent, intelligent and well-meaning people. Moreover, this fact does not stop at the edges of government. By definition, decent, intelligent and well-meaning people are not predatory. Since the "international community" is clearly progressive, the hypothesis is falsified. Whew!

But, not endorsing this false hypothesis, but simply using it as a tool of argument, it sure is interesting to look at how nicely it explains our little anomalies. It may or may not be productive to replace three poorly explained phenomena by one incorrect assumption. But at least it reduces the number of problems. Let's work through them one by one.

First: what happened to the Third World?

Well, that's pretty easy. It was conquered and devastated by the "international community." Admittedly, the "devastated" part kind of sucks. But when you're a predator, it's better to conquer and devastate than not to conquer at all, n'est ce pas?

Let's take a look at this independence thing. What exactly is a multilateral declaration of independence? Since it's not this?

Well, on the sweet and good and true side, MDI seems to involve a change in the ethnicity of government officials. Foreign officials are replaced by native-born officials. Clearly, for example, it would be an outrage for true-born Americans to be governed by a dirty no-good Mex - oh, wait. We're progressives. We're not racists. Ethnicity means nothing to us.

Well, the postcolonial regimes are no longer controlled from overseas. They can do whatever they want. They're free!

Sure they are. They're so free that they've received $2.6 trillion in aid since 1960. Does the phrase "who pays the piper calls the tune" ring any bells? Again, in English at least, the word "independence" is a compound of the prefix in-, meaning not, and dependent, meaning dependent.

And what does it mean for a government to be "free," anyway? Is the government of North Korea "free?" What about ExxonMobil? Or the Democratic Party? I have a fairly good understanding of what it means for a human being to be "free." When it comes to an organization, especially one which claims to be a "government," I'm quite without a clue.

One test we can apply for independence, which should be pretty conclusive, is that the structures of government in a genuinely independent country should tend to resemble the structures that existed before it was subjugated - rather than the structures of some other country on which it may happen to be, um, dependent. These structures should be especially unlikely to resemble structures in other newly independent countries, with which it presumably has nothing in common.

In other words: after 1960, did the Third World become more Westernized or less Westernized? Did it revert to its pre-Western political systems, rejecting the foreign tissue like a bad transplant? Or did it become a more and more slavish imitation of the West?

There is exactly one region in which the former happened: the Persian Gulf. Not that the Gulf states are utterly un-Westernized, but their political systems are clearly the least Western in the world. Oddly enough, the Gulf states also happen to be "independent" in the good old financial sense of the word. There are also two exceptions in Africa: Somaliland, which fell through the cracks, and Botswana, which has diamonds.

(You will sometimes hear Botswana described as a model of African democracy. How fortunate that the Botswanan people should be so wise as to elect, as their first President, none other than their hereditary monarch. In practice the place is more or less run by De Beers, on the good old United Fruit model.)

Across most of the Third World, however, we see a very simple transition: from the traditional forms of government and tribal leaders whom the British, French, Rhodesians, etc, supported at a local or even regional level in the policy of indirect rule, to a new elite selected and educated in Western missions, schools and universities. In Africa these men are called the wa-Benzi - "wa" is the Swahili prefix for "tribe," and I think "Benzi" speaks for itself.

Moreover, the rhetoric of tiers-mondisme is and was almost the same everywhere. If Algeria and Vietnam were truly growing up and following their own destinies, you might think the former would be ruled by a Dey and the latter by emperors and mandarins. You'd certainly be surprised to find that they both had an organization called the "National Liberation Front."

And finally, perhaps the subtlest aspect of dependency is power dependency. To whom did this rash of fresh presidents, congresses and liberation fronts owe its existence? Where, exactly, did Macmillan's Wind of Change blow from? For that matter, who cares about all these people now? Why does a vast river of cash still flow from European and American taxpayers to these weird, camo-bedecked, mirrorshaded thugs?

Well, one theory is that the brave liberation fronts seized power through their own military prowess. Or the unquenchable anger of the people at foreign domination, which could no longer be repressed. Or the fiery will of the workers, which blazed out once too often. Or the shining light of education, which brought the dream of democracy to our little brown brothers. Or... I'm afraid Professor Frankfort has taught us much on this subject.

In fact you'll see that in pretty much every case, including some that may surprise you (here's a great primary source) the liberation fronts achieved power because they had powerful friends. Sometimes the friends were in Paris, sometimes they were in London, sometimes they were even in Moscow. But for the most part they were in New York and Washington. (There's an excellent new film on this subject - from Barbet Schroeder, the man who gave us General Idi Amin Dada, reality's answer to Forest Whitaker. It's called Terror's Advocate, and you gotta see it.)

Once again: if this is "independence," I'm a three-eyed donkey. Note that the English language has a perfectly good word for a regime which appears to be independent, but in reality is dependent. It starts with "p" and rhymes with "muppet." In fact, perhaps this is a good term for the post-1945 postcolonial regimes.

A muppet state is not quite a puppet state. It delivers a far more lifelike impression of individual identity. It has not just an invisible hand supporting it from below, but invisible strings pulling it from above. In fact, muppet states often appear quite hostile to their masters. There are a variety of reasons for this - one is internal conflict within the master state, which we'll get to in a bit - but the simplest is just camouflage.

The classic story is de Gaulle's legendary obstreperousness during World War II. De Gaulle had to cause problems for the British and Americans, because his whole story was that he represented the true spirit of oppressed France - rather than being just some guy that Churchill set up in an office, which is of course exactly what he was. Furthermore, because a blatant display of puppetry would have been no use to the Allies, they had to tolerate his acting out.

The phenomenon of dependent rebellion is quite familiar to anyone who has ever been a teenager, an analogy that's a good guide to the sort of "independence" we see in the likes of a Mugabe, a Castro or even a Khomeini - each a member of the "I got my job through the New York Times" club.

It's easy to see what a network of postcolonial muppet states harnessed to the hegemonic will of an imperial alien overlord looks like. We have the perfect example: the Warsaw Pact, and its assorted flunkeys in Africa and Asia. (In fact, we have two evil muppet empires to look at, because the Maoists spun off their own.) The Marxist-Leninist muppet states all insisted fervently that they were liberated, independent, etc, and that their alliances were brotherly partnerships of equals, with their own Politburos and everything. And of course the whole enterprise was run by Comrade Brezhnev, from the white phone in his petit salon. Even Hitler's quislings in New Order Europe did not exhibit quite this level of gall - there was no pretence that Vichy France, for example, was an equal of the Third Reich.

And since the Soviet and Western blocs often competed for the same set of muppets - for example, Nasser, Tito, and even Ho Chi Minh, who never lost his popularity out in Langley - I'm afraid the pattern is really quite clear.

So from our counterfactual perspective, the story of the Third World is quite clear. In the second half of the 20th century, the Third World passed from its old colonial masters, the British, French and Portuguese, who were certainly no angels but who were perhaps at least a little less brazen, to a new set of ruthless and cynical overlords, the Cold War powers, whose propaganda skills were matched only by the devastation that their trained thugs unleashed. Under the mendacious pretext of "liberation" and "independence," most remnants of non-European governing traditions were destroyed. Major continents such as Africa were reduced to desolate slums ruled by corrupt, well-connected fat cats, much of whose loot went straight from Western taxpayers to Swiss banks.

What's especially interesting is that when we step back and consider the history of the non-Western world since 1500, we see a broad trend that does not reverse course at all the 20th century. If anything, the 20th century is more of the same, only more so.

We see four basic structures of government: native rule with private Western trade, native rule under the protection of chartered companies or other monopolies (like the East India Company, the British South Africa Company, Anaconda Copper, etc, etc), classic nationalized colonialism with indirect rule, and the postcolonial muppet states.

Across all these stages, as time increases, we see the following trends. One, the non-European world becomes culturally and politically Westernized. Two, more and more Westerners are employed in the actual task of governing them. (I don't know the ratio of aid workers today to colonial administrators 50 years ago, but I'm sure it's tremendous.) And three, the profits accruing to the West from all of this activity dwindle away and are replaced by massive losses. ("Aid" is essentially a subsidy to the muppet states, which are to the old chartered companies as a Lada factory is to a Honda factory.)

Who benefits from these trends? The "international community," ie, the vast army of international administrators who labor diligently and ineffectively at healing the great wounds they have torn in the side of the world. Who loses? Everyone else - Western taxpayers in the usual slow, relentless dribble, Africans and Asians in the gigantic revolutionary hemorrhage of "civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care."

If you read travel narratives of what is now the Third World from before World War II (I've just been enjoying Erna Fergusson's Guatemala, for example), you simply don't see anything like the misery, squalor and barbarism that is everywhere today. (Fergusson describes Guatemala City as "clean." I kid you not.) What you do see is social and political structures, whether native or colonial, that are clearly not American in origin, and that are unacceptable not only by modern American standards but even by 1930s American standards.

So, again, we have two theories of the "international community." One, its own, depicts it as the savior and liberator of the planet, and essentially global and universal in nature. Two, the one I've just developed, shows it as a ravenous predator, the dominant player in a second Scramble for Africa with Asia and South America added to the plate - essentially, a new version of the Delian League, with Washington in the part of Athens.

And neither quite makes sense. The first hypothesis is very hopeful and reassuring, and most people believe it, but it has these odd, Orwellian tics in the way it uses English. And the second is, once again, quite counterfactual. I know these people. They are not at all predatory. There is no denying that transnational bureaucrats have the world's best interests at heart, and they are certainly not in any way American nationalists. They simply do not remind me, in any way, shape or form, of Corner Man.

So let's put this conundrum aside and move on to the second anomaly: nationalism. I hope it's not too much of a surprise that this turns out to be a special case of the first.

Nationalist regimes and movements are good when they're doing God's work, ie, their goal is to become nice, multilateral members of the "international community." Nationalist regimes and movements are bad when they "defy international opinion" and turn against said community, which wants nothing other than to be able to love them as its beloved children. In other words: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Typical Machiavellian predatory behavior.

It is always pleasant to depart from the bleak, mendacious twentieth century and return to its predecessor, whose leaders could be just as unscrupulous but who dressed much better. There was an "international community" in the nineteenth century as well, and at least in the Old World, it operated out of one place: London.

Quick association test! The unification of Italy - good or bad? I'll bet you said "good." Well, here's a little story.

A couple of years ago Mrs. Moldbug and I spent three weeks in Italy. For the first week we split a villa in Cilento with some friends, which was lovely if a little buggy, and involved inhaling enormous quantities of Limoncello. Next we thought we'd take our backpacks and bop around on the train a little. Our first stop: Naples.

I'm afraid it's not for nothing that northern Italians say "Garibaldi didn't unite Italy, he divided Africa." Obviously, this is a racist statement and I can't condone it. But even the Lonely Planet warns travellers that "you might think you're in Cairo or Tangier." I have never been to Cairo or Tangier, but if they are anything like Naples, God help them.

The 3000-year-old city of Naples is a reeking, garbage-ridden sewer. This year there was an actual garbage strike, but the problem is perennial - there was a giant, seemingly permanent mound of it right across the street from our LP-recommended albergo. At all times, almost everyone on the street appears to be a criminal, especially at night. The streets are ruinous, unlit, and patrolled by thieves on mopeds. We saw one pull up in front of an old lady carrying a bag of groceries, openly inspect her goods for anything worth stealing, then scoot away. Apparently they have a reputation for ripping earrings out of womens' ears.

From Naples you can take the Trans-Vesuviano to Pompeii. This train has a wonderful name, but its main purpose appears to be to transport criminals from the Stalinist banlieues in which they live, to the city in which in which they steal. Signs in every language known to humanity warn the tourist that pickpockets are everywhere. The trains are stripped to the metal and covered with graffiti, which is not in Latin. As the train stopped at one station, we saw a couple of carabinieri carrying a body-bag away from the platform.

The night after this we wandered the historic district of Naples, simply looking for one open-air cafe in which to sit and chat. Eventually we found one. We were pretty much the only people there. It was Saturday night. We moved on and discovered one clean thing in Naples - the new, EU-funded subway. Tried a couple of stops. Everything was the same.

Finally, I remembered a snarky little use of the word "bourgeois" in the Planet and marched Mrs. Moldbug over to the funicula, which goes up the hill to the Vomero, a sort of internal suburb. Quelle difference! You go three hundred feet up a cliff, and you have gone from Cairo to Milan. We immediately found a wine-bar with an English-speaking hostess and enjoyed several lovely glasses.

Suddenly we realized that it was late, and we didn't know when the subway stopped running, to get us back to our albergo, near the Stazione Centrale. So we asked. And no one knew. Not the waitress, not anyone in the bar. These hip young people had no idea of the subway hours in their own city. I believe the waitress actually said something like, "why do you want to go there?"

We hurried, and I think we got the last train. The next day, Mrs. Moldbug, who is far more tasteful than I and who would never repeat that nasty line about Garibaldi, expressed the desire to "just hop on the Eurostar and stay on it until we get to Stockholm." In fact we ended up in Perugia, which is, of course, lovely.

So: Naples. Obviously, Naples being this way, I assumed that Naples had always been this way. There was that old line, "see Naples and die," but presumably it referred to a knife in the ribs. That poor bastard on the Trans-Vesuviano had seen Naples, and died. Was it worth it?

So I was surprised to discover a different version of reality, from British historian Desmond Seward's Naples: A Travellers' Companion:
'In size and number of inhabitants she ranks as the third city of Europe, and from her situation and superb show may justly be considered the Queen of the Mediterranean,' wrote John Chetwode Eustace in 1813. Until 1860 Naples was the political and administrative centre of the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies, the most beautiful kingdom in the world. Consisting of Southern Italy and Sicily, it had a land mass equal to that of Portugal and was the richest state in Europe... For five generations - from 1734 till 1860 - it was ruled by a branch of the French and Spanish royal family of Bourbon who filled the city with monuments to their reign...

The 'Borboni' as their subjects called them, were complete Neapolitans, wholly assimilated, who spoke and thought in Neapolitan dialect (indeed the entire court spoke Neapolitan)... Until 1860, glittering Court balls and regal gala nights at the San Carlo which staggered foreigners by their opulence and splendour were a feature of Neapolitan life... In 1839 that ferocious Whig Lord Macaulay was staying in the city and wrote, 'I must say that the accounts I which I have heard of Naples are very incorrect. There is far less beggary than in Rome, and far more industry... At present, my impressions are very favourable to Naples. It is the only place in Italy that has seemed to me to have the same sort of vitality which you find in all the great English ports and cities. Rome and Pisa are dead and gone; Florence is not dead, but sleepeth; while Naples overflows with life."

The Borboni's memory have been systematically blackened by partisans of the regime which supplanted them, and by admirers of the Risorgimento. They have had a particularly bad press in the Anglo-Saxon world. Nineteenth-century English liberals loathed them for their absolutism, their clericalism and loyalty to the Papacy, and their opposition to the fashionable cause of Italian unity. Politicians from Lord William Bentinck to Lord Palmerston and Gladstone, writers such as Browning and George Eliot, united in detesting the 'tyrants'; Gladstone convinced himself that their regime was 'the negation of God.' Such critics, as prejudiced as they were ill informed, ignored the dynasty's economic achievement, the kingdom's remarkable prosperity compared with other Italian states, the inhabitants' relative contentment, and the fact that only a mere handful of Southern Italians were opposed to their government. Till the end, The Two Sicilies was remarkable for the majority of its subjects' respect for, and knowledge of, its laws - so deep that even today probably most Italian judges, and especially successful advocates, still come from the south. Yet even now there is a mass of blind prejudice among historians. All too many guidebooks dismiss the Borboni as corrupt despots who misruled and neglected their capital. An entire curtain of slander conceals the old, pre-1860 Naples; with the passage of time calumny has been supplemented by ignorance, and it is easy to forget that history is always written by the victors. However Sir Harold Acton in his two splendid studies of the Borboni has to some extent redressed the balance, and his interpretation of past events is winning over increasing support - especially in Naples itself.

Undoubtedly the old monarchy had serious failings. Though economically and industrially creative, it was also absolutist and isolationist, disastrously out of touch with pan-Italian aspirations... Beyond question there was political repression under the Bourbons - the dynasty was fighting for its survival - but it has been magnified out of all proportion. On the whole prison conditions were probably no worse than in contemporary England, which still had its hulks; what really upset Gladstone was seeing his social equals being treated in the same way as working-class convicts, since opposition to the regime was restricted to a few liberal romantics among the aristocracy and bourgeoisie...

The Risorgimento was a disaster for Naples and for the south in general. Before 1860 the Mezzogiorno was the richest part of Italy outside the Austrian Empire; after it quickly became the poorest. The facts speak for themselves. In 1859 money circulating in The Two Sicilies amounted to more than that circulating in all other independent Italian states, while the Bank of Naples's gold reserve was 443 million gold lire, twice the combined reserves of the rest of Italy. This gold was immediately confiscated by Piedmont - whose own reserve had been a mere 27 million - and transferred to Turin. Neapolitan excise duties, levied to keep out the north's inferior goods and providing four-fifths of the city's revenue, were abolished. And then the northerners imposed crushing new taxes. Far from being liberators, the Piedmontese administrators who came in the wake of the Risorgimento behaved like Yankees in the post-bellum Southern States; they ruled The Two Sicilies as an occupied country, systematically demolishing its institutions and industries. Ferdinand's new dockyard was dismantled to stop Naples competing with Genoa (it is now being restored by industrial archeologists). Vilification of the Borboni became part of the school curriculum. Shortly after the Two Sicilies' enforced incorporation into the new Kingdom of Italy, the Duke of Maddaloni protested in the 'national' Parliament: 'This is invasion, not annexation, not union. We are being plundered like an occupied territory.' For years after the 'liberation,' Neapolitans were governed by northern padroni and carpet-baggers. And today the Italians of the north can be as stupidly prejudiced about Naples as any Anglo-Saxon, affecting a superiority which verges on racism - 'Africa begins South of Rome' - and lamenting the presence in the North of so many workers from the Mezzogiorno. (The ill-feeling is reciprocated, the Neapolitan translation of SPQR being Sono porci, questi Romani.) Throughout the 1860s 150,000 troops were needed to hold down the south.
Note the pattern. What made Italian unification happen? Why did Ferdinand of Naples, with his 443 million gold lire, just roll over for Charles Albert of Piedmont, with his mere 27? Two reasons: Lord Palmerston and Napoleon III. Where did exiles such as Mazzini and Garibaldi find their backers? Not in Pompeii, that's for sure.

The unification of Italy was an event in the 19th century's great struggle between liberalism and reaction. The international liberal movement of the 20th century, in which a figure such as Carl Schurz could go from German revolutionary in 1848 to Civil War general in 1861, was the clear precursor of today's "international community." And once again, we see it playing the same predatory role: conquering and destroying in the name of liberation and independence.

Unless you count the American Revolution, perhaps the first and clearest case of this strange phenomenon - multilateral independence - was the Greek War of Independence. As La Wik, without a trace of irony, puts it: "After a long and bloody struggle, and with the aid of the Great Powers, independence was finally granted by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832." Indeed.

And if we look at the citizens of said Great Powers - principally, of course, Great Britain - who gave us Greek "independence," we see the same type of people who were behind Mazzini, Schurz, and all the way down to today's "international community": liberals, radicals, thinkers, artists. Progressives. (Lord Byron is of course the archetype.) Again, these are the best and nicest people in the world, now or then. So why in the world do they always seem to turn up in the same breath as phrases like "long and bloody struggle?"

So we have not solved the anomaly of nationalism. But at least we have reduced it to the same problem as our first anomaly, which has to be something. What happened to the Third World? It was devoured by predatory, cynical, bogus nationalism. Why would educated, cosmopolitan, and civilized thinkers support predatory, cynical, bogus nationalism? Again we hit the wall.

Let's move on to our third problem: Hitler.

Of course I hold no brief for Hitler. "Joo! Joo!" The anomaly, to reprise, is that Hitler today is detested for his human-rights violations, ie, the Holocaust. And the Allies are therefore revered for defeating Hitler, wrapping the whole problem up in a neat little bow. The only problem with this human-rights theory of World War II is that it has no resemblance to reality.

First, the Allies included a fellow whose human-rights record was at least as bad as Hitler's. Second, Roosevelt and Churchill not only didn't seem to much mind the extermination of the Jews (whom they had many opportunities to save) - if anything, they covered it up. (Which makes neo-Nazi claims that the Holocaust was Allied war propaganda grimly comical, to say the least.) And third, the Allies didn't at all mind barbecuing as many enemy civilians as they could fit on the grill.

Put these facts together, and the human-rights theory of World War II makes about as much sense as the suggestion that Caesar invaded Britain because he wanted to see Manchester United play Chelsea. So why did it happen? The nominal cause of the European war was that Britain wanted to preserve a free Poland. You'd think that if this was their key goal, they would have found a way to come out of the war with a free Poland - especially having won, and all. Much the same can be said with respect to the US and China.

Note that what we are interested in, here, is not the motives of Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo. These men are dead and so are their movements. The movements that defeated them, however, live on - I think it's pretty clear that the "international community" and the Allies are one and the same. Our question is why said community had such a harsh reaction to Nazi Germany. Especially since its response to Soviet Russia, which was just as aggressive and just as murderous, was so different.

One simple answer, continuing our counterfactual, was that the fascist movement was a competing predator. Perhaps the Allies destroyed the Nazis for the same reason that a lion will kill a leopard, if it gets the chance: not because leopards are all that good to eat, but because there are only so many antelope in the world.

Unfortunately, the waters here are freshly muddied by a half-educated bestseller which argues that fascism was really a left-wing movement. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a far better writer, made the case far earlier and far more eruditely. He was still wrong.

As a reactionary Jacobite myself, I feel it's especially important to face up to the basically reactionary nature of the fascist movement. Fascism (and Nazism) were certainly creatures of the democratic era - nothing like them could have been imagined in the 19th century. They certainly borrowed many techniques of government from both liberals and Bolsheviks. And the experience of living in a totalitarian state does not much depend on whether that state is Communist, Fascist, Buddhist or Scientologist. Nonetheless, Goldberg is wrong: there is a fundamental difference.

In the 1930s, there was no confusion at all as to whether the fascist movements were parties of the extreme Right or of the extreme Left. Everyone agreed. They were parties of the Right. Populist right-wingers to be sure, but right-wingers nonetheless. For once, the conventional wisdom is perfectly accurate.

For example, in 1930 Francesco Nitti (nephew of a liberal Prime Minister by the same name) published a book called Escape, about his escape from internal exile on an Italian island. (Let's just say that it wasn't exactly the Gulag.) In the preface, his uncle the PM explains Mussolini for the English-speaking reader:
Mussolini represents a mediaeval adventure in Italy. Until some fifteen years ago, Communist and Anarchist, he defended regicide, anarchist crime, political assassination. He has written and predicted individual revolt. He has always considered all religions (these are his very words) like opium, to lull people to sleep. He has written and repeated for twenty years in his discourses that the abyss between Capitalism and the Proletariat should be filled with the heads of Capitalists. Again in the year 1920 he incited workmen to occupy factories and to pilfer. In 1914 he laughed at the Belgian occupation and urged the Italians to rebel against those who wanted to drag them into the war.
Which all sounds very well for Goldberg's thesis. But wait:
Not having succeeded in making a red revolution, he attempted a white reaction, taking advantage of the discontent after the war. He succeeded with the help of a few generals and part of the army who wanted reaction... Becoming Dictator, Mussolini has not only forswore all his past, but has introduced the most terrible reaction. All form of liberty has been suppressed; press liberty, association liberty, reunion liberty. Members of Parliament are practically nominated by the government. All political associations have been dissolved...
For those not versed in the color symbolism of 19th-century Europe, white is the color of reaction, just as red is the color of revolution. Thus, Nitti is telling us, unlike the old socialist Mussolini, the new fascist Mussolini is a reactionary. Just like the Borboni.

As we've seen, if the "international community" is a predator, reactionaries are its prey. So, while the Soviets might be seen as a competing predator, fascism is something quite different. Fascism is a species of prey that (unlike the Borboni) decided to fight back. And it was not exactly averse to fighting dirty.

Here is my perception of fascism: it was a reactionary movement that combined the worst ideas of the ancien regime, the worst politics of the democrats, and the worst tyrannies of the Bolsheviks. And what was the result? It is every bit as vanished as the Borboni. For a reactionary, fascism is more or less a short course in what not to do.

Even a lifetime later, our emotional responses to fascism and Nazism make these concepts very difficult to handle. (Full disclosure: my grandfather, a Jewish communist, enlisted in the US Army to kill Nazis. And I'm pretty sure he bagged a few.) One way to step away from these associations is to look not at the Third Reich but at the Second - the strange regime of Kaiser Bill, and the war he made.

A less loaded name for fascism might be neomilitarism. The ideology of Wilhelmine Germany was generally described as militarism, a perfectly accurate description. It was certainly reactionary, and also quite populist - for a monarchy. (World War I was extremely popular in Germany, as in all countries.) Under the Kaiser, the highest social status available was conferred by military rank. You might be a distinguished professor of physics, but if your reserve rank as a military officer was low or (worse) nonexistent, no one would talk to you at parties. Even for Americans who know something of the military, it's almost impossible to imagine living in a true militaristic society.

Why did the last survivors of the ancien regime become so aggressive and militaristic? Why, for example, did the German military jump at the opportunity to start a war in 1914? Because they believed our counterfactual - that the "international community" was a killer with fangs.

The German theory in 1914 was that the British alliance with France and Russia was designed to "encircle" Germany - not exactly implausible, if one glances at a map. And we have already seen how the British dealt with reactionaries when they got the chance. The theory of the German General Staff in 1914 was that Germany, surrounded and besieged, had to attack or it would be gradually choked to death.

This bit of Nazi propaganda from 1939 explains the German militarist theory of modern history quite well:
The deepest roots of this war are in England's old claim to rule the world, and Europe in particular. Although its homeland is relatively small, England has understood how to cleverly exploit others to expand its possessions. It controls the seas, the important points along major sea routes, and the richest parts of our planet. The contrast between England itself and its overseas territories is so grotesque that England has always has a certain inferiority complex with respect to the European continent. Whenever a continental power reached a certain strength, England believed itself and its empire to be threatened. Every continental flowering made England nervous, every attempt at growth by nations wanting their place in the sun led England to take on the policeman's role.

One must understand this to make sense of England's German policy from Bismarck to our own day. England was not happy with the results of the war of 1870-1871. British sympathies were already on France's side, since for the previous one hundred years it had never had the same fear of France as it had of Germany. France had secured its own colonial empire, and its shrinking biological strength left enough room for expansion within its own natural boundaries. Things were different in Germany. England knew that the German people were strong when they had good leadership, and that nature had given them limited, resource-poor territory with a limited coast. Great Britain kept an eye on Germany, all the more whenever Germany expressed its strength, even in the most natural ways. The Second Reich experienced England's "balance of power" policy. We know that England did not want a true balance of power. It wants a situation in which England is always in a position with the help of its allies to have its way with a minority of confident, forward-moving nations.
Obviously, this is propaganda. But one bit of real history that I can recommend to anyone is the viewpoint of the fellow on the other side of this "encirclement" business: Lord Grey of Fallodon. If you've ever wondered who said "the lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime," Lord Grey is your man. His memoirs are extremely readable - indeed, reading them one sees just why we have not seen the lamps lit again. There is simply no individual of Grey's caliber, politician or civil servant, in the whole government racket these days.

Needless to say, to Lord Grey (writing after the war), no one would ever dream of trying to encircle Germany. Rather, the German militarists are paranoid and jingoistic, constantly trying to enhance their domestic political position by triggering European crises. And indeed the pot that boiled over at Sarajevo was by no means the first such crisis - Agadir is a fine example. The British, on the other hand, are simply doing their best to keep the peace. In the end they failed, Germany attacked Belgium without provocation, and British honor bound her to respond.

I find Grey completely credible. I have no reservations about his sincerity. He certainly strikes me as a far more trustworthy character than the slippery Palmerston, who really was a bit of a snake. And his summary of the causes of the war is peerless:
After 1870 Germany had no reason to be afraid, but she fortified herself with armaments and the Triple Alliance in order that she might never have reason to be afraid in future. France naturally was afraid after 1870, and she made her military preparations and the Dual Alliance (with Russia). Britain, with a very small Army and a very large Empire, became first uncomfortable and than (particularly when Germany began a big-fleet program) afraid of isolation. She made the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, made up her quarrels with France and Russia, and entered into the Entente. Finally Germany became afraid that she would presently be afraid, and struck the blow, while she believed her power to be invincible. Heaven alone knows the whole truth about human affairs, but I believe the above sketch to be as near to a true statement of the causes of war as an ordinary intelligence can get in a few sentences.
And yet - did Germany, or more precisely the Hohenzollern monarchy, have no reason to be afraid? The Borboni were certainly caught napping. And note that, while Germany was challenging British naval hegemony, the overdog remained Britain and the underdog Germany. Who, exactly, had more reason to be afraid of whom? Grey is not exactly shy in waxing Palmerstonian about the contest between democracy and reaction:
We had no thought ourselves of going to war in 1914 because we supposed that sooner or later we should have to fight. We just strove to prevent war happening at all. But when, in spite of our efforts, war came, it is well that we took our place in it and at the outset. The latent forces at work became apparent as the war proceeded, and the incidents in which the war originated were forgotten as these forces were revealed. It was a great struggle between the Kultur that stood for militarism and the free unmilitarist democratic ideal. It was the perception of this, whether consciously or unconsciously, that brought the United States into the war - the United States, which as a whole had cared little about the incidents that caused the war at the outset, and which did not as a whole then perceive it. But it was the perception of it, revealed to us as the war developed, that made us know that we were fighting for the very life of what Britain and the self-governing Dominions cared for. We could not have escaped that struggle between militarism and democracy by turning our backs on the war in August 1914. The thing would have pursued us until we had to turn our backs and face it, and that would have been when it was even stronger and when we had become weak and isolated.
Who sounds a little paranoid here? The British Empire covered the globe. The forces of democracy and liberalism were clearly on the advance. Reactionary militarism was beleaguered. Did it absolutely have to be utterly crushed, right then and there, bang?

Note that for most of World War I, it was Germany who wanted peace on the basis of the status quo, and the Allies who insisted that Germany be defeated and militarism eradicated. Perhaps Hitler considered his war a crusade to stamp out democracy forever, but the Kaiser did not. His opponents, however, felt no such compunctions. Grey reproduces a memo from his ambassador in Washington that states the basic German perspective, as of September 1914:
German Ambassador has stated in Press that Germany is anxious for peace on basis of status quo, and desires no new territory, but that England has declared intention of fighting to finish for her selfish purposes, and is consequently responsible for further bloodshed.
Grey responds:
Germany has planned this war and chosen the time for forcing it upon Europe. No one but Germany was in the same state of preparation.

We want in future to live free from the menace of this happening again.

Treitschke and other writers of repute and popularity in Germany have openly declared that to crush Great Britain and destroy the British Empire must be the objective for Germany.

We want to be sure that this idea is abandoned. A cruel wrong has been done to Belgium - an unprovoked attack aggravated by the wanton destruction of Louvain and other wholesale vandalism. What reparation is Germany to make to Belgium for this?
Is Grey's real concern reparations to Belgium (more or less a British client state?) Clearly, it is not. His concern is setting a condition that the German militarists cannot accept without losing face, because his objective is to crush Germany and destroy the German Empire. As he wrote in early 1916:
Nothing but the defeat of Germany can make a satisfactory end to this war and secure future peace...

We must, however, be careful in stating our determination to continue the war to make it clear that our object is not to force, but to support our Allies. Increasing mischief is being made between us and our Allies by German propaganda. This propaganda represents the war as one of rivalry between Great Britain and Germany; it insinuates that France, Russia and Belgium could have satisfactory terms of peace now, and that they are continuing the war in the interest of Great Britain to effect the ruin of Germany, which is not necessary for the safety of the Allies, but which alone will satisfy Great Britain.

It is just possible that this insidious misrepresentation, false though it be, may create in France, Russia, Italy and Belgium a dangerous peace movement - a movement positively unfriendly to us.

It would be well if we could all, Ministers and Press alike, strike one note, that of determination to help the Allies who have suffered the most grievous wrong, to secure the liberation of their territory, reparation for wrong done, and the advantages necessary for their future security. We should emphasize the impossibility and disgrace of thinking of peace till the Allies are secure, but should let it be understood that it is for them whose territory is occupied by the enemy, whose population has been, and is being, so grossly ill-treated, rather than for us, to say when it is opportune to speak of peace. Till that time comes, we use all our efforts and make every sacrifice to defeat the enemy in the common cause, and have no other thought but this.
Can you make this stuff up?

We're fighting for the sake of the Allies. If they would prefer peace, it is their place to speak of peace, not ours. But let's make sure we don't let them think it's okay to think of peace, because Germany must be defeated. It's especially important to counter the insidious German peace propaganda, which may lead our Allies to think we can only be satisfied by the defeat of Germany. Which is nonsense - we're only fighting to redress the wrongs to our Allies.

Again, I am not sure these excerpts really convey the flavor of Lord Grey's thinking. Obviously I am not presenting it at its best. I really do find Grey a congenial character, as I'm sure I would not find, say, Ludendorff. It is simply impossible to think of him as a predator.

And yet once again, it is difficult not to see the fangs. In any war, each side presents itself as the injured party, and the other side as the aggressor. Is Germany trying to crush Britain? Or is Britain trying to crush Germany? Or are they both aggressors?

Again, we are at an impasse. We have a very tempting theory that seems to explain all of these anomalies quite neatly, but the theory is obviously not true. Reject it, however, and the anomalies are back - and they seem to have friends. What to do?

Continue to part 3.

90 Comments:

Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

I also find this independence thing odd and dangerous. I have always wondered how can separatists wishing (and often killing) for borders involving checkpoints, customs duties, tariffs and travel restrictions, where there were none before be labeled freedom fighters? I have never had any sympathy for those, and they have undermined my personal freedom (and those of other people whom I know) on several occasions when they were successful.

April 24, 2008 at 4:41 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

I didn't for a moment doubt that the clip was shot in the US. Didn't look like Kenya at all. I even started writing this comment to point it out, but then I read that it was deliberate. Now I'm wondering if anybody could think that this parking lot full of newish-looking expensive (i.e. big, fuel-inefficient) cars was Kenya?

April 24, 2008 at 4:55 AM  
Blogger Trurle said...

1. It seems to me that the description of Italian irredenta as Piedmont pillaging the Kingdom of two Sycilies with tacit support of London and France is somehow unfair. There was such a minor and completely ignored political actor as Austro-Hungarian empire, air-brushed out of the story in quite orwellian way.
2. Describing post-colonialist world history as following one and the only pattern appears to me as non-trivial simplification. Comparison between India, China, asian tigers, Latin America and Africa show more diverse and complex picture.
3. And this:
One test we can apply for independence, which should be pretty conclusive, is that the structures of government in a genuinely independent country should tend to resemble the structures that existed before it was subjugated - rather than the structures of some other country on which may happen to be, um, dependent.
seems to me like pure nonsense.

April 24, 2008 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

trurle --

why would it be nonsense?

If Independent Colonies are independent of their colonial overlords, they should pick the best government for them -- i.e. the one that worked for the most native people, which is often, but not always something similar to what they had before.

In choosing to merely ape their (former) conquerors, the Independent Colonies are saying, in brief, "we can't think of a better idea." Which means either:
1) Liberal Democracy is the best form of government ever and impossible to improve upon
or
2) The Independent Colonies aren't free because they can't make their own, independent, governing decisions.

Which one does Ockham favor?

Mencius --
You've left out, of course, one of the big, fat wars for decency, liberation, and freedom -- the American Civil War. I've always wondered how those Northern and Western Boys were convinced to suit up and kill and be killed for "preserving the Union." Perhaps for the same reason the Italians and Spaniards did same?

What is this civilzed thing called a nation for which we so readily turn to barbarism?

Read the blog for poetry!
Michael

April 24, 2008 at 6:33 AM  
Anonymous Leonard said...

I agree with trurle: this is nonsense: the structures of government in a genuinely independent country should tend to resemble the structures that existed before it was subjugated - rather than the structures of some other country on which may happen to be, um, dependent.

There's several very strong reasons to think that a government structure before independence (or "independence" as MM would have it) would be the same as it is afterwards.

First, and probably foremost, is the simple fact of human conservatism, especially as it relates to power structures. They tend to keep on as they were. Once you set up a bureaucracy, it will keep going so long as its salaries are paid. And even if they aren't, its first reaction is not to disband gracefully but rather to attempt to get the taxes flowing again, by any means necessary.

Most of the colonial independence events had this form: the existing colonial bureaucracy, which was manned at the top by nationals of the colonial power, but lower down by natives, had its top level replaced by natives. There was never any blank slate, nothing like America's Colonial Congress which had the opportunity and need to set up their own power structures from nothing.

Second, because a society that has been subjugated was, in fact, subjugated, and people don't like subjugation. Thus, unless there's some new facts on the ground, many people are going to resist returning to the old regime, exactly because it is known to be weak. Conquer me once, shame on you. Conquer me twice, shame on me.

Third, is the natural random distribution of human ability. It would be quite unlikely that the most ambitious, most intelligent, most educated, most charismatic men in a nation would happen to be the exactly lineal descendants of whatever old regime there was before colonialism. In fact such men would likely not even be known, for colonies that had existed for hundreds of years. (What living man is the correct monarchical heir to the Incan monarchy?) Certainly, outside of a certain legitimacy as the correct heir of the throne, the chances are small that such a man would be positioned and able to overthrow the existing government and reestablish some ancient regime.

April 24, 2008 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Leonard:

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the foe, that' all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again


The rest of the song is apropos as well but we all know it.

The question is -- if they've been "liberated" then why are things the same (or worse) and why is the government the same with darker faces?

April 24, 2008 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

if they've been "liberated" then why are things the same (or worse) and why is the government the same with darker faces?

I don't think I said anyone has been liberated, although the word could perhaps apply to the few men who end up as the new rulers. Maybe.

Things are the same initially, pretty much, other than a joyful feeling of liberty that the people get, simply because people are programmed to resent being ruled by people they perceive as "foreign". But this is just a feeling, and it quickly fades. The government quality devolves for the reasons MM (or even many libertarians) will tell you.

April 24, 2008 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Leonard --

Perhaps we are at cross purposes. I was reading your agreements with trurle as a de facto support of the idea that the "independent" colonies are actually independent (a point with which I would not agree).

I think MM was saying that the very fact they can't come up with a better, more natural form of government proves that they are, in fact, muppet states.

April 24, 2008 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Thursday said...

For those interested in the last days of the Borboni as rulers of Sicily, I'd reccommend Lampedusa's The Leopard, one of the great novels of the 20th century.

April 24, 2008 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Moldbug: you think that "Goldberg is wrong: there is a fundamental difference" between fascism and "a totalitarian state" of the left. But you don't say what it is.

Immediately next, you write this:
In the 1930s, there was no confusion at all as to whether the fascist movements were parties of the extreme Right or of the extreme Left. Everyone agreed. They were parties of the Right.

The opinions of men in the 1930s (or any other time) are not fundamental. A fundament would be something that the movement is founded on, which is non-leftist. If there is such a difference, you should say what it is. Argue the point. I'm suspecting that you think it is "militarism", but I'm not sure. And I don't see how Italy was "militarist" in some way in which the Soviet Union was not. Alternatively, you suggest that being "reactionary" is the key difference, although it is certainly not clear to me that there is anything fundamental in "reaction" if you don't actually bring back the institutions of the ancien regime.

I think "left" and "right" are far too broad for intelligent people to use for political classification. However, if I am forced to categorize using only two poles I would focus on the degree to which a governmental form is politically static as its rightishness. Any movement advocating novel political forms, in such a view, is leftist. And therefore I am with Goldberg in lumping the fascists with the radical left.

April 24, 2008 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

G. M. Palmer: I think "dependent" and "independent" are a bit like "left" and "right": too simple. Certainly, the relationship of the third world to the West is not akin to, say, the relationship of the USA to France. But even in the latter case, there is much trade between countries; we might call the two "interdependent". Dependency goes both ways, although in both cases each nation could adapt fairly easily if the other suddenly ceased to exist. (That's a sense in which we are "independent" of France.) Whereas, in the case of much of the third world, if the West went poof, the regimes there would change fundamentally in due time. So, in that sense they are dependent.

But they are not as dependent as they were in colonial times, in a different sense. Which is the sense of directly taking orders from the West. Back then, if say Britain wanted to start a new mine in Kenya, they'd take the land and start mining. Now, they'd have to buy the land, probably greasing some palms here and there, negotiating with the government for rights, paying at least some attention to the local laws, etc.

I don't see aping Western forms of government as any real "dependence" on the West. It shows dependence only in the sense of causal connection: that if we'd never invented our forms of government, that (obviously) they would not have them. Of course, in this sense we are also dependent on ourselves. So it does not distinguish us from them.

As I argued in my initial comment above, the fact that the third world mostly apes our forms doesn't really prove very much. That they are human. But we knew that. And it proves is that the state is good at persisting; but I think we already knew that as well. It certainly doesn't prove they are puppets or muppets. If you want to show that, you have to show them dancing to our tunes, mouthing our words without understanding. Ideally, you could trace the "strings".

In this context I think it might help to consider another human institution that the West imposed on much of the third world: our religion. The Roman Catholic church, in particular, in Latin America. The Church persisted after colonialism ended. Would anyone argue that their Catholicism makes them dependent on us, or proves that they are dependent on us? I don't think so. They actually, authentically, were converted.

April 24, 2008 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

I'd have recommended Il Gattopardo as an insight on the old kingdom of the Two Sicilies, but Thursday has already done so. Lampedusa was to the pre-Risorgimento mezzogiorno what William Gilmore Simms (or, più volgarmente, Margaret Mitchell) was to the antebellum South.

The plunder of the south of Italy was economically parallelled by that of the south in America. Before their respective wars, both were the richest amongst the surrounding regions; afterward, the poorest. Vae victis.

April 24, 2008 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

This all reminds me of an incident a few months back where Bill Gates was refused entry into some African country (Nigeria?) on the grounds that he could not prove he would not "become a burden to the state". I found the idea of Nigeria (or w/e) pretending to have a secure border and a functioning welfare system rather amusing.

(Elections come to mind as a more general example--almost everyone insists on holding them, even if there's only one person on the ballot.)

April 24, 2008 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

There are places in the world, where progressives, from a certain PoV do look like Nazis and are often mistaken for those. If you look at Central-Eastern Europe (e.g. Estonia, Latvia or Ukraine) from the East, the policies of U.S. State Department are eerily reminiscent of this.

April 24, 2008 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

First, the treaty of brest clearly demonstrates that the Kaiser was not without ambitions. Their ambitions might have been more traditional than the Allied goals, and maybe even less disruptive in the long run, but they were at least as grandiose.

Second, your description of freedom is remarkably consistent across Africa and the Middle East, but only holds for most of the rest of the world of we go back 20 years. Today there are an increasingly large number of people and countries that are becoming civilized. Admittedly this is mostly a result of them casting off post-colonial and socialist nonsense and importing western experts but it seems wrong to exclude the dramatic changes of the last 20 years from your analysis

April 24, 2008 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger The Ashen Man said...

Leonard, I think you and Mencius are both wrong about fascism. Of course this left-right business is ridiculous; let's define what they actually mean first and then place ideologies in relation to them. Is it, as you suggest, status quo vs. novelty, or is it authoritarian collectivism vs. liberal individualism, or is it something else?

I think books like Goldberg's (which I haven't read) are useful correctives, though, to the common conflation of fascism with Anglo-American liberal-conservatism - a patent absurdity which can only be explained by the fact that Marxists have written most of our history books.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that fascism is exactly what it says it is: a Third Position, a Synthesis of left & right, of organicism & rationalism, capitalism & socialism. Thus producing centrally managed economies which harness the productivity of the market and siphon it into social-planning programs, all held together by nationalist propaganda. Which, incidentally, sounds like most governments now existing.

April 24, 2008 at 2:42 PM  
Anonymous M said...

Leonard, you write:

"However, if I am forced to categorize using only two poles I would focus on the degree to which a governmental form is politically static as its rightishness. Any movement advocating novel political forms, in such a view, is leftist. And therefore I am with Goldberg in lumping the fascists with the radical left."

I think this is mistaken. A more accurate way to look at it is through the lens of nationalism ("right") versus trans-nationalism ("left"). In fact, if you look back over the last two hundred years this has been, starkly, the leading paradigm.

And this succinctly answer's Mencius's question - why was Nazi Germany hated so much while Communist Russia wasn't? The answer: Germany posed fundamental a threat to the trans-national complex, while Russia merely offered a slightly different version of it.

Today this battle is still being fought, although the playing field has shifted. Nationalism versus trans-nationalism. Another highly pertinent question: are countries that rely on outside help in order to exist independent? (I agree, btw, with others who mentioned that Mencius's argument that former colonies are dependent based on their political structures is a weak one). Are real independent countries even tolerated? Here's a list off the top of my head of dependent countries: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, numerous east-european countries, Taiwan, numerous asian countries, numerous south American and African countries....basically the whole world, except for two: China and Russia. (Iran is a semi-dependant, because it's existence relies on the actions the U.S. does or not take regarding it). And how are China and Russia treated in the media? They are demonized beyond belief....because the trans-national complex doesn't control them.

IMO, trans-nationalism as seen in the U.N. and controlled by the West is doomed to failure...although I fear it may bring about destruction as it collapses.

Lastly: has anyone noticed how great Mencius's posts tend to get toward the last 1/2 or last 1/3, and how meandering, verbose and tangent driven they are in the first half? Always brilliant, of course, but still...

April 24, 2008 at 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

As I wrote recently in another thread, the Nazi and Fascist parties undoubtedly began as parties of the proletarian left. Schivelbusch's book "Three New Deals" is both shorter and better written than Goldberg's, and clearly illustrates the parallels. Stephen Dorill's "Black Shirt" quotes Sir Oswald Mosley's admiring view of Franklin Roosevelt.

The main reason for the identification of Nazis and Fascists as parties of the right is, I think, that history is written by the victors. The principal victor of World War II - the only one to gain territory and plunder - was the Soviet Union. It, and its sympathizers in the West, had plenty of reasons to wish to depict the war as rooted in clear left-right ideological conflict (and for that matter, so did the non-communist left in the U.S. and western Europe). Marxists were aided in this objective by their deeper academic roster and clearer focus. Nazism is often just incoherent (Mein Kampf itself, and the screeds of Rosenberg and Streicher, are examples); while Fascism had radically differing exponents (cf. Bottai and Evola).

The kernel of truth in the description of Nazis and Fascists as parties of the right is that segments of German and Italian societies generally identified with the right, from the petit-bourgeois (MM's vaisyas or townies) to at least some of the old noblesse, came to accept if not to embrace these parties as the only viable alternatives to Bolshevism. This was particularly the case after their leaders suppressed communists and restrained the left wings of their own parties, making assurances they would preserve rights in private property, even as they approved leftist measures that were compatible with it, such as syndicalism. The innate leftism of the Nazis was subdued after the Night of the Long Knives, while that of Italian Fascism had its St. Martin's summer under the Republic of Salò.

Of course Fascists and Nazis were 'to the right' of Communists - just not by much. This notwithstanding, they were to the left both of the bourgeois liberals and of the conservative landed gentry, whose political struggles had characterized the nineteenth century. It is also important here to distinguish undisputedly right-wing but non-Fascist authoritarians like Franco and Dollfuss from Nazis and Fascists. Here is another aspect of the period that has been deliberately muddied, for ideological reasons, by Marxists and marxisants in the academy.

April 24, 2008 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: The plunder of the south of Italy was economically parallelled by that of the south in America. Before their respective wars, both were the richest amongst the surrounding regions; afterward, the poorest.
I don't suppose the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy could have anything to do with that. Not to mention that in the American case, a large chunk of population went from the numerator to the denominator of the wealth-per-capita calculation. But I know from earlier discussions that slavery doesn't bother you very much, as long as the slaveowners can avoid paying taxes.

April 24, 2008 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

The way this analysis is proceeding, it looks like there will have to be an explanation of the Protectorate. The echt-protectorate has native rulers, who may be just about as reactionary as they want, short of reinstituting the slave trade. They cede foreign policy to the metropolitan power. The 'international community' of diplomat disease-spreaders is concerned with that cession of foreign policy. Their ideal planet would allow 900 protectorates, each with its own 'vibrant, colorful' diversity of local laws, but each would have ceded foreign policy to a central cadre of diplomats. The UN is a terror-support organization though, as is state academia. More 'anomalies': the gentlemanly, scholarly and conspicuous altruists in positions of power or influence, extravagantly make proteges of terrorists.

April 24, 2008 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

if the "international community" means anything it must mean Foggy Bottom
How can it be international if it's part of one country?

And I can tell you that it is simply impossible to mistake a transnational bureaucrat (or tranzi) for an SS officer, or vice versa
The Nazis had their own State Department and diplomats. They were quite succesful in dealing with Stalin.

As anyone who has ever known any number of progressives knows, progressives are generally decent, intelligent and well-meaning people
And Nazis weren't demons spawned by Lucifer. They liked to tell jokes and scratch puppies behind the ears.

By definition, decent, intelligent and well-meaning people are not predatory
What if they prey on predators?

First: what happened to the Third World?
People often seem to forget how the Third World started out. Greg Clark, Greg North, Steve Pinker and Jared Diamond confirm Hobbes: the natural state is nasty, brutish and short.

Well, that's pretty easy. It was conquered and devastated by the "international community."
Ethiopia retained its independence most of the time, Thailand was never conquered and Liberia remained sort of independent.

What exactly is a multilateral declaration of independence
Never heard of the term before.

Foreign officials are replaced by native-born officials. Clearly, for example, it would be an outrage for true-born Americans to be governed by a dirty no-good Mex
We did steal the southwest from Mexico, in that sense they are more "indigenous". You might argue that Anglo Americans were still born here. That is also true of many European-descended inhabitants of colonies.

They're so free that they've received $2.6 trillion in aid since 1960. Does the phrase "who pays the piper calls the tune" ring any bells?
The largest recipient of aid has been Israel. Next up is Egypt, largely because they're on relatively peaceful terms with Israel. Also, I could not in good conscience go without linking to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on foreign aid. Everyone should listen to it. And his other podcasts.

One test we can apply for independence, which should be pretty conclusive, is that the structures of government in a genuinely independent country should tend to resemble the structures that existed before it was subjugated
I don't think that's a reasonable assumption. Times change. Colonies were established were there was previously no concept of the "nation state", around the time of decolonization communism was in vogue.

These structures should be especially unlikely to resemble structures in other newly independent countries, with which it presumably has nothing in common.
Except that they highly resembled each other before they were colonized!

In other words: after 1960, did the Third World become more Westernized or less Westernized?
Dictatorship, communism, tribal bloodletting and kleptocracy are uncommon in the west. They became less western.

There is exactly one region in which the former happened: the Persian Gulf
Dubai seems pretty damned westernized (before you object, remember how western the "company town" is). Shit's happening in Saudi Arabia too.

Botswana, which has diamonds
So does Sierra Leon.

In practice the place is more or less run by De Beers
Your article did not provide sufficient evidence for your point. My impression is that Botswana is quite open to investment from a large number of companies.

If Algeria and Vietnam were truly growing up and following their own destinies, you might think the former would be ruled by a Dey and the latter by emperors and mandarins
France did not rule Algeria through the Dey, and the last Vietnamese Emperor was removed by France in 1949. Thailand and Nepal still have hereditary monarchs (although the Maoists in the latter country seem to have scored an upset last week).

You'd certainly be surprised to find that they both had an organization called the "National Liberation Front."
And one of your favorite countries (Singapore) is ruled by the "National Action Party".

To whom did this rash of fresh presidents, congresses and liberation fronts owe its existence?
Da gol' durned communisses?

For that matter, who cares about all these people now? Why does a vast river of cash still flow from European and American taxpayers to these weird, camo-bedecked, mirrorshaded thugs?
Only a tiny portion of the budget goes to foreign aid (it is, after all, extremely unpopular), most of it does not go where you imply and the reasons are explained by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita in the podcast I linked to.

Sometimes the friends were in Paris
Interestingly enough, as noted in "The Battle of Algiers" (view it online), even the communist party in France supported the French military in Algeria.

It's called Terror's Advocate, and you gotta see it.
My impression is that he generally fails, so he's not too powerful. The "international community" hardly took a shining to Klaus Barbie or Slobodan Milosevic, for example.

In fact, muppet states often appear quite hostile to their masters
How would one falsify the statement that A is the master of B? Regarding de Gaulle, I will say that his 5th republic was not a puppet and his being a difficult ally is not comparable to your "dependent rebellions".

even a Khomeini
The only westerner I can recall supporting him was Michel Foucalt. Also, how much assistance do Castro and Khameinei receive today?

We have the perfect example: the Warsaw Pact, and its assorted flunkeys in Africa and Asia
None of them were examples of "dependent rebellion", they were more analogous to our Cold War allies.

and that their alliances were brotherly partnerships of equals
Have Mugabe, Castro or Khomeini ever done so? I would consider Tito as a counter-example, and later on Enver Hoxha.

Nasser
I'll grant you him. He was something of a Third World free-agent, though in the end he settled with the Soviets.

Tito
I mentioned him before, and I deny he was a puppet.

Ho Chi Minh
The U.S supported the Chinese faction against him (many forget China invaded Vietnam) and after Vietnam invaded Cambodia we supported Pol Pot.

Langley
Your link does not work for me. I've been trying the Internet Archive, but it's not working either.

reduced to desolate slums
I would use the term "returned" instead of "reduced".

Anaconda Copper
Which country did they rule?

I don't know the ratio of aid workers today to colonial administrators 50 years ago, but I'm sure it's tremendous
I'd want to see some actual numbers. I am doubtful.

the profits accruing to the West from all of this activity
Contra Lenin, colonialism was not profitable. Colonies were subsidized for the same reason Israel subsidized its kibbutzim.

massive losses
Foreign aid is a tiny, tiny, tiny portion of the budget. The ROI is explained by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita in the podcast I linked to. You could argue that there are a huge number of taxpayers shelling out for something desired by our ruling elites, but the same could be said of old-style colonialism.

Western taxpayers in the usual slow, relentless dribble
If we could get back all of our post-war aid, it would be a drop in the bucket (not that I'm fine with giving that drop). The real money is elsewhere. The money that goes to defense contractors, for instance, ridiculously outsizes it.

which are to the old chartered companies as a Lada factory is to a Honda factory
Could you elaborate?

Who benefits [...] Who loses?
In yet more of my relentless plugging, note that BBDM focuses on just that question in his podcast.

travel narratives
Not the best source of information, I would say.

Erna Fergusson's Guatemala
The book says it came out in 1944. That was the year Dictator Jorge Ubico Castaneda was pushed out by a general strike and replaced by General Juan Frederico Ponce Vaides, who was in turn replaced in a coup later that year by a military junta. The junta held elections won by a left-wing intellectual, who was overthrown by the CIA and succeeded by a sequence of generals. I don't think you can blame Guatamala's problems on socialist/liberationist government. It might instead serve as a counter-factual of what happens when the forces of "reaction" win.

Nationalist regimes and movements are good when they're doing God's work, ie, their goal is to become nice, multilateral members of the "international community."
Does that describe Mugabe or Khomeini?

it operated out of one place: London.
Colonial borders in Africa were largely settled in Berlin.

The unification of Italy - good or bad?
Unification is bad. Always, always, always. Hooray for devolution! While we're on the subject of intrigue among the Italian, French and Austrian states I highly recommend Varicella.

Neapolitan excise duties, levied to keep out the north's inferior goods
Inferior goods tend to keep themselves out. Tariffs on them would result in very little revenue.

The Yankee in me says that the Northern states in America and Italy looked down on the southern ones because they were backward and not industrialized. This was often the case for Catholic countries.

Lord Palmerston
Oddly enough, an opponent of democratic governance and a supporter of the American Confederacy, as was Napoleon III, though Garibaldi supported the Union. Palmerston wasn't much concerned with uniting Italy and his motivation was to get Austria out of northern Italy, though he did want Austria to remain a strong state.

Mazzini
Oddly enough again, he actually opposed the alliance between Piedmont and France.

Carl Schurz could go from German revolutionary in 1848 to Civil War general in 1861
Who was the analogue to Palmerston and Napoleon III?

Unless you count the American Revolution
One of the few cases in which you can't blame the Brits!

So why in the world do they always seem to turn up in the same breath as phrases like "long and bloody struggle?"
You're one to talk, complaining of our phobia of war.

if anything, they covered it up
I haven't read the book, but that would be unusual behavior. It wasn't that long ago they had hyped massacres in Belgium to high-heaven.

The nominal cause of the European war was that Britain wanted to preserve a free Poland
Was that the same as their reason for their war against Napoleon? Of course, in that instance Britain was with the forces of monarchical reaction against the enlightened revolution.

Much the same can be said with respect to the US and China
I would say that in the end China was independent, but that isn't quite the same thing as "free" in the classical liberal sense.

I think it's pretty clear that the "international community" and the Allies are one and the same
Germany isn't part of it now?

Our question is why said community had such a harsh reaction to Nazi Germany
Why did they have such a harsh reaction to Napoleon?

Especially since its response to Soviet Russia, which was just as aggressive and just as murderous, was so different.
Stalin controlled a bunch of eastern european territories and some central asian ones, along with his booby prize of part of eastern Germany minus the western part of Berlin. That's the best relevant distinction I can think of.

One simple answer, continuing our counterfactual, was that the fascist movement was a competing predator
I don't know if you are accepting what I just said above, but was Stalin not also a competing predator?

fascism was really a left-wing movement
I don't know if I'd say this if I hadn't spend so much time at Overcoming Bias, but I'd say that's a fairly meaningless question it would be best not to waste time on. Theists can debate the essence of this and that to argue whether it is good or evil, the reductionist materialist may instead dismiss the whole argument.

In the 1930s, there was no confusion at all as to whether the fascist movements were parties of the extreme Right or of the extreme Left. Everyone agreed
I'm not convinced. Maybe I should read more literature from the time.

Francesco Nitti (nephew of a liberal Prime Minister
I don't think an enemy of the regime would be the most trust-worthy source.

All form of liberty has been suppressed; press liberty, association liberty, reunion liberty. Members of Parliament are practically nominated by the government. All political associations have been dissolved
And that couldn't happen under a communist government? I guess the communist party would count as a political association, but then so would the fascists. The Greek military junta is an example of a non-monarchical government that rejected political associations, including fascist ones.

For those not versed in the color symbolism of 19th-century Europe
What about those who don't care about colors and symbolism? Art and symbolism is for liberals, and we hates them hard.

if the "international community" is a predator, reactionaries are its prey
Reactionaries like Mossadegh?

So, while the Soviets might be seen as a competing predator, fascism is something quite different. Fascism is a species of prey that (unlike the Borboni) decided to fight back. And it was not exactly averse to fighting dirty.
How is that different from the Soviets?

Kaiser Bill, and the war he made
You blame him for starting the war? Our reactionary has bought into perfidious Albion's propaganda!

It was certainly reactionary, and also quite populist - for a monarchy
Which monarchies at the time were less populist?

Why, for example, did the German military jump at the opportunity to start a war in 1914
Granting that for the sake of argument, my answer is that the idiots had removed Bismarck.

Lord Grey of Fallodon
According to your link, he exposed the Hindu-German conspiracy in which Indian nationalists would have claimed independence from the British Raj. Combine that with the shipping of Lenin to Russia and it appears as if Wilhelmine Germany was left-wing agitator as bad as the State department!

And yet - did Germany, or more precisely the Hohenzollern monarchy, have no reason to be afraid? The Borboni were certainly caught napping
Nationalist unification had already occurred (though Bismarck kept Austria out yet friendly to keep Prussia dominant). They don't seem quite as vulnerable in that regard as the Borbonis.

And note that, while Germany was challenging British naval hegemony, the overdog remained Britain and the underdog Germany
Quite true, hence this Blackadder clip.

It was a great struggle between the Kultur that stood for militarism and the free unmilitarist democratic ideal
Where does Tsarist Russia fit in there? I believe Italy and England also had monarchs at the time. It could be argued they had parliaments, but so did Germany and Austro-Hungary.

we were fighting for the very life of what Britain and the self-governing Dominions cared for
The first one is implausible, the latter not so much (except the "self-governing" bit).

Perhaps Hitler considered his war a crusade to stamp out democracy forever
Nope. He sought to ally with England and didn't think Germany would fight the U.S until long after his death. It would have been rather unrealistic to try wiping out democracy, even if he did have quite a low opinion of it.

Treitschke and other writers of repute and popularity in Germany
Never heard of them, but I wish MM had discussed them.

Belgium (more or less a British client state
Wasn't it neutral?

Can you make this stuff up?
No, and I have to admit it was a great find.

I'm sure I would not find, say, Ludendorff
The rare person who was too crazy and war-hungry for Hitler!

Or are they both aggressors?
Sounds like the most plausible explanation to me, though as noted Germany was really the underdog and was not a threat to England.

Phew, on to the comments!


Daniel Nagy:
I have never had any sympathy for those
Now you've ruined all my mental images of you with a Confederate flag on your belt-buckle.

I didn't for a moment doubt that the clip was shot in the US
Me neither, and I'm still confused why he brought up Kenya.


Trurle, good points.


G. M. Palmer:
If Independent Colonies are independent of their colonial overlords, they should pick the best government for them
Granting for the sake of argument such a thing as "best government", there is no reason at all to assume that people will choose it. People are idiots. Especially Third Worlders.

In choosing to merely ape their (former) conquerors
I would reiterate what I said about the raririty of third world varieties of government in the west. MM would consider military rule to be a sort of reactionary government, but it's relatively common in the third world.

I've always wondered how those Northern and Western Boys were convinced to suit up and kill and be killed for "preserving the Union."
People are idiots and like to fight is a simple answer, but I won't cite Ockham in support.


Leonard, good points again. Status quo bias can be a powerful thing.
There was never any blank slate, nothing like America's Colonial Congress which had the opportunity and need to set up their own power structures from nothing
I have argued elsewhere that the American War of Independence was a rather conservative revolt of local elites that intended to preserve their existing power against the encroachments of their distant lord.


G. M. Palmer
The question is -- if they've been "liberated" then why are things the same (or worse) and why is the government the same with darker faces?
It isn't the same, it's worse. The reason is because they've been liberated. Once again, no reason to expect improvement.


Leonard:
And I don't see how Italy was "militarist" in some way in which the Soviet Union was not
Indeed, Nazi Germany was an aberration. Spain, Portugal, Italy and pre-Anschluss Austria all seem more like each other than Nazi Germany.

I think "left" and "right" are far too broad for intelligent people to use for political classification
A dichotomy is useful because in Parliament there is generally the Government and Opposition. Expanding that across large gaps in time and space leads to nonsense.

Any movement advocating novel political forms, in such a view, is leftist
Mencius Moldbug: far leftist.

Back then, if say Britain wanted to start a new mine in Kenya, they'd take the land and start mining. Now, they'd have to buy the land, probably greasing some palms here and there, negotiating with the government for rights, paying at least some attention to the local laws, etc.
Not to mention guys like him.

if we'd never invented our forms of government, that (obviously) they would not have them
Nomadic Arab tribes are sometimes described as traditionally having something like democracy. Bertrand de Jouvenel sort of thought of it that way, claiming their leader makes a decision and whenever they don't like it they kill him!

The Roman Catholic church, in particular, in Latin America. The Church persisted after colonialism ended. Would anyone argue that their Catholicism makes them dependent on us, or proves that they are dependent on us? I don't think so. They actually, authentically, were converted.
Few are aware that the sinister Jesuits actually control the world and the Freemasons & Zionists are merely their pawns.


Daniel A. Nagy:
If you look at Central-Eastern Europe
One of the places where Soros and the neocons seem to agree.

eerily reminiscent of this
I didn't quite understand the picture.


Studd Beefpile:
First, the treaty of brest clearly demonstrates that the Kaiser was not without ambitions
They defeated Russia and took some of its territory, not too different from the Franco-Prussian war. Except there Bismarck goaded Napoleon III into attacking, in WW1 Serbian terrorists riled up Austria into invading Serbia, resulting in Russia's mobilization, resulting in Germany's mobilization.


M, Murderers Among Us:
A more accurate way to look at it is through the lens of nationalism ("right") versus trans-nationalism ("left")
An interesting perspective that covers the Stalinist-Trotskyite split and neocon/paleo divide. I discussed Peter Myers, who goes more in depth on the issue, here.

Iran is a semi-dependant, because it's existence relies on the actions the U.S. does or not take regarding it
That's certainly an odd way of looking at things.


The Ashen Man and Michael S, respectively:
Marxists have written most of our history books
that history is written by the victors
Good points. Our vision of the past is indeed quite distorted.

The innate leftism of the Nazis was subdued after the Night of the Long Knives
There are parallels to Stalinist Russia.

April 25, 2008 at 12:23 AM  
Anonymous m said...

tggp: I suppose I should clarify my position on Iran further. Iran is dependent on the U.S. in a number of ways:

1) The mullahs are fairly unpopular, and a key ingredient in their political formula is anti-Americanism. It's easy to see how they fan and contract the flames of conflict based on one or another faction's internal needs.

2) Iran relies on China and Russia to shield it against the international community. The U.S., meanwhile, has been incredibly aggressive against Russia's sphere of influence and against China's interests (see the Olympics, for an example). If the U.S. had a different approach to these two countries, Iran would be much more vulnerable to international sanctions which - possibly, just possibly! - might have had a bite to them. Anyways, their dependency has shifted mainly from the West to Russia and China, which are basically the only truly independent countries in the world.

3) In a head to head matchup, at least militarily, Iran loses. Badly. They know this, and (a) they're going to keep things quiet this year because they want Obama in the white house and (b) because their trump card is the ability to block the Straight of Hormuz. See: oil prices.

April 25, 2008 at 1:23 AM  
Anonymous Seamus McCauley said...

If you've ever wondered who said "the lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime," Lord Grey is your man.

He very probably said no such thing, although admittedly WW1 historians have found it inevitably difficult to prove beyond doubt a case that rests on a man long dead having never uttered a particular form of words.

April 25, 2008 at 3:59 AM  
Anonymous Seamus McCauley said...

I really do find Grey a congenial character, as I'm sure I would not find, say, Ludendorff. It is simply impossible to think of him as a predator.

Not least because he had to be more-or-less begged by successive administrations to return to public office. All he really wanted to do was be left in peace to watch birds and write about ornithology, but with increasingly obvious reluctance kept returning to office on the (hardly humble, but nonetheless rather endearing) basis that it was an important, difficult job and no-one else could really do it properly.

April 25, 2008 at 4:04 AM  
Blogger Neutrino Cannon said...

Full disclosure: my grandfather, a Jewish communist, enlisted in the US Army to kill Nazis. And I'm pretty sure he bagged a few.


Nitpick: Wehrmacht members were not necessarily Nazis. Indeed, for reasons that time has largely swallowed, the Wehrmacht was one of the last National German institutions to become completely swallowed by Nazism. Certainly, the Wehrmacht of the 1930's was avowedly nonpolitical, and required all Nazi Party members to resign, but this was later ignored and then abolished. Saying that someone was a German soldier, but not a Nazi, could be a statement of fact regarding their official group membership, therefore, and not just a metaphorical illustration of their loyalties.

The other branches were a different story (again, for demographical and historical reasons that have been generally forgotten), and the SS was initially a way to get around the apolitical policies Wehrmacht, and later a way for suspicious Nazis to make sure that the army stayed in line.

The view of a more or less politically homogeneous Nazi Germany is an acceptable simplification from an international perspective. For a more nuanced historical narrative, however, it certainly helps put Hitler's legendary paranoia in perspective.

April 25, 2008 at 5:21 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

tggp (et al):

Then what the hell do words like "liberated" and "independent" mean?

That is -- why do they have such positive connotations (I think MM is trying to head in this direction but the essays are getting awfully unwieldy) if they are such demonstrably bad things?

Blog, blog, bloggity, poetry blog,
Michael

April 25, 2008 at 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, cheap shots as usual. They are also inaccurate ones.

I believe I have quoted my old friend Mel Bradford before on slavery. His view, as mine, was that slavery was certainly an evil, but it was neither the only evil, nor the worst one, that could possibly exist in a society. Slavery was not the unique creation of the American South, but was an institution that existed at one time throughout most of the world and for most of recorded history. Had it been let alone in the Uinted States as it was in Brazil, it probably would have come to a similarly pacific end - with a whimper rather than a bang. The defeated Confederacy did not get a Marshall plan. It got something like the plan Morgenthau proposed for Germany. The poverty of the American south and the troubled race relations that have persisted since that time are at least as much the result of this punitive Reconstruction as they are of the institution of slavery itself.

The remarkable thing about the redistribution of wealth both from the south of Italy and the old Confederacy was the speed with which it took place. There was certainly a transition from agriculture to industry as the principal economic activitiy during the nineteenth century. Political conflicts between agrarian and commercial interests took place all over the world at this time, as for example the struggle over the Corn Laws in Britain. Yet if one is to attribute the loss of the South's wealth solely to that, and not to the plundering it underwent as a consequence of the war, why was not the economic realignment in Britain similarly quick?

As for Italy, its north was never a great industrial power comparable to the northeastern U.S. or the British midlands. The rapid decline of the Mezzogiorno cannot be attributed to the notion that the Piemonte or Tuscany were vibrant centers of commerce and manufacturing.

I recall in a previous thread you made your derision for the Southern planter class quite clear. I didn't get the chance then, so I'll thank you for your candor. Most commentators about American history or politics are somewhat more reluctant to express such low opinions of figures like George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, all of whom were drawn from, and were reasonably representative, of that class.

April 25, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

In terms of all those soft-hearted, mild-mannered and diplomatic progressives being psychologically incapable of being predators, it may be like the distinction between the men of action and the men of ideas. Before you got Lenin, the milquetoast Kerensky was radiating compassion and liberation. Looking for a connection beyween Soros and McCain, I elsewhere said: It may be that, since loyalty to fellow nationals is an obstacle to the trans-national freedom-for-aggression, one who identifies completely and depravedly with the aggressor, would especially hate that which frustrates a larger scope for aggression.
Predators within the squeamishness set, the strange case of the unaccountably good and scary bad nationalisms, and more might come under such comparisons.

April 25, 2008 at 6:11 PM  
Anonymous m said...

John: I'm not completely following you, but let me offer another possible reason why there exists such animosity between trans-nationalists like Soros and neo-conservatives like Mccain. I think you've correctly identified that they're both made of the same cloth, wanting to spread "freedom" and "democracy" to the world and incidentally turn them into heavily dependent, destroyed welfare states.

But the reason why they hate each other is that trans-nationals want the U.N. to be the enlightened institution running the world, while neocons want the U.S. to be the ones to do it.

Thus, even though neocons have accepted all of the aspects of progressivism, they still retain nationalism at its core....and nationalism, of course, in any form is the arch-enemy of trans-nationalism.

April 25, 2008 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

There can be fierce contests for power and influence within the anti-patriotic fronts. To the neocon, America is an idea, a notion, a proposition, but absolutely not a loyalty to fellow citizens relative to the foreigner. What was stated in the post though, was that we have progressives, such as in the diplomatic service, who are of such delicate, non-violent temperament, that to classify them as imperial 'predator', is none too credible. None of them look much like SS officers, perhaps; but many do look like the soviet mass murderers, or the functionaries of those liquidations. Pol Pot was an education graduate student at the Sorbonne. Do the faces of Beria, Trotsky, Eichmann, and many others look so unkind? You might have to see them when their expressions show hostility and malice towards a group which they feel is the enemy.

April 25, 2008 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

TGGP:

Me with a confederate flag on the belt-buckle. LOL! I've been to the American South once, spending the whole of 1 week in Msisseeppi. I'm an East-European of Russian and Hungarian Jewish descent living in, well, Eastern Europe. :-)

As for the picture, it is a famous Nazi poster depicting the armies of United Europe standing up against Russian barbarity (or ganging up on Russia, depending on how you look at it).

Western rhetoric (including progressive Western rhetoric) concerning security in Europe matches that of the Nazis almost word for word. In places like Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine (also, to some extent, in the Caucasus) it gets so confusing that neo-nazis and progressives have difficulties distinguishing themselves from each-other.

April 26, 2008 at 2:11 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

Here is a long Brahmin screed whining about the supposed power of those wretched Vaisyas. So course, so brutal and stupid, so intolerant! Why don't they just shut up and let the northeastern Brahmins run things?

This thought, which has been recurring to me regularly over the years as I've watched the Southernization of our national politics at the hands of the GOP and its evangelical base, surfaced again when I read a New York Times story today. The article was about an "American Idol" contestant--apparently quite talented--who was eliminated after she sang the title song from "Jesus Christ Superstar." When it debuted 38 years ago, the rock opera was considered controversial for its rather arch portrayal of a doubt-wracked, very human Jesus, but the music was so good and the lyrics so clever that it quickly became a huge hit. In the delicate balance of forces that have always defined American tastes--nativism and yahooism versus eagerness for the new and openness to innovation--art, or at least high craft, it seemed, had triumphed. But our national common denominator of taste is so altered today that the blasphemous dimension of "Jesus Christ Superstar" now trumps the artistic part. And somehow, no one is surprised. Our reaction is more like, "Why would she risk singing a song like that?"

In part this is a triumph of demographics. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge observed in their 2004 book, "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America," the nation's population center has been "moving south and west at a rate of three feet an hour, five miles a year." Another author, Anatol Lieven, in his 2005 book "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism," describes how the "radical nationalism" that has so dominated the nation's discourse since 9/11 traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest--in other words, what we know today as Red State America. This region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants--the same ethnic mix King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics. After succeeding at that, they then settled the American Frontier, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. And the Southern frontiersmen never got over their hatred of the East Coast elites and a belief in the morality and nobility of defying them. Their champion was the Indian-fighter Andrew Jackson. The outcome was that a substantial portion of the new nation developed, over many generations, a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores. Traditionally, it has been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest. But that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers--and cultural weight.

The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. We must endure "lapel-pin politics" that elevates the shallowest sort of faux jingoism over who's got a better plan for Iraq and Afghanistan. We have re-imported creationism into our political dialogue (in the form of "intelligent design"). Hillary Clinton panders shamelessly to Roman Catholics, who have allied with Southern Protestant evangelicals on questions of morality, with anti-abortionism serving as the main bridge. Barack Obama seems to be so leery of being identified as an urban Northern liberal that he's running away from the most obvious explanation of his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers: after Obama graduated from college he became an inner-city organizer in Chicago, and they were natural allies for someone in a situation like that. We routinely demonize organizations like the United Nations that we desperately need and which are critical to missions like nation-building in Afghanistan. On foreign policy, the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern-frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check. Now the latter two, in toxic combination, have taken over our national dialogue, and the Easterners are running for the hills.

April 26, 2008 at 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

Wehrmacht members were not necessarily Nazis. Indeed, for reasons that time has largely swallowed, the Wehrmacht was one of the last National German institutions to become completely swallowed by Nazism. Certainly, the Wehrmacht of the 1930's was avowedly nonpolitical, and required all Nazi Party members to resign, but this was later ignored and then abolished. Saying that someone was a German soldier, but not a Nazi, could be a statement of fact regarding their official group membership, therefore, and not just a metaphorical illustration of their loyalties.

By the time it was possible to join the US Army to kill Nazis, the Wehrmacht - including the Heer - was pretty thoroughly Nazified. The influence of Nazism in keeping the German Army fighting in 1944-45 should not be underestimated.

April 26, 2008 at 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Lugo, thanks for the interesting quotation.

How odd it is to read this writer's conjugation of "Southern-frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism." Yes, I suppose Wilson was born in Virginia, but he spent most of his life an active partisan of that very "Eastern elitist tradition" the writer so admires.

Southern (and Western) sentiment was largely opposed to U.S. entrance into WWI, while the Anglophile and largely Northeastern "realism and internationalism" whose standardbearer Woodrow Wilson was, champed at the bit to jump into the fray. After the war, it was the American heartland that was the stronghold of isolationism, while the East coast élite was again pro-war.

Analyses like these call the historical knowledge of their writers severely into question. Also they make evident, if there were ever any reason to doubt it, the contempt of the Brahminate for most of the population of the country they wish, and regard themselves rightly entitled, to rule.

April 26, 2008 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Yeah, thanks for that, I agreed with it about 95%. It's nothing new of course, Michael Lind has been making the point about the battle between cavalier and yankee US subcultures for some time now (and Mencius' theory of the battle between Pentagon and State seems largely similar). We would indeed be better off if we could let the South secede, it's relatively an economic and cultural backwater. But it appears that we're stuck with them.

The invariably wrong Michael S said:
they make evident...the contempt of the Brahminate for most of the population of the country they wish, and regard themselves rightly entitled, to rule.

Southern shitkicker culture is not, and never has been, the culture of the majority. Praise Jesus. Unfortunately they do tend to outbreed the more intelligent segments of the population, so this may not be true in the future. As the article said, this trend is largely responsible for the horrendous state of our poltical culture, and it may not be possible to reverse the trend. This country will not be a fun place to be if we get another 4-8 years of southern-fried morons running the show.

Another way to see the rift in the culture is between urban, educated, cosmopolitans; and hicks. It is funny to see the terminally pretentious Michael S, who likes to decry the coarsening of culture, running to defend the segment that brings us the "Left Behind" books and The Dukes of Hazzard.

April 26, 2008 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger John S. Bolton said...

Can today's more-educated cultural-political groupings be trusted to be loyal to the continuity of the advancement of civilization, though? In the nations where scholars are revered, there also mass-murder or its its exponents have mounted the thrones of the people's republics and social democracies. Scholars who depend on the rich, or on hereditary ruling families, do not raise up mass murder as an end-in-itself; but the government-fed ones can't seem to avoid it. That is, so long as they eat out of the hand of a government which is not really the property of a ruling family. The solution is to have ALL scholars depend on charity from the rich ladies whose priorities are genealogies of their families and such. No textbook royalties if these must be sold to public schools. Nothing else will stop the onslaught of power-greedy intellectuals pushing for Khmer Rouge equality and brotherhood and freedom for extermination programs. Meanwhile you have to depend on redneck America to distrust the scholar's political suggestions.

April 26, 2008 at 8:47 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Was it "Southern shitkicker" culture, to quote Mtraven, about which Obama was commiserating with his billionaire donors in San Francisco? Since when has Pennsylvania been south of the Mason-Dixon line?

What Mtraven and his supposedly educated, urban, sophisticated crowd in fact despise is not only southern, but is also the norm in the midwest and inter-mountain west. Look at the electoral map in the last presidential election. By the way, the "Dukes of Hazzard," like the "Beverly Hillbillies" and many others of this genre, is a creation of Hollywood. I am not surprised that Mtraven confounds these patronizing caricatures with reality.

April 27, 2008 at 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

On the proposed yankee/cavalier conflict, one can go back much farther for this political analysis than Lind. Carl Oglesby's "The Yankee-Cowboy War" (1976) makes a very similar statement, though it is primarily used there as a prop for Oglesby's conspiracy theories.

Where Michael Hirsh (the writer quoted by lugo) is wrong is in suggesting that the militarily aggressive posture of the Bush administration is entirely or even primarily a product of the "Southern frontier/warrior culture."

Rather it is the case that what passes for conservatism in this country is just what was thought of as liberalism a few decades ago. Today's neoconservatives are, after all, the liberals of forty or fifty years past. Are Wolfowitz, Feith, Podhoretz, or Kristol Scots-Irish names from the old South? Give us a break!

Hirsh is closer to the mark in targeting Wilsonian messianism. He omits to note that when Wilson was president, it was the élites of New York and New England that supported 'making the world safe for democracy,' while the pulpits from which fiery sermons were preached to advance such views were 'progressive' rather than fundamentalist. A good reference on this period is Richard M. Gamble's "The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation."

The historical echoes we should see in the presidency of George W. Bush certainly include Wilsonian internationalism. We can also discern those of a later period of internationalism under the administrations of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. There is a particularly distinct parallel between Donald Rumsfeld's management of the Department of Defense and Robert McNamara's.

April 27, 2008 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

The Dukes of Hazzard was a Hollywood product designed to appeal to rural hicks, and did, quite successfully. You can swap the native creations NASCAR and 98% of country music for it in my list if you like.

I should say that cultures are complex things and not everything produced by the white south is crap, although little good stuff comes to mind. Faulkner and Flannery O'Conner, and a few other writers. Some popular music, but the admixture of black influence is so heavy in that case that it hardly counts. Barbecue? I'm sure there's more.

It is unfair to dismiss a whole region or people based on its worst tendencies. I would not be hating on the South if not for its pernicious influence on larger-scale US poltics and culture. It's the region largely responsible for electing Republican idiots to office, and it's dumbing down science education by trying to replace evolution with fundamentalism, to name just two examples.

April 27, 2008 at 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, I think it is the style rather than the substance of the "Republican idiots" and the people who elect them that bothers you. When all is said and done, it won't make much difference whether Lightnin' or the Wicked Witch wins the Democratic nomination, or whether one of them prevails or not over the Keating 1/5. The country will still be ruled mainly by judges and bureaucrats committed to the program of enlarging the state, sucking more blood from the taxpayer, and sticking their noses still further into the affairs of civil society in a manner our (or at least my) ancestors never dreamt could happen. We passed the point of inflection long ago and it is all downhill from here.

As for 'replacing evolution with fundamentalism,' I think what you really mean is asserting Christianity against the vulgar Epicureanism that underlies the modern presentation of Darwin. Evolution properly so called says nothing about the origin of life, only about the origin of species. It is the representation of life's origin as a random and purposeless phenomenon that is offensive to the religious. Personally, I believe the existence of the edifice implies the prior existence of an architect (as argued by Plato in the Timæus, the Republic, and by whomever wrote lib. v of the Corpus Hermeticum). But since we cannot really know by empirical means what accounts for it, why must asserting one thing or another about it be a matter of public policy, to be asserted by hired propagandists in government schools, at all?

"Evolution" as its proponents wish to teach it in these places is merely an alternative creation myth to that of the Abrahamic religions, which they seek to undermine. The science of evolution - including the concept that different geographically separated human populations can evolve significantly different traits, including those of character and intelligence - is more suppressed than it is taught. Ask Larry Summers or James Watson!

All this is a good argument for privatizing education, and letting parents, rather than the state, choose how their kids will be taught. The harm this might do in a handful of crackpot situations pales by comparison with that the state does daily in the massive failure known as public schooling.

April 27, 2008 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

. Evolution properly so called says nothing about the origin of life, only about the origin of species. It is the representation of life's origin as a random and purposeless phenomenon that is offensive to the religious.

I don't think that's right. Christianity (and Judaism) teach that people (unlike other animals) are created in God's image. Once you accept the idea that we are distant cousins not just of apes but of fish and flatworms, I think you've blown a fundamental premise of those religions out of the water. Where the first blue-green algae came from may be an interesting question, but not a theologically important one.

The idea that humans are "special" is quite likely a useful fiction, and I expect its overthrow will result in us treating each other worse rather than treating our fellow animals better. But fiction it is, and that will become increasingly difficult to deny.

April 27, 2008 at 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mr. Weinberg, you should consult the encyclical of Pius XII, Humani generis, and the recent writings of Cardinal Schönborn, on evolution and its compatibility with Christianity. I am no theologian but suggest those two are far more expert than either of us at that discipline; their position on evolution as a potential means of carrying out the Divine Architect's design is either neutral (Pius XII) or positive (Schönborn). We can safely disregard the televangelists. It is a sign of the decadence of our times that the faith of Augustine and Aquinas, of Luther and Cranmer, must fall back upon such crude and inept defenders.

April 27, 2008 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Hah, Carl Oglesby! I'd forgotten about that book of his, and I have his new one on my to-read pile. And I just found this interview with him at Reason, which should be interesting to people who are trying to build left-libertarian alliances today.

I actually agree that you can't lay the blame for the Iraq war on Cavalier culture, other than they are the voting bloc that makes it possible to elect the people who are. Real wars seem to start when the eastern establishment culture tries to adopt the warrior values of the south. Perhaps it's a function of effete urbanites trying to prove their toughness -- a pathology which our current president embodies in his very faux-Texan being.

I think it is the style rather than the substance of the "Republican idiots" and the people who elect them that bothers you... I have no idea what you mean, but it sounds wrong. It is not Southern accents, or clothing style that bother me, but southern opinions. BTW, the casual racism and sexism is just embarassing, or should be, and reveals that all your blithering about Obama's comments about arugula or bitterness are just covering up for something more ugly. Big surprise. I was of a similar opinion to yours in 2000 (that it wouldn't make much difference who which party won the election), but I was wrong then, and have been repenting and trying not to make similar mistakes. As I think I mentioned elsewhere, yes, all people running for president are inherently power-hungry egomaniacs, but there is a hell of a lot of variation within that species.

The theory of natural selection has very little to say about the origin of life, so your comments in that respect are, as is often the case, spectacularly irrelevant, ignorance disgusied by a thin veneer of classical gas. The evolutionism/creationism conflict is not about differing philosophies, it is about the underminding of science education by fundamentalist religion. You can't understand modern biology without understanding evolution, and you can't be considered an educated member of the modern world without understanding biology. Or, OK, it is about differering philosophies. You can philosophically accept the reality of the world as described by science, or you can be an ignorant yahoo better suited for life in the middle ages.

It is, of course, possible to have religious faith without undermining science -- don't ask me how, but you can ask Francis Collins. But people like Collins are not the ones we are talking about.

Re: public schools, I am not totally at odds with you. I'm not very happy with the educational system myself. However, public schools do a fairly reasonable (not great, but not horrible) job when they are well-funded. School funding in the US is wildly variable (and of course its correllated with the economic class of the students). How about this for a deal: we privatize education with a voucher system, but ensure that all students receive equal amounts of funding?

April 27, 2008 at 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

You can't understand modern biology without a knowing a good deal of the underlying chemistry, either. How many high school students do? How many, for that matter, know how to identify the North American birds, or wildflowers? These things are biology at a much more practical level, and they are not taught. Neither, for that matter, is the philosophical basis of the scientific method, which ought to raise many troubling questions about the logical and epistemological foundations of the theory of evolution.

But youngsters who understand none of these things are taught that life began as random agglomerations of molecules in the primordial soup (which IS Epicureanism - see Lucretius) and that men descend from this accidental event. From this all the catchphrases and clichés of the moral relativism, nihilism, and hedonism that underlie modern secular society may ultimately be derived or justified. This is why such emphasis is placed on the centrality of evolution in modern public education.

April 27, 2008 at 7:43 PM  
Anonymous m said...

Michael S. writes: All this is a good argument for privatizing education, and letting parents, rather than the state, choose how their kids will be taught. The harm this might do in a handful of crackpot situations pales by comparison with that the state does daily in the massive failure known as public schooling.

Mencius has established in previous posts that educational transmission trumps societal or parental transmission in the long run. And, of course, the state has a great reason for butting its nose in its citizen's education: control....

For the modern state, brainwashing its citizens into loving welfare government gives it vastly increased power over time. Because the state's fundamental purpose is to enlarge itself at the expense of private enterprise, destroying obstacles in its way (i.e. those who hate the current system) contributes enormously to its goal.

By the way, I don't object to public education the way some of you do. I think it's absolutely necessary for societal stability - a system based purely or even mainly on private education would leadto stratification and in the long run to instability and possibly even civil war. What I object to is the current public school system which promotes progressivism, an ideological system barreling toward cataclysmic destruction.

April 27, 2008 at 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Further to Mtraven: I said I thought your problem with the supposed Southern frontier-warrior culture was with its style rather than its substance because you devoted such lengthy attention to the "Dukes of Hazzard," NASCAR, country music, and other presumptive evidence of its bumpkinship. Please forgive me for failing to understand these as elements of substance, as you evidently do, rather than of style.

As for 'casual racism' to whose do you refer? James Watson's?... 'and sexism'? Larry Summers's? Does or does not the principle of free enquiry make legitimate the scientific discussion of whether geographically separated human populations that have come to have distinct physical characteristics (races) might also have developed differences in character or native intelligence? Does or does not the same principle make legitimate the scientific discussion of whether the two sexes might have in like manner evolved (in adapting to their different social functions) such distinctions of character or intelligence? The people who cried down Watson and Summers for making these suggestions have much more in common with Bellarmine than with Galileo. Eppur si muove.

I note that the article "America's Tribes" by Michael Lind to which you approvingly linked contained the following observation:

"When murders committed by blacks and Latinos are not counted, the anthropologist Marvin Harris has observed, 'America's rates of violent crime are much closer to the rates found in Japan.'"

Does acknowledging that point (which is, so far as I know, not sincerely disputed) count as 'casual racism'? What do you on the left propose to do about these miscreants? Give them bigger welfare handouts and coddle them into behaving more tractably?

April 27, 2008 at 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Still further to Mtraven: why equal funding for all students?

How about IQ tests at an early age - and funding for such education as they suggest the child is able to absorb? Why should someone with IQ 95 get the same as one with IQ 135?

The government schooling system destroys the incentive and breaks the spirit of many bright kids who have been held within their age cohorts for thirteen long years from K-12 rather than being allowed to range as far and as fast as their abilities permit. One size does not fit all in education any more than it does in clothing.

April 27, 2008 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

You can't understand modern biology without a knowing a good deal of the underlying chemistry, either. How many high school students do?
Well, while it is certainly good to know some chemistry, there is a good deal of biology that is independent of biochemistry. Darwin came up with his theory 100 years before the chemical basis of genetics was discovered. Chemistry is part of the HS curriculum, whether it goes far enough is another matter.

Neither, for that matter, is the philosophical basis of the scientific method, which ought to raise many troubling questions about the logical and epistemological foundations of the theory of evolution.
Like what? Are you suggesting that high school students are competent to debate complex issues in the philosophy of science?

But youngsters who understand none of these things are taught that life began as random agglomerations of molecules in the primordial soup (which IS Epicureanism - see Lucretius) and that men descend from this accidental event.
Live with it.

From this all the catchphrases and clichés of the moral relativism, nihilism, and hedonism that underlie modern secular society may ultimately be derived or justified.
If science classes are in fact teaching that a consequence of evolution is nihilism and hedonism, then they are indeed guilty of intellectual malpractice. Stuff like that has no more place in a science classroom than creationism. But I doubt that is happening; you are just making stuff up. And not doing a very good job of it. I thought one of the things you don't like about schools is how they indoctrinate all sorts of politcally-correct moral values. How can they do that and be inculcating nihilism and hedonism at the same time? Please get your story straight.

This is why such emphasis is placed on the centrality of evolution in modern public education.
Uh, no. It is emphasized because it just is central, and because it is one of the most powerful ideas ever produced, and because (contrary to your first point) it can be grasped without knowing a lot about chemistry and other related domains, and is thus readily accessible to students of any age.

April 27, 2008 at 9:39 PM  
Anonymous m said...

I thought one of the things you don't like about schools is how they indoctrinate all sorts of politcally-correct moral values. How can they do that and be inculcating nihilism and hedonism at the same time? Please get your story straight.

Ooh, this one's easy. Political correctness is basically universal unitarianism/progressivism. UU's hold personal pleasure as the end-all-be-all with no objective right or wrong. Easy to see how this cult of personal pleasure devolves into nihilism and hedonism when there's no divine purpose or standard to hold to. According to wiki: "Most Unitarian Universalists believe that nobody has a monopoly on all truth, or ultimate proof of the truth of everything in any one belief. Therefore, one's own truth is unprovable, as is that of others. Consequently, we should respect the beliefs of others, as well as their right to hold those beliefs." Hedonistic and politically correct, indeed.

April 27, 2008 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

As for 'casual racism' to whose do you refer?
Yours, obviously.

Does or does not the principle of free enquiry make legitimate the scientific discussion of whether geographically separated human populations that have come to have distinct physical characteristics (races) might also have developed differences in character or native intelligence?

Hee hee, you are funny.

The principle of free enquiry certainly legitimizes the scientific discussion of such issues, in my opinion. However, anybody who refers to Obama as "Lightnin'" is manifestly not interested in legitimate scientific discussion. Anybody like that has forfeited any right whatsoever to be taken seriously on such topics.

why equal funding for all students? How about IQ tests at an early age - and funding for such education as they suggest the child is able to absorb? Why should someone with IQ 95 get the same as one with IQ 135?

Dumber kids generally require more, not less educational resources.

As for separating students by ability or achievment, I'm all for that.

April 27, 2008 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

m, you have seriously mischaracterized UU beliefs, as ought to be obvious even if your knowledge is no deeper than a Wikipedia page.

You said UU's hold personal pleasure as the end-all-be-all with no objective right or wrong. The second part of this is more-or-less right, the first is completely, 180 degrees wrong. If anything, the fault of UUs lies in the opposite direction -- they are overly concerned with the suffering of humanity at large. A little more hedonism might be good for their puritan-derived souls. There are a lot of places in this town dedicated to hedonism, but the UU Church is not one of them, by any stretch of the imagination.

April 27, 2008 at 10:27 PM  
Anonymous m said...

mtraven:

"Modern day hedonists strive firstly, as their predecessors, for pleasure. But also, hedonists feel that people should be equal, and that the way to achieve that is through allowing much more personal freedom. Hedonists, in the words of an organization known as Hedonist International, "want joyful togetherness, anarchy, epicurean ideas, multifaceted joy, sensuality, diversion, friendship, justice, tolerance, freedom, sexual freedom, sustainability, peace, free access to information, the arts, a cosmopolitan existence, and a world without borders or discrimination, and everything else that is wonderful but not a reality today. "(Hedonist Manifesto)

On the UU wiki page:

"Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues like the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any heritage, have any sexual identity, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions."

I'm not suggesting that UU actively promotes hedonism in their church. You're right - their souls are puritan derived. However, I'm suggesting that there's a clear connection between the denial of objective truth - as UU promotes - and the rise of hedonistic behavior in society at large.

How can you argue that UU denies objective truth? It's stampled ALL OVER their wiki page.
For one example: "Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), a Christian god, or a god manifested in nature or one which is the "ground of being". Some UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of "universal spirit" or "reverence of life". Unitarian Universalists support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of deity."

UU's believe in progressivism, but they attribute that belief to reason rather than faith. It's obvious how they have no belief in knowable objective truth.

April 27, 2008 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

m, you are very confused, although I have to thank you for new word "stampled".

Before you said: UU's hold personal pleasure as the end-all-be-all..

Now you are changing your tune and admit that they don't do that, but that they enable hedonism by denying objective (moral) truth. That may be true (although I doubt it), but it's a very different proposition.

In your impoverished worldview, there seem to be two choices: an authoritarian God who decrees the law together with an authoritarian church that enforces this law; or rampant selfish hedonism. Thankfully, those are not in fact the only two options available to humanity.

April 28, 2008 at 11:58 AM  
Anonymous m said...

Stampled...that is pretty funny. I've been hearing my black friends use it, and I suppose it's crept into my lexicon. Note taken :)

"In your impoverished worldview, there seem to be two choices: an authoritarian God who decrees the law together with an authoritarian church that enforces this law; or rampant selfish hedonism."

That's a pretty good description of my worldview, at least from a real world perspective. You can look at ideologies that aren't explicitly hedonistic that still lead to it over time as the church's authority is cannibalized. You can look at Europe as an example...

Can you describe a modern example that isn't one or the other?

April 28, 2008 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

May I just point out that twelve, sixteen, or, God forbid, twenty-two years is far too long for anyone to be in school? I expect we could make a six-year-old into anything up to and including a practicing brain surgeon by no later than twenty, and that the vast majority of people could be ready for the vast majority of careers no later than fourteen. The idea that everyone should spend their most vigorous and energetic years cooped up being force-fed rote learning is simply facially farcical.

April 28, 2008 at 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, don't you know that Barack is a word of Semitic root, meaning "lightning"? Cf. the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, of the Punic Wars - in Livy, you remember - or perhaps you don't. In Arabic, 'baraka' can mean either lightning or something like the Latin numen. That is undoubtedly the immediate origin of your man Obama's Christian (?) name. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

The problems that the theory of evolution has with the philosophy of science are relatively simple. Have you never read Popper or Kuhn? Science begins with hypotheses. At some point, when enough evidence has accumulated to support an hypothesis, it may legitimately be called a theory. The properties of a theory are that it must 1) account for all observed phenomena that it purports to explain; 2) have predictive value; and 3) be subject to trial by experiments or controlled observations designed to disprove it.

Thus, for example, the theory of phlogiston, a substance that burning objects supposedly gave up during combustion, was tested by Lavoisier using an experiment whereby gravimetric analysis of the combustion products of a specimen of elemental mercury showed that they were heavier, not lighter, than the original specimen. So, the mercury had not lost anything in burning; it had gained, contrary to the prediction of the phlogiston theory, which was thereby disproved.

Admittedly, not all theories can be tested by such an experiment, but in such cases controlled observation can be disprobative. Galileo observed the eclipse of Jupiter's surface by that planet's moons. The Ptolemaic theory did not explain this, but it was consistent with the Copernican theory.

Can you, or anyone, devise an experiment or course of systematic observation that could potentially disprove the theory of evolution? I do not believe you can - any more than you could devise an experiment to test Hegel's concept of the historical dialectic. So, whatever the theory of evolution is, it is not a theory in the present understanding of the philosophy of science. It is better called a plausible speculation.

The development of desired traits in animals and plants, by means of culling undesirable specimens and selective breeding of those that remain, is a prehistoric human discovery. Darwin reasoned that, by some sort of 'invisible hand' akin to the one Adam Smith suggested governed the economy, a natural selection took place, comparable to the artificial selection in which man had engaged from time immemorial.

It should be obvious that any experiment designed to test this hypothesis would necessarily involve human intervention, and thus would only show what we have long known, that artificial selection (even if inadvertent) works. Thus, for example, the development of drug-resistant bacteria is not a confirmation of evolution, because man - by introducing a drug amongst bacteria - is culling those specimens that are non-resistant. The result does not reflect the random operations of nature posited by Darwin.

The principal value of Darwininsm was understood during Darwin's own lifetime to be as an explanation of the inequalities that existed between different human populations and between different elements within the same population. It supported eugenics and an entire set of social attitudes that would now be considered quite politically incorrect. As Karl Marx cleverly observed:

"It is remarkable how Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markers, inventions, and the Malthusian struggle for existence"

The politically-incorrect aspects of Darwinism have been vetted out of it by Marxists and marxisants like Stephen Jay Gould, the better to fit it for their own purposes. I can only describe such work as resembling the Jesuit astronomy texts of the later seventeenth century, which danced gingerly around the heliocentrism that was obvious to everyone else.

How do the ineducable or barely-educable require more resources than the educable? At some point we have to recognize that some are capable only of wielding a shovel or a mop. Issue them these, and be done with it. Go on to spend more money and effort on developing the potential of those who can wield the judge's gavel or surgeon's scalpel. As Charles Murray has pointed out, this country's educational system tragically neglects an enormous amount of talent, which ought to be educated for leadership from an early age, while lavishing vast sums of money in warehousing 'students' uninterested in or incapable of learning. The only possible benefit of this is that it helps government understate the real level of unemployment.

April 28, 2008 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

GMP:
Then what the hell do words like "liberated" and "independent" mean?
Liberated means the former regime is gone. Independent means not a part of some larger political entity.

That is -- why do they have such positive connotations
People are idiots.


Michael S:
The defeated Confederacy did not get a Marshall plan
Which has been greatly overrated.


Lugo:
Here is a long Brahmin screed
Responded to here.


mtraven:
We would indeed be better off if we could let the South secede, it's relatively an economic and cultural backwater. But it appears that we're stuck with them.
Here, here! May Aaron Burr and his northern-secessionist dream live on! Let's see how they do without all that tax-money being sent their way.

Unfortunately they do tend to outbreed the more intelligent segments of the population
Hush, lest the eugenics-police catch you.

it's dumbing down science education by trying to replace evolution with fundamentalism
Have they ever actually succeeded? I'm with Satoshi Kanazawa: their is little to fear from them other than spitting in our burgers.


Michael S:
It is the representation of life's origin as a random and purposeless phenomenon that is offensive to the religious
There are many different religious folks and many different things that offend them. Most of them are dumber you.

But since we cannot really know by empirical means what accounts for it, why must asserting one thing or another about it be a matter of public policy, to be asserted by hired propagandists in government schools, at all?
At my public school they did not say what the ultimate origin was. Even among atheist scientists there is ambiguity over whether life began in steam vents at the bottom of ammonia seas or on another planet brought here by asteroids.

"Evolution" as its proponents wish to teach it in these places is merely an alternative creation myth to that of the Abrahamic religions, which they seek to undermine.
Then perhaps they have been just as unsuccesful in achieving their wishes as ID proponents.

The science of evolution - including the concept that different geographically separated human populations can evolve significantly different traits, including those of character and intelligence - is more suppressed than it is taught. Ask Larry Summers or James Watson!
Larry Summers is an economist and university president, not a science teacher. It should be noted that he squabbled with the faculty in his attempts to de-emphasize the humanities and focus on more math-y disciplines. He also discussed gender differences, which are not the result of geographic separation.

All this is a good argument for privatizing education, and letting parents, rather than the state, choose how their kids will be taught. The harm this might do in a handful of crackpot situations pales by comparison with that the state does daily in the massive failure known as public schooling.
Right on.

All this is a good argument for privatizing education, and letting parents, rather than the state, choose how their kids will be taught. The harm this might do in a handful of crackpot situations pales by comparison with that the state does daily in the massive failure known as public schooling.
I disagree. There are no God experts.

We can safely disregard the televangelists
On what basis do Popes and Cardinals claim more expertise?


mtraven:
School funding in the US is wildly variable (and of course its correllated with the economic class of the students).
Read Freakonomics. The cause of bad schools is mostly bad students. I favor vouchers, but not because I think it is a panacea that will deliver a much better education. I just think it will result in more pleasant detention centers for youths to spend 7 hours of their day, over a hundred days a year, until they are at least 16. I discussed it earlier here and here.


Michael S:
How many, for that matter, know how to identify the North American birds, or wildflowers?
We're going to pave over that stuff anyway, who cares.

Neither, for that matter, is the philosophical basis of the scientific method
Philosophy is pretty useless. Science pays rent.

primordial soup
It was actually more of an open-faced sandwich.

From this all the catchphrases and clichés of the moral relativism, nihilism, and hedonism that underlie modern secular society may ultimately be derived or justified
Please, Bernard Mandeville and other crime-thinkers were active long before Darwin.

This is why such emphasis is placed on the centrality of evolution in modern public education.
What the hell kind of schools are you talking about? I've never heard of such ones.


m:
Mencius has established in previous posts that educational transmission trumps societal or parental transmission in the long run
No, he has not. If you really want to get into those issues, read "The Nurture Assumption" and "The Blank Slate".

I think it's absolutely necessary for societal stability - a system based purely or even mainly on private education would leadto stratification and in the long run to instability and possibly even civil war
Care to give examples?

What I object to is the current public school system which promotes progressivism, an ideological system barreling toward cataclysmic destruction.
Prussia is primarily to blame for public schooling, and there was always a progressivism behind it.

[Public schools] hold personal pleasure as the end-all-be-all with no objective right or wrong
Wrong. Wrong is what they say it is. The reason I briefly considered myself a communist in elementary school was in part because of the praise heaped on unselfish asceticism. There are lots of little boys who enjoy acting out in school. That is not approved of and they are labelled ADD.


mtraven:
anybody who refers to Obama as "Lightnin'"
I did not understand the reference at all.

Dumber kids generally require more, not less educational resources.
Jason Malloy seemed to be hinting toward that at GNXP. However, as someone of economistic bent I say look to the greatest marginal gains per educational dollar, which are at first going to go the most intelligent.

April 28, 2008 at 3:23 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Michael, there's nothing magic about human intervention. It's easy enough to demonstrate that populations change gene frequencies (including mutant genes becoming common) as a result of changes in their environment. There's no reason it should matter if this change in environment is human caused or not.

I've read Kuhn and Popper and Feyerabend, and also Stove's crtitique of them (and one other guy I haven't read) "Four Irrationalists". Stove may be a bit unfair, but only a bit. Popper really doesn't do a good job of describing how scientists actually work. In particular, his claim that there's no such thing as positive evidence for a theory, only refutation or lack of refutation, is as wrong as can be.

It's actually quite easy to imagine hypothetical observations that would refute the idea that would refute the idea that life on earth evolved from a common origin.

The fact that domestic plants and animals are better (for our purposes) than their wild ancestors should be enough to convince anyone that they were not placed here by God for our benefit.

April 28, 2008 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

there seem to be two choices: an authoritarian God who decrees the law together with an authoritarian church that enforces this law; or rampant selfish hedonism.

Law, like language and life itself, evolved without a particular conscious entity designing it. Actions are considered to be "good" or "bad" not because some authority decreed them to be so, nor because they can be determined to be so through pure reason, but because experience has shown they tend to yield good or bad results.

There is no sure process for determining what law ought to be, and it's no surprise that different cultures have different ideas as to right and wrong. Yet there is also a great deal of similarity in law among very different cultures.

April 28, 2008 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Mtraven, don't you know that Barack is a word of Semitic root, meaning "lightning"?
I don't know it because it isn't true, it means "blessed" and is cognate with the Hebrew Baruch, as in Spinoza. Barak in Hebrew means "lightning" (as in Ehud Barak), but the root is different. As usual, whenever your pretentious displays of classical learning overlap with something I know, I find you are wrong.

I have indeed read Popper and Kuhn, and Feyerabend and Lakatos, and I'm in the process of reading (and implementing) Toulmin. So what? Your notions of philosophy of science are pitiably naive, and I find it ludicrous to find someone like you throwing Kuhn at me. Don't you know he is the darling of relativists and postmodernists? You seem to be conflating his views with Popper's, which indicates that if you have read him you haven't understood him. You can start educating yourself here. To be brief, a valid scientific theory is determined not by its falsifiability but by its utility as an explanatory tool. Natural selection is capable of explaining a great deal, whereas creationism explains nothing (or rather, explains it in terms of something equally inexplicable). Your failure to understand the philosophical underpinnings of evolution does not do anything to diminish its truth or importance as a scientific theory.

The politically-incorrect aspects of Darwinism have been vetted out of it by Marxists ...
So, you subscribe to Darwinism to the extent that it is politically incorrect? In only those cases can we ignore the fragility of its philosophical underpinnings? I know consistency is overvalued, but you should really try not to contradict yourself within the confines of a single comment.

April 28, 2008 at 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't object to public education the way some of you do. I think it's absolutely necessary for societal stability - a system based purely or even mainly on private education would lead to stratification and in the long run to instability and possibly even civil war.

Hardly seems borne out by the evidence. One can easily think of societies with no public education that have been stable for a long time. One can easily think of societies with extensive public education systems that have proven unstable and have had civil wars.

The number one source of social stratification in the USA today - that may well lead to instability and civil war - is the importation of a gazillion largely illiterate and non-English-speaking Third World peasants. If you think our glorious public education system is going to integrate them successfully, hmmmmm, seems doubtful.

April 28, 2008 at 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, social Darwinism is the truest and most useful part of Darwinism. Darwin's idea, in fact, originated in economics, not biology. As the historian of science Jack Lindsay observed, "Darwin was stimulated into constructing his evolutionary theory by the work of Malthus on the pressure of population, which had behind it the advent of the industrial proletariat and the question of wages." See also the comment of Marx which I previously quoted.

Like almost all of what passes for theory in economics, evolution is not a theory in the rigorous sense with which that term is used in the physical sciences. Of course I know that Popper and Kuhn disagree on various points. How do you expect me to do other than give a brief précis of basic philosophy of science in this forum?

I do not dispute that failed or insufficiently rigorous theories have often led to useful results. A great deal of valuable astronomy was done by believers in the Ptolemaic theory, for example. Practical chemistry - e.g., in metallurgy, pigments and dyes, textiles, extraction and distillation of essential oils, pyrotechnics, and ceramics - was brought to a high point of sophistication despite the mistaken theoretical assumptions of early researchers.

it is not to the idea of biological evolution per se that I object, but rather to such underlying claims as the assertion contained in the 1995 policy statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers: "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process." This is philosophy or theology, not science; it is straight from Epicurus and Lucretius.Two years later the board of that association dropped the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal," perhaps because they realized they were straying beyond the bounds of science into something else, or more likely because they realized the statement was at least impolitic.

In any event, to suggest that one must base science on Epicurean assumptions is something with which many eminent scientists disagreed, including Newton and Boyle. Boyle, indeed, started as a writer on moral and theological issues, and began to investigate chemistry because of his opposition to Lucretian atomism and "the modern admirers of Epicurus" who pretended to explain the origin and structure of the world without reference to God. See "The Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy," Boyle, "The Works, " vol. II, p. 40 (ed. Th. Birch, London, 1772). Sir Humphry Davy took a similar view to that of Boyle.

I do not pretend to be a Hebraist, but I stand by the etymology of Sen. Obama's Christian name going back to ancient Phœnecian. You can look up Hamilcar Barca in Wikipedia (which will confirm the origin of his proper name as I have previously posted), but I knew that derivation of barca/barak from the glosses in my schoolboy edition of Livy years ago. As you admit, barak means lightning in Arabic just as its cognate did to the ancient Carthaginians. So far as I am aware, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.'s father was raised a Muslim. He'd in all likelihood have known enough Arabic to say his prayers and perhaps to read the Koran, but I somehow doubt he worked in the study of Hebrew. Your derivation of the name Barack in this case seems less persuasive than mine. Anyway, how in the world referring to it makes me guilty of "casual racism" you have yet to explain.

Is any teasing or sarcastic reference to your idol going to be tarred with that brush? I note that in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Joseph Epstein characterized the candidates as Billy Budd (Obama); Lady Macbeth (Clinton) and Bartleby the Scrivener (McCain). Maybe he is a sexist and racist, too. These words are so overused as to have become mere pejorative epithets. I believe it was Peter Brimelow who said that a racist was a conservative who was winning the argument. By your imprecatory style and your frequent use of epithets, you prove only the weakness of your argument's substance.

April 29, 2008 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

I expect the important thing to know about Barack/Baruch/Barak is exactly which consonant that is at the end of the word--Hebrew (and I presume Arabic) has at least two, and possibly more, which would be transliterated as various "k" sounds.

April 29, 2008 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Michael, where Darwin got his original ideas is irrelevant. Darwin knew Jack about modern evolutionary theory. In Darwin's day, nobody knew anything about statistics and nobody had heard of genes, let alone DNA.

Do you know what a synonymous substitution is? It's not too surprising if you don't, Darwin didn't know about them either, and I suspect they aren't taught in high school biology (or maybe now they are, I don't know), but if you know what they are and understand their significance I think you have to conclude modern evolutionary theory is scientifically rigorous.

April 29, 2008 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Aaron, I believe that I provided in my post of 2:44 pm on April 28 for either reading of Barack (as lightning or as blessing) when I wrote: "In Arabic, 'baraka' can mean either lightning or something like the Latin numen." Mtraven was so eager to attack me that he forgot to read carefully.

And what is numen? It is the quality of divinity. When applied to a human, it could be described as the condition of being endued with 'the spark of the heroic and divine' (Gio. Bruno). Or as the "Veni creator spiritus," sung at the ordering of a priest has it:

"Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire..."

I quote from the Prayer-Book, in deference to Mtraven's want of Latin.

The pagan associations of lightning with deity are carried over into the Abrahamic religions; cf. the text of Stradella's Christmas oratorio, "Si, apra il riso ogni labbro" in which the baby Jesus is described as "il gran tonante" who has yet consented to be born, helpless and cold, in a manger. Indeed, as the philologers tell us, Latin Jove is no more than Hebrew Jehovah; Jupiter, no more than Sansk. dyaus pitri, Lat. deus pater, i.e., God the Father.

It seems quite reasonable, in view of these usages, that one who is blessed is one who has received 'the soul's Anointing from above' in a sort of divine electrification. Cf. Matt. iii:11, "... he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire"; also Acts ii.1, "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." What fire comes from the heavens but lightning?

The similarity between barak and baruch appears to be akin to the similarity between Gr. 'to charisma" (grace or favour) and "to chrisma" (a scented unguent, like that which ran down even unto Aaron's beard, Ps. 133:2) - both of which concepts have intimate connection with "ho Christos," the Messiah.

In any event all Mtraven has done, by ignoring the second reading I proposed, either through haste or deliberaly, is to have shown himself the humorless and wrathful secular-puritanical hatchet man of political correctness he is, in rushing to condemn me as a 'racist and sexist.' What is the benefit of learning if one can't use it to have a little ludibrium at the expense of such a latter-day Hudibras? To quote Sen. Claghorne: It's a joke, son!

April 29, 2008 at 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

George, thank you for the mention of synonymous substitution. I shall have to find out more about it. You are right to point out the greater importance today of genetics, the understanding of DNA and the mapping of the genome. This is a part of biology that yields practical, useful results, unlike the assertions about the allegedly 'unsupervised' and 'impersonal' character of evolutionary processes, which are at the crux of the debate about the presentation of evolution in the public schools.

It appears to me that a good deal of useful information about biology could be taught without presenting this implicitly atheistic view and without straying into an opposite view of short-term creationism. Mtraven seems to believe these are the only possible alternatives. If, under the First Amendment, tax monies should not be used to promote the particular beliefs of any given sect over another, then taxpayer-financed education in science should avoid taking the side either of theism or atheism. There is anyway no more empirical basis for one than for the other, so it is not really a scientific issue.

I believe someone posted here - I cannot find it now - the question, why should we disregard the televangelists and place more importance on what popes and cardinals say? I first respond by saying that I am not a Roman Catholic and have no special admiration for these people on account of their ecclesiastical dignities. It does seem to me, however, that the church of Rome has, almost alone, preserved the high intellectual tradition of Christianity, while, almost without exception, the Protestant denominations have not. My own ancestral tradition (Anglican) had respectable thinkers in the seventeeth century, but they rather petered out with the nonjurors, and after a brief revival during the Oxford movement of the nineteenth century, it has produced nothing. The Roman prelates mentioned are, at least, learned men, well-versed in the philosophical heritage of Christian theology. Whatever worth you may assign to that, it is more than can be said of the likes of Pat Robertson, Jack van Impe, John Ankerberg, etc.

Your comments about the similarity of laws in vastly differing cultures are well taken and in line with Burkean ideas. Tradition is the summary of human experience, and experience is disregarded at our peril.

April 29, 2008 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S:
Social Darwinism is the truest and most useful part of Darwinism.

This doesn't make any sense. Regardless of the merits of Social Darwinism, how can it be more true than Darwinism in general? As usual, you don't seem to have a clue about what you are talking about. Actually, Social Darwinism is not "part" of "Darwinism" at all.

"Darwinism" is a misleading misnomer, like referring to physics as "Newtonism". It is misleading in at least two ways, because in general scientific theories are not identified by name with their creator, as are philosophies or political ideologies. That's because they properly belong to nature rather than any one person. Second, evolutionary theory has progressed far beyond Darwin's original conception.

And third, the theory of natural selection is a descriptive theory of the natural world. Social Darwinism is a political ideology with a prescriptive intent, cloaking itself in science. That is why it is not "part" of anything resembling science.

Darwin's idea, in fact, originated in economics, not biology.

Doesn't matter.

This is philosophy or theology, not science; it is straight from Epicurus and Lucretius.

It does not matter if Epicurus had some good ideas thousands of years ago. Or if he had bad ideas. Science is about what is true of the natural world, to the best of current knowledge. History of science is an interesting field in its own right but the geneology of scientific ideas has absolutely no bearing on their truth or current utility.

In any event, to suggest that one must base science on Epicurean assumptions is something with which many eminent scientists disagreed, including Newton and Boyle.

Who is arguing from authority now? In science, age does not enhance authority, because knowledge is progressive. You seem to think that the older your citations, the better. Doesn't work that way.

Science is based on naturalistic assumptions, and atomist, reductionist assumptions, because it appears that that's the way the world works and those ideas have enormous explanatory power. Maybe they aren't the whole story. There are bevys of crackpots (Rupert Sheldrake) and not-quite-so-cracked-pots (Francisco Varela, Gregory Bateson) who would like a less reductionist version of science. Might be a nice idea, and there is nothing inherent in science itself that prohibits theories like that, but they nobody has made something like that work. I am not totally unsympathetic to such efforts. You may find my own efforts to think past reductionism here, but I have no sympathy at all for the supernatural.

I already mentioned a scientist who seems to be able to reconcile present biological knowledge with Christian belief (Francis Collins). But he does so by foreswearing creationism and its thinly-disguised variant "Intelligent Design". How he does this, I don't know. Generally intelligent people who want to retain a theistic belief do so by making their picture of God increasingly abstract, ethereal, and noninterventionist.

The argument about Obama's name is getting tedious. You are wrong, as far as I know. The two words have different Hebrew roots which is a good sign they are not cognate, but a) who knows for sure and b) I have stopped caring. If I interpreted your remark as racist, that might be because it was paired with a similarly causal sexist aside against Clinton, demonstrating that you are an equal-opportunity jerk.

Is any teasing or sarcastic reference to your idol going to be tarred with that brush?
He's not my idol, and no.

I believe it was Peter Brimelow who said that a racist was a conservative who was winning the argument.
That is a slur on conservatives, who are not all racists. Brimelow, on the other hand, is vile.

April 29, 2008 at 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven -I should say that Darwinism - or evolution - as the National Association of Biology Teachers wishes to present it, and overtly so stated in its former policy, which I quoted - contains a theological concept cloaking itself in science.

Should taxpayer money, given current juridical understanding of the First Amendment, be spent on promoting one theological concept at the expense of others?

Quite apart from this, you have written that "you can't be considered an educated member of the modern world without understanding biology." Just how many people, as a percentage of the population, are capable of understanding biology at a level where evolution makes any difference at all to what they do in life? 10%? 5%? 1%?

Religious explanations of the origin of the physical world and life as we know it are simple, metaphorical or poetic presentations that sufficiently account for these things within the understanding of simple folk, who make up the majority of the population. Why expend such vast effort on upsetting these humble widespread beliefs, and hence undermining all that follows from them - including the basic precepts of morality?

Religion on the whole is a beneficial force; it teaches one not to do murder, not to steal, not to violate the chastity of the marriage-bed, not to covet, to do unto others as one would be done unto. Are these not good things? If it relies from time to time on frightful stories, ask yourself which you would rather some lumpen imbecile, who might possibly slit your weasand in the process of filching your wallet, should have heard from his preceptors - 1) some tortured attempt by an ill-equipped and overtaxed high-school teacher to explain to him Kant's categorical imperative, or 2) assurances by a suitably fire-and-brimstone sort of clergyman that doing so would lead inevitably to an eternity of attention from demons bearing red hot muckforks and buckets of hot tar? I think option no. 2 much more likely to discourage criminal behavior.

I have no objection, at such a time and a place as may be proper, to exposing the small, small percentage of the population that is capable of higher moral reasoning and willing to entertain it, to contrary argument - but what in the world is the reason for pushing atheism at state expense on ordinary people who mostly don't like the idea, and moreover, whose behavior it can only make serve to make worse? Cui bono?

My mention of Newton, Boyle, or Davy as eminent scientists who disagreed with Epicureanism is not argument from authority. It only makes the point that there is not unanimity among scientists, past or present, in atheism. I do not know this Collins you mention, but he is evidently of similar mind. For what it is worth, medical doctors are certainly men of science, and the majority of them I have met belong to churches, so it must be the case that either they do believe in the doctrines of those churches, or at least believe that they are mostly right. Based on the known attitudes of scientists, a scientific world view appears not to necessitate utter materialism or complete dismissal of the metaphysical.

You have simply asserted what you have done about the name Barack without providing evidence. It is not Hebrew but Arabic, so Hebrew roots do not tell the whole story. Furthermore you have now twice omitted to acknowledge the second reading I provided in my initial post on the topic, to the effect that the name could also refer to something like the Latin numen, or divine afflatus - a point upon which I subsequently posted at greater length. Finally, you have failed to explain how in the world associating either lightning or numen with Sen. Obama's name is in some way 'racist.' Neither seems as unflattering as the soubriquets I applied to Clinton or McCain. Furthermore, if calling Hillary Clinton the Wicked Witch is 'sexist,' how about Epstein's (far from original) reference to her as Lady Macbeth? Is it 'sexist' to compare our would-be evil queen to evil queens of history or fiction? You are simply shouting epithets without substance.

I find it rather amusing how easily I'm able to turn your crank. I have the patience to keep on doing so just as long as you wish.

April 29, 2008 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Once again, you can't seem to keep your story straight. One minute you are complaining that "Darwinism" is false, or unprovable, now it's just something that's too confusing for the "simple folk". It's clearly too confusing for you.

Collins is the head of the Human Genome project. Here's another prominent biologist who seems to find room for belief. The existence of these scientists bolsters my point, not yours, which is why I brought them up. But you tend to have difficulty keeping track of what's at stake in these interminable debates. The point was not atheism vs. belief but the fact that stupid religion (based largely in the South and other red-state areas) was interfering with US science education. The existence of intelligent believers like Collins, who manage to reconcile science and their faith, indicate that the problem is not really religion, but stupidity.

I find it rather amusing how easily I'm able to turn your crank. I have the patience to keep on doing so just as long as you wish.

No doubt. You don't seem to have anything better to do, but I do. And since you clearly are either uninterested in intelligent discourse, let's drop the whole thing with a loud thud. The afflatus here is anything but divine.

April 29, 2008 at 11:57 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

mtraven:

"The point was not atheism vs. belief but the fact that stupid religion (based largely in the South and other red-state areas) was interfering with US science education."

Listen here you regionalist, localist, faithist, statist jackass --

The South does not hold a monopoly on "stupid religion." What religion could be more stupid than the Progressive Faith which allows for comments like the following (heard from a PhD English Major):

"I won't compromoise on my non-negotiables: torture, the death penalty and

(wait for it)

abortion rights."

The "stupid religion" of Progressive Faith this student poured forth allows for the protection of the life of criminals but not of innocents. Yes. This religion is quite well-informed. (full disclosure -- I am against all three).

Where is this stupid religion located? Not in the South and those other red states (by which, I assume you mean all suburban areas and the South) but in those blue state areas you seem to treasure.

And the "blue state" types who continually theorize new and worse methods of education AND make it impossible to fire ineffective teachers interfere with education infinitely more than IDers ever could.

So instead of insulting more than half of America, perhaps you could answer Michael S's points and questions rather than pointing out his flaws.

read the blog,
GMP

April 30, 2008 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

GM Palmer:
1) nowhere did I claim that the South had a monopoly on stupid religion.
2) your PhD English Major did not make any claims that contradict science, which was what we were talking about.
3) what is a "faithist"? Someone who makes value judgements on people's religious beliefs? Are you not one, if you disagree with your English Major's faith?
3a) If you have evidence that I am a statist, or at least more of a statist than others here, perhaps you can produce it.
4) I have answered Michael S on numerous occasions. I think I'm done.
5) re abortion, pretty obviously I disagree, but do we really want to get into another impossibly contentious debate? Aren't evolution, education, racism, enough?

April 30, 2008 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, you are as reliable as a vending machine: deposit token, push button, receive politically correct cry of outrage. You have called me racist, sexist, a jerk, elsewhere a Nazi, a moral midget, etc. Aren't we friends any more?

Imprecation is your stock in trade. You wear your empathy for and tolerance of underclass criminals on your sleeve, and denounce 'racism,' but make claims about lower-middle class whites that belie your tacit belief in eugenics, as TGGP perceptively noted. Your vaunted tolerance assuredly does not extend to thoughts that offend your bien-pensant prejudices - "diversity in everything but ideas." You are the friend of every country but your own. How you can presume to lecture anyone about intellectually serious discussion is beyond me.

I have earlier said that Darwinism is a "plausible speculation." It is basically economics applied to biology, both in its origins and in its current practice. Like all economic concepts, it does not share in the rigorous character of the physical sciences. Adam Smith was after all a professor of moral philosophy, and it is to this branch of human thought that the discipline of economics he was so instrumental in founding, and all its derivatives, belong - not the physical sciences.

As to the origins of the universe, Epicureanism is not empirical truth, nor is theism. The truth is unknowable about such matters by empirical means. Their discussion is appropriate amongst people who have the capacity to digest and analyse them. The only reason to introduce them into such education as the bulk of society receive is to upset and disrupt their settled beliefs and ways, which serve them well but which you have many times demonstrated you disdain. So, I come to the conclusion that your enthusiasm (and that of the left in general) for evolution is principally as a vehicle for atheism.

If you were truly concerned about the peril to science education, and to science in general, you might pay some attention to the politically-correct chemophobic hysteria that is shutting down meaningful lab instruction in both private and government-supported schools. Some months ago, at a nearby parochial high school, a student dropped a thermometer on the floor, spilling perhaps a couple of cubic centimetres of mercury. When I was a schoolboy this would have been dealt with by the instructor, who would have brushed the debris into a dust pan and later cleaned the mercury for future use by squeezing it though a piece of chamois. In this case, though, the school was evacuated, and a 'haz-mat' disposal company was called in to clean up the 'toxic spill.' Every student in the classroom underwent medical tests for mercury exposure. The cost of all this went into six figures. Similar episodes have happened at a few other schools, and now the state has a law mandating that no mercury be kept in any educational institution public or private, beginning in 2009. What do you think that bodes for the future of laboratory instruction in the physical sciences?

Our governing élites are miserably ignorant of the sciences, and have been for years. Their ignorance knows no partisan bounds. These people are primarily educated in the law and most of them have received just enough science education to meet undergraduate distribution requirements.

Consider Carole Browner, who, as head of the EPA under Bill Clinton, stated that it was one of her great goals to "remove chlorine from the environment." Quite apart from the point that chlorine is a part of nature and (in combined form) makes up a substantial part of the solid content of the seas, how do you suppose Ms. Browner hoped, without the use of chlorine, to maintain sanitary municipal water supplies? Make many valuable medicines and industrial chemicals? Her kind of ignorance of science is far more threatening to the public weal than is an auto mechanic's or filing clerk's creationism.

April 30, 2008 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

mtr:

1)
"based largely in the South and other red-state areas"

Perhaps our definitions of monopoly differ.

2)
Ah yes, "science." Science tells us when a fetus's heart begins to beat (2.5 weeks) and when it has brain activity (6 weeks) and could presumptively feel pain but apparently Science also tells us that it's okay to maul this living thing. This is also the same Science that tells us not to kill or maim criminals or animals or any other being on the planet that exists outside of a womb. Yes. Science.

3) A faithist, like a racist, is someone whose actions are influenced by prejudice of the "other." I may think that Ms English PhD's opinions are ridiculous, but I do not dismiss her as an unperson -- unlike your dismissal of believers of "stupid religion"

3a) "I was of a similar opinion to yours in 2000 (that it wouldn't make much difference who which party won the election), but I was wrong then, and have been repenting and trying not to make similar mistakes. As I think I mentioned elsewhere, yes, all people running for president are inherently power-hungry egomaniacs, but there is a hell of a lot of variation within that species."

So obviously you value things the state does to a degree that you wish Al Gore had won the 2000 election. Certainly not an anarchist, then.

4) I haven't yet seen your answer to the fairly interesting etymological points he raises. Perhaps etymology doesn't interest you.

5) Ahem. I am always interested in debating abortion for no other reason than I am amazed that we can have laws that protect personal irresponsibility. As rape kits should all come with "morning after" pills (and if they don't these are readily available, as are mass doses of chemical birth control [which does the same thing] and / or large doses of herbals), the only people that end up with an "unwanted preganacy" are either stupid or irresponsible. For the second part, I favor no laws protecting the irresponsible. For the first part, I favor no laws encouraging eugenics (which is what aboriton is). As to evolution, I don't give that much of damn, since it doesn't change anything about how I (or anyone else) lives (apart from wanting to encourage debate, which neither the Darwinists or Creationists do). For education, I don't have much to argue since I think we should scrap the whole system. About racism, I will be happy to talk with you once you admit that other states apart from the south are just as, if not more, full of racism and sexism. I can't imagine Iowa or Wyoming being a friendlier place to be black than, say, Florida or Louisiana.

GMP

April 30, 2008 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

GMP:
Science also tells us that it's okay to maul this living thing.
Science does no such thing. Science is descriptive and cannot make moral judgements, although it can inform them.

I may think that Ms English PhD's opinions are ridiculous, but I do not dismiss her as an unperson -- unlike your dismissal of believers of "stupid religion"
Um, what leads you to the conclusion that I believe stupid people are not people? What is the difference between your judgementalism and mine?

So obviously you value things the state does to a degree that you wish Al Gore had won the 2000 election. Certainly not an anarchist, then.

Sadly, no, at best an ex-anarchist. But certainly you aren't an anarchist, since you favor outlawing abortion, so why are you upset that I'm not one?

I haven't yet seen your answer to the fairly interesting etymological points he raises.
I answered him.

To Michael S, I'm basically done with you, but I can't resist pointing out that while Clinton's EPA head may have said some dumb things, that cannot begin to compare with the wholesale assault on science by Republican administrations, the most egregious of which was the abolishment of the Office of Technology Assessment.

April 30, 2008 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Actually, MT,

I am against legalizing abortion (which is what the current interpretation of our current laws do). Apart from preferring they not happen at all, I would prefer at least there be no laws either way.

Science tells us that the fetus is not a person -- and therefore we decide it's a perfectly maulable thing.

The biggest problem with science as a descriptive tool is that it claims to make no moral judgements. But it (as a method of inquiry -- which is all it is) allows humans to create both hierarchies and systems of order in the personless name of science. The flaw here is that humans are by nature xenophobic zealots and, when given a powerful tool (like science, religion, or sports teams) they can easily be manipulated to violence against the other. I.e. science (that is, scientists) needs to get off of its high ivory horse and start admitting that its discoveries can be used to a bad end.

Again, personal responsibility.

April 30, 2008 at 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, you have answered me with bald assertion, but without support. I should have been happy to refer these etymological issues to a real scholar, like Conrad Roth. I freely confess that I am but an amateur, and would accept his judgment as to which of the two readings I originally suggested - lightning or numen - was correct. You were in such haste to call me 'racist' for a light-hearted tease that you neglected entirely to observe that I provided both alternatives. You demonstrated only your grand capacity for humourless politically-correct censure.

Let anyone read our respective remarks, and decide for himself who has presented his position more reasonably, temperately, and judiciously. Your constant resort to epithets (to which I have avoided responding in kind) is more reminiscent of an exchange between children at a grammar school playground than of a conversation between gentlemen.

GMP, your observation about laws that protect personal irresponsibility summarizes much of the program of the post-Marxist left. A case in point is Obama's statement that he would not wish his daughter's careless sexual conduct to be "punished by a baby." The confusion, here, between punishment and the natural consequences of one's own actions is highly revealing.

April 30, 2008 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Michael S:

Though I agree, the Obama quote had more to deal with birth control than abortion (I hadn't heard the quote, so I went digging). At any rate, I am not upset by the idea of a baby as punishment (though what great campaign fodder) or, more accurately, a natural consequence. What upsets me is the idea that he wants to protect them not from making bad choices but experiencing the results of those choices.

As this "save you from the result of your actions" tends to be representative of government and politics across the aisle in America since at least the Roosevelt administration and parenting since at least the late 1960s, I weep.

In related news, if anyone would like to trade an approx 2000 sq foot house in the Alps for same in Florida, email me ;)

GMP

April 30, 2008 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

GMP:
I am against legalizing abortion (which is what the current interpretation of our current laws do). Apart from preferring they not happen at all, I would prefer at least there be no laws either way.
That's incoherent. If there's no laws on the issue, then abortion is legal. If you wish to outlaw abortion, then you are (in that respect anyway) more statist than I am, since you want to use the state to limit people's reproductive choices.

Science tells us that the fetus is not a person
No, it does not. Science can tell us that the fetus at age 4 weeks is 2 inches long and has developed an mesothelial fold (or something like that). It can say how much neural activity there is at various points of gestation. But "person" is a underspecified social construct and science doesn't get to say whether a fetus is a person at conception, at birth, or somewhere inbetween.

I.e. science (that is, scientists) needs to get off of its high ivory horse and start admitting that its discoveries can be used to a bad end.
Science has been admitting that for most of the 20th century. It's not exactly news.

April 30, 2008 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

mtraven:

You are misreading me and we are using an improper construct.

First of all, Science can do nothing. It is a study of things and/or a discipline, not a person. Therefore I will use instead Scienceists.

Many Scienceists continue to glory about how their work does not have any bearing on the real world nor can any implications be taken from their work. While I gladly acknowledge there are Scienceists who acknowledge that this is a false assertion, I believe the destruction created by such beliefs outweigh any admission that they were flawed (see: eugenics).

So, no more "science" as a pathetic fallacy -- Scienceists instead.

Now, about misreading me:

Our current laws legalize abortion. I believe that we should have no abortion laws.

If we must have laws, I side with the innocent not the irresponsible.

But again, let me repeat: I believe we should have no such laws either legalizing or criminalizing abortion.

April 30, 2008 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Also -- if there are no laws on abortion then abortion has no jurisdictional/legislative status. It is not legal or illegal, it is simply not covered under the umbrella of law.

April 30, 2008 at 8:31 PM  
Anonymous MLR said...

Your constant resort to epithets (to which I have avoided responding in kind) is more reminiscent of an exchange between children at a grammar school playground than of a conversation between gentlemen.

For me, your exchanges with Mtraven is reminiscent of something quite different. I was raised a Baptist fundamentalist, surrounded by Puritan, Calvinistic crusaders; Mencius has earlier compared the process of thinking critically about present political realities to removing a black glob of goo from your own brain in an act of self-surgery; having already, in a sense, done that with regard to my past beliefs (such as they were) vis-a-vis fundy Christianity, I find the exercises Mencius provides here fascinating, compelling, and terribly familiar; and so, as well, I find your exchanges with Mtraven to be so much like events in my past, when I would argue with fundamentalists.

Mtraven is, I find, indistinguishable from the raving fundamentalists I grew up with.

So, thank you, Michael S, for your patience in going back and forth with him. It has been profoundly instructive.

I don't doubt there was worth in my struggle to free my mind from the cruel beliefs I was raised with - my arguments with fundies, and their reliable ability to puff with no substance was a large part of what energized that self-examination (the incoherence came alive in them). Your locking horns with Mtraven brings this all into such sharp relief. I rid myself of one flavour of incoherence, only to let another slip in, in its place.

It should go without saying, I don't agree with Mencius on everything (TPPG is good for keeping us all on our toes in that respect, I think), but I'm convinced this ongoing conversation has worth.

April 30, 2008 at 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

while Clinton's EPA head may have said some dumb things, that cannot begin to compare with the wholesale assault on science by Republican administrations, the most egregious of which was the abolishment of the Office of Technology Assessment.

The Office of Technology Assessment closed on September 29, 1995. So, a Republican was President in 1995?

May 1, 2008 at 1:11 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

The OTA is a congressional office was killed by Republicans in that branch, who were in power at the time. So I misspoke slightly when I said "administration", but the rest stands. Republican executive branches have done their share. There's a whole book on this, The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney.

May 1, 2008 at 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Apropos of the Office of Technology Assessment, we should note that there is an active Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House; see the letter written by its head, John H. Marburger, III, published in the Wall Street Journal, Friday, 25 April, 2008, at the bottom of page A-14.

How much duplication of such offices in government is necessary? How many, for that part, are provided for by Article I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution?

All I find there is the provision that "The Congress shall have Power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The Federal government has long maintained, and continues to maintain, a Patent and Trademark Office. It has thousands of employees. This would appear to be quite sufficient for the fulfillment of the Constitutional mandate. Most scientific research is done in non-governmental settings anyway. What benefit multiplying the number of boffins at the public trough accomplishes is questionable at best.

May 1, 2008 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

The OTA is a congressional office was killed by Republicans in that branch, who were in power at the time.

Oh, now I understand - everything good that happened in the 1990s, Clinton gets the credit, and everything bad that happened in the 1990s, Republicans get the blame.

May 2, 2008 at 9:12 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 6, 2009 at 6:33 AM  

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