Friday, July 6, 2007 31 Comments

I wonder if Jonah Goldberg talks about this

I usually try not to use the word "liberal," because (a) it has enough separate meanings, most of which have nothing to do with one another and the rest of which are mutually contradictory, to drive William Empson into a psychotic break; and (b) it makes me sound like Rush Limbaugh. However, after Wednesday's bizarre anti-American screed, I feel like I'm on a roll and thought I might try and drive away my other three readers.

So we'll give it a spin. Of course, what I mean by "liberalism" is just good old cryptocalvinism.

Is that what Jonah Goldberg means by it? Frankly, I have no idea. Let's not forget, here, that we're talking about a man who went to a women's college - one year after it went coed. Can we fault Mr. Goldberg for that? We certainly cannot. Can we trust him farther than we can throw him? My suspicion is that he's a little guy, if you know what I mean, so this may already be placing too much confidence in the fellow.

Obviously, unlike Daniel Larison, I am much too intellectually honest to engage in the notorious pastime of "insulting upward." (And Daniel, really. Your blog used to be good and now it is starting to suck, because you are turning into a pundit. I'm sure you are quite aware that it is an astonishing abuse of history to describe Hegel, who really made no distinction at all between God, himself, and the State, as a "moderately liberal constitutional monarchist." Nor is this an isolated misdemeanor. If you could just stop cruelly mocking Jonah, who is not as smart as you and doesn't deserve to be treated this way, they would probably let you onto the Corner, where I'm beginning to think you'd fit in perfectly.)

In any case. Enough of this bitchery. Let's talk about Goldberg's "liberal fascism."

In the first place, is there any such thing as liberal fascism? Is it even responsible to use this phrase? Does it make any more sense than, say, "rhinoceros apartheid"? We know there are rhinoceri, we know there was apartheid, and we know that the government of Vorster and Botha maintained a strict policy of segregating black and white rhinos. In order to use such a phrase with a straight face, however, we have to demonstrate some kind of an actual connection between the two phenomena - preferably exceeding the level of a pun.

I can certainly imagine how Goldberg goes from Hegel to fascism, and how he goes from Hegel to liberalism. But Whole Foods? It baffles me, it really does - especially since the CEO of Whole Foods is a well-known libertarian. And in any case, you can go from Newton to fascism and Newton to liberalism. This does not make fascists liberals, liberals fascists, or either of them deist alchemist-Bibliolatrists.

For example, I think most people would agree that one important component of fascism is an association between a political movement and racist paramilitary gangs, such as the squadristi in Italy or the Sturmabteilung in Germany. Heck, even Stalin was a bank robber.

If there is such a thing as "liberal fascism," where is the liberal SA? I mean, I live in San Francisco, which, if liberals are fascists, pretty much has to be the liberal Fiume or Munich. And yes - leather legwear is oddly popular here. But I haven't noticed any torchlight marches, nobody seems to be being dosed with castor oil, and political opponents of Gavin Newsom, Chris Daly or Bruce Brugmann are seldom found floating bound and gagged in the Bay.

Actually, however...

In fact, liberalism is deeply involved with racist paramilitary gangs. Like both Mussolini and Hitler, liberals used the gangs to come to power and have since mostly abandoned them. However, links still remain, especially to Third World gangsters.

We ("as a society," as a liberal might say) have just agreed not to notice this fact. Not because it's debatable in any way, shape or form, but simply because it's too upsetting.

The most famous of the liberals' racist paramilitary gangs was, of course, the Black Panthers. But there were many others, such as the Black Muslims (who once tried to ethnically cleanse San Francisco) the Blackstone Rangers and Latin Kings in Chicago, the Young Lords in New York, and so on. There were of course white gangs as well, such as the SLA, although they were not white nationalist but anti-white nationalist. The classic story of the relationship is Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic, though of course if one is so inclined one can also read David Horowitz.

In the period perhaps best described as the Hippie Coup (featuring wonderfully Orwellian incidents such as that famous peace rally, the Days of Rage), liberals deployed the racist gangs as political weapons, adding a little kick to their Gramscian march through the institutions. The idea was simply to intimidate their "Establishment" enemies, who were of course just the previous generation of cryptocalvinists, by offering them a choice between surrender and chaos. Few found the choice difficult - the capture of Yale by the Panthers is typical. The Hippie Coup, which is the origin of the Polygon as we know it today, was a sort of generational autogolpe by the Brahmin elite against itself.

One of today's leading liberal politicians was involved with the Panthers' attack on Yale. Hint: it ain't Hegel.

As in both Fascism and National Socialism, direct links between politicians and gangs in the course of the Hippie Coup lasted only as long as it took to seize power. Of course the gangs are still around, and of course they are still politically protected. (I think it goes without saying that racist paramilitary gangs are not a normal element of a healthy society, but I'll say it anyway.) And there are presumably some links. If Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright don't know any gang leaders, I'm sure they know people who do. But the gangs have served their purpose - they are no longer deployed as political weapons to intimidate the opponents of liberalism. There is no need for any such crudity in our new "post-partisan" era.

The most significant surviving remnants of the hippies' paramilitary wing are the racist-studies programs, which no official university is now without. Establishing these centers of so-called learning was one of the main demands of the Hippie Coup, and not without reason. They now serve as cadre training programs, dedicating most of America's most talented minorities to careers in social activism, ie, working as political soldiers for the Polygon. However, since the rise of what Wolfe called Mau-Mauing (I prefer the South African term, toyi-toyi), actual physical violence is almost never necessary. The racist-studies cadre are also available to make trouble on campus when a Larry Summers or the like needs to be gotten rid of. Again, castor oil is not required, as we have long since learned that offering any resistance to any kind of a mob is incompatible with our great American tradition of civil liberties.

However, we can see the liberal-gangster alliance in its active, reproducing phase when we look at ties from liberals in the US and Europe, to gangsters in the Third World.

Your basic definition of a Third World country is that it's a country run by racist gangsters. The "para" drops off the "military." Robert Mugabe, for example, is a racist gangster, and the longstanding links between him and the World Council of Churches are typical of this bizarre, yet strangely rational, alliance. Presumably if Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton had ever succeeded in establishing a Panther republic in North America, as many quite sensible people once thought they would (the closest thing was really Marion Barry's Chocolate City), it would have resembled the regimes established by the period's many other "liberation fronts."

But it gets worse. Last weekend there was a wonderfully illustrative front-page essay, which I really hope does not disappear behind a firewall, in the Wall Street Journal. The essay was by one Lucette Lagnado, adapted from her new book, and it was called Searching for My Father's Lost City.

This article really must be read to be believed. Because I'm afraid the link will break, I will quote bits of it here. These bits are simply not credible on their own, however, and if I read them out of context I would have to assume they were taken out of context.

Okay, brief history of modern Egypt: captured by Napoleon in 1798, by the British in 1801, administered by the latter for the next 150 years, during which it became a charming and extremely multicultural Levantine entrepôt - see, for example, Lawrence Durrell. I know it sounds bizarre, but ordinary people could just move there and live an ordinary productive life in which they had no thought of being shot, blown up or shredded on the street by rampaging nationalist mobs. Apparently this was called "colonialism."

All this changed in 1952, when the British Empire was disintegrating, and the peaceful monarchy of King Farouk - who, thanks to Hunter S. Thompson, I always envision in a huge white convertible - was overthrown by gunfire, explosions, and rampaging nationalist mobs. Naturally, all right-thinking people in the West, who felt about colonialists pretty much the way Eldridge Cleaver felt about white people, applauded this liberation, which was essentially a racist pogrom in which everyone not of Arab descent was forced to leave the country or die. The result being the liberated paradise that is Egypt today.

One of the families driven out with baggage alone was Lucette Lagnado's. Her family was Jewish, probably Salonican Sephardic by the name. (Many Salonican Jews moved to Egypt during the century-and-a-half that Britain kept the peace there, not least because they were driven out by the charming Greek nationalist gangs whom previous generations of British liberals had chosen to sponsor. Of course, the mandate in Egypt was not run by Byrons and Shelleys, but by loyal Optimates like Lord Cromer, whose views on the "liberation of Iraq" I'm sure would be grimly hilarious.)

Lagnado opens her piece thus:
As my car pulled into Suleiman Pasha Square in the heart of downtown Cairo, I spotted it immediately -- Groppi's, the patisserie that was really so much more: A palace of pleasure, the hub of elegant European social life, the city at its most vibrant and cosmopolitan. It seemed exactly as I remembered it when I'd last seen it as a little girl more than 40 years earlier, its name in that charming old-fashioned scrawl, the entrance covered by colorful mosaics and, inside, the same cool, high-ceilinged, marble elegance and pale pink walls.

Or maybe not the same.

The shelves were almost bare. No one stood in line at the ancient cash register. The few trays of pastries, which seemed neither French nor Middle Eastern, looked thoroughly unappetizing. The dining area had dozens of tables and almost no diners.

I was only six when my family left Egypt in 1963, among tens of thousands of Jews forced to leave in a modern-day exodus. After we fled, first to Paris then New York, I grew up on a diet of stories about our lost life. Many featured Groppi's: Part pastry-shop, part paradise, a favorite of kings, colonialists and privileged Cairenes.

Now, Groppi's was like the rest of Cairo -- a museum to a bygone era.
She then works through the history. Her take is a little different from mine:
Egypt's efforts to chart an economic and political course separate from old colonial powers was important, many Egyptians believe, for the country to purge itself of foreigners whose influence and power were seen as oppressive. It was necessary for the country to pursue its own destiny.
I swear, folks, I do not make this stuff up. (On my last post one commenter, with tongue in cheek I hope, accused me of passing off a juicy bit of Mein Kampf as Rousseau. Au contraire, mon frere. But then again, there's a reason Jimmy Page sounds like Robert Johnson.)

For anyone who has serious difficulty with the obvious, you can try pasting Lagnado's essay into Notepad and replacing the word "Egypt" with "Germany":
In January 1952, in what became known as "Black Saturday," angry crowds rushed through the streets of fashionable downtown Cairo torching all the symbols of luxury and foreign excess: department stores, cinemas, airline offices, banks, restaurants, private clubs and hotels. Among the victims: Shepheard's, Groppi's and Cinema Metro. They had made the average Cairene feel like a stranger in his own land, because for those who were neither foreign nor rich nor Jewish much of the city -- even a patisserie like Groppi's -- was off limits. The vast majority of Egyptians never felt welcome and most couldn't afford it.
I ask you, reader: is there anything you can't afford? Is there anywhere you don't feel welcome? Have you ever rushed through the streets torching these symbols of luxury? Not to mention foreign excess? Of course, you're probably not an Arab. I hear they're excitable.

Fortunately, idealism and rent control come to the rescue:
Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leader of the coup, took over in 1954 and set out to remake Egypt. Neither foreigners nor Jews were welcome -- even those who were born there or had lived there for decades. They were forced out as Nasser nationalized industries, sequestered businesses and put military people in charge. Driven in part by idealism, he instituted land reforms that took land away from the rich and imposed rent control laws to protect the poor.
There's only a small downside to this liberation of the Egyptian people:
Within a space of 19 years, nearly all of Egypt's 80,000 Jews left. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans also fled -- British and French who were ordered out, as well as others who held foreign passports and had no choice but to leave because they had been stripped of their businesses and livelihood.

One upon a time, Cairo had more than 30 working synagogues, along with dozens of small "shuls" where men gathered to pray and study. There were Jewish schools, nursing homes, an Hôpital Israelite and a vast ancient Jewish cemetery where mystics were buried. These days, only about a dozen synagogues are left in Cairo and most lie vacant and neglected. The cemetery has been plundered of most marble headstones, so that it is almost impossible to identify graves of loved ones.
What's a little grave-robbing after 150 years of tyrannical Judeo-British oppression?
In Egypt, the Jews' departure went hand in hand with the ouster of foreigners who had settled years earlier and turned Cairo into a capital of all-night cafes and open-air cinemas, where it was possible to hear people conversing in four or five languages -- French, English, Italian, Greek, Arabic -- in the same breath. According to Khairi Abaza, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as many as a million Europeans once called Egypt home, every bit as much as Paris or London or Athens. Their influence was profound: From British clubs and legendary hotels like Shepheards with its graceful terrace to elegant streets and buildings designed to resemble Parisian boulevards and cafes that served Greek appetizers. The French, about 40,000 strong, were intent on spreading their culture. French became the second language for privileged Egyptians. A large community of Greeks, numbering from 200,000-400,000, prospered in the food and hospitality business, running hotels and selling groceries, wine and liquor. There were also 100,000-150,000 Italians who specialized in import-export, accounting or finance. A Belgian industrialist helped build the swank suburb of Heliopolis. About 100,000 Armenians lived in Egypt, and many distinguished themselves as craftsmen and merchants. Then there were Jewish entrepreneurs like my father.
Ah, multiculturalism. But there was a dark underside to this paradise of diversity:
Many ordinary Egyptians were mired in poverty, cut off from the cafes and nightlife. Beggars roamed the streets.
But Nasser fixed that! Oh, no, wait, he didn't:
Economically, the decline relative to other countries has been steep. In 1950, prior to the revolution, Egypt's per capita income was 80% that of Greece's and 45% of Italy's; now, says Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a nonprofit think tank, Egypt has 11% of Greece's per capita income, and 6% of Italy's.
But at least ordinary Egyptians aren't cut off from the cafes and nightlife. Or, at least, Yehia El-Gamal isn't:
"No Egyptian would like the colonial powers to come back to Cairo -- either British or French. We struggled for our independence," says Yehia El-Gamal, an attorney and law professor in Cairo who first came to the city in the 1940s.

Great Britain's constant interference in Egyptian politics fueled this rising tide of nationalism -- a sense by the average Egyptian that they weren't the masters of their fate. Egyptians, says Mr. Abaza, who comes from a family of politicians, "felt humiliated," and resented the fact that the British had been trying to control the political processes since the 19th century.
In other news, the Pope is Catholic and bears are frequently seen shitting in the woods. Someday Westerners will learn that what matters about a government is what it does, and what doesn't matter is the race, creed, color, sexual preference, or country of origin of its employees. Unfortunately, I suspect we may have to learn it the hard way. Egypt sure did.

The ending is most precious of all. Heedless of the copyright mafia, I paste at length:
From the moment I got off the plane at Cairo International Airport, I wanted to go to Queen Nazli Street, to the house where I was born.

No one called it Queen Nazli Street anymore. After the 1952 revolution, Cairo's streets were renamed to eliminate any mention of the monarchy. Stately King Fuad Street became known as "26th of July Street," the day of the revolution. Queen Nazli Street was named Ramses Street, after the old pharaoh. My family like so many others always used the old name.

My father had moved to Queen Nazli Street as a bachelor in 1938, renting a spacious ground-floor apartment. He brought my mom there when they married in the 1940s. A handsome movie star lived upstairs, a popular heartthrob of the Egyptian cinema. My family paid three Egyptian pounds, or $6.90, a month. The front entrance was as imposing as I remembered it, though graffiti marred the building's facade. I pushed the door open and found myself in a dark, dingy hallway with a large staircase. Glancing at the stairs, I noticed with a sinking feeling how dusty and broken down they were. The walls were filthy.

I knocked on the door marked #2 -- my home -- and almost immediately, a man answered. It was Wageeh Androus, the son of the amiable Coptic Christian couple that took over our lease in 1963. His father had died a few years earlier, but Wageeh still lived there with his aging mother. Mother and son told me they were paying 20 Egyptian pounds, $3.50 or so, in monthly rent. The low rent reflects the continued grip of Egypt's rent-control laws, even as Cairo's population has exploded from six million in 1965 shortly after I left to about 16 million today.

The apartment seemed worn but much as I'd remembered it. The Androus family told me an old woman upstairs, known as Om Sayeda ("Mother Sayeda"), wanted to meet me. She had been living in the building for more than 60 years and had known my family.

I knocked on the door and found an old woman seated in a velvet arm chair, a frail, regal figure with her hair swept under a white head covering. I went over to shake her hand, but she reached out to embrace me instead, her arms wrapping around me as she kissed both my cheeks, and brought me close to her chest.

"You look exactly like your mother," she declared. "You are the same as I remember her."

The old woman herself rose and beckoned me to join her at a balcony which she clearly loved with its ornate canopy and panoramic views of Queen Nazli Street.

As I prepared to leave, Om Sayeda suddenly shouted: "Wait." I stopped to look at her.

"I am old and I am lonely," she cried. "There is only me and my daughter here, and I have so many rooms."

"Why don't you stay?" she said. "Why don't you move in here? You can have any room you want," she added.

I looked at her, stunned. I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance to move back to Queen Nazli Street.

I didn't take her up on her offer. But when I ran to embrace the old woman, and she took both my hands in hers, I understood my father and his lament, "Ragaouna Masr," take us back to Cairo.

Groppi's, Queen Nazli Street, Cairo -- they hadn't simply been places, but a state of mind. They were home -- filled with mercy and compassion, tenderness and grace, those qualities that make and keep us human.
Those qualities that make and keep us human! "I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance..."

Try and complete that sentence with the aid of a little counterfactual history. "I, an American Jew, was being offered a chance to move back to the Horst-Wessel-Strasse." Or change both nationalities. "I, a Mexican Catholic, was being offered a chance to move back to Dolores Street." We are so far from Planet Reality that we may simply choose to live out our lives here, in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud.

It is not just that Lagnado does not form, or even sympathize with, the Alexandrian Liberation Front, whose suicide-bombers regularly self-detonate in Egyptian mass-transit facilities, demanding a "right of return." It is that she actually thinks the destruction of civilization in Egypt by racist mobs and military gangsters, and the expulsion of her family and herself, was a good thing. (One wonders if her father feels the same way.)

Clearly, the American educational system has done a real number on Ms. Lagnado. Maybe she went to Yale. After all, it takes a village to raise a child...


Anonymous Daniel Larison said...

I write basically the same kinds of things on my blog these days that I have always done. If you don't like it now, it isn't because the content has changed that much. In fact, I engage in less of the pundit-bashing style of blogging than I used to.

If you find my description of Hegel's politics lacking, you had best come up with something more persuasive than what you have said here. Perhaps, since your intellectual honesty is so impressive and superior to my own, you could actually check my claims before flinging your insults.

For instance, you might have found this:

"G.W.F. Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right (1820) gave it a philosophical justification that accorded well with evolving political theory and with Protestant Christian views of natural law. Hegel's forecast of a constitutional monarch with very limited powers, whose function is to embody the national character and to provide constitutional continuity in times of emergency, has been borne out by the development of constitutional monarchies in Europe and Japan."

July 6, 2007 at 11:39 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

"I think most people would agree that one important component of fascism is an association between a political movement and racist paramilitary gangs". They might, but they shouldn't. The Fascists certainly had gangs of murderous thugs, but weren't particularly racist. (Until very late in the day, when Benito cuddled up to Adolf.) In fact, it becomes much easier to discuss all this sort of thing if you don't confuse fascists with Nazis. Thus, the Italian Fascists were, obviously, fascists. The Falange in Spain, part of Franco's coalition, were fascists. Neither were Nazis. Nasty buggers, but not Nazis. I understand that it was Stalinist propaganda to refer to the Nazis as fascists.

July 6, 2007 at 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someday Westerners will learn that what matters about a government is what it does, and what doesn't matter is the race, creed, color, sexual preference, or country of origin of its employees. Unfortunately, I suspect we may have to learn it the hard way. Egypt sure did.
Matters to whom? There is a non-trivial preference the world over for rule, even misrule, by "one's own" in preference to more competent rule by outsiders. Perhaps the Egyptians should come to the realization that what matters about a government is what it does, but they seem not to have, and I wouldn't wait around for it, either. Nor would I wait for a similar epiphany to occur to the rest of the peoples of the world who would be better governed by an Englishman.

You sound here, oddly, like a liberal imperialist. Rather, in fact, like Jonah Goldberg when he advocated recolonizing Africa.

Secondly, this comment seems to imply that were it not for Western radical chic, well, what... Cairo, not to mention a host of other former colonial outposts, would still be the place of Ms. Lagnado's sepia-toned memories? Perhaps, but probably not. Continued European imperial rule of half or more of the earth's surface was untenable for numerous reasons, not least of which were the successes of colonialism, first in raising up a native élite that would (inevitably) challenge the Europeans, and secondly in
so improving health, sanitation, and productivity as to permit a still-ongoing population explosion.

As to Ms. Lagnado, she shows the typical traits of New Yorkers and of Jewish intellectuals: the cosmopolitan provincialism, the mindless universalism, the ethnocentrism, and the utter self-absorption.

Finally, and this is "bitchery," isn't you impugning Daniel Larison a textbook example of insulting upward?

July 6, 2007 at 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the best blog I've ever read. You are a very gifted writer and an enormously gifted thinker.

July 7, 2007 at 1:57 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

Anonymous said; "There is a non-trivial preference the world over for rule, even misrule, by "one's own" in preference to more competent rule by outsiders. ... You sound here, oddly, like a liberal imperialist. Rather, in fact, like Jonah Goldberg when he advocated recolonizing Africa. ... Continued European imperial rule of half or more of the earth's surface was untenable for numerous reasons, , not least of which were the successes of colonialism, first in raising up a native élite that would (inevitably) challenge the Europeans,..."

I agree with the implicit assumption here that colonialism by liberal democracies benefitted the great majority of the population, but was bad for native elites. At least, it was bad for their status compared with their post-colonial situation of being the biggest fish in a small (often stagnant) pond.

The idea from Public Choice theory is that politics is mostly about self-expression - and this seems to be confirmed by the lack of media discussion of the probable benefits of colonialism, here in the liberal democracies where people wish to dissociate themselves from the tough moral choices entailed by colonialism (for example, abolishing slavery at gunpoint, against the wishes of the majority of the native population).

Whether there is much benefit for liberal deomcracies in pursuing a new wave of colonialism is an interesting question (the obvious benefit would be in colonizing terrorist nests - but not countries quietly starving to death). But I think there is a very high probability of benefit for the mass population in failed states. In some countries of Sub-Saharan Africa things could not be much worse (except for the rulers).

I mean places like Malawi where economic historian Greg Clarke estimates the standard of living (roughly, amount of food per head of population) is currently the lowest that has ever existed on earth.

So - on these grounds, I would favour a new wave of colonialism by liberal democracies. There is no reason to assume it would follow the same fatal trajectory as colonialism in the past - we live in a different world now, and we can learn from the past - especially in dealing with local elites. The mass media would be a big help there.

July 7, 2007 at 5:37 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

BGC's proposal would just replay the 19th century, with late 20th century's results. Liberal colonialism would cause the local birth and survival rates to soar, leaving the West with having to manage those countries' incompetent societies all over again, and of course keep admitting more waves of immigrants.

July 7, 2007 at 6:11 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

I suspect the key is that the rather light British government of Egypt happened to coincide with rather light British government of Britain. Small government allowed a mixed society to flourish in Egypt Similarly, light government of much of India by the old East India Company, particularly before the rise of interference by evangelical christians, and British husband-hunters, allowed a varied society to rub along. Back then, there was a lot of intermarriage between British and Indians (whence the three British PMs of mixed race). The nearest recent approximation might have been Hong Kong in the era of '600 Scots running 6 million Chinese'. It flourished too.

July 7, 2007 at 8:03 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

I should add that even a very light, and rather enlightened, government won't work if there are unscrupulous traitors determined to stop it. vide the 13 colonies.

July 7, 2007 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

We're all turncoats and proud of it.


Egypt was indeed decimated, as were many 'revolutionarily liberated' countries. What made the difference was how good the government they replaced the old one with was. That's really it. I don't blame the US, I blame France; there of course would have never been an American Revolution if certain situations never occurred involving various Georges.

Needless to say, our revolution turned out to be a glorious thing for the world, while Egypt's did not. Ours because of two things - Reason, and Faith. Islam does not suffice for faith because it doesn't play with reason, and the F.R. was Reason without its component faith. Those who take the middle path walk the road to victory.

The connection, I think, between old establishment liberals and the new vertical barbarians (same as the old ones) is valid. Seems like they have created an underlying philosophy that embodies the worst in American Character, the Dr. Faust if you will, that is forced to overthrow itself violently every generation for its cut of a shrinking pie of power.

But every action has a opposite and equal re-action. So it might be safe to assume that every philosophical position has a reaction to it equal(ish) in scope to the width of its influence.

That is to say, for all of our visible crypto-calvinists there are an equal(ish) number of free-willers, self-directors, principled doers, both religious and non, that will, as Bill Whittle put it, 'go gray' when things get bad.

July 7, 2007 at 8:31 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


What I'm objecting to is not the pundit-bashing, which has always made up a large proportion of your blog, and the overwhelming majority of which is accurate, deserved, and highly entertaining.

What I'm objecting to is your increasing tendency to take the opposite side of any argument in order to bash said pundit more effectively. The fact that you do this so successfully is impressive, but it remains the definition of sophistry, and it detracts from the best of your arguments.

Goldberg is a nepotistic hack who's parroting, probably inaccurately and probably without attribution (we'll see when his book is actually released) the same case Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose jockstrap he shouldn't even try to hold, made in Leftism Revisited and the like.

If you wanted to criticize him fairly, you could point your readers to K-L (as you have done), and explain K-L's version of the thesis without whatever neocon spin Goldberg will put on it.

Instead, as far as I can tell solely because it makes Goldberg look even more ridiculous, you try to argue that the connection between Hegel, totalitarianism and Hillary is absurd. Which it simply ain't. Surely your credibility is worth more than this.

July 7, 2007 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Perhaps my Swiftian satire of "insulting upward" was a little too convincing!

"The Egyptians," Mr. El-Gamal not withstanding, are not a monolithic and amorphous mass. The attraction of nationalism is that it offers a chance of achieving power, and if it has that chance, it will take it.

But plenty of perfectly stable and peaceful societies - the majority, in fact, I'd say - have been governed by a ruling caste which was culturally distinct from the body of the population.

July 7, 2007 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Larison said...

I don't take the opposite side to be contrary or so I can have a reason to attack someone. That would be stupid and a waste of my time. The interpretation that holds Hegel out to be some forerunner of totalitarianism is tendentious, one-sided and does not give him enough credit for the politics he actually espoused. It requires you to import an understanding of the state that did not yet exist and attribute it to him each time he used the word "state." When Cicero talks about the republic and Aristotle talks about the polis, they likewise make the *political community* prior to everything else and make membership in it essential to living a good life.

Misreading Hegel simply as a proto-totalitarian is rather like interpretations of Maistre that make him out to be a forerunner of fascism because he speaks, in an entirely different context, about the cleansing power of violence and blood. Those interpretations are wrong. It is possible that later totalitarians or fascists could find parts of their works and use them for their own purposes, but we cannot pin that on people who had no such intentions.

Popper was one of these people who made Hegel into a philosophical villain and enemy of human freedom, but as with his section on Plato Popper did not really understand what he was talking about. My impression is that others have taken up this wrong, biased view or one like it, and I am going to point out the flaws in that view. I believe it is thoroughly unfair to Hegel to blame him for what later Hegelians interpreted his work to mean. The title of Goldberg's book suggests that he is approaching it the same way. Even so, I had previously objected to this caricature of Hegel quite apart from anything related to anyone's book. You can argue that the more sympathetic revisionists have it wrong or go too far in trying to rehabilitate Hegel's reputation, but don't go around saying that the people advancing this argument are dishonest. You will be insulting quite a few people in the process if you do that.

July 7, 2007 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

BCG and others,

My belief is that Western reoccupation of the Third World is not viable at this time, because the domestic political forces that destroyed the original colonial system are even more powerful now than they were then.

Colonialism ended because political changes in the colonizing countries made it impossible for the colonial governments to govern. Ie, to suppress nationalist revolts and impose law and order.

War is war. It should not be confused with either police work or missionary work. It is physically impossible to win a war by arresting an invading army and trying each of its soldiers. The same is true in a civil war. We see here again the reliance on Divine Providence as a military force.

We can see the effect of this right now in Iraq. Iraq simply cannot be governed by a military effort, no matter how technically advanced, well-trained and well-funded, that thinks of itself as a combination of a SWAT team and the Salvation Army.

The Western world certainly has all the physical and human tools it needs to restore civilization in the Third World and resume the work of Lord Cromer. But it lacks the legal and political tools, and until it has those it shouldn't even try. As in Vietnam, it ends up just handing victories to its adversaries, who use the result as simply one more piece of evidence that demonstrates their invincibility.

What the neocons failed to admit is that their main purpose in invading Iraq was to defeat their domestic political enemies, by providing unignorable physical evidence that Third World nationalism is not foreordained and invincible. But what they forgot is that two can play at that game, and if you play you have to win.

July 7, 2007 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


The problem is that you can take exactly the same view of Marx. Remember the state withering away?

None of the political philosophers of the 19th century envisioned that their work would be used as holy scripture in what they would have characterized as "oriental despotism." If you can't blame Hegel for Marxist-Leninism, you can't blame Marx, either. Nor can you blame Rousseau for Robespierre, etc, etc, etc.

But neither Hegel nor Marx is on trial here. Goldberg is trying to trace the intellectual roots of totalitarianism, not establish personal responsibility for specific crimes. Do you really deny that Marx was a Hegelian, or that the Soviet Union was Marxist, or that it was totalitarian?

And yes, I agree that Maistre, Carlyle, Gobineau, etc, are similarly mischaracterized - see my Carlyle post. And I also do think the connection between them and fascism is accurate. That doesn't mean I think their corpses should be dug up and hanged, like Cromwell.

You can certainly argue the case for Hegel, and I would like to see you try, although I really do not see any content in Hegel's work that is not "proto-totalitarian." When the status quo is constitutional monarchy, proposing constitutional monarchy is not content, it is filler.

My complaint is not that you were making the case for Hegel. It is that you were telling your readers, without elaboration, that anyone who thinks of Hegel as a proto-totalitarian is a damned fool. It is often necessary to simply point out that people are damned fools, you do it all the time, and you are almost always right. But the burden of being a dissident is that you have to be right all the time, not just most of the time.

July 7, 2007 at 11:57 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

There is a non-trivial preference the world over for rule, even misrule, by "one's own" in preference to more competent rule by outsiders.

No doubt this is true to some extent, but I'm not sure how much practical relevance this has. The British didn't conquer the Arabs, they "liberated" the Arabs from the Turks. I use the scare quotes because no doubt some at least Arabs would prefer to be ruled by their fellow Moslems, but I suspect a fair number preferred British to Turkish rule, and for that matter, a good many would have preferred rule by the British to rule by Arabs of a different tribe, if the choice was put to them in such a manner.

July 7, 2007 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

MM said: "The Western world certainly has all the physical and human tools it needs to restore civilization in the Third World and resume the work of Lord Cromer. But it lacks the legal and political tools, and until it has those it shouldn't even try."

I disagree - the legal and political tools would be developed by doing the job. The British Empire didn't wait until it knew how to abolish slavery before setting about it: they tried all kinds of methods, and built upon those which worked best and abandoned those they were a failure.

*If* people _really_ cared about the very poorest in Africa, as so many people express themselves to do, then these people would probably want to use colonialization to impose a low-corruption infrastructure on these nations (law, public administration, non-political military etc). Together with free trade (ie. liberal democracies would unilaterally abolish their import tarrifs) this would likely improve the lives of the African poor more rapidly than anything else.

But I regard most of politics as a kind of moral expressivism - almost entirely detached from real-world effects; and so long as people can feel good and advertise their virtue by buying and displaying 'Fair Trade' products, that will probably satisfy their urges.

Nonetheless, I would go so far as to say that developing the 'legal and political tools' to create civilization (ie. liberal democratic-type societies) in the third world ought to be the major priority for the existing liberal democracies - initially in manageable nations that are nonetheless a significant military or terrorist threat.

I agree liberal democracies don't yet have the tools, but we need them, and trial and error is the only way to develop them.

July 7, 2007 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


The trouble is that you're seeing the Western countries as wholes, rather than as complex systems :-)

If I was appointed War Lord of the West with absolute plenipotentiary powers, I would certainly carry out your plan (although it probably wouldn't be the first priority!).

But not only do I not have this job, neither does George W. Bush - although for a while he thought he did.

The fact is that you are absolutely right. In fact, I think you're righter than you know.

People, although they think they care greatly about their brothers in the Third World, do not in reality support policies which would actually improve the lives of those people. Quite the opposite, in fact. (See also under: DDT.)

Now why is this? How can this have happened? Is it just a simple misunderstanding that can be easily corrected?

I don't think it's anything of the sort. I think that the tradition of misguided remote philanthropy from Exeter Hall and Mrs. Jellyby to Bono is essentially about power, and it is much more robust than it looks.

Before the end of colonialism, the internal conflict in the colonial world was always between evangelical missionaries (ie, Exeter Hall) and everyone else - soldiers, merchants, settlers, etc. After WWII this conflict was resolved in favor of the former, who stopped talking about Jesus and started talking about "human rights."

The missionary impulse is fundamentally satisfying because it is a power drive. It is clientism and patronage. To give is to feel powerful and noble. Who has the most henchmen ranks highest in Valhalla. This is human nature, not easily defeated.

Worse - human rights advocacy will invariably be deployed against any venture that smacks of neocolonialism. Any resistance to this venture constitutes, by definition, a war.

And the effect of the "missionary position" is to make this war so asymmetrical in its rules that, whatever the disparity between the power of the Western force and its opponent, the former cannot win. This story also provides the nationalist resistance with a plausible narrative of how its victory is inevitable, a narrative which historically at least was quite self-fulfilling.

So the missionary attitude satisfies not one but two power drives. Not only does it allow the Bonoist to feel important, it allows him to defeat his enemies. Small wonder it has been so utterly victorious.

Watch the old Italian film "Africa Addio." It is available in a badly digitized version online, as well as on DVD. It will horrify you and chill your soul - you will never be able to listen to Bono again. But unless we understand how and why this happened, it will happen all over again, as we see in Iraq.

July 7, 2007 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

btw, dearieme,

I am guilty on the Nazi-Fascist connection - this is a link that is too commonly assumed.

Still, the Italian Fascists were racists by any modern standard. They were Italian chauvinists, to be exact. Our categories are wider now, but people used to speak - not entirely without reason - of the "Italian race."

Of course, this is absurd for many reasons, not least because of the well-known fact that Garibaldi didn't unite Italy.

July 7, 2007 at 2:03 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Mencius - why do you think the US government was able to pacify the South so easily during the 60s while its having such a hard time in Iraq?

July 7, 2007 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Because the South had no chance of victory. The North was much stronger and more unified than in the 1870s, the South was much weaker. No intelligent and amoral person would side with the latter, and any victory demands the support of many such.

One of the main problems was that there was no ethos on which a victory could be justified. In the 19th century, and well into the 20th, white superiority was generally accepted as a fact by all except a fanatical religious minority in the North. The Civil War, or whatever you prefer to call it, was not a war for racial equality.

In the 20th, doctrines had shifted and it was clear that racial equality was unopposable, especially after WWII, when any idea that could be identified with Nazism was extirpated root and branch. "Second Reconstruction" offered enormous benefits for all those who sided with it, and few for those who chose to oppose it.

(The writings of the losing side, as always, make interesting reading - notably Carleton Putnam. I was also just reading this, an interesting tale of responsible statesmanship on the Supreme Court.)

From my perspective, the tragedy was not the death of Jim Crow, but the fact that Jim's ring was not cast into Mount Doom - despite all the oaths of the sons of Elendil (Hubert Humphrey's vow of legiphagy being only the most imaginative). Segregation was an ugly thing, but history may yet conclude that it was a lesser evil than "diversity" - especially as the latter's story is not yet fully told.

July 7, 2007 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

MM said: "Before the end of colonialism, the internal conflict in the colonial world was always between evangelical missionaries (ie, Exeter Hall) and everyone else - soldiers, merchants, settlers, etc. After WWII this conflict was resolved in favor of the former, who stopped talking about Jesus and started talking about "human rights.""

Indeed. The most realistic positive thing would be that 'everyone else' gradually modernizes these failed states. In other words, I hope that enlightened self interest will operate more powerfully - so that (for example) G7 nations (G8 minus Russia) will work together more.

It is worth remembering that great things *can* be achieved by modernization backed by evangelists: I'm thinking of the abolition of slavery. But that required mass public support sustained over many decades. I don't see that now - about any issue at all. However things may change, and if they do we will soon know about it.

On the other hand, I think there needs to be a moral drive as well. At least, pro-modernizers (such as myself) need to feel strongly enough in their own 'rightness' to confront the missionaries and nationalists - otherwise the best policies will be defeated by ad hominem attack on the evil uncaring manipulativeness of their advocates.

But, modernization does entail tragic losses - of that there is no denying. For example, the extinction of local cultures and languages is a tragedy, mobility and flexibility of populations is very tough emotionally.

But it is preferable to the alternative (ie. modernizing societies are better than pre-modern societies), which is why modernization usually happens spontaneously (except when prevented by the local culture elites).

I'm not sure how powerful they are, but the cultural elites are an obstacle to good policy, because of their tendency to evaluate everything according to their own moral emotions and instincts.

However, gut feelings of moral rightness are a hopeless guide to foreign policy, economic policy, science policy etc. The key to modernization is functional specialization, which entails systems like foreign policy becoming increasingly autonomous from missionary impulses. This has happened (long ago) in science, has increased in the economy (we no longer worry about usury), is the norm for foreign policy (which in the US and UK differs very sharply from that advocated by pacifist elites) - I guess we are left with Africa as the playground for elite moralizing.

Which itself is indicative of the lack of genuine concern - the Bono type missionaries and the NGOs staffed by dissaffected Western ruling classes are allowed to play with Africa, exactly because neither the African ruling class, nor the Western ruling class, really gives a damn about the condition of the mass of Africans; and the mass of Africans are so uneducated and unskilled as to be of little value to others, and unable to defend their own interests.

We get frivolous African policies because the African nations do not threaten us in the way that the Middle Eastern nations do, nor does Africa have anything to offer as valuable in the here and now as the Middle Eastern oil. So there are no sanctions against messing-up - indeed endless messing-up maintains the conditions for endless missionary work, which benefits many people.

So I am a pessimist about Africa, at least for the next few decades - because there are no powerful incentives to do well, no powerful sanctions against doing badly.

July 7, 2007 at 11:50 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


I don't disagree with any of these comments.

However, the only way I can see in which to achieve this functional specialization, which is an excellent way to describe the problem, is to privatize entire African countries, perhaps starting with the really, really misgoverned ones, such as Equatorial Guinea. King Leopold himself would be a boon to Equatorial Guinea.

The missionaries, needless to say, would fight this with an incredible passion. Which is why I almost don't feel it's worth proposing until their domestic political efforts are defeated.

Africa cannot be fixed, at least certainly not using the only remedy I can imagine working on it, until Western missionary politics as a whole is abolished. And if there is any road to this endgame, which is not at all clear to me, it certainly does not run through Africa - unless it lies in using Africa as an example of why missionary politics doesn't work.

July 9, 2007 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

How does Yehia El-Gamal differ from Laurence Auster?

July 10, 2007 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

In many ways - but primarily that the latter has no chance of victory. So he is inherently less dangerous.

July 11, 2007 at 11:16 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

What do you think of this, which just appeared at Lew Rockwell?

July 14, 2007 at 5:12 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

If Glass wasn't a journo, the fact that he cites the Lancet numbers would put him on my bad side already.

Why do you think the Iraqis revolted against the British, but not the Turks? You'd think Glass would have a theory on this. Perhaps he does, but he doesn't bother to share it.

Instead he descends into these shopworn Third World nationalist cliches. The deep feelings of the people cannot be overcome! Truly their unquenchable desire for liberty is manifest in the noble Ba'ath Party.

Imagine if Glass thought about British or American politics this way. Nationalism is never good for the goose, but it's always good for the gander.

Why do people fight? They fight because they think they can win. The British Empire even in the first half of the 20th century was clearly in a state of decay, at least from the perspective of people who actually believe in violence, which is most people at most times in history. The Ottomans were in a state of decay as well, but at least it didn't involve a terminal case of Christianity.

Glass is right that half-hearted colonialism doesn't work. But his moralizing leaves me extremely cold, because his side is at least as much to blame for the disaster as the Gertrude Bells of the world.

July 14, 2007 at 2:49 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

The Ottoman empire's lack of Christianity prevented revolt? What the hell was the Greek war of independence!? T. E. Lawrence himself deserves much of the blame for later arab nationalism. It's hard to put the genie back in Pandora's bottle (to mix mythical metaphors). It's true that there's a reason that the most effective method of putting down insurrection is called the "Turko-Mongolian" strategy, but that was from when Turks were led by roaming bandits of the likes of Tamerlane rather than the late Ottomans. The loss of the "mandate of heaven" in the eyes of elites happens enough without Christianity that I don't think we need to consider it much of a factor.

I haven't followed the Lancet controversy much. What figures do you consider more reputable?

July 14, 2007 at 9:33 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 2, 2009 at 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 9:20 PM  

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