What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Some men kiss their chains

There is little else clearer in today’s politics than the fact that what we have encouraged, supported, and even fought and died for in the Middle East are not liberal democracies. Women, secularists, and Christians are increasingly harassed, and even within the predominant regional culture itself we see smaller Islamic, tribal, and ethnic minorities persecuted every day. Our notion that the overthrow of autocracy and the coming of democracy meant also the coming of freedom was simply wrong. Yes, we neoconservatives could point to the liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet hegemony, or liberal democracy-building in Germany and Japan after World War II, or even the wonderful success of the civil rights movement here in America to prove that all peoples wish to live in freedom. Yet those examples seem not to carry us to the facts that we see around us today.

But why? “Don’t all people yearn for freedom?” we have asked. And we assume the answer is yes. But the answer is no. Some people, perhaps most people, prefer other goods. Indeed, some people would rather be holy than free, or safe than free, or be instructed in how they should lead their lives rather than be free. Many prefer the comfort of strong answers already given rather than the openness and hazards of freedom. There are those who would never dream of substituting their will for the imam’s or pushing their desires over the customs and traditions of their families. Some men kiss their chains.

This is taken from a strong mea culpa written by John Agresto in the latest issue of Commentary magazine (I will quote liberally from the article in this post as it is only available to subscribers). Mr. Agresto can speak from serious experience as he served as senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the year following the liberation of Iraq and has subsequently been a founding member of the board of trustees, provost, acting chancellor, and dean of the faculty at the American University of Iraq, in Kurdish Iraq. According to Commentary, his book Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions (Encounter) contains the beginnings of this analysis that appears in the article.

The question for us today, especially for those of us like me who generally supported our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to promote democracy (or to build consenual government, as Victor Davis Hanson likes to say*), is whether or not this was a fool's errand and the U.S. should have simply punished those responisble for 9/11, removed the threat to our security, and then installed some sort of local strongman with a warning to everyone that we'd do it again only worse if something like 9/11 happened again. More rubble, less trouble.

[Indeed, even if we had wanted to rule Afghanistan and/or Iraq in an imperial fashion, there are those who argued that a more forceful posture with the natives would have yielded better results for the U.S (well, I really don't know how many foreign policy 'experts' argued this, but I do know our old 'friend' Mencius Moldbug did -- check him out in the comments of this thread where he talks about "Pink's War"**).]

But either way, Agresto raises the question, explored often on this blog, of whether or not there is a cultural problem in the Middle-East, brough on by Islam, that simply precludes any simple democratization project or even any long-term colonization project:

But if half the problem is political, the other, and far more bedeviling, half is cultural. We political scientists have something of a professional fiction. We think that the type of government people live under shapes their culture. Indeed, we believe that political life shapes human character. So, we think that aristocracies produce people with aristocratic desires, that tyrannies produce a culture of fear and dependency with slavish or vicious subjects, and that democracies produce people who are peaceful, and understanding of difference. But this might simply be backwards. I was always struck by Alexis de Tocqueville’s comment that Americans were on the way to being a democratic people long before establishing a democratic government. We served on colonial juries where we listened to both sides before we rendered judgment on our fellow citizens. We had professional, civic, and social institutions that taught us how to work together. We fought the Revolutionary War against the British Crown, a war in which perhaps a third of our citizens were on the British side and yet after the war there were no show trials, no recriminations, no mass graves. To do it the other way around—to begin with a democratic government and hope for a people with a democratic outlook and habits to grow as a result—is more often than not a fool’s errand.

The left, which speaks often about the importance of diversity, multiculturalism, and culture, should understand this matter better than the right does. Yet, while liberals may claim to see the formative nature of culture, they rarely go beyond superficialities. Sometimes the remnants of a lazy Marxism take over, giving the left the handy but false excuse that poverty, joblessness, or capitalist exploitation cause tumult and war. The left, it seems, would rather have us celebrate other cultures than understand them, for understanding them might lead us to judging, or even opposing, them. Above all, despite their attachment to the virtues of multiculturalism, rarely will the left admit that culture—especially religious culture—shapes a nation and shapes a people’s character.

Yet it is the character of a culture that shapes the aspirations of its citizens and the nature of its democracy. A culture in which there is little religious or intellectual freedom, where adherence to the commands of imams or religious scholars is sacrosanct, a culture that believes its duty before God is to punish dissent, kill apostates, and exterminate God’s supposed enemies, a culture in which there is no deep acceptance of difference—such cultures will produce illiberal souls who are hardly strong candidates to form a truly liberal and free democracy.

Nor is the right without fault in this matter. Neoconservatives especially, with their insistence on the universality of human nature and human desires and the secondary character of culture, fail to see the true centrality of culture in shaping human life. All too often we rail against multiculturalism and proclaim that the important thing to know is that all men share a common human nature. We are the first to proclaim that just as fire burns in Hellas as it does in Persia, so is it true that human beings are the same, deep down, the world over.

But culture and custom are, as Pascal wrote in Pensées, “a second nature.” Culture is not just something that affects how we dress and what we eat and how we look at the world. It is something with the force of human nature itself. Culture—especially, today, religious culture—determines a people’s outlook and aspirations, what it holds to be just and what it holds to be dishonorable.

While conservatives may be correct in saying that justice and rights are universal and that good and evil are independent of historical circumstance or of any person’s cultural outlook, the fact remains that what a person believes is just and unjust—and what leads him to act is always shaped more by his culture than by the truth objectively understood. That is, while the love of justice might be natural to all humanity, the content and meaning of that justice is far more often decided by custom and culture than by argument and philosophy. What people know, and what they act on, is what their culture—again, especially their religious culture—tells them is good or evil, noble or shameful. How is it that we Americans always seem to confuse what we’ve learned through our religions, our history, and our moral stories with universal human commands? The simple fact is that freedom and democracy have political, social, and cultural preconditions, and there are some nations, many nations, where the preconditions for just and free democratic rule are absent.

While it would have been nice if Agresto was more explicit in this quote that he is talking about the problems with Islam, qua Islam, it is not a stretch by any means to assume that he is referring to Islamic culture when he talks about a culture "in which there is little religious or intellectual freedom, where adherence to the commands of imams or religious scholars is sacrosanct...that believes its duty before God is to punish dissent, kill apostates, and exterminate God’s supposed enemies...in which there is no deep acceptance of difference" and that "such cultures will produce illiberal souls who are hardly strong candidates to form a truly liberal and free democracy."

So what should we do? How does the U.S. move forward? After being chastised by the experience of Iraq, Agresto recommends the following:

Should America continue its attempt to spread democracy abroad? Only in the most limited of circumstances, and only when we stop reflexively thinking that every mob that pits itself against autocratic rulers is made of “heroes and patriots.” Do the people we would aid appreciate freedom, and would they be ready to fight for it? More important, are they ready to fight for the freedom of their fellow citizens and be able to live and work with them? Are they willing to live under a government and under a rule of law that empowers and restrains the democratic majority? Are they, moreover, eager to live in peace with their foreign neighbors? If the answer to all those questions is yes, then and only then might it be worth our blood and treasure to help.

I don't think I can improve upon those wise words...


Footnotes:

*Incidentally, I probably identify more with Professor Hanson than any other foreign policy writer active today. Although I'm not sure he would classify himself as a neocon, he often gets grouped with them due to his support for Afghanistan and Iraq. However, when you read through his writing and those folks who he promotes on his website (like Bruce Thorton), it is clear that Hanson has always had a more limited view of what we could realistically accomplish in both of those countries, but saw our efforts there as better than the status quo antebellum.

**When it comes to sparkling prose with bite, there are few who can top Mencius (here he is responding to his critics who accuse him British imperialsim):

You don't even need a pith helmet and a lisp to understand how a civilized nation can subdue and govern savages and barbarians. You can stay on our side of the Atlantic and our century, and look at the US experience in the Philippines or Haiti. You can read any pre-1945 field manual from the US military. PC-COIN basically consists of taking every known axiom about how to solve the problem properly, and reversing it. Instead of constantly demonstrating strength, for instance, it constantly demonstrates weakness. This masquerades as counterintuitive, which masquerades as smart. Indeed, one cannot defend it without being pretty damned smart.

And it's not even the willingness to bomb villages from the air, or whatever, that generates victory. Since we have way better gear than Wing Commander Pink, we can be way more subtle. All that is needed is that USG demonstrate to the Afghan people that it has chosen to rule them by force and without their consent, as a result of their actions in harboring Osama, KSM and their nasty friends. Seal the border, register and tax the population, impose indirect rule. Find some modern equivalent of Lord Cromer to run the whole thing.

Instead, we create the ultimate in passive-aggressive goverment. We whine and wheedle and curtsy before the savage tribe, pay it welfare for its misdeeds, apologize at every possible opportunity. At the same time, we hunt it with Predators. It's like a bad episode of "The Dog Whisperer," with the Pashtoons instead of the dog. Couldn't we get Cesar Millan to run Afghanistan for a while? His skin is about the right color, and he could hardly do worse.

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Comments (132)

I don't know if Mencius addresses it in his article, but I wonder if he isn't underestimating the way that technology has levelled the playing field between insurgents and state armies. Modern RPG's and IED's can make life miserable for even the most sophisticated army (like ours) and our will always falters before theirs. If we're talking about human nature, the insurgents are fighting for their home and we aren't. It makes a difference.

If we're talking about human nature, the insurgents are fighting for their home and we aren't. It makes a difference.

I don't think that is any more true now than when the Left turned Ho Chi Minh into a nationalist. Look, foreign fighters and support are the backbone of these movements. From Al-Queda in Iraq to the Iranian IRGC (Pasdaran) in Syria. And few seem to know that Khomeini is a Pan-Arabist who admitted he'd destroy Iran if need be to accomplish his goals before he even came back to rule Iran in the late 70's.

Not picking on you CJ, but it does seem to me some of the same folks that claim it is naive to believe that freedom is a universal desire among the good and decent people also seem inclined to say that our enemies are motivated by the same types of loyalties that we are. They aren't.

Agresto simply assumes that liberal democracy is the pinnacle of freedom. Again the error of not defining the freedom.. Auster had a witty thing to say about the undefined freedom being peddled by Bushies- There is no God but Freedom and Bush is its Prophet. Menicus too has things to say about the liberal democracy and its freedoms.

"Our notion that the overthrow of autocracy and the coming of democracy meant also the coming of freedom was simply wrong"

Even if this lesson was not learnt in 1789 it should have been by 1918. So there is no telling that they have learnt by now.

And what about Haiti. Hasn't America trying to impose democracy there for more than a century there?

Agresto simply assumes that liberal democracy is the pinnacle of freedom. Again the error of not defining the freedom.

Well Gian, since you say freedom must be defined, what is your definition of it? And if you don't think America got it right on the political system to use in the beginning, then I'm not sure what the point is in complaining that the nation hasn't been effective in imposing any similar system in any particular place.

Mark,
I have never said that America got it wrong in the beginning. I am not that reactionary. The American institutions suit American culture. However, the political Individualist takes too much for granted.
A nation is a community of love, defined by the object of love. The America of 200 years ago was a Christian land, and the Constitution presupposes that fact. The First Amendment was hardly intended for Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, not to speak of Wiccans and pagans.

So the American freedom was Christian freedom, the freedom to live as Christian freemen.

The machinery of elections should not be overburdened. It is not designed to solve all the questions that might agitate a people. In particular, it can not define the people--thus the question of slave or a fetus being a person belonging to the people can not be resolved by elections. Such fundamental moral divergence can not stably exist in a republic.

Perhaps the neos are finally realizing what trads, agrarians, and 'paleos' have been saying all along -- culture precedes politics. This acceptance of the notion that a society's tenor is determined equally by politics and culture is simply incorrect, and goes a long way in explaining why contemporary conservatism is such a mess. We're not only on a defective wagon, we've hitched it to a lame horse (or elephant, as the case may be).

Gian is correct in his statement that there is an assumption that everyone perceives freedom in the same way. The neocon approach to foreign policy seems to have been based on the belief that, in the words of the famous line from Full Metal Jacket, "inside every [foreigner] is an American trying to get out." As it turns out, not everyone thinks that way, and furthermore, those that don't are not necessarily evil obstructors of liberty.

Darn fools would rather be dead than free.
Seems to be a problem in US's foreign wars.
Nothing to do with money from arms,heroin,and oil.

Women, secularists, and Christians are increasingly harassed,

Women? Terrible. Christians? Terrible.

Secularists? Depending on what harassed means, why is this a concern?

Some men kiss their chains.

We've got plenty of chains over here.

I would want to add to Agresto's list of necessary (and even then perhaps not sufficient) condition for our supporting insurgencies elsewhere: There must be _enough_ of the type of people he describes to make an insurgency led by them plausibly successful. If there are three people in some godforsaken country that want a constitutional republic, complete with checks and balances, security of contract, government free of corruption, and other legitimate Western ideals, there's no point in encouraging them to get themselves killed (or worse), and it will almost certainly do more harm than good to encourage them. This may seem like a trivially obvious point, but it really isn't. Idealists may find a couple of people like that in amongst a whole host of Muslim fanatics who hate the present regime because it's insufficiently theocratic or what-not, and then the idealists are inclined to encourage the entire insurgent movement for the sake of the one or two truly republic-minded outliers. Bad idea.

Nice,

I was going to include this quote in the original post, but I'm glad I saved it as it is the perfect response to your comment. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Now, I tend to think the good Senator was exaggerating a bit for effect -- whether or not politics can indeed "change" a culture so completely that it "saves it from itself" I think is open for debate, but I certainly do think that politics can have both positive and negative effects on the culture (e.g. see America, post New Deal).

Lydia's point is a good one but I might even go further -- remember that the specific culture that Agresto and I are claiming is the problem is Islam -- whether or not we can slowly reform an Islamic country is something I'm increasingly skeptical of (see e.g. Turkey for a country that Ataturk and his ideological heirs spent years and years using politics to try and change the culture and yet Islam has come back again with a vengence.)

Finally, CJ, I'm not sure technology makes that much difference -- again, the question remains what is a country prepared to do in response to a terror attack that is the key issue. However, you may be right about our modern will -- we just don't seem to have the stomach anymore for the kind of harsh methods employed by successful colonial administrators of the past.

Well, yes, I'm strongly inclined to think that if we look at things as they are, rather than as we wish them to be, we will have to admit that there *don't* exist people who really believe in what we want them to believe, in sufficient numbers, in any predominantly Muslim country. It's a little bit like the hypothetical "women who can cut it as firemen." Tell me more about these women. Accommodating one Amazon here or there makes bad law and bad policy and certainly wouldn't, if standards had actually been upheld, have resulted in any great number of female firemen. Similarly, one person here or there in a Muslim country who has a truly unadulterated thirst and love for a Tocquevillian American republic is not the stuff of which successful, lasting regime changes are made.

I don't think that is any more true now than when the Left turned Ho Chi Minh into a nationalist. Look, foreign fighters and support are the backbone of these movements. From Al-Queda in Iraq to the Iranian IRGC (Pasdaran) in Syria. And few seem to know that Khomeini is a Pan-Arabist who admitted he'd destroy Iran if need be to accomplish his goals before he even came back to rule Iran in the late 70's.

Jeff - I'm not familiar with the IRGC, but the case of Al-Qaeda in Iraq actually makes my point in a roundabout way. The reason the Surge looked successful was because it coincided with the foreign fighters overstepping their bounds and getting booted out by the Iraqis. People don't like armed foreigners mucking up their country, even if they share a religion or ethnicity. I think that's as close to a universal value as you'll find.

As for freedom as a universal value. . .I think that's true, but the devil really is in the details. Thomas Jefferson and Charles the Martyr would both agree that the people have a right to freedom, but would have very different views of what that means. Perhaps you would say that Jefferson's view was right and Charles I was wrong, but by what authority?

I would want to add to Agresto's list of necessary (and even then perhaps not sufficient) condition for our supporting insurgencies elsewhere: There must be _enough_ of the type of people he describes to make an insurgency led by them plausibly successful.

The problem is that except in extremes you won't know until you support them. Sometimes a few anti-aircraft missiles is all that is needed, but know one knows for sure in advance. And some "insurgent" standard shouldn't apply to the politically oppressed who die alone in prison. The brutality of Iranian jails is shocking. Not to help those in many of these circumstances is immoral because it simply decides their fate. There is nation building and there is indifference to the fates of others.

Similarly, one person here or there in a Muslim country who has a truly unadulterated thirst and love for a Tocquevillian American republic is not the stuff of which successful, lasting regime changes are made.

Lydia, these statements of yours show more idealism than the idealists ever had. A Tocquevillian American republic isn't the goal. The goal is a nation that isn't expansionist. Nations that aren't expansionist tend to also respect the rights of their citizens because there isn't anything else to do if you're not scheming of foreign conquests. The exceptions that aren't aggressive depend upon those that are. See how Iran supports Syria and China North Korea. Nations need allies like people need friends.

As for freedom as a universal value. . .I think that's true, but the devil really is in the details. Thomas Jefferson and Charles the Martyr would both agree that the people have a right to freedom, but would have very different views of what that means. Perhaps you would say that Jefferson's view was right and Charles I was wrong, but by what authority?

But isn't that conflating freedom with what is thought to be a best political state? If freedom is a universal aspiration, it certainly isn't a positive legal right. It would be like the right to revolution --a moral right. That isn't something anyone gives to us, we just have it. Those denying us of it trespass on us. Moral rights may be represented in better or worse ways by various political systems, but it isn't freedom that is disagreed upon here. We can argue about whether Socialism or Liberal Democracy or any other respects people's aspirations to freedom better or worse than the others, but we're not arguing about versions of freedom. That is arguing about what best accomodates human freedom, and that is another thing.

Not to help those in many of these circumstances is immoral because it simply decides their fate.

Mark, I am indeed horrified by the thought of people in brutal prisons. What, precisely, do you suggest that I or "we" do to help them? I along with many others publicized the fate of Pastor Nadarkhani, for example, but to a large extent that was a bully pulpit thing. I don't understand at all how it is either wise or right for the United States to hold itself responsible to take extremely strong action to free all the captives in horrible foreign prisons. I can certainly see withholding foreign aid money to such countries. That would make sense. (Coughcough Egypt coughcough) But sending missiles to help a small cadre of idealistic people who hope to overthrow the regime is something else again and may very well not be a good idea.

But regarding my comment about "anti-aircraft missiles" above, the fact is that the first and sometimes only means of support will be verbal and diplomatic. In my mind Reagan's greatness was in his knowing the names of jailed dissidents and raising their cases with the Soviets. It doesn't come down to military actions, the crucial thing is to give a damn, and say of what you approve and dissapprove. That is what is so galling about charges of "idealism" against those who advocate stating our principles and that we morally support those with similar beliefs, no matter what we do beyond that if anything.

Well, I agree with that. I often think the bully pulpit is stronger than we think.

"A healthy culture must precede a healthy politics: conservatism's main work is to conserve -- that is, to preserve in a vital condition, not preserve in amber -- a rich civic culture for which government provides order and security without determining its nature, much less changing it, according to an ideological scheme. The question now confronting American conservatives...is whether we still have a civic culture sufficiently robust for correction and salvage by political measures?"

So states R.V. Young in an essay in the most recent Modern Age, ("Conservatism in Crisis"). To put it another way, the culture must be healthy enough to receive the political correction envisioned by Sen. Moynihan, or else such correction will be perceived by the society as a top-down imposition merely, and it will have only superficial effect.

conservatism's main work is to conserve -- that is, to preserve in a vital condition, not preserve in amber -- a rich civic culture for which government provides order and security without determining its nature, much less changing it,... To put it another way, the culture must be healthy enough to receive the political correction envisioned by Sen. Moynihan, or else such correction will be perceived by the society as a top-down imposition merely, and it will have only superficial effect.

NM, I tend to agree with that, but I would throw up a caution about taking it as a rock solid universal: imposing top-down, sometimes by direct force, DOES sometimes change things deep down. The Norman conquest of England changed England forever, and brought to it certain Norman cultural aspects that permanently found themselves incorporated into the culture. Admittedly, this sort of thing normally takes a long time to happen. They had a long time to use.

Senator Moynihan's clever little dictum is reasonable, but it says nothing at all about what cultural realities the liberal wants to change. Since liberals don't harbor much respect for custom to begin with, a pretty good share of the individual things they would change are just change for the sake of change alone, which is pretty much a description of the destruction of culture itself, not "saving the culture" (for itself or for anyone). Even without going that far, it is a common liberal conclusion that X is an unfortunate condition implies that Y action ought to be taken by government to put a stop to X, as if all problems are fixable by human agency, as if all problems are fixable "by the government", as if the government is the natural and ideal agency for fixing all problems, and as if any possible governmental means Y chosen to fix X is better than doing nothing and is better than all non-governmental options.

The underlying thesis at issue, whether "all men desire freedom" can be better answered when (as was discussed above) we define freedom, and when we start at the right level of human desire. Just as all dogs share certain instincts (to a greater and lesser degree), even though some instincts are not expressed in every circumstance, all men share certain natural inclinations, even though not every such inclination is expressed readily in the circumstances in which some people live. The innate human desire for freedom can be located in tiny choices. If you regiment everything about a person's life by force, everything from what moment he gets up to what he eats, what he wears, what prayers he repeats by rote, etc, his desire to CHOOSE will still express itself, just in smaller (and ever smaller) little choices that are not regimented. Take away his right to decide when to put on his socks and shoes, then he will decide whether to put on the right sock or the left sock. If a person has been habituated to being able to choose which color socks he may wear, taking that choice away from him by force will be an imposition, contrary to his inclination to choose freely.

Yes, all men desire to choose for themselves - within the constraints they view as givens that they perceive cannot be an object of choice. I cannot choose to live on the other side of the moon, so that's not where my inclinations toward freedom express themselves. Irani muslims cannot choose whether Islam is the only accepted religion, so they express their inclinations to choose in other areas. As soon as you change their perspective about what things are included in the realm of "you have a choice", you find people taking upon themselves choosing those new things. Yes, this is also viewed (by some) as a burden at the same time the new options are viewed as good. Even among those who find choosing burdensome, I think that you will rarely find someone who actually thinks A is better than B, who still would prefer to go back to the "old" regime in which B was imposed by mandate because then they wouldn't "have to" choose between A and B.

Theocratic Islam has an inherently insoluble theoretical problem: it wants theocracy imposed as a top-down mandate, but the Koran doesn't actually specify who, among the men alive today, ought to be the ones who make the decisions. However it is decided that A, B, and C will rule, that decision is the result of MEN making the decision, i.e. choosing one result when they had a possibility to choose another result - freedom. As a thought-system, it annihilates itself, it is intellectually incoherent.

American foreign policy has more to do with protecting our own fragile dollar than any grand "promotion of democracy". Saddam, Gaddafi and the Iranian regime all seriously pursued (or are pursuing) the selling of oil for other-than-US-dollars. All our bluster about weapons of mass destruction, democracy, nukes and human rights, I'm convinced, is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that our economy would collapse with the fall of the petro-dollar. Our wars are fought to hide the fact that our economic system is a house of cards ready to fall at any minute. And to think, I used to support all that...

No, Daniel, whether you agree with it or not, I believe that a lot of idealism has gone into America's expansionist foreign policy. Much of it has probably been incredibly misguided idealism. As it happens, I'm probably more isolationist than many and in that sense closer to your case-by-case judgements on the justice and wisdom of individual wars. But the cynicism I'm not convinced by. There is a great deal of the foolishness of the British Empire in our idealism. Without the wisdom and toughness which the architects of the British Empire also sometimes displayed.

Mark, I am indeed horrified by the thought of people in brutal prisons. What, precisely, do you suggest that I or "we" do to help them?

Well, I agree with that. I often think the bully pulpit is stronger than we think.

Exactly that Lydia. Exactly. Moral support has a great effect, and history has shown that even the most brutal regimes are sensitive to world opinion when advanced vigorously.

No, Daniel, whether you agree with it or not, I believe that a lot of idealism has gone into America's expansionist foreign policy. Much of it has probably been incredibly misguided idealism.

An expansionist foreign policy? Wow, that is a very strong isolationism that would have it so. Most use the term "interventionist" for the disapproval I think you wish to express.

Mark, I didn't mean anything heavy by the use of "expansionist" rather than "interventionist." I can actually see a case for the greater exactness of the second word, but it isn't a big deal to me. My point was merely that there may be a _sense_ in which America has ended up with a weird kind of de facto empire, but we have ended up with it more or less by accident by trying to be "the good guys." That in contrast to Daniel's far more cynical view.

I have heard America called an "empire" repeatedly in the last 2 months, whereas I don't think I had heard it often much before that. I can understand one element of that - we certainly have pushed our influence around the world. To my mind, though, "empire" denotes something a little firmer than just "influence", and I am having trouble seeing it. America who let Panama go. Who said goodbye to the Philippines (admittedly, somewhat later than it should have). Who could have walked all over Cuba, and sorely wanted to for 40 years, but didn't. Ditto with Nicaragua. Who created thriving competitors of Germany and Japan, and then let them run with their own ball. If that's "empire", maybe it shouldn't be a dirty word. (This is not to excuse our stupid and - at times - evil actions in foreign countries.)

Yeah, that's why I qualified the term so much. We lack the confidence to govern a real empire, and we don't do what we do do very well. In the 1940's or thereabouts the British literally sent various young men to Africa to administer British law in chopped-up districts each approximately the size of Wales. Now that's the confidence to govern an empire. It's the sort of thing about which "If you're gonna do it, do it right" applies. Ours is such a mixed bag that it must sometimes seem that we don't even know what we want. Yet nonetheless, we do seem overextended, to say the least.

America "let them go" in the Philippines, Nicaragua and Cuba after insurrections accelerated our departure. It appears our ability to sustain long-term occupations is subverted by our own Founding and self-understanding. Independence and all that.

We lack the confidence to govern a real empire

We lack the desire to have one. Not that certain Southerners haven't tried on their own.

I can understand one element of that - we certainly have pushed our influence around the world.

But Tony, not all the influence we had needed to be pushed. A great deal of it is the natural result of our wealth and power.

To my mind, though, "empire" denotes something a little firmer than just "influence", and I am having trouble seeing it.

The U.S. maintains between 700 and 900 military installations abroad. By most historic standards, that is at least a form of meaningful imperialism. Where we have forces and when we have reason to use them, those countries' sovereignty is on the table. The genius of Pax Americana is that most of the countries we meaningfully occupy are countries that are already stable and have sufficient reason to just shrug at the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops stationed in their borders. The rest console themselves with "we invited these 'advisors' into our country."

No, Daniel, whether you agree with it or not, I believe that a lot of idealism has gone into America's expansionist foreign policy. Much of it has probably been incredibly misguided idealism.

Lydia, I think this is a false dichotomy. There is plenty of reason to believe that our overall foreign policy is informed by both idealism and practical (even cynical) needs like preserving the US dollar as the global reserve currency. One need only consider that the RNC is uniformly composed of NeoCons and Rockefeller Republicans (the former being idealists, the latter being soulless corporatist big government-bootlickers) to see how both of you can be right.

"I would throw up a caution about taking it as a rock solid universal: imposing top-down, sometimes by direct force, DOES sometimes change things deep down."

No doubt. But I'd argue that that sort of imposition is inherently non-conservative. What conservatives have tried to do over the last 30 years or so is to achieve conservative ends by unconservative means. We've attempted to change things politically with only scant attention paid to changing things culturally, thinking that the culture would follow the politics. But it hasn't worked.

Irving Kristol, et al. may have argued that politics is almost as important as culture in determining the direction of a society. But that "almost" is huge.

"What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ."

This statement is in your "About" material. I've yet to see any mention of going out and re-making civilization by men of the Cross of Christ. And no mention, either, of how to recapture Christendom. Over and over there is just bewailing of what's wrong. All politics, all war. No Cross of Christ.

We recently celebrated the memory of St. Francis Xavier. Here was a real man. No guns, no missile back-up, no phoney diplomacy. He walked, mostly barefoot, took long sea voyages - ended up in Goa, on to Japan, then on to China. He was not welcome and was always in danger of his life and lived in severe hardship. He carried the Cross of Christ. Within ten years he converted many thousands of people. Yes, Muslims are notoriously difficult to convert - but surely not impossible. Wave after wave of holy men did the job 2,000 years ago of Christianizing the entire world. Wimps that we are today, wave after wave of Muslims are taking back land still wet with the blood of Catholic martyrs. And we don't even dare tell them their religion is a heresy.

Have we lost our courage? Have we lost the zeal for souls the saints had? How did they do it? First of all they had the view that each person they encountered had a soul to be saved. Secondly they carried the Cross of Christ instead of an AK47.

Let's raise up our sons to be holy missionaries instead of asking them to be Marines. And don't tell me "it's not that simple!!" Anyone who says that just doesn't get it.

Barbara, that's a lot of baloney. There's this wonderful search engine thingy that has a name that rhymes with shmoodle. If you searched it for our site with words like "missions" or "gospel," you'd find all kinds of things about Christianity and Christ, from this


http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/the_kimyal_receive_the_new_tes.html

to many posts on Christian evidences and apologetics, like

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2012/05/on_the_authorship_of_the_fourt.html

Where we have forces and when we have reason to use them, those countries' sovereignty is on the table. The genius of Pax Americana is that most of the countries we meaningfully occupy are countries that are already stable and have sufficient reason to just shrug at the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops stationed in their borders. The rest console themselves with "we invited these 'advisors' into our country."

That's silly. This ignores the history of treaties, their uses, and the host nations desire to have a "tripwire." Troops are citizens, and the benefits of having them there don't necessarily degrade sovereignty, especially not if they were invited for purposes they think are benefits and if the host nation has a history of leaving on request. The term sovereignty might as well mean nothing anymore if it can be defined like this. Increasingly Conservatives seem to do this. It doesn't work. If sovereignty means everything it means nothing.

There is plenty of reason to believe that our overall foreign policy is informed by both idealism and practical (even cynical) needs like preserving the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

Yes, but there is more to say than just that there are non-idealist influences. The influence of idealist/realist views rise and fall in cycles. The former rises and the latter falls when we are threatened. When the public has felt safe for a number of years the realist school of purely looking at a short-term view (and I think the realist judgement on that tends to be quite cynical) of national interest is ascendant. When we're attacked folks in this camp either cooperate with their previous opponents and support military action or go silent until the effect of applied violence reduces the threat. Then they come out and say either they were against it all along or that they were fooled or lied to and that it was a needless venture that could have been solved another way. Then after a few years of absorbing punches evil actors figure we don't have the will to fight anymore such is the desire for material comforts etc. and the cycle repeats. Surely even a cursory grasp of U. S. history shows this.

That's silly. This ignores the history of treaties, their uses, and the host nations desire to have a "tripwire." Troops are citizens, and the benefits of having them there don't necessarily degrade sovereignty, especially not if they were invited for purposes they think are benefits and if the host nation has a history of leaving on request. The term sovereignty might as well mean nothing anymore if it can be defined like this. Increasingly Conservatives seem to do this. It doesn't work. If sovereignty means everything it means nothing.

You're over-thinking it, Mark. When you invite foreign troops into your borders, you are betting that they will abide by the treaty. For most of our history, that was a risky game. The US has a short but vicious history of overthrowing inconvenient foreign governments, using false flags and a host of other shenanigans. It also often just downright refused to honor its words (Exhibit A: select a random treaty with any American Indian nation).

Sovereignty can indeed be degraded by inviting such troops into your borders because you are implicitly trusting that their command authority will abide by the terms of the agreement. Most peoples throughout history, not addled by modern American political thinking, have never trusted foreign troops on their soil.

Mike, the only way you can possibly get to 600-900 bases overseas is to count as a base every single location where we have a military person officially posted, including if he is the only military person within 100 miles. If you list the number of sites where we have a strong enough force to actually threaten force in a way that would matter to a real country (that they could not easily contain with their police and one unit of militia, say), it probably dwindles to less than 100. There are only 38 countries in which our presence amounts to at least 1000 people, and that includes such countries as Great Britain. I really don't think you are going to make a lot of headway claiming "empire" for us over Great Britain, for crying out loud. That's the real fallacy of the "bases" argument anyway. You cannot ignore the nature and purpose when totting them all up and declaring "empire". We have fleets in 3 oceans and the Mediterranean, and those are as important (probably more important) than all but a handful of our bases for the capacity to project force into other nations - yet they are just as important for protecting our own land and our shipping, air, and so on when they would (without that protection) be sailing in harms way. It's more complex than "we have men over there, so we are an empire." I'm not buying that argument.

Most peoples throughout history, not addled by modern American political thinking, have never trusted foreign troops on their soil.

It all depends on need and perceived threats. But if two nations share values, and those values include respect for each others laws, then there is no problem per se. It has nothing to do with American political thinking. Even a few troops can ruin the relationship by committing crimes, and they may become an irritant and be asked or wish to leave, but that is another matter.

But I've never said that the U. S. has not done unwise or even unjust things in the past. All nations have. But the record, unlike many nations, has frequently including actions that take into account the defense of other nations with the only real clear self-interest being the defense of free people.

When you invite foreign troops into your borders, you are betting that they will abide by the treaty....

Sovereignty can indeed be degraded by inviting such troops into your borders because you are implicitly trusting that their command authority will abide by the terms of the agreement.

No, I think what you can say is RISK is potentially increased when you invite troops inside your borders. But what the inviting country is doing is balancing risks: my risks from that neighbor over there, who has threatened me repeatedly over the last 40 years, is a worse threat to my sovereignty than these here troops who don't actually want to own my country. That calculated risk is not degraded sovereigty, it is living in a risky world.

Admittedly, it also doesn't mention additional pressures: When you have troops from this here friendly nation X in your country, X may want to try to influence your decisions in a way that they wouldn't otherwise attempt (or at least wouldn't get away with). That's potentially insidious, but as long as the modus operandi is that of an influence, that is not (even implicitly) that of a mailed fist aimed AT YOU, that's not empire. When X leaders tell you: "you might want to play it our way or we might have to pull our troops out", that's not the mailed fist directed at you, that's influence. That's a carrot, not a stick.

If the majority of our bases in other countries exist there by invitation that is not rooted in fear of our might being turned directly on them, calling it empire is false terminology.

French Catholic Canada was very grateful for the English troops repelling American forces from taking over Quebec in 1775. It does not mean the British Empire was any less an empire, or it's presence not a source of ambivalence, agitation and hostility for Canadians.

Empire is the right name for our over-stretched, debt-ridden nation that projects both soft and hard power across the globe. Even if the term is a perforative to republican sensibilities shaped by nostalgia and bad history.

Even greater mischief than Freedom has been wrought by the fanatical and dogmatic pursuit of Political Equality.
This, I think, has been the main thrust of Mencius's complaint against the progressives.
All man possess inalienable natural rights to life, liberty, property and conscience. But political equality in any given state in not a a natural right. But in the current climate, just saying so calls forth hysterics from political Individualists.

Thus the German State was not wrong per se in denying political equality to the Jews but was gravely wrong per se in denying them their natural rights to property and pursuit of occupation.

The British occupation of India must rank as one of the greatest success of Western imperialism. But Americans seek no lessons from British save oft-repeated Suttee anecdote.

Mencius is greatly agitated by ever-increasing crime in the West and sees inappropriate (thus unjust) political equality as the chief culprit. The British had simple remedies. They declared entire tribes as criminal subject to special laws.

Auster went astray here by inane theological reflections as to the soul of criminals. The British never mixed theology with politics. They never went from this is a cattle-lifting tribe to speculations on the immortal soul of the cattle-lifters.

The Political Rights--the right of a people or a class to take part in the government of a particular land and to what extent--must be decided on the case-by-case basis. We must insist on clear separation between natural rights and the political rights.

America is a corporate empire. We are McDonaldizing and Wal*Marting the world. Who needs armies everywhere when we can sell cheap stuff to foreigners and rake in the profits, all the while gaining economic hegemony by indoctrinating them with multi-culti liberalism and an inordinate love of junk?

Nice,

This is really off topic, but I can't resist fixing the following sentence for you:

"Who needs armies everywhere when we can sell cheap stuff to foreigners and rake in the profits, all the while gaining economic hegemony by indoctrinating them with multi-culti liberalism and an inordinate love of junk?"

I think you meant to say:

"Who needs armies everywhere when individuals and corporations within nations decide to provide goods (e.g. a delicious and savory Big Mac hamburger) and services to other individuals and corporations in other nations (using price signals and profits to help them determine what, if anything, they should provide), all the while hoping that this trade between nations will increase the bonds of fellow-feeling and goodwill among men of different cultures and languages?"

There, that's much better. Of course you know from the study of history that just because nations trade with one another doesn't mean they don't have competing interests and/or can't remain fundamentally at odds over foreign policy (see e.g. the U.S. and OPEC nations over the 50 plus years). So armies are still needed to protect interests around the world.

Ah, yes, I recognize it: the neo-con laissez-faire cloud cuckoo land translation.

French Catholic Canada was very grateful for the English troops repelling American forces from taking over Quebec in 1775. It does not mean the British Empire was any less an empire, or it's presence not a source of ambivalence, agitation and hostility for Canadians.

Metternich, neither does it mean that the foreign troop presence was a source those things. That means foreign troops are neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for what whomever originally made this point wishes to claim. Which means the explanation of foreign troops for "ambivalence, agitation and hostility" fails on its own. For it to succeed would require an explanation having nothing to do with that.

Thus the German State was not wrong per se in denying political equality to the Jews but was gravely wrong per se in denying them their natural rights to property and pursuit of occupation.

This is misleading. Biological utopianism is wrong per se. Nazism was the negation of politics, not any positive form of it. You can't reject politics and accept a system of government that would respect natural rights. Rejecting political equality doesn't end up well. Some here would have us believe that it just hasn't been rejected in a non-brutal form yet and it will yet be done. Good luck with that.

Mencius is greatly agitated by ever-increasing crime in the West and sees inappropriate (thus unjust) political equality as the chief culprit. The British had simple remedies. They declared entire tribes as criminal subject to special laws.

Well we know crime runs in cycles. But look, being anti-democratic involves a rejection of the Western ideal of Political Man. It is much more far-reaching than a rejection of some abstract ideal of "political equality". If you do that how do you provide order in the world? What's left? About all that you can do after rejection of the classic political Western tradition is try to order the world based on biology. I doubt it is an accident that "entire tribes" comes up. Biology or something thought to imply it is where it always ends up, because people think that biology and culture are more stable than the Greco-Roman tradition or Christendom had it. They're wrong.

Yeah, Gian, it's an extremely bad idea to deny formal political equality to an entire, large ethnic group (such as Jews, for crying out loud!!) solely because of their membership in that ethnic group.

Certainly, there can be reasons for denying political equality to some identifiable groups--minor children, for example, or criminals. But your hyper-reactionary "ideals" are definitely getting the best of you here. Good grief.

Even greater mischief than Freedom has been wrought by the fanatical and dogmatic pursuit of Political Equality.

Gian, as usual, you rely on really bad equivocations to form the basis of your point. "Political Equality" can mean a number of different things. Some of the meanings are reasonable. Some of them are fraught with problems. Without distinguishing, your comment can be semi- sort-of- right, or it can be heinously wrongheaded. And when we see the next sentence below, then we know you mean it in the latter way:

Thus the German State was not wrong per se in denying political equality to the Jews

Take that crud out of here and keep it out.

There are human beings who can't be the subject of political equality, because they haven't the capacity: Down's syndrome kids, for example. There are others who presently, due to personal conditions with which they are beset, shouldn't be: criminals. Lydia points these out. But the "condition", as I have termed it, has to be something which harbors a cause of some personal state by which the innate human capacity for political order fails to be in fruition: either a mental or physical or habitual or criminal condition which is a cause of reducing a man away from what is natural (and normal) to man as man. It is, thus, always a personal attribute, not that of a tribe.

NM, while I don't claim that it is conceptually impossible to have an economic empire where the word "empire" is used in its proper political meaning, I don't think that our Hollywood and McDonald fit the bill for the imperial tools. Let me repeat: influencing someone by drawing them on towards something they want, rather than away from something that they fear, is not empire-mongering. It just isn't. Carrots are not empire-forming.

Now, I think maybe there ARE imperial economic methods that can be used to foster an empire properly so called (instead of the quasi-empire you guys are pointing to): monopolies can do it, for example. But it is hard to push a real monopoly internationally without the threat of arms and military, it is hard to make a monopolistic play in a different country, because (if they are serious about it) they can revise their own laws to undercut the legal framework that gives the monopoly legs (and it always takes either special laws or force to make a monopoly last).

Lydia:

I believe that a lot of idealism has gone into America's expansionist foreign policy

I'd like to know what that idealism is?

Our foreign policy remains interventionist and subversive* whether liberal Democrats or neo-con Republicans are in power. I no longer buy the line that we are "the good guys spreading democracy and freedom throughout the world". Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction and he wasn't harboring Al Qaeda - but he was trying to circumvent the petro-dollar. My rose-colored glasses are irreparably broken. We may not be an "empire" in the classic sense of the word, but we are the one and only world super-power economically and militarily - and that seems to have inflated our egos to the point where we constantly take license with other nation's sovereignty.

*(of "enemy" governments - like Viet Nam - who we now magically see as a "friend")

I will go on record and say that I am quite willing to deny political equality to labor and the middle class. And I *am* middle class. I simply do not trust the political attitudes of my fellow citizens.

And I find it rather absurd to imply that rejection of democracy means rejecting the Western Tradition. Democracy is itself a novel thing in the history of the West, and Plato himself recommended against it very strongly.

Daniel,

Lydia can defend herself, but I won't tolerate intellectual nonsense on my posts. There were something like 23 reasons Congress gave for the use of force in Iraq. Just because Saddam ended up not having the WMDs we thought he had, doesn't mean he wasn't in violation of various U.N. resolutions or that he didn't posea threat to the U.S.

Anymouse,

I don't know if I'd go that far, but your overall point (in answer to Mark) is a good one.

Nice,

I expected better than ad hominem from you. For shame.

I'd like to know what that idealism is?

Oh, come, it's not that hard Daniel. I suppose that the Marshall Plan hadn't any idealism in it? What about lend-lease? Or, to go back further, almost the entirety of Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy? Nearer to the present, surely the Clintonian intervention in the former Yugoslavia was rooted in an idealism, at least partly: putting a stop to genocide. Wrong-headed idealism is still idealism.

Our foreign policy remains interventionist and subversive* whether liberal Democrats or neo-con Republicans are in power. I no longer buy the line that we are "the good guys spreading democracy and freedom throughout the world". Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction and he wasn't harboring Al Qaeda - but he was trying to circumvent the petro-dollar.

Saddam was shooting at our jets based out of Saudi who were enforcing a no-fly zone. That no-fly zone was there to prevent him from massacring the minorities in Iraq after the decision was made to end the first Gulf war before defeating his military. He didn't have WMD but the entire world thought he did and his own generals did. Because he claimed to have them.

Sometimes the US has fought for oil, but often not. There was no oil in the Balkans and the same humanitarian reason was in play. I've heard people say that Vietnam was about oil. It's absurd.

And I find it rather absurd to imply that rejection of democracy means rejecting the Western Tradition. Democracy is itself a novel thing in the history of the West, and Plato himself recommended against it very strongly.

Anymouse, I didn't say that. Jeff missed it too. I said it is a rejection of the Western tradition to deny the understanding of Political Man in favor of something else. Tony called it "the innate human capacity for political order". Exactly right. That is exactly what was thought for two millenia to be "Political Man".

Now that's all dodgy and safety is sought in biology and things that can imply something more material. That has never worked out well, and it never will. Order must be found somewhere, and the choices after rejecting politics are not good.

I'd like to know what that idealism is?

Well let's say something more to Daniel's serious question. The term is used in two major ways. First, idealism as a philosophical term. It doesn't mean "highly principled", as in "high ideals". It means a detachment from reality. Now anyone can fling the charge "that's not realistic", which is a another way of saying the same thing. Perhaps everybody thinks their ideological opponents are unrealistic, but this is only a trivial use. It comes from our understanding of Plato's metaphysics, who thought that what we see and experience was but a shadow of an "ideal form" that couldn't be seen but had to be imagined for lack of a better word. An ideal triangle didn't exist on earth. The real triangles on earth were a copy of the ideal form and imperfect. Whatever one thinks of this metaphysical view, there are negative consequences to idealized copies of things in our minds.

-Idealism keeps people from getting married because the ideal picture of a spouse in their minds cause them to reject the real potential mates around them.

-Idealism breaks up marriages when an ideal understanding of love makes the love they have seem pathetic in comparison.

-Idealism causes people to impute ill-will to their ideological opponents because they think legitimate disagreements shouldn't cause strong emotions in them, when in fact they sometimes do.

-Idealism causes people to condemn political system or nations because they imagine an ideal time that was better, making the current one seem pathetic.

-Idealism causes people to elevate apparent order and stability above an apparently messy but inherently superior order underneath it.

-Idealism caused me to think I was poor in a particular field because I somehow came to hold another person as the model in my field, and realized almost too late that a) he was far more gifted than I realized; b) I underestimated the time it took to learn certain things.

I could go on and on. Idealism at a practical matter causes us to make unfair judgements, and for many very harsh judgments when comparing to the ideal which doesn't actually exist.
--------------------

Now "idealism" in foreign policy means something entirely different, and now we go back to the "high ideals" meaning. It is juxtaposed to "realism", sometimes called "realpolitic". A “realist” foreign policy places national interests and security above ideology, ethics and morality. "Idealistic" foreign policy means a foreign policy guided by ideology, ethics, and morality. Done properly, it needn't be "idealist" in the unrealistic sense given above, unless you think ideology, ethics, and morality have no place in foreign policy. If you think that then all foreign policy "idealists" practice "idealism" in the first sense above where they try to conform to a model of behavior that isn't realistic. Basically, "idealist" means foreign policy should reflect a nation's values, whereas the "realist" school eschews morality as a basis for foreign policy. The truth is that a realistic foreign policy has elements of both.

I interpreted your statement "being anti-democratic involves a rejection of the Western ideal of Political Man", to mean that you literally meant that opposition to democracy rejects the Western understanding of political man. I do not believe it does.

"The Political Rights--the right of a people or a class to take part in the government of a particular land and to what extent--must be decided on the case-by-case basis. We must insist on clear separation between natural rights and the political rights."
I see this as quite a sensible statement.

a realistic foreign policy has elements of both.

To be clear, I meant that a good foreign policy has elements of both.

I agree Anymouse.

The problem I see it in most of the anti-democrats here is that they assume some sort of "dominant ideology thesis" as the basis for social order rather than, oh I dunno, economic compulsion and interdependence, political and legal coercion, the constraints of everyday routine, fatalism, etc.

They want a magic bullet in reverse to explain everything negative at once, on the assumption that they've got a good grip on how things are wrong.

"I expected better than ad hominem from you."

True, and I offer my apology. I realized it not long after I typed it (in haste and in frustration -- a bad combo!)

Btw, I think you guys should a bit more understanding with Gian's posts. If I remember correctly English is not his first language and I feel that sometimes his command of grammar, etc. doesn't quite rise to the level of the thought behind it.

"I don't think that our Hollywood and McDonald fit the bill for the imperial tools. Let me repeat: influencing someone by drawing them on towards something they want, rather than away from something that they fear, is not empire-mongering. It just isn't. Carrots are not empire-forming."

I would disagree, Tony. Just as there is such a thing as "soft" totalitarianism, there can be "soft" empire. The corporate state creates the desire for certain things via promotion, advertising, etc., then uses that created desire as a means of influence and control.

The corporate state creates the desire for certain things via promotion, advertising, etc., then uses that created desire as a means of influence and control.

But individuals do the same thing, if every play and drama since dirt and common experience is any indication. So it seems to me the charge comes down to claiming that "the corporate state" makes an environment where those who engage in this people are more likely to do it than other systems. I think that is dubious. Many believe that the Soviet state's generated more sheer envy in its citizens than any other system in history. Now comparing with an agrarian ideal . . .

"Many believe that the Soviet state's generated more sheer envy in its citizens than any other system in history."

Funny, I read that exact thing in G. Thibon's What Ails Mankind? this morning. I'd say that both "systems" do it, albeit by different means. The intention (control) is the same.

Also, I think that while liberalism/socialism tends to create envy, corporate capitalism is more apt to result in avarice and greed. A subtle distinction perhaps, but still worth noting.

corporate capitalism is more apt to result in avarice and greed.

I'm afraid this is baloney as a comparative statement. If you want to see greed, just start thinking "public sector unions" and pondering how they'd rather bring down an entire state's economy than give up any of their perks. Now _that's_ greed.

I'd say that both "systems" do it, albeit by different means. The intention (control) is the same.

Well, there we go again. In this case, anthropomorphising "systems" like "the corporate state". So far as I know, there is no political system out there that elevates "corporation" as the be-all and end-all of the system, so that whatever "corporation" wants, it gets. Sure, there are individual corporations in our economy run along those lines, to the extent that the corporate officers can manage to achieve that, but that's because of those corporate managers and their ideas, not because of the state, and it isn't universal. There are also corporations out there that just "want" (i.e. their officers and investors want) to produce a good widget at a good profit, and they are not in the least interested in control. And there are other corporations out there that are non-profit, such as some educational entities, whose purpose is not to CONTROL people but rather to teach people how to control themselves.

To be corporate is not to have an object of controlling people. That's "to be a bad corporation", a deformity.

I would disagree, Tony. Just as there is such a thing as "soft" totalitarianism, there can be "soft" empire.

As far as I can tell, this is just another way of saying "there is such a thing as a quasi-empire, which though it is not an empire in its proper meaning, achieves some of the same outward results as empire because it is good at getting foreign entities to do what you want. I'm OK with saying the US is a quasi-empire.

Which, by the way, probably is going to be moot in another 5 years or so (10 max), as we probably will become nearly a servitor / client state to a combination of Chinese and Oil interests, with China holding the upper hand. When our finances unravel even further and China is left with a bunch of useless IOUs, they could pressure Oil into new relationships that favor the yen and disfavor the dollar. We won't be a quasi-empire at that point.

I'm not talking about corporations in general. I'm talking about the situation in which megacorporations work in tandem with the state to maximize profits and control simultaneously (Monsanto, anyone?) Beyond a certain size, corporate capitalism almost inevitably becomes crony capitalism. But the problem just ain't wit the cronies...

Having said that, can anyone here really look at the consumerist monstrosity that Thanksgiving/Black Friday has become and not see that A) something's wrong, and B) corporate America's got a lot to do with it? Heck, even such a rah-rah capitalist as Laura Ingraham recently said that Thanksgiving is dead as we know it.

I'm talking about the situation in which megacorporations work in tandem with the state to maximize profits and control simultaneously

Which runs all the way back to, hmm, railroads, 150 years ago? Yes. Except that even before that there was (for the British, anyway) the East India Company. But until one corporation controls enough of the economy, that one corporation does not control enough of the government to push everything its own way, and it is still competing with other entities (other corporations) in a market-place of competition that is not a top-down regime.

I don't disagree with you about black Friday and consumerism being out of hand. That is certainly a symptom of grave ills in the land. But there is a big difference between saying that corporations are pushing on people to get them to do things, (and are often successful), and saying that corporations are controlling consumers: If a corporation is controlling me, why is it that one year I may buy a Microsoft-driven computer, the next an Apple, and 10 years later a Google-made one? Which corporation is controlling that?

Gladly, I didn't buy a thing in the world on Thanksgiving, or black Friday, or that Saturday, and the only thing I bought on Sunday was gas for returning home from visiting family. If the corporations are controlling me (as in "empire"), then either I am in revolt and I can expect the corporate occupation police to come pounding on my door, or their "control" isn't really all that high&mighty a sort of control, is it. It's really "influence", after all. Which we all try to do with persuasion, manipulation, teaching, exhortation, advertising, and 50 other methods.

They may not be controlling you as an individual, but they do control a very large aspect of the direction the society's economy goes consumer-wise, which limits your choices. You are not coerced, but neither are you as free as you think you are. There are very obviously different levels or forms of "control." You seem to be saying that only coercion constitutes control.

I can pick up a cat and toss it out of the room. Or I can dangle a toy in front of it and lead it out of the room knowing that it will follow. Both are forms of control -- only one is coercive.

"Which runs all the way back to, hmm, railroads, 150 years ago? Yes. Except that even before that there was (for the British, anyway) the East India Company. But until one corporation controls enough of the economy, that one corporation does not control enough of the government to push everything its own way, and it is still competing with other entities (other corporations) in a market-place of competition that is not a top-down regime."

So it is not bothersome that three or four giant corporations control almost all the movies, music and TV that you see and hear? Or that four or five control 80% of the food consumed in the U.S. from farm to table? Or that the USDA is positively stacked with people from Big Agri? Or that we are so dependent on the petroleum industry that if there were some major catastrophe that crippled it we'd have millions starving in the streets?

I thought conservatives were supposed to be wary of centralized power?

Or to put it another way, corporations should be allowed to be as big and as powerful as they want to, up to that point when they become a monopoly: then suddenly, magically, we have to all be ascared!

You seem to be saying that only coercion constitutes control.

No, that only coercion constitutes imperial-type control.

Everything you and I do either fulfills God's will directly by being the right thing to do, or it fulfills God's plan indirectly (because He is going to use our wrongs for His purposes). That's EVERYTHING. So, does that mean He controls us in the sense of coercive imperial control? Nope, not even close.

So it is not bothersome that three or four giant corporations control almost all the movies, music and TV that you see and hear? Or that four or five control 80% of the food consumed in the U.S. from farm to table?

Sure it bothers me. That's why I gave up TV years ago (well, one of the reasons, but the others are connected). Since I buy local farmer produce quite regularly, and often buy other products made by smaller entities, I don't "buy" that 4 or 5 corps control 80% of our food. Even if it were true, I wouldn't be happy about it. But neither would I say that it exemplifies empire properly so called.

Jeffrey S:

There were something like 23 reasons Congress gave for the use of force in Iraq.

Have you actually read the document you linked to? It's even more damning in the light of 2013! The "23 reasons" boil down to "he has weapons of mass destruction", "he's harboring terrorists (and we hate terrorists because of 9/11)" and "he doesn't honor unilaterally imposed UN agreements".

Our foreign policy is a joke.

Tony and Mark,

My question about idealism was not meant to imply that there was no idealism behind our foreign policy but rather to point out that the idealism is common to liberal Democrats and neo-con Republicans. It's a bi-partisan interventionism. Neither party can resist all that power! I view it as a symptom of the disease called "central planning". Our society has become addicted to the notion that the government needs to "do something" about each and every problem that crops up. That can't help but spread to our foreign policy as well. Our politicians and bureaucrats look at things they don't like in the world and think they have to "do something" about that. That we're 'the biggest and baddest on the planet' and 'have all the guns to boot' only fuels the madness.

and "he doesn't honor unilaterally imposed UN agreements".

Daniel, how can an "agreement" be unilateral?

Let's review the facts: we were poised to march on Baghdad and take Saddam. He went bleating and squealing to the UN for a cease-fire, and he got it by making concessions - the ones in the agreement. Saddam made the agreement because he didn't like the alternatives. It wasn't imposed on him unilaterally.

(I would also recall the second fact - that by the cease-fire agreement it became Saddam's obligation to prove he no longer had WMD by open inspections and complete documentation, not ours to ferret out. But I don't want to open that can of worms yet again, so I won't mention it. Okay?)

"Many believe that the Soviet state's generated more sheer envy in its citizens than any other system in history."

Funny, I read that exact thing in G. Thibon's What Ails Mankind? this morning. I'd say that both "systems" do it, albeit by different means. The intention (control) is the same.

Nice, comparing the political systems of Soviet Russia and the US by glibly saying "they both do it" is quite absurd. This is such an extreme position, and such grand sweeping generalities are pretty pointless in my view. These sorts of things are assertions, not arguments.

Tony's right. Saddam violated all the terms of the armistice that halted (not ended, mind you) the Gulf War. Should he have been allowed to get away with that?

As for his possession of WMD, that's not something that can be denied for certain. For example, huge truck convoys were spied making their way into Syria in the months immediately preceding our 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In totally unrelated news, world leaders now fear that President Assad of Syria may unleash WMDs against anti-regime rebels.

In totally unrelated news,

:-) good stylistic form, George.

Well George, let's not forget we weren't letting him get away with mass-murder from the sky courtesy of 45,000 troops in Saudi enforcing a no-fly zone, which were by 03 getting shot at quite regularly. It was a matter of time before a lucky shot would bring one down. The status quo was unsustainable. You gotta either decide you don't care about the murder of Kurds and Shia or you have to have regime change one way or another.

And of course, we have Iran. I've already described the obvious social psychology of this, which is present in one form or another in any moral conflict. Rinse, wring, repeat. People love to throw out the "idealism" charge and point out errors or mistakes, but the truth is leaders are still haunted by the inaction against a weak but belligerent Hitler who had violated an armistice with impunity without opposition that led to immense brutality.

Tony:

Daniel, how can an "agreement" be unilateral?
Let's review the facts: we were poised to march on Baghdad and take Saddam.

I think you answered your own question right there.

I'm amazed at how easily the neo-con right is convinced of the necessity to depose foreign governments via military force. Even after 90% of the justifications for one war turn out to be false, you're just as willing to accept the same exact justifications for the next!

Maybe it's time to take a step back and think about this. Why is it that non-interventionist nations do not have the problems with terrorism that we have?

Ah, now we're getting to Daniel's real point. We're to blame for terrorist attacks against us. We commit crimes and terrorists are only defending themselves and others against us. What a surprise.

I do not believe that is his point.

Casting those kinds of aspersions is not helpful. I am fairly non interventionist, but mostly as a matter of hindsight and a result of my social conservatism.

Daniel,

You say, "Why is it that non-interventionist nations do not have the problems with terrorism that we have?"

You mean like these nations:

http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/terrorism/globalterrorism1.html ?

Maybe terrorism is more complicated than you think...

Even after 90% of the justifications for one war turn out to be false, you're just as willing to accept the same exact justifications for the next!

Now you seem to be moving on to fairy tales and such, Daniel. As far as I can tell, no responsible person has proposed that the justification for the Gulf War I was "false": Iraq really did walk into Kuwait to steal it, more or less like a mob-boss in a big city - just take what you want and use your thugs to beat everyone up.

It is an entirely different question as to whether it was good for the United States to make Kuwait's cause our own cause. Geo-politically, the reasons for our allying ourselves with Kuwait are certainly debatable. But there can be no doubt that Kuwait had a just cause for fighting against Iraq. And there is nothing like a general consensus that "90% of the justification" for our helping them was false. That's just malarkey. Whether our reasons were good for the US (i.e. whether they served the common good within the US), they were certainly just reasons to fight the thug and make him give up back he stole, and it was certainly related to the common good of the larger sphere of the nations, to put down international thuggery. (I am not saying we should have taken the role on, just pointing out that the cause was not a false cause).

Mark:

We're to blame for terrorist attacks against us.

We're not to blame for them, ("blame" belongs solely to the perpetrators), but those attacks should not have been unexpected either. The terrorist attacks against us were in retaliation for things we've done in other countries. We can't depose foreign governments, station troops in foreign countries, and back oppressive dictators and not expect some sort of backlash! The neo-con line is that we're just innocently spreading 'good will and butterfly kisses' around the world and the 'evil bad men' hate us for our goodness. That's a fairytale my friend. We're not as innocent as the neo-cons would have you believe.

In totally unrelated news, world leaders now fear that President Assad of Syria may unleash WMDs against anti-regime rebels.

It is totally unrelated because Syria has had chemical weapons since Assad's father was in power four decades ago.

Tony:

Now you seem to be moving on to fairy tales and such, Daniel. As far as I can tell, no responsible person has proposed that the justification for the Gulf War

You are shifting wars around on me Tony. My '90% false' comment was in reference to the second Iraq war - not the Gulf war. (The link Jeffrey S posted was about justifications for that war). The Gulf war may be slightly easier to justify (and that's debatable) but the execution of that war (specifically the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia) resulted in an intensification of anti-American sentiment in the middle east and was a major catalyst for the expansion of Al Qaeda. So even "justifiable wars" have consequences. We should not be surprised by that.

Jeffrey S:

Maybe terrorism is more complicated than you think...

Or maybe it's simpler than you think. None of those terrorist attacks are mindless, unplanned, or unjustified (in the minds of the attackers anyway). Every one of them is in retaliation for something. And, the location of the attack doesn't necessarily reflect the target. The attack in Bali was aimed at "westerners" - not Bali. Many of the attacks in the middle east are aimed at western sympathizers and not the government of that specific country. The point is: these people state publicly the reasons for what they do. If we're smart, we'll give the proper attention to that instead of making up our own reasons. Now I am NOT justifying terrorism - far from it. I find it appalling in that it is mostly aimed at "easy targets" (civilians, women and children), but terrorism is the method chosen by those who don't have the military power to oppose us (or whatever government they are fighting) directly.

Ron Paul often used the following example as a tool to help us understand the consequences of our foreign policy: Imagine first that the US military is not the strongest in the world, but rather among the weakest. Then imagine that a foreign government (China for instance) establishes military bases in Mexico and Canada and then goes to the UN to justify military action against the US. Imagine UN weapons inspectors demanding access to our military bases. Imagine Chinese air strikes on suspected military installations that turn out to be civilian houses, hospitals or markets. Imagine drone strikes of suspected insurgents. Imagine a staggering civilian body count. Imagine Chinese troops marching into our country and setting up detainment camps for "terrorists" and "freedom fighters". What sort of actions would we take?

We tend to think of ourselves as totally justified in every foreign policy decision we make and in our condemnation of any who oppose us. But our nation is so insulated from the actual effects of our foreign policy that we can scarcely imagine it. Maybe it's time for a foreign policy based on the Christian principle "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

Syria has had chemical weapons since Assad's father was in power four decades ago.

And so it goes.

We're not to blame for them, ("blame" belongs solely to the perpetrators), but those attacks should not have been unexpected either. The terrorist attacks against us were in retaliation for things we've done in other countries.

We're the cause, but we're not to blame. That's incoherent. Look, the neocons, if you even paid attention, have always acknowledged that there is one legitimate point that the Bin Laden (and many others) made in the otherwise incoherent rantings. As have I. There is one point where they were right, and that has to do with the idealist/realist argument. I won't get into it because you display no element of the necessary temperament to discuss it. You can't demonize your opponents and expect to have a fruitful debate.

And unexpected? They weren't unexpected by a fairly large contingent. I'd been reading predictions of this in WSJ editorials and op-eds by security analysts for years. For years there were warnings that suicide bombers would migrate from the Middle East to the West and America. Why wouldn't they? The debate was over whether terrorist attacks were crimes to be prosecuted in courts or acts of was by NGOs. That they were happening at American outposts around the world wasn't in dispute. Geez man, the attack on 9/11 wasn't even the first attempt on the WTC. It was tried in the 93 and it was hoped to topple the North Tower into the South Tower, thus collapsing them both. It didn't work, but had the bomb been detonated closer to the WTC's foundations, it could have. And Yousef said it would be merely the first of such attacks. Unexpected? Really?

We're not as innocent as the neo-cons would have you believe.

We tend to think of ourselves as totally justified in every foreign policy decision we make and in our condemnation of any who oppose us.

This is total caricature. Anyone who thinks the foreign policy of any nation doesn't have its problematic elements, and even shameful ones, isn't being serious. The neocons know this, and you'd know it too if you really paid attention instead of parroting Ron Paul's account of things.

But look, I'm out of this debate. Get whatever you want off your chest if it helps to post it here. There is nothing new in your assertions, and you're unaware of the arguments of your opponents and so you must slander them hysterically.

"Terrorism is the method chosen by those who don't have the military power to oppose us (or whatever government they are fighting) directly."

Funny how those who chose terrorism when they had no military power continue their terrorist business when they finally get hold on such power.
Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho-Chi-Min, Castro, Sadam...proceeded smoothly from street level technically crude terrorism to terrorizing whole nations, their own and foreign, with state-of-the-art means once they had it.
Do you seriously think that had Arafat, Hamas, al-Qaida... "military power" to their disposal, would they use it for any other than terror purpose?

You got it all wrong; it is not the choice of means that makes one terrorist, but the unrestrained by human consideration, choice of target against which one applies these means in order to achieve ones political objectives.

Whether the means is a bomb in a subway, or tank division armed with nerve doesn't change that principle.

I wrote above: "...the unrestrained by human consideration...",

I meant to say "...the unrestrained by moral consideration..."

People are easily manipulated by propaganda. The Palestinians have been generating propaganda effectively for years. We're not supposed to say anything about this. We're guilty Westerners.

And, of course, it should be "...armed with nerve gas..." in my first comment.

Mark/Tony,

Both of you are splitting hairs. If a country has a meaningful number of troops in your borders, it has military operational capacity within your borders. Given the fact that most of our allies have weak, barely professional military forces the fact remains that the US has a final trump card on their government if it ever goes truly off the reservation. For example, if South Korea ever decided to liquidate its democratic government and hand over the keys to the North, the US could easily move on Seoul and "talk some sense into them."

Whether our reasons were good for the US (i.e. whether they served the common good within the US), they were certainly just reasons to fight the thug and make him give up back he stole

If Kuwait was slant drilling, and I've never seen anyone prove Iraq was lying on this, that would be grounds for war against Kuwait. Iraq should no more have to tolerate that than we should tolerate Mexico slant-drilling into Texas or drilling in our territorial waters without a federal permit. Assuming Iraq was justified, their annexation of Kuwait was legitimate under the same principles as our annexations of the Southwest and Hawaii (*cough*right of conquest*cough*)

In totally unrelated news, world leaders now fear that President Assad of Syria may unleash WMDs against anti-regime rebels.

And in totally unrelated news, those anti-regime rebels have made known their intention to commit atrocities up to genocide against the religious minorities currently protected by Assad's regime so as they say "couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people."

There is also the fact that if your defense is largely provided by another country, you tend to not rock the boat. As long as our requests are reasonable, most of our allies tend to give us what we want. Japan, for example, just enacted their own version of the DMCA which is far less in their interests than it was in ours due to Japan being as big of a producer of consumer electronics as they are of copyrighted goods (not true of us by a very wide margin). They did so at the urging of our trade representative.

Mark:

I won't get into it because you display no element of the necessary temperament to discuss it. You can't demonize your opponents and expect to have a fruitful debate.

I've not purposefully demonized any of my "opponents" in this debate. If that's the way I come across, I apologize. I am very passionate in my foreign policy views, but that's not aimed at you or anyone else here. I sincerely believe our government's philosophy is wrong headed and I'm prepared to defend those views. I hope you are not taking that personally?

My '90% false' comment was in reference to the second Iraq war - not the Gulf war.

Well, I guess you are more cryptic than I had realized. What you said was:

Even after 90% of the justifications for one war turn out to be false, you're just as willing to accept the same exact justifications for the next!

I took "one war" to refer to Gulf I at the beginning of the 1990's, and "the next" to refer to Iraq Redux in 2003. As far as I know, we have not recently fought 2 separate wars with the same opponent except with Iraq. I don't see any other way of reading "the next" to meaning that specific next, unless you want to run off to fairy-land with some not-yet-actually-invented war.

T. Hanski:

You got it all wrong; it is not the choice of means that makes one terrorist, but the unrestrained by [moral] consideration, choice of target against which one applies these means in order to achieve ones political objectives.

I fully agree. That was the reason I said I find terrorism "appalling". I am not defending terrorists or their actions - let me make that crystal clear! I'm merely pointing out that we are not as innocent as we portray ourselves to be. We want to pretend this is 'good vs. evil' - I don't think it's that clear cut. Sure the terrorists are evil, but we've done some pretty evil things ourselves.

Whether the means is a bomb in a subway, or tank division armed with nerve [gas] doesn't change that principle.

Some would argue that the "collateral damage" we factor into every cruise missile, land assault or drone strike also shows a callous disregard for human life. We tell ourselves we're the good guys and that the deaths of innocent civilians are just a sad outcome of a justified action. I'm finding that much harder to defend than I used to.

Some would argue that the "collateral damage" we factor into every cruise missile, land assault or drone strike also shows a callous disregard for human life.

Yes, some do. And most of those who do are not considering the matter with a serious thought. If you cannot see a truly important difference between the categories "tank armed with nerve gas" and "every...land assault" then I am afraid you are putting yourself in the not-serious group.

If, however, you CAN see a truly important difference between them, then you should be willing to re-cast that comment entirely, because it lumps together things that ought not be lumped together.

We Americans have done quite a share of our own evils in pursuit of various elements of foreign policy in different settings. That we have done evils doesn't make it right for the Saddam Husseins to shoot at our aircraft after agreeing to a no-fly zone for the protection of innocent civilian populations. Analogously, the fact that the police chief has taken a kick-back from a contractor at City Hall doesn't make it right for a kidnapper to shoot at the police when they come after him.

Imagine first that the US military...among the weakest. Then imagine...(China for instance) establishes military bases in Mexico and Canada and then goes to the UN to justify military action against the US. Imagine UN weapons inspectors demanding access to our military bases...Chinese air strikes ...Imagine drone strikes ...Imagine Chinese troops marching into our country and setting up detainment camps

Imagine that the world is not the way it is, and the the US had a completely different history, and that Europe never had WWI or WWII, and that machine guns had not been invented in the West but in China in 1435, and that Japan had the A-bomb and not us, and that Russia produced the world's first large democratic republic instead of the US. Well, yes, if you want to suppose a thousand impossible things before breakfast, I suppose that we might not like that kind of world. So?

The fact is that the picture you paint is a kind of picture seen through a dark, wavy, cracked lens. Do you notice that you left out of your incredibly imaginary fairy tale for us to imagine that China goes to the UN to "justify" strikes - for some actual reason? Like, that we took over Mexico and bombed Canada and stole Alberta and threatened Europe with SCUD missiles. Hmmm? Should we imagine those too? Should we imagine the US being run by a megalomaniac who thinks nothing of using poison gas on New Mexico, murdering whole families when they won't give him their daughters as playthings, building numerous personal palaces, and amassing a fortune of several billion in Swiss accounts while the people starve because of an economic embargo? Were we supposed to imagine all THOSE things too? You forgot them. Because, you know, the US is almost just exactly like Iraq was, with just a few of the names to protect the guilty.

If Kuwait was slant drilling, and I've never seen anyone prove Iraq was lying on this, that would be grounds for war against Kuwait.

But I see little reason to grant Iraq the benefit of the doubt on a score like that, and plenty of reason to take it with a large grain of salt. Maybe it's 8 years of war with Iran had soured on it? Maybe historical reasons had something to do with it, and the fact that Kuwait has much better port, or the fact that Saddam needed more money, or that he didn't want to pay off his debts, or a thousand other things.

Other reports say "Several foreign firms working in the Rumaila field also dismissed Iraq's slant-drilling claims as a smokescreen to disguise Iraq's more ambitious intentions"

In any case, slant drilling isn't adequate justification for wrecking an entire country, raping and pillaging with wild abandon, and so on. If it represents an economic injustice - even a grave one, the appropriate response is far different from Saddam's. We wouldn't have done that to Mexico if they were slant drilling under Texas.


Mencius has got it right--given the fact that the Progressive-led America has been engaged in the Cultural Revolution of the entire Globe for past one century is a sufficient reason for the elements of the subjected (to the said Cultural Revolution) to take action against the US Progressives.

I've not purposefully demonized any of my "opponents" in this debate. If that's the way I come across, I apologize. I am very passionate in my foreign policy views, but that's not aimed at you or anyone else here. I sincerely believe our government's philosophy is wrong headed and I'm prepared to defend those views. I hope you are not taking that personally?

Daniel: No I didn't take it personally. I only meant that you don't seem to appreciate what the neocons and others with similar views really believe. They have a coherent view, right or wrong. I think it isn't wrong to say they are of the "peace through strength" Reaganite mold, as I am. The neocon label wouldn't bother me. I don't hold anyone's passion for a subject against them. I certainly don't hold that against you. I just hope your passion drives you to understand those on the other side of the fence from you. As they say, it takes all kinds.

Tony
It is, thus, always a personal attribute, not that of a tribe.

So you don't believe in national traits. You don't believe that it is possible for an entire community to get corrupt and needs to be put, for its own sake as well, into stewardship.

Gian, I don't believe that either race or ethnicity as such can make a person incapable of being an adult human being, which means capable of being a member of the polis. The Jews you were referring to were part of the German community itself, so if the "entire community to get corrupt and needs to be put, for its own sake as well, into stewardship", then that was true of Germany as a whole, not of the Jews in it.

is a sufficient reason for the elements of the subjected (to the said Cultural Revolution) to take action against the US Progressives

Fine, so "take action" in the manner suited to the problem, which is to form and reform your own culture, not engage in terrorism against innocent women and children. Your promotion of terrorist-appeasement is disgusting. As is your degenerate race theorizing.

But I see little reason to grant Iraq the benefit of the doubt on a score like that, and plenty of reason to take it with a large grain of salt. Maybe it's 8 years of war with Iran had soured on it? Maybe historical reasons had something to do with it, and the fact that Kuwait has much better port, or the fact that Saddam needed more money, or that he didn't want to pay off his debts, or a thousand other things.

I see no reason for the United States to particularly care about the invasion of Kuwait. If the United States has a moral duty to intervene in every possibly unjust war around the world then say goodbye to the treasury.

In any case, slant drilling isn't adequate justification for wrecking an entire country, raping and pillaging with wild abandon, and so on. If it represents an economic injustice - even a grave one, the appropriate response is far different from Saddam's. We wouldn't have done that to Mexico if they were slant drilling under Texas.

Correction: we wouldn't do anything to Mexico if they were slant drilling because we don't do anything to Mexico no matter what they do to our citizens and laws. This includes our unwillingness to even allow Border Patrol agents to shoot at Mexican Army personnel who cross the border and shoot at our agents on our sovereign territory. It has nothing to do with the particular issue.

Indeed, slant drilling is no justification for their war conduct. However, it is justification for invading and conquering them if they won't pay restitution and stop.

Mencius has got it right--given the fact that the Progressive-led America has been engaged in the Cultural Revolution of the entire Globe for past one century is a sufficient reason for the elements of the subjected (to the said Cultural Revolution) to take action against the US Progressives.

And if that were true, it would form a basis for the descendants of those Americans wrongly killed by indiscriminate violence to unleash retaliation on the "subjugated." Is that a game the "subjugated" really want to play? See Israel versus Palestinians if you have questions on why collective punishment of a militarily and economically superior population is unwise.

Daniel Smith:

I can’t improve on Tony’s eloquent and cogent comment on your “Some would argue…” fancy.

As for the rest of your comment, yes, I did notice you said: ”I find terrorism "appalling". I am not defending terrorists or their actions - let me make that crystal clear!”
Had you left it at that your declaration would have been as “crystal clear” as it would have been uninteresting - certainly not interesting enough to merit a response. But you know very well that what made me respond was your insisting that terrorism is a method used by people who can’t afford a “normal warfare”. In other words terrorists are underprivileged guys too poor to buy, or build a decent air force to fight our military and therefore forced to murder our civilians. Well following your understanding one must conclude that since they can’t afford proper shelters they are, once again, forced to use their own civilian population as human shield (see Hamas – Israel conflict). You did carry out the idea that the ultimate cause of terrorism is poverty to its logical conclusion so you may now get away with insinuating that the difference between the US, or Israeli, or any Western military and the Mohammedan terrorists is only quantitative. It all boils down to money. In other words we would resort to terrorism if we were really, really broke. That was your real message. All the rest is just a “crystal clear” soapbox.

Tony:

That we have done evils doesn't make it right...

Don't atart again with these strawman arguments Tony. If you want to argue against my position, you'll have to show that you at least understand it. I have never, ever said that our actions make their actions "right". I never said that because that's not my position! I get real tired of being mischaracterized in these discussions, and for some reason you are among the worst when it comes to reading your own interpretation into what I actually say.

Now, I know you're a smart guy and that your reading comprehension is (most likely) excellent, so I can only conclude that you don't wish to tackle my argument head on. That tells me that your position is the weak one here.

Mark:

I only meant that you don't seem to appreciate what the neocons and others with similar views really believe.

But I was a neo-con until just a few months ago! I fully supported the Iraq war. I believed and argued that we were spreading democracy to a region of the world that had never seen it. I was hopeful of a real transformation in the middle east. I really was.

That's the reason I'm so passionate in my opposition to the neo-con line now. I feel like my eyes were opened to the reality of our foreign policy - to the dastardly deeds we've been doing all of these years. Now I'm seeing the same exact reasoning we used for going after Saddam being used to go after Qaddafi, Assad, Ahmadinejad and the rest of the never-ending list of middle eastern bad guys. I'm sick of it! IT'S NOT OUR FIGHT!! Our government is spending borrowed money like there'll never be a day of reckoning EVER, and we conservatives keep pounding the war drums. Not me. I'm done. It's time for America to shrink back to its natural size and let the rest of the world alone. Let's just be another country for awhile instead of the world's super-power.

Anyway, sorry for the rant.

T. Hanski:

But you know very well that what made me respond was your insisting that terrorism is a method used by people who can’t afford a “normal warfare”. In other words terrorists are underprivileged guys too poor to buy, or build a decent air force to fight our military and therefore forced to murder our civilians. Well following your understanding one must conclude that since they can’t afford proper shelters they are, once again, forced to use their own civilian population as human shield (see Hamas – Israel conflict). You did carry out the idea that the ultimate cause of terrorism is poverty to its logical conclusion so you may now get away with insinuating that the difference between the US, or Israeli, or any Western military and the Mohammedan terrorists is only quantitative. It all boils down to money. In other words we would resort to terrorism if we were really, really broke. That was your real message. All the rest is just a “crystal clear” soapbox.

What I was trying to make clear was that I am not defending terrorists or terrorism. I am only seeking to understand it. Poverty has a lot to do with it, but so does ideology. In order to perform a terrorist act, one must ultimately be convinced that those who die "deserve it". They have to dehumanize their enemy. That they play all kinds of elaborate mind games to justify the killing of civilians is not in dispute.

My larger point was that terrorist actions are always based on some perceived 'evil' done to the terrorist's 'people'. Many of those 'evils' - we are actually doing (though often unwittingly). We don't target civilians - like they do - but we sure kill a lot of them. And for what? to 'get even'? The body count of those we've killed in retaliation for 9/11 is staggering. When does it stop? And to what extent do we dehumanize the "collateral damage" we cause?

Daniel, I am having trouble locating a point of yours that bears scrutiny long enough to bother seriously arguing about, that isn't so non-controversial as to be trivial: we have killed lots of them, for example. Yes, we have. But "The body count of those we've killed in retaliation for 9/11 is staggering" is completely off the wall: the killing we have engaged in isn't justified (and never was justified) in terms of retaliation, and just warfare theory never proposed that retaliation was a good measure of how many deaths to inflict on the opponent. That comment just isn't serious. Your Ron-Paul-ist imaginary fairy tale of "imagine that" was equally powder-puff nonsense, since it intentionally shrugs off all the bases of moral difference between the US and some of our opponents.

My larger point was that terrorist actions are always based on some perceived 'evil' done to the terrorist's 'people'. Many of those 'evils' - we are actually doing again is lacking in significance. The important question isn't whether your opponent perceives that you have done some evil (which is again trivial), but rather whether they perceive reasonably and properly that you have done some moral evil for which the reasonable human response is...whatever kind of warfare they choose to engage in. The reality is that even when you factor in the actual moral evils the US has engaged in, the only way you get to the kinds of acts that the terrorists do is by UNreasonable, A-moral, IRrational standards that contradict universal norms of human behavior.

Daniel, I agree with you that the US has done a number of evil acts in pursuit of foreign policy. We have had numerous discussions here at W4 where the contributors agree with that position. I don't want urge Bush or Clinton or Obama to send our forces to engage in them any more than you do. But I refuse to accept the notion, which you appear to be promoting that the correct model for understanding which actions were morally offensive is the model used by the Hamas, the Iraqi Bath leadership, the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, and the Pakistani power-corrupt leadership to find fault with us. The fact that THEY PERCEIVE fault bothers me only to the extent of trying to determine the most prudent course to take among the morally upright ones, does not help determine which courses of action are morally upright. I know numerous soldiers who fought in Iraq, who have come back telling stories of direct contact with the Iraqi people. Outside of the cities of Baghdad and Fallujah, they (our soldiers) were repeatedly told that they (the Iraqi citizens) were glad we were there and please don't go too soon, before the crazies were dealt with.

In order to perform a terrorist act, one must ultimately be convinced that those who die "deserve it". They have to dehumanize their enemy.

But that is NOT what they say. The terrorists say of the people who are about to die: either they are enemies of God, in which they deserve to die, or they are good Muslims, in which case God will take care of them and their deaths are equivalent to martyrdom because they are dying "for Allah's cause". Even though many of those who die are Muslim babies and children, or non-Muslim babies and children who cannot "deserve" to die in the sense that they are guilty of repudiating Islam. THEY DON'T CARE whether the targeted "deserve it". They just don't.

Tony,

The discussion here has veered off into a more general discussion of U.S. foreign policy, which is fine; I'm just glad you are around to eloquently defend the honor of the U.S. Like Daniel, I too would like the U.S. to retreat (at least somewhat) from our extended commitments around the world and become more humble about what we can accomplish in foreign lands. But I don't want us to do so if we lie about Islam or terrorism to ourselves in the process -- which is why your comments are so welcome.

Tony,
Terrorist appeasement?. Where?
Just as they think they have good reasons to attack, America has its good reasons to counter-attack. War is a matter of Assertion and not of Arguments. Indeed, war begins when arguments fail to be conclusive (since the parties do not agree on Premises).

Race theorizing? It is a matter of culture and not of race per se, but culture is largely carried by race.
And you are mistaken if I meant Jews as a culture that needed to be taken into stewardship. It was nowhere even implied. My prime examples are cattle-lifting tribes of the British Upper India.

In other words we would resort to terrorism if we were really, really broke.

And what makes one sure that Americans won't?

The Non-aggression principle is a libertarian fetish who deduce all sorts of amazing conclusions from it--quite like the arguments on 19C nihilists and anarchists e.g. in Dostoevsky.

Chesterton in The Man Who Was Thursday had commented that the real criminals of the age are heretic philosophers, intellectuals and the artists. They have committed aggression against "the Family and the State". Should they be allowed to hide behind non-aggression principle put forward by they themselves?.

Tony,

But that is NOT what they say. The terrorists say of the people who are about to die: either they are enemies of God, in which they deserve to die, or they are good Muslims, in which case God will take care of them and their deaths are equivalent to martyrdom because they are dying "for Allah's cause". Even though many of those who die are Muslim babies and children, or non-Muslim babies and children who cannot "deserve" to die in the sense that they are guilty of repudiating Islam. THEY DON'T CARE whether the targeted "deserve it". They just don't.

Exactly what I would have said if you hadn't, again, beat me to it - for what I am rather grateful.
I live in Denmark, so when I reply I do it with some delay.

First, who the Hell is Mencius? Jeff provide a link that has no references to him or "pink" anything so I have no idea what Jeff's link was for.

Mencius has got it right--given the fact that the Progressive-led America has been engaged in the Cultural Revolution of the entire Globe for past one century is a sufficient reason for the elements of the subjected (to the said Cultural Revolution) to take action against the US Progressives.

But the essence of Progressivism is a regulatory impulse. Regulation. It certainly isn't the idea that some political systems are better than others, and ones that don't attack their neighbors are of the better sort. If you want to say that Progressivism is simply promoting what you think is good then it means everything, and nothing. That would be so trivial as to include those who think that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish. Is that being a Progressive? Of course not. Now if we try to convince other nations that they regulate their citizens in one way or another, that would be a Progressive impulse. I hope when you tell me who Mencius is that I can find out what he thinks it is, and that it is more than just ambiguous nonsense. Hope springs eternal.

Race theorizing? It is a matter of culture and not of race per se, but culture is largely carried by race.

Now there is an idea that was always deeply embedded within the Progressive movement. There is a reason for that. Progressivism is very bad, but we live in a time where people who have succumbed to it smugly think they are rebels by throwing the term around.

But I was a neo-con until just a few months ago! I fully supported the Iraq war. I believed and argued that we were spreading democracy to a region of the world that had never seen it. I was hopeful of a real transformation in the middle east. I really was.

That's the reason I'm so passionate in my opposition to the neo-con line now.

Look Daniel, if you were a neocon you weren't a very good one. I'm using the term loosely as I think we both are. I would say if you don't want to invite suspicions of rhetorical tomfoolery or exaggeration that you either drop that line or provide links to comments by your former self in your former state that we can see. I'm not saying I don't believe you, but I just don't see that you understand neocons so I don't know how much it matters if you considered yourself one or not.

First, who the Hell is Mencius?

He is a sort of an anarchist. This is his manifesto, which has all the problems you would normally associate with a manifesto.

http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/04/formalist-manifesto-originally-posted.html

Tony:

The reality is that even when you factor in the actual moral evils the US has engaged in, the only way you get to the kinds of acts that the terrorists do is by UNreasonable, A-moral, IRrational standards that contradict universal norms of human behavior.

What you are doing here Tony, is exactly what I was complaining about in my last response: you are continuing to argue as if I was using American evils to justify terrorism. You seem to be under the impression that I think their justifications are equal to ours on a grand moral scale. That, as I explicitly pointed out, is not my position.

we have killed lots of them, for example. Yes, we have.

Exactly who is "them"? The way you just callously throw that out there is troubling. "Them" is a wide range of people - most of whom are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers - many are women and children. You seem to be able to lump "them" all together in some sort of 'terroristy group' that enables you to justify their deaths on some 'higher moral ground' (based, I assume, on the fact that terrorists live among them). Is that really all it takes to justify killing someone? I'm curious as to what moral principle you can use in your defense of those deaths?

But "The body count of those we've killed in retaliation for 9/11 is staggering" is completely off the wall: the killing we have engaged in isn't justified (and never was justified) in terms of retaliation, and just warfare theory never proposed that retaliation was a good measure of how many deaths to inflict on the opponent. That comment just isn't serious.

Yet, to the average American (and therefore to the average politician who must appeal to the average American) that is EXACTLY what these wars are about. Just because you have some "higher justification" doesn't mean that those composing our foreign policy think along those lines.

And why this talk about "just war"? We haven't had a legally declared war since WWII. Maybe you can share with the rest of us here the moral justifications behind the undeclared wars and military actions we've engaged in since then?

Your Ron-Paul-ist imaginary fairy tale of "imagine that" was equally powder-puff nonsense, since it intentionally shrugs off all the bases of moral difference between the US and some of our opponents.

I'm doing my best Tony, to ignore your derisive comments - since they don't contribute at all to this discussion - but sometimes it's hard to do so. My initial reaction to this comment was "what a dick". You're basically just calling me "stupid". Of course that's no defense of your argument - nor is it a refutation of mine - so I will try to press on while ignoring such things. (That said, if you really think our politicians and bureaucrats are all about morality and "the good" then you're as naive as they come! There I feel a little better!)

As for my "Ron-Paul-ist imaginary fairy tale" - I was trying to get you to understand what our foreign policy looks like to the people in those countries. I was not making a moral equivalence between the US government and terrorists. In fact most of the people we inflict our foreign policy on are not terrorists - they just have to live under the penalties we impose. You brought up the economic sanctions we put on Saddam: the people of Iraq lived under those sanctions - they didn't hurt Saddam at all. What good did that do? Saddam was an evil bugger, for sure, so we punish all the people in his country except him? Reminds me of grade school - when one disruptive kid would get the whole class denied recess. Is that what our foreign policy is? Punish all the people in a country in the hopes that they will rise up and support us? It's beyond dumb.

My whole argument then can be boiled down to this: Stupid foreign policy, among cultures we don't understand, produces unintended consequences we are never prepared for.

Sorry I'm so simple.

Mark:

Look Daniel, if you were a neocon you weren't a very good one. I'm using the term loosely as I think we both are. I would say if you don't want to invite suspicions of rhetorical tomfoolery or exaggeration that you either drop that line or provide links to comments by your former self in your former state that we can see. I'm not saying I don't believe you, but I just don't see that you understand neocons so I don't know how much it matters if you considered yourself one or not.

Well, most of my political arguments weren't done online. (I spent most of my online time arguing for ID before I argued against it!)

I've tried searching this blog for my old posts (under the name "Chucky Darwin") but I got a server error. Looking back at my blog (which I started in May 2011) I was already starting to turn at that point. I'll keep looking and see if I can come up with anything. (Of course if I could have you talk with my very liberal son, you'd have all the proof you need!)

Daniel: "The body count of those we've killed in retaliation for 9/11 is staggering

Me: "we have killed lots of them,

Daniel: "Exactly who is "them"? The way you just callously throw that out there is troubling."

My "them" was simply and solely a reference to the "those we've killed" in your earlier comment. You know, a pronoun referring to a prior class. It wasn't any more callous than your usage.

Yet, to the average American (and therefore to the average politician who must appeal to the average American) that is EXACTLY what these wars are about...And why this talk about "just war"? We haven't had a legally declared war since WWII.

I see that you are indeed a neocon, or former one at least. For your information, during at least the 6 months leading up to Iraq Redux, there was a vast national debate, largely (though not entirely) structured to discuss the principles of just war theory and application to the (then) current Iraq question. The so-called "average American" consisted at least in part of many, many people using precisely the debate as so structured. Nothing in that just war theory is formulated around "retaliation". If you are going to pretend that retaliation constituted a major reason that we went to war, you're going to have to support it better than that. And the just war principles do NOT require that the war be determined by a formal declaration of it, only that it be decided by the authorized persons. Since Congress has the power to declare war and to hold the purse strings for war, and since they granted to Bush the right to use discretion within certain constraints, we went to war under legal authority for it.

But neocons generally haven't given much of a fig for natural law or natural justice. In that sense, maybe the discussions YOU were involved in were not much like the discussions in other places. I was thinking of op-eds in the Washington Post, and in First Things, and public statements by the Vatican, and Sunday morning talk show discussions by State and Defense Department secretaries, and by the bishops of the US, etc., all of which spoke of principles of just war.

As for my "Ron-Paul-ist imaginary fairy tale" - I was trying to get you to understand what our foreign policy looks like to the people in those countries.

And my point was that I have listened (at one remove) to things people in some of those countries have said to our soldiers, and often enough THEY seem to get the difference between our battling terrorists in their country and making mistakes, and the terrorists intentionally killing innocent civilians to make "a statement". And so, when we see in some other places (like Lybia, where we have not been killing civilians) large numbers of people taking violence to Americans, the rationale is that of an ideology that is already warped and irrational, before they ever begin to factor in the civilian deaths we have caused. I fail to see why I should credit "what it looks like" to them for understanding what is a moral course of action.

You brought up the economic sanctions we put on Saddam: the people of Iraq lived under those sanctions - they didn't hurt Saddam at all. What good did that do? Saddam was an evil bugger, for sure, so we punish all the people in his country except him?

Let's see, he's an evil bugger, and his evil is damaging us. We can:
(1) Ignore it. It won't go away, it will get worse, and will spread.
(2) Target Saddam with an assassination attempt. Not only is this difficult, but for policy reasons, humane responsible states have avoided direct assassination of other country's leaders: in the long run, it is even more destabilizing and leads to still greater disruption to long term order. (I am not positive this analysis is valid, but it is a standard policy position of political theory proposed by many religious and non-aggressive people.)
(3) Go to war against the country.
(4) Use non-war methods of international pressure.

I think most people consider item 4 less harsh on the people is is applied to than item 3. That's why, in just war theory, it is to be tried before going to war. Just war theory also takes into account the plight of the people thus affected, in addition to the people you are protecting by taking such measures, and balances such goods. Rational people who are on the receiving end of 3 or 4 are capable of looking at the same equations.

If, on the other hand, your point is all about what is a prudent and likely successful course of action, rather than a moral course of action, then I agree that we have to consider what things will look like to the other (receiving) party, even if that is irrational. But we have to be clear that that consideration is distinct from what is moral to do about them. If your language doesn't keep that distinct, you run into all sorts of errors.

But the essence of Progressivism is a regulatory impulse

Is it?. Medievals regulated the very dress of the various classes. Was this progressivism?. Or it is the kind of things being regulated and the way they are being regulated?

Progressivism is a movement out of Tao, a sibling of the libertarianism, and thus of American conservatism itself.

Daniel, I really don't mean to question your sincerity despite how I stated it. I wish I had said it very differently. You don't have anything to prove to me. A better way of saying it is that I don't understand why you were a neocon in ideological terms, and why you aren't now despite all your passion. I don't doubt that you switched from "for" to "against". I'm sure you're sincere. All I'm saying is that I don't know any more than that you've switched, and so I don't think saying that you've switched has all that much force since switching sides about wars is quite common. That's all I'm saying, and I want to be clear I stated it badly, but don't think I was questioning your sincerity.

But the essence of Progressivism is a regulatory impulse

Is it?. Medievals regulated the very dress of the various classes. Was this progressivism?. Or it is the kind of things being regulated and the way they are being regulated?

Progressivism is a movement out of Tao, a sibling of the libertarianism, and thus of American conservatism itself.

Progressivism isn't merely a belief in progress. Historic Progressivism began in the late 19th century and desired to regulate a vast number of things because of a dissatisfaction that things weren't better than they were since expectations of making things better had risen dramatically among many. We shouldn't confuse the goals of reform movements from its rhetoric and results.

Progressivism rode on the back of the natural and social sciences, which among other things spawned ideas about race and culture like the ones you hold. These are certainly not any ancient view, but a new one. If "culture is largely carried by race", then it is more easily regulated by those who wish to reject it. At the individual level of course, attempts at regulation usually takes the form of scorn.

"culture is largely carried by race" is a pretty trivial statement, meaning not much more than Parents transmit their values to children and parents do not generally live in isolation but amidst their kin.
I fail to see what has Progressivism has to do with this very basic observation about human society.

Is it?. Medievals regulated the very dress of the various classes. Was this progressivism?. Or it is the kind of things being regulated and the way they are being regulated?

Progressivism's regulatory impulse is different in at least a few ways...

1. It is dismissive of rights that even the medievals considered important like property rights. Indeed, progressivism tends to regard all rights as nothing more than social conventions that are to abolished when they conflict with "progress."
2. It encompasses more of society (ex. the medievals were quite content to leave the economy alone on most things; progressives are central planners at their very core).
3. It places the state as the center of all authority within society and permits it near plenary powers over other institutions.

Jonah Goldberg pointed out that Progressivism is really just a proto-Fascism as most aspects of doctrinaire Fascism are present in it from theory to practice.

And the just war principles do NOT require that the war be determined by a formal declaration of it, only that it be decided by the authorized persons. Since Congress has the power to declare war and to hold the purse strings for war, and since they granted to Bush the right to use discretion within certain constraints, we went to war under legal authority for it.

There is no Constitutional option that lets Congress delegate the authority to declare war to somebody else.

Besides, for all the legitimate criticisms about how the "military operations in Iraq" started, none of them hold a candle to the mistakes and excuses given during the occupation. The so-called flypaper strategy can never fit into a just war framework.

There is no Constitutional option that lets Congress delegate the authority to declare war to somebody else.

The nature of warfare has changed, and some actions now by organized military forces simply wouldn't be seen as wars by anyone in past centuries. Some certainly would, but some wouldn't. This is the major reasons why wars aren't declared anymore. Congress has oversight such than it can cut off the ability to wage war, and this has not changed. And some wars we have today are more like policing actions than war, and I have little doubt that these were entirely unanticipated by anyone in the 18th century.

Besides, for all the legitimate criticisms about how the "military operations in Iraq" started, none of them hold a candle to the mistakes and excuses given during the occupation. The so-called flypaper strategy can never fit into a just war framework.

Lots of things don't fit into a just war framework. So? It was created for a specific and limited purpose, and was never intended to be all encompassing. Wars of independence don't fit it, but that doesn't make them unjust. And it certainly doesn't say anything about a "flypaper strategy" because it doesn't say anything about any strategy per se.

Mark,
It was created for a specific and limited purpose,
Could you be specific-what purpose you have in mind and why do the wars of independence don't fit it.
Indeed, what is special about the wars of independence in any case. A war of independence is just a successful rebellion, what more could it be?

Thanks to all for commenting -- I've decided to close this thread as we seem to be veering off into some interesting foreign policy discussions that don't have much to do with the OP.

However, I do want to make a few last commenets:

1) Mark -- this blog has talked about Mencius Moldbug before and you can Google him to get more information. I think it is silly to call him "sort of an anarchist" as Step 2 does; above all Mencius is interested in political order.

2) For once (just kidding!) I think Nice Marmont made a good point about Gian -- while I can understand everyone gets skittish when the subject of the Jews comes up it seems like his broader point was an interesting one that actually dovetailed with my OP: to what extent are all people (tribes, ethnic groups, races) capable of self-government? On a basic, fundamental level it is obvious that all are and no group deserves to be enslaved. On the other hand, in our modern world (in the grand scheme of things), it is certainly the case that some groups DID deserve to be coerced into ending some of their ways of self-government. We do not weep for the Aztec Empire and their practice of human sacrifice; nor the end of various inhumane practices of Indian tribes (like the thuggees or the practice of suttee) as Gian later alludes to. None of this is to say it is now America's job to take over where the Spanish and British once spread their Empire -- only to remind folks that those empires can claim debits and credits and as we have discussed in this post, sometimes the folks living under a foreign government suffer injustice and welcome a foreign liberator; in other cases the liberator soon finds himself the object of scorn and resentment and has created more problems than he hoped to solve.