Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy Birthday Ernest Hemingway

Rob had been missing the birthdays. So here’s one. Ernest won the Nobel Prize, mainly for THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Harvey Mansfield devotes a significant amount of space to that book in his on manliness. But I myself can’t really tell either how great or how manly that book is. I can read only so much into man vs. fish stories.
Ernest’s life did exhibit two manly qualities--lots of effort at dramatic displays and a certain whininess. That’s neither good nor bad in itself, except for the suicide part. Let me know whether Hemingway really was either a great writer or a good man.

Ratatouille: A Correction to French Egalitarianism and Snobbery?

Peter Lawler’s disinclination to blog right now seems to be catching. It’s the height of summer, after all, and there are other--if not always better--things to do. One thing I’ve done that is both other and better is to see the new Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille with my kids and my young niece. I’m told that Ross Douthat gave it an unfavorable review in the print version of NR, but I haven’t been able to track down a copy in all my travels. If this is true, he couldn’t be more wrong. This is a wonderful movie and, I think there is a serious teaching to it below all the surface delight. It is, in short, a corrective to French egalitarianism and its flip side, French snobbery.

The premise for the plot is the re-discovery and restoration of the central teaching of a late, great French chef famous for his claim that "Anyone can cook." Upon his death, a low (very French) chef who was his underling takes over his restaurant and his brand--driving both into the ground by reaching always for the lowest common denominator (e.g., he puts the great Chef’s name on a line of frozen microwave food with egg rolls, corn dogs, etc.) The rat is disgusted by the garbage eating habits of his colony. He is inspired by Chef Gusteau and wants to introduce reason into the eating habits of his friends and relations. The traditionalists among them--most of all, his father--shoot him down. An accident leads him to take up life anew in--of all places--Chef Gusteau’s restaurant. He assists a young and hapless employee in such a way as to make him a celebrated chef. This witless (though very good) "chef" turns out to be (despite his cooking roots) pretty useless in the kitchen. But with guidance he develops other skills and manages to hold his own in the kitchen. There is also a great "restaurant critic" who is like the political philosopher apart from the political order, examining and pronouncing upon the order, but never fully taking it in. To reignite his passion the rat prepares him a fabulous ratatouille dish--that reminds him of his childhood, his humble origins, and his need for more than pure criticism (or philosophy). In the end, it is clear the central teaching of Chef Gusteau is more deeply understood by all--anyone can cook, they agree, and while not everyone can be a great cook, a great cook can come from anywhere.

Al Gore, the $100K Man

See here for Al Gore’s standard speaking contract. His $100,000 fee is only the beginning.

Dr. Pat, Roger Scuton, and Conservative Environmentalism

Deneen. a McWilliams moralistic Democrat, recommends an article written by the most brilliant English conservative thinker (who, not surprisingly, now lives in our country) published in "The American Conservative," which is very unreliably American and very unreliably conservative. Clearly, there’s a movement brewing to counter the emerging libertarian consensus. It’s always a pleasure to read Roger, although I think he’s a bit preachy here about, for example, our bargain-hunting spending habits. He does point elegantly to one of our characteristic individuaiistic vices--a lack of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Our ingratitude often makes it tougher that it should be for us to experience ourselves as dutifully at home with nature, God, country, and family. And surely it’s self-destructive to regard nature as simply a resouce to be manipulated at will.

How Green Were My Values

If you don’t find a silver lining in the Chernobyl disaster or the Korean War, that can only mean that you are no more than a tepid environmentalist. Alan Weisman is more serious. His book, The World Without Us, reverently chronicles his visit to Chernobyl, where there are no human settlements within a 20-mile radius, “just forests that have begun reclaiming fields and towns, home to birds, deer, wild boar and moose,” according to Newsweek. Korea’s demilitarized zone, similarly free of homo sapiens for 53 years, is “now a mecca for Korean bird watchers.”

Reveries of a world without human beings show us an environmentalism that has the courage of its convictions. The busybodies hectoring us to recycle, drive hybrids and use fluorescent light bulbs are missing the point: Such minor modifications will only slow down the human destruction of the ecosphere. What people smugly and stupidly used to call “progress” necessarily means the degradation of the environment. The ultimate meaning of living lightly on the planet is not living on it at all.

Weisman goes down this road a long way, but not as far as he used to. Once partial to the idea that the world needs the cleansing of human extinction, his reflection on “some of the beautiful things human beings have accomplished,” such as poetry, led him to a “compromise position: a worldwide, voluntary agreement to limit each human couple to one child.” Weisman calculates that this neo-Malthusian solution would reduce the world’s population from 6 billion people today to 1.6 billion by 2100, the size of the human cohort in 1900.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is not so squishy. It believes that “the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens . . . us.” Accordingly, “When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve . . . and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Nature’s ‘experiments’ have done throughout the eons.” The VHEM website takes the trouble to distinguish its position from Hitler’s, Nazism being more of an involuntary human extinction movement.

The VHEM position is “realistic: We know we’ll never see the day there are no human beings on the planet. . . . The Movement may be considered a success each time one more of us volunteers to breed no more.” The VHEM approach demographically guarantees that its hard task will only get harder. Those non-breeding volunteers will have no children to catechize, while the people who do breed will have set an anti-VHEM example for their children simply by virtue of having them.

It’s hard not to despair. And yet, somewhat inconsistently, VHEM rejects suicide - “retroactive birth control” - because, “There’s no way we could convince enough people to kill themselves to make a difference, especially after we’re too dead to talk.” In this respect, VHEM is itself a little squishy, compared to the Finnish environmentalist who told the Wall Street Journal in 1994 that another world war would be "a happy occasion for the planet . . . If there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating if it meant millions would die."

The Potter movie

I saw it this afternoon with my brother-in-law, my son, two nephews, and three nieces. I had roughly the same experience I’d had with the other movies, none of which has particularly moved me.

The books aren’t great literature, but the plots are interesting and complicated enough to hold my attention, and I think, as I’ve said before, that Rowling is edifying in a good way.

The problem with filming book #5 (and with subsequent books as well) is that, for the most part, the settings have been envisioned already, and it’s hard to depart in a way that’s both novel and pleasing to the viewers. And the plots are way too complicated (or, if you will, convoluted) to be captured adequately in ordinary movie length. So you get a movie whose narrative is inevitably less gripping than the book and a cinematic experience that’s beginning to feel like "been there, done that." I have to confess also that I didn’t come away from this film thinking that any of the actors had really deepened his or her portrayal of the character. Let me state it more pointedly: this was a film that Daniel Radcliffe really had to carry (his friends don’t get that much attention), and he doesn’t.

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

I haven’t felt like it.

On Iraq, I’m perfectly happy to give our military until September or November. But I really don’t how things are going, and I’m not up to taking easy shots at political posturing. A withdrawal--or one without a real plan--would be a prelude to chaos, and I think everyone really knows that.

On the presidential campaign, I’ve already advised the Democrats that Hillary would be better than Obama, and Richardson better than both. That’s from the old-fashioned running the country perspective, but from an electibility perspective I’d also go with an experienced Hispanic candidate with no obvious baggage. I would add that a top operative in Richardson’s camapign is a Berry College graduate, Wendy Davis, who’s run plenty of campaigns and is allmost always better than her candidate. But this time, comparatively speaking, her candidate is good. Most of all, of course, I like Rochardson because he looks like a regular, saggy older guy, and the turnout from the one "community" of voters I’m sure I belong to is excellent. I don’t think the Democrats have been looking for my advice.

Neither have the Republicans. But on their side, the credible candidates right now are Romney, Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. I think each of them has some potential for greatness, as well as personal and electibility flaws. I don’t anything new to add on those fronts. The campaign is boring at this point, and there’s no point to venturing a new opinion until something real happens (or is said). Giuliani--despite his impressive group of expert judicial advisors--is still tonedeaf on the Const. He might be the least flip floppy of the flip floppers, though. And from a "war on terror" perspective, my judgment is that they’d all might be fine. It’s impossible to tell which of the three would run most strongly in November 2008 right now.

On the new libertarian consensus issue revived by the good Lindsey book. He’s right. There is one. And I predicted it. I said in my books which you can buy that after the Cold War people would start to notice that Marx, purged of some wackiness, was an optimistic, techno-student of Locke, and that anyone who harbored any reservations about the progress of individualism (as opposed to egalitarianism) would be labelled a reactionary. It’s true enough that the country has been moving steadily in the individualistic direction on all the social issues (with the exception of abortion). Our prosperity and freedom seem to have resulted in a bourgeois bohemian reconcilation of unprecedented productivity, the overcoming of prejudice and repression, hedonistic self-fulfillment, common decency, designer tastes on coffee and other good things, and environmentally conscious postmaterialism. Even the Crunchy Conservative option so favored by Dr. Pat and Mr. Dreher presupposes unprecedented afflence or the techno-overcoming of scarcity, and the Crunchies, as Marx predicted, are able to farm without really being farmers and raise a sheep or two without really be shepherds, just as they have a mind. And our evangelical churches are often mighty therapeutic and consumer oriented.

I could now immediately start giving the rather huge downside of our libertarian consensus, but I will only begin by saying that in our "ownership society" each individual is in plenty of ways more on his or her own than ever. Mr Hayek was wrong about two things: First, that we’re clearly on the road to serfdom or soft despotism--it might be closer to the truth that all social safety nets are collapsing. Second, that as soon as socialism was defeated and discredited people in the newly liberated America and Europe would start reproducing like rabbits. The first principle of democratic political science, Tocqueville taught us, is that things are always getting better and worse.

Obama and urban education

This post raises an interesting question about Barack Obama’s anti-poverty plan, which affiliates him with someone who has been rather critical of the teachers’ unions. For a previous post on this general theme, go here.

Required reading for my trip

Next month, we’ll be spending some time in the Old Country: Oma and Opa Knippenberg want to show their grandchildren where our side of the family came from, so we’ll be spending a little time here, here, and here (my dad actually grew up here, but, as they say, "da gibt es keine Sehenswuerdigkeiten"), some more time here (one side of my mom’s family) and here (O & O were married here), as well as here (the other side of my mom’s family), and, finally, a little jaunt across the border to here and here. I have no plans, however, to attend this event, despite the fact that we’ll be in the vicinity.

The Knipp kids are preparing by boning up on their German (if someone says to them, auf Deutsch, that the boy is standing on the table, they’ll understand him perfectly) and by learning something about the places we’ll be visiting. The Knipp dad is reading this, this, and this, among other things.

While I’m away, needless to say, I won’t have regular access to the internet, but I may be able from time to time to blog about einige Sehenswuerdigkeiten und einige Abenteuern.

Update: Members of the NLT have begun sending reading suggestions, which I appreciate. I’d also appreciate restaurant recommendations, as my local knowledge is at least a decade old (and, in some cases, much older).

Safe, legal, and publicly-funded

So say the leading Democratic aspirants. Any national health insurance plan is sure to cover all the expenses connected with "family planning." Hat tip: Rick Garnett. Garnett’s MOJ colleague Rob Vischer calls our attention to this article highlighting another tack taken by Senators Clinton and Obama.


Mac Owens, the professor and always Marine, wrote this fine piece on "Lee’s Invasion of Pennsylvania." These pieces on the War should turn into a book. I was reminded to mention it to you because I am off to Gettysburg tomorrow and it’s a perfect thing to read over a cigar while giving Isabella a rest.

Weighing the Risks

In a July 19 editorial, the Washington Post stated that

If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the [al Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.

The Post is here apparently proposing what Bill Kristol proposed recently: get rid of the AQ sanctuaries in Pakistan with air raids and special operations. The Post argues that we have to weigh the risk of destabilizing Pakistan against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. What are the chances that U.S. intervention in Pakistan will lead to Islamic militants capturing the government and getting control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? If that happened, would that consequence outweigh for the United States the harm of another attack on the scale of 9-11? The Post must think the chances of destabilizing Pakistan are not great. Many experts might concur, believing that the military will rule Pakistan and will not let the militants take over. Does this sound like what was said about Iran under the Shah? But Iran and Pakistan are different. True, so are Afghanistan under the Taliban and Pakistan today, although the Post editorial bases its argument on conclusions drawn by the 9-11 commission about Afghanistan under the Taliban. What is the likelihood that the sanctuaries could be destroyed by air raids and special operations? If these measures fail, will we not get an even worse outcome, the sanctuaries in place and Pakistan destabilized? Would a better strategy than air and ground raids be a long-term effort to manipulate tribal conflict in the area where we think AQ has sanctuaries? This might be both more effective and, because more low key than raids, less likely to destabilize Pakistan. Could the U. S. government do this without Pakistani assistance? My guess is that it could not. We probably don’t have the ability to do in Pakistan what we did in Afghanistan after 9-11, even if we had the will. Would the Pakistanis assist us?

Bush, God, and history

Having written about the subject many times before, I didn’t get too excited by the remark--reported by David Brooks--about freedom being God’s gift to humanity.

By contrast, Ross Douthat--agreeing with those paragons of prudence, Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan--is pretty nearly beside himself:

I’m fed up with the President’s messiah complex, and I don’t bloody well want to hear any more about Bush’s "theological perspective" that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to all mankind, and so history’s on our side in the Middle East, and yada yada yada.

That’s a lot of weight to put on a couple of lines from Brooks’s account of a conversation, which amounted to this:

[The President’s] self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”

This assertion--which
Ramesh Ponnuru rightly characterizes--doesn’t compel us to any particular foreign policy. The President said as much in an important, but much maligned speech he gave a few years ago. Here’s how I characterized it at the time:

For Bush, this line of argument is not altogether new. He has long asserted that freedom is "God’s gift to humanity." What is different, I think, is his assertion of the scope of America’s ideals and interests and his acknowledgement of great flexibility in their promotion. Stated another way, this is a most statesmanlike affirmation of principle and prudence.

And there is also a very carefully nuanced "theology of history," affirming "a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of liberty," but also acknowledging that "it is human choices that move events" and that "[h]istory has an ebb and flow of justice." The responsibility rests on us, not as God’s chosen nation, but as creatures of the Almighty, to make good use of the freedom God has given us and everyone else. "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?" We must be concerned not only with the external effects of our actions, but with the character that produced them.


We will, the President says, "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," but not "primarily" by force of arms. "Our goal… is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way." In so doing, our "influence is not unlimited," but it "is considerable." We can call attention across the world to the difference between "oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." And we’ll make it clear that "success in our relations" requires the decent treatment of one’s citizens, not as a grudging diplomatic concession on the eve of a presidential visit, nor as a matter of governmental grace or largesse, but as the fruit of a policy whose purpose is to encourage the flourishing of an independent civil society whose institutions undergird political freedom. In other words, America will stand with the oppressed, call attention to indigenous democratic reformers, admonish "the rulers of outlaw regimes" that their injustice cannot stand, and encourage and support those of our authoritarian friends who are moving, however gingerly, down the paths of democratization and liberalization.

Freedom will be the lodestar of our policy, but not in a ham-handed and merely preachy Carteresque way. There will be a lot of talk, but not just talk. There will be a lot of action, but not just military action. Embassies across the world will be busy maintaining lines of communication with the local democratizers and other representatives of "civil society."

What Sullivan calls a "Fuhrerprinzip" [sic]--thereby implicitly endorsing Keith Ellison’s honest or dishonest pandering to the crowd--is connected with GWB’s view of God-given freedom: with it, comes God-given responsibility. Individuals are called to make a difference, to promote liberty, but how they do so depends, as I noted in my earlier post, on their practical and prudential judgment of the facts on the ground. Sullivan, Dreher, and Douthat to the contrary notwithstanding, this isn’t messianism, it’s the foundation of political responsibility.

We can, of course, reasonably disagree with the President’s judgment of the particular facts, not to mention with the choices he and his subordinates have made, but his principles are as American as apple pie.

I’m tempted now to write a few words about Lincoln and the extremely costly Civil War, speculating about how Sullivan et al. would have written about that, but I’ll resist.


Will strike our house this weekend. We’ll likely see the fifth movie on Friday (too busy to see it sooner) and then begin the book the moment our pre-ordered copy arrives. My wife has first dibs; then she’ll read it aloud to my son. I’ll get the leavings. My daughter, only nine, has seen the movies but was too young for the first rounds of book-reading. She may be up for a second cycle, if my wife is.

We’ve also looked at some of the Potter scholarship, having been most persuaded by this fellow that Rowling is writing in the tradition of the Inklings. I may sometime get around to this law review symposium and this scholarly effort to read Rowling as a libertarian of sorts (the cartoon version, so to speak, is here).

I doubt I’ll read the volume of essays on Harry Potter and international relations that IHE’s Scott McLemee (barely) describes, but Michael Berube’s piece is short enough (and he’s smart enough) to be worth a gander.

Liberal facts (?) vs. conservative theory

Jonathan Chait can’t get his mind off the Iraq war, even when he’s talking about what he regards as the conservative obsession with ideas. As I noted last year, Chait isn’t too keen on big ideas. As he puts it now,

conservatism is more of an ideological movement than liberalism. Conservatives insist that, unlike liberals, they’re "acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears," as David Brooks once put it. Such boasts are usually decorated with references to Kirk, Hayek, and other philosophical patron saints of the right.

Like communists, conservatives have a tendency to believe that every question can be answered by referencing theory.


I admit that liberals don’t generally look to our intellectual forebears to tell us whether the Iraq war is going well. But, then, we don’t have to. We can read the newspaper.

I guess he’s not reading the New York Times, or, for that matter, anything that doesn’t begin with the view that Iraq is a fiasco. Sounds kinda theoretical to me.

Shameless Self-Promotion:. HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA

I have just received copies of my new book from the University of Chicago distribution people. You can order it on amazon or directly from the publisher, St. Augustine’s Press. Contrary to what the amazon page says, it’ll show up there in a few days at most.

It’s a beautifully produced hardback for under $18 (on amazon). The dustjacket itself is worth the price, featuring a stunning reproduction of Edward Hopper’s classic American painting NIGHTHAWKS.

And the back cover features rave advances notices from Dan Mahoney, Father Schall, "Dr. Pat" Deneen, Yuval Levin, and Ralph Hancock

The book covers an amazing array of contemporary concerns in clear and accessible ways, almost free from distracting scholarly conventions.

Here are the chapter titles: Two Views of Americanization, A Friendly Critique of Pure Crunchiness [vs. Crunchy cons], Against the Lobotomites [against whom I ally with Tom Pangle], The Socratic Philosopher and the American Individual [on Bloom’s CLOSING], Stuck-with-Virtue Conservatism, McWilliams and the Problem of American Political Education, Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again, Murray and Brownson, Toward a Consistent Ethic of Judicial Restraint, Is the Body Property?, Modernity and Postmodernity, Tocqueville at 200, Where’s the Love?, Tocqueville on the Doctrine of Interest, Disco and Democracy [on Whit Stillman], An American Fantasy: Love, Nobility and Friendship in CASABLANCA, A Story about Nothing: The Two Kinds of Nihilists and ONe Kind of Christian in Flannery O’Connor’s GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE.

Where else can you get can so much classy entertainment at one low, low price?

The confidence of an Aquarian libertarian

Ramesh Ponnuru points us to a debate, begun here by the recently ubiquitous Brink Lindsey, and continued here (Ponnuru), here (Lindsey), and here (Ponnuru), with recent interventions by Peter Wood here and here.

Let me begin at the beginning. Here’s the contradictory core of Lindsey’s argument:

[After the 60s, a] strong work ethic and belief in personal responsibility, a continued commitment to the two-parent family as the best way of raising children, and a robust patriotism all survived the Aquarian challenge. Meanwhile, a host of hopeful indicators showed that the country’s frayed social fabric was on the mend....

Conservatives deserve considerable credit for restoring American society to relative health and vigor. Ironically, though, conservatism’s successes ended up making the world safe for the secular, hedonistic values of Aquarius. Traditional attitudes about race, sex, the role of women in society, the permissible scope of artistic expression, and the nature of American cultural identity have all taken a beating.

I think Lindsey is all to confident that the characteristics and attitudes that sustain the prosperity that he clearly loves can survive the acid bath of the Aquarianism he also clearly loves. Hence I don’t share his conclusion:

What should [conservatives] be seeking to conserve? The great American heritage of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets seems the only viable answer. As Peter Berkowitz has frequently and wisely noted, a truly American conservatism must have at the core of its concerns the defense and preservation of the liberal tradition. Which makes it a special kind of conservatism indeed: Its function is not to arrest change generally, or even slow it down, but rather to preserve the institutions that are both the chief source of change and the primary means through which we adapt to new conditions.


[M]uch of what has defined modern social conservatism — namely, political resistance to the incessant cultural change engendered by economic development — is not authentically conservative at all. It is reactionary.


It turns out that the core middle-class values that sustain a free society can survive — indeed, they can thrive — even as various historically contingent embellishments are dropped along the way. Look, for example, at blue-state New England today, where the most pronounced sort of cultural liberalism coexists with some of the highest incomes per head and lowest levels of social dysfunction (crime, divorce, illegitimacy, etc.) in the country.

I can’t believe that Lindsey buys this liberal chestnut! Has he considered that these numbers in New England have to do with the relative homogeneity of the region, the persistence of traditional religion (much of it Roman Catholic) among the working class, and the paucity of big cities. I’d be willing to bet that Boston and Hartford probably don’t look too different from other big cities. Consider, for example,
this comparison. Here’s the 2004 crime data for Hartford, Boston, and, say, Mongomery, Alabama and Atlanta.

I suppose if we depopulated the country, largely getting rid of poorer minorities and importing lots of well-to-do refugees from dysfunctional cities, we could perhaps have New England-style social statistics and the kinds of attitudes Lindsey finds congenial. But that’s not the real world, not even the real world at the end of Lindsey’s history.

This post is getting way too long. I’ll deal with the other interventions in the debate in another post.

Libertarians and war

Randy Barnett explains that Ron Paul doesn’t speak for all libertarians:

While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly.

He also notes that "[a]ll libertarians...oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude." How would libertarians have fought World War II? Would they have relied upon the allegedly universal willingness of people to volunteer?

If libertarians are willing to fight wars only when they’re overwhelmingly popular, when the threat is so self-evident as to hit almost everyone (Harry Reid excepted, I guess) between the eyes, then I guess libertarian principle requires that we wait patiently for the next big attack. How many tens of thousands of American lives is libertarian principle worth?

Leadership and the future of Iraq

I spent a little time this morning reading what people are saying about "the future" of Iraq. Folks in the defense and foreign policy establishments have been war-gaming various draw-down scenarios. Nothing pretty there. And no evidence, in the article at least, of what the consequence will be for U.S. interests and influence in the region.

Anne Applebaum isn’t happy with any of the politicians’ plans. World leaders don’t want an abrupt pull-out.

Michael Barone and David Brooks reflect on their meeting with the President last week. Brooks’s take-away is quite interesting: Bush’s attitude is a combination of a faith in the direction of history (the familiar "freedom is God’s gift to humanity") and faith in the efficacy of leaders (just look at any business school curriculum or any shelf of business books at Borders or Barnes & Noble). (For those who can’t get behind the TimesSelect firewall here, once again, is the post with a link to get .edu readers behind it), here’s a portion of Brooks’s argument:

Conservatives are supposed to distrust government, but Bush clearly loves the presidency. Or to be more precise, he loves leadership. He’s convinced leaders have the power to change societies. Even in a place as chaotic as Iraq, good leadership makes all the difference.

When Bush is asked about military strategy, he talks about the leadership qualities of his top generals. Before, it was Generals Abizaid and Casey. Now, it’s Generals Petraeus and Odierno.

When Bush talks about world affairs more generally, he talks about national leaders. When he is asked to analyze Iraq, he talks about Maliki. With Russia, it’s Putin. With Europe, it’s Merkel, Sarkozy, Brown and the rest.

He is confident in his ability to read other leaders: Who has courage? Who has a chip on his shoulder? And he is confident that in reading the individual character of leaders, he is reading the tablet that really matters. History is driven by the club of those in power. When far-sighted leaders change laws and institutions, they have the power to transform people.

Many will doubt this, but Bush is a smart and compelling presence in person, and only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back.

Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.

If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.

Surely there’s a middle ground here. The "integral fabric of society" doesn’t regenerate itself, even if it can’t simply be willed into existence by someone who has read lots of Harvard b-school case studies. If Lincoln and the founders (there go my NLT reflexes!) had been persuaded by Tolstoy, they might never have worked tirelessly with the materials at hand. And what was it Lincoln said?

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth [well, O.K., the sixth] year, since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to [terrorism]....

Leaders who understand "where we are" and "whither we are tending" can surely make a bigger difference than Brooks’s Tolstoy could imagine.

Update: The indispensable John Burns finds yet another straw in the wind. Without Burns and Yon, it would be hard to begin to get a sense of the "facts on the ground" in Iraq.

Catholic Woes . . . or Not?

In this world, there are problems to worry about and there are those that you don’t.


NLT’s own William Voegeli has a first class piece on Arthur Schlesinger in the Opinion Journal. It’s the same piece that appears in the current Claremont Review of Books, but not yet on line. Conclusion: Liberalism (with Schlesinger’s help) can still buy votes, but can’t change minds. A fine, must read article.


Church and state in America: trends

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Mark Noll’s America’s God, which I recommend highly to anyone who needs a 500+ page diversion.

In the course of arguing that evangelical churches--above all, Methodists and Baptists (especially the former)--contributed mightily to the creation of our national identity in the early republic, Noll offers some telling statistics. In 1840, there were some 18,000 post offices and 21,000 postal employees; there were roughly 10,000 Methodist clergy (and three times as many clergy altogether). In 1860, there were roughly 28,000 post offices, 30,000 postal employees, 54,000 churches, 23,000 Methodist clergy, and 55,000 clergy altogether. By contrast, in 1997 there were 38,000 post offices, 850,000 postal employees, 350,000 churches, 39,000 Methodist clergy, and 350,000 clergy altogether. Viewed another way, the ratio of federal receipts to church receipts in 1860 was 2.5:1; in 1997, it was 23:1. The 1860 ratio of federal employees to clergy was roughly 1:1; the 1997 ratio was 8:1. In 1860, there were roughly 35 churches for every bank; in 1997, there were roughly 4 churches for every bank.

As Noll observes (p. 202), "To the extent that [these figures] are even approximately accurate, they might provide grounds for modern jeremiads about the lamentable decline of religion in America. For this book, they are meant to serve a historical purpose, which is to indicate the central, indispensable, defining place of the churches--at a time when most of the churches were evangelical--in the organization of American national culture on the eve of the Civil War."

Let me add three observations. First, the 1997 numbers for churches probably underestimate the number of people who are part of the "ecclesiastical economy," since they don’t take into account non-clerical church and parachurch employees. Second, I’d say less about the decline of the churches than about the rise of the federal government. Church growth has been quite healthy. What’s changed dramatically--d’oh-- is the size of the federal government.

Finally, I don’t think these numbers really capture cultural influence. Consider this, for example: the typical child spends seven hours a day, five days a week in a public school, while spending at most 6 hours a week in church (if he or she goes twice a week and twice on Sundays; 1-2 hours is probably closer to the norm. How much "quality time" with parents should we add to that?

Ed Whelan on Rosen’s Misguided View of Judicial Activism

Bench Memos blogger Ed Whelan offers a stinging critique of Jeff Rosen’s recent New Republic article, in which Rosen misuses the term "judicial activism." Given recent conversations here about the propriety of a neutral definition of judicial activism, it is worth quoting at length:

But Rosen counters . . . [with the] continued misguided advocacy of a “neutral meaning” of the term—under which any vote to strike down legislation, even when clearly compelled by the Constitution, is not an exercise of judicial restraint, and any vote, no matter how wrong, to leave legislation in place, is an exercise of judicial restraint. The terms “judicial activism” and “judicial restraint” necessarily tie to the proper role of the courts in our constitutional system, and their proper definitions depend on a sound understanding of what is, and what is not, correct constitutional interpretation. Rosen’s argument for a “neutral” definition of these terms would neuter them of their natural and useful meaning. Rosen might as well argue for a “neutral” definition, say, of “firefighter” and “arsonist”: a firefighter who sets a small fire in order to prevent the spread of a larger fire would be labeled an “arsonist”.

Even worse is Rosen’s supposedly neutral counting of laws that justices have voted to strike down. Thus, a decision like Roe v. Wade, which has usurped the powers of American citizens, and distorted American politics, for more than three decades counts has the same value in Rosen’s ledger as any other vote to strike down legislation.

Take a few minutes and read Whelan’s whole post.

Giuliani’s judicial team

This is certainly calculated to hearten those who worry that RG is wobbly on judicial matters.

Update: Our friends at Power Line have the committee list, which is not unimpressive. NRO’s Jonathan Adler is impressed, as is NRO’s Jim Geraghty.

Hitchens’s atheist fundamentalism

Peter Berkowitz takes apart "the new, new atheism." Berkowitz shows, among other things, that Hitchens is the mirror image of the fundamentalists he purports to criticize. And he offers this sober conclusion:

Playing into the anger and enmities that debase our politics today, the new new atheism blurs the deep commitment to the freedom and equality of individuals that binds atheists and believers in America. At the same time, by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today’s bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America’s destruction.

Like philosophy, religion, rightly understood, has a beginning in wonder. The most wonderful of creatures are human beings themselves. Of all the Bible’s sublime and sustaining teachings, none is more so than the teaching that explains that humanity is set apart because all human beings--woman as well as man the Bible emphasizes--are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

That a teaching is sublime and sustaining does not make it true. But that, along with its service in laying the moral foundations in the Western world for the belief in the dignity of all men and women--a belief that our new new atheists take for granted and for which they provide no compelling alternative foundation--is reason enough to give the variety of religions a fair hearing. And it is reason enough to respect believers as decent human beings struggling to make sense of a mysterious world.

Read the whole thing.

Heather had two mommies...and a daddy

Elizabeth Marquardt explains how this is problematical, as if you didn’t already know. Here’s the opinion in the case, in which an appellate court fashions a remedy it acknowledges ought to be created legislatively. Here’s a summary of the case that’s helpful in sorting things out.

Update: Stanley Kurtz has more, with links to his previous posts on this case.

Luntz Says GOP Must Win Ohio

Frank Luntz lays out a strategy for a GOP win in 2008 that (it seems) cannot even convince Frank Luntz. He seems pretty pessimistic about his optimism. The substance of what he suggests is sound, nonetheless--particularly this bit:

The final step is to win Ohio. To be perfectly blunt, no Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio. Although readers of this column would no doubt like to see and hear the presidential nominees up close, the reality is that California, at least when it comes to elections, is as blue as the Pacific. A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland. Without the support of the anxious working class, Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States.

More on Antioch College

This time from George Will. The last couple paragraphs are especially good. In our discussion of the Antioch situation a few weeks back, an alumnus defended the school insisting that the whole reason for the closure was financial and that the liberalism of the place had nothing to do with it. Well . . . maybe not. Will does an excellent job taking apart this argument, "Given that such was Antioch’s idea of "work experience" in the "real world," it is unsurprising that the college never produced an alumni cohort capable of enlarging the college’s risible $36 million endowment. Besides, the college seems always to have considered raising money beneath its dignity, given its nobility."

Shlaes Slays FDR and the New Deal

My review of Amity Shlaes’ magnificent new book on FDR and the New Deal, The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression is now up at National Review Online.

It is a terrific book. Here’s my lede:

This new book is the finest history of the Great Depression ever written. Hold on — this is supposed to be a review, not a dust-jacket blurb; but it can’t be helped. Although there are several fine revisionist works about the Great Depression and the New Deal, Shlaes’s achievement stands out for the devastating effect of its understated prose and for its wide sweep of characters and themes. It deserves to become the preeminent revisionist history for general readers.

Note to Peter: This book should be added to the Ashbrook Scholars required reading list.