Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Here is the promised piece by Mac Owens in today’s WSJ regarding lawful and unlawful combatants. John Keegan thinks that the pirates cannot be negotiated with, rather, "They needed to be hunted to extinction – and the time to start the hunt is now." But, the news from the Horn is not good, see this report in the London Times about how the US Navy missed a chance to free the hostage. Also, an Italian tug-boat with 16 people aboard has been seized. In the meantime, the Washington Post reports that the "Obama team" (once a team always a team, I guess) is mulling over its options. AQnd the New York Times is reporting that negotiations with the pirates have broken down.

Darwinian Larry and His Friendly Critics

Arnhart talks up a second edition of his DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM, one that includes various critical responses. There’s one by ME, called "All Larry Needs is Love (and Death)." Larry was not impressed by my criticism, thinking that mentioning love and awareness of death as evolved human qualities is enough to account for them. But my point, I thought, was that he doesn’t describe uman behavior as actually profoundly altered by our species-specific EROS and THANATOS. Larry’s extreme prejudice against anything that might smack of existentialism (or, for that matter, real personal freedom) causes him to distort what we can actually see with our own eyes. The concluding chapter by Ken Blanchard is really good--better than Larry, I think--in bringing Darwin and Aristotle as close as they can be. It reminds me that that there really are similiarities between the Aristotelian and Darwinian views of the fundamental impersonality of natural reality. Richard Sherlock’s contribution is quite an incisive appreciation and criticism from the perspective of a genuine believer. All in all, this book is well worth buying.

Chantal Delsol Comes to Rochester Thursday to open a two-day conference on her thought, featuring Paul Seaton, Carl Scott, Dan Mahoney, and ME. Thanks to Ivan the K for putting this great event together. AND the next issue of what is, according to Brad Watson, America’s best journal of political science--PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE--features a symposium on Delsol’s thought, edited by Paul and including an article by ME.

Thanks also to all those who responded for call for NEW IDEAS for articles and symposia for PPS. In additon to a good number of fine individual submissions, we’ve lined up symposia on WHAT IS POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY?, Lincoln, David Walsh, and Sam Huntington. What other journal can say that?

The Reasoned Case Against Cockeyed Hawkeye Gay Marriage

Matt Franck
, visiting this year at Princeton, who combines separation of powers arguments with the logic and sense of the American political tradition.


For some reason, a friend (who wishes to preserve his or her anonymity) can’t post this comment in response to Mac’s post below on how to respond to pirates, so I’m doing it for him here (having twice tried on his behalf to post it below).

Since Mac brings up the U.S.’s nineteenth-century policies on pirates, I think it’s worth considering these two federal laws about piracy: this from 1790 and this from 1819.

Each law, coming from a less tender-footed era in our history, does indeed establish the death penalty for piracy (FYI, these days, U.S. law gives pirates life in prison). But both of these old capital laws require judicial process -- i.e., the suspects’ being taken to a federal district or circuit court, tried, and found guilty -- before dispatching them (likewise, their vessels have to be condemned in a U.S. court). So no summary execution of the bastards (although the old laws allow actions of self-defense -- no further details provided -- by the threatened ship).

Mac, in your reference to "hanging" pirates, were you implying that summary execution was the policy? If that was a fact, how did it square with the trial requirements in the laws?

And -- most important of all -- how does this grim discussion affect our affection for Mark Twain?

Shameless Self-Promotion

Shameless Self-Promotion

I am told that an op-ed of mine will run in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow. My argument is that the Obama administration's new rhetorical regime (no more "unlawful enemy combatant," no more "war on terror") masks substantive changes that will hamr US national security.


Western Civ in Texas

This bill (read the text here), sponsored by this Texas state legislator, would transform this Center into the "School of Ethics, Western Civilization, and American Traditions."

Our friends are divided about this, as this article makes clear.

I am inclined to side with one set of friends against the other, in large part because I am reluctant to see state legislators descending to that level of detail in establishing degree requirements. It is one thing, for example, to say that every graduate of a state university must have had a course in state history and/or state government (though this is usually done by the regents or sthe state board of higher education), quite another to become as prescriptive as this bill is in setting core curriculum and major requirements:

The school shall develop and offer students an interdisciplinary course of study in Western civilization and American institutions and practices designed to foster the thoughtful development of ethical character and civic responsibility, including a sequence of six three-hour courses, each covering one of the following topics: (1) ancient philosophy and literature; (2) ideas from the Bible; (3) great works from the Middle Ages; (4) classics of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment; (5) the development of Western science and technology; and (6) classics of the American founding and development of the American Republic.

(b) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) shall be considered by the university to have satisfied 18 hours of core curriculum course work in the following areas: (1) three hours of communications; (2) three hours of additional natural science; (3) three hours of humanities; (4) three hours of government; (5) three hours of visual and performing arts; and (6) three hours of any institutionally designated optional or seminar course.

(c) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) in addition to 18 hours of upper-division course work in the Western civilization (WCV) field of study at the university shall be considered by the university to have completed an undergraduate major in Western Ethics and American Tradition for a bachelor of arts degree in the university's College of Liberal Arts.

I would not object to a faculty establishing something like such a program on its own accord, but I do object to its being imposed politically. And yes, I recognize that all too many faculties would be loathe to institute such programs, but I would at the same time hate to concede to state legislators of any stripe the authority to decide what constitutes an appropriate desgree program at a university. Imagine how such a power could be abused! And consider what one would have to concede to grant to the legislature such authority--that political power can, of its own accord, without any inherent claim to wisdom or expertise, declare what an appropriate program of study is. Knowledge isn't power. Power is knowledge. In some important respects, this is the fantasy of the postmodern academic Left.

Lovers of genuine higher education, and conservatives of almost any stripe, ought to be able to make common cause against such an ill-conceived idea.

Categories > Education

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for March

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Jerry Short
Jennifer Williams
Lauren Griffith
Thomas Dousa
Alfreda Holloway

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this month, enter April's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

What to Do About Pirates

Over at The Corner on National Review Online, they have been asking folks about piracy. I was asked for my take and here is what I said:

Our problem with pirates is the same as the one with al Qaeda et al. We have extended legal rights to people who do not deserve them. We need to return to an important distinction first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval and early modern European jurisprudence, e.g. Grotius and Vattel. The Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi — pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws — "the common enemies of mankind."

The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict, and it is here that the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, guerra — indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution. Until recently, no international code has extended legal protection to pirates.

So first, we should revive that distinction. When pirates are caught, they should be hanged. Second, I’m not the first to suggest that we should use force to wipe out the pirate lairs. Under the old understanding of international law, a sovereign state has the right to strike the territory of another if that state is not able to curtail the activities of latrunculi.

Americans recognized this principle from the outset. Here’s something I wrote for the Winter issue of Orbis:

The Early Republic faced many threats, including a continuing European presence in North America-Great Britain in Canada and Spain in Florida and Texas-and what we would today call "non-state actors:" marauding Indians and pirates, ready to raid lightly defended areas on the frontier. These threats were exacerbated by the weakness of what John Quincy Adams called "derelict" provinces, which provided an excuse for further European intervention in the Americas, and sanctuary for hostile non-state actors. In 1818, Florida provided an occasion to address such threats.

After Creeks, Seminoles, and escaped slaves launched a series of attacks on Americans from sanctuaries in Spanish Florida, General Andrew Jackson, acting on the basis of questionable authority, invaded Florida, not only attacking and burning Seminole villages but also capturing a Spanish fort at St. Marks. He also executed two British citizens whom he accused of aiding the marauders.

Most of President James Monroe’s cabinet, especially Secretary of War John Calhoun, wanted Jackson’s head, but Adams came to Jackson’s defense. He contended that the United States should not apologize for Jackson’s preemptive expedition but insist that Spain either garrison Florida with enough forces to prevent marauders from entering the United States or "cede to the United States a province.which is in fact a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them." As Adams had written earlier, it was his opinion "that the marauding parties ought to be broken up immediately." As John Gaddis has observed, Adams believed that the United States "could no more entrust [its] security to the cooperation of enfeebled neighboring states than to the restraint of agents controlled, as a result, by no state."

We’ve Disconnected Parenthood from Marriage

Forty percent of babies are being born to women who aren’t married. And unwed motherhood has certainly become a routine, middle-class phenomenon. The upsides and downsides of this development all have to do with thinking of people more consistently as free individuals. I’m told in the thread that this development is not Lockean, in the sense that Locke says people who have babies should stay married as long as they’re raising kids, and he says nothing good about single parenthood. But if I were a feminist or a libertarian I might say that Locke wrote in the context of the division of labor necessary in a low-tech society, and there are limits to what he could say in his time to promote the liberation of women to be free individuals (although he actually does say a lot). Certainly he does say that we should regard as parent whoever is raising the kids, and so absent fathers have no status based on biology. And if we can invent our way out of any apparently natural limitation, he’s certainly all for it. In any case, the increasing detachment of parenthood from marriage (and marriage from parenthood--more married people than ever aren’t having kids) strengthens the case that same-sex marriage is a right that has emerged in our high-tech, unprecedently individualistic time. (Thanks to Carl Scott.)

Conservatives Should Stop Saying Obama is Beholden to Socialism

It’s actually much worse than that. As Steven Malanga argues, Obama is really beholden to social science and enraptured by the supposed capacities of "experts" to perfect the defects and injustices of capitalism (which is just another way to say that Obama and Co. believe that science can improve humanity). Malanga’s bracing column argues that we are slouching back toward an old-fashioned kind of 19th century corporatism--updated, of course, with a cool makeover for the 21st century--but still, for all the talk of freshness, it remains an idea that’s older than dirt. Its being old does not make it wrong, of course. But it has been tried; many times. So we can get a pretty good idea from history about how this is likely to go down.

Corporatism, says Malanga, "seeks to substitute the wisdom of the few for the hundreds of millions of individual actions and transactions of the many that set the direction of the economy from the bottom up." It’s heavy on the declaring, in other words, and light on the independence. Individuals have to be prodded along to make the right decisions because, as we know from Obama’s own lips, most people are too flawed--clinging as they are to their false choices (not to mention their guns and God)--to make wise choices for themselves. Even if Smith and Jones might make tolerably good choices about how best to provide their families with health coverage, to take one example, surely there is someone among Obama’s smart friends who is wiser and can choose better than those two rubes.

Another notion of corporatism, according to Malanga, is that "elite groups of individuals molded together into committees or public-private boards can guide society and coordinate the economy from the top [d]own and manage change by evolution, not revolution." (emphasis added) So as our independence is eroded, it will be managed in a way calculated to keep us insulated from the uncomfortable pressures of what might otherwise be a revolution and--though unspoken, one must surely see it--the temptation to overthrow the overseers or reinvigorate the principles of our original Revolution. But I say that if Malanga is right, it’s time to ring the bells. The Social Scientists are coming!

Pirates attack the wrong ship

Somali pirates attacked an American ship with a crew of 20. I think this may have been the first American ship attacked and boarded by pirates. The Americans fought--the report says with "brute force"--back and won. But, the pirates chased for five hours, caught up, and boarded again; and were fought back again. The details are sketchy, but this is worth paying attention to. Americans fighting back. This will have consequences. I like it. 

Addendum: Here is FOX News coverage and the BBC’s. Apparently, the American captain is still being held hostage.

Naughty by nature?

Would xenophobia be natural in the same way that homosexuality is?

Taylorism in Health Care

What we have to look forward to as health care gets more nationalized and more bureaucratized:

A colleague who works in an ICU in a medical center in our state told us how his care of the critically ill is closely monitored. If his patients have blood sugars that rise above the metric, he must attend what he calls "re-education sessions" where he is pointedly lectured on the need to adhere to the rule. If he does not strictly comply, his hospital will be downgraded on its quality rating and risks financial loss. His status on the faculty is also at risk should he be seen as delivering low-quality care.

But this coercive approach was turned on its head last month when the New England Journal of Medicine published a randomized study, by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Clinical Trials Group and the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group, of more than 6,000 critically ill patients in the ICU. Half of the patients received insulin to tightly maintain their sugar in the normal range, and the other half were on a more flexible protocol, allowing higher sugar levels. More patients died in the tightly regulated group than those cared for with the flexible protocol.

Read the whole thing.

A comment: The problem is, in part, a bureaucracy can only monitor a large system if the parts are standardized. It can only do that by taking discretion away from doctors. That’s where we’ve been headed for quite some time. Health regulations helped to push the US toward HMOs, and now are pushing us toward government-paid health care. Perhaps the multi-culturalists will say such standardization and bureaucratization happens in the US because American culture tends to work that way. Whatever the reason, I find it terribly unlikely that this trend will not continue, unless we start to re-empower patients. The only effective way to do that, however, is to give them more say over how their health care money is spent. That’s not the direction we’re going.

Weinberger Writes from Suli, Kurdistan, Iraq

Jerry just got to town to teach at the American university there. Suli is a law-abiding place, where people are bursting with pride in their freedom and their city. The city works because the people rely on themselves when they need to get something done. Even the chickens are gallant.


My Kindle

I finally decided to get a Kindle. Been playing with the idea for a while, but hesitated out of love and prejudice. Love to handle my books, like their smell and touch, don't mind falling asleep with one on my chest. And I am possessive, my copy of Yeats is mine, and if someone gives me another, I can't find anything. You know the problem. And yet, I can have all of Shakespeare, Aristotle, Lincoln, and the Bible for about ten bucks total (!) forever at my beck and call (never mind subscribing to newspapers, buying new books for circa ten bucks apiece). Anyway, got it yesterday, played with all evening and I like it. Read the WaPo and the WSJ in Clarence this morning while smoking. One of the first things I read on the Kindle (which you can dog-ear) is Yeats' For Anne Gregory.
Categories > Technology

Same-sex marriage on the march in April

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed a state constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Our friend Matt Franck takes the ruling apart here. There are so many good arguments in Matt’s piece that I can’t decide on which one to quote, so I’ll just tell you to read the whole thing.

And then today, for the first time, same-sex marriage was established legislatively, with Vermont’s legislature overriding a gubernatorial veto. The decisive vote came from a state legislator who switched his vote based on moral reasoning that consisted in toting up constituent contacts for and against. But for want of a few phone calls and emails, traditional marriage "might could" have been saved.

David Brooks on the Latest Evolutionary Studies

They show we’re more social than competitive beings. That makes sense, of course, if we are, by nature, more about the species than ourselves. They also show that moral judgments originate in the emotions, although that’s not the big breakthrough or challenge to traditional conceptions that David thinks. They still have trouble, Brooks adds, in explaining the moral challenge we’ve all been given to live responsibly in light of what we can’t help but know about what we’ve been given. They don’t explain what we do or say in response to personal love and personal death. They also can’t explain, I would add, even the technological dimension of human freedom. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Free Market Faith in God

The faith of Americans is alive, vibrant and well according to this piece from the Wall Street Journal. Despite headlines and sensationalized stories from wishful thinkers of a less religious bent (stories and headlines that are as old as the Republic) religion continues to thrive in America--in no small part--because of our very open approach to the subject. The Pew survey that made headlines announcing the rise of atheism in America some weeks ago is notably taken to task in this story. Apparently, one-fifth of the self-reported "atheists" in their survey also said that they believed in God. The authors of this piece hilariously dub this, "a semantic confusion rich in meaning." Indeed.

Of course, acknowledging what I choose to call America’s religious "vibrancy" (and others will call its chaos) is bound to make some conservatives of a more orthodox bent wince. Without dismissing their concerns and while acknowledging the theological challenges this "vibrancy" presents for them, I still would have to say that this Catholic prefers the small "c" catholicism of our regime to the big "C" Catholicism of more homogeneous countries. It is a kind of chaos, yes. And chaos has its very real sort of problems that require diligence. But on the whole, it inspires a people with more mental agility, more hard-earned and deeply serious faith, and, I think--also, more sympathy for the unconverted. It makes us more mindful that everyone is a potential friend in Christ--if we can persuade him. It is a religiosity that is worthy of our natural freedom and our human potential.

Thanks to Kate for passing along this article.


Segway vehicle

This is cute. Could carry a few around in my Hummer in case I go to a big city.
Categories > Technology

The New Old Money

Given that the very rich in America tended to support Obama for President, should we be surprised that he’s giving them what they most want: reduced competition. The more the government regulates salaries, banks, and corporations, the harder it is for new money to rise up to challenge the latest batch of billionaires.

Ich bin kein Oesterreicher

When JFK announced to the world that he was a German pastry (to convey his intended meaning, he should have said "Ich bin Berliner," not "Ich bin ein Berliner") people got what he meant, even if those in the know might have snickered a bit.

Now along comes Barack Obama, who apparently believes that Austria has its own language. If George W. Bush or Sarah Palin had said such a thing, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert would be laughing about it on late-night television. But in this case, schoolchildren may well come to believe that Austrians speak Austrian. If Obama says it, it must be true, no?

Well, we Austrian-Americans ("I [pronounced with a long "e"] bin a Oesterreicher") might have to demand more cultural sensitivity on the part of our President, especially since our Heimatsland extends respect to Islam, even if the respect isn’t always reciprocated.

Norrell on Booker T. Washington

Robert Norrell (History, University of Tennessee) did a Colloquium Friday on his book, Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington. The book has been given rave reviews from National Review to Fortune to the Washington Post. Norrell was excellent. Mr. B.T. is on his way up again as a result of this book, and that is good. You should listen to it.   

Liberal Consensus reached, as Crunchy Con Mr. Dreher explains, by redefining every human institution with the discourse of rights. So consensus, by definition, excludes every traditional or even social consideration. Consensus also excludes any public recognition of the natural fact that people are more than beings with rights. The "consensus model"--which depends on letting Locke completely out of the Locke box--leads to progressivist judicial, bureaucratic, and professorial activism. The "conflict model"--preferred, say, by President Bush’s Council on Bioethics--leads citizens to moral deliberation about who we are, deliberation about tough questions that don’t have easy answers.

President Obama Follows President Reagan

Calling for the complete eradication of nuclear weapons.

Is It Illogical to Fear Death?

...especiallly if death is nothing is nothing more or less than personal annihilation. That’s what they’re discussing on the FIRST THINGS blog, with special reference to Dawkins. If we’re completely undogmatic or agnostic about death in a Socratic fashion, it seems to me, then fear or some such aversion to death and the strong likelihood of personal nonbeing is not altgother unreasonable. We do know that life is good, I hope, and a certain good is the foundation of fear of what’s, at best, an uncertain alternative. Socrates’s agnosticism, it seems to me, serves the conclusion that there are things worse than death, and so courage and the other risky virtues are not altogether unreasonable. The neo-Darwinians in general, including even Darwinian Larry, aim to explain away the strange behavior--such as high technology and religion--characteristic of members of our species alone, the behavior some say flows from our singular awareness of and capabilitity of being moved by personal biological mortality. And genuine Socratic agnosticsm--as opposed to neo-Darwinian atheistic scientism--may have room for the possibililty that personal existence is more than biological.