Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Thucydides and us

It’s hard to avoid thinking about our current conflicts when teaching Thucydides, as I do every fall. I wrote explicitly about it once and implicitly another time (no link, but if you want a copy of the essay, shoot me an email). Victor Davis Hanson can, of course, write much more authoritatively on this subject than I can, and Paul Johnson is the kind of reviewer he deserves.

Here’s one provocative thought (mine, not Johnson’s or Hanson’s), which I advance very tentatively and with great trepidation (I’m not sure how much I believe it myself): Perikles urges the Athenians to accept the challenge of the Spartans and their allies, and recommends that they cautiously wage a long war of attrition. Such a strategy requires that Athens rein in the dynamism that seems to be its leading civic feature. And it requires the authoritative leadership of someone like Perikles.

But Thucydides notes that Perikles (predictably) didn’t live long enough to see his policy bear fruit, and that (predictably) his successors lacked his stature, self-restraint, and capacity for identifying his good with the city’s good. Hence there were blunders, among them (allegedly and most famously) the Sicilian Expedition. Of course, Thucydides notes that the problem with the expedition was not its object, but rather the way in which Athenian domestic politics affected and afflicted its execution.

From these considerations, two thoughts follow. First, Perikles’ caution was actually imprudent and incautious, since the policy he recommended was one that only he could execute, which in turn required that he live a preternaturally long life. Second, if the war was necessary (a big "if," of course, albeit apparently not to Thucydides or Perikles), a bold stroke early (like the Sicilian Expedition) could so have altered the military balance that Athens could have prevailed against its Peloponnesian adversaries. Unlike his successors, Perikles had the stature to manage matters at home so as to avoid the distractions that ultimately doomed the expedition.

And now for the contemporary application. The GWOT has been advertised since its inception as a long-term struggle. Almost everyone who still supports George W. Bush admires his resolve in waging that war. The question that has to be on everyone’s mind is whether GWB’s successors will be as serious about it. I can think of a few who might be, but of many who surely wouldn’t be. Under the circumstances, isn’t the Iraq war the rough (very rough) equivalent of the Sicilian Expedition, albeit for different reasons than the ones usually cited (e.g., evidence of imperial overweening, a distraction from the main conflict, and so on)? One could present it as the kind of bold and risky stroke that, if successful (a big "if," to be sure), so changes the constellation of forces that the long-term disciplined struggle (hard for any democracy under any circumstances) becomes somewhat easier to manage (I hesitate to say "less necessary").

In other words, if one of the lessons of Thucydides is that a dynamic global democracy cannot consistently or easily pursue a disciplined policy, then a leader who has the opportunity to change the constellation of forces so as to render consistency and self-discipline somewhat less crucial ought to do so. A democracy that has global responsibilities, concerns, and interests must be bold. Or else it should draw in its horns altogether, and put itself at the mercy of forces it has willed to be beyond its control, whether they are or not. No one should expect that those forces be anything other than merciless, regardless of the benignity of our aspect.

Any thoughts?


The Battle of Trafalgar, the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson (killed by a French sniper on the day of victory), 200 years ago. The end of Napoleon, the start of 100 years of British dominated peace. Still exciting stuff.

Bush as conservative

Unlike some, Jonah Goldberg is not quite ready to read George W. Bush out of the conservative movement. One wishes--O.K., I wish--Goldberg had more to say about how GWB’s evangelicalism interacts with his conservatism. Bush is clearly not a libertarian (not even a quasi- or proto-libertarian), nor is he a Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or Anglican Tory traditionalist. So he doesn’t fit the categories with which libertarians or Kirkians--or fusionists, for that matter--are most comfortable. And he’s not simply a neo-conservative (to the extent that that category is reserved either for ex-liberals, Jews, and/or largely secular intellectuals who respect religion).

Many--not all, as Jim Wallis keeps telling us--evangelicals are socially and morally "traditionalist," but their emphasis on the individual believer’s encounter with Scripture cuts against the grain of traditional authority structures, whether religious or "secular." And while there is an emphasis on personal responsibility, it often (albeit not always) looks toward a community in ways that libertarianism does not.

Does anyone have a convenient label for this?

Update: Jonah says he’ll think about it and post over the weekend. Stay tuned, both here and at NRO’s The Corner.

Katrina "vouchers" revisited

Ted Kennedy supports them, but, er, technically they’re not vouchers. He’s right (yes, you read that correctly); he and his Senate colleagues a proposing a voucher-like form of per capita aid to public and private schools that have taken in Katrina victims. However "temporary" and "pragmatic" this proposal is, Kennedy is conceding the high ground to proponents of school choice. I’m happy; Barry Lynn of Americans United is apoplectic. I wonder if his organization will take the politically unpalatable step of filing a lawsuit against a program to aid Katrina victims.

My health

I was up at the Cleveland Clinic last Thursday and Friday for some blood tests and a CAT Scan. The results are in: The doctor said that for now "no treatment is needed." He’ll do another scan in six months. So, I am OK! And fifty pounds lighter, remembering to take my pills, can’t eat anything that tastes good, no cigarettes, no alcohol, but I’m OK, no surgery is needed and I am almost at full strength. Walked by my bike this morning and thought about dusting it off… not yet, but now I know I can. Thanks to everyone for your good wishes.

Can the Dems move toward the Center?

Joe Knippenberg composes articles faster than I can talk. This one, Tiptoeing Toward the Center, is an analysis of a long piece by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck. They try to argue that the Dems should move toward the center. Joe takes their arguments seriously--he thinks they are two of the smartest Democrats around, and he’s right--yet, he does not think they succeed.  

The faith-based initiative and the First Amendment

The WaPo’s Alan Cooperman fairly summarizes the status of various lawsuits, one a victory for the co-religionist exemption in hiring, another a preliminary defeat for aid to a religious school in Alaska, and another--just about to go to trial--about a faith-based prison program.

John Tierney on academic politics

Power Line’s John Hinderaker call our attention to this column by the NYT’s John Tierney (taken in this case from the Minneapolis paper, since Tierney is behind the Times Select barrier over at the NYT site). Tierney doesn’t break any new ground, but he goes over the existing discussion of the professoriate’s leftward tilt very well.

Photo IDs and poll taxes

My piece on this subject, occasioned by a preliminary injunction handed down in this case, is posted at The American Enterprise Online, which is offering two or three new columns every day.

This is a clear case of political judging, with a Jimmy Carter-appointed federal judge siding with Democrats and a Democratic Secretary of State with gubernatorial ambitions against a Republican governor (up for reelection next year) and a Republican legislature. Carter himself has intervened in the dispute, despite the fact that his very own electoral reform commission has recommended photo ID’s. So we have Carter siding with his judge against his commission. When will the man pipe down?

Update: I learned from the AJC’s Jim Wooten that Harold Murphy, the judge in this case, is the cousin of long-time Democratic House Speaker Tom Murphy. As Wooten, the AJC’s lone conservative, puts it: "Often it’s true: You pick the judge, you pick the outcome. Appeal."

Masugi et al vs. Bork

Ken Masugi and Harry Jaffa respond to Robert Bork’s WSJ op-ed, as do Richard Reeb and Hugh Hewitt.

New laptop

Sony laptop made of carbon fiber; very light, very thin. (via Drudge)

Can Bush’s support go lower?

Mystery Pollster considers Bush’s very low poll numbers, compares him to other Presidents with low numbers (Bush is still the highest of the lows) and advises us to watch whether his support among Republicans (which has been around 80%; his big drops have been from Dems and Independents leaning to Dems) will hold steady. Good charts and links.


Cisco Systems will triple the number of workers it employs in India in its biggest investment outside the US. It plans to inject $1.1bn of investment into India over the next three years. Cisco Systems is the world’s biggest maker of internet equipment. India’s economy continues to grow at a good pace and by 2025 the Indian economy is projected to be 60% of the U.S. economy, and by 2035 the Indian economy will be only a little smaller than the US economy but larger than that of Western Europe.

Optimism in Iraq

Property prices have skyrocketed across Iraq. This is a good sign, it means that Iraqis are optimistic about their future, as they should be. Maybe soon, the MSM could start reporting on the reasons behind the optimism....

Trends in Secondary Education

A couple of nights ago a former student majoring in social studies education asked me for some guidance. She’s in the midst of her student teaching and wanted to know if I had any thoughts on how she could teach the subject of World War I. Before I could answer, though, she informed me that her students were "burned out on book work," which I took to mean that any suggestion that involved their actually reading something would be ill-received. When I tried to get more of a sense of what she was looking for, she helpfully informed me that last week she had taught the students how to fox-trot.

I apologized, and told her that I didn’t think I could be of help. I’m afraid I’m hopeless as a ballroom dancer.

Hayward at NRO

Here. And you can order the book here.

Saddam’s Trial

Saddam Hussein pleads not guilty to the charges brought against him. The Belmont Club finds that there are interesting echoes of the debates over Nurenberg Trials.

Slandering Shakespeare

In my youth I actually paid some attention to the famous (and still living disputes): Who really wrote Shakespeare? Note that in this AP report of the latest attempt to prove that someone else wrote Shakespeare; not Marlowe, Bacon, or de Vere, but Henry Neville. A common line in this argument is revealed in this sentence: "James and Rubinstein, a professor of history at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, argue that Shakespeare of Stratford, who came from a modest background and did not attend university, could not have had enough knowledge of the politics, foreign languages and European cities described in the plays to have written them." Now let’s could Abraham Lincoln have written the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural having attended less school for less than one year? By this standard Woodrow Wilson should be our greatest president. Read Shakespeare and learn about this great stage of fools.

Saddam and French pride

Some French links to Saddam are becoming clearer, to no one’s surprise. The AFP reports: "A judicial investigation into two high-ranking former French diplomats -- both suspected of benefitting from the largesse of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq -- has cast a spotlight on the often ambiguous relations between Paris and the former dictator.

The affair also casts a shadow over France’s Iraqi policy and raises suspicions about the complicity of top political figures, according to French analysts and newspapers." But, Prime minister Dominique de Villepin says that France’s honor
will not be sullied by these revelations.

No more doughnuts

How uncivil of Steve to say something like this! On the other hand, truth be told, I would love to have a doughnut about now! Quitting smoking is nothing compared to not eating what I like! You put a steak in front of me and a loaf of good bread (with some butter), and I’ll pick the bread every time. Then, I would have doughnuts for dessert. But, alas, no more. I now eat merely to live, not to live well. Gloom and misery reigns, poor me, fifty pounds lighter, but a heavier soul, for sure.

Iraq optimism, take 2

Michael Rubin, who is in Washington, D.C., and shouldn’t have been hard for a WaPo reporter to find, offers his own much sunnier (that’s not Sunni-er) take on the referendum. A sample:

When people fear for their future, they invest in gold; jewelry and coins can be sewn into clothes and smuggled out of the country. When people feel confident about the future, they buy real estate. Property prices have skyrocketed across Iraq. Decrepit houses in Sadr City, a Shiite slum on the outskirts of Baghdad, can easily cost $45,000. Houses in upper-middle-class districts of Mansour and Karrada can cost more than 20 times that. Restaurant owners spend $50,000 on top-of-the-line generators to keep open despite the frequent blackouts. In September 2005, there were 40 buildings nine stories or higher under construction in the Kurdish city of Sulaymani. Five years ago, there were none. Iraqis would not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate if they weren’t confident that the law would protect their investment.

Read the whole thing.


Miers Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire

Is here (57 page pdf). Thanks to Bench Memos.

Another Consequence of Peter’s Illness

Krispy Kreme Donuts has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Grading in school

This piece, by Jay Mathews, the WaPo’s education columnist, examines the history and current status of the letter grade. The most chilling quote comes at the end:

"Ask any number of parents and students what they are hoping to get out of a given class and they will tell you, ’A good grade,’ " [high school teacher Jason] Busby said. "Ask them, as I do every year of my students, if they would accept an A at the cost of learning nothing about the subject in class. . . . The answer is 99 percent yes."

A grand liberal-moderate coalition?

We’ve alluded to this report a couple of times. I finally got the chance to read it; you’ll find my analysis here. Bottom line: I think Bill Galston is extremely smart, but that he has little or no following in the Democratic Party. His effort to persuade Democrats to move toward the center amounts, in my view, to urging upon them gestures that he regards as substantive and that I regard as symbolic.

Others have responded, either to the report or to my analysis, among them Power Line, Michael DeBow, Jon Schaff (who spanks me for going wobbly on the USA Patriot Act; I didn’t say Republicans couldn’t win the debate over which sort of ig government we need, just that they’d have to explain why one sort of big government was good and another wasn’t; there are some erstwhile Republicans, like Bob Barr, who don’t get it), and Noam Scheiber, whose thoughts are very much worth reading. Here’s a taste of Scheiber:

The same ideological "sorting-out" process that has made it more urgent for Democrats to appeal to the center has simultaneously made it harder for them to do so--because it has made their liberal base larger, more vocal, and more powerful than ever before. Galston and Kamarck argue that "[t]he Democratic Party must be able to articulate a coherent foreign policy that is based on a belief in America’s role in the world." Then, somewhat amazingly, they conclude, "While this will cause internal conflict in the Democratic coalition, it will not be any more severe than the fight Bill Clinton sparked when he confronted his coalition with proposals for reforming welfare." In fact, according to their own analysis, it should cause much greater internal conflict, since there are more liberals around to oppose this policy and fewer conservatives around to support it. While liberal opposition perversely made Bill Clinton a more credible general election candidate in 1992, greater internal conflict could prevent a Clintonesque candidate--or, say, a Clinton--from winning the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Given that Galston and Kamarck say nothing about the GWOT--they’d apparently prefer to use the U.S. military in places like Darfur, which, to be sure, need serious assistance, much of it only facilitated by American airlift and logistical capabilities--it’s striking that both Scheiber and Power Line are willing to assume that defense credibility for them means dealing with terrorism. Perhaps it goes without saying; perhaps it can’t be said to a Democratic audience, which would indicate how far from credibility the mainstream of that party is.

Another measure of Galston’s clear-sightedness, and his distance from his party, shows up in connection with his and Kamarck’s advocacy of a Darfur intervention. In my analysis, I suggested that they couldn’t be serious, given our current commitments in Iraq and the ways in which our deployable troops have been stretched. Well, to be fair, Galston is on the record
here as favoring a draft, which, of course, has little or no support in his party or anywhere else in the political spectrum.

Update: Tod Lindberg suggests that Galston and Kamarck are in search of the Democratic John McCain, a formulation that can also be seen in Scheiber’s reference to "national greatness liberalism." Perhaps McCain can seek both parties’ nominations. His ego is certainly up to it.

Advice to Harvard freshmen

The Weekly Standard calls our attention to this advice, offered by the inimitable Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., on "How to Survive as a Conservative at Harvard." Here’s one pearl:

"Entering Harvard, you are faced with a curriculum that has lots of choice. . . . Lots of choice doesn’t mean lots of good choices, as you know from the student dining halls. . . . It doesn’t matter so much what the professor’s politics may be, liberal or even left. What matters is whether the class is conducted honestly, by which I mean presenting and considering ideas contrary to his own. Like an honest salesman, or better than that, the honest professor makes you aware of the defects or the difficulties of the argument he is propounding."

There’s more, so read the whole thing.

Miers and Roe

The witness list for the Miers confirmation hearing just got much longer.

I have two very preliminary thoughts. First, the predictable attempts to downplay the significance of the conference call will predictably not be altogether successful. Miers will face very pointed questions about the status of Roe v. Wade, and it will be difficult for her to respond in as non-responsive a fashion as Roberts did.

Second, this is not necessarily a bad thing, if she is willing and able to criticize Roe on genuinely constitutional grounds. In fact, I’d even add this guy to the witness list, in case this issue arose. The Miers hearings would then prove entertaining and enlightening in ways that it’s unlikely that the Bush Adminsitration anticipated. Karl Rove may be smart and prescient, but not that smart and prescient.

Update: Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff has more here, as do Claremont’s Richard Reeb and Matthew Franck over at Bench Memos.

Sen. Kennedy to the rescue

At first I thought this was a joke! Sen. Kennedy attempted to rescue six men who had become trapped by high tide on a jetty off Hyannisport on Sunday.

Iraq optimism?

This NYT analysis suggests that the Administration has conceded that democracy--such as it is and will be in Iraq-will not stop the violence there. Well, yes: the Administration is talking not about an "insurgency," but as Iraq as the central front in the GWOT. But the Times analyst can’t bring himself to concede that this is a point the Bush Administration has been making for quite some time.

On the other hand, this WaPo analysis can’t find a single "independent" analyst who hails the referendum results in Iraq. Of the four--the ubiquitous and vitriolic Juan Cole, Larry Diamond, Anthony Cordesman, and Clintonista Martin Indyk--Diamond comes closest to being positive:

"The fundamental problem is this is not a consensus constitution, and one part of the country has massively rejected it," said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former adviser to the U.S.-led Iraqi provisional government. "This was not a joyful vote. It was a pragmatic vote to continue the process."

No one asked him what he makes of the fact that two of the Sunni-dominated provinces apparently voted for the Constitution. And the lack of balance in the entire article suggests that the thesis was there before the experts were consulted.


If these analysts are right, this is a mistake.

Substanceless march

Charles Johnson’s op-ed in the Journal on the latest Million Man March is worth reading.

Penguin pooh

This is the winner of the Ig Nobel prize in Fluid Dynamics: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of International University Bremen, Germany and the University of Oulu , Finland; and Jozsef Gal of Loránd Eötvös University, Hungary, for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin, as detailed in their report "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation." Here is more detail, in case you don’t remember why you decided to read history as an undergraduate.