Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Somos illegales, or Americans?

Half a million people marched in Los Angeles, as the L.A. Times puts it, "The marchers included both longtime residents and the newly arrived, bound by a desire for a better life and a love for this county." I mused a bit about the possibility of a typo, but then thought that maybe one can love a county? Did I love L.A. county when I lived there? Not really. A protester said that "this is a country for everybody who wants to live a better life and this is a free world." That’s an interesting sentence, meriting an exegete’s eye. Some think that such statements (and the many Mexican flags!) will backfire on those "activists" who are in favor (apparently) of unrestricted immigration. Even liberal Mickey Kaus thinks this is likely. Even Jim Pinkerton has become, as he puts it, a "hawk" on immigration. There will be more on this, but we should take the opportunity to talk not only about illegal immigrants and walls, but also about what a citizen is in this republic. A good start on this conversation would be these three pieces: First, see this on the making of citizens Matthew Spalding, and then this Charles R. Kesler, and last, this by James Ceasar.

Buchanan and his wrath

I bring this Patrick Buchanan op-ed ("Are the Neocons Losing it?") to your attention because Mr. Buchanan is a smart man. My blood is up because he has made a living out of rancor, and the misnaming of things. This has served him well even when it hasn’t served the cause he claims to represent, with utter and ever more boring self-serving righteousness, I might add. The Left MSM has put him to good use for their own purposes and Buchanan--it turns out--has and will continue to do anything for the sake of a mike and a camera, or a column. Too bad, and quite sad. I say this as one who came into politics in 1964 with Barry Goldwater, and one whose interest peaked when Reagan ruled, but I guess that’s not really conservative enough for Pat, who in his rage tries to readjust the past as he thinks he sees the future. I remind him that it is the jesters who often prove prophets, not the caterpillars of the commonwealth.

Time mag generic poll

Yet another poll on the generic party preference, this oneTime mag. The Dems are up by nine percent. Note how (rightly) careful the article is in explaining that this really doesn’t mean anything (read, the Dems have no advantage--after Katrina, Harriet Myers, etc). What’s the most significant number in the poll?
This is the last sentence: "Still, the Republicans retain an 11-point edge over the Democrats on the question of dealing with terrorism, while voters are evenly split on the question of which party would better handle the war in Iraq — issues that were key to the Republicans’ success in the last two elections."

Update: Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen make more elaborate assertions about GOP vulnerability in 2006. The article starts tough against GOP prospects (e.g., "top strategists of both parties say privately, the Republicans would probably lose the 15 seats they need to keep control of the House"), but ends in a whimper (imagine GOP ads showing that Henry Waxman would become chairman of the House Government Reform Committee if the Dems took it back). The GOP will not lose the House (or the Senate), I predict.

The suit and the man

Charles Johnson reminded me of this from Mark Twain: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." Now I remind you that there is a lot more to this clothes vs. naked stuff, and to learn more you should read The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style. It will appear in June.

Semper fidelis

Of the 992 Annapolis graduates, 209 are choosing the Marine Corps, the largest number in the school’s 161 year history. This is another reason why Iraq is not another Vietnam. Note the numbers for the year 1968.

More Linker

I’m not quite ready to take Peter Lawler’s advice. Contrast this, from November, 2002:

Conservatives face a daunting challenge today. On the most pressing moral issues confronting the country—many of them having to do with aspects of biotechnological research—the public is deeply divided, and the divisions are far from trivial. Take the issue of embryonic stem cells. Many conservatives contend that the union of complementary gametes (sperm and ovum) instantly produces a unique person who possesses the same rights as a mature human being; they thus conclude that embryonic stem cell research, which destroys this person, must be prohibited. But many others think differently. For them, the prospect of relieving the suffering of sentient human beings—especially when they are members of one’s own family or beloved celebrities such as Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox—should outweigh concern for the dignity of a microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish.

The former view is clearly based on the stronger argument. In the words of Robert P. George, blastocysts are indeed “capable of directing from within their own integral organic functioning and development into and through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages of life, and ultimately into adulthood as, in each case, determinate, enduring, whole human beings.” And yet, the latter position is not obviously absurd. It is neither nihilism nor reflexive sentimentality, but rather an intuition embedded in moral common sense, that leads so many to conclude that decency requires us to do what we can to relieve the suffering of those we love. The conflict, then, arises from a tension within morality itself.

With this, from April, 2005:

Yet there are reasons to be suspicious of all absolutisms--even the noblest kinds. While they inspire great certainty and conviction, they also distort our vision, obscuring the exceedingly complicated, even paradoxical, character of morality itself.

Take the Pope’s influence on the way stem-cell research is discussed in the United States. John Paul convinced many American conservatives that the union of sperm and ovum instantly produces a unique person who possesses the same dignity (and thus rights) as a mature human being; embryonic stem-cell research, which destroys this person within two weeks of conception, must therefore be prohibited. From this standpoint, those who support such research appear to be immoralists advocating a bloodthirsty "culture of death." But this is far from fair. It is neither nihilism nor a craving for "death" that leads many of us to conclude that we should support research that promises to relieve human suffering when doing so inflicts no suffering of its own. (A microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish is, of course, non-sentient.) On the contrary, this conclusion flows from an intuition embedded in moral common sense. This is not to deny a certain moral grandeur to the Pope’s absolutist stance, which holds that the defense of innate human dignity ought to trump suffering every time. But denying that both positions have moral weight does serious damage to the richness and complexity of moral experience.

What he once called the better argument is now just an "absolutist stance" to which he concedes a "certain moral grandeur." Yes, human moral life is complicated, but becoming "pro-choice" on stem cell research is not self-evidently the better way to proceed, politically or morally. Linker seems to have forgotten (if he ever knew) that the pro-choice position is itself a moral teaching, not a merely political or "meta-moral" position that ascribes equal status to several competing moral positions. It teaches us either to be indifferent to the moral considerations involved in stem cell research, or it elevates social peace or personal autonomy to the privileged position. There’s an argument for this stance, but it’s not a slam dunk.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

Joseph Epstein on Plagiarism

Many NLT readers are no doubt following the sad and discouraging story of Ben Domenich’s fall over plagiarism. Turns out Joseph Epstein meditated on this subject in this Weekly Standard column earlier this month.

Money graph:

Every writer is a thief, though some of us are more clever than others at disguising our robberies. The reason writers are such slow readers is that we are ceaselessly searching for things we can steal and then pass off as our own: a natty bit of syntax, a seamless transition, a metaphor that jumps to its target like an arrow shot from an aluminum crossbow.

As the old saying goes, read the whole thing.   

What If We Hadn’t, Take 3

A week or so ago I set the comments section afire with a link to Gerard Baker’s counterfactual notions of what would have happened if we hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2003. Now Michael Barone offers his counterfactual analysis of the question.

Religion and progressive politics

I mentioned some time ago that Columbia University hosted a conference in which, among others, Bill McClay participated. Here’s some video, of E.J. Dionne, Jr., Alan Wolfe, and Mark Lilla. Lilla, by the way, anathematizes this FT symposium, already mentioned here.

Best Car Ad of the Year

A few posts back I offered up the best beer ad ever made. Comes now the best TV car ad ever made.

Linker on Neuhaus

One of the great traditions of American political life is for ideological pilgrims--having moved from right to left or left to right--to write in condemnatory terms about their former associates. There’s David Horowitz, David Brock, Richard John Neuhaus, and, now, Damon Linker, who has this (among other things) to say about Neuhaus:

In Neuhaus’s view, what was happening in the United States could only be described as "the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people." Hence the stark and radical options confronting the country, ranging "from noncompliance to resistance to civil disobedience to morally justified revolution."

That is the America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us--an America in which eschatological panic is deliberately channeled into public life, in which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country’s political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation’s public life. All of which should serve as a potent reminder--as if, in an age marked by the bloody rise of theologically inspired politics in the Islamic world, we needed a reminder--that the strict separation of politics and religion is a rare, precious, and fragile achievement, one of America’s most sublime achievements, and we should do everything in our power to preserve it. It is a large part of what makes America worth living in.

It’s a long article, richly detailed and theoretically sophisticated, but I’m not persuaded. It seems to me that Linker--who is a very smart guy--makes too much of some passionate rhetoric and too little of the appeal to natural law, which is exclusionary only if you reject reason.

What, I wonder, is Linker’s alternative to natural law as the source of America’s public reason? Or do we not need one? Are we not to be disciplined at all by authorities outside our most passionate desires or the resistance others can offer to them on the basis of their most passionate desires?

One last point: while Linker does darkly hint that Neuhaus is another Carl Schmitt--a favorite liberal bete noire--his most "frightening" example is the aforementioned First Things symposium, which also formed part of Jeffrey Hart’s polemic against Neuhaus, to which Neuhaus has already responded. If this is Neuhaus at his authoritarian worst, we don’t have much to be afraid of.

I expect that, in the coming days, we’ll hear more of this, both from Neuhaus (and friends) and from Linker.

Update: The comments below (and also here) are worth reading. My judgment of Linker’s abilities comes from APSA panels on German things, not from a close acquaintance with his punditry and religious writings, such as they are.

Linker’s evident hostility to religion in public life is not present in this review, nor here, where as Paul Seaton notes below, Linker appears to have been, for a time at least, influenced by Pierre Manent.

Richard John Neuhaus is surely regretting these words, at least (as would become a gentleman) in private:

[Linker] is resigning to write a book about the people involved with FT and their effort to advance a vibrant religious presence in the public square. Damon has been a conscientious, loyal, and exceedingly competent colleague, and I will miss him.

I wonder if Linker is following his first teacher Mark Lilla, whose thoughts along similar lines (albeit not with respect to Richard John Neuhaus) I criticized here and here.

More on Liberal Birthrates

In There is No Liberal Baby Bust, Froma Harrop dismisses Phillip Longman’s argument from last week that lower birthrates among liberals promise a brighter future for conservatives. Ms. Harrop argues (of course) that Longman’s scientific method was bad. Comparing Wyoming (pop. 509,000) with California (pop. 36 million) and saying that the birthrate is 12% higher in Wyoming does not prove much, she says. Also, she makes a big point of trying to prove that Longman and other conservative optimists make their case by ignoring the birthrates among minorities. "Thing is," Ms. Harrop argues, "minorities don’t really exist in the school of conservative optimism." (Yes, of course, we evil conservatives don’t even count the births of non-white people, do we?) Arrrrggghhhh!

But Ms. Harrop seems to be doing some of her own assuming and she is forgetting one big thing. First, the thing assumed: high birth rates among minorities mean bad things for conservatives because Democrats are always going to do better with minorities. I wouldn’t be so sure, if I were her. The problem for Harrop is that affiliation with the Democratic party does not always equal liberal--especially when it comes to social issues among religious minorities. Many people who vote Democrat are otherwise conservative (and, to be fair, the reverse is also sometimes true). The question may be how long can the Dems hold on to these voters with their empty promises?

But the big thing Harrop is forgetting is the electoral college. If conservatives continue to outproduce liberals at a 12% clip, the smallness of Red states in comparison to big California or big New York isn’t going to make that much of a difference. They can have those states, as far as I’m concerned. Their number of electoral votes may go up some if the population there explodes as she predicts--but not so much that they can expect to carry Presidential elections satisfying a liberal constituency only. This is all the more true when you consider that the predicted population boom in those states is NOT expected to come "from their white people" (to borrow Harrop’s phraseology) but from Hispanic and Asian immigrants. I, for one, am not so sure the political affiliations of these two groups are as settled as Ms. Harrop might hope.

Messy France

The protests in Paris are turning violent. It seems that anarchists are demanding job security (and where is Jean Paul Sartre?)! Dominique de Villepin will hold talks (with "no strings attached") with union leaders. It is a shame that de Villepin will not be around forever. Isn’t he fun to watch? Now, let’s see, what is the best way to retreat?

Taliban and Yale

Yale University continues to have a PR debacle on its hands. Que lastima!

Rahman update

This is not good news. Once again, Muslim clerics, both in Afghanistan and abroad, who oppose this understanding of Islamic law have to step up to the plate.

I’m torn, wondering what would have happened if the Bush Administration had been able to resolve this quietly and diplomatically, thereby postponing what I hope would be an inevitable showdown between Karzai and the conservatives.

A good day

Matt Spalding is here today for a Colloquium on his new book (Meese and Forte also had something to do with it), The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. You can listen to him when we put the talk out as a podcast early next week, or you can wait until C-SPAN runs it. It will be good fun. Welcome to Spring in Ohio, Matt, it’s been snowing for hours! No matter. Nature will rule in the end, the sun will shine, and I will ride. I bought this lovely machine, this comfort to my age, out of Kentucky, a state I am partial to. I will pick the growling beast up in about two weeks, snow or not. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Christian Unrealism

I’m on the Sojourners email list. Today I received this message in response to the raid that freed three Christian peace activists held by terrorist captors:

Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad. Christian Peacemaker Teams rejoices with their families and friends at the expectation of their return to their loved ones and community. Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad.


Harmeet, Jim and Norman and Tom were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict. They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers. We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.


Throughout these difficult months, we have been heartened by messages of concern for our four colleagues from all over the world. We have been especially moved by the gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. That support continues to come to us day after day. We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq.

During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?

They love and forgive their colleagues’ captors, but say nothing about the troops who liberated them. "The pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis" seems to refer in this case to current conditions in Iraq, but would seem to apply much more truly to Iraqi captivity under the murderous Saddam Hussein regime. Mere intellectual honesty would require them to condemn their captors and the vicious ideology they represent for their own suffering, not to mention those of the ordinary Iraqis who are daily subject to random attacks by al Qaeda and Baathist thugs.

Can We do to Al-Qaeda what Britain did to the IRA?

The cover story of this month’s Atlantic is well worth reading, as it tells the inside story of how the British government infiltrated and destroyed the Irish Republican Army. In the 1970s the preferred tactic for dealing with IRA terrorism was internment--something like what the Bush administration has been doing. It was a colossal failure. Only in the 1980s, when the British began recruiting insiders, did the IRA begin to crumble. Today, of course, it is insignificant.

But let no one think that this is a peaceful option:

British spies subverted the IRA from within, leaving it in military ruin, and Irish Republicans—who want to end British rule in Northern Ireland and reunite the island—have largely shifted their weight to Sinn Féin and its peaceable, political efforts. And so the Dirty War provides a model for how to dismantle a terrorist organization. The trick is to not mind killing, and to expect dying.

Well worth reading, and well worth thinking about. Of course, for all we know the administration might already be implementing this strategy. I hope so.

More on religious groups and government funding

The Acton Institute’s Jordan J. Ballor writes, partly in response to my TAE Online op-ed, that dependency on government funding is bad for religious groups, because it is inevitably secularizing to the extent that the groups become dependent on those funds and seek to preserve them through inevitable changes in administrations and policies. He also argues that "the premise of the Faith-Based Initiative itself is suspect, as it assumes a dichotomy between faith and works that is unnatural and poisonous to the Christian religion."

I have a few quick responses. First, it strikes me that any activity that depends upon money is potentially corrupting, whether the source is governmental or private. Any time you rely on donors or external funding, you run the risk of tailoring your programs to attract the available money, rather than looking for money that supports the program you have or wish to establish. Why governmental money is different from private in this regard isn’t clear to me. A group that is true to its mission won’t go after money that compromises it.

Second, it may be that government money can help faith-based groups grow big enough to develop the kind of record to attract private donors and to create the kind of fund-raising expertise required to sustain their missions without compromise. Perhaps they should regard public funding as seed money, not a constant source of support. One-time grants are better than contracts in this regard. And again, the integrity of the mission depends upon the self-discipline of the group in refusing to accept money that compromises their mission.

Third, a lot depends upon how we understand the First Amendment. One of the principal reasons that government money is perceived as secularizing is that supporting the religious elements of the mission is (wrongly, I would argue) understood as establishment. A proper understanding of the First Amendment (not altogether out of reach) would not require the separation of secular and religious missions in funding. That doesn’t mean that a particular administration wouldn’t attempt to impose its secular understanding through its grant-making and contracting practices, only that the First Amendment wouldn’t require it to do so. Thus, for example, the current understanding is that voucher programs don’t require that eligible organizations separate their religious and secular programs, which makes them better bets for those who worry about the secularizing effect of government money. As a practical matter, I think that this, currently, is the best way to go: vouchers don’t require a change in our Establishment Clause jurisprudence, don’t require groups to separate their religious and secular programs, and empower individuals to choose what’s best for themselves.

Update: Jordan has more here. He ultimately favors offering further incentives to private donors, omitting the governmental middle-man. Does he mean, then, that government should get out of the business of privatization, that faith-based organizations should get out of the business of contracting, and/or that a much smaller government should simply offer greater incentives for people to contribute to the charities of their choice? I think that the first and third alternatives are remote at best, and that if the second occurs in the absence of the first and the third, we leave much of the social service field to secular organizations, which I’m not sure I want to do.

Goldberg Podcast

My latest podcast is now available. Today I spoke with Jonah Goldberg from National Review Online about the nature of conservatism and the challenges it faces as a philosophy when put in a position to govern. It’s an excellent conversation that I hope to continue with him in future podcasts.

GWB on the Afghan Christian case

This is a start:

Afghanistan -- I went there with Laura. We had a good visit with President Karzai. I like him -- good man. You can imagine what it’s like to try to rebuild a country that had been occupied and then traumatized by the Taliban. They’re coming around. They got elections. They had assembly elections. He, himself, was elected. We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom. I’m troubled when I hear -- deeply troubled when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That’s not the universal application of the values that I talked about. Look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.

There’s still a Taliban element trying to come and hurt people. But the good news is, not only do we have great U.S. troops there, but NATO is now involved. One of my jobs is to continue to make sure that people understand the benefits of a free society emerging in a neighborhood that needs freedom. And so I’m pleased with the progress, but I fully understand there’s a lot more work to be done.

I ask again: has any prominent American Muslim said anything?

Update: I answer: CAIR has spoken, calling for Rahman’s immediate release and arguing that "[r]eligious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion." Good for CAIR! Will others follow suit?

Ramirez Cartoon

Military deaths

Red State points you to this chart on deaths in the military since 1980:

Ronald Reagan . . . . . . 9163 (1981-1984); George W. Bush . . . . . 5187 (2001-2004). (via Instapundit)

Newspapers dying

Newspapers are in trouble, but Glenn Reynolds doesn’t think it’s too late for imaginative newspapers to save themselves.

Afghan Christian update

This article describes the U.S. response thus far and sheds some light on the relationship between the Afghan judiciary--described as "a bastion of conservative orthodoxy, largely unreformed despite the ouster of the Taliban more than four years ago"--and the Kabul regime.

Afghan Constitution, I should note, explicitly gives the President the power to reduce penalties and requires his approval for carrying out a death sentence.

There are, by the way, strong words in Der Spiegel (leider auf Deutsch; I’d translate, but that would deprive you of the incentive to learn a foreign language or practice one you already have).

Update: This guy has translated comments on the case from the Al Arabiya website.

Update #2: According to this story, the Afghan government is looking for a way out, perhaps by claiming that Mr. Rahman is mentally ill and hence not legally accountable for his apostasy. This smacks of the old Soviet move--unhappy with our communist utopia? you must be crazy!--and I’d prefer a bolder affirmation of religious freedom in a Muslim context. But it’s a start.

Last Update: Mollie Ziegler has more, including links to this London Times piece and this from the Chicago Tribune.

Really the Last Update: I should be so eloquent and so brief. I wonder if this issue was on the table at this meeting yesterday. Has any prominent American Muslim spoken out?

Bipartisanship and the faith-based initiative

This week’s TAE Online column deals with the politics of the faith-based initiative, with a special focus on Georgia. I conclude that Democrats have realized that it’s a threat to their political interests, since it disrupts the relationship between government and those who depend upon it.

For a less "high-minded" discussion of the issue, see this WaPo article.

Amy Sullivan overdoes/overdid it

Amy Sullivan’s article on evangelical disaffection with Republicans received lots of attention (even from me). Her first example had to do with Democratic efforts to court evangelicals by sponsoring legislation authorizing courses on the Bible in public high schools. Republicans, she said, opposed the effort because they didn’t want Democrats to get any credit.

Not true in Georgia, where the Republicans supported the bill and all the (token) opposition came from Democrats.

Note the appearance in the article linked above by Randy Brinson, who is one of Sullivan’s chief examples of a disaffected evangelical. He seems happy enough to me.

Lindberg on Fukuyama

Tod Lindberg elegantly nails the point about Fukuyama’s current line of argument that I made in a fumbling fashion here. A snippet:

He described democratic capitalism as the system that best satisfies people’s desire for mutual recognition as free and equal human beings, a desire Mr. Fukuyama described as fundamental.

As far as I am able to make out (without yet having read his new book), Mr. Fukuyama now regards the first element of his explanation as decisive and the second as problematic. In reviewing his previous work, he has characterized "The End of History" as essentially a thesis about globalization. The element of psychic satisfaction is much diminished.


The book, by the way, is much better than the NYT Magazine sample. I’m halfway through, and will offer some account of my thoughts somewhere after I finish. At the moment, I’ll only say that I don’t think that
Louis Menand has got it right. FF, according to Menand, is "sliding back toward sixties liberalism," emphasizing soft power. That strikes me as a triumphalistic and wishful simplification.

Religion in Europe

This is the transcript of a subtle and tremendously interesting (not to mention long) discussion of religion in Europe. Grace Davie is the principal speaker, with cameo appearances by Adrian Wooldridge, Naomi Schaefer Riley, John Tierney, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Carl Cannon, Kathleen Parker, and Edward Larson. 


This may be the best beer ad ever made. Bottoms up!

Bush, brawling

Sorry that I am so pressed here that I haven’t had a chance to assert myself on the blog today! I have my Lincoln seminar tonight, so I am still at it, limping along, staying just one step ahead of my smart students. Yet, I couldn’t resist noting that Bush’s press conference today (transcript and the AP story) was an example of the problem Ruth Marcus thinks Bush has: manliness. Note these few lines from the AP story, and note how they are to Bush’s advantage, and note how it can be called manliness and then note the threat about the upcoming elections, and then note that the Dems will not take him up on his offer, and then note what will happen in the November elections, and then we will explain to Ms. Marcus the connection between politics and manliness:

More than 2,300 Americans have died in three years of war in Iraq. Polls show the public’s support of the war and Bush himself have dramatically declined in recent months, jeopardizing the political goodwill he carried out of the 2004 re-election victory.
"I’d say I’m spending that capital on the war," Bush quipped.

When asked about his failed Social Security plan, he simply said: "It didn’t get done." But the president defiantly defended his warrantless eavesdropping program, and baited Democrats who suggest that he broke the law.

Calling a censure resolution "needless partisanship," Bush challenged Democrats to go into the November midterm elections in opposition to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. "They ought to stand up and say, ’The tools we’re using to protect the American people should not be used,’" Bush said.

A useless son, a dead man

Joseph Knippenberg reflects on religious freedom in general, and religious freedom in Afghanistan in particular. This is in light of Mr. Abdul Rahman (of Afghanistan) revealing to one too many that he is a Christian. He is now about to die. This is not only a major test of the new Afghan court system, it is a test for Islam, for the statesmanship of both Karzai and Bush. Knippenberg elegantly lays out the issue. A must read!

Bush and his overemployed manliness

The first line of Ruth Marcus’ piece in the Washington Post: "I have a new theory about what’s behind everything that’s wrong with the Bush administration: manliness." I’ll get on this right after my class (Human Being and Citizen, we are finishing Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta speech). Read Marcus’ trifle. You’ll love it.

Mans-field in Oprah

Peter men-tioned that Harvey Mans-field will be in the April issue of Oprah (still not on-line). Someone at The Weekly Standard has seen it.

Confidence, risk, and thymos

Walter Kirn reviews Mansfield’s Manliness in Sunday’s NYT Book Review. It is the perfect example of a review that is almost without value. A friend called it puerile. That will do. Mark Kingwell, a philosophy prof at Toronto, does it better. He is critical, but not childish. Then there was the David Brooks op-ed in Sunday’s NY Times (it is no longer up). The title gives away the meat in an article on politics (in the NYTimes, no less!) wherein the three parts of the soul are the core: "All Politics Is Thymotic." Inclined to like it, I give Brooks room, yet he leaves me with "recognition" to go on only, smelling much too much like Hegel and soft dignity, and not enough like noble courage to protect the weak, or anger against our enemies and their oppressors, for example. But, he is partly right in saying that Cheney and Rumsfeld are "extremely thymotic men" while "President Bush is a thymotic man partially chastened by Christianity." Bush certainly is a man who likes risk, and is confident in his risk taking. This makes his enemies angry. Yet, as the Poet says, to be in anger is impiety, "But who is man that is not angry?" I heard from a former student today who has not been able to put Mansfield down the whole weekend; they have been together, talking to one another, eating together, doing everything together, day and night, non-stop. No sign of fatigue, just eros for reason, as David Brooks might say. Good for both. Let Mansfield get the recognition, and the student the pleasure.

Self-Promo Media Alert

I’m scheduled to be on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal tomorrow (Tuesday March 21) from 7:45 to 8:30 eastern time, discussing recent developments in the politics and policy of global warming.

C-SPAN’s schedules have a way of changing depending on events, so this should be regarded as tentative, of course.

Suicide of the West

This old passage from James Burnham’s classic Suicide of the West reminds us that the deep polarization of the present moment is not new, but has deep roots:

Liberals, unless they are professional politicians seeking votes in the hinterland, are not subject to strong feelings of national patriotism and are likely to feel uneasy at patriotic ceremonies. These, like the organizations in whose conduct they are still manifest, are dismissed by liberals rather scornfully as ‘flag-waving’ and ‘100 percent Americanism.’ The national anthem is not customarily sung or the flag shown, unless prescribed by law, at meetings of liberal associations. When a liberal journalist uses the phrase ‘patriotic organization,’ the adjective is equivalent in meaning to ‘stupid, reactionary and rather ludicrous.’ The rise of liberalism to predominance in the controlling sectors of American opinion is in almost exact correlation with the decline in the ceremonial celebration of the Fourth of July, traditionally regarded as the nation’s major holiday. To the liberal mind, the patriotic oratory is not only banal but subversive of rational ideals; and judged by liberalism’s humanitarian morality, the enthusiasm and pleasures that simple souls might have got from the fireworks could not compensate the occasional damage to the eye or finger of an unwary youngster. The purer liberals of the Norman Cousins strain, in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt, are more likely to celebrate UN day than the Fourth of July.

Afghan test

I know that "democracy" in Afghanistan and Iraq won’t look like what we have here, but this shouldn’t fly. The President needs to place a phone call to his good friend Hamid Karzai, reminding him of what he said while visiting Kabul earlier this month:

In our country, you can worship freely. You’re equally American if you’re a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Jew. You’re equally American if you don’t believe in an Almighty. Under the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, there is no religious freedom. You have no chance to express yourself in the public square without being punished. There is no capacity to realize your full potential.

Is it any different under Hamid Karzai?

For more, go here and here.

These would seem to be the relevant provisions of the Afghan Constitution:


We the people of Afghanistan:

1. With firm faith in God Almighty and relying on His lawful mercy, and Believing in the Sacred religion of Islam,

5. Observing the United Nations Charter and respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

8. For creation of a civil society free of oppression, atrocity, discrimination, and violence and based on the rule of law, social justice, protection of human rights, and dignity, and ensuring the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people,

Chapter I The State

Article 1 [Islamic Republic]

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.

Article 2 [Religions]

(1) The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.

(2) Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Chapter II Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens

Article 3 [Law and Religion]

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.

Article 24 [Liberty, Human Dignity]

(1) Liberty is the natural right of human beings. This right has no limits unless affecting the rights of others or public interests, which are regulated by law.

(2) Liberty and dignity of human beings are inviolable.

(3) The state has the duty to respect and protect the liberty and dignity of human beings.

Article 54 [Family]

(1) Family is a fundamental unit of society and is supported by the state.

(2) The state adopts necessary measures to ensure physical and psychological well being of family, especially of child and mother, upbringing of children and the elimination of traditions contrary to the principles of sacred religion of Islam.

Article 119 [Oath of Office for the Supreme Court]

Members of the Supreme Court take the following oath in the presence of the President before occupying the post:

"In the name Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate

I swear in the name of God Almighty to support justice and righteousness in accord with the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam and the provisions of this Constitution and other laws of Afghanistan, and to execute the duty of being a judge with utmost honesty, righteousness and nonpartisanship."

On apostasy in Islam, see this.

Update: Richard Garnett offers a spirited response to a colleague who worries about coercing the consciences of the Afghans who seek to execute the Christian.

Alabama church pyromania again

Michael DeBow called my attention to this op-ed, by Birmingham-Southern’s President, David Pollick. Turns out that the impersonality of the internet is somehow at least partly to blame for the students who set fire to the churches:

Isn’t it ironic that at the very time when young people are most in need of healthy social relations, when our societies are more in need of mutual understanding gained through education and communication, that a world of cyberspace seductively counters with isolation, privacy, and a false and naive illusion of invulnerability.

In such a world, a person’s worst nature can emerge, unfettered by social rules that govern and regulate day-to-day human relations. This brave new world is characterized more by bravado than it is by bravery. But as we’ve seen, this bravado is anything but insulated from ever present reality.

Thoughts make actions.

Our two students, like literally tens of thousands across our country, found their way into this cyberworld of artificial relationships. They experimented with its distance and felt the addiction and rush of the exotic play it offers. An explanation for behavior gone out of control? Not likely. A significant contributing element? Probably. A warning to others, young and old? Most assuredly. The line between fantasy and reality can become very thin within the human mind. And there is no such thing as a safe and secure environment in this new age of technology.

I’m not quite sure where that came from in this context, but I’m willing to second a much stronger version of his relatively weak response:

First and foremost, we as parents, schools, teachers and friends need to pay close attention. Our collective willingness to tolerate more and more in each generation can so easily slide to the acceptance of behaviors that ought to be seen as simply over the line.

Yes, many times yes! By all means, we should all pay close attention. And by all means, we should all hold our young people to moral standards. But Dr. Pollick, whose training is in philosophy, studiously avoids saying what they are. Might it not make sense to hearken back to the religious tradition with which his institution is affiliated? But that might seem too narrow; our problems, he avers, come from "an inability to effectively understand one another and appreciate the differing values that peoples of the world hold." We need to be more tolerant, not less, even as we realize that we shouldn’t tolerate more and more.

If someone apparently this unable to render judgments and say anything decisive tried to pay attention to me, I’m not sure I’d notice. And if this same person tried to hold me to a standard of some sort, I’d likely challenge his authority to do so. I suspect that he’d either back off or ultimately recur to some raw assertion of power. I’d be pleasantly surprised if he could conjur up a more edifying, enlightening, and compelling response.