Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gay marriage and religious liberty again

The NYT’s Peter Steinfels looks at the same papers that Maggie Gallagher examined, and arrives at roughly the same conclusion. There’s more here.

Rights for great apes?

Spain’s thinking about it. Peter Singer is happy. But some have their doubts:

Professor Steve Jones, of London University, says the idea is an "overstatement of what science, what biology can tell you".

"As most people know, chimpanzees share about 98% of our DNA, but bananas share about 50% of our DNA and we are not 98% chimpanzee or 50% banana, we are entirely human and unique in that respect," he said.

"It is simply a mistake to use an entirely human construct, which is rights, and apply it to an animal, which is not human. Rights come with responsibility and I’ve never seen a chimp being fined for stealing a plate of bananas."


Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela Fernando Sebastian said he could not believe it was even being proposed.

"We don’t give rights to some people - such as unborn children, human embryos, and we are going to give them to apes," he said.

Achenbach Update

Joel Achenbach, about whom I blogged below, appeared today on Hewitt’s radio show to respond to the response his blog post on the death of Zarqawi inspired. I felt sorry for him. The more I listened, the more it seemed to me that this may very well have been a simple case of sloppy writing. It reminded me of a similar incident that happened to me back in college when I was a freshman reporter. Of course, I had to admit my mistake and submit a correction. It was very embarassing but the kind of thing one hopes is behind you before you start writing for a major American newspaper! Achenbach, on the other hand, tried to defend himself and his writing and did not do a credible job of it--but he also said nothing to persuade me that he is capable of the kind of mental gymnastics and moral bankruptcy required to equate Zarqawi with American bombers. I say this not to excuse Achenbach but in the interest of fairness and clarity in the argument. I don’t think this man meant to imply what his writing implied.

But while I am glad (for Achenbach and his children’s sake) that he is not as morally confused as Michael Berg or Bill Mahr, there are (sadly) plenty folks ready to stand in for him.

It wasn’t up when I last checked, but the transcript from the interview with Achenbach should be posted at Radioblogger and this live blog during the interview gave a pretty fair assessment of Achenbach’s performance (though it was too interested in the question of whether or not he ought to have given the interview from a narrow self-interest point of view). In sum: Achenbach stepped in it. He should avoid this cow pasture in the future and stick to being a humorist.

Measure for Measure

It is now becoming clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was alive for at least a few minutes after the Americans (the super secretive Delta Force, it would seem) got to him. While I know that in the court of justice none might see salvation, and also know that the severest justice might not always be best policy, yet, in this case, policy and justice and salvation are attached. Zarqawi saw the Americans with his own eyes before he died. Good.

Austin Bay has some clear thoughts on the Z-Man’s death, as does Daniel Henninger. This long profile of Zarqawi from The Atlantic is also worth reading.

Also note that the same day Zarqawi was killed, the Iraq government finished forming itself: The cabinet positions in the departments of the interior and defense were finally filled. This is also excellent news. Remember when the MSM was pushing the civil war in Iraq? Well, we are not there, and we are less likely to get there today than ever. There is in fact good reason to be optimistic. They have a complete and full, and relatively decent government for the first time, ever. Impressive.

Michael Berg, Joel Achenbach and Moral Equivalency

Michael Berg, father of the be-headed American Nick Berg, has been all over the media condemning the killing of al Zarqawi as simply the "revenge" of George W. Bush. He has equated the revenge of Bush with the revenge of Zarqawi. Leaving aside, for the moment, whether the killing of Zarqawi actually had anything to do with revenge (for I think our national policy is driven more often by loftier considerations) let’s take what Berg says at face value. Is there really no difference between the revenge of the just and the unjust? Only if your thinking has been so corrupted by the sophisticated sophistries of the West that you no longer recognize the difference between the just and the unjust.

Hugh Hewitt brought this blog post from Joel Achenbach (the most popular blogger at The Washington Post to our attention yesterday, wherein Achenbach seems to make the point that there is a moral equivalence between the killings of Zarqawi and the killing of Zarqawi by American bombers. But Achenbach actually takes it a step further--at least his words do. He seems to say (as you may remember that Bill Mahr did stupidly say some months back) that the killings of Zarqawi and other insurgents at least have the virtue of being more manly because they are more personal. That is, Zarqawi actually got his hands bloody while American bombers just punch a button. I find it very difficult to believe that Achenbach (or Mahr, for that matter) actually believes what he implies here. But it is symptomatic of the perverse attempt to appear above the fray and devastatingly clever that has captured the popular imagination in this post-modern era. Frankly, I’m not afraid to say that I find it disgusting. And, what’s more, it’s also pathetic.

I’ve been re-reading Leo Strauss’ great work What is Political Philosophy in recent days and this great quote more or less sums up what this kind of stupid commentary really is:

"His ’ethical neutrality’ is so far from being nihilism or a road to nihilism that it is not more than an alibi for thoughtlessness and vulgarity: by saying that democracy and truth are values, he says in effect that one does not have to think about the reasons why these things are good, and that he may bow as well as anyone else to the values that are adopted and respected by his society. Social science positivism [what’s really driving the thinking of these folks]fosters not so much nihilism as conformism and philistinism.


Soccer and character

Total war, total soccer. The World Cup is on, Germany beating Costa Rica as I scribble. Watching the Germans for the first fifteen minutes reminded me of this brief essay from 1986 by Henry Kissinger on soccer and character. Read it all, but here are a few sentences on the way the Germans play. (A note to young people: once upon a time there was a West Germany and an East Germany, now there is just one.)

"West Germany, a finalist today, is, with Italy and Brazil, the most successful team of the modern era. West German soccer entered the postwar era with no particular legacy. Postwar Germany’s newly professional soccer being as novel as the frontiers of the state it represents, it could adopt total soccer with a vengeance. The German national team plays the way its general staff prepared for the war; games are meticulously planned, each player skilled in both attack and defense. Intricate pass patterns evolve, starting right in front of the German goal. Anything achievable by human foresight, careful preparation and hard work is accounted for."

The USA plays the Czech Republic on Monday at Noon.
I make no prediction other than to say that given our talent as a team, combined with the American character, we should advance.

Podcast with Antongiavanni

This is my "You Americans" podcast with Nicholas Antongiavanni, author of The Suit. Terrific stuff. Wish it lasted an hour instead of twenty five minutes, but I’ll be talking with him again soon.

A note on the pronunciation of my name

No, Knippenberg is not pronounced "idiot" or "fascist." But after I was on NPR a friend sent me an email joking about the host’s mispronunciation of my name. For the record, in Knippenberg, the K is not silent.

Which, I suppose, explains a lot.

Political theory and the political (not academic) Left

My friend John Seery, last mentioned here, has written in response to James Ceaser’s "blue vs. red" paper. From his own vantage point left of center, John agrees with Ceaser’s observations regarding the relative dearth of theory in liberal/leftist Washington thinktanks:

While one could certainly argue that egghead wannabe-politicos are best left on the sidelines, Ceaser’s observation about the conspicuous dearth of institutionalized (albeit non-academic) political theorizing on the left ought to be taken seriously--and it may help explain the current "idea deficit" or "vision deficit" among the Democrats. Sure, a few political theorists served as advisers to Bill Clinton (Benjamin Barber, William Galston), and Cornel West was a prominent adviser to Bill Bradley’s 2000 Presidential campaign--but there’s nothing structurally comparable to the quasi-organized Straussian (or libertarian, or evangelical) presence throughout the Washingtonian ranks of quasi-officialdom. From my limited vantage, I see that if a young conservative Ph.D. in political theory, hailing from Chicago, Harvard, Duke, or the Claremont Graduate University, fails to land a tenure-track teaching post, he or she may still find gainful theoretical work, without much retooling. If a Berkeley, Princeton, Northwestern, or Johns Hopkins Ph.D. specialist in political theory doesn’t find a teaching appointment, forget it, the career is over.

He further notes how regrettable this is, taking as his example The New Republic’s Peter Beinart, whose efforts to get Democrats to take a more sober stance in foreign policy have been much noted.

Here’s an author who clearly is insufficiently informed about the classic critiques of political liberalism put forth by Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schmitt, Strauss, and Kojève. My progressive postie friends would cringe at his clunky attempts at defining a national purpose by demonizing and scapegoating an Other. Beinart desperately takes a crowbar to the work of political theorists Michael Walzer and Hannah Arendt in an attempt to dignify his case that the war on terror ought to be seen as continuous with earlier wars against communism and fascism. But my undergraduates, drawing more thoughtfully on Arendt, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Foucault, would have an easy time dismantling his adamant but woefully antiquated notion of totalitarianism. Such a book will not engage or inspire my undergraduates, because--should I say it baldly? --it is theoretically impoverished, something of an embarrassment to read. It is not worthy of their intellectual efforts. Is this the best we can do?

responses to John’s piece are mostly of the "we don’t need no stinkin’ theory" variety, born either of a post-modern "mistrust of metanarratives" or of a kind of anti-intellectualism. Even if all of his friends aren’t my friends, his "enemies" are mine as well.

There are two questions I’d like to ask him, however. First, how easy does he think it would be for left-wing academic political theorists to find a way constructively and effectively to inform political debates? In his HuffPost piece, he mentions Bill Galston, Benjamin Barber, and Cornel West, but I wonder about those whose theoretical work is, from my limited perspective, more heavily invested in jargon and self-conscious challenges to common sense. Second, might it not be possible that the true channel, such as it is, of influence for liberal and Leftist academic theory is through the law schools and the courts?


It was a good day. I got back from Chicago yesterday. Waited for my mother’s flight from L.A., had a nice late lunch with her, got home, slapped the brats around, took Isabell around the block (she hates to be ignored), smoked a cigar with friends, went to bed late. Awoke at 3 a.m. or so, turned on the news and heard about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, et al. Slept the sleep of the just for three more hours, then got back to it and talked with a couple of great students this morning. I spent a few hours on The Suit, in preparation for tomorrow’s podcast with Mr. Antongiavanni.

The Chicago conference was very much worth attending, even though it was over-regulated and under-attended. Loury was what I expected, Carol Swain was charming but a bit too self-consciously self-contradictory, Robert J. Norrell is a good historian and will end up producing the best biography of Booker Washington, Mark Bauerlein is smart, and Ishmael Muhammad, well, let me just say that he is a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. The hero of the conference was William B. Allen. He showed that history is not a chronicle of waisted time, that manly rhetoric can yet be used by the valiant, and he would never allow the low and the incomplete to roll over the just logic of the conference. He stepped in many times and proved to us that sometimes a man can speak both the truth and the whole of things. No slander against freedom stood. His mind was all conquering. His response to someone who wanted an apology for slavery from the (any) president of the United States was to gracefully remind her of the brothers’ war and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It was masterful. He poetically or deeply--as needed--offered up the American standard as the shaper of our souls and the cause of the country’s character. Booker T. Washington was proud.

Death Taxes and their Proponents

The Wall Street Journal has a tightly written and persuasive editorial today on the Death Tax. The big proponents of the Death Tax, according to this piece, are the life insurance lobby (which could lose billions of dollars as the need for policies written to avoid the effects of the tax are lost) and the super-rich who can afford to shelter their assets. Repealing the Death Tax remains popular with a large majority of voters and with a majority of both houses in Congress--although the WSJ warns of a possible Democrat-led filibuster attempt in the Senate in order to avoid the repeal.

In 2006 the Republicans in Congress and Republicans aspiring to be in Congress would do well to make lowering or, better yet, eliminating the Death Tax a centerpiece of their message to voters. It has popular appeal, not just because it has to do with lowering a tax--which is always popular but could be said to be so because of narrow self-interest--it has popular appeal because it has to do with a fundamental issue of justice and the American people understand that on some very basic level. Hand Democrats the rope with which they will hang themselves trying to make a case for the justice of a thing that is patently unjust. It is one of those things that will tell the voters all they need to know about that party.

Zarqawi is dead

In case you haven’t heard, The New York Times reports that US forces have killed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the top Al-Qaeda man in Iraq. Of course it won’t end the war, but it’s an important victory and proves what one Marine said in the same paper last week but is sometimes hard to remember in the coverage of all the terrible daily attacks: the coalition forces are the hunters, not the hunted.

More same-sex marriage stuff

As expected, the Senate today failed to invoke cloture on the Marriage Protection Amendment.

As to why anyone should care about this, the best articulation I’ve seen can be found in this document, whose signatories include Hadley Arkes, J. Budzizewski, James Ceaser, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David F. Forte, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Leon Kass, Peter Lawler, David Novak, Marvin Olasky, Jeremy Rabkin, James Stoner, and Christopher Wolfe, to name just a few.

A sample, taken from the executive summary:

We affirm the following ten principles that summarize the value of marriage- a choice that most people want to make, and that society should endorse and support.

Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good

Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.

Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.

Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.

Marriage protects and promotes the wellbeing of children.

Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.

Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.

When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.

A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.

The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

"Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

This understanding of marriage is not narrowly religious, but the cross-cultural fruit of broad human experience and reflection, and supported by considerable social science evidence. But a marriage culture cannot flourish in a society whose primary institutions-universities, courts, legislatures, religions-not only fail to defend marriage but actually undermine it both conceptually and in practice.

Read the whole thing.

Exposing Non-Foundationalism and Moral Confusion on the Left

If you missed Hugh Hewitt’s interview yesterday with columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and University of Colorado law professor, Paul Campos go read it now. Some of it is a bit tedious in the reading, so you can skip around a bit. But when read in conjunction with Joe Knippenberg’s fine article (about which he blogged below), it is quite instructive.

The most telling part is toward the end when Campos is at pains to explain why he can’t say that the United States is morally superior to the theocracy of Iran or a country like Zimbabwe. He claims that rhetoric like Lincoln’s calling America the "last best hope of mankind" is dangerous. That’s because, in his view, there’s a certain percentage of humanity that (given the right circumstances) is capable of any measure of unimaginable evil--though he doesn’t use such a morally charged term. None of us is really better than anyone else in that regard, he claims. He refuses to use language that implies better or worse with respect to any regime--saying that regimes are just whatever their people are. And since we’re all the same in our susceptibility to crazy things given the right conditions, I suppose he thinks that regimes are just whatever their circumstances lead them to be. Apparently, human beings and their regimes are nothing better than rats in the laboratory to Campos.

For Campos and his ilk, it is not at all significant that our regime has been (or believes itself to be or tries to be) striving since its inception toward an idea of the good. We delude ourselves if we believe that we are doing anything other than responding to the circumstances within which we operate. Everything we call good is just the result of accident and fortune or, to his mind, perhaps some injustice we’ve perpetrated on someone else. Of course, how something may be called unjust in this construct remains unclear to me. What is bad if there is no good? For example, it seems to be nothing more than Campos’s own prejudice and preference that leads him to say such things like it was good we won in World War II--but he’s even flaky about that claim (saying that the world would not have been lost had we not won). Worth a read and a mug! 

Our libertarian center?

In this week’s TAE Online column, I use the Hudson Institute panel discussion to follow up on Peter Lawler’s oft-repeated suggestion that too many of us are basically libertarian, with consequences well worth deprecating.

The calling of Sam Brownback

WaPo reporter writes a long profile of Sam Brownback, but doesn’t quite know what to make of him. What seems to her paradoxical might begin to make sense if she gave some thought to the notion of calling or vocation. In addition, though this comparison may not be terribly helpful to Brownback at the moment, some of his attitudes about himself and his office are remarkably similar to those displayed by GWB.

Amendments, same-sex marriage, and polling data

This polling report (about a year old, but still indicative) suggests that there’s not much support for amending the U.S. constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. When you look at these results (see questions 50-52), the trends are hard to make out. As nearly as I can guess, opposition to same-sex marriage has probably declined somewhat, but the numbers bounce around a good bit, perhaps in response to things like attempts by local officials to offer gay couples the opportunity actually to marry and like a national debate. So we don’t know what public opinion would look like at the end of an extended and focused national debate. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we’d be at 70-30, but 60-65% opposition isn’t out of the question. (Thus the percentage opposed was 53% in July, 2003, but bumped up to 63% in response to Gavin Newsome’s antics, falling back down to 53% in July, 2005, after many months of no news.)

But as the Pew analysts note, opposition to gay marriage doesn’t translate into support for amending the Constitution. I would, however, add: at least as long as there is no federal judicial provocation, which might send opposition to gay marriage and support for a constitutional amendment soaring.

Of course, state constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage tend to be big winners wherever they’re offered. "The people" may agree with Rauch that this is a matter for states. Left to their own devices, many, perhaps most, states would legislatively or constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage and a few would permit it.

This leads me to offer some unsolicited advice to advocates of same-sex marriage, on a point on which I hope we can agree. The surest path to establishing same-sex marriage is through a legislature. Litigation, or anything that appears similarly high-handed, courts (so to speak) a backlash, likely increasing support for legislation or constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage. What’s true at the federal level is in these cases likely to be true at the state level as well. In any state where a court decision favoring same-sex marriage is likely to withstand the inevitable backlash, the legislature would have been likely to pass it in the first place. So stick with legislation. I’ll argue with you...civilly of course. And I expect you to return the favor.

Update: Here’s more recent polling data, not substantially different from the Pew data, though a little more encouraging for proponents of an amendment, and here’s the write-up of the polling data.

Fradkin on Iran again

Hillel Fradkin, whose views on Iran were previously discussed here, has this to say about upcoming negotiations with Iran:

Actual possession of nuclear weapons would aid in the survival of the clerical regime - as the North Korean case made clear - and protect Iran’s efforts to involve itself in radical endeavors elsewhere in the Muslim world; indeed, the enormous prestige of being a nuclear power would enhance the latter project.

In short, Ahmadinejad has no good reason to agree to our condition to suspend enrichment. Thus it is most unlikely that there will be negotiations on our terms.

If there are negotiations, they are likely to be among ourselves - among the United States, the Europeans, Russia and China. There may be several subjects of these negotiations, but the most crucial will be whether to drop our demand for a cessation of enrichment.

While I’m persuaded that Iranian "civil society" is interestingly pro-American in some respects, Fradkin has me convinced that Ahmadinejad is not the marginal figure some claim and that Iran is likely to be "our" problem for quite some time.

The situation in Iran

Reinforcing what Joe just said, here is a review by Vali Nasr of the memoir of Shirin Ebadi, the recent Nobel Prize winner from Iran. It was originally published in New Republic On-line.

Besides criticizing Ebadi for not being able to really, fully break from the Khomeini revolution, Nasr provides a long and detailed account of the internal situaton in Iran. The conclusion is sobering but leaves some room for hope:

"What, then, of the search for democracy in Iran? It seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. There is no other country in the region more suitable for the nurturing of the sapling of democracy. Iranians want democracy, and they cherish democratic practices. But there is no simple and straight path to democracy in Iran. The battle lines are unclear, and as the elections last year showed, open political contestation has favored populist authoritarianism over democracy, albeit through the ballot box. Talk of democracy in Iran is rife, especially in the West; but the reality is that Iran now has a stable authoritarian regime, and there is no obvious way to dislodge it.

It will be difficult to make up for the opportunity that was lost during the Khatami years. Building a viable movement for full and politically secular democracy will take time. It needs organization and coalition-building; but above all it needs a convincing and uncompromising message -- one that breaks absolutely with the legacy of the revolution and the nostalgia for its promise, and rejects any half-hearted attempts at reforming the theocracy."

NPR’s Talk of the Nation

I’m supposed to speak to some folks from this show, responding to this Jonathan Rauch piece. My response to another Rauch piece is here, with further discussion here and here. The program should be online this evening; you can check to see whether and when it will be broadcast in your area here.

Update: You can listen to the portion of the program, which I shared with Jonathan Rauch, here.

The Jinxed Keyboard Player--No. 4, RIP

Time to reach out and link arms with NLT Troll Fung (aka, FMG, "Fung the Moral Giant") over the passing of Vince Welnick, the fourth key boardist for a certain California rock and roll band of repute (though their website is odd right now, even for them). I thought Welnick was a better keyboard player and vocalist than the band’s Number 3 keyboard player, who died, naturally unnaturally, of a drug overdose in 1991.

That was more flamboyant than Keyboard player Number 2, who was the best of the four, and who died in a car crash in 1980. Keyboard Player Number 1 died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage in 1972 (yeah--sure he did).

I always thought the "jinx" of Grateful Dead keyboard players was the inspiration for the exploding drummers in This Is Spinal Tap, one of the greatest film satires ever made. (Too bad Rob Reiner can’t spoof himself; there’s so much material to work with. Oh, wait. . .)

Anyway, if you’re in the market for some good free live tracks, see this site, which offers MP3s from 46 different shows, from the late 1960s through to the last tour in 1995.

Border security and immigration policy

I have, generally speaking, been a proponent of comprehensive immigration legislation (though not of the bill that passed the Senate), of which border security has to be a crucial part. The debate has focused for the most part on our southern borders, but we can’t forget threats that come from the north. No, I’m not worried about a surreptitious invasion of loggers from British Columbia, wheat farmers from Saskatchewan, or fishermen from Newfoundland, nor am I worried that French will replace English as the, er, lingua franca of New England. (I do, however, remember occasionally watching NFL games on the CBC French service, which featured Les Patriots de Nouveau-Angleterre.)But these guys seem to have had contacts in the U.S. And the millenium bomber came from Canada.

If people can come this close to success under the nose of a relatively efficient and cooperative government, not to mention how horrifically successful they were under our own noses, imagine what might happen south of our border.

Without a substantial commitment to increased security on both borders, no immigration deal should (or, I expect, will) pass muster.

Update: Arnold Beichman writes about these matters for The Weekly Standard, indicating that we probably should have seen these arrests coming.

New recruit to the blogosphere

My favorite Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist has decided to start a blog.

Religious Coalition for Marriage

This is a fairly broad coalition, assembled by Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Gerard V. Bradley, and Robert Bork, and further described here.

This is a somewhat narrower coalition on the other side.