Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Some light reading for the beach

Our friend Robert Kraynak sends word that his and Michael Zuckert’s articles about Harry Jaffa on the occasion of his 90th birthday, together with Mr. Jaffa’s responses, are available here.

I haven’t yet found the time to download and read them, but I’m confident that they’ll make for a stimulating exchange.

Ray Bradbury and books

Ray Bradbury is 89 years young, loves books, thinks the internet isn’t real, would like to spend more time with Bo Derek, doesn’t believe in colleges and universities ("I believe in libraries"), remembers being born, and thinks you can live forever if you do what you love. He is trying to raise money for a hurting public library in Ventura County. A good man, this. Bill Allen and I did a long interview with him when we were students, in 1968 (or 1969). We liked him much even in our youth. Although already famous, he talked with us as if we were serious people, looking us in the eye, taking our loose questions (we began with Thomas Mann for reasons I can no longer remember) he made better questions of them; his answers always made an opening into something more. He was the third real teacher I ever met. The interview is reprinted in this book. I’m going to send a few bucks to the library.

GOP Wins a Big Victory . . . NOT

They got Sotomayor to resign from her women’s club. What’s next? A two-fisted assault on a Sunday Women’s Tea? How about a scathing condemnation of the local Republican Women Federated luncheon? In any event, it’s hard to say which--the GOP for bringing it up or Sotomayor for caving--looks the most ridiculous in this exchange. I hope this is not the sort of thing the GOP thinks will lead them out of the wilderness . . . but I rather fear that they do think it.

Grand Strategy

There is an old saying that amateurs talk about strategy, professionals about logistics. Perhaps this should be amended now to amateurs talk about promoting democracy, professionals about debt. The Economist reports that the “[American] government’s unfunded obligations to give the elderly pensions and health care are equivalent to a debt of $483,000 for every household.” Current borrowing to deal with the financial crisis has added significantly to the problem. Things need to be brought back into balance, without killing the recovery and ultimately making the problem worse. Spending should be cut, rather than taxes increased; the retirement age needs to rise; the tax base should broaden and distorting loopholes decrease. (The Economist suggests changing (removing?) the mortgage interest deduction.) The Obama administration is not doing any of this. In some cases, it is doing the opposite. Meanwhile the Chinese and Malaysian’s have talked about carrying on trade in something other than dollars. China’s economy is still growing.

In the nineteenth-century, at the height of its power, Great Britain took the lead in suppressing the slave trade. Several decades later, in decline and faced with the rise of Germany, the British did not feel they could come to the aid of the Armenians. The Obama administration has been less assertive about democracy than some would like and friendlier to Muslims than others would like, while the Secretary of the Treasury has been reassuring the Chinese that we are not deadbeats. The administration’s domestic and foreign policies appear to aligned. An alternative to retreat abroad in the face of decline at home (intended or not) is to “punch above one’s weight” by aligning with the dominant power, as Britain did. Zbigniew Brzezinski has suggested that the US and China form a “G2” to sort out the world’s financial and other issues.

Reflections on the End of My Government Service

,,,are HERE.

The Economist

Newsweeklies are dying. Yet, the "weekly newspaper," The Economist "has been growing consistently and powerfully for years, tracking in near mirror-image reverse the decline of its U.S. rivals. Despite being positioned as a niche product, its U.S. circulation is nearing 800,000, and it will inevitably overtake Newsweek on that front soon enough." Michael Hirschorn tries to explain why this is so. I read it because every time I do, I learn something. I have never said that about Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report.

Good Bike

Men and Women

Weekend Fun

Hail Caesar! Sid Caesar that is. Here's a domestic argument set to Beethoven's 5th.
Categories > Men and Women

[G]Rauchy Me

Jonathan Rauch is up to his typical mixture of insight and mischief with his latest piece about "the zombie party" by which he means people like us.

I answer him here, over on That Other Site, as least as it pertains to a certain book that y’all should pre-order.

General McChrystal

Max Boot on "General McChrystal’s New Way of War."  

Ivan the K on Obama’s Technocratic Ideology

It turns out that Obama’s "non-ideological bioethics" is really part of his new ideology, which is radically pro-expert and anti-consent. This is a fine and most timely article.

Just a bit late for Father’s Day, but perhaps in time for Christmas

My dog’s maniacal barking--he’d be a great watchdog if bad guys drove UPS or FedEx vans--alerted me to the delivery of my contributor’s copy of Democracy Reconsidered, the latest in the distinguished line of Peter Lawler’s co-editorial projects. Here’s the Table of Contents.

Earlier this week, I returned to the editor a copyedited version of my contribution to this volume, which--"the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise"--will be published this fall by the Catholic University of America Press.

President Obama’s Adams quote

In his Address in Cairo President Obama said: "In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote: "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims."

As a close student of the founding era, I was surprised to find that I did not recall Adams saying that. That Adams was not President until 1797 tipped me off that something was askew. Some research turned up this phrase from Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli which President Washington negotiated and which was ratified by the Senate and signed by President Adams in 1797:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

I suppose saying that Adams "wrote" that (with some silent elipses) is close enough to the truth for a politician.

But there’s more to the story. That passage, apparently was absent from the Arabic original (and therefore presumably official version) of the treaty, translated by Joel Barlow:

The Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic; and even as such its defects throughout are obvious and glaring. Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation . . . does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. . . . How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point.

A further and perhaps equal mystery is the fact that since 1797 the Barlow translation has been trustfully and universally accepted as the just equivalent of the Arabic.

A few thoughts. Did Barlow insert that article intentionally? How did it a mistaken translation come to be taken as official? Is that what the Senate ratified and Adams signed? Whatever the answers to those questions, it was taken to be official. Hence, we should ask, what implications does it have that the US government seems to have ratified a treaty with such language?

For those who believe in a living constitution, of course, it can’t have any obvious implication. Perhaps that was an idea suited to the 1790s, but not today.

On the other hand, it is interesting that the passage says "the government of the United States." That leaves open the possibility that the American nation (if nation’s are cultural more than political units) is, at least in part, Christian. The growth of government in the 20th century has increased the degree to which the US government has intruded upon the sphere in which the culture used to be free from entanglement with the US government. To put it in the language of the time, we now have a republic that is large but with a government that tries to to all the things that, traditionally, only could be done in small republics. Large republics lack the cultural unity that extensive laws require. That might say something about whether the US government can stay clear of religion nowadays in the same way it could in the 1790s. The question we need to ask today, after all, is not whether we have no establishment of religion, but, rather, what it means to say that.

Finally, the text says "Christian religion." That leaves open the possibility that the government is founded upon the belief that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights." After all, Jefferson’s famous Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom begins: "Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free." Jefferson did not think that God talk was incompatible with disestablishment, or, for that matter, with separation of Church and State. I suspect that much of the heat in today’s church-state argument has to do with an argument over this turf. That’s why one website that quotes the Treaty is called, "nobeliefs."

Update. One of the commentors below links to a long and intersting discussion of this subject from a couple of years ago. It seems that the President was quoting the 1805 US Treaty with the Barbery states directly. (See Article 14). Whether they knew that, or whether Obama/ his writers simply took the incorrect quote off the web is another matter.

Obama Abolishes President’s Council on Bioethics

...with one day’s notice. I actually have no problem with this, except for the the lack of notice. A couple of reports--including a great one on organ markets--were about to be issued, and there was one more meeting scheduled for next week. In the gracious letter terminating my appointment, I’m reassured that "President Obama recognizes the value of having a commission composed on experts on bioethical issues to provide objective and non-ideological advice to his Adminstration." I’m also aware that those are three shots at members like me--mere faith-based amateur ideologues. This would be a great day for you to review the accomplishments of the Kass/Pellegrino Council at

The President’s universalism

Reacting to the Iran elections, President Obama said: "That is not how governments should interact with their people. And my hope is that the Iranian people will make the right steps in order for them to be able to express their voices, to express their aspirations."

Good to see that he’s not a multiculturalist.

The City on a Hill in Action?

Might it be that Obama’s election helped to inspire the dissenters in Iran? Most Iranians, from what I read, believe that all countries rig their elections. The election of Obama disproves that thesis. Is Obama’s election, therefore, one of the things that has inspired the reaction we’re seeing in Iran?

If memory serves, during the Cold War, some of our enemies would show their own people news footage of demonstrations against the US government. They would say the US is so bad, that even Americans don’t like it. Sometimes, the audience reacted differently: Americans are allowed to protest without being shot?

More Studies . . .

Dogs are smarter than cats. It seems they can’t get a grasp on the concept of cause and effect in quite the same degree that a dog can. Cats could not get their treats in a consistent manner if there was a specific task involved in the getting of the treat. But cat owners know--as do dog owners who will not have cats--that the difference may only be that a cat prefers to be served. Of course, the researcher has practical wisdom. He would not say that dogs are smarter than cats . . . he would only say that cats are "just different."

Men and Women

The Good Ole' Gals Network?

This is just funny. Sotomayor is defending her membership in an elite all women's club by saying that she is unaware of any discrimination against any men who wanted to join. That is a stupid defense. Why not just ask what's wrong with a women's club? Republicans in the Senate: yes, we get the irony. We get the joke. We see the hypocrisy. Yes, if she were a conservative man belonging to a men's only club (are there still any left?), there would be an infernal cry raised up to the heavens and angry feminists everywhere would raise their fists in sisterhood. The prophet Obama would be forced to revise his prophecy. But picking on Sotomayor for this won't do. It is barking up the wrong tree. Sotomayor's most vocal supporters don't believe that women can be sexist any more than minorities can be racist . . . and normal people don't see anything wrong with single-sex institutions when freely chosen. So the way to demonstrate the absurdity of the PC disapproval for men's clubs is to embrace the good of women's clubs. There should be more people, not fewer, who are happy to claim membership in single-sex organizations and celebrate their freedom of association and assembly.
Categories > Men and Women

Shameless Self-Promotion

It’s not to late to sign up to see and hear ME, Dr. Pat Deneen, and others this Saturday in Seattle.

Perpetual Manned Flight?

The human mind is something, isn’t it? A new solar powered aircraft prototype will be unveiled on the 26th, with the first test flight later this year. If it works another version will be built and then fly at 10,000 meters and will be flown around the world. Short article worth reading.

Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss?

During the Bush Administration, Democrats raised concerns about the ways in which political concerns could affect social service programs and about the allegedly improper firing of federal prosecutors (who, unlike the Inspectors General, actually do serve at the pleasure of the President). Where’s the outrage here?

A search of the WaPo site turns up three Associated press articles, but no original reportage. I couldn’t find anything in the New York Times. Guess we’ll just have to take the President’s word for it. Our leading media outlets certainly aren’t acting as vigorously in pursuit of the whole story as they did when a Republican occupied the Oval office.

Update: Here are the first bits of more or less independent WaPo reportage, as well as a
Washington Times editorial.

On Principle

Here is the latest issue of On Principle in a PDF file. I think it reads and looks good; and here is Jeff Sikkenga’s fine lead essay, What Makes a Great President? and my short attempt describe the certain glory of the month of April.


"IT is easier to demonstrate for the rights and freedoms of one’s own group than to practice in daily iving the discipline of freedom and the patience of love for those who suffer, or, indeed, to bind oneself tosuch service for the whole of one’s life, with the concomitant renunciation of a great part of one’s own individual freedoms. It is noticeable that the motivating force to serve in the Church, too, has clearly become decisively weakened: there are scarcely any vocations now for Orders that dedicate themselves to caring for the sick and the elderly. One prefers to work in more ’pastorally’ ambitious services. But what is in fact more truly ’pastoral’ than the unpretnetious existence at the service of those who suffer? No matter how important the professional qualification for these services is, without a deep moral and religious foundation, they congeal into mere technology and no longer perform what is critical in human terms." [Ratzinger, "Faith’s
Answer to the Crisis of Values," A TURNING POINT FOR EUROPE?, pp. 26-27]

So one of the most important downsides of modern liberalism--or our inability to keep Locke in a Locke box--is the devaluing of voluntary caregiving. (Thanks to Paul Seaton for sending this quote to me.)

Ahmadinejad Really Won

...according to George Friedman. I know George isn’t always right, but this analysis does right true. We’re stuck with a democratically elected anti-liberal, who rules the countryside with his promotion of piety, his opposition to (urban and urbane) corruption, and his tough stand on national security. Listen, I’m not expert, and so if this analysis is wrong, I want to know.

Palin Problems

I confess that I have only watched the Palin/Letterman flap from a distance. But the longer it goes on, the more comfortable I am about that distance. Dennis Miller made a fantastic point yesterday on his radio show when he suggested: 1. Palin should be addressing world leaders and world events, not the likes of David Letterman if she means to be taken as a serious person. 2. This is not to say that Letterman’s joke was not in extremely poor taste or that it did not merit a response from the Palin family . . . but defending the honor of daughters against brutes like Letterman is something that is really more suited to purview of a father. Where is Todd? If HE had taken this on as the patriarch of the Palin family, I think Miller is right in thinking that the public reaction to it would have been a lot different than it has been to the reactions an angry (even if justly angry) mother. 3. Conservatives carrying on about this and calling for the resignation or firing of David Letterman are wasting their time and not doing themselves any favors. 4. Children are a mother’s most pliable soft-spot . . . mothers who want to be on the national stage in politics should not allow themselves to get played like this . . . especially by so minor and insignificant a figure.

Cheap Federalist

A guy in Indiana bought a first edition of the Federalist at a flea market for seven bucks (the first volume of two) in 1990 and is now selling it at auction.

Obama to California: "Drop Dead"

Only that’s not how the Washington Post headline puts it.

Iran: What Could Be Going on Behind the Scenes?

My first inclination is to say that Obama’s reaction to the Iranian election and its aftermath is pathetic and shameful. Can anyone doubt that if this scene were, say, the South Africa of 1985, Obama and his administration would be extremely vocal in denouncing it?

On the other hand. . . Congress has supposedly made some serious appropriations over the last few years, mostly to the CIA, to assist an Iranian opposition. Is it possible that some of the dissident activity we are seeing is the fruit of this work? Although the Iranian government is shutting off cell phone service and internet sites (along with TV and radio, the first stop for tyrants in a pinch), apparently Twitter and other new means are allowing some organization of the opposition to continue. Could we and European allies have been helpful in arranging this? In which case, some discrete silence from Obama would be sensible?

I’m doubtful, but as a number of folks have drawn comparisons to Pres. George H.W. Bush’s muted reaction to the Berlin Wall coming down 20 years ago, and his subsequent "Chicken Kiev" speech, we learned only much later that there were good diplomatic and political reasons for these seemingly weak public positions that later played out to everyone’s advantage.

David Tucker, would you care to weigh in on the scene?

This Is For Lawler

Bumper sticker, spotted today in the District, on the back of a GMC Suburban:

"I’d Rather Be Reading Flannery O’Connor."

Hope, after all.

Diplomatic History declining

This won’t come as a shock to anyone, but the NY Times reports that diplomatic (also military, constitutional) history is declining and has been replaced by cultural history, women, minorities, immigrants, etc. Sample:

"How have some departments sliced up the pie? At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, out of the 45 history faculty members listed (many with overlapping interests), one includes diplomatic history as a specialty, one other lists American foreign policy; 13 name either gender, race or ethnicity. Of the 12 American-history professors at Brown University, the single specialist in United States empire also lists political and cultural history as areas of interest. The department’s professor of international studies focuses on victims of genocide."

Defending the Gipper--Again

Over at NRO, I offer an extended rant in response to yesterday’s New York Times piece on "Rethinking [meaning--abandon] the Reagan Mystique."

Which gives me another opportunity to ask: Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?

The Dilemma of Vampires

...may, thanks to regenerative medicine, face us all soon enough, as I explain HERE.

Mansfield on Rahe

Harvey Mansfield’s review of Paul Rahe’s Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect brings forth much in its complexity.

Addition: Just noticed that our own William Voegeli reviews Rahe in the current issue of National Review. Compare at will!

The Error of Big Government

Yesterday’s NY Times has an interesting article about the dangers inherent in recent efforts to mitigate the financial crisis:

Executives and lobbyists now flock to the Fed, providing elaborate presentations on why their niche industry should be eligible for Fed financing or easier lending terms.

Hertz, the rental car company, enlisted Stuart E. Eizenstat, a top economic policy official under Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, to plead with both Fed and Treasury officials to relax the terms on refinancing rental car fleets.

Lawmakers from Indiana, home to dozens of recreational-vehicle manufacturers like Gulfstream and Jayco, have been pushing for similar help for the makers of campers, trailers and mobile homes.

And when recreational boat dealers and vacation time-share promoters complained that they had been shut out of the credit markets, Senator Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida, weighed in on their behalf with the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, who promised he would take up the matter with the Fed. . . .

Read the whole thing.

Update, here’s the link.