The Long View 2006-02-02: Happy Groundhog Day!

I've been a fan of Dr. Ed Peters' canon law page for a long time. I no longer remember whether I first came across it through John Reilly, but I follow it to this day.

Happy Groundhog Day!


Evil-Minded People persist in sending me great blasphemies against Kant's transcendentally ideal doctrine of Perpetual Peace, otherwise known as the Democratic Peace. One of these misbelievers, a person with imperial pretensions, made bold to send a link to this page, which lists the alleged exceptions to the hypothesis that democracies do not go to war against each other. There are even infidel statistics.

As we know, this argument comes down to "what's a democracy?" and "what's a war?" It is possible to define democracy in such a refined sense that no two democracies could ever go to war because no such ineffable regime could ever exit. Conversely, every state in which a new god-emperor is traditionally hailed by a "laus" from the rabble in the palace square might be called a democracy in some sense.

I think, though, that there are only two really plausible exceptions to the Democratic Peace. The first is categorical. It applies to the whole of antiquity, whose small city states were as democratic as pirate ships and of a similar mind about acquiring the goods of their neighbors. (The same principle, of course, applies to the medieval and Renaissance Italian republics.). The other big exception is the American Civil War. One might argue that the conflict was a civil disorder, and not a war in the proper sense. The problem is that the logic of the Democratic Peace, that transparent and responsible government will use violence only in self-defense, ought also to apply to disorders that occur between hostile centers of domestic power.

Aside from that, though, the theory is fine. Just fine.

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Peggy Noon was disenthused, meanwhile, by the State of the Union Speech delivered on Tuesday evening by Kant's Vicar on Earth. Look:

The president's State of the Union Address will be little noted and not long remembered. There was a sense that he was talking at, not to, the country. He asserted more than he persuaded, and he chose to redeclare his beliefs rather than argue for them in any depth. If you believe, as he does, that the No. 1 priority for the American government at this point in history is to lead an international movement for political democracy, and if you believe, as he truly seems to, that political democracy is in and of itself a certain bringer of world-wide peace, than this speech was for you. If not, not. It went through a reported 30 drafts, was touched by many hands, and seemed it. Not precisely a pudding without a theme, but a thin porridge.

Fair enough, though it was by no means a bad speech. The most anticipated element of the speech was supposed to be a new approach to the health-insurance crisis. The president proposed augmenting the health-savings account mechanism, whereby tax-deductible savings accounts are married to portable, high-deductible insurance policies. Unlike the president's Social Security proposal last year, this one would at least not aggravate the problem it is supposed to address. However, yet another tax-favored-savings program is irrelevant to a population that does not save, even at gunpoint.

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No, I have never received a telegram. Family legend has it that my father while in Europe during World II received a telegram announcing the birth of my oldest sister: that makes him the only person I ever knew who probably did receive a telegram. Well, at least in the US, the option of sending and receiving telegrams has lapsed:

After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams ...."Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative." ...The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.

The interesting point is that telegrams figure importantly in the literature and history of the last half of the 19th century and the first three-quarters of the 20th. Now, when students hear about Kennan's "Long Telegram," the term will take a little explanation. There is also this: the word "telegram," long-distance writing, is now free to be appropriated by some other technology. Might SETI communications be called "telegrams," for instance?

* * *

Trouble with Holy Mother Church? Consult Edward Peters' Canon Law site to get a grip on the issues, or at least see where to look them up.

Yes, there is a Canon Law Annotated.

I find it surprisingly difficult to type "canon" with one "n."

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Continuing with divine science, two types of story that always attract my attention are reports about the return of the airship and the revival of the Latin Mass. I have nothing on airships today, but the Washington Times assures us that Latin is back in the better suburbs of Washington, DC:

Some say it's all part of the general trend back to the classics of Western civilization. All the Rev. Franklyn McAfee knows is that when he announced earlier this month he was starting up free Latin classes on Saturday mornings at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, more than 70 parishioners packed the first session. ... One parishioner, former federal Judge Robert Bork, a recent convert to Catholicism, got there early to ensure himself a seat in front of Marion Smedberg, a Latin instructor from Reston.

Note that this particular revival does not involve the old Tridentine Mass:

A newer Latin liturgy, the "Novus Ordo," also came out of the Vatican. That is the Mass St. John's parishioners are learning.

Actually, the Novus Ordo is also the current English Mass; the Latin Novus Ordo is the original from which the English Novus Ordo was translated. Parts of the Latin original are all you need if you want to revive the corpus of sacred music. It is worth the effort.

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Pol Pot had the right idea, but his ideas need to be applied globally. So, at least. we may surmise from this Guardian piece by Robert Newman, It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both:

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.

What strange misconceptions.

Capitalism is the principle that prices are information. That is part of the reason why Communist Eastern Europe suffered far greater ecological damange the the capitalist West did during the same period.

If you accept the "peak oil" hypothesis, the effect of the "invisible hand" will be to end the use of petroleum as fuel as it becomes scarcer. The question, in fact, is whether the general welfare might requires cushioning the thoroughness and speed with which market mechanisms would effect the transition.

The author's confusion is bottomless:

All hail Wal-Mart for imposing a 20% reduction in its own carbon emissions. But the point is that supermarkets are over. We cannot have such long supply lines between us and our food. Not any more. The very model of the supermarket is unsustainable, what with the packaging, food miles and destruction of British farming. Small, independent suppliers, processors and retailers or community-owned shops selling locally produced food provide a social glue and reduce carbon emissions.

We have long supply lines between producers and consumers because that is the cheapest way to do it. Since prices reflect labor and the cost materials, that means that long supply lines use less energy than would producing food locally.

I can only repeat: the United States had more forest cover in 2000 than it did in 1900, despite a tripling of the population in that time, precisely because almost all the small farms on less desirable land around the major cities were abandoned.

Solutions need to come from people themselves. But once set up, local autonomous groups need to be supported by technology transfers from state to community level.

We know from a century of sad experience that "autonomous groups" means guys who come to heckle at every public meeting bit can't seem to win any actual elections.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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