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    Friday
    Oct032014

    CrossFit 2014-09-29

    Bullfrog

    7 minutes

    • 40 single unders
    • Ascending ladder power snatch [85#]

    Score: 5 rounds plus 22 reps

    Friday
    Oct032014

    CrossFit 2014-10-01

    Bench and burn

    Bench press

    • 10/8/6/4/2
    • 115-125-135-140-145F

    Burner 3 rounds

    • 250m row
    • 25 kettlebell swings [1 pood]
    • 250m row
    • rest 1 minute
    Friday
    Oct032014

    CrossFit 2014-09-24

    Beretta

    Do five burpees every minute on the minute while doing:

    • 20 squat thrusters [65#]
    • 20 hang power cleans
    • 20 push presses
    • 20 overhead squats
    • 20 front squats

    Time 12:55

    Friday
    Oct032014

    The Long View 2002-05-21: The Office of Evil

    The Oatmeal clearly agrees with JohnOne notable disagreement of mine with John was the competence of the terrorists who struck the United States on 9/11. I'm sure lots of people, especially at the time, saw bin Laden as a terrorist mastermind, but in retrospect it seems like he got lucky. It is probably the kind of books I read, but a real mastermind would have followed up with something else a little sooner. There certainly were some foiled plots that made it into the news after 9-11, but most of the subsequent attacks were in other countries, such as the London subway attacks, the Beslan school hostage crisis and the Bali nightclub bombing.

    It is at least conceivable that the vast new powers given to the American intelligence agencies after 9/11 have kept us relatively safe, but I'm not terribly impressed by this idea. The rate and scale of pre- and post-9/11 terrorist activity seems about the same in the wider world. And most of that activity happens in Third-world shitholes, just like it always has.

    The Office of Evil

    Thomas Friedman suggested in the New York Times of May 19 that we could use an office like this. The column in question, "A Failure to Imagine," was actually a backhanded exoneration of the Bush Administration for failing to take more radical action last summer, when there was an uptick in information from intelligence sources suggesting that an major attack from Al Qaeda might be impending. He rightly points out that the sort of imagination needed to consider suicide attacks seriously is rare in America. He was probably kidding when he said that a special bureau might be created to cultivate malice at that level, so we are not blindsided again. Most of Friedman's piece, however, is devoted to bemoaning the Administration's "failure to imagine good," meaning in this case the mobilization of youth for progressive causes and the institution of a post-fossil-fuel industrial revolution.

    Thomas Friedman is not the stupidest man who ever lived, but he does not seem to grasp how far from "over" the 911 era is. He has company, of course. The Democrats last week jumped on some quite minor disclosures of internal intelligence documents from just before the attacks to go into full Watergate mode. "What did he know and when did he know it?" they demanded to know, reacting to word that the president received a rather anodyne analysis last August that suggested some sort of attack might be in the offing, perhaps involving airline hijackings. The answer to the question, of course, is "not enough" and "too late," for which the Administration is indeed to some degree at fault. Ironically, the partisan way in which the question was raised seems to have done those who raised it more harm than good. In any case, those who look on 911 as a lost opportunity of some sort can take heart. Similar opportunities may come along any time now that they could find just as useful, assuming they survive the attacks.

    One need not be altogether cynical to surmise that the latest statements coming from the Administration about new threats for the near future are colored by the desire to change the subject from the Democrats' implied accusations of negligence. However, there is no reason to think that the new threats themselves are imaginary: stories about terrorists having recently been brought to the US in cargo ships, for instance, appeared before last week's disclosures. So did the reports that shopping malls could be in particular danger. Actually, cynicism might be in order if you thought that the president's partisan opponents knew about the new dangers. Did they take care to get their accusations on record before possible new attacks? That way, they could position themselves for this fall's Congressional election, when they might raise questions about the Administration's competence. But no, that way madness lies.

    We do seem to be moving into a new situation. Al Qaeda has a track record of launching simultaneous attacks against large, geographically distant, landmark structures. These attacks are made with novel tactics determined by the nature of each target, at intervals of from several months to over a year. The new pattern of terrorism in the Middle East, however, as developed in the intifada against Israel, involves numerous attacks at short intervals. They follow one or two patterns, and they are intended to create casualties. It is reasonable to expect that a synthesis of these methods will be deployed in the United States, by an alliance of hitherto only loosely connected groups. Places of mass public accommodations have been mentioned as possible targets. So have such structures as high-rise apartment buildings, where preparations might be made over time. For what little it's worth, I doubt that landmarks or the transportation systems are very attractive targets anymore. Then again, that's what people said about the airlines until last September.

    Public reaction to new attacks could differ significantly from last year's. For instance, it will be clear that government has only limited ability to protect the people from attack, even when government is paying attention. The Administration would be criticized, not for over reacting in terms of new security measures, but for having done too little. Additionally, depending on where the attacks take place, they could disabuse some parts of the country of the impression that the 911 war is primarily a concern of the Northeast.

    We might even get a bit of a social revolution, though maybe not the one Thomas Friedman was thinking of. Nicholas Kristof, another New York Times columnist, has a piece today entitled "Following God Abroad." It's a glowing report on the new political engagement of American evangelicals, who have been energized by 911 and by the threat to Israel. Kristof praises their practical foreign assistance projects and keen interest in the defense of religious liberty internationally. As evangelists, they are, naturally, evangelizing, and not least in NGO Land:

     

    "The evangelical movement encompasses one-quarter of Americans and is growing quickly. One measure of its increasing influence is that a newsstand in the United Nations has carried the Left Behind series of religious novels by [Jerry Jenkins and] Tim LaHaye. These books, which have sold 50 million copies so far, describe the battles that precede the Second Coming, and there is indeed a United Nations connection: In the novels, the Antichrist is the secretary general."

    Speaking of Left behind, I finally got around to seeing the movie version, by the Lalonde brothers of Cloud Ten Productions. The authors were displeased with the quality of the film, and it does in fact seem to be the kind of thing that HBO produces for broadcast during the summer, when few people are likely to watch.

    One thing that struck me about the film was the number of pets. After the Rapture, the world was filled with despondent dogs sitting by the empty clothes of their departed masters. While I recognize that this idea would be theologically awkward, I could not help but think how much more affecting those scenes would have been had there been empty collars and dropped leashes lying next to those abandoned clothes.

    The cats would have been left behind for the Tribulation, however. They would have worn little red capes and sprung about in evil glee, knowing that their hour had come.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site

    Thursday
    Oct022014

    The Long View 2002-05-14: Thanks & Goldhagen

    I used to support John by buying on Amazon through his site. All of his Amazon links and such have been stripped away, although you can still buy his books. If you still want to do something for him, pray for him. It is what he would have wanted.

    For a while, he was an independent scholar, and he updated his blog frequently. After a few years, he got a regular job, and only updated on the weekend, but I found that I enjoyed what he had to say even more when I had to wait for it.

    Thanks & Goldhagen

     

    Before I forget again, I would like to thank those of you who have been chipping money into the Amazon Honor System boxes on this site. The system does not tell me who you are, which is probably just as well. I hope you are getting notes of gratitude. These are sincere, even if they are sent automatically. Thanks to the rest of you, too. Feedback and visit-counter clicks are not quite the same as wire transfers, but they are very much better than nothing.

    Thanks are also in order to Ronald J. Rychlak, for his rejoinder in the June/July issue of First Things to Daniel Goldhagen's notorious piece in the New Republic, "What Would Jesus Have Done?" In that article, Goldhagen accuses Pius XII of silence and inaction with regard to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In fact, he repeats just about every claim ever made against Eugenio Pacelli, regarding his career before and after he became pope. Some of his accusations are even posthumous. My reaction was that Goldhagen's article was a poor interpretation of the historical record, but I did not quarrel with most of Goldhagen's facts. Rychlak has gone a long step further. He shows that Goldhagen systematically misstated the record, suppressing information contrary to his thesis and distorting the information he does cite.

    It is hard to know where to start. Contrary to what Goldhagen says, the Vatican protested early and often about the deportation of Jews from the occupied nations of Europe. The list of protests includes diplomatic representations to the governments of France, Slovakia and Croatia. The protests to the Vichy government were met with threats. Nonetheless, when the French bishops publicly protested, Vatican Radio broadcast the text for days. Goldhagen, of course, tells us specifically that the Vatican was silent about that protest.

    Goldhagen says that the Nazis did not actually carry out repraisals for protests to their Jewish policy or the euthanasia program. This is simply wrong. When Cardinal Galen protested the killing of the handicapped, the German government did not arrest him, but it did arrest dozens of clergy from his diocese. This kind of thing happened routinely whenever the government was criticized. Also, contrary to some accounts, the euthanasia killings did not stop, though they were no longer done publicly.

    Frankly, in the controversy about the attitude of the Vatican toward the Jews during the Nazi era, I never thought the Concordat with Hitler's new government was particularly significant; treaties like that are too routine to signify anything. Be that as it may, Rychlak points out that the Concordat was not the first treaty the Nazis signed, as Goldhagen said. He misstated a secondary source. The Concordat was the first bilateral treaty the Nazi government concluded, but that government had already signed some important multilateral agreements.

    It might be said in Goldhagen's behalf that the piece in the New Republic was at least nominally a long review article of secondary sources, on which he was dependent. Maybe when his own book on the subject comes out later this year, he will have done his homework. Well, maybe he will, but he seems to be doing now what he did with his sources in Hitler's Willing Executioners, which also rested on tendentious use of secondary sources.

    Goldhagen must have the opportunity to defend himself. However, as things stand now, we have to ask whether his behavior goes beyond mere mistake. Can Goldhagen's work in this be compared to that of Michael Bellesiles's book, Arming America?

    As every history buff in America knows, that book argued that the widespread use and ownership of guns is a fairly late development in American life. The author based his argument on statistics found in old records from local court houses. The problem was that, since his thesis touched on how we should interpret the Second Amendment today, several historians took the trouble to check his primary sources. They found that he seems to have routinely mischaracterized the sources the other historians could find. The really disturbing element, however, was that they could not find much of the material he claimed to have used, even though it was supposed to be on the public record.

    Goldhagen has not quite reached that point, if only because he has yet to publish original research on Pius XII and the Holocaust. Should he proceed with his plans to publish, we may be sure that his work will receive the closest attention.

     

    * * *

    Speaking of unscrupulous authors, I should mention that I have an article in the June/July First Things, too, a review of Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics. As per FT's eminently reasonable author's contract, I will be able to put the review on my website after 90 days.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site

    Wednesday
    Oct012014

    The Long View: Fascism: A History

    Calling one's political opponent a fascist is still a popular political slur, but the actual occurrence of fascist ideas on the Right remains somewhat unclear. John was undubitably correct to note that the rise of popular parties on the right in Europe has mostly been tied to immigration, and also that anti-semitic ideas and Holocaust denial do have genuinely popular appeal nearly everywhere [not only on the Right].

    John also notes that the world has in some ways only just returned to the conditions that prevailed before the Great War. International finance, and the relations between nations are beginning to relax again after the extended crisis that started in 1914, and only truly ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The interesting question for us is: how will it be different this time around?

    Fascism: A History
    By Roger Eatwell
    Penguin Books, 1996
    $14.95, 404 pages
    ISBN: 0-14-025700-4

    One More Time?

    "Fascism is on the march again. Its style may at times be very different, but the ideological core remains the same -- the attempt to create a HOLISTIC NATIONAL THIRD WAY [Italics in original]...[A]n ideology that places so little emphasis on constitutions and rights, and so much on elite-inspired manipulation, must always be mistrusted. Beware of men -- and women -- wearing smart Italian suits...the aim is still power, and the fantasy of the creation of a radical new culture."

     

    ----"Fascism," page 361

     

    This is the very alarming conclusion of this general history of fascist ideology by Roger Eatwell, a Reader in history at the University of Bath. It is all the more alarming because this is not a very alarmed book. Certainly it is free of "anti-fascism," which in this context often means the sort of Marxist analysis that assumes the whole political spectrum beyond the radical left is fascist in some imprecise but irredeemable way. What we do get is a brief description of the common intellectual heritage of fascism from the late nineteenth century, plus short histories of the fascist movements in Italy, Germany, France and Great Britain. The sections dealing with fascism in these countries after World War II, and especially the more recent New Right, are the most interesting in the book.

    Since we are not dealing with a partisan tirade here, it is genuinely disturbing when Eatwell ends the book by suggesting that, though fascism died in a sense in 1945, it may well be about to experience a resurrection in time for a bright future in the 21st century. Whether this hypothesis proves correct or not, still this analysis does illustrate yet another way in which Western civilization at the end of the twentieth century has returned to many of the problems that faced it at the century's beginning.

    The ideological component of fascism has often been neglected in favor of psychohistories of fascist leaders and morbid prose poems about national character. This is understandable, since one of the defining features of fascism is ideological syncretism. Usually, this has meant combining "socialism" with some form of nationalism, but even this minimum requires qualification. The study of fascist ideology is made even more difficult by the fact it was most systematically expressed where it had the least influence, in France and Britain. (Eatwell is not an admirer of British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, but he does give him credit for producing the best thought-out fascist party-platform. The best platform so far, that is.) In any case, at the local level, fascism often had little theoretical content, beyond the privilege of beating people up with impunity. Nevertheless, fascism does have an intellectual history, and the phenomenon as a whole is not so diffuse as to defy definition.

    Fascism would not have been possible without Friedrich Nietzsche. There has been no lack of anti-theistic philosophers both before and after Nietzsche, but he is almost alone in honestly facing the consequences of living in a world in which everything is permitted. Most thinkers have sought to preserve some fragment of the intellectual structure that depended from the hypothesis of the Christian God, and so they appeal to reason or history or science. Nietzsche would have none of it. If the skies are really empty, then there are no imperatives. There is, however, life, which in the case of human beings expresses itself not just as biology but as the will. Now Nietzsche, unlike Schopenhauer and unlike many of his own followers, recognized the will is itself a composite entity. It is not a primary physical force, and it is not a god. It does, however, actually exist, and its exercise is all the meaning that life can ever have.

    The proposition that the meaning of life is the exercise of the will leads to two kinds of conclusions. The most obvious, and the most popular, is the cult of cruelty. Naturally, the street-fighters who normally figure in the public activities of successful fascist parties are rarely well-read in the literature of philosophical nihilism. Nevertheless, even the nihilist violence of the German SA and the Italian "squadristi" chimes with high theory. Fascism promotes ruthlessness for the same reason that it promotes conspiracy theories: for a fascist, nothing is going to happen unless some will makes it happen. One suspects this consideration is also a factor in the usual fascist suspicion of free markets.

    The other conclusion to which an ontology of the will leads is the transformation of politics into art. Whole societies become instruments for the expression of the will of elites, or often of a single great individual. In fascist theory, this is all that politics ever was, no matter what purportedly disinterested purposes the ruling elites of the past believed they served. The difference that Nietzsche made was that this reality could become conscious.

    Fascism is not quite coincident with the great man theory of history. Since human beings are social animals, the will is to some extent a social phenomenon. Thus, reality is an intersubjective construct, a fable that people make up amongst themselves. The construct is not entirely arbitrary. Most fascists have also posited a strong racial or biological element conditioning the way that leaders and their peoples behave. Still, even in highly racialized forms of fascism, the leader stands to the people as the will stands to the individual. Politics, then, is not an arbitrary art, but an art whereby the leader makes the unconscious will of the people explicit.

    In addition to Nietzsche, the other seminal influence on fascism whom Eatwell discusses at length is Georges Sorel. Now Sorel is remembered as the chief theorist of socialist syndicalism, and like Nietzsche his thought has influenced people who are not fascist by any definition. Nevertheless, he seems to have been a primary source of the nuts-and-bolts of practical fascism, which was chiefly concerned with integrating restive populations of industrial workers into fragile national communities. (The widespread use of the word "community" to refer to classes of people who could not possibly know each other is mostly Max Weber's fault, though to me it has long carried fascist undertones. Well, that is another story.)

    Sorel's socialism was of the sort that combined plans for the betterment of the masses with considerable contempt for their intelligence, indeed contempt for almost everything about them as they actually existed. Sorel believed that the masses could be integrated into a social force only through slogans and myths. Sorel's favorite myth was that of the "general strike." Actual general strikes, in which the whole of a country's organized labor force walked off the job at the same time, have been tried a few times, with mixed success. The myth of the general strike, however, is like the vision of Judgment Day. It is the goal in whose name organizers organize, it is the reason to pay union dues. It is an ultimate threat, like the strategic doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, that creates a world by defining its limits. It is not entirely dishonest; the leaders may believe it in a heuristic sense. Such subtleties, however, are not for the people they lead.

    Perhaps the most striking thing about the political systems of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy was precisely their use of myth and symbol. (As Salvador Dali once remarked, Nazism was essentially surrealism come to power.) The widely-bought if sparsely-read "Myth of the Twentieth Century," by the Nazi Party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, seems to have used "myth" in a Sorelian sense, the myth in this case being the origin of the Aryan race in Atlantis and its leading role in later history. More generally, both the Nazi and the Italian Fascist regimes seemed to be exercises in government by grand opera. (Götterdämmerung and Don Giovanni, no doubt.)

    The myths used to organize the elites were not necessarily those provided for the masses. The Nazi leadership in particular cultivated a sort of occultism (though if figures like Julius Evola are any indication, this enthusiasm was not absent from Italy, either). The people, however, were pushed with more conventional forms of nationalist xenophobia and pulled with quite prosaic promises of economic improvement and social welfare (promises on which both regimes could in large measure deliver). This difference of integrative principles was consistent with the fascist notion of society as an organic entity. Organism implies differentiation, so it was only proper that elites and masses be organized through different means.

    Was antisemitism an integrating myth for the people? Certainly this was not the case in Italy, where fascism made much of cultural chauvinism but tended to mock biological racism. It was only in the late 1930s that Mussolini promulgated anti-Jewish legislation in order to please Hitler. The legislation was never as harsh as that in Germany, and was in any case ignored by the people and the government with some enthusiasm. (This changed after the Allied invasion of southern Italy in 1943, when Mussolini became a puppet ruling a rump-state under German control.) As for Germany, there is little evidence that antisemitism ever added to the Nazis' popularity. Certainly the Nazis downplayed the Jewish theme when electoral victory became a real possibility after 1929. While it is true that surveys taken after World War II showed high levels of antisemitic feeling in Germany, this is as likely to have been an effect of the Nazi regime as one of its causes. The truth of the matter seems to be that, if antisemitism was a Sorelian myth, it a myth embraced by the elites rather than the masses.

    England and France both had proto-fascist and self-consciously fascist movements between the wars. Eatwell notes the many writers with fascist leanings in France during this period, some of whom, such as Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, commanded large popular followings in the 1930s. (Charles Maurras and his Action Française were too traditionally conservative to quite qualify as fascist.) As a serious political movement, French fascism needed the Popular Front politics of the Left to fight against, and so it pretty much collapsed along with the Popular Front government in the mid-'30s. English fascism started off just after the First World War on a disarmingly dotty note, with a tiny party that advocated, among other things, lowering taxes on gentlefolk so they could reduce unemployment by hiring servants. However, the movement was dominated in the 1930s and after the war by Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. Mosley, not unlike Churchill, was a black-sheep establishment figure, an institutional outsider but not quite a mere eccentric. He maintained a measure of credibility quite late into the decade; he was even briefly touted by the press-lord Rothermere. Still, in neither France nor England did any fascist party come within shouting distance of playing a major role in national government, much less of inaugurating a fascist revolution. Eatwell emphasizes two key reasons why they did not go the way of Germany and Italy.

    The first major difference was that Britain and France had respectable national right-wing parties during the 1920s and '30s, while Germany and Italy did not. In Italy, a proper conservative establishment never got a chance to form. To a large extent, the Kingdom of Italy had always been something that northern Italians did to southern Italians (and this without the blessing of the Church, which was still annoyed at the way the Papal States had been annexed in 1870). Therefore, the local notables who might have formed the backbone of a conservative party were alienated from the national government. In Germany, of course, the old establishment had been discredited by the war. The lack of responsible right wings meant that irresponsible persons in these countries had a chance to fill the political space such parties normally occupy. The opportunity came when the narrowly-based political establishments appeared to be incapable of dealing with a national crisis.

    For France and Britain the interwar years were for the most part dreary decades, but in neither country were they attended by a general sense of social crisis. France, despite the proliferation of socialist theorists of all descriptions and the growing strength of the Communist Party, seems to have been singularly immune to Red Scares. Unemployment was muted even during the Depression, partly because the country was still so rural that unemployed industrial workers simply went back to the land. For England, the '20s was in many ways the more troubled of the two decades, with intractably high unemployment even during good times and the General Strike of 1925. In the '30s, on the other hand, the effect of the worldwide depression was not nearly as severe as in other countries, and for much of the decade the economy was conspicuously innovative and dynamic.

    Italy's crisis came early. In the years between the end of the war and Mussolini's March on Rome in 1922, revolution was in the air, particularly in the rural areas of the north. As in Spain during the prelude to that country's civil war in the '30s, local socialist governments were often uninterested in protecting private property from seizure by workers. Right-wing terror squads, usually led by strong-men without any particular ideology, also enjoyed official indulgence in some regions (as well as a measure of popular support). Mussolini, a sophisticated socialist with anti-clerical leanings, came to power by organizing the strong-men and convincing at least a section of the establishment that he could bring social peace. When he first met the king to demand the primiership, Mussolini wore a fascist uniform. For the second meeting, he wore proper morning clothes.

    Hitler wore morning clothes, too, when he went to see President Hindenburg to be sworn in as chancellor 11 years later. Germany's crisis was far more a matter of economics than Italy's had been, though exasperated by the fact the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic was even more fragile than that of the Kingdom of Italy. Eatwell takes us through a quick review of the "Who Was To Blame" literature regarding Hitler's final ascension to the chancellorship. He finds little merit in the theory that Hitler (or Mussolini, for that matter) was essentially a tool of big business. What he does suggest is that the acquiescence of a weak establishment was a necessary precondition for such an improbable figure to be appointed head of a government.

    Since the early 1930s, there has never been another coincidence of a weak establishment, a crisis, and a group of men with the proper ideological predispositions necessary for the formation of a fascist state. Franco's Spain was not fascist because Franco was not an artist, but a cop (or, as they used to say in my old high school, a "Prefect of Discipline"). The rulers of Vichy France, for all their authoritarian tendencies, were hardly in a position to view themselves as bold supermen. After the war, fascism was an enthusiasm only of cranks everywhere in Europe except in Italy, where the former regime never lacked for a small party of defenders. (Mussolini's widow got a regular ministerial survivor's pension.) Until the end of the Cold War, this looked like it would be the state of things for the foreseeable future. The problem with the end of the Cold War, of course, was that it made the future much less foreseeable.

    In the 1990s we have seen a historically fascist party, led by Gianfranco Fini, achieve junior-partner status in an Italian government. (The party he leads changes names. Not long ago it was "The Italian Social Movement." Latterly it has been "The National Alliance." The Communist Party of Italy has undergone similar mutations in nomenclature, and also claims to have mellowed ideologically. Maybe they have.) Jean-Marie Le Pen's "Front National" in France seems to have a lock on from 15% to 20% of the vote. In Germany, in contrast, the party system has rebuffed the attempts to organize New Right sentiment. (This is not the case in Austria, where Jörg Haider's "Austrian Freedom Party" has polled up to 28% of the vote.) Throughout Europe, just as after the First World War, small groups of violent youths with proto-fascist leanings became conspicuous. Perhaps the most alarming thing we have discovered about the German Democratic Republic is that it did not so much extirpate Nazi ideas among the people as preserve them in ice, like dinosaurs in a science fiction movie that wreak havoc when defrosted.

    One may, of course, quarrel about whether the European New Right as a whole should be consider proto-fascist, or crypto-fascist, or even fascist at all. Still, the deeper you look into any of these organizations and their leaders, the less comforted you are likely to be.

    On a popular level, the issue which has the most resonance for the New Right is immigration. Everywhere in Western Europe (and in much of the United States), ordinary people are spooked by changing demographics. They are also alienated by the tendency of establishment opinion to dismiss this concern as mere reflexive racism. Persistent levels of high unemployment, often seen as a function of the presence of too many foreigners, similarly undermines the credibility of the governments of the major European states. Issues like this, however, are not the stuff of which revolutions are made, fascist or otherwise. Additionally, while right-wing leaders are at pains to keep themselves free of the least taint of racism in general or antisemitism in particular, the fact is that at ground level their organizations are, for the most part, virulently antisemitic. There is a significant public for Holocaust-denial theories. However, in no country are such things electorally useful.

    The distinctive thing about fascism, however, is that it has always been a doctrine for masters rather than followers. Eatwell has some very alarming things to say about the growth of "up-scale" fascism, of ideological resources for people who either belong to existing elites or would very much like to start one. This has been made immensely easier, at least in my own view, by the spread of relativist philosophies in the Nietzschean tradition in the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly at the elite schools. No matter the intent of the instructors, it always seemed singularly ill-advised to me to tell young people, who by virtue of native intelligence and social position were going to wind up running a fair slice of the world anyway, that life was really just about power. There is always some danger they might believe it.

    A sentiment that seems to find increasing currency is what might be called "Euro-fascism." While fascist parties between the wars built their followings on nationalistic platforms, still from the very beginning fascism has always had a universalizing streak. Nietzsche pronounced himself a "good European." In these days when political theorists speak in terms of the clash of civilizations, New Right theory seems to be moving in the direction, not of renewed hypernationalism, but of an integrating theory for the European Union. Eatwell notes that the EU as it stands is a disedifying entity, run by bland bureaucrats who are most concerned with setting standards for bottled jam. Current plans for future integration will go no further toward turning Europe into a true political community (that word again). Eatwell asks whether anyone is ever going to be willing to die for the Bundesbank. Maybe what Europe needs is a Sorelian myth to hold it together. Work is in progress.

    So, are we really just back where we started at the beginning of the 20th century, waiting for some crisis that will delegitimize the existing establishments and start the ball rolling again? One way to look at the 20th century is as one long recoil from the process of globalization. It was only in the 1990s, for instance, that international capital flows again reached the levels relative to the economies of the major countries that they had reached before the First World War. Similarly, it is only recently that international trade in general became as important as it was around 1900. What happened thereafter was that the governments of the leading nations sought to gain unprecedented control of their countries' destinies. Partly this was accomplished by war, partly it was accomplished through the creation of command economies. Stalinism was simply Lloyd George's "War Socialism" made permanent, something that happened in greater or lesser degree throughout the West. In every case, the goal was to replace the power of capital with the power of the will, whether the will was that of an electorate or of a would-be Nietzschean superman. When, starting in the 1980s, the military and economic systems of command began to be relaxed, the world economic system began to look again something like the way it had looked before these measures were implemented. The process of globalization began again. So did the attempts to stop it.

    It would be wrong to say that all attempts to stop globalization of economics and communications and culture are fascist. Most resistance to universalism comes from a positive desire to preserve local identities and traditions. Such things may or may not be worth preserving. The balance between the local and the universal is not something that can be dictated categorically. Fascist nationalism, in contrast, was perhaps just an improvisation, made necessary by the fact that nations states were the largest units that fascist elites could hope to control. At a deeper level of fascism is the ideal of the universal empire, of the whole world subject to a single will. The goal is repeatedly deferred only because it is obviously so much harder to achieve.

    Fascist statecraft is by its nature manipulative, a game that elites play with deluded masses. The fascists in the '20s and '30s did not come to power by promising to create a society beyond good and evil. They did it by promising people things that really were good, such as safe streets and private property and a country with a culture they could recognize. The opponents to fascism too often fell into the trap of opposing these things simply because the fascists endorsed them. This is an important point for the world's liberals (or progressives, or whatever they call themselves locally) to keep in mind. As for the conservatives, they must beware of the company they keep.



    This article originally appeared in the November 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:

    Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly


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    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site

     

    Tuesday
    Sep302014

    The Long View: Gödel: A Life of Logic

    Kurt GödelI like to think that I am re-posting all of John's blog as some sort of service to humanity, but really I just enjoy rediscovering gems like this one. John's review of a biography of Kurt Gödel has been definitive in shaping my opinions about AI and computation.

    In short, I don't think strong AI is possible, and this is the true explanation why computer scientists have spent the last seventy years looking for it without finding it.

    Roger Penrose famously criticized strong AI in his book The Emperor's New Mind. Wikipedia's summary claims that so many eminent scientists have criticized Penrose's position that it is effectively refuted, to which one might reply, "OK, when where are all the AIs?"

    I think Penrose truly fails by looking for the mind in physics. He is really just embodying the spirit of the age, but it is a sad thing to see when he was perceptive enough to notice that the essence of thinking, abstraction, is not algorithmic.

    There really is a similarity between what minds do and what computers do, but the real similarity makes AI less likely instead of more. Computers are the instantiation of the immaterial forms of Plato [thereby proving Aristotle right]. Ross's conference presentation also illustrates the dangers of treading outside one's field. I do it, I like to do it, but I am always aware that I can sound just as silly to others as they sometimes sound to me. Ross makes an off-hand comment in his presentation about the deadliness of dioxin, which was quite the trendy toxin for a while. Then the Russians tried to poison the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko wtih dioxin [a preview of the recent unpleasantness], presumably under the impression that it was exceptionally deadly, only to find that all it did was give him a bad case of acne. Oops. Maybe that was just a clever counter-intelligence ploy in the wilderness of mirrors, like the time we sold the Russians faulty gas equipment.

    I'm not an expert in toxicology, but I at least need to know enough to be able to accurately communicate with the experts so I can demonstrate the products I design are safe. Dioxin isn't nice stuff, but the dangers were wildly overblown.

    This was also the beginning of the end of my interest in Neal Stephenson's books. His environmental thriller Zodiac featured a plucky band of environmental crusaders who thwarted a plot to dump dioxin in Boston Harbor. I already knew that dioxin wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and once I noticed one that was a little off, I started to notice a lot of things that were a little off. Oh well.

     

    Gödel
    A Life of Logic

    by John Casti and Werner DePauli
    Perseus Publishing, 2000
    210 Pages, US$25
    ISBN 0-7382-0274-6

     

    Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) was the mathematician and logician whose now famous incompleteness theorem easily ranks among the most uncanny products of the notoriously uncanny first half of the European 20th century. This very brief book by two computer scientists does try to fit Gödel into the world of scientific Vienna in the1920s and 30s. (The book started life as a program for Austrian television: there is a great deal of talk about mysteriously undecidable recipes for Sachertorte pastry.) The authors are more concerned, however, to explain the theorem itself, its relationship to the idea of computability, and the connection all these things have to such questions as the feasibility of artificial intelligence and time travel. This is an unmanageable amount of ground to cover, and the treatment is uneven. Still, simply addressing all these topics between two covers is an accomplishment. The authors provide a blessedly brief, ten-item reading list for those who want to look more deeply into the separate areas covered.

    Gödel was born in the town of Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, to a family that had grown wealthy from textile manufacturing. The Gödels were German-speaking. The authors tell us they were not Jewish, but we learn no more about confessional affiliation, beyond the fact Kurt was anti-Catholic all his life. Gödel entered the University of Vienna to study physics, but switched to mathematics after a few years. He soon became a member of the Vienna Circle, the influential group that sought to reduce all philosophical questions to problems of language.

    Like Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who were more loosely associated with the Circle, Gödel's membership probably helped him most by providing fodder for criticism. Indeed, few thinkers have ever been less interested than was Gödel in closing down metaphysics. If mathematical Platonism were a religion, Gödel would have been Billy Sunday, his American evangelist contemporary. For Gödel, mathematical objects were as "given" as lumber. They are just another kind of semantic content of sentences. What Gödel did in his proof, the first published version of which appeared in 1931, was to show the weakness of syntax, the system by which semantic content is ordered. The incompleteness theorem shows that there are propositions that we know to be true, but that are nevertheless logically unprovable. A slightly more rigorous formulation is that any logical system at least as complicated as arithmetic will be incomplete, because it will be able to produce statements that cannot be proven or dispoven within the terms of the system. The natural languge versions of the "Liar Paradox" are of this nature.

    While Gödel was thinking these deep thoughts, the politics and economy of the German-speaking world were going to hell in a hand-basket. The failure of the Austrian bank, the Credit-Anstalt, in the same year as the publication of the theorem is usually blamed for blowing up the already stressed European financial system. Austria's First Republic, created when the Habsburg empire disintegrated after the First World War, collapsed into rule-by-decree in 1933. Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938. (This happened, it must be said, with the approval of most Austrians.) The Second World War began in 1939.

    Gödel divided his time in those years between Vienna and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, New Jersey. The Institute, acting in large part under the influence of John von Neumann, served through most of the'30s as a haven for scientific refugees from Europe. Gödel was not neglected. He was offered and took several temporary appointments, but he kept going back to the University of Vienna. Although too unworldly to have ever engaged in politics, he did lose his license to lecture, the Privat Docent, because of his connection with the Vienna Circle, which the Nazis regarded as too Leftist and too Jewish. However, he applied for and actually received a new license as a Docent of the New Order. It was only in 1940, when it was apparent he would be drafted, that he left Austria for good. He and his wife traveled east by train across the Soviet Union, then to Japan, then to the West Coast of the United States, and then to Princeton. His wife, Adele, did not like New Jersey, but they stayed permanently.

    There are many legends about Gödel's antics at Princeton. This book gives us only a few of the best-known ones, such as how Einstein himself had to help calm Gödel down when the latter went to take the oath of citizenship. (It seems that Gödel had found a logical flaw in the federal constitution that would permit the creation of a dictatorship, and he insisted on telling the judge.) The most surprising thing to me, however, was that Gödel was actually a conscientious faculty member. His flaw was that he tended to obsess about the work of any committee on which he sat.

    Although Gödel continued to produce significant mathematical results during his time at Princeton, he was never again as productive as he had been at Vienna. (His wife called the Institute "an old-folks' home," and she may have had a point.) In any case, his interests turned increasingly to philosophy. Gödel famously constructed an ontological proof of the existence of God (he was a great admirer of Leibniz, who had a proof of the same type), and an independent proof of personal immortality. (Karl Popper had one of these too, by the way.) We are told that Gödel was also interested in "the occult," but are given no specifics.

    Gödel was paranoid, convinced that someone was trying to poison him. He therefore always made a great fuss about eating. When he died of what his doctor called "malnourishment and inanition," he weighed just 60 pounds. On the other hand, he also suffered throughout his life from some obscure gastro-intestinal disorder, so it is possible that an underlying basis for this behavior was simply never diagnosed.

    Why should we care about crazy old Kurt and his annoying theorem? For one thing, it's immensely practical. The theorem, and Alan Turing's related Halting Problem that was developed at about the same time, are key to our understanding of what computer programs can and cannot do.

    Perhaps the most interesting such question, covered at length in this book, is whether it is possible to construct an artificial computer intelligence. In "The Emperor's New Mind" (1989), Roger Penrose revived an argument based on Gödel's theorem against the possibility of an algorithmic machine mind. To put it briefly, Penrose pointed out that people can spot "Gödel sentences," true but unprovable propositions, that computer programs cannot detect. Thus, he reasoned, whatever else the human mind is doing when it spots these sentences, it is not computing. Refutations of Penrose are usually variations on the idea that Gödel's theorem applies only to consistent systems, and human beings clearly do not think consistently.

    I should note that I find this argument mysterious. If human minds are being inconsistent when they do advanced mathematics, then how do we manage to reach the same conclusions consistently? In any case, even the most committed Artificial Intelligence believers have mostly abandoned the idea that a program for an artificial intelligence can be written. Now they hope to create Darwinistic, self-programming systems that will organize an intelligent entity spontaneously. Good luck.

    Gödel's theorem serves in popular culture as a symbol of the supposed irrationality of reality. As the authors note, the theorem tends to be dragged out these days to "hit people over the head" with. The authors are too polite to point out that this most subtle of logical arguments is often employed by persons who cannot make any logical argument at all. Nonetheless, it is clear that the theorem and the body of study it make possible are philosophically important, though people differ on just why. For me, the theorem is good evidence that the limits of language are not the limits of knowledge, or even of reason, broadly construed. This suggests that the world is objectively knowable. Surely this is a good thing.

     


    Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly


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    Monday
    Sep292014

    The Long View 2002-05-02: Bill Clinton in 2005!

    Another Constitutional law post from John. Since I'm not a lawyer, I'll refrain from commenting on the technical merits of his proposal other than to say it seems plausible to this non-specialist. I also think I remember a joke making the rounds a while ago about how W. was still eligible to run for re-election in 2008 since he wasn't really elected the first time.

    Bill Clinton in 2005!

    They tell a wonderful story about Kurt Gödel, the greatest of 20th century logicians. He fled Europe during World War II, and when he went to take the oath of U.S. citizenship before a federal judge, Albert Einstein himself came along as a witness. The judge chatted with his prominent visitors before the ceremony, unfortunately. Alluding to the collapse of law in Nazi Germany, the judge remarked that the Constitution prevented anything like that from happening in the United States. "Not true!" Gödel replied, and explained that he had found a logical flaw in the Constitution that could be used to found a dictatorship. It took Einstein two hours to calm him down.

    Say what you like about the Clinton Administration, it did at least provide an eight-year tutorial in aspects of constitutional law that almost no one had ever heard of before. Indeed, the Clinton's still have that effect, even though they left the White House almost a year and a half ago. Liz Smith, the gossip columnist, aired an argument in her column of May 7 for the proposition that Bill Clinton really could serve a third term. The notion is that, if Bill Clinton were elected vice president, presumably as number two on a Hillary ticket, he could succeed her if she did not serve out her term. Liz Smith has no pretensions to constitutional scholarship, and it is not clear who suggested the idea to her. Nonetheless, the argument is plausible.

    The Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1951, in the aftermath of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to break with the tradition of the two-term maximum. (He sought and won four terms in office.) Common knowledge has it that the Constitution now prohibits anyone from serving as president for more than two terms. However, the Amendment does not quite say that:

    Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

    Note that this text does not address how long one may be president, but simply how one becomes president. It forbids anyone to be "elected" more than twice. Succeeding to the office is another matter, however. This provision does not, by its terms, forbid someone who has already been elected president twice from becoming president if the incumbent should die or resign. I might also remark that not only vice presidents can succeed to the presidency; a two-term president emeritus might be anywhere in the line of succession.

    The Twelfth Amendment defines the operation of the Electoral College and how Congress should choose a president if the College does not give any candidate a majority. A seeming objection to the possibility of a president-for-life is offered by the last sentence of the Amendment, which says:

    But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President.

    At the time the Twelfth Amendment was ratified, the terms of eligibility in question were clearly those set out in Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 5, which require that the president be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a US resident for at least 14 years. The Twelfth Amendment adds a further requirement that the president and vice president not be "inhabitants" of the same state. Did the addition of the Twenty-second Amendment add to the eligibility requirements?

    Not by the letter of the text. The Twelfth Amendment is about how presidents are elected, not about who can serve. All we are told about "eligibility" is that it is the same for the vice president as for the president. If succession by a two-term president is possible under the Twenty-second Amendment, the Twelfth does nothing to change matters. But might the Twelfth Amendment make a former president ineligible to run for vice president? Probably not, because no provision of the Constitution makes someone who has been twice elected president "ineligible for the office of President." The Constitution simply forbids such a person to be elected yet again. If there is no such ineligibility for a president, then there is none for a vice president.

    Even if my interpretation of the text were the only possible one, that would not settle the issue. A look at the statutory history of the Twenty-second Amendment might show that its drafters and the legislators who voted for it were all intend on ensuring that no one would ever again be president for more than eight years. In that case, a court asked to apply the Twenty-second Amendment would probably look to the intent of the Amendment, rather than to its literal terms. Of course, legislative history might also show that the drafters and ratifiers meant to leave open the possibility that an experienced gray head could serve again as president, presumably in some emergency when the government had been decapitated. When they spoke of "election," maybe that is what they meant.

    The only place to look for precedents would be the states. I am not a great fan of term limits in any form, but many states have them. It is quite possible that just the question we have been considering has arisen before. State court decisions interpreting such statutes would not be binding on the federal judiciary, of course, but they might be persuasive. From what little I recall about the subject, I believe that the states have tended to interpret term limits narrowly rather than broadly. In other words, if an incumbent makes a plausible argument for why a term limit should not apply, the courts will usually accept it.

    I doubt that the particular anomaly we have been considering is the one that Kurt Gödel was thinking about. I am also pretty sure that Bill Clinton has no intention of running for vice president in 2004, or in any other year. Still, it may someday be important that the rules for succession to the presidency are looser than those for election. Constitutional law is full of surprises.


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    Saturday
    Sep272014

    The Long View 2002-04-30: Stop Worrying About the Church Scandals

    Maybe you do have a purpose in lifeThe more things change the more they stay the same. Now, at least we have the public spectacle of a prominent bishop having an affair with an adult woman. Is that progress?

    John was a voice of calm and reason when the scandal broke in 2002. In retrospect, he was clearly right. The scandal caused by men having sex with teenagers seemed like a perfect opportunity to allow Catholic dissidents to seize control of traditionally Catholic institutions. However, once the details came out it very much implicated the dissidents and their ideas in what had transpired. Then Pope Benedict was elected, and the whole attempt to seize control conclusively unraveled.

    Time has shown that the incidence of this kind of thing was no more common in Catholic churches than other churches, or indeed than in public or private schools, or any other situation where adults supervise children. Which doesn't make it less horrible, it just makes it not uniquely horrible.

     

    Stop Worrying about the Church Scandals

    Okay, we have had several months of revelations and exposés about sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Church. Now I think we can get a handle on the subject. There are four significant points:

    (1) We are talking about this because a papal election is coming up.

    At any rate, the journalists and Catholic liberals who chose to break the story believe one is coming up. The conviction of a notorious pedophile priest in the Boston Archdiocese was just a news hook. Almost all the incidents being reported and litigated happened more than a decade ago, most of them much longer ago. In fact, reforms aimed at preventing the abuse of children were put in place then and seem to have worked.

    (2) The point of the exercise is to wrest control of the educational and social-service apparatus of the Catholic Church in America from the hierarchy.

    The people who want control are frustrated heterodox academics and bureaucrats with political agendas. They hope to secure the kind of independence from Rome that Episcopalian dioceses have from Canterbury. The strategy is to make the American Catholic Church appear so ungovernable that the next pope will be too intimidated even to try. None of this is a conspiracy, of course. These people are upfront about what they want to do. Just read the National Catholic Reporter.

    (3) The chief sin of the Church authorities in dealing with the quite real abuses that did occur was in behaving like a secular institution.

    Despite a reputation for being out of touch, the Church has always taken on the coloration of its cultural environment. Thus, since the 1960s, the Church has increasingly treated moral issues as therapeutic ones. The experts the bishops consulted in the 1970s and '80s said pedophilia was treatable. The model seems to have been treatment for alcoholism. In any case, their legal strategy of keeping the abuses secret was unremarkable. An institution run entirely by laity would almost certainly have done much the same thing at that time.

    (4) The scandal campaign has backfired.

    Pedophilia was not a good choice for an issue. It had the advantage that normal rules of evidence do not apply in contexts where crimes against children may be involved; allegations of Satanic ritual abuse, remember, occasioned literal witchhunts in the 1980s. It is, however, too rare to be systemically significant. The important point is its similarity to the distinct issue of the homosexual abuse of minors and young men in schools and seminaries. Those abuses are what the public, the hierarchy and the conservative press are focusing on. Thus, a campaign intended to remove the largest remaining public exponent of traditional morality has had the effect of making it possible, for the first time in 20 years, to criticize homosexual ideology in public.


    The model for the sacking of the Church in America was no doubt supposed to be what happened to the Anglican Church in Canada. That well-meaning institution responded to wildly overblown accusations of abuse of Amerindian students in church-affiliated schools by confessing guilt and seeking dialogue. There will be little left of the institutional Anglican Church, once the lawyers are finished with it. The Catholic Church in Quebec has had similar problems, but not to the same degree.

    Things are likely to be different in the case of the Catholic Church in America. Important institutions can be sacked by lawyers and journalists only when those in control of the institutions agree to be sacked. That is what happened to the tobacco companies. It is not what happened to Microsoft. Bill Gates and Innocent III would have seen eye-to-eye about the preservation of institutional integrity.


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    Thursday
    Sep252014

    The Long View: Active Faith

    This one is now eighteen years old, but it has only gotten more pertinent, as American politics fossilizes into the Late Republican phase. We find ourselves doing the same things over and over, because there really are no other options left. This is what is meant by the End of History, not the ceasing of events and intrigue, but a limitation of the possible. By way of example, read John's concluding paragraph, and tell me whether this is an apt description of the Tea Party:

    If this is to happen, there will be a great deal for people on the right to reassess. They will have to learn that the way to control crime is not harsher laws but more and better police. They must be wakened from the fantasy that local government is necessarily good government. They must undertake the arduous study needed to understand that the security of the United States is determined by the state of the world. Before any of this is possible, of course, there is one lesson in statecraft they must learn: On coming to power, the first you do is not close down the government.

    It will be interesting to see how the election of Pope Francis changes the landscape of Catholicism in America. With John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we had over thirty years of politically conservative papacy. Francis is definitely a man of the Left, although nearly everyone forgets he is also completely orthodox. If you want a vision of what a politically engaged Catholicism might engender, post-WWII Europe is an excellent example. France, Germany, and Italy all implemented something very much like Christendom reborn. It all went off the rails seventy years later, but no one can expect any political program to have a shelf-life better than that.

    Active Faith: How Christians Are Changing the Soul of American Politics

    by Ralph Reed

    The Free Press, 1996
    $25.00, 311 pp.
    ISBN: 0-684-82758-1

    All Dressed Up and No Place To Go

     

    It is not Ralph Reed's fault that he looks like Antichrist to some people. Sure he has slicked-back black hair and unnaturally perfect teeth. Sure at 35 years of age he has the sort of perpetual adolescent appearance that gets police detectives assigned to work undercover at high schools. Sure he has an unfortunate predilection for having his picture taken back-lit (as the jacket of this book illustrates). None of this is evidence of dark ambition or bad character. It is the press, ignorant of religion and terrified of resurgent cultural traditionalism, that has made this very sharp Executive Director of the Christian Coalition into the face of liberalism's nightmare. The fact that he and his organization are, usually, punctiliously reasonable only makes them the more threatening.

    People looking for strange opinions in "Active Faith," such as those that so richly inform the books of Reed's mentor, Pat Robertson, are likely to be disappointed. Judging by this memoir, he is a prosaic, perceptive man. A doctor's son, raised as a conventional Methodist in the New South, he has been a Young Republican since high school. He was the sort of student who interns with the state legislature and who works on political campaigns for the sake of working on political campaigns. In early adulthood, his faith became evangelical, a matter he disposes of in a few sentences. After a brief stint in Reagan's Washington, he went on to acquire a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University. (Are history doctorates now to play the role in political life that law degrees once did?) We learn a great deal about his views on how today's Christian politics fits into America's tradition of political reform sparked by religious revival. By his own account, it was just as he was finishing his doctoral thesis in 1989 that he got the call from Pat Robertson about becoming director of a new Christian lay organization whose creation Robertson was considering. The rest is history.

    Reed takes up a lot of space explaining what the Christian Coalition is not, sometimes to rather disingenuous effect. Thus, we are repeatedly assured that the Coalition is not a partisan political organization dedicated to the promotion of Republican candidates. Those candidate information summaries they hand out at churches across America just before election day are merely objective accounts of the candidates' positions on issues important to people of faith. Oh, the things people will say to keep their tax deductions. Since I don't believe the National Conference of Catholic Bishops when they make similarly coy claims about their peace-and-justice activities, I don't see why I should find the Christian Coalition's far more blatant politicking any less political. Rather more plausibly, he insists that the Coalition is not a front for white racists. Indeed, for political reasons if nothing else, he fervently desires the expansion of the Coalition to include more black churches, more evangelical Hispanics, more of all those who still cling to the disintegrating raft of the New Deal's "majority of minorities." Perhaps the stereotype he rejects most convincing is the conventional wisdom (found not only in the liberal press) that the Coalition consists of the "poor, the ignorant, and the easily led." In reality, as Reed is at pains to instruct us, his membership tends to be richer and better-educated than the population as a whole. (It is also somewhat older and more female.) As events of the past few years have demonstrated, those who assume that the Christian Coalition is simply the nation's white trash in arms will suffer unpleasant surprises.

    The most important thing that the Christian Coalition is not is the Moral Majority. "Active Faith" gives you as lucid an account as you are likely to find of how the rise of evangelical participation in American politics, marked in the 1970s by the election of the genuinely pious Jimmy Carter to the presidency, stumbled badly during the Reagan years. The Christian Coalition is one form that the recovery from that stumble took. Culturally conservative Christians have learned from their mistakes. One suspects that they are in for the long haul. What they lack, however, is what their critics are most afraid of: judging by this book, the Christian Coalition has no real plan for the future, nor any idea how to develop one.

    Evangelicals faced two problems when their resurgence began in the aftermath of the cultural chaos of the 1960s. The first was purely practical. They had withdrawn from politics for most of this century, particularly on the national level. Politics was tainted, worldly. While it might be morally permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, to actually enter his service was to risk criminal conviction in this world and damnation in the next. Evangelicals could and did run for office, of course, but not for he most part on peculiarly evangelical platforms or with the help of self-consciously evangelical organizations. Thus, there was no effective organizational mechanism for representing this important sector of the American people.

    The South, where they were demographically strongest, was traditionally Democratic. The Democratic Party therefore would have been the logical vehicle for the evangelicals, as it had been at the beginning of the century, in the days of William Jennings Bryan. However, while the Democratic Party had never lost the moralistic tone which it acquired in the days of the Social Gospel and the Populists, the content of its worldview had proven to be extremely malleable. In Prohibition days the party was Progressive, during the New Deal it was Social Democrat, during the first half of the Cold War it was the supply train for the great anticommunist Crusade. By the time the evangelicals had need of it, however, it was firmly in the grip of the cultural revolutionaries of the 1960s. That left the Republicans, who had no idea what they were in for.

    The Republican Party had grown from the Abolitionist movement, one of the social reform movements that owed their impetus to the Second Great Awakening of the 1830s. As is often with case with successful crusaders after the crusade, by the turn of the century the party had lost it moral fervor and become a party of economic interests. It frowned on the enthusiasms of Bryan and his native Populists and on the largely immigrant labor movement, both of which had so much to do with the making of the Democratic Party in this century. Under the inspiration of people like Theodore Roosevelt, it did give some play to the muscular Christianity of the Social Gospel, but this tradition within the party tended to become more and more attenuated with the passage of time. Thus, by the time of the final insult of Goldwater's defeat in the 1964 presidential election, the Republican Party really did not have many ideas of its own about social or cultural issues.

    What the Republican Party did have was a great need for new members. Therefore, when evangelicals and some conservative Catholics began drifting into the party as the Democrats became stranger and stranger, the newcomers were more than welcome. After all, in the beginning, they did not act as a self-conscious faction within the party. All you had to do to win their support was buy them off with a few token phrases about the defense of the traditional family and opposition to abortion. They rarely showed up at meetings, but they would vote Republican like clockwork, at least for president. Poor, ignorant and easily led, so the party's traditional leaders thought, they made the perfect electoral cannon fodder for high-visibility races.

    The problem with this strategy was that it succeeded. When Ronald Reagan was elected Emperor of the Last Days in 1980, his devoted followers among the cultural conservatives thought they were owed something. Jobs in the new administration would have been nice, but more than cursory attention to their agenda would have been better. As it happened, they got nearly nothing. Reagan would not even address the annual anti-abortion rallies in Washington in person. They had not just been slighted, they had been deprived of access to the only political institutions they could consider using. They therefore began to build their own institutions. At first, they did this badly.

    Evangelicals and conservative Catholics had no permanent local political organizations. Politics for them was largely something that happened on television. Thus, while they might be important for presidential politics, they were much less important in deciding who sat in Congress or on local school boards. (Most important, they had little say about who would be nominated to run.) There are two general strategies for mobilizing an inchoate voting block, a "rally" strategy or a "grassroots" strategy. The first is a strategy of mailing lists and television. It is the sort of politics for which the term "hot button" was coined, meaning any issue that is certain to attract the attention of easily defined constituencies and, hopefully, provoke them to donate money. A "grassroots" strategy sounds like it should be something homey and neighborly, but in fact it simply means political organization as it has been traditionally understood. It means building permanent local organizations of volunteer workers and precinct captains, people who may pay regular dues but who, much more importantly, can be counted on to donate some of their own labor to a campaign. It has long been known that the best way to maintain such an organization is as a collateral activity of some other institution. Labor unions are very good frames to hang a political party on. The Christian Coalition would eventually show that local churches are, too.

    Before the evangelicals proved the power of organized religion in politics, however, they first tried a rally strategy. This is what the Moral Majority organization was all about. It was certainly conspicuous enough. The press loved it, like vampires love young women who neglect to wear crucifixes around their necks. It lived and died by its own knack for publicity. It was a remarkably clerical organization: at one point, all but one of its board of directors were ordained ministers. Since the televangelists of the 1980s could claim an audience in the tens of millions, ignorant reporters translated these figures into millions of political followers. The problem with the Moral Majority was that there was really nothing to it. Being a member simply required writing a check, so it had little control over what the prominent people associated with it did. More to the point, it had no troops on the ground. After a while even reporters began to notice that the only actual representative of the Moral Majority in a state where it claimed hundreds of thousands of members might be a single pastor with no staff. It was not a "majority" by any reasonable construction of the word. Then the garish downfalls of the great '80s television preachers amidst charges of embezzlement and sexual scandal suggested that it wasn't particularly moral, either. By the end of the Reagan Administration, it appeared that the era of the evangelical in politics was over.

    The Reverend Pat Robertson thought otherwise. His experience during his run for the presidency in 1988 gave him some notion of what actual politics was like. If he conceived the "long march" of the Christian Coalition by himself, then he must be a very smart man indeed. But even if, as Reed suggests, Robertson was at first uncertain about whether to continue with the rally strategy or try the grassroots method, then he at least deserves credit for continuing to support what at first must have seemed like a doubtful enterprise. He is also, perhaps, to be given credit for having the good sense to limit his public association with the Coalition as much as possible. Everyone knows, of course, that Robertson provided the inspiration and backing to get the Coalition off the ground. Indeed, Reed began work in a warehouse amidst the old posters, office furniture and mailing lists of Robertson's 1988 campaign. However, the Coalition was never just a branch of Robertson's ministry, nor indeed a particularly clerical organization at all. Its board of directors, says Reed, contains only a single ordained minister. I do not think it is being cynical to suspect that Reed is exaggerating the independence of the Coalition from Reverend Robertson. Nevertheless, the Coalition has benefited immensely from not being structured as a preacher's fan club.

    Unlike the Moral Majority, its has a professional lobbying presence in Washington that does not go away. This means that it can exert pressure, not just on the sort of hot button issues that were sometimes manufactured in the past to keep evangelicals placated, but on day-to-day legislation affecting welfare and education, or for that matter on things like telecommunications reform, which might seem to be peripheral to the Coalition's concerns. Even more important, legislators hear about the Coalition's positions not just from lobbyists, but from their own constituents. The Coalition is adept at organizing letter-writing and telephone call-in campaigns, as well as delivering live bodies to party caucuses and other meetings.

    In some ways, the most interesting successes of the Coalition have not been in Washington or national politics, but in their ability to win races at the local level. Their special forte has been school board elections. They do not, perhaps, win quite so many of these as the consternation they cause among liberals may suggest. Still, they everywhere have served the function of slowing the advance of multiculturalism into the primary grades. Local party organizations in the United States have come to be notoriously skeletal affairs, easily dominated by small groups of enthusiasts. Since the 1960s, the enthusiasts have mostly been on the Left, and have turned their attention to the Democratic Party. With the Christian Coalition, we see the beginning of a similar process on the Right with the Republican Party.

    The Christian Coalition makes no claims to be a "majority" (it has 1.7 million members). An well-organized minority is important enough. There is nothing about its demographics which suggests that it could become the dominant force in American politics. Nevertheless, it is seven years old and a force that must be reckoned with. One can easily imagine it and organizations like it becoming as important as the unions were in their heyday. The problem with this picture, however, is that the unions knew more or less what they wanted. Because they had some vision of how society as a whole should work, they were able to advance beyond their original concern with wages and hours to present coherent policies on everything from foreign affairs to the structure of the health care system. The Christian Coalition, as Reed himself recognizes, is in contrast characterized mostly by what it is against.

    The failing is fundamental, indeed theological. The fact is that evangelicals have no coherent political theory in their tradition. American evangelicalism is without a theory of natural law, or even of good government. Reed calls his agenda the "pro-family" agenda, a characterization that I doubt many people find informative. Certainly it is an extraordinarily pale allusion to the ancient certainties that an organization purporting to represent Christianity in politics should have. Evangelicals have a foggy premise that government must be bad because the world is bad. They then reach the equally foggy conclusion that the best government is the least government. Thus, they manifest an inordinate preference for gum-up-the-works amendments to the Constitution, such as the proposals for limiting the number of terms legislators may serve and requiring super-majorities to increase not just tax rates, but government revenues. To Reed's evident discomfort, they are without a clue about foreign policy, except for the premises that foreigners are wicked and international organizations are wickeder. They are, of course, consistently in favor of support for Israel, but the Middle East is fast becoming a backwater as the focus of world history shifts eastward.

    Liberation theologians like to say that they are formulating a theology "from below," giving revolutionary voice to the voiceless masses. American evangelical political theory, such as it is, really is "from below." It has been formulated by people who have never thought of themselves as rulers and, consequently, have no idea how to rule. It is not enough.

    The Catholic Alliance is perhaps the most daring of all Pat Robertson's innovations. It was designed to provide a political home for culturally conservative Catholics. The fact that the Alliance has been as successful as it has is probably the fault of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. While the bishops themselves are for the most part faithful and intelligent men, their national organization is served by the sort of fatuous liberal bureaucracy that has done so much to destroy the mainline Protestant denominations. The bureaucrats can tolerate, because they must, the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion and euthanasia, but they seek without respite to submerge these things in a popular front agenda that is otherwise indistinguishable from that of the most reactionary-left elements of the Democratic Party. Like the evangelicals, culturally conservative Catholics have turned to the Republican Party and its collateral organizations for lack of a hospitable alternative.

    Reed shows a certain predilection for aspects of Catholic social theory. He admires the ability of educated Catholics to frame moral issues in terms of natural law. He quotes Pius XI on the need for limited government. Like most people interested in devolving functions from a central government, he is intrigued by the notion of subsidiarity. However, the fact is that Catholic statecraft and evangelical political theory cannot survive in alliance indefinitely. Catholic theory does not look on government as an unavoidable evil, but as a divine institution, the means whereby we achieve collectively that good which we could not achieve as private individuals. It is democratic, in the sense that it requires rulers to rule with the consent of the government, but it is not egalitarian. It does not find hierarchy suspect, whether based on learning or birth. It never quite came to terms with market economics.

    If given its head, Catholic social theory will restructure society as did the great Catholic post-war statesmen of Europe. Adenauer in Germany, de Gasperi in Italy, and later de Gaulle in France, all created "christian democratic" regimes that worked spectacularly well for several decades, which I suppose is all that you can ask of any political philosophy. They produced what were in essence moralistic welfare states, which proved far more successful than the secular-left welfare state being built by the Labor Party in Great Britain at the same time. These states were friendly to religion, breathtakingly solicitous of families by American standards, and even good for business unless you wanted to start your own company. Doubtless they were doomed by the excessive faith of their creators in the ability of the state to control the economy for the common good, but there was nevertheless a great deal to be said for them. Still, I do not think they are what the Christian Coalition has in mind.

    Perhaps America will do better. The Christian Coalition, in alliance with like-minded organizations, might be the template for a future Christian Democratic Party of America (which might, of course, be called the Republican Party). American Christian Democracy would, one hopes, have a clearer understanding than its European predecessors that wealth is easier to redistribute than to create. It would also, I trust, avoid the European mistake of supporting churches so much that they no longer have to worry about maintaining an active membership. Naturally, American Christian Democracy would also have to recreate a legal structure consistent with human life as we known it.

    If this is to happen, there will be a great deal for people on the right to reassess. They will have to learn that the way to control crime is not harsher laws but more and better police. They must be wakened from the fantasy that local government is necessarily good government. They must undertake the arduous study needed to understand that the security of the United States is determined by the state of the world. Before any of this is possible, of course, there is one lesson in statecraft they must learn: On coming to power, the first you do is not close down the government.

     



    This article originally appeared in the September 1996 issue of Culture Wars magazine. For more information, please click on the following line:
    Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly


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