The Long View 2006-10-23: American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

I would concur with John Reilly here that a sung Mass, whether High or Low, is a remarkable experience. There are a variety of sung settings for the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, by well-known composers. It is unfortunately difficult to find one in practice. I had the good fortune to participate in a Mass in Vienna that was a Mozart arrangement.


American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

A Nadir of American Power is the way The Washington Post describes the current state of things:

In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile...Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? ...It would be nice if this merely proved that tough talk can backfire. But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. ...Now Russia's pro-Western voices are being snuffed out, ...In Somalia, a Taliban-style group of Islamic militants has seized part of the country. ...Sudan's tin-pot dictator thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam and dispatches more death squads.

And as if that were not enough:

[T]he United States has several economic frailties and can't seem to address any of them. Every honest politician knows that entitlement spending on retirees is going to bust the budget....Every honest politician knows that support for globalization is fraying because of rising inequality at home....In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. ...I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.

The comparison with the situation just before the Reagan Administration is instructive, but chiefly because of the differences. The US was not just suffering foreign-policy reverses in those days: it was apparently losing the long-term strategic contest with the USSR. In the 1970s, the "economic frailties" were not merely potential. The country was becoming accustomed to nearly Latin American levels of inflation, which mysteriously were occurring at the same time as high unemployment and economic stagnation. The centers of major cities were in ruins after more than a decade of abandonment and sporadic race riots. Needle-shaped warcraft from the Pegasus Galaxy swooped down over suburban streets and abducted pedestrians who were never seen again.

I made that last part up.

What is different this time is that the problem is not so much an enemy, or even a constellation of enemies, but entropy. Consider the issues connected with North Korea and Iran and the Sudan. If the US is flubbing them, then the world is flubbing them, too.

Well, these turbulent bits don't last forever.

* * *

Orson Scott Card, as we see in his upcoming book, Empire, seems to have gotten the memo about the Hellenistic Analogy:

[W]hat Torrent was saying about America and empire made perverse sense. While the other students sidetracked themselves into a discussion about whether Torrent's statements were "conservative" or "liberal," "reactionary" or "politically correct," Reuben could not shake off Torrent's premise -- that America was not in the place Rome was in before it fell, but rather in the place where Rome was before civil war destroyed the Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Caesars.

I can only repeat, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a national empire and a universal state.

* * *

Art Weekend ended yesterday here in Downtown Jersey City. Helium balloons and numbered signs marked the stoops of the houses where artists have their studios. Visitors from New York, for the most part black-clad men and unusually tall women, followed maps about the district from numbered location to numbered location.

The one confusing point about this otherwise admirable procedure is that the displays the artists put out to mark their studios were not so different from the displays that realtors put out to attract people to an Open House to view a property for sale. I could not help but wonder whether unscrupulous realtors misidentified their properties as Houses of Art, so that people who came to view the last word in neo-ironic pointillism would find themselves asked to consider the merits of a four-story walkup just 5 minutes from Manhattan.

* * *

My local parish may get some press coverage when the Vatican issues the new rules that ease restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass: we have been doing it long enough that we have more or less got it right by now. The latest rumors say that the new rules will actually create a right to the old Mass in any parish where 20 people ask for it, provided the local bishop has not specifically forbidden it.

Frankly, I have never been very keen on creating a right to anything unless you are also creating a supply. The problem is not so much the lack of priests as the lack of the cultural infrastructure needed to do the Latin liturgy right. As a matter of preference, though not of principle, I would say that the Latin Mass is not worth doing unless it is sung, and for that you need a decent schola. Organizing a schola is not intrinsically difficult, but it is beyond the capacity of most parishes today. The fact is that the typical parish music ministry is ideologically committed to sing-along choirs at maximum amplification. The result of the new indult could be a lot of dry-as-dust, unsung, Low Masses: very quick, but not very nutritious.

* * *

Thanatophobia continues to spread, with Max Brooks demonizing Differently Animated Americans in a way that recalls the militant intolerance of Mark Steyn. First it was The Zombie Survival Guide, and now we have World War Z. Throughout the media, in fact, irresponsible persons continue to encourage violence against the Differently Animated. No judicial hearing, no habeas corpus: a quick shot in the brain is the only due process that interests these bigots. Their unthinking discrimination between the living and the undead is an affront to the principle of inclusion. Putting an end to beating-heart privilege will be the final frontier in equal protection of the law.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2006-09-07: The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

   Mohammad Khatami  By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

 

Mohammad Khatami

By Ali Rafiei - http://media.farsnews.com/Media/8603/ImageReports/8603310160/15_8603310160_L600.jpg, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66835805

In retrospect, I think I agree with Mohammad Khatami that American policy in Iraq in the first half of the 2000s led to increased terrorism and instability. John Reilly was often harsh on Iran and Iranian politicians in his blog, and this post is no exception. To be fair to John, Iran was and is a patron of Hezbollah, a player in the bloody factional politics of the Middle East that is considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU. And of course there was the 1979 Tehran Embassy thing, and Iran really was working hard on a nuclear program.

On the other hand, important men in the Iranian version of Shia Islam tend to have philosophical educations heavy on Plato and Aristotle, much like Catholic priests. The first female Fields medalist, Maryam Mirzakhani, was from Iran. Before the embassy takeover and Iran sponsoring attacks on Israel via proxy after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, Iran was the traditional American ally in the region. Hell, pursuing a nuclear program in the hopes of either getting real military independence, like Israel, Pakistan, and India, or major concessions, like North Korea, seems like a winning geopolitical strategy to me.

Khatami, in particular, probably didn't deserve John's ire, but I also don't think we should pretend that the Twelver branch of Shia Islam that is predominant in Iran would be popular with the US public if they knew what it was or what it meant, or that Iran wants things that the US foreign policy establishment wants.

I do suspect that we could reach some kind of reasonable compromise with Iran, but to be honest I don't think much of the opinions of most US middle east foreign policy experts either. I want things my own countrymen [at least the ones who talk about it all the time] don't appear to want, like staying out of land wars in West Asia.


The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

 

Personnel Selections for the McCain Administration are perhaps premature. Nonetheless, correspondent DD sends this advisory from ABC News that Niall Ferguson has entered the circle of the senator's advisers. This is newsworthy, we are told, because Ferguson Compares America to British Empire:

Sept. 4, 2006 — - A recent New York Times article about John McCain's growing "kitchen cabinet," contained a piece of information that might have been meaningless to many American readers, but resonated strongly with most British ones.

According to a McCain aide, the article said, one of the senator's unofficial advisors as he ponders a possible run for the White House is the British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. ... London-based columnist Johann Hari... wrote that Ferguson had been positioning himself to become "court historian to the imperial American hard right."

The New York Times article, by the way is from August 21: McCain Mines Elite of G.O.P. For 2008 Team.

Ferguson is most notable, at least to my mind, for his methodological use of alternative history, which he explains in Virtual History. His views on the relevance of the British imperial precedent are explained in his book, Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. As I remarked in that review, his chief analytical blindspot is that he does not distinguish between a national empire and a universal state.

Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is touring the United States and speaking at venues from the National Cathedral to the Kennedy School of Government. He is regaling the natives to this effect:

But the former president, a moderate who was succeeded last year by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already made news since his Aug. 30 arrival, attacking the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism while hinting there was room for agreement with Tehran on recognizing Israel and stabilizing Iraq. "As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Mr. Khatami, an Islamic cleric, said in a speech to a North American Muslim convention in Chicago over the weekend.

I have thought about this kind of apologetics for years, and I finally have a suitable reply. It's based on the game-theory notion that you can force your opponent to take an action you want by convincing him that you cannot control your own actions. Thus, in a game of highway chicken, for instance, you can make your opponent swerve by ostentatiously tossing your own steering wheel out your driver's side window. Another way to do it is convince your opponent that you cannot be swayed by rational argument. Thus, a reply to President Khatami might go:

"Yes, we are very unreasonable. What will you do to mollify us?"

The Persian's principal stop, by the way, will be at a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN-sponsored body of which he is a founding member. In fact, he seems to be speaking before every creepy-crawly Islamist front-organization in America. Should the pro-Islamist network expand, will its progressive nodes have second thoughts when they realize just how implacable the Islamists are on culture-war issues? That has not happened in Europe.

This just in: it should make the next few weeks even more interesting:

Diplomats at the United Nations were sent into disarray yesterday when President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he intended to attend the General Assembly of the world body on September 19 and to debate his country's nuclear program with President Bush, who is due to address the Assembly that day.

* * *

Those readers hoping for civilizational collapse (and I know some of you are) should take a look at these images of an abandoned city in Russia. This sort of thing happens in the American Midwest, too, but rarely with so much waste of concrete. Note that there are none of the elements that routinely turn up in fictional treatments of this kind of thing. There is no "back to the land" efflorescence of neo-peasantry; neither is there any tendency to local control. The people just packed up and moved to other cities.

* * *

Yes, the Democrats are making overtures to the religious vote, as we see from the Faithful Democrats site. It's not a bad effort, though one must wonder who the audience is. In any case, the problem with asking "what would Jesus do" in a political context is that Jesus routinely responded to peace-and-justice questions with wisecracks.

* * *

You already knew I would link to this item:

NORWICH (Reuters) - Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Sheldrake seems to produce nice, testable claims, but does anybody ever test them?

Copyright © 2006 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

The Long View: America Alone

habsburg-dynasty.jpg

If the National Intelligence Council really predicted that the EU will collapse by 2020, their prediction is looking like a real long shot at this point. Maybe that is why DARPA funded Philip Tetlock's superforecaster project: to improve the accuracy of things like this.

To be fair, if you had told someone in 2006 that a huge wave of migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa would move into Europe in 2016, and that terrorism would be a regular feature of life in much of Western Europe, then a collapse of the EU might have seemed more likely.

I think it demonstrates that the neoliberal consensus is a lot stronger that it might otherwise seem. A relatively tolerant, multicultural, welfare capitalist global system [with a military/secret police enforcement system] seems to be the twenty-first century answer to the same problem the Habsburgs faced in Central Europe: how do you hold together a truly diverse polity?

There are a lot of people who suspect you can't. I think you can, but it's hard. I think this is one of the things that is likely to push us towards a truly post-democratic political order: the need to keep the peace.

Steyn's book talks about how we built a global system on the assumption that populations would keep growing forever. Large scale immigration is often advocated for precisely this reason: we need people to keep the system going. The controversy over immigration has become explosive, but what is interesting to me is that the model doesn't actually seem to be right.

The developed economies keep doing just fine, despite aging populations. If anything, there is too little work to be done, rather than too much. The assumption that Steyn and his political opponents share, the social democratic state needs to constantly grow to survive, may not be true.

In the eleven years since John wrote this, the average number of children across the world has continued to fall everywhere except Africa. So far, sub-Saharan Africa has proven unusually resistant to the demographic transition.


America Alone:
The End of the World as We Know It
By Mark Steyn
Regnery Publishing, 2006
224 Pages, US$27.95, Can$34.95
ISBN 0-89526-078-6

 

There is no way to put Mark Steyn’s view of the next few decades gently:

“The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020... How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get – as in societal collapse, fascist revivalism, and the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.”

But who is this Steyn fellow, and why is he saying these terrible things? Mark Steyn is a Canadian-American journalist (he first attracted notice as an arts and music critic) who is now sometimes accounted the most influential conservative writer in the anglophone world. He owes that position in part to an epigrammatic style that bears comparison to that of the early G.K. Chesterton. America Alone is composed chiefly of Steyn’s scintillating columns of recent years, but he or his editors have accomplished something very rare: a compilation of previously published occasional pieces that reads like a connected text, with a lucid argument and surprisingly little repetition. This synthesis was possible because Steyn believes he has discovered the Key to World History, or at least the mechanism that will determine the history of the 21st century. To put it briefly:

“[D]emography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it... The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States.”

The magic number here is 2.1, as in the total fertility rate per woman that a developed society needs to maintain its population over time. The US fertility rate is at about that number, a fact explained only in part by immigration: the native-born population of Red State America is over that figure, while the figure for the Blue States is generally below it. It is almost uncanny how much of the rest of the world is below it, either slightly (like Australia) or catastrophically (like Italy and Russia and Japan; and don’t forget China, doomed to get old before it can get rich). It’s true even of most of Latin America. Aside from America, the only regions where it is not true are India, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Muslim world. Without the Muslim angle, this might be a story of economies freezing up and welfare states closing down as the percentage of working-age people becomes too small to support a growing majority of pensioners. The effect of Muslim immigration and conversion, however, coupled as it is with the spread of lethal jihadist ideology, is to raise the possibility that much of Europe could slip out of the Western world entirely. Steyn did not coin the term “Eurabia,” but in an age when a third of the young people in France have been born to Muslim parents, it comes in handy.

Several writers have raised these points in recent years. However, despite the title of the book, Steyn does not subscribe to the conclusion of many of his colleagues that the United States should simply turn inward:

“And I’m a little unnerved at the number of readers who seem to think the rest of the world can go hang and America will endure as a lonely candle of liberty in the new Dark Ages. Think that one through: a totalitarian China, a crumbling Russia, an insane Middle East, a disease-ridden Africa, a civil-war Eurabia -- and a country that can’t even enforce its borders against two relatively benign states will be able to hold the entire planet at bay? Dream on, ‘realists.’”

Neither is the book a call for an American Empire. Steyn tends to support the Bush Administration’s military policy, and particularly the invasion of Iraq; he faults the execution of that campaign principally for being too culturally sensitive. However, he tells us:

“This book isn’t an argument for more war, more bombing, or more killing, but for more will.”

Steyn’s Key to History unlocks not just a proper reading of foreign affairs, but reveals to him the need for a cultural and political transformation of the West. That part of the book, and particularly his prescriptions for the future, is the most problematical. As for the doomsday material, one might observe that it is in the nature of present trends not to continue. If the ones Steyn highlights do continue, however, his grim forecasts will be right.

Steyn has a short explanation for demographic catastrophe:

“In demographic terms, the salient feature of much of the ‘progressive agenda’ – abortion, gay marriage, endlessly deferred adulthood – is that, whatever the charms of any individual item, cumulatively it’s a literal dead end...In fact, [opposition to Islamization] ought to be the Left’s issue. I’m a social conservative. When the mullahs take over, I’ll grow my beard a little fuller, get a couple of extra wives, and keep my head down. It’s the feminists and the gays who’ll have a tougher time.”

The welfare state in Europe and Canada allows the political system to focus on satisfying “secondary impulses,” such as long, legally mandated vacations and government-provided daycare, or for that matter, responsibility for the care of the elderly:

“But once you decide you can do without grandparents, it’s not such a stretch to decide you can do without grandchildren...[T]he torpor of the West derives in part from the annexation by the government of most of the core functions of adulthood.”

As he never ceases to remind us, there is an important distinction between Europe and America in these matters, or at least between Europe and Red State America. The distinction, he argues, results from a recent historical accident:

“It dates all the way back to, oh, the 1970s. It’s a product of the U.S. military presence, a security guarantee that liberated European budgets...[however]...[u]nchecked, government social programs are a security threat because they weaken the ultimate line of defense: the free-born citizen whose responsibilities are not subcontracted to the government.”

To quote an authority that Steyn does not, Immanuel Kant once said, “Even a nation of demons could maintain a liberal republic, provided they had understanding.” If we are to believe Steyn, however, Kant was wrong about the degree to which rights and procedures could replace morality and religion:

“[B]y relieving the individual of the need to have ‘private virtues,’ you’ll ensure that they wither away to the edges of society...Almost by definition, secularism cannot be a future: it’s a present-tense culture that over time disconnects a society from cross-generational purpose.”

One may note that this would apply only to a form of secularism with no metahistorical script for the future. Thus, a Marxist society (if it did not starve), or a eugenicist society, or a society intent on colonizing the solar system, might make the connection between generations. A society that was just a gas of atomic individuals today and looked forward to being just a gas of atomic individuals tomorrow, in contrast, would have neither a past nor a future.

Steyn is not just another talkshow ranter (though he does that, too) because he sometimes slows down enough to express skepticism about his own arguments. He asks: does the loss of religion explain the morbid state of advanced and even moderately developed countries? That might seem to be an explanation within the United States, with its relatively sterile and aging New England versus, say, the burgeoning Mormon population of Utah. But what about Europe, where the relatively religious South has even lower fertility rates than the godless North? One might also adduce East Asia: the populations of neither Japan nor South Korea are sustainable, but South Korea is a hotbed of evangelism of all sorts, while Japan is as secular as Sweden.

If God is not the answer, could Mammon be? America as a whole has a somewhat more free-market economy than most of Europe, but the most laissez faire economies in the world are in East Asia, and they have birth rates lower than most Western countries. We should also note, as Steyn does not, that the prolific Red State populations receive more in federal subsidies than they pay in taxes: those family values are paid for with farm subsidies and often rather paternalistic business practices. Steyn also points out that the major anglophone countries all have birthrates either at or near replacement level, but he does not suggest that the birth dearth could be solved with Berlitz courses.

* * *

Among the most delightful features of America Alone is the blurb on the front bookjacket from Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds.” The prince perhaps has reason to be miffed. Though he does not say so in this book, Steyn elsewhere likens the increasingly successful Islamization of Europe to an opportunistic infection, made possible by the simultaneous collapses in cultural confidence and fertility. He has many worthwhile things to say in this regard; he is certainly right to underline the fantastic level of mendacity among the people in the West who speak for and about Islam. In academia and on the evening news, “sophistication seems mostly to be a form of obfuscation by experts.” As for official appreciation of the threat, “government ministers in Western nations spend most of their time taking advice on the jihad from men who agree with its aims.” The problem is not simply a matter of immigrants with new ideas changing the nature of their new homes: “Islam,” not just in the West but around the world, increasingly means a brutal and hegemonic version of Wahhabism. The evangelization of this doctrine is lavishly subsidized by the government of Saudi Arabia, support that ranges from establishing local Islamic schools in Canadian and American cities to building mosques the size of cathedrals in Europe.

Steyn recounts many anecdotes of allegedly moderate Muslims in Western countries who turned out to be recruiting or fundraising for terrorist groups, but far more disturbing are the proliferating incidents of homegrown jihadis turning against the lands of their birth:

“If you’re a teenager in most European cities these days, you’ve a choice between two competing identities – a robust confident Islamic identity or a tentative post-nationalist cringingly apologetic European identity. It would be a mistake to assume the former is attractive only to Arabs and North Africans.”

As Steyn notes, multiculturalism was instituted not to acquaint Westerners with other cultures, but to criticize the West. One effect of multiculturalism has been to absolve students of learning any hard information about other cultures. The result is that the West has disarmed itself in the most critical arena:

“We have no strategy for dealing with an ideology...groups with terrorist ties are still able to insert their recruiters into American military bases, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else they get a yen to go.”

Western attempts to influence the development of Islam are usually exercises in self-delusion, beginning with the preferred choice of interlocutors: “’moderate Muslims’ would seem to be more accurately described as apostate or ex-Muslims.” As for more long-range efforts: “We – the befuddled infidels – talk airily about ‘reforming’ Islam. But what if the reform has already taken place and jihadism is it?”

The Islamization of Europe is no longer hypothetical, in part because of the determination of the anti-discrimination police to enforce accommodation to what often extremist and unrepresentative Islamic groups claim to be Muslim sensibilities: “there’s very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and sharia.” Worse than that is the casual use of violence and threats against European writers and artists, or even against ordinary persons: non-Muslim women in heavily Muslim neighborhoods increasingly go about dressed in something approaching Muslim fashion in order to avoid insult.

* * *

How, you may ask, can the United States prevent much of the world from turning to theocratic rubble, like Taliban Afghanistan? Steyn suggests these priorities:

"In World War Two, the sands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where the main event, and rounding up the enemy sympathizers in Michigan was the sideshow. One can argue that this time around the priorities are reversed -- that bombing Baby Assad out of the presidential palace in Damascus is a more marginal battlefield then turning back the tide of Islamicist support in Europe and elsewhere. America and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about summon the will to win on the battlefield. On the cultural front, where this war in the end will be won, there’s little evidence of any kind of will.”

Nonetheless, he says that the military dimension cannot be neglected: the worst thing to do is nothing. Even if the war is chiefly ideological, there are state sponsors of the hostile ideology, and something has to be done about them, either militarily or through devastating economic sanctions:

“[E]very year we remain committed to 'stability' increases the Islamists’ principal advantage: it strengthens the religion – the vehicle for their political project – and multiplies the raw material...So another decade or two of ‘stability and the world will be well on its way to a new Dark Ages...But the central fact of a new Dark Ages is this: it would not be a world in which the American superpower is succeeded by other powers but a world with no dominant powers at all.”

It is true that the United States is held in light esteem in many of the world’s better magazines, and even does increasingly badly in public opinion polls taken in countries whose leadership is not necessarily committed to America’s destruction. Steyn attributes the darkening of the American image to elites like those in France, who are obviously weighing their chances in a semi-Muslim future, or to other well-meaning people who live in a fantasy world, where the most pressing issue facing civilization is rising sea levels. One might also suggest that, if the post-World War II international system is decomposing, America has become the screen onto which are projected the anxieties and ambitions aroused by the decomposition. To the jihadis, America is the godless Great Satan; to much of Europe, and even to many Blue State Americans, America is a theocratic Jesusland. As Steyn puts it: “America is George Orwell’s Room 101: whatever your bugbear you will find it therein; whatever you’re against, America is the prime example thereof.”

In reality, though, what much of the developed world is going to experience in the next 10 or 20 years is re-primitivization: “The Serbs figured that out – as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.” Where states fail, private parties can be expected to step in:

“If a dirty bomb with unclear fingerprints goes off in London or Delhi, it’s not necessary to wait for the government to respond. As in Ulster, there’ll always be groups who think the state power is too [timid] to hit back. So unlisted numbers will be dialed hither and yon, arrangements will be made, and bombs will go off in Islamabad and Riyadh and Cairo. There will be plenty of non-state actors on the non-Islamic side. In the end the victims of the Islamist contagion will include many, many Muslims.”

To combat the Islamic dimension of the threat (and remember, it’s chiefly a demographic problem) Steyn has suggestions of various degrees of plausibility, of which the most intriguing is the proposal to create a civil corps to engage Islamism ideologically:

“If America won’t export its values -- self-reliance, decentralization -- others will export theirs. In the eighties, Paul Kennedy warned the United States of ‘imperial overstretch.’ But the danger right now is of imperial understretch -- of a hyperpower reluctant to sell its indisputably successful inheritance to the rest of the world.”

Steyn wants to scrap the post-World War II international institutions and replace them with an alliance of capable and committed democratic powers. He says the Saudis have to be stopped from financing their worldwide religious underground. He would also like to develop technology that would end the dependence of the developed world on Middle Eastern oil: a fine notion, and none the worse for having been suggested a hundred times before.

This brings us to the cultural front. It is a good bet that Steyn is prophetic when he tells us, “By 2015, almost every viable political party in the West will be natalist.” And what should the platforms of these Mewling Infant Parties contain? “We need to find a way to restore advantage to parenthood in the context of modern society. Shrink the state. If you got four dependents, your taxable income is to be divided by five. We must end deferred adulthood.” And how do we do that? “We need to redirect the system to telescope education into a much shorter period.” The upshot, apparently, is that educated people should be educated faster so that they will normally have children while they’re in their twenties. We hear not one word that these proposals, though perhaps inevitable, will mean that the life courses of men and women will diverge again.

Steyn has given us a fiery polemical introduction to the crisis of the first quarter of the 21st century. However, we recognize the limitations of his analysis when we come to statements like, “The free world’s citizenry could use more non-state actors.” Consider his view of the moral of September 11, 2001:

“What worked that day was municipal government, small government, core government -- fireman the NYPD cops, rescue workers. What flopped -- big-time, as the vice president would say -- was the federal government, the FBI, CIA, INS, FAA, and all the other hotshot, money-no-object, fancypants acronyms.”

Stirring words, but counterfactual. In reality, on 911 the World Trade Center’s security service killed many of the people in the buildings by urging them to return to their offices after the attack was underway. The radios of the various emergency services were not able to communicate with each other. The firemen died needlessly by charging into burning buildings that local fire experts had declared indestructible. The epitome of effective local government, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was almost killed because the city’s emergency command center was located in the World Trade Center complex, despite the fact everyone knew the complex was the most likely target for a terrorist attack. The federal government did not cover itself with glory on that day, either, but at least the feds managed to close down and then restart the airline system within the space of a few hours.

Toward the end of the book, Steyn remarks, “You can’t win a war of civilizational confidence with a population of nanny-state junkies.” But the fact is that is how the world wars were fought and won, either by states that had extensive social-welfare systems, or that promised such systems to their citizens as part of the reward of victory.

It is certainly the case that the nanny state of the postwar developed world, with its therapeutic model of governance and its subsidy of victimhood, is a degenerate and unsustainable type of polity. But consider what it degenerated from: the war-and-welfare state of the era of the Great Wars that lasted from 1861 to 1945. The same powers of economic and political mobilization that allowed those wars to be fought permitted, indeed required, the domestic mobilization of education and public health and industry that allowed the governments of that explosive era to function effectively as military actors. Those governments commanded the most effective states that ever existed, and the mark of the societies they governed was precisely that, during the long lifetime from Lincoln to Churchill, the fortunes of the state and of the citizen increasingly merged. For a while, for just a few years, the mechanisms were in place to drive society in the service of urgent public policy.

The nanny state is a declension from that height of state fitness, and so is the libertarian state. In the face of an existential crisis, Churchill promised his people that their lives would be drenched in blood, sweat, and tears until victory was won. In the face of a comparable threat to civilization, George Bush made some fine public restatements of America’s now traditional Wilsonianism, but otherwise told the American people to support the tourist industry by visiting America’s beauty spots; while cutting taxes in the middle of two major wars, he reminded the taxpayers, “It’s your money.” Even if you accept the president’s economic model, surely it is obvious that such policies have no power to mobilize. The philosophy behind them diverts attention from the core functions of government, as the embrace of an open-borders policy by the Republican establishment illustrates. The small government that Steyn urges might be able to win conventional wars, but it would be unable otherwise to affect events. Increasingly, its irrelevance to the real problems, many of which Steyn has identified, would lose it the loyalty of its citizens. Thus we see that the libertarian state undermines patriotism quite as effectively as the European Union. They are parallel manifestations of the same phenomenon.

Many of Steyn’s specific proposals have merit, but they need a context he has not yet attempted to articulate. It might be possible for America to revive the Churchillian State within its own borders; maybe Japan could do that too, but neither Europe as a whole nor the nations within it could manage such a thing. In any case, it is not at all clear that even America should try. The work of regeneration needed to fight off the Muslim infection and save the threatened societies of the world from suicide cannot dispense with patriotism. However, it must be patriotism strengthened by some wider loyalty impervious to the subversions to which the Churchillian State proved subject.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-06-27: Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح revolution.shirazu.ac.ir, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44763608

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح revolution.shirazu.ac.ir, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44763608

Spengler [David P. Goldman] and John Reilly had sets of ideas that were mildly adversarial and mildly complementary. I don't know whether they ever corresponded. For example, Spengler was right that democracy in the Middle East would unleash terror and war. John Reilly was right that Iran is a far better country than most in the Middle East, with institutions that work and an economy that isn't purely driven by oil. Americans are still annoyed with Iran following the hostage crisis, but Iran used to be a firm ally in the Middle East, a counterweight to the Sunni majority.

John also looks further into the idea that something about China's role in world politics is a bit off. Here, John makes a distinction between an empire and the Empire, a universal state. The People's Republic is an empire in the first sense at present. Whether it can fill the second role remains to be seen.


Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City

 

There are many things that might be said about the overwhelming election victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election. One notes the cosmic coincidences: President Ahmadinejad is just as surprising a victory for populism as the defeat of the EU constitution; or, to some people, the reelection of President Bush. However, the increasingly pessimistic Spengler at Asia Times has his own take in a piece called Iran: The living fossils' vengeance

That is the great gift of Islam, which offers much more to the faithful than the ordering of traditional life. It promises to impose the system of traditional life upon the world. Islam is the vengeance of tribal society upon the cosmopolitan empires, first against the Sassanids and Byzantines, then against the Holy Roman Empire, and now against the West. The Muslim does not cower in his village waiting for the inevitable encroachment of a hostile world, but seeks to impose his will on the world....In their provincial smugness, President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice understand none of this. The more the Middle East opens its political process to the will of the people, the worse things will be for Washington.

By no means: democratic political processes contribute to world order even if the content of the politics being processed is reprehensible. That's what the Kantian Peace is all about. Granted, there is no special virtue in plebiscitary dictatorships. What we have in Iran is quite different: a populist theocrat who works under institutional constraints and who has a constituency to placate. Things could go very wrong with Iran, but not as wrong as when the Ayatollah was in flower.

* * *

On the subject of ways to improve the planet, Acta Astronautica is floating a solution to global warming that is slightly less crazy than it seems:

The power of scattering sunlight has been illustrated naturally, the scientists note. Volcanic eruptions, such as that of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, pumped aerosols into the atmosphere and cooled the global climate by about a degree. Other researchers have suggested such schemes as adding metallic dust to smoke stacks, to flood the atmosphere and reflect more sunlight back into space.

In the newly outlined approach, reflective particles [in orbit in a ring] might come from the mining of Earth, the Moon or asteroids. They'd be put into orbit around the equator. Alternately, tiny micro-spacecraft could be deployed with reflective umbrellas.

And how much would the ring cost?

$6 trillion to $200 trillion for the particle approach. Deploying tiny spacecraft would come at a relative bargain: a mere $500 billion tops.

If that sounds too high a price, the article reminds us:

[T]he Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is estimated to cost the world economy some $150 billion a year.

On the whole, I think that turning the Earth into a scale model of Saturn would be a bad idea. On the other hand, something like this around Venus might be really useful, if you have any interest in terraforming.

* * *

Usually, I either disagree with Mark Steyn or grind my teeth because I did not think of something he said first. Regarding the continuing embarrassment of the Flag-Burning Amendment, he hit the nail on the head:

The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which

Rep. Randy ''Duke'' Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument:

''Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment."

Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn't presume to speak for those who died atop the World Trade Center. ...maybe some would think that criminalizing disrespect for national symbols is unworthy of a free society. And maybe others would roll their eyes and say that, granted it's been clear since about October 2001 that the federal legislature has nothing useful to contribute to the war on terror, and its hacks and poseurs prefer to busy themselves with a lot of irrelevant grandstanding with a side order of fries, but they could at least quit dragging us into it.

If you could not burn it, it would not be worth saluting.

* * *

Students of the better newspapers, and indeed of many of the worse ones, will not have failed to notice the flurry of items about the Chinese Threat, which, apparently, grows daily on the economic, military, and diplomatic levels. Whenever you see this many stories and columns on the same subject but without an obvious news-hook, you have to wonder whether they are being orchestrated somehow. In this case, it is hard to imagine any puppet master who could pull the strings of both Mark Steyn and Paul Krugman.

Krugman, we should remember, is actually a pretty good economist during the brief periods when he takes his medication and is able to talk about something other than the malice and folly of President Bush. He notes that expansion of the Chinese economy is different in kind from that of Japan in the 1980s. The Japanese seemed to be buying up every thing in the world in those days, but Japan did not have geostrategic ambitions. China does.

There are ironies here. Donald Rumsfeld was made Secretary of Defense precisely so that the US would be ready for a war with China about Taiwan, if worse came to worst. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have been one long distraction to him. He has always been keen to conduct the War on Terror on the cheap. China is the reason.

Citing Hardt & Negri just encourages them, but they do provide an important distinction between the roles of the US and China in today's world.

In their terminology, the US is "imperial," in the sense of working for the preservation of a world system with some claim to embody universal justice. The US actually does what the UN World Police is supposed to have done, had it ever existed. The current situation is institutionally unsatisfactory: it leads to challenges along the lines of, "Who died and made you boss?" The role of the US would be intolerable, if any other solution were on offer. There isn't. Probably, there won't be.

China, in contrast, is "imperialist" in the 19th-century sense. Its geostrategic aims are simply exported nationalism. To some extent, it regards those ambitions and the shaky rules of world governance as incompatible.

In its own way, China is just as much of a jellyfish empire as the EU: if it tries to act as a world power, it will break up. However, the process of break up would be quite compatible with a nuclear exchange.

If ever there is a New Rome, it might not be Washington, but some new capital in Kansas: Emerald City, perhaps.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-05-24: Manicheanism & World Order

Ed West noted recently that progressives have been becoming more and more globalist as times goes on, since this is seen as nationalism, the root of all evil. I call it globalism instead of pro-empire, because the the Empire is a socially conservative place, but I know what Ed means.


Manicheanism & World Order

 

The great debate continues about whether The Revenge of the Sith is anti-Bush propaganda. The most intelligent comments I have seen so far come from Constantly Risking Absurdity, such as this:

No, this wasn't a Bush-bashing film. Lucas couldn't have made one even if he tried--he can’t escape his own universe. If anything, this film is an argument against Richard Rorty and his school of "ironists," because it favors moral absolutism, objective standards, and a metaphysical foundation for society. Those who blame Bush for being an absolutist who clings to outdated notions of "good" and "evil" should find no support from this film.

If you will recall, Lucas was originally criticized for fostering a Manichean view of the world among Youth. Well, the Youth who lined up in multiplex parking lots to see the original Star Wars in 1977 are all grown up now. They are pretty much running the country; or, like the Manichees of the Michael Moore Left, would very much like to.

In any case, CRA also makes this useful observation:

Footnote: (1) [A.O.] Scott [of the New York Times] got the line wrong. It's not "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes," but, "Only a Sith deals with absolutes." I wonder if the future bumper-sticker manufacturers will take note.

Let us nip this misquote in the bud.

* * *

There is some merit to the works of Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and another book I actually read, Lullaby. Certainly they have ingenious story premises. However, as Tom Shone argues in his review in the New York Times Palahniuk's latest (Haunted: A Novel of Stories), ingenuity isn't everything:

The curious weakness of Palahniuk's neo-brutalist aesthetic is how hermetically sealed it must remain from anything that might challenge it: the air of hard-core debauch must be wall to wall or else crumble to nothing.

Is that a principle of general application? Does it apply to moral example, or just to esthetics?

* * *

Speaking of strategies to defeat Evil, Joseph Bottum's piece in the June/July issue of First Things, "The New Fusionism," tries to puzzle out just what the Kantians-in-Arms and the Pro-Lifers are doing in the same political coalition. The piece points out that this strange alliance has proven remarkably durable, but comes no closer to a satisfactory general theory of the matter:

The abolition of abortion and the active advance of democracy have more in common, I believe than is usually thought. But even if they are utterly separate philosophically, this much is true: They both require reversing the failure that has lingered in America since at least the 1970s, and success in one may well feed success in the other.

The goal in either case is to restore confidence--in what, exactly? Not our own infallible rightness, surely. But neither can we live any longer with the notion of our own infallible wrongness. We need to restore belief in the possibility of being right.

To that I might quote what the protagonist of C. S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress says to the Three Pale Men when they react inadequately to his report of the barbarian threat from the North:

Do you think you can rout a million armed dwarves by being "not romantic"?

Again, Walter Russell Mead's Power, Terror, Peace, and War offers a persuasive geopolitical rationale for the re-moralization of America: the US can never legitimize its place in the world if it is chiefly thought of as the world capital of atheism and debauchery. So, that is why the Kantians need the Evangelicals. But why do the Evangelicals need the Kantians? Dante, of course, proposed a class of solution to this question. By different logic, the Roman Catholic Church's social teaching has acquired a parallel trajectory. It may be some time before anyone really wants to connect the dots. Except me, of course.

* * *

Like millions of other Americans, I have sat motionless before my television set as the debate in the Senate about the filibuster has proceeded, chiefly because I had fallen asleep. Yes, there are important issues at stake, but following this is like watching...oh, I don't know: pick your favorite boring sport, maybe one of those events they include in the Olympics that no one has ever heard of.

Most distressing of all is that I could not find a comment from Ambrose Bierce about the filibuster, not even in the heterodox editions of The Devil's Dictionary (unless the definition "filibuster, n. Throwing your weight around" is from him). Attempts to expand the canon of Bierce's definitions have rarely proven happy. For this emergency, though, let me suggest this:

filibuster, n The only inert gas known to be generated by living organisms.

That is not brilliant commentary, but it is short.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Holy Roman Empire

The idea of the King holds great power in the West, even when actual kings and queens largely do not. For us Westerners, what the Emperor means comes from Rome through Charlemagne and Otto I. There is a mythical undercurrent however, that is far older.


The Holy Roman Empire
By Friedrich Heer
German Original 1967
English Translation 1968
(By Janet Sondheimer)
Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers
309 pages, Various Editions & Prices

 

The Empire was not a state, but a system of dispensing justice.

We find that lucid formula near the end of this sprawling book by Friedrich Heer (1916 – 1983), the great Austrian authority on intellectual history. The formula is welcome, since there has always been some mystery about what the Holy Roman Empire was, as well as about what it was supposed to be. However, just as the formula comes late in the book, so it best applies only to the final phase of the empire, when the emperors were preoccupied with the defense of their solid Habsburg possessions in Austria and Hungry, and the empire was a sort of German United Nations that functioned through the Perpetual Diet of Regensburg and through the imperial courts. Even in the 18th century, however, the empire never lost its connection to the days when the emperors were priest-kings, who reflected an even more primordial past.

And indeed, just as there is some mystery about what the empire was, so there is some mystery about how to characterize this book. Heer's work is like a good film adaptation of a complicated adventure romance: it is filled with lyrical language and splendid images (wonderful graphics in this book, by the way), but it is really an illustration of the story rather than a retelling of it. A full history of the Holy Roman Empire would be almost a political and intellectual history of Europe. This “History of the Holy Roman Empire” is set out chronologically, and most of it is a narrative of the reigns of the emperors, but the effect is almost of a cycle of prose poems.

There are key dates and events in the political history of the thousand-year empire, naturally. The Roman imperial title was revived, or created, for Charlemagne in 800, and survived the rapid disintegration of his empire. Eventually it passed to Otto I, who was crowned in 962, which in many ways was the real beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a largely, but not exclusively, German league of princes, bishops, and municipalities. All were under the authority, if never quite the control, of a nominally elective king. The fundamental constitutional text of the empire was the Golden Bull, issued by Charles IV in 1356. Among other things, the Bull fixed at seven the number of imperial electors, the college of lay and ecclesiastical lords who elected the emperor; their number eventually rose to nine. In 1555, at the end of the reign of Charles V, the first round of the wars of religion ended in the long truce of the Peace of Augsburg. Through a combination of malice and stupidity, the truce collapsed into the Thirty Years' War in the next century. The war (wars, really) ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which made it possible for Catholics and Protestants to co-exist in the empire. The cost was a broad and precise definition of the rights of the German principalities that prevented the formation of a national German state. The empire was dissolved, under pressure from Napoleon, by the Emperor Francis I in 1806. Heer repeatedly assures us that the dissolution was beyond the emperor's power, and illegal; he's probably right.

The difficulty with telling the story of the Holy Roman Empire is that all the verbs and adverbs are attached in every generation to different nouns. The empire's center of gravity was generally in Germany, or Austria, but sometimes the emperors identified more with their possessions in Burgundy or the Netherlands, or in Bohemia. Charles V, the first ruler on whose domains the sun never set, was as Spanish as he was Burgundian or Austrian (though the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire were coincident only in Charles's person). The hold of Charles's family, the Habsburgs, on the imperial office was almost secure in the last few centuries of the empire. The various branches of the Habsburgs perfected the art of being everywhere present and nowhere a foreigner. The fact of being cosmopolitan did not make the Austrian Habsburgs chiefly concerned with protecting their most cosmopolitan title, however. They cared for the empire, just as they cared for their other possessions. At the end, though, they could let it go without diminishing their house's real power or influence.

Nonetheless, the empire does have a history, because there were constants. Heer tells us that the Ottonian conception of the empire characterized it to some degree until the very end:

“What could be finer, what more right and proper, than a Holy Empire conceived as a great federative league, based on trust rather than subjection, composed of friends from within and without (at their head the Pope, both as bishop of Rome and the king's friend), the whole under the leadership of the Emperor-king?”

Despite the empire's protean geography, there were some basics that all emperors struggled to retain. They all protected the jurisdiction of the imperial courts, for instance, and they all tried to secure communications through imperial territory. There was a small number of imperial rights they insisted on keeping, and to a remarkable extent they succeeded.

Political theory is relevant to the study of the empire, obviously, but the empire stays in our minds because it is where all those emperors in European fairy tales come from. Heer does not cease to remind us that the symbols and the functions of the emperors go back 5,000 years, to the first city-states with their eagle emblems and god-kings. The emperor was in some sense a universal ruler, in dignity if not in fact. His archetypical claim to deference had nothing to do with his power.

They emperors always did certain things. They hunted. They cured by touch, at least reputedly. They protected the Church. They made peace. More precisely, they had the duty to give peace. Also, the emperors, and the empire as a whole, were the restrainers of Antichrist. (Curiously, Heer does not cite II Thessalonians 2:7.) The German emperors played this role when they defeated a Magyar invasion of the West in 955 at the Battle of Lech, and thereby created the sense of “Germanness.” They played the same role six centuries later, when they were the only European rulers to offer serious, systematic, and ultimately successful resistance to the Turkish jihad aimed at central Europe. According to persistent myth, when the Emperor of the Last Days lays down his crown at Jerusalem after finally defeating Babylon, then the Antichrist will appear.

Sometimes, of course, the emperor was Antichrist, at least in the opinion of the pope. The tension between holy empire and holy church, both claiming divine sanction, runs right through the history of the West. Heer points out that the largely successful campaign by the popes of the 12th and 13th centuries to desacralize the empire was the basis of every other claim of right that would ever be made against the state. It also meant that the Church, the City of God, would eventually become just another political body: society as well as the state was ultimately desacralized.

Interesting as the medieval material is, Heer's book is most valuable for its treatment of the period after the Treaty of Westphalia. He points out that the empire's only “native style” was the baroque. Baroque art, politics, and philosophy were employed by the empire (and also by the Catholic Church) to preserve the world of images that the Reformation had begun to destroy.

The high baroque was a “festival culture,” colorful and profligate. Underneath the gilt and gemütlichkeit, however, there was an unshakeable foreboding. In Heer's telling, the good humor of Mozart's empire was an expression of the understanding that life is based on sacrifice, on self-sacrifice, which was to be carried out with style and without complaint. The music, the painting, and the overwrought architecture all reflected this. The result has never been to everyone's taste. Had Heer lived longer, he might not have been surprised that post-Habsburg Eastern European cities became the locales of choice for horror films.

Even in its final, Enlightenment era, the intellectuals of the empire expressed as philosophy something of that Great Chain of Being that was directly intuited by the medieval mind:

“The picture of the world presented by Leibnitz, his outlook on the world and the entire body of his religious and philosophical thinking, whether he knew it or not, is a eulogy of the Holy Roman Empire: his universe is one of a pre-established harmony, sustained by a regulated but voluntary harmony of the 'monads' (an expression he borrowed from Theresa of Avila). Just as in the Holy Roman Empire – as Leibnitz saw it – the princes, the imperial towns and all the other groups and individuals who were centered on the Emperor were supposed to work together in free and orderly fashion, so did faith and reason, God and man, nature and the supernatural, the smallest objects and the greatest, work together in the cosmos.”

The end of the empire as a political entity was overdetermined. Among the specific causes that Heer points out, I might mention just two. One was the theft of Silesia by Frederick the Great from the Habsburgs. The province was not that important to Austria, but it gave Prussia (which was founded by the Imperial Elector of Brandenburg, by the way) the human resources to carry out the long-term project of hegemony in Germany. More important was the fact that the emperors themselves were turning their backs on old Europe.

The greater cause of the empire's end was internal. Before the beginning of the age of mass revolution, the Enlightenment encouraged revolution from above. The 18th century was full of reforming despots, among the most radical of whom was the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. He expropriated Church property and regulated the clergy in a way that the French Revolution would only imitate. He expanded the rights of religious minorities within his own territories. He attempted to elevate the peasantry, especially in backward Hungry, from serfs to freeholders. He promoted education and manufactures. And when he died in 1790, he realized that he had largely failed.

In every age the empire had its patriots, figures of the caliber of Dante and Goethe. Such people were also intense local patriots, with deep attachments to cities and small states. The universal patriotism of the empire complemented these native loyalties, because the empire was not a country, but an idea. Indeed, there is a sense in which the mere death of the political empire has in no way diminished its importance, or its hold on men's hearts:

“The crisis of the Empire and the crisis of the Church were terrifying to live through. In twelfth-century Germany and Italy the painful experience stimulated thinking men to attempt a philosophy and theology of world history. These writers, as they reflect on progress and decay, consciously or unconsciously hold up for us a mirror to the history of their epoch, the epoch which saw the rise and decline of the Empire and the rise of the Church...Underground eddies of this historical thinking reached Friedrich Hegel as he in turn reflected on world history in the last days of the Holy Roman Empire, and they re-emerge (some of them clearly identifiable) in his philosophy.”

One could easily extend that chain of influence to people like Francis Fukuyama, and to 21st century transnationalism and neoconservatism. The empire has its patriots still.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Holy Roman Empire
By Friedrich Heer

Linkfest 2017-04-07

A really fun map, and as the article reluctantly notes, not especially credulous about the tall tales travelers shared.

I've linked stories on Uber's evil genius before. This seems to be their attempt to make Hari Seldon real. The New York Times article includes spiffy simulations.

An intriguing look at what kept the Romans, so very advanced in some ways, from an industrial revolution.

Father Matthew Schneider defends oil pipelines from a Catholic point of view.

I'm not surprised, but I've also known some truly gifted scam artists.

A fun interactive map that lets you see where people live.

A labor union associated think tank argues that free trade lowered wages in Mexico.

Noah Smith defends Case and Deaton.

James Miller interviews Greg Cochran, part 1. A wide-ranging conversation, covering Less Wrong, microbiology, federal funding, and free speech. Well worth a listen. [I helped fund this.]

Greg Cochran points out the flaws and misunderstandings in Cordelia Fine's new book. [I also helped fund this.]

Hollywood accounting is pretty shady. I wish Shearer the best of luck.

Damon Linker points out that about as many people die from alcohol overdose as heroin overdose in the US, and the overall rate of alcohol problems mirrors the rate of things like depression: about 1 in 3 over a lifetime.

Kevin Drum has a chart of the rates of death by drug overdose from selected periods and causes that dovetails nicely with Linker.

Ireland's population still hasn't recovered from the combination of famine and mass emigration in the mid-nineteenth century.

  • Crime rate in the US

This chart comes from US Census Bureau data, and the paper containing it seems to be this: J. A. Miron, 1999. "Violence and the U.S. prohibitions of drugs and alcohol," American Law and Economics Association, vol 1(1), pages 78-114. I am intensely curious about the very low homicide rate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Particularly since it differs from other charts of the same thing, for example this one from Steven Pinker's Better Angels.

The solution seems to be that a 1995 article in Demography contains a model of homicide data that has been widely used to estimate missing data. Why do we need a model you ask? Because the data from the period didn't include everywhere in the United States. Not being an expert, the model seems reasonable, but don't forget it is a model.

Eckberg, D. L.  1995. “Estimates of Early 20th-Century U.S. Homicide Rates,” Demography.

I've stumbled on the same dataset twice now. The Tuskegee Institute started keeping track of lynchings in 1892. The data only goes back to 1882, which is the year the Chicago Tribune started keeping numbers. The NAACP also started collecting numbers in 1912. You can see in the chart the point when lynching stopped being just a kind of frontier justice, and started being a way to terrorize black Americans. If data existed for the entire 19th century, I think this trend would be even more clear. Data in EXCEL here.

A post on the reddit for Slatestarcodex questioning the qualifications of Emil Kirkegaard, whom I'm linked several times. I think most of the points made by the anonymous poster are reasonable, and also wrong in Kirkegaard's case.

Emil Kirkegaard's response.

Ross Douthat argues that we should just go all the way to true Imperialism. A position that I endorse. S. M. Stirling gives a notable fictional example of how an actual empire, a universal state, can be genuinely multicultural. Also, the Hapsburgs.

The Long View 2004-05-07: The Patience of the Saints

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

The point John makes here about the imperialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is relevant to the condition of Puerto Rico today. Puerto Rico was the first foray of the United States into this kind of nationalist imperialism, but unlike either the Philippines, where were granted independence, and Hawaii, which was made a State of the Union, Puerto Rico languishes in a kind of state-limbo. And this seems to be just the way the Puerto Ricans like it. 

As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico enjoys the currency, citizenship, and Federal benefits of the United States  Puerto Rico received $6.5 billion USD in Federal aid in 2013. That is about 40% of the revenue for that year.  In contrast, my own state of Arizona had a budget of $8.8 billion USD that same year. I don't know whether the Puerto Rican equivalent of county and city governments are included in the official report, but I do find the relative budgets rather astonishing, since Puerto Rico has half as many people as Arizona does.

What all this means is Puerto Rico is a rather expensive bauble of the US, rather than any kind of productive part of the economy. Which is probably why most Puerto Ricans live on the mainland. However, unlike the African colonies of the European powers, we have never bothered to get rid of Puerto Rico. In large part, this is because the Puerto Ricans seem OK with this arrangement, other than the time some Puerto Rican nationalists tried to assassinate Harry Truman. It is far less clear what the rest of the US gets out of the deal.

John mentions a prediction by Paul Erdman that an oil crisis was coming, similar in scale to the OPEC embargo of 1973. Well, let's just see what that looks like in retrospect:

Yeah, that did actually happen. Paul Erdman died in 2007, but it looks like he was right. I don't know whether he also predicted the subsequent fracking boom. From the quote, it looks like Erdman was an advocate for Peak Oil. Maybe Peak Oil's day will come, it just hasn't yet.


The Patience of the Saints

 

Consider the differences between the war in Iraq and the last French war in Algeria. The attempt by France to retain Algeria was, for most purposes, the end of European colonialism. Colonialism, however, was simply the nationalism of the metropolitan powers, projected abroad. In hindsight, it was obviously going to end when European nationalism was discredited, as it was after the Second World War. What the peoples of the colonies did or wanted or said was epiphenomenal. The colonies were abandoned, not because they were ruinously expensive to maintain, but because the metropolitan countries lost interest in the national prestige that the empires had been created to express.

The war in Iraq thus could not be a colonial war, a point that even pro-imperialists like Niall Ferguson have trouble taking on board. Neither is it a Twilight Struggle war, like Korea and Vietnam, or like the USSR's war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The wars of classic imperialism were fought as acts of national self-assertion. The wars of the Cold War were fought to advance or defend the interests of one or the other of the two power blocks. The Iraq War, like the Kosovo War that immediately preceded it, was fought in the name of universal right, of the ideal Empire as Dante and Negri conceived it.

This is, of course, why the recent prison scandal is so distressing. As the Catholic Church in America can attest, it is difficult to claim to represent universal justice while explaining how the ministers of justice abused persons under their care. However, just as the Catholic Church did not implode in the face of the scandals, neither will the Coalition project in Iraq. Saying "I'm sorry" again and again really does have some effect. Besides, the Iraqis are still intrigued by a government that does not answer criticism with gunfire.

The Bush Administration does not think of itself as the executive pro-tempore of Dante's Empire; any official of the Administration would no doubt vehemently deny that the Administration was any such thing. Transnationalists do vehemently deny that the Administration is acting as an ecumenical executive, but that is because they believe the legitimate executive is the UN. Nonetheless, the Coalition is in fact acting as an ecumenical agent in Iraq, and from that certain consequences follow.

The demands of Arab nationalists for Wilsonian states lose the revolutionary punch they had in the 20th century. The right to self-determination is still recognized, but now it means something more limited than it did 50 years ago. Progressives in particular cannot demand classical national sovereignty for Iraq when they reject it for their own countries. To put it another way: any claim is illegitimate that would undermine the prerogative of the Empire to maintain the tranquility of order.

Despite all the 1960s nostalgia, Iraq is not going to turn into Vietnam. There is no local analog to North Vietnam, for one thing, so there is no power that could roll up the country. Moreover, the bar for a Coalition victory is not actually very high. The war has demonstrated the paper maché insubstantiality of totalitarian nationalism in the Islamic world. A post-occupation state might bear a grudge against the US, but it could not entertain anything like the ambitions of the former Baathist regime. That is true of the whole region now. That's what the war was for. Yes, it was worth it.

* * *

Here is yet another comment, this time from Paul Erdman, about an impending oil crisis:

[I]t has become increasingly clear that the world is heading toward a major oil crisis -- in terms of both price and supply -- that will dwarf that of 1973..[The litany is familiar:]

1. A growing geopolitical crisis in the Middle East...For there can be no doubt whatsoever that the fall of the House of Saud would...thrust the entire Western world into an energy crisis of unprecedented proportions...

2 A surge in global demand for energy and particularly crude oil and its derivatives, fueled by the recovery of both the American and Japanese economies and the unprecedented growth of China...

3. A structural deterioration of the world's oil supply. What is involved here is nothing short of an imminent peaking out of production of crude oil on a global basis -- known by energy industry insiders as "Hubbert's Peak" -- which would turn a cyclical supply/demand crisis into a structural energy crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Had the Iraq War not occurred, the House of Saud might well be in even worse case. There would still be a large American military presence in Saudi Arabia, which was actually Osama bin Laden's chief rationale for starting the Jihad against the West. There would still be badly guarded borders with Iraq and Syria, whose governments would surmise that support for Islamist movements carries only limited risk. When the Saudis did start to crack, there would be little that the US could do about protecting the oil supply, especially with the hostile unknown of Baathist Iraq to the east. Now, in contrast, the detachment of the oil fields from the crumbling Saudi Kingdom has become a policy option favored in some circles.

There is another factor here. The loss of Saudi oil would be a catastrophe for every major power in the world except Russia, which has oil to sell. China, Japan, India, the EU: all would have a life-or-death interest in getting the Saudi fields up and running again. To do that, they would contribute troops and money, but only the US has the logistics to make it possible. The fall of the House of Saud would not mean resource wars among the great powers. Rather, transnational cooperation would break out all over.

* * *

If this sounds a little unrealistic to you, maybe you are right, but it's not as unrealistic as the attitude in continental Europe toward the threat it faces.

I actually missed the following incident, which occurred just after the immolation of the bodies of four contract workers in Falluja. It was reported on the wire services, though. This version is from an article by Christopher Caldwell in the May 10 issue of The Weekly Standard, entitled "Zapatero's Spain":

[O]n April 3 another 7 [suspects in the March 11 train bombing in Madrid], believed to be the ringleaders, killed themselves with a bomb when their apartment in the Madrid suburb of Leganés was surrounded by police. One of the policemen, 41-year-old Francisco Javier Torronteras, the father of two daughters, was killed, too...[J]ust before sunrise on Monday, April 19...
[u]nknown intruders broke into the cemetery where the policeman Torronteras was interred. With a pick-axe, they pried open the crypt where his body lay, smashing the plaque on which memorial verses had been written by his family. They removed the coffin, wheeled it 500 meters away on a hand truck, opened it, chopped off the left hand, doused the corpse with gasoline, and lit it on fire.

The police chose to blame the incident on skinheads.

* * *

As someone who was a child in the 1960s, I developed certain expectations about the future, but I have been stoic about their disappointment. I can live without flying cars (perhaps longer than if they existed, actually). I shrug at the lack of colonies on the moon. The same goes for the submarine cities. Something I will not tolerate, however, is the lack of videophones. By that, I mean videophones that people use to talk to one another, rather than to view pornography or to hold business conferences with colleagues who are not important enough to meet in person.

That's why I look out for products like these Beamer phones. They are cheap enough that ordinary consumers might actually buy them, but you have to wonder about the quality of any image sent over a standard phone line.

* * *

Speaking of facts paling in the light of Higher Truth, here are a few links to some old detective-stories that turn Sherlock Holmes on his dolichocephalic head.

Arthur Conan Doyle's example made it difficult for writers in the early 20th century to avoid trying their hand at detective fiction, but some of his younger contemporaries took the opportunity to create an "anti-Holmes," a class of detective who solves crimes by ignoring the clues. Rather, he focuses on the character of the suspects.

One such anti-Holmes was Simon Iff, created by Aleister Crowley. In the Iff stories, the point is not so much to solve crimes as to show why the guilty so richly deserve their dreadful punishments. G.K. Chesterton, oddly enough, was writing pretty much the same kind of fiction at the same time. His neglected Basil Grant stories are about deducing facts from character. The Father Brown stories are of much the same sort, but they are the only works by Chesterton I really can't stand, so the less said the better. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View: Dante's World Government

This is an absolutely beautiful exposition of the idea that a universal state is the best for the flourishing of man. I'll let the words speak for themselves.


Dante's World Government:
De Monarchia in the 21st Century

 

By John J. Reilly

“In writing the introduction to a work of political philosophy there is a temptation to attribute more importance to the work in question than it can properly claim. With Dante's Monarchy this temptation scarcely arises; for many have dismissed the treatise as a dream, the vision of an idealist out of touch with political realities who was yearning for an Empire that had passed away.”

So wrote Donald Nicholl in his introduction to the English translation (Noonday Press, 1954) that I used for this essay. There is a sense in which his assessment remains true 49 years later. It has been a long time since many people had much enthusiasm for the Holy Roman Empire, which was the particular instance of universal polity that Dante was defending. The paucity of translations of De Monarchia into English might also be taken as evidence of lasting irrelevance. (The Latin original is, oddly enough, available online, at no charge.) Some things have changed in the past half-century, however. The prospect of new forms of transnational governance is often discussed these days, either as a promise or a threat. Moreover, the dream-like abstraction of Dante's arguments may allow for modern re-interpretation in a way that would not be possible to a more concrete and historically grounded analysis. It is very unlikely that De Monarchia will someday be hailed as a guide to restructuring the international system. Nonetheless, in intellectual history, there are some issues that never really go away. In this book, Dante gives us an early formulation of some perennial ideas.

Even the most Platonic political theory has some history behind it, of course. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was born into Florence's Guelph party, which was the faction that generally supported the papacy against the Holy Roman Empire. (The imperial party was the Ghibellines.) Briefly a member of Florence's governing council, he was exiled in 1301, when the Guelph faction that was backed by France took control of the city. The French were there because Charles of Valois had entered Italy at the pope's invitation to restore order to the peninsula. The next year, Pope Boniface VIII issued the famous bull, Unum Sanctum, which advanced the broadest claims to the supremacy of the church over temporal authority, particularly over the empire. De Monarchia may be considered an answer to those claims; or maybe better, their dialectical opposite.

The date of De Monarchia's composition is disputed, though it was probably finished in the second decade of the 14th century. Its arguments in favor of the autonomy of the empire are not greatly different from the political theory of the Convivio, which Dante abandoned unfinished about 1308, and The Divine Comedy, which he completed shortly before his death. It probably was not finished before the arrival of the new emperor to Italy, Henry VII, in 1310. He, too, came to restore order, this time with the blessing of Clement V, the French pope who initiated the removal the papacy to Avignon that would last until 1377. These events turned Dante into what he described as a “party of one.”

De Monarchia asks three questions: Is the secular monarchy necessary? Did the Roman people receive the monarchy by right? Does the monarch receive his authority directly from God, or through the intermediation of some minister of God? These terms require a little explanation. By “monarchy,” Dante does not mean simply the rule of a single individual, though his argument does tend toward the Aristotelian proposition that legitimate monarchy is the most perfect form of government (in contrast to tyranny, which is monarchy's opposite and the worst form). The later Roman Republic was the “monarch” of the ancient world, in Dante's terminology. De Monarchia is really about the structure of the international system. As for the “Roman” element, Dante does not distinguish between the Republic and the Empire, or between ancient Rome and the medieval empire.

So, then, to take Dante's first question: Is the secular monarchy necessary?

Remarkably, Dante derives the necessity of monarchy from an argument that is almost Hegelian. Universal government is necessary, because it is the way to universal peace; universal peace is necessary, because it is the only way the human race can attain its end, or purpose; this end is actualization of the “possible intellect,” which is possessed by the human species as a whole.

The possible intellect got Dante into a lot of posthumous trouble; it was one of the reasons De Monarchia stayed on the Index of Forbidden Books from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The notion comes from the 12th-century Iberian Islamic philosopher, Averroes (Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd), who deployed it in a way that argued against personal immortality in favor of a collective human soul. Dante himself thought no such thing, of course. His version rests on the scholastic commonplace that human beings are only partly intellectual beings (unlike angels, whose substance is intellect). Because of this defect, no single human being, however intelligent, could fully embody the intellectual capacity common to the species. That could be done only collectively and, since knowledge is cumulative, historically. The human species, if it is to achieve the state of intellectual perfection possible to it, required a peaceful and therefore unified world.

Since the 19th century, we have been more inclined to expect the advancement of intellect to come from competition than from harmonious peace. To that, perhaps, a medieval would have argued that even a market of ideas requires rules to keep the market functioning. Certainly a dynamic world is not quite contrary to the medieval ideal of the tranquility of order.

Be that as it may, Dante insists that the ideal political order is a universal polity. The good inherent in the whole, he explains, exceeds the good inherent in the parts, though these parts may have an internal constitution that resembles the order of the whole. Thus, only a polity that encompasses the whole human species could really be perfect.

The universality of the universal monarch would not be expressed by promulgating the positive law for every district. Rather, the universal law would be a common law, which deals only with those things all men have in common. Neither would it mean that the several nations could not have their own princes and other magistrates. However, those rulers could rule justly only by virtue of their relationship to the universal monarch.

This is essentially the same argument that Julius Evola made in connection with his critique of 19th century imperialism. An empire in competition with other empires for national glory was mere violence, in his estimation. The distinction between “the empire” and “an empire” is also fundamental to the analysis of the postmodern world in Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's book, Empire. They point out that the global system of governance has a moral basis that was lacking in the competitive empires of early modernity. The empires were imperialistic; though they might sometimes benefit their subjects, they were founded on ambition and greed. The “empire” of the late modern international order, in contrast, though it may cause endless disaster, is founded on the principle of eternal justice. The former were imperialistic; the latter is imperial.

All things being equal, the universal law would better be made by one agent, rather than by several, according to Dante. Human concord can be attained only by a concord of wills, which needs a human director. One may note that this reasoning would work almost as well as an argument to move beyond a law of nations enforced by nations to a world system with a genuine executive, if not necessarily a “monarch” in the conventional sense.

Dante, who spent the last two decades of his life in exile because of the chaos among the petty states of Italy, saw nothing odd in also asserting that the empire is necessary for human freedom. Freedom is the perfect condition of man, the state he was designed for. However, man is free only when his judgment may operate undeflected by the appetite. The monarch could create the institutional basis for a society in which the most people would be able to approach this condition. This is because only the monarch could himself be entirely free; having the greatest honor in the world, there would be nothing further for him to desire. Thus, being wholly disinterested, his reign would have no object other than the common good.

This reasoning might perhaps seem non-obvious to moderns, who are quick to point out that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Neither would there be general assent today to the proposition that satisfying all a man's desires would necessarily make him a good person. On the other hand, Dante's reasoning does bear a family resemblance to Francis Fukuyama's hypothesis that liberal democracy is the end of history because it satisfies all aspects of human nature. Moreover, there have been several recent arguments to the effect that something very like Dante's empire is necessary to human freedom, or at least to the highest level of human freedom that is possible in much of the world. So said Niall Ferguson, in yet another book named Empire, with respect to the British tradition. On a somewhat higher level of abstraction, that is also what Patrick Kennon says in Tribe and Empire.

The modern apologists for empire use reasoning that is not as different from Dante's as might at first appear. They say that the empire is the institution best suited to mitigate ethnic strife, because the empire is transnational and, like the monarch, disinterested. Further, Dante says that only the perfectly free monarch can impart a measure of freedom to the wider world because only he possesses this quality himself; similarly, only a liberal democratic empire could impart liberal democracy to societies that lack it.

Before proceeding to Dante's second question, this might be a good point to examine Dante's method. Readers will have gathered that, in fine scholastic style, he favors arguments “in the alternative.” Indeed, in this summary I have taken some liberties by integrating arguments that Dante leaves side by side. The internal logic of each argument is formal and partisan; unlike Thomas Aquinas, Dante does not trouble to state possible counterarguments systematically. These two paragraphs are typical of the whole:

“On the basis of this exposition we reason as follows: justice is most powerful in the world when located in a subject with a perfect will and most power; such is the Monarch alone; therefore justice is at its most potent in this world when located in the Monarch alone.

“This preparatory syllogism is of the second figure, with intrinsic negation, and takes the following form: all B is A; only C is A; therefore C only is B. That is: all B is A; nothing except C is B. The first proposition clearly holds, for reasons already given; the other follows by reference to the will and then to power.”

This procedure tries to reach conclusions about the world by arguing from first principles. In effect, Dante formulates archetypes and then hunts for their incarnations. This type of metaphysical reasoning has fallen out of fashion, particularly in the social sciences; but it, too, is always with us. Modern physics is littered with examples of mathematical objects that had first been formulated as merely speculative exercises, but which later turned out to describe things in the real world. This is not so different from what Dante is doing: sifting through the products of history to find incarnations of the ideal forms.

This brings us to the second question: did the Roman people receive the monarchy by right?

Dante tells us that the history of the rise of the Roman Empire had seemed an inexplicable wonder to him. Then he realized that the Roman people did not acquire the monarchy of the world by ferocity, but through right, guided by providence. The progress of the Roman people was at many points attended by miracles, like the history of the Hebrews. Thus we see that God approved of the empire; Christ Himself chose to be born in the “fullness of time,” the peaceful age of Caesar Augustus.

Indeed, Christianity requires that the Roman Empire be legitimate. The central doctrine of Christianity is that Christ was punished for the sin of Adam. If the magistrate who sentenced Jesus was not an “appropriate judge,” then the suffering of Jesus was not a punishment, and we are not saved. Only the representative of the government of the whole world could have had the authority to inflict punishment on He Who suffered for the whole world.

Providence is not always expressed through the clearly miraculous. Sometimes God's hidden judgments are revealed by the outcome of duels, which in effect was what happened when the Romans defeated all others in the contest for world empire. The empire expressed the natural hierarchy among the peoples, of whom the Romans were the noblest. Even regarded simply as a matter of natural right, the citizens of the Roman Republic were working for the public good by creating a structure of universal peace. Nations, like individuals, should resort to force only as a last resort. However, whatever is acquired in a duel is acquired by right.

In the modern era, the idea that the historical process gradually expresses natural right is not rare: we see it from Hegel to Francis Fukuyama to Robert Wright. This is the intuition behind the dedication of transnationalists to the evolution of the network of supranational institutions and non-governmental organizations, which for them is now the seat of legitimacy in the world. Arguments even closer to Dante's have been made by macrohistorians who predict that the modern era will end in a universal state very like the Roman Empire. In any case, though the actors differ from theory to theory, the fundamentally providential structure of history remains.

Something that does change, of course, is the relationship of this providence to religion. One of the few specifics in which Hardt & Negri's empire differs from Dante's is that theirs is equated with the Kingdom of God. Possibly this was a mere rhetorical flourish on their part; they are also keen on the idea that the empire excludes the transcendent. Dante, in contrast, did insist on a transcendent foundation for the empire, but he strongly distinguished the empire from the Church, which is part of the Kingdom of God. This is the burden of his answer to the third question:

Does the monarch receive his authority directly from God, or through the intermediation of some minister of God?

In a rare display of tact, Dante said that those popes who asserted the empire owed its existence to the papacy were merely misguided by zeal. However, he says that the kings and princes who follow the popes' lead in this matter are not sons of the Church, but sons of the devil. He dismisses the claims of the class of ecclesiastical lawyers called the decretalists, because it is irrational to claim authority for the Church from its own legal rulings, when it is precisely the authority to make those rulings that is in question.

Much of the discussion about the relationship between Church and Empire is taken up with distinguishing the implications of a metaphor: the Church is the sun and the Empire is the moon. Dante accepts this then-common equation for the sake of argument. Just because the sun provides the moon with its light, he points out, that does not mean the existence or the operations of the moon are derived from the sun. Both sun and moon were created directly by God. The light the moon receives is more properly likened to divine grace, which makes everything appear different. In no way, however, is this illumination analogous to a grant of authority.

Dante assures us that God is the lord of all things, spiritual and temporal, and that the pope is His vicar. However, it does not follow from this that the pope is the lord of all things. Vicars do not have all the powers of their principals. The pope, for instance, does not have any special power over nature.

Dante also addresses the venerable allegory of the Two Swords. The proof-text is Luke 22:38, in which Peter offers Jesus two swords, and Jesus says they are enough. The lesson usually drawn from this exchange is that church and state are separate. Papalist propaganda, however, noted that the two swords remained in Peter's keeping, and so argued that both the spiritual and temporal power were both ultimately in the pope's keeping. Dante simply denies that the analogy is relevant, dwelling instead on the meaning of the verse in context.

No doubt the doctrine in question is not worth much, but one wonders how a poet could dismiss such an important metaphor. The analogy of the two swords runs right through Western history. When US senators debate whether public funds should be available to faith-based organizations, that is still the pope and the emperor arguing about who has the authority to invest the bishops of Germany. Unlike in other civilizations, church and state in the West are always distinguished, even in those periods when they closely supported each other. Even when the ecclesiastical power seems to have wholly lapsed, it is natural for academics and artists to claim the privileges and influence traditionally granted to priests.

Inevitably in any medieval discussion of the temporal power of the papacy, Dante addresses the Donation of Constantine. This legend, aided by some forged documents, had it that, in the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine had given the pope the authority to govern Italy and the western empire. Dante does not dispute the authenticity of the Donation, but he says that nothing more could have been involved than the transfer of a right of guardianship.

Why so? Because, as Dante tells us, whatever is contrary to the nature of a thing is not to be numbered among its powers. Now one of the essential features of the empire is its universality; it has the right of universal jurisdiction, even when it does not have the fact. To divide the empire by ceding sovereignty over a particular region would have been to destroy the empire as such. The powers of the emperor, which derive from the nature of the empire, could not have included such a grant. Moreover, the Church by its nature could not have received such a grant, since the Church cannot own property, but only the fruits of property. (This was, of course, the ideal of the radical Franciscans.)

The tranquility of order that the emperor protects is important for the salvation of all men. The emperor's authority is therefore providential, but the authority belongs to the office itself. The authority of the emperor could not have come from the Church, since the empire antedates the Church. Furthermore, since the emperor's authority comes directly from God, the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire do not really choose the emperor. Rather, they simply declare where the right to the office lies.

* * *

I have occasionally noted that the instrument of abdication and dissolution issued by the last Holy Roman Emperor in 1806 seems to contravene the provisions of the Golden Bull of 1356, which guaranteed the prerogatives of the electors. Thus, it is arguable that emperor did not have the authority to dissolve the empire. However, even if that is a correct reading of the law (which I rather doubt), that is still not the kind of indissolubility that Dante was talking about. Even if the constitutions of the empire had contained explicit provisions for its dissolution, the empire still could not have been dissolved. Its existence is not contingent on politics; it is the one politically necessary being.

The political theory of the modern era was designed specifically to do away with this kind of thinking. There have been schemes for world order in that time. Some, like the Concert of Europe, were reasonably effective. However, even the most idealistic internationalists thought in terms of positive law, of flesh-and-blood legislators creating laws and treaties with visible texts. Only toward the end of the 20th century did we see a return of the insistence that a universal law must already exist in some sense; more important, we have seen a return of the willingness to act as if such a law existed. This is as true of the neoconservative establishment in the United States as it is of proponents of the International Criminal Court. Neither group is likely to get quite the world it expects, but their worldviews are not as far apart as they imagine.

The empire is like the doctrine of the Two Swords: it is among the insistences of the West, which take different forms at different times. Dante's Holy Roman Empire is long gone. So is Charles V's. So, one suspects, will be the United Nations in its current form. Even today, though, we see that men are beginning to repeat in modern form the reproof that Dante wrote to his own obdurate city during an imperial siege:

“Why are you stirred by this will o' the wisp to abandon the Holy Empire and, like builders of a second Babel, to embark on new forms of state so that the Florentine sovereignty should be co-ordinate with the Roman?” 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The De Monarchia
By Dante Alighieri

The Long View: After the Eighth Day

When I think about the transition to Empire, this is the story that gives me nightmares.


It is usually a bad sign when a very short story needs an introduction. Nonetheless, here are some links that might make this piece slightly less obscure.

The general historical scenario for this story is that of Spengler's Future. The Contents page for that book is here.

The politics and theology of the story are based, very loosely, on Hardt & Negri's cosmo-anarchist rhapsody, Empire. A review of that book is here

Another short story using the Spengler's Future scenario, but set 170 years later, is Ecumenical Twilight. You can find here

Alternatively, you can just read the text and make up your own background for it. I dare you.

 

After the Eighth Day

"Board of Lustration, Hearing No. D5647, Greater Chicago Western District. Is the applicant present?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Mr. Smith, you have requested this hearing in order to dispose of any suspicions regarding your behavior prior to the Liberation. If your application is granted, you will have unimpeded access to all the privileges of citizenship. As you know, this is not an investigative body. We are limited to the material in the public record and to your own testimony, which is not even sworn. However, you must answer fully any question that the Board may ask. Do you understand?

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Please state your name and place of residence for the record."

"My name is Winston Smith. Since the firestorm last May, I have been living in a hostel at my place of work."

"You are a supervisor at the Ecumenical Dictionary Foundation, are you not, Mr. Smith?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman. In the Orthographic Reform Section. Abstract nouns, mostly."

"What is your date of birth?"

"2 June 2065. In the Year of the Lord."

"So you were just 15 years old at the beginning of the Day. Did you move with the Rave before then?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"But soon afterwards?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Were you a regular participant?"

"Once or twice a month, before the Militia, I mean."

"Were you coerced to join the Rave in any way?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"Then why?

"Everyone I knew moved."

"Did you ever see a miracle?"

"Yes."

"How many and when, Mr. Smith?"

"Just twice, Mr. Chairman. The first time was at the beginning of Fourth Month, Year 2 of the Eighth Day."

"That was a local event?"

"Yes, sir. The city returned to normal by the next morning. Of course, I also saw Sixth Month, Year 4. Almost everyone did. By then people expected it."

"What did you think the first time?"

"I believed the First President. I thought reality was changing."

"Some people still think that way, Mr. Smith. That is why we have to hold these hearings for senior civil servants. What do you think of the First President now?"

"He lied, Mr. Chairman."

"Do you think he lied about everything?"

"Well, he certainly lied about the Eighth Day being eternity. He also lied when he said the only real democracy was direct democracy, with no bureaucracy or hierarchy. What he meant was that he did not want anything to be between him and us."

"Do you think he lied about the angels?"

"I don't know, Mr. Chairman. I do know that I don't want to see any more angels."

"The Board sees that you have several unusual notations in your permanent file. Let's start with the earliest one. Can you explain the entry about the principal at your senior high school?"

[Pause.]

"Mr. Smith?"

"We didn't hurt him, Mr. Chairman."

"As far as we know, but his neighborhood Rave moved against him and the body was never found. You were on the student council that called the student strike. Would you care to explain the circumstances?"

"He just was not enthusiastic about the City of Man. He took down all the American flags after the Day began, but the only City flag he put up was in the lobby. He always referred to the First President as 'Mister.' We just did not see what his problem was. Most of the world belonged to the City of Man; why not our high school?"

"Did it occur to you he might get in trouble?"

"No, I can honestly say it didn't. Besides, he capitulated immediately. The news hardly mentioned it."

"And nobody ever saw him after a week later. Did it occur to you there might be a connection?"

"Well, yes."

"Did it bother you?"

"No, I'm ashamed to say."

"How did it make you feel?"

"It was another miracle. That was what the Day was like. People just seemed to organize spontaneously. There was flow, not structure. Nobody gave orders."

"You sound almost nostalgic."

"I'm not."

"Let's move on a bit. You served for 11 months in the Militia of the City of Man during year Four of the Eighth Day. Why not the standard eighteen months?"

"I was a communications-technician during the Caspian campaign, Mr. Chairman. That was about the time the standards began to disappear, even in the military. After the campaign ended, my unit just dissolved."

"You were discharged early?"

"It was more informal than that. The City of Man was everywhere, except for a few caves and jungles. The City was supposed to be self-similar, without a standing army separate from the people. That never applied to the elite units, but it did apply to support units and local auxiliaries. Most of us just made our way home."

"You stayed in the area for a while, though, did you not?"

"Well, not quite the same area. I studied descriptive linguistics in Jerusalem. That is what got me my present job."

"Did you take a degree?"

"I did the course work, but I decided against a degree."

"Why did you do that?"

"I was warned that advanced degrees might soon be regarded as marks of hierarchy."

"That was good advice, Mr. Smith. Do you recall who gave it to you?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"Did you move with the Rave at Jerusalem?"

"The Rave was prohibited in Jerusalem at that time."

"That's not quite what I asked."

"Mr. Chairman, not only did I not participate in the Rave, but I was already beginning to doubt the Day. I have given the Board documentation..."

"One thing at a time, Mr. Smith. Were you in Jerusalem during the incident at the Temple?"

"No, I came home to Chicago just a month before. Like most people, I did not even hear about the incident until 2096, when the Years of the Lord began again."

"In your application, you allege that you offered some aid to the Ecumenical underground during your stay in the Levant. A few purchases using your personal characteristic continued to be made in Jerusalem until the end of Year Five of the Eighth Day, months after you returned home."

"Yes, Mr. Chairman. I had made some friends in the underground; I saw no reason not to give them limited use of my credit."

"The Board notes, Mr. Smith, that all the Ecumenicals who might have used your characteristic disappeared during the Desolation, and are presumed dead. We also note that you filed a police complaint alleging identity theft in connection with those purchases."

"I had to maintain a cover story, Mr. Chairman. I don't claim to have been a hero. It was the least I could do."

"I see. Well, moving on, after you returned to the Midwest, you worked as a technical editor for the Chicago Tribune. Your records were destroyed during the firestorm. However, we do have a copy of the resume you submitted in Year 7 to the Word Collective, as your current employer was then called. In the resume, you make special mention of your movement with the Rave at the Tribune. You even give a list of persons against whom the Rave moved. Would you care to comment?"

"As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Rave by then was not really voluntary, especially not at a prominent media outlet. You will note that I never called a gathering. Certainly I never informed on anyone."

"It's a one-page resume, Mr. Smith. You don't give any specifics but the names. In any event, the list could not be complete. The Rave there moved frequently."

"It moved back and forth, Mr. Chairman. One month it moved to stamp out discrimination between all forms of life. Not long thereafter, it moved to support the 'single species' principle against food processors who took non-discrimination too literally. The names I listed were of people who seemed unlikely ever to be rehabilitated."

"Why did that seem unlikely?"

"They were guilty, of ordinary corruption and things like that."

"Very prudent, Mr. Smith. There is just one item about your time in the dictionary division that the Board has a question about. According to the office journal for 6 Second Month Year 14, the First President visited your office and spoke to you personally. Would you care to elaborate?"

[Long Pause]

"We're waiting, Mr. Smith."

"The Board cannot be serious. That was a dream. Lots of people imagined things like that, all through the Day. In any case, the Collective often did visualizations; the journal might just have noted the theme of one."

"Some people still have these dreams, Mr. Smith. Sometimes there is still independent corroboration, five years after the First President's death. It is the policy of the Ecumenical government to investigate all sitings with any corroboration that occurred during his lifetime, however improbable. So, what did you say to him, Mr. Smith? And what did he say to you?"

"The Board is asking me to remember a hallucination."

"Yes."

"The recollection isn't very clear, Mr. Chairman."

"Did he just say hello? Did he ask about your family? Did he talk about your work?"

"I can't even say whether the exchange was short or long. Most of what I remember was just friendly-boss stuff: How do you like the department, that kind of thing. Some of it was very specific, though."

"Such as?"

"Well, he seemed to know everything I knew about lexicography. That's how I know it could not have been real."

"Did he say anything to you about the Day, Mr. Smith?"

"Nothing unusual, just typical City of Man propaganda from late in the Eighth Day, when things were starting to come apart."

"Please tell us exactly, Mr. Smith."

"He said there was no need to worry anymore, that I would always be with him in the City of Man. He said that, in the end, I would see nothing but the Eighth Day. What happened in ordinary time could no longer change that."

"And what did you think of that, Mr. Smith?"

"I thought it didn't happen. Even then."

"And if it did happen?"

"Then it was a lie. It was a lie whether it happened or not."

"I think that is all we need to hear about the matter."

[A pause; the Chairman continues.]

"We have no documentation at all about you between 2096 and the filing of your lustration application at the beginning of this year. That's not unusual; lots of things were lost during those three years. Do you have any comment about the period, Mr. Smith?"

"I think there are some things about the last 20 years we all want to lose, Mr. Chairman."

"The Board will probably concur, Mr. Smith. We'll let you know. This hearing is adjourned."

 

End 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-07-17: More on Chesterton & Harry Potter

G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

It is a fun thought experiment to imagine what G. K. Chesterton would have said about the Iraq War of 2003. John was right to note that Chesterton was no kind of pacifist. After all, he wrote a poem commemorating the Battle of Lepanto. However, he also had a fierce love of the small and local, and a great distaste for the grandiose and puffed up. Thus, he loved England, and wasn't overly fond of the British Empire.

Chesterton was a supporter of the Great War, even though his younger brother Cecil was among its casualties. At this remote distance, that war seems like it was a really, really bad idea. On the other hand, he was also a fierce critic of the Boer War, which was a nasty little imperial war that richly deserved skewering. Ultimately, I'm not sure I know what Chesterton might have thought.

I do think that Chesterton would have shared John's horror of chaos and anarchy. And like John, I think Mad Max is becoming the future we are more likely to face than 1984.


More on Chesterton & Harry Potter

Continuing in my reading of G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography for insight into the Anti-Terror Wars, I find that it would be misleading to equate his "anti-imperialism" with that of the critics of US policy today. His ideas on the subject would not at all please the folks at Antiwar. He was, in fact, far more belligerent than Samuel Huntington, who merely described the "clash of civilizations" without actually advocating it. Consider this passage:

[H. G. Wells] defends the only sort of war I thoroughly despise, the bullying of small states for their oil or gold; and he despises the only sort of war that I really defend, a war of civilizations and religions, to determine the moral destiny of mankind.

If Chesterton were alive today, he would have opposed the war in Iraq if he thought that it was primarily about oil. That was much the reason he opposed the Boer War, which really was chiefly about gaining complete control of southern Africa's gold and diamonds. If he were convinced that the Iraq campaign were part of a larger war against Islamicism, he would certainly have supported it. He would also have relished the way the war outraged the world's progressives. In his view, there "is only a thin sheet of paper between" internationalists and imperialists.

Does this mean that he could have been a happy contributor to The Weekly Standard, or even The Daily Telegraph? Possibly not. Certainly he was leery of the principle of preemption in foreign policy. He tells a parable about a householder who shoots a burglar, whom the householder discovered in his garden. Chesterton finds this use of force commendable, but he distinguishes the case from preemption:

If [the householder] had gone out to purify the world by shooting all possible burglars, it would not have been a defensive war. And it would not have been a defensible one.

There is no satisfaction in arguing with the dead: the silliest title in my library is A Challenge to C.S. Lewis, written more than a decade after Lewis died. Still, I might say to Chesterton's shade that he was right, but his example is beside the point. For the most part, the burglars in other people's gardens are no concern of the private householder. On the other hand, when you pay taxes to support a police force, you are in effect waging war against all possible burglars. Also, some societies have legal systems that rely on the self-organization of citizens. Ancient Iceland worked like that; so does the international system today. It is possible to be responsible for other people's burglars. The question is: who is the legitimate authority?

Chesterton was not pleased at the prospect of such an authority on a global scale, unless perhaps it were the Vatican. Ever the anti-pacifist, he was a keen supporter of the First World War from the beginning. He never wavered from that position, even after most of his friends had decided the war was a mistake or a crime. However, for him the war was about the defense of small nations, and the need to humble the pride of Prussia. He resisted rationales that were more, well, global:

But I am far from certain that a War to End War would have been just. I am far from certain that, even if anybody could prevent all protest or defiance under arms, offered by anybody anywhere under any provocation, it would not be an exceedingly wicked thing to do.

Anyone who has read H. G. Wells's Things to Come (1933) knows exactly the wickedness that Chesterton had in mind. That book is essentially a retelling of The War of the Worlds, except that the conquerors are armed Fabians, and their victory is complete, permanent, and, in Wells's view, the best possible outcome. The problem with Chesterton's objection is that it is not an objection to world government, but to government.

Possibly because of the period in which I grew up, anarchy has to me to be the greater danger. When I was a small child, too young to read 1984, the H. G. Wells world of totalitarian regimentation no doubt seemed a pressing danger. By the time the year 1984 arrived, however, the real danger seemed to be the world of Mad Max. It still does.

* * *

A final note about Chesterton: For someone who did not purport to be a systematic thinker, GKC actually did a pretty good job of not contradicting himself. Nonetheless, he rarely expressed his basic insights in sustained argument. He would have been outraged at the comparison, no doubt, but his style was really not so different from Nietzsche's: heavy on the aphorisms and paradoxes, short on theory. Nietzsche favored aphorisms because he was skeptical about the thought itself. Chesterton, in contrast, was a sort of Thomist: he was ideologically committed to the principle that abstract formulas can embody reality. His reluctance to make sustained theoretical argument seems to have grown out of his attachment to the particular, the local, the personal. One of the advantages to Thomism is that it provides assurance that the finite can indeed reflect the infinite.

* * *

Perhaps there has already been enough discussion of the deep significance of Harry Potter, but I could not resist following a link to this title: Harry Potter and the Future of Europe. The article, by Jeff Fountain, argues on the basis of personal experience that the Potter books really are a sign of the times:

While using techniques of magic and mythical creatures, Christian fantasy writers like Lewis and Tolkien develop their imaginary worlds within their own personal commitment to orthodox Christian belief in a sovereign God. Rowling does not share that commitment. Although she denies any personal belief in the magic her books portray, she still tells her readers, "It’s important to remember that we all have magic inside of us."

Unlike these Christian fantasies, Harry Potter is a post-Christian creation set within an occult cosmology. And his phenomenal popularity among young and old signals where our western culture seems to be headed.

This is very similar to the point about the the resilience of the "Perennial Philosophy" that I raised some years ago in a review of Robertson Davies' book, The Cunning Man. In fact, back in 1986, Owen Thomas suggested in Christianity Today that the real competitor for Christianity in the West was never Marxism or materialism, but a sort of neoplatonism.

Was Quidditch all it took to get Plotinus to the best-seller slot on Amazon?

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Coming Caesars

Riencourt's book makes the argument that America is literally the second coming of Rome. In this, he follows the views of many of the American founders. I stumbled on this idea when I was reading about Cincinnatus, the Roman who was twice elected dictator, and twice resigned his imperium. One of the books I read was a detailed study of the art and iconography of revolutionary and post-revolutionary America, and it was pretty clear the Americans saw themselves as Romans.

Also, the form of government selected by the founders was a republic, in imitation of Rome. The founders saw a republic as a mixed government, following Polybius, blending monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Of course, the Roman Republic eventually became the Roman Empire, which is the transition everyone is interested in, including Riencourt.

In 2003, this book was out of print, but now a new edition is available. In this book review, John talks about keeping track of Spengler's successes and failures at predicting the future. Spengler had a pretty good track record, although some of his successful predictions might have surprised him.

I think the same is true of John. Here is an interesting prediction: American political parties are less ideological constructs than vehicles for charismatic personalities seeking office.Interpret as you will.

Table of Contents

Introduction

From Culture to Civilization

God, Space, & Law

The American Psyche

Russia & Communism

The Necessity of Empire

Tribune, President, Emperor

When the Future Becomes the Past


The Coming Caesars

By Amaury de Riencourt

Jonathan Cape, 1958

384 pages; Out of Print

No ISBN.

 

Introduction

Since Oswald Spengler first published The Decline of the West at the end of the First World War, a main attraction of the comparative study of civilizations has been the prospect of predicting the future. As more and more of that future has passed, this attraction has only increased. It's not that Spengler was a perfect prophet. Even when he was right about the future, he was right in ways he did not foresee. Still, though taking Spengler too literally has never done anyone any good, there is something to be said for keeping track of the successes and failures of the great doomsayer.

The Coming Caesars was published just 40 years after the first volume of The Decline appeared. It was much discussed by the intelligent Right in its day, perhaps in part because Arnold Toynbee's Study of History was still on people's minds. However, The Coming Caesars does not even mention that enormous work. The author, a Frenchman with extensive experience of the United States, adheres closely to Spengler's views and methods. There is one big difference. Spengler hoped that Germany would play the “Rome” of the future. Riencourt makes the most detailed argument I know for the proposition that America does not just have a Roman future, but an essentially Roman culture.

This review was written about as long after the publication of The Coming Caesars as that book was published after The Decline of the West. Surely it's time to take another look. Whatever the book's merits as prophecy, what we have here is the finest collection of alleged American mental problems since Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

 

From Culture to Civilization

The Spenglerian model is only incidentally about wars, revolutions, and the evolution of the international system. The transition to what Toynbee called a “universal state” is only one aspect of the general turn of a society toward its final forms. “Civilization,” in Spengler's usage, is the “late” phase in a society's life. It follows the period of “Culture,” when society creates its characteristic science, religion, art, and politics. The French Revolution is roughly the cutoff point for both Spengler and Riencourt between Culture and Civilization in the modern West. In Greece, the Revolution was less localized, since democracies tended to replace oligarchies everywhere. The important comparison is that Napoleon and Alexander the Great are “contemporary” as transitional figures in their civilizations' histories.

The transition to Caesarism began in the Victorian Era, which Riencourt identifies in part with the Hellenistic Age. Both were “the beginning of bad taste and ostentation, of insincerity in art, of pomposity, of grand and ornate pseudostyles”; yet also of “city planning, hygiene, and comfort: of modern pavements, and improved sewers, aqueducts…fast-expanding networks of world-wide economic relations”; not to mention “pedantic scholars, critics, grammarians, commentators, and editors.” The age of Plato passed to the age of Aristotle, as the age of Kant passed to that of Hegel.

Culture is pioneering, aesthetic, and fertile. Civilization is sterile, extensive, practical, and ethical. They are related as systole and diastole. Riencourt multiplies oppositions like that, but here are the important ones: Greece was the youth and maturity of Classical civilization; Rome was its old age. Similarly, Europe was the youth of the West, and America is its old age.

There are complexities here. For the purposes of macrohistory, apparently, America and Great Britain are the same country. Riencourt lays great stress on the fact that America developed, not just under the influence of British ideas, but behind the shield of the British Navy. It is impossible to imagine the United States developing as it did during the 19th century if the country had not been, in effect, a protectorate of the British Empire. In the 20th century, the relationship began to reverse. After the Second World War, Britain has functioned as America-in-Europe.

In outlining the transformation from Culture to Civilization in the political dimension, Riencourt often sounds like many another member of the French Right since 1789: “[E]xpanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and…imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days…the greater the social equality, the dimmer the prospects of liberty…as society becomes more egalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate absolute power in the hands of a single man.”

Riencourt is not forecasting the appearance of a mere Anglophone Napoleon, however. Modernity has a terminus quite different from that of the ancien règime: “Caesarism is not dictatorship, not the result of one man's overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution…It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in a voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master.”

Note that, although this language is cast in terms of a general law of history, it simply restates the history of the Roman Republic. Spengler himself took care to elaborate parallels with other civilizations, where democracy had never been an issue. Except in an Appendix and a few asides, The Coming Caesars treats of parallels only between the ancient and modern West. The bulk of the book, in fact, is a history of the United States, spiked with more or less apt references to supposedly comparable events and persons in Roman history. Riencourt is particularly interested in the evolution of the office of tribune in ancient Rome and that of the American presidency, but we will get to that presently.

 

God, Space, & Law

Every book about America has to deal with religion, and this one is particularly concerned with the American mutations of Calvinism. (Was there a Roman “Reformation”? Indeed there was, in the form of Orphism, which culminated in Pythagoreanism. Go ask Spengler.) According to Riencourt: “But Calvin's doctrine as applied at Geneva was based on a spiritual legalism, mechanical, stern, without compassion and without appreciation for art, inhumanly practical, and in many respects iconoclastic. In Geneva were sown the spiritual seeds of what was to become the New Rome of the West.”

This is not to say that American religion itself has retained these harsh features. After the collapse of metaphysical theology, American religion became notoriously emotional and sentimental. Prayer was replaced by good works, not as payment for salvation, but as a sign of election.

The secular versions of the Calvinist virtues became the bases for American politics and commercial culture. Thus, no matter their confessional affiliation, Americans are like the Biblical Jews: suspicious of beauty, with a characteristic tension between the knowledge of God's will and Man's inadequacy. Similarly, Rome's gods, like Rome's later civilization, were austere and impersonal, unlike Greece's warm pantheon. (Spengler discountenanced this opposition, by the way. He pointed out that the peculiar cult of each polis was darkly numinous rather than colorful. The “Greek Pantheon” was late and literary.)

In addition to religion, every study of America has to consider the role of space. Both America and Rome, in Riencourt's telling, were “frontier” societies, on the rim of civilization. America, famously, could dispense its dissidents to the west. Rome could do likewise, to the north, into the Po Valley and Cisalpine Gaul. In both cases, easy expansion into a sparsely peopled hinterland facilitated political stability at a time that, elsewhere, was an age of revolution and counterrevolution.

The English-speaking world in general is characterized by a tradition of compromise under law. This legalism, like Rome's, is the product of a remarkable sense of continuity. It's not that American's are particularly law-abiding; they are law-minded. Combined with their ancient Biblicism, they have turned the Constitution into a sacred text. The system works because the scripture of the law requires interpretation. Lawyers are hierophants, interpreting the mystery of the law. The effect is conservative: unlike the legal codes of Europe, mere logic is not enough.

America and Rome were both “urban” from the beginning, despite the fact both had overwhelmingly rural populations for much of their histories. Their farmers were not peasants, but citizens. This was somewhat less true of Virginia, with its attempt to transplant England's gentry. However, southern culture was eventually overwhelmed, ideologically and economically. Perhaps more important was that Virginia set the pattern of a conservative, aristocratic east, versus the democratic frontiersmen of the west. The east demanded enough centralization to keep the polity together. The west acquiesced, but only if they were allowed freedom of action: “thus started the fateful, unintentional, and unplanned expansionism which, in less than two centuries, was to establish the frontiers of American security well into the heart of the European and Asiatic continents.” He makes the same argument about Rome's expansion, starting from central Italy.

Unlike the rest of the Classical world, Rome had a knack for the judicious extension of citizenship rights, which Riencourt compares to America's power of assimilation. Rome did suffer the “Social Wars,” conflicts with its Italian allies about the franchise, just as America suffered lapses like the Civil War. He also makes the interesting suggestion that the importation of slaves into Italy was a real immigration. Manumission was normal in the Roman world, so that slave families often became citizens after a generation or two. In contrast, slavery in America resulted in a caste system that has yet to be dismantled.

 

The American Psyche

The key to American psychology is the position of America in world history: “America's destiny is conditioned by the fact it is an old and not a young nation, as far as essential age goes…America represents, in world history, the old age of Europe…This essential oldness is rooted in an eighteenth-century atmosphere where optimism still survives in America and wears the mask of youth, but has disappeared in Europe as outdated.”

According to Riencourt, Americans are naturally conformist, compared to Latin peoples. He even says that Americans are “natural socialists.” In many ways, America is like what Americans say about Japan: “a far higher average than in Greece and Europe, and yet an almost complete absence of great creative personalities.” He says there is an American saying: “To be different is to be indecent.” Americans are self-disciplined; even more so than the Germans, who at least have the option of intellectual “inner migration.” The key to America's tribal collectivism is to be found in the fact that America has come almost full circle in social development. Foreigners often note a strange similarity between Americans and Russians. That is because the Last Man of Civilization resembles the First Man of the pre-Cultural period, which is the state of Russia in comparison to the West.

Freedom in America does not mean what it means in other places, or what it meant in the West in the past. American freedom is a legal notion, unlike the French liberté. “Where, then, does freedom reside in America? Mostly in the fact that the individual American is physically more independent of other human beings than anywhere else in the world.” Americans are notably lacking in jealousy and resentment. Conversely, the rich are rapacious, but not selfish.

There is an upside to this. Americans can make good use of individualistic philosophies, such as that of John Locke, which created chaos in continental Europe. Atomistic English economism, with its emphasis on property rights, soon made the English-speaking world the most conservative area on earth. It is a progressive and enlightened conservatism, however, a sure defense against both revolution and reaction.

None of this should suggest that Americans are gullible or obtuse. “American Civilization is successful because of the remarkable American gift for psychological understanding…When they choose political or business leaders, Americans do so on the basis of their general human qualities rather than their technical proficiency.” Americans have an expert's distrust of all experts.

The author makes a remarkable equation of Americanism with Classical “Romanitas.” Both value organization, efficiency, and earthly success. Also, “in a chaotic world where sensitive men are baffled and often despair, [Americans] are not easily baffled and never despair.” The American mind is not cultural or aesthetic, but moralistic. It deals with extension rather than depth, especially temporal depth, but it eschews abstraction generally: “Americans think in pictures.”

Despite America's non-metaphysical cast of mind, it is far from mere materialism. Riencourt establishes the point with a fine display of non-falsifiable dialectic: “Since every coin has two sides, the necessary counterpart of an extreme utilitarianism bent on concrete achievements is an equally extreme idealism of a more abstract nature than any put forth in the Old World.”

Riencourt returns again and again to the topic of Americans' essential conservatism, for which he finds an explanation in gender dominance: “It is this fundamental conservatism that gives Americans in the modern world a position almost identical with that of the Romans, a conservatism bolstered by the complete ascendancy of the conservative-minded sex – women.” The author makes a great deal of this point: “All this links up with the best-known characteristic of American life: the hen-pecked nature of American men…the childish desire for love that Americans display in their contacts throughout the world is a direct consequence of the absolute predominance of the female principle…[I]ntimacy, familiarity, lack of reverence have become the dominant themes of American life. Nothing leads more implacably to Caesarism than these traits.” Noting that the emancipation of women was also a feature of the late Roman Republic, the author asserts that a democratic electorate tends to become “feminine,” emotional, eager for leadership. A feminine public opinion looks for a virile Caesar.

 

Russian & Communism

In the 19th century, during the age of high imperialism, practically the whole world was controlled by European powers or European settler-states. Again, the Hellenistic empires in the east, and the Greek settlements in southern Italy and Sicily, are often cited as analogies. Riencourt, following Spengler, says that the Greeks did not properly distinguish between the different classes of barbarian societies. Some, like the Egyptians, belonged to ancient, fossilized civilizations. Others were mere primitives. Yet others, in the east, belong to a “young” Culture that would eventually overwhelm the Classical world. Much the same thing happened in modern history: “The Nemesis in the Classical world was the rise of Parthia and the…war against Mithridates – in the context of our won [20th] century, the rise of Soviet Communism and World War II.”

Communism in Russia was a western import that was part of the “pseudomorphosis” of Russian culture, comparable to the superficial and transitory Hellenization of the east that occurred after Alexander. However, the effect of the Soviet Union was to drag Russia back to its Mongolian-Byzantine roots. The origins of the Soviet and Parthian threats were similar, too. The Romans helped to overthrow the Hellenistic empire of the Seleucids, but then simply withdrew, allowing the unhellenized east to recover. This was pretty much what America did after the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg and Czarist empires. However, this new class of threat is not merely military, and not merely external: “This deep-rooted antagonism that springs outside the area of a given Civilization always coincides with a social disintegration inside it – with a period of revolutions and social upheavals that always accompany the collapse of a Culture and symbolizes the loss of that precious self-confidence of former times.”

The Coming Caesars repeats familiar conservative critiques of FDR's policy toward the Soviet Union: the sick old man was duped by Stalin's oriental cunning. Additionally, since the American mind is analytical rather than synthetic, American statesmen were slow to see the need for a grand strategy to counter the Soviet Union. However, even with the best negotiator and a coherent worldview, the outcome of Yalta and Potsdam might not have been different: “Behind the armed might of Soviet Russia lay another active force in the realm of ideas and passions, the religion-like force of Marxist philosophy extending from France to China…And behind Marxist philosophy a deep distrust of Western Civilization as such. In this the rustic patriotism of the Russians joined the widening revolt of Asia's crippled civilizations against the West.”

Riencourt rather doubts that the West will ever be free of the Russian menace. Though the Roman Empire at its height was perfectly secure against Parthia, the East nonetheless eventually overwhelmed the fossilized Classical civilization. On the other hand, a Third World War is far from certain; there really is progress, and the modern world is less brutal than the ancient world.

 

The Necessity of Empire

The coming universal state is not founded on mere degeneration. Speaking of the world after World War I, Riencourt says: “The problem, which no one could as yet formulate, was that the Western world was longing to get beyond an outdated nationalism and a vague internationalism that solved nothing, longing for a new political conception of organic cooperation that would preserve what was best in local patriotism, but transcended it at the same time.”

Sometimes the author equates the 20th century with the 2nd century B.C. In those days, when Rome had no serious rivals but wanted nothing more than to be left alone, it sent commissions all over the world to mediate disputes: Carthage and Numidia, Egypt and Cyrene, plus any combination of Greek states. Since Romans took no responsibility, their efforts often made things worse. When, in the 1st century B.C., Rome finally established regular structures of governance, “Roman domination at first was heavy and harsh, but it was a crude world that could respond only to crude treatment. Our twentieth century is far more sophisticated and the reorganization of our own world has to be carried out with a far greater discretion.” The model imperial official would resemble Douglas MacArthur. Not simply occupiers are needed, but statesmen committed to a long-term, conservative, social revolution around the world.

America had yet to understand its full vulnerability, the author implies. Rome was terribly dependent on the world outside Italy for manpower and grain. America might seem self-sufficient, but in 1955 “the United States absorbs 10 per cent more raw materials than she produces, whereas at the turn of the [19th to 20th] century she produced 15 percent more than she needed.” He suggests that much future history might concern access to Malaysian tin and Arabian oil.

Reviewing Europe a little over ten years after the end of the Second World War, Riencourt is much impressed by the success of the Marshall plan. In contrast, he finds the idea of independent European unity chimerical: “If unity is to come, it will have to be from extra-European sources and take place within a much larger framework. It will have to be based on the only unity that has any concrete reality: the Atlantic Community, the geographical unit of Western Civilization.” Noting the extent to which American and European bureaucracies interdigitated during the postwar emergency, he suggests that something similar might happen in the future: “European political structures will not be brutally abolished; they will simply atrophy and die.”

Obviously, there is considerable opposition to this outcome in Europe, both political and psychological. Riencourt finds it anachronistic: “Instead of looking upon America as she is – the New Rome – the puzzled and embittered Europeans prefer to see a new Carthage – soulless, exclusively dedicated to the pursuit of wealth, vaguely hypocritical, the land of sharp and ruthless Yankee businessmen. They fail to see that America today, and alone in the world, has the necessary ingredients of a stable civilized order: moral ideals and ethical purpose.”

World order is an old dream, the author notes. Different versions of it appear in different civilizations: the Caliphate of Islam; “All under Heaven” in China; and of course the Roman ideal in the ancient West. In the modern West, a new version is likely to have something to do with the United Nations, starting with a universally valid international law.

Before the First World War, the world still had regional empires with universal pretensions. When they disappeared, chaos followed. The League of Nations failed to end the chaos, but it was an instructive failure. The United nations, which followed, was largely an American initiative; certainly it was designed with an eye to American constitutional history. It quickly became paralyzed between two international blocks. The UN, after all, was supposed to institute democratic procedures on a world scale, but one of the opposing blocks did not believe in liberal democracy at all. The fundamental flaw with the UN, however, is that it embodies the parliamentary system in an age that is becoming sick of parliaments. What the world needs, and wants unknowingly, is an international presidential system. This could be democratic: rights under international law would be extended to individuals, even if that diminishes state sovereignty.

According to Riencourt, the UN will probably become the second layer of the “Roman” commonwealth of the future. The core will be the Atlantic Community. Such a world system will work, if the masses are given sound administration. Just as important, the system must give the world's elites full scope for personal development.

Sometimes Riencourt suggests that the final phase of Western Civilization is, in some sense, the final act of history. He points to the similarities between the apocalyptic anxiety of the early nuclear era and of the Mediterranean world around the time of Christ. In both cases, he suggests, people were onto something: “Man…is not merely going through a change of historical phase but…in the coming centuries, he will be stepping out of history altogether into a new 'geological' age…He is becoming, for the first time, a planetary phenomenon.”

 

Tribune, President, Emperor

Riencourt emphasizes the conservative nature of the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers were “men of the transition, a last link to the past, conservative engineers of a healthy reaction.” What would have surprised them was the evolution of the presidency they created, an essentially weak office, into an organ of popular sovereignty.

The mass politics of the Hellenistic and modern eras is a struggle between the people and Big Money. In that struggle during Roman times, the tribunes were created to protect the people. Over time, however, the struggle becomes less and less about class, or even economics. What begins as the struggle of the Populares against the Optimates becomes a contest between the Caesarians and the Pompeans; that is to say, a conflict between personal parties, mere cults of personality and systems of patronage. In contrast to their European counterparts, American political parties were already more like vehicles for personalities seeking office than like ideological organizations.

There was in fact no precise counterpart to the presidency in the Roman constitution, but the office of tribune showed the ability to evolve in that direction. The tribunician power included personal inviolability, the right to summon the Senate and to direct its debates, the right to nominate candidates for some offices, the right to arrest even consuls, and, most famously, the right to veto the acts of all magistrates. This list of negative rights ensured positive power when combined with some other source of authority, such as military command, or even mere popular approval. The tribunate was the legal basis for the office of emperor.

No doubt inspired by the characterization of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a "traitor to his class," the author observes: "Rome's outstanding democratic leaders, from the noble Gracchi brothers to Caesar [a period of about 90 years], whose ancestry was as old as the dawn of Rome herself, were all blue-blooded aristocrats who turned against their narrow-minded peers and led the aroused people against them…Thus, what made the democratic evolution of America relatively peaceful was the self-immolation of the founding oligarchy."

In America, politics are aggravated by a public opinion that is volatile on matters of foreign policy. Thus, American policy lurches from crisis to crisis, throwing up a strongman to meet each new emergency. But again, the authority of the Caesars is only incidentally military. Speaking of the Grant Administration, but with perhaps a glance at Eisenhower's, Riencourt notes that "professional soldiers are not the stuff that Caesars are made of." He characterizes Franklin Roosevelt, the first proto-Caesar, as “like another typical American creation, the master-mind sports coach who bosses his team, devises its tactics and strategy, switches players and substitutes at will.”

Riencourt attributes the role of the presidency in American politics in part to a growing "father complex" in America, though he also observes that, throughout the West, publics are increasingly disgusted with parliamentary incompetence.

To a large extent, the Roman Republic was destroyed by a change in political psychology. The early Caesars kept trying to give real authority back to the Senate, and the Senate kept refusing to take it. Responsible people lost the knack of operating a republican system. Candidates no longer presented themselves for important offices. Finally, all posts were filled by appointment, and became part of the imperial bureaucracy.

After its founding, the politics of the empire will have a predictable trajectory: “The transition from Sulla to Caesar and from Caesar to the absolutism of Vespasian was partly the result of the growing orientalization of Rome and the decline in the prestige of elective institutions. In the modern instance, it is clear that 'democrat' Roosevelt was not half as much repelled by Stalin's views on strong executive power and the absolute supremacy of the great powers as 'conservative' Churchill was.” In the author's telling, the Caesars became monarchs in Rome because they were monarchs abroad. Caesar Augustus, for instance, because he was also the titular King of Egypt, did not dare retire. The Egyptians would tolerate being ruled by him, but not by some bureaucrat in the name of a faceless “republic.”

When the Future Becomes the Present

Speaking of the would of the late 1950s, the author judges that Russia and America were evenly balanced; they were the tiger versus the shark, each safely dominant in its own domain. Inevitably, he cites Tocqueville's famous prediction that the Russians and the Americans each seemed destined to “sway the destinies of half the globe.” He remarks: “Tocqueville would have been unable to forecast the complex state of the world as it was in 1926, yet he was able to prophesy what it would be in 1946, 20 years later.”

That is almost precisely my experience of this book. I first read it in 1982; my marginal comments say that this or that trend will have to reverse if the author's thesis is to hold up. Writing this in 2003, I see that many of them did reverse. Doubtless they could all reverse again. Meanwhile, some new ones arose that he did not foresee. I know of no book that illustrates the limits of prediction better than The Coming Caesars. It bears rereading, at suitably long intervals.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Coming Caesars
By Amaury De Riencourt

The Long View: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power

Imperialism is a subject John often returned to, but his interest in the subject was quite different from most others. For John, what mattered were not mere national empires like the British Empire, but the Empire, the universal state into which all political and economic systems seem to eventually collapse.

Even though the process can be justly described as a collapse, it is not primarily negative. For example, one of the reasons the political order collapses into an empire is that the stakes and pressures of governance have become too high for society to bear. The empire is seen as an improvement by most of its subjects; it is genuinely popular.

Despite the differences between an empire and the Empire, you can still find some interesting features of the British Empire that may be reproduced in the coming universal state. For example, the British Empire was cheap, in terms of both money and men. It was also relatively tolerant, and preferred local control whenever possible.

There are also some features that probably wouldn't work well. The British Empire was an extension of national ambition. The universal state is the oecumene, the abode of man. As such, purely national ambition no longer has a way to even be expressed. There are no separate countries, although there might be rebellious provinces. The universal state is also usually not very dynamic. All of the civilizational energy has already been expended creating the universal state, everything you have is everything you'll get. The British Empire at its best was exceptionally dynamic.

At this point, the real question would be how Western will the universal state be? John wrote some interesting speculations about this. We shall get to them in time.

Empire:
The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
By Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, 2002
392 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 0-465-02328-2
You might think this book was just an essay about the 18th-century Caribbean sugar-island economy that morphed into a profusely illustrated anthology of The Boy's Own Paper, but you would be wrong. What we have here is part of a concerted campaign (the book is a companion to a television series) to rehabilitate the idea of “empire” in general, and of the British Empire in particular. The author is the oddly ubiquitous Niall Ferguson, the Scottish economic historian. He does not suppress his famous interest in alternative history in this volume: one of the questions he sets out to answer is: “Was there a less bloody route to modernity?” The answer to that may be the key to a larger question, one with implications for the future as well as the past: “Can there be globalization without gunboats?”
The British Empire had a solid genesis in government-licensed piracy. The Spanish in the 16th century beat the British to the plunder of the major civilizations of the New World, leaving the British no recourse but to rob the Spanish. Still, even at that point the British displayed some hidden advantages. The English government was not centralized enough to simply expropriate the funds from its citizens to do its own empire building. By preference, it privatized British activity abroad, both commercial and military. As time went on, England outgrew piracy and turned to the licensing of the great trading companies. The greatest of these, the East India Company, was running India by the end of the 18th century. Strangely, the Honorable Company got India as a booby prize; the Dutch East India Company got the originally far more profitable East Indies. Even so, all that the Company's charter conveyed was a monopoly right to British business with India, provided the Company could do any. They wound up governing the place only because the Mughal empire unraveled in the 18th century; if the Company was going to enjoy any security, the Company would have to provide its own government.
In addition to piracy, there were drugs and slavery. Ferguson gives us a judicious helping of statistics about the “sweet tooth” economy of the 18th century Atlantic. Britain's possessions produced sugar. They also produced coffee, tea, and tobacco. All these things are mildly addictive stimulants. The market for them was bottomless, and the labor for them was largely unfree. Readers may be surprised to learn quite how lethal this labor system was. It is well-known that one out of seven of the prisoners on slave ships died in passage, but the death rate for the crews was even higher. The islands of the Caribbean were immensely profitable; the exports from Jamaica alone were worth more to England than the whole of the exports of America at the time of the Revolution. That was one of the reasons the British decided to let the colonies go. However, the populations of these tropical colonies, slave and free, did not reproduce themselves. Most immigrants from the British isles died soon after arriving, and it was to the Caribbean that most of them went in the 17th century.
Nonetheless, even at its most amoral, the “First British Empire” of pre-Victorian times was a “liberal” empire, if not quite an empire of liberty. It was very keen on the rule of law, particularly law as it related to property rights. American colonial complaints against London really came down to the argument that one's property is not really secure without some say in how much it is taxed. The empire was also tolerant, sometimes shockingly so. The government in London and the trading companies had no interest in spreading Christianity; they also no objection to customs like widow-burning, provided the subjects of the empire kept it to themselves. Imperial libertarianism sometimes extended to disinterest in famines in the areas the empire controlled. On the positive side, the people who administered the empire were sympathetically curious about the cultures where they worked. They adapted to them, cultivating their arts and literature. As a rule, the British co-opted local elites: there was no color bar to social interaction, or even marriage.
Some of this changed with the transition to the “Second Empire” of Queen Victoria's time. The empire became more humane as it became less tolerant. Much of this occurred under the influence of the evangelical revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic fought slavery, with greater and much earlier success in the empire. (In America, the effort was stymied after abolition in the northern states; Ferguson suggests that the success of the American Revolution delayed the end of slavery in America by at least a generation.) Despite the protestations of old India hands, the East India Company did begin to make a fuss about widow-burning and female infanticide. The rule of the Company itself was replaced by paternalistic political control from London after the Mutiny of 1857. The imperial government promoted education, public works, and public order. The settlement of Australia was a Monty Python parody of a whole society organized as a Victorian reform school. It was also a rousing success. The British role in the “scramble for Africa” in the last quarter of the 19th century began at the behest of evangelicals, to suppress the Indian Ocean slave trade to the Middle East.
In the 1890s, the last decade of Queen Victoria's reign, the empire was at the height of its power and self-confidence, though not yet of its territory. It controlled a quarter of the world's land surface and roughly the same proportion of its population. Its control of the oceans was uncontested. In Ferguson's estimate, it was the closest thing the world has ever seen to a world government. The empire was characterized by a high degree of local autonomy. Even India, ruled by an autocrat appointed by London, pretty much ran itself. As for the white dominions, they got almost anything they wanted in terms of “responsible self-government” after the 1830s. The imperial center made a point of protecting the rights of aborigines throughout the empire; the chief audience for Darwinian racism was among the colonists on the periphery.
The empire supported free trade: sometimes at gunpoint, and not always with happy results, as the Opium Wars illustrate. Be that as it may, in this laissez-faire empire, the imperial bureaucracy and military were fantastically small. There were fewer than half-a-million members of the armed forces at the empire's height, including the Indian Army. With few exceptions, colonial wars were small, quick, and resulted in few British casualties. There were no more than a thousand members of the “covenanted” India Civil Service, the people who actually ran India. That number is a bit misleading: Imperial India had a fairly large public sector. It was staffed largely by Indians, including some who passed the exam to enter the covenanted Service, just as the bulk of the military in India was Indian. Because the regions of the empire were normally self-sufficient, the structure was cheap for Britain: military expenditures late in Victoria's reign came to 2.5% or 3.0% of net domestic product: not so different from British defense expenditures in the early 21st century.
Imperial mysticism and liberal disgust with the empire arose at about the same time. Kipling and Ruskin and Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) saw the empire as a chivalric enterprise, the chief pillar of a civilization that made the world better for everyone, everywhere. This was also the view of Cecil Rhodes, the imperial entrepreneur. Ferguson does not dwell on the historical significance of the Anglophile network that Rhodes promoted, though he does note that Rhodes hoped his scholarships would create something like the Jesuit order, with the empire substituted for the Catholic religion. The problem was that the Boer War he provoked was nakedly commercial and not at all cheap, in British lives or in any other way. That event began the turn of enlightened sentiment away from empire. It would accelerate in the 20th century, until the very word “imperial” became a term of opprobrium.
The key to Ferguson's assessment of the empire is his analysis of the circumstances under which it ended. In the first half of the 20th century, the real alternatives to the British Empire were the Third Reich, or the Japanese East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire, or even the Soviet Union. Fighting off these alternative and far worse empires justified the British Empire's existence. Similar arguments could be made for earlier periods in the empire's history. The alternative to British India would have been a morbid extension of Mughal India, which would have been no more successful than Manchu China during the same period.
And what about the other colonial empires? The French were serious rivals in India and North America until the Seven Year's War (1756-1763). The Dutch actually got the better of the British during several conflicts in the 17th century; the competition was ended only when the Dutch and British executives merged in the Glorious Revolution (1688). It is possible to imagine a history dominated by a far greater French Empire, with its whitewashed architecture and frigid bureaucratic routine. One could imagine the same of the Dutch Empire, with its single-minded devotion to business. In either case, the British idea of liberty would have been largely absent from the modern world. Ferguson tells us that all the post-colonial states with populations over a million that became democracies are former British colonies. The qualifications in that statement are intriguing, but Ferguson may be onto something. Certainly the regime of free trade that Britain promoted in the decades before the First World War made the world a more economically dynamic place.
Ferguson makes some interesting comparisons between that “First Age of Globalization” and the Second, which he dates to the last quarter of the 20th century (and which he evidently believes is over). Though he does not argue the case in detail, Ferguson suggests that it would be hard to condemn 19th-century colonialism as merely exploitive. The colonial powers made huge infrastructure investments in their colonies. (The Congo Free State of King Leopold the Wicked may have been the chief exception.) India had a small trade deficit with Britain, for instance, but British India was a capital importer. During the Second Age of Globalization, in contrast, most trade and investment moved between developed countries. The income gap between the developed and undeveloped world widened during the Second Age, whereas it narrowed during the First.
Then there is the phenomenon of political fragmentation. The number of independent states tended to decline during the 19th century; around 1910, there were just 51. At this writing, the number is just short of two hundred. The new polities, fragments of old empires, often have tiny populations and economies that don't make much sense in isolation. Nonetheless, each must support the whole apparatus of national government. In the former Soviet area and in Africa, many of them plainly are not up to it. The implication of Ferguson's description is that what the world really needs is for some power to do in the 21st century what Queen Victoria's empire did in the 19th.
One may note in passing that Ferguson believes Britain itself might still have done at least part of this, in a slightly different history. There was talk well into the 1950s of a “Third British Empire,” under which the Commonwealth would function as a federation. There were several reasons this did not come off. One was that the United States was not particularly helpful during the Sterling crises that punctuated the post-war years, thus encouraging the trade patterns of the old empire to break up. Also, the Commonwealth became so big and diverse that it no longer meant anything. A federation of just the white dominions might have worked, in the unlikely event that its non-British members could have been persuaded a Third Empire was in their interests. As things turned out, the only power left to take up the imperial slack is the United States, about which Ferguson has his doubts.
In some ways, America is better positioned for global empire than Britain ever was. The US economy is about a quarter the size of the global economy; Britain at its height represented about 8%. Even at the empire's height, there were theoretical combinations of navies that might have challenged British naval supremacy, and of course Britain did not purport to be a great land power. In the early 21st century, the US has something close to a monopoly of supremacy in every dimension of conventional force. And the US manages to do this with not much more of a percentage of the national product than Gladstone or Disraeli's governments used. One might also add that Ann Coulter is much better looking than Queen Victoria ever was. The problem is that, in some ways, the US position in the world is the mirror image of a proper empire.
Ferguson does not use this analogy, but he might have likened the “American Empire” to the successful Japanese exporting corporations of the 1970s, those uncanny enterprises whose capital structures consisted almost entirely of debt. Quite aside from chronic federal deficits, the US seems to have given up on ever running a positive trade balance again. The country is an immense importer of foreign capital. It is also an immense importer of foreign people. One of the characteristics of the British Empire at every stage was Britain's huge emigration, which created whole new countries. Americans, in contrast, are reluctant even to go abroad on short business trips. As for military power, the American ability to project it is at least matched by the American eagerness to withdraw it just as soon as possible. In fact, the US tends to withdraw before it is possible, or at least prudent. The Widowed Queen would not have been amused.
To Ferguson's critique, I would say this: I like history as much as the next guy, indeed considerably more than most next guys. Pirates, the Raj, explorers, habeas corpus, the Boy Scouts, the RAF: they are all part of quite a story. Ferguson may well be right that it is the story of one of the better possible worlds, if not necessarily of the best. Still, the story is history, just as the age of empire is history. Empire, in the sense that Ferguson uses it, is a projection of the nationalism of some nation or other. The great national empires, like the great absolute monarchies, were possible during only a limited epoch. The United States in the 21st century could not create such an empire, even if it were foolish enough to try.
What the United States can do is anchor a Universal State or, to use Toynbee's other coinage, “an ecumenical society with Western characteristics.” The story of the better-possible-world that the British Empire created may yet continue. The trick is to avoid the temptation to emulate the noble empire's example too closely.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-04-27: Misguided Plans

If only John were still here, I would love to talk with him about the current slate of US Presidential candidates. In this post from 2003, you can get a feel for what he would have thought of Jeb Bush. John probably would prefer a third term from Bill Clinton instead of a first for Hillary[as would I]. I suspect John would find Trump gauche, but he would find something interesting to say about his candidacy. Scott Adams thinks Trump is a master of manipulation. Steve Sailer isn't so sure, but still finds Trump interesting. I think I want to see both Trump and Sanders run third party campaigns, and make the current parties implode.

Also of relevance to US Presidential politics, John talks a bit here about the likely formation of a universal state in the latter half of the twenty-first century. Right now, Europe and the US are both exhibiting the some of the same patterns of events we saw in the Late Republican period of Rome. The attractiveness of the US and Europe to immigrants and refugees alike is an example of this.

Finally, there is a reference to a couple of John's books: Apocalypse & Future, and The Perfection of the West. Both are self-published collections of his blogs and online essays. They were John's attempt to summarize his thoughts on millennialism and universal states. Which is pretty much what I am trying to do here. I still have no idea who owns the copyrights to John's works now, but I do my best in my own small way to promote his ideas regardless.

Misguided Plans
No statement in a political magazine has alarmed me more in recent years than The Weekly Standard's recent assertion that Jeb Bush is the Republican presidential front-runner for 2008. (The Weekly Standard did two issues last week so they could gloat about Iraq longer, and I kept neither. I think the piece was "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in the April 19 issue.] Part of the problem is just the realization that anybody, anywhere, is giving serious thought to the election of 2008 at this point. However, my alarm is chiefly due to what the candidacy of Jeb Bush would signal about the Republican Party.
Jeb Bush is the governor if Florida, where he is reasonably well regarded, and the brother of the current president, who seems to like him too. The Weekly Standard quotes him rhapsodizing about emptying out the government offices in the state capital as he privatises more and more public services. He is very keen on tax cuts. If he has any ideas about foreign policy, he keeps them to himself.
May I point out that his brother lost the popular vote in 2000 by running on that platform? And that was before the bottom dropped out of the fool's paradise we had been living in during the Clinton years about the irrelevance of war and diplomacy to domestic politics. You can't take a flight on a commuter airline these days without being frisked by the agents of world history. These people have to be paid. When someone assembles a budget, that sort of question has to be the chief consideration.
The era of conservatism, indeed of social renaissance, is now upon us. The era of small government is over. If the national Republican Party still has not understood that, then it does not deserve to win any more elections.
* * *
One person who is little tempted by soccer-mom politics is the economic historian and born-again imperialist, Niall Ferguson. In today's New York Times Magazine, he has an article, The Empire Slinks Back, in which he seeks to stiffen the American people to their imperial duty. If the United States were running a proper empire, he complains, Americans would be living abroad and administering things in the colonies, as the British did. The British were willing to do that decade after decade, even century after century. It seems that, right up to the 1930s, a remarkably high percentage of the graduates of elite British schools went forth to administer the empire.
The US, in contrast, seems to regard the prospect of an occupation of Iraq lasting more than a year or two with deep misgivings. And who would run the protectorate, anyway? American colleges pay little attention to foreign societies, and particularly to foreign languages. In fact, the denizens of the prospective imperium are far more eager to come to the United States than the Americans are to go to them. What kind of an empire is that?
I would respond that it's not any kind of an empire at all, but the beginning of a universal state. The US has a special role in the system, one aspect of which was discussed in another piece in today's Times. In American Power Moves Beyond Merely Super Gregg Easterbrook argues that the US military is so far beyond any possible combination of rivals that essentially the rest of the world has given up on the idea of a conventional arms race with America. No other country has a serious navy, he asserts, and even when the US fights a country with a modern air force, the enemy planes do not dare offer battle.
This kind of piece makes me uncomfortable. Even if it were true, it would jinx the whole business. In any case, as I have pointed out before, the military preeminence of the US is like being smartest kid in the dumb room. The world is in fact demilitarizing. (Easterbrook gives figures suggesting that, worldwide, military expenditures have about halved in the last 17 years.) It is a matter of acquiescence, not of the absolute power of the United States.
What the US has done is to monopolize a whole stratum of international life. This gives the US quite a lot of say in many contexts, but it's not the same as a traditional empire. It does not exclude the possibility of other countries becoming comparably preeminent in other spheres. Even if the US can be said to be the cop of the world, we should remember that cops don't run city hall.
* * *
Of course, Ferguson's argument that the US is too impatient to run an empire should not be dismissed. The Astronomer Royal of the UK recently published a book, Our Final Century, in which he makes a plausible case for "doom soon." The book is also out in the US, but here it is called Our Final Hour. Now that's a difference in attention spans for you.
* * *
For anyone who is interested, I would like to announce that my next anthology is in the works, The Perfection of the West. A print-on-demand book brought to us through the ingenuity of Xlibris, it pulls together just about everything I have had to say in recent years about the coming Universal State and related matters. It will take longer to appear than I had hoped, though. I should get the proofs in a week or two, but the book may not be available until well into the summer.
I do have another Xlibiris anthololgy, by the way: Apocalypse & Future. The Perfection of the West is slightly more cheerful.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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2003-02-21: Imperial Catechism

A good man, and good at being a man

A good man, and good at being a man

While John was a fan of TR, he did admit that the colonies Teddy Roosevelt so enthusiastically helped to acquire were useless, both geostrategically and in domestic politics. However, when John talks about empire, the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines isn't what he means.

The empire [as opposed to an empire] is the ground state of a political and economic system when the will to maintain a more vigorous state is no longer available. This is what John is referring to when he says: "The basis of the Empire is not dominance, but acquiescence." The extent of an empire may be founded on the conquests of a vigorous leader, but its continued existence cannot be. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, and then went on to create a template of political leadership that would directly continue for 1500 years [and indirectly until today]. Whereas Alexander the Great conquered an even greater extent of territory than Caesar, but it fell into strife and dissolution upon his death. On the gripping hand, the Roman Empire did about as well with Marcus Aurelius as Commodius. The empire does not depend on the charisma or skill of the Emperor to exist. Rather, the fact that the Emperor exists is what sustains the Empire. He is the still center about which everything else revolves.

The formation of universal states is something that seems likely, given human nature. I think it would be too bold to say it is a Law of Nature, but it certain seems to be a stable tendency. Going by past experience, we can expect the formation of a universal state that will encompass most of the world by the end of the Twenty-first century. I will be an old man, if I live at all, before I have the opportunity to see whether this prediction comes true. I am curious to see how it all turns out.

An Imperial Catechism
There is a relationship between American policy toward Iraq and the prospect of empire, but it's not the one you might think. Any American government, at any stage in the history of the United States, would have had to end the sort of threat that the Baathist regime in Iraq poses. In fact, America's first international war was a long, moderately successful campaign to suppress the Barbary Pirates. (You know the bit in the Marine Anthem about the "shores of Tripoli"?) Now, however, the international system is older, more constricted: you have to get a license to use force, even for self-defense. The problem is that the licensing authorities are both incompetent and autonomous. All the empire will mean is that the agencies will be answerable to an executive. There: that's the 21st century for you.
America has a great deal to do with this process, but again, not in the way you might think. America once had an empire, of the same variety as the British and French and Dutch empires. We acquired it late and let it go early. The old colonial empires were just extensions of the nations that controlled them. They were never worth much, frankly, and they had nothing to do with what America was or wanted.
What is happening now is different. We are seeing the beginning, not of an American Empire, but of the Empire. It seems at this point that it will be chiefly organized by the United States, but even that could change. The Empire is the terminal episode in the evolution of an international system. The Roman Empire, Han and Ming China, the Ottoman Empire: all were "universal states" of this class. The basis of the Empire is not dominance, but acquiescence. States may continue under the Empire, but the Empire is the ultimate source of legitimacy. In principle, it is the ultimate earthly guarantor of the minimum of order and justice without which civilization could not function.
Although the universal state of the West is still two or three generations from final formation, we are already seeing debate about it. A useful polemic against the Empire is available on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, in the form of an essay by Richard Ebeling of Hillsdale College. The essay is entitled An American Empire! If You Want It instead of Freedom. Let me take in turn the points it raises.
* * *
Mr. Ebeling cites the arguments of a book published in 1953, Garet Garret's The People's Pottage. Conveniently, Mr. Ebeling numbers them:
First, the executive power of the government becomes increasingly dominant.
That trend has been exaggerated, and of course it was reversed after the Watergate scandal. Now it is probably being reversed again: not because of presidential hubris, but because Congress is terrified to be seen making a decision in public. For what it's worth, the executives of mature universal-states keep their jobs by doing as little as possible. Roman and Chinese emperors spent most of their time answering their mail.
Second, domestic-policy issues become increasingly subordinate to foreign-policy matters.
Twice in the 20th century, during the 1920s and the 1990s, the United States tried to reverse those priorities. The result in both cases was kaboom.
Third, Empire threatens to result in the ascendancy of the military mind over the civilian mind.
That is what happened, to some extent, under the colonial empires. Under the Empire, the trend is exactly the opposite. The characteristic feature of universal states is debellicization. The whole world becomes the European Union.
Fourth, Empire creates a system of satellite nations.
The Empire makes all politics domestic politics.
Fifth, Empire brings with it both arrogance and fear among the imperial people.
Even the colonial empires moved away from ethnic chauvinism in their last stage. As for the Empire, under it there are no foreigners.
And, finally, Empire creates the illusion that a nation is a prisoner of history..."Destiny" has marked us for duty and greatness.
The way that universal states form is contingent. The fact that they do form probably is not. Get over it.
* * *
America's old colonial empire in the Philippines and the Caribbean really did contradict America's essential nature. The Empire, in contrast, was implicit in the American Founding. The Declaration of Independence famously says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." Rights are imaginary unless a social order exists in which they can be exercised. By declaring the rights universal, the Continental Congress implied the ideal of a universal order. Indeed, the Congress appealed to that order: the Declaration is addressed, not to the American people, or to God, or to specific sovereigns. It is addressed to "the decent opinion of mankind," to the consensus of civilization. The Empire is simply that consensus in institutional form.
Regular visitors to my site will know that I have dozens of items online that deal with these matters in one way or another. As a convenience to readers, I am planning a paperback anthology on the subject: The Perfection of the West. It will not include Spengler's Future, unless I can fix the rights problem with the old publisher in a week or two. However, it should make clear some of the things I have been getting at these many years. Look for it this spring.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View 2003-01-09: The Imperial Gazette Speaks

While criticism of the Iraq war is now commonplace, still only cranks seriously contest the way the United States conducts its global business in any systematic way. Everyone simply assumes this is the way it has to be, and most of the arguing is about who is going to be in charge and what goals they should be pursuing. I think this speaks to John's vision of the world as being largely correct: we really are approaching the point where some kind of universal state will again emerge, and right now the United States is acting as the executive of that embryonic state.

The Imperial Gazette Speaks
 
No doubt The New York Times thought that it was being very provocative when it ran that cover story, American Empire (Get Used to It), in its Sunday magazine on January 5. Written by Michael Ignatieff of the Kennedy School of Government, the article (which is actually titled "The Burden") makes the argument that the United States is already running a global empire, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two points about the piece that bear mentioning.
The first is how little fundamental criticism it occasioned. Although some people did take issue stridently with Ignatieff's ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian issue (which are in fact a little flaky), I have yet to see much comment to the effect that the US lacks the capacities Ignatieff claims. There has also, so far, been a dearth of serious moral arguments against global empire. Indeed, such discussion as there has been simply presents shades of opinion in favor of it. The extreme wings of apologetics for empire are represented by Robert Kaplan, a Realpolitiker, and Peter Singer, a liberal the bleeding from whose heart could not be staunched by Senator Frist himself. (Singer might deny that what he is advocating is an empire. Hah.)
The most interesting thing about The New York Times piece, however, was Ignatieff's ignorance of the typology of empires. What is happening to the world now is not like the imperialist rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries. To the extent there is an American Empire, it is not of the same type as the British Empire. The American Empire (and the tag "American" may not stay with it permanently) is the early stage of what Toynbee called a "Universal State." Put briefly, a Universal State is the final condition of an international system. Universal states are assembled by hegemons, but are made possible by exhaustion. Essentially, sovereignty becomes too much trouble, so the members of the system cede most of it to an imperial center, which soon loses its national character.
Samuel Huntington made use of the concept in The Clash of Civilizations, though he was inclined to think that the Universal State of the West would not be global. I also ran across the use of the concept in a planning paper for the Canadian military. On the whole, though, there seems to be little appreciation, even among the advocates of global empire, for just how different a Universal State is from the empires in the earlier stages of a civilization's history. They are, for instance, much longer lived: generally about 500 years. Why? Because they are legitimate. Alexander's empire rested solely on force, so it shattered at his death. The Roman Empire, in contrast, lasted through crisis after crisis. It lasted because it represented universal justice, however imperfectly. This is the one valuable point in Empire, the otherwise execrable book by Hardt & Negri.
 
* * *
Two minor points:
The comparison between the United States and Rome has always been overdone. In some ways, the West today looks less like the late Hellenistic world than it looks like the late Era of Contending States in Chinese history. The faceoff between the US and the EU bears comparison to the conflict between the states of Qin and Qi: the argument is about legitimacy. Of course, in other ways the present situation is unique, and for the better. The West is actually more adept than other societies at substituting veiled threats and peaceful competition for actual war.
Finally, if the concept of a Universal State does regain the currency it had in the 1950s, this time there will be some confusion with this quite different usuage:
 
Definition: A state in an alternating Turing machine from which the machine accepts only if all possible moves lead to acceptance.
You read it first here.
 
* * *
Unlike some bloggers whose URLs I will not mention, I try not to flack reflexively for the Bush Administration. Nonetheless, I must register a protest against the made-for-television movie, The Crooked E, which appeared on CBS on Sunday. The screenwriters' attempt to identify the Bush Administration with the shady practices of the spectacularly failed Enron Corporation is a new low in media partisanship for the Democrats.
The book on which the program was supposed to be based suggested that Enron had had too much influence over both the Clinton and Bush II Administrations. In the movie, all the references to the Clintons were deleted. In fact, the whole decade of the 1990s was deleted. The movie starts with the founders of Enron at a barbecue in Texas, clacking their mandibles in glee over the deregulation of the energy market by the Reagan Administration. The story then jumps to 2001. A junior executive, who had been present at that barbecue as a boy, is starting work at Enron. We are never actually told just what business Enron was in. The exposition gives the impression that Enron mostly sold insurance to manufacturers of poisoned food. There is a reference to some member of the Bush Administration every five minutes
This is not to say that the producers were incapable of subtlety. The actor who played the junior executive (Christian Kane, I think) is a graduate of the WB network's camp-supernatural industry. In the series Angel, he played a junior attorney at a law firm that catered to the well-to-do damned. He had pretty much the same job at Enron.
 
* * *
Speaking of the damned, reports of uncanny events continue to surface, despite the efforts of well-meaning authorities to suppress them. First it was raining fish. Then it was spider webs. Now it's dragon's breath. Where will it all end?

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The Long View: Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

A brief note by John on Thomas Friedman's imperial policy ambitions, and Antipas Ministries, which still has a website sixteen years later.

Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

This note was originally posted to the Talk 2000 Forum, and appeared in the April 1999 issue of Let's Talk 2000.


Those of you who get the Sunday New York Times may have noted the somewhat startling cover art on the magazine of March 28, a picture of a clenched fist with an American flag painted on it . The story it illustrates may mark a significant turning point in liberal thinking about foreign policy issues, and maybe in American politics generally. Its argument might even rate as "millennial" in its own right. I mention it here, though, because of the way it dovetails with some premillennial web material I have come across that treats of questions of world order.

The piece in question was written by Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The title is "What the World Needs Now: For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is." Friedman makes much the same argument about America's political elites and globalization that I (and others) have made about politically active millenarian Christians and Jews: they really don't have a clue in terms of a general theory of statecraft. The elites, say Friedman, have a variety of ideas about domestic economics, trade issues and military posture, but no one has succeeded in constructing a model for how these things can work together. This is the case despite the fact that America benefits most from globalization, and is simultaneously the prime target for "blowback" from the process. (Readers may be reminded of Salman Rushdie's recent remark that "international" is becoming a euphemism for "American.")

Friedman suggests a synthesis uniting a hegemonic strategic policy with a generous welfare state and a regime of largely unfettered free trade. Nice work, if you can get it. Though he does not mention it, his prescription is much like the mix of the late New Deal. In fact, Friedman's argument is original mostly in that it issues from the liberal part of the spectrum. Culturally conservative internationalists, notably those at the Weekly Standard, have been groping toward some such synthesis since the Bush Administration. (Even I took a poke at it: see the section of Spengler's Future dealing with 1992 -- 2022 at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/sfol/sf10.html) The belief in a need for a Grand Hegemonic Doctrine could easily become a consensus, as containment theory did after the Second World War.

Meanwhile, unremarked by the Times editorial page, there are some new shoots in the garden of eschatology. I have come across a sophisticated website [http://www.endtimesnetwork.com] maintained by the Antipas Ministries and the Institute for the Study of Religion in Politics. The site includes a readable online book, "The Antipas Papers," by one Steven Ray Shearer, which explains the doctrine of these people. The material is significant because (1) it makes much the same assessment of geopolitics as does Thomas Friedman and (2) it also makes some shifts of emphasis in the familiar premillennial endtime scenario to accommodate the assessment.

The Antipas Ministries is vigorously evangelical, but their eschatology is a minority position. That is, while they are premillennial, they also hold that the church will have to go through the Tribulation. Also, though based in California and apparently staffed in part by former US Army intelligence officers, they place the locus of evil in the final days in the US rather than in the European Union.

Since the premillennial revival began in the US in the 1830s, it has always been something of an anomaly that its projections for world history required an increasingly muted role for America as the endtimes approached. For 150 years, the general expectation has been that Israel would be reestablished and that Europe would be united by the Antichrist, who would make a false peace with Israel. In this scenario, the Roman Church or Europe as a whole is the Scarlet Woman, destined for destruction, while the US is either a bystander or one Antichrist's deluded allies. According to Antipas Ministries, in contrast, America is Babylon, which in the future will be ruled by an Antichrist of wholly Gentile origins. The identification of the US with Babylon is made partly through a conventional critique of economic globalization. "The Antipas Papers" is the first premillennial document I have encountered that quotes extensively from William Greider and Alexander Cockburn.

A remarkable feature of this material is its root and branch rejection of every link between the church and politics. There are predictably harsh remarks about such Theonomy (or Dominion Theology) advocates as Gary North and Rousas Rushdoony, who hope to establish a theocracy in the United States. However, the condemnation also extends to the Christian Coalition and such mainstream figures as Ralph Reed, as well to attempts to coordinate the public policy agendas of Catholics and evangelicals. Real evangelicals, according to Antipas Ministries, don't have public policy agendas. This world is wholly under the dominion of Satan. It is not just futile to attempt to save it, but actually dangerous.

Indeed, the Theonomists and the Christian Coalition are part of the forces of Antichrist in this endtime scenario. The program to create a culturally conservative theocracy will succeed, but its leader will be Antichrist. Antipas even goes so far as to quote Hitler's calls for a return to traditional morality. The argument is not that traditional morality is fascist, of course, but to warn that a politicized moral platform can be trap for an antichristian agenda.

There is a great deal of material on this site, and I have not been over all of it. However, it does not seem to have any nasty features. Though Antipas Ministries anticipates that real evangelicals will be thrown out of their churches during the Tribulation, I saw no survivalist language. The site suggests that believers prepare for the persecution by forming house churches now, and otherwise keeping a low profile.

It is hard to see how there can be much of a future for a style of eschatology that makes ecclesiastical anarchy a virtue, but then evangelicalism has always managed to live with this feature. It is also hard to imagine anyone but the Antichrist himself being much annoyed by the sort of mild, pietist "inner migration" that Antipas Ministries seems to represent. Should the hopes of people like Thomas Friedman be realized, this species of premillennialism could grow in counterpoint to the successes of the Grand Hegemonic Doctrine.

 

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View 2002-09-26: Strange Forms of Life

The internal politics of the Right in the United States have been strange. For most of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Right has struggled for respectability without achieving it. Or at least that is how it seems now. It is worth remembering that this has not always been true in living memory. What has been true is that some have sought to sacrifice others for the public good [or their own benefit]. At least in principle, the struggle session has been a thing of the far Left. However, in practice, it has been rather bi-partisan.

During the middle of the twentieth century, American conservative thought was thought to be moribund, and was famously caricatured by Lionel Trilling as nothing but a series of irritable mental gestures. Whittaker Chambers felt the Left was going win, but he threw in with the losing side because of Stalin's purges and genocides. This trend reached its apotheosis in the Kennedy Enlightenment, but the failures of the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty resulted in the victory of the Reagan coalition and a resurgence of the Right. This is the period that gave us the birth of the neo-conservative movement, when a number of prominent liberals such as Irving Kristol publicly defected to the Republicans.

Thirty years ago, it was fashionable to be conservative, as I was reminded upon reading Paul Fussell's Class. If you want a visual reminder of this time, look at the movie PCU, which memorably lampooned early PC while illustrating the early nineties glamour of New England preppies. With the passage of time, the tides have turned against the Right again, and now all the cool kids want to be on the Left again. However, this is the New Left, the winner of the succession wars that followed the self-destruction of the liberal consensus. So far, neither Right nor Left in America has been able to produce an enduring political settlement to match the longevity of the New Deal, with repeated swings back and forth in national politics as fortunes rise and fall.

Part of this cycle is a continual churn in the staffs and the very existence of the little magazines that provide the national conversation on political topics. Most of these journals never really make money, and are kept alive by the financing and egos of wealthy men who choose to dabble in politics in the hopes of leaving a legacy. Over time, some of these magazines pass into the American mainstream, providing a source of stable jobs and political influence, and they cast off their less-respectable elements as they seek legitimacy. On the Right, this manifests as a search for anti-Semitism and racism. On the Left, this is the ever expanding search for those who are not sufficiently politically correct.

John mentions the American Conversative in this vein. In 2002, Taki Theodorocopulos was the financial angel who kept this magazine alive, and Patrick Buchanan provided the brand name. Ron Unz was also involved. Taki and Buchanan are still listed as founders on the masthead, but they no longer are editors or publish articles, having long since been forced out for crimes against respectability.

As it turns out, John was very wrong about the Second Iraq War. There are some I respect who still think that a different policy in Iraq could have preserved the peace. It isn't hard to find people who think no good was possible, and Taki and Unz and Buchanan are foremost in funding that on the Right; some things never change.

Among those things is the interest in extraterrestial life.  Many of the hopes of Golden Age sci-fi were dashed by actual exploration of Mars and Venus. Since I grew up reading Heinlein juvenile, the idea of settling Mars or Venus seems inexpressibly romantic to me.

 

Strange Forms of Life

 

Although I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I followed with keen interest the giant march of rural protestors in London on Sunday. 400,000 people? Isn't that ten times as many who turned out for the Charterist Movement marches in the 1830s? And all to protest a bill before Parliament to ban fox hunting?

I realize that these foxes are just carrying water to a basket of grievances. (That's a mixed metaphor, but a cool image.) The Countryside Alliance, which organized the march, seems to be like the umbrella groups that form from time to time in the rural US. Some rural protesters are pig-greedy agricultural entrepreneurs who think the state owes them a living. Still, as in the US, what we also have here is a movement against ecological ideology by people who actually know something about the land.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this is that none of the the marchers, as far as I can tell, were the Usual Suspects. In fact, judging by the reaction on the Web (which may be a poor barometer), radical Britain reacted to the appearance of a genuine populist movement with singular disinterest. Whenever a large number of people march for any purpose, political, economic or even religious, you can usually count on some pack of neo-Trotskyites trying to hijack the movement for their own squirrel-brained purposes. The closest I could find was a few feeble attempts to redirect Web searches away from the march's organizers.

The march seems to have been a genial parody of the typical climax to a G.K. Chesterton novel, in which the People rise up to overthrow the establishment, especially when the establishment is socialist. Chesterton was not a great admirer of aristocracy (though he was of monarchy, so he would have been pleased by Prince Charles's open support for the Countryside Alliance). Among the aristocrats he numbered what would later be called cultural liberals, whom he also associated with plutocracy. That is not how Prime Minister Tony Blair's New Labour government looks to me, but that is how it seems to look to at least 400,000 Britons.

The fact that one of Britain's rare earthquakes occurred about the same time as the march might have given an earlier generation pause.

 

* * *

Some forms of populism are past due. Among them I would include the kind represented by Patrick J. Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative. I just got a complimentary copy of the October 7 issue. There is nothing to complain about in terms of layout or editorial quality. It is printed on the sort of cheap paper-stock that denotes the traditional seriousness of the Little Magazine. It further maintains tradition by being subsidized by a financial angel of whom the less said the better, in this case one Taki Theodorocopulos.

This issue is almost wholly devoted to arguing against an American invasion of Iraq. This is reasonable thing to argue for, but the magazine's opposition seems to be, well, overdetermined. One gathers that the invasion will be a bloody mess, or that the occupation will be a bloody mess, or that the next Iraqi government will be no better than the current one, or that control of the Middle East would create imperial overreach. The one possibility that the issue does not allow for is that the war will be a resounding success.

At risk of jinxing the operation, a happy outcome is by far the most likely. The fighting will be short. The country will not break up; it will be cantonized and demilitarized. The Iraqis will sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and get back to business, which is good: the country's GDP grew 15% last year. The democratic movement in Iran will be bolstered and the Syrians will stop funding terrorist organizations.

If these good things happen, the magazine will have nothing to talk about but illegal Mexican immigration. That is an important issue, but it does not merit its own magazine.

 

* * *

When things go badly in this world, we can always turn our attention to another. I was particularly pleased to see that a new analysis of the atmosphere of Venus is consistent with biology in the middle layers. I recognize that this sort of announcement has a history of not being verified, but I still think it worth noting. As far as I know, it is the first application of an important principle of planetary astronomy: any feature of an atmosphere that cannot be explained by geology is probably caused by biology.

James Lovelock, better known for formulating the Gaia Hypothesis, came up with this idea when NASA asked him how they could determine from a distance whether life was present. His answer ran like this: It would be obvious from a distance that Earth has life on it, because of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen is an explosive. If it is not continuously replenished, it will soon bond with other elements. The same would be true of, say, methane, which breaks down easily. If something inherently unstable is a persistent feature of an atmosphere, then there is a good chance that some metabolic process is maintaining it.

Venus has been explored, even by landers. The surface is covered by superheated CO2 at almost 100 times sealevel pressure on Earth. However, it has long been known that there are mysterious dark regions that sometimes form at the middle altitudes, where temperatures are below the boiling point of water, and where there is in fact some vapor available. It now also appears that there are unstable acids at those levels. They sound pretty horrible in themselves, but the best explanation for them is biology.

There are doubtful points here. There are non-biological ways to produce the substances in question. And is the proper adjective for things related to Venus "Venusian" or "Venerian"?

A zeppelin should be dispatched at once to clarify these matters. If his magazine folds, Pat Buchanan might be persuaded to serve as ship's lexicographer.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: Our Global Neighborhood

John's basic take on the report issued by the UN in 1995 on improving its own efficiency was this was a document written by hard-working, well-meaning bureaucrats. That doesn't mean it isn't also a revolutionary tract.

Many of the complaints in this volume are just. For example, NYC spent more on its uniformed police and fire services in 1995 than the UN did on peacekeeping. On the other hand, NYC arguably has a bigger army than most independent nations. There is also the difficulty the UN has collecting the funds its member nations have agreed to give it, and the patronage system that selects UN bureaucrats.

All of this is a whitewash designed to deflect attention from the organizing principle of the work, which is to make the UN, in concert with other existing international institutions, into a world government. This report suggests dismantling the UN as it is exists, the remnant of the coalition that won the Second World War, and turning it into a proper government, one with general powers, police, courts, and unambigious jurisdiction.

I suppose if I worked for the UN, I might be willing to endorse such an idea. If want your organization to succeed, you usually want the means to fulfill the ends.  I just cannot imagine actually wanting to work for the UN.

The boldest proposal in this document is worthy of any barracks-lawyer. The authors propose handing control of the global commons to the UN Trusteeship Council. There is something to be said for this, what with the tragedy of the commons. However, you might notice the "commons" is defined as anything not under the exclusive, unambiguous control of an existing nation-state. That pretty much amounts to everything that currently exists.

On the gripping hand, what is most interesting about this idea is its very parochialism. The class of international businessmen, bureaucrats, and professional do-gooders who back this proposal are the flowering of Western progressivism, and they have nothing in common with the teeming masses of the Global South they purportedly represent.

Our Global Neighborhood
The Report of the Commission on Global Governance
Oxford University Press 1995
$14.95, 410 pp.
ISBN 0-19-827997-3

The Great International "Them" Unmasked!

Even the most powerful and carefully devised conspiracy is bound to make some fatal mistake. Perhaps a letter will fall into the hands of a crusading journalist, a prominent conspirator will attract unwanted attention on the way to a secret meeting, the vast sums being moved through the international banking system to support the conspiracy's activities will excite the curiosity of an obscure but honest clerk. The conspiracy to end the international regime of sovereign states and replace it with a world government has made a different misstep: they wrote their ideas down in a report by a barnfull of international bureaucrats and published it in a 410 page paperback book. Some people just can't keep a secret.

Seriously, the earnest and hardworking diplomats and technical experts responsible for "Our Global Neighborhood" are not trying to do anything underhanded. Mostly. The idea behind the report was that, what with the end of the Cold War and the 50th anniversary of the U.N. coming up, it might be a good idea to do a general performance review of the major international institutions, particularly of the U.N. itself, and suggest some reforms. Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor, was chiefly responsible for getting the project organized in 1990, and it received the support of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the current U.N. Secretary General at the time.

Actually, as reports written by international committees go, this one is pretty good. It is of reasonable length, for one thing. Blessedly for a U.N.-related document, the text is no more cluttered with acronyms than the matter requires. There is a minimum of political posturing, and almost all the reform recommendations are practical. That, however, does not make them any less radical. In some ways, the international system they would create would be as different from the one we have now as the U.S. federal government is from the government under the Articles of Confederation. It is wrong, however, to dismiss the report as just another example of one-worldism. "World Federalism" and similar sentiments have existed, in the U.S. and elsewhere, since the end of the Second World War. They had always been negligible because there was nothing behind them. Today, this is no longer true. Long before Marx, Hegel recognized that no social development can get anywhere if there is no "class of civil society" behind it. Unlike the 1940s, such a class exists in the 1990s.

Many of the Commission's proposals have merit. They have a laundry list of social development agencies in the U.N. system that never seem to have done anyone any good and that richly deserve to be discontinued. As a streamlining measure, they suggest putting economic development and related activities under the purview of a new Economic Security Council. They show how the Secretary General could be set free to do more basic administration if he were not required to produce so many useless reports. They acknowledge that the U.N. bureaucracy is about as efficient as the Italian Post Office on a bad day (though not, of course, as bad as the municipal government of Washington, D.C.), and suggest a procedure for turning it into an honest civil service. This means, for instance, that officials would be hired on the basis of ability rather than what country's turn it is to fill a given post. They complain that the uniformed municipal services of New York City had more money to spend on fire and police protection in 1992 than the U.N. did on peacekeeping operations for that year. They argue, persuasively, that countries should at least pay for the activities their representatives have authorized. They suggest a number of reasonable measures to reform the formula for calculating the assessments made by the U.N. on its members, and various ways to make these deadbeats pay up.

In many ways, "Our Global Neighborhood" is refreshingly realistic. The report notes early on that there is no world "community." That is, we deceive ourselves if we believe that the peoples of the world all value pretty much the same things and that all identify themselves with world society in the way that they may identify themselves as Chinese or Sunni Moslems or French speakers. (The report does lapse into the use of the phrase "world community" later on, but since today we use expressions like "the pickpocket community" and "the tubercular community," it is understandable if the commission members could not help themselves.) What we do have is a world neighborhood. We live in a limited space where we are all going to interact whether we want to or not. Therefore, we have to make some accommodations so as not to annoy each other. This is a perfectly satisfactory exposition of the matter.

Amazingly for a document prepared largely by U.N.-types, the report has hardly any animus against free enterprise. This is remarkable because many of the people on the commission were responsible for such 1970s phenomena as the New International Economic Order, which was a plan whereby developed countries would ship their development to underdeveloped countries, and the New World Information Order, which was a plan for preventing independent western news organizations from disseminating unpleasant news about the governments of those countries. Most of the commission's major proposals contemplate the direct involvement of private businesses. Multinational corporations are seen as at least morally neutral, and even potentially useful. A recurrent theme of the report is that history has shown that centrally controlled economies do not work. Much of the report does not deal with the U.N. at all, but with bodies like the World Bank and the new World Trade Organization. These bodies could use a bit of coordination, but the commission finds it good that such institutions remain independent. Government itself is recognized to be of limited effectiveness.

Still, at the heart of the report, there lies a solid nugget of dissimulation. The commission is at pains to emphasize that what it is promoting is world governance, not world government. Governance is primarily a matter of establishing generally accepted rules. There may, of course, be certain bodies entrusted with the task of settling disputes and enforcing the rules from time to time, but they are not essential to the concept. The system of competition between professional soccer teams, for instance, is a form of "governance," but that is a long way from saying that soccer, either nationally or internationally, is government-controlled. The same point might be made about free market economies in general. While entrepreneurs and consumers will occasionally have recourse to the courts, most of the time business flows on autonomously, under the governance of well-known custom and the understood principles of contract. A surprising amount of the international system has always worked like this, from the usages regarding the repatriation of diplomatic personnel in time of war to the happy anonymity of such venerable institutions as the Universal Postal Union. The Report of the Committee on Global Governance purports to be doing nothing more than to make some incremental reforms to this already-existing ecology of international relations.

I'm sorry, it just won't wash. The adoption of the major proposals in this report would transform the chief international institutions of today into a world government of general powers, with the U.N. at its center. The commission members want the veto power of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council phased out, thereby transforming that body from a council of ambassadors to an executive. They want the current jurisdiction of the World Court, which today is voluntary, made mandatory for all member states. They want to make persons and organizations, and not just states, the subjects of international law, so they propose creating a "Council of Petition" where aggrieved private parties could plead their case without a state sponsor. They want an international principle to be established that world military forces may intervene for humanitarian reasons in member states without those states' permission, and they want a standing U.N. army to expedite the process. They want to create an international criminal court to punish crimes like genocide. They want to create an independent tax base to support international institutions. (They recoil, wisely, from the notion that the U.N. should become a taxing authority. Instead, they propose that levies be placed, presumably by member states, on activities of an essentially international nature, such as international money transfers and deep sea fishing. The proceeds would then be used to fund international agencies.) Perhaps the most breathtaking of their proposals is the Trusteeship of the Global Commons.

The U.N. Trusteeship Council was created to oversee the transition of certain former colonies to independence or other autonomously chosen status. However, the world today being what it is, the Council is fresh out of former colonies to oversee. The Commission on Global Governance suggests that this Council be given charge of overseeing the use of the "global commons." The oversight would include such things as licensing the use of the commons to private companies, and conditioning this use on the private parties agreeing to make certain investments conducive to global development. It took a moment for the full import of these suggestions to come home to me. The global commons is everything not under the exclusive jurisdiction of a sovereign state. This includes the ocean. And the mineral-rich ocean bed. And the atmosphere. And near space, including the narrow range of orbits in which geosynchronous communications satellites can be deployed. And all the planets in the solar system. And all the stars in the sky. Access to some of these resources is still a bit hypothetical, but we may rest assured that, as soon as someone figures out a way to make use of them, someone from the U.N. Trusteeship Council will be there, asking for a cut.

Now, though this is a outline for a government, it would not be a very effective government. The commission wants states (and the individuals within them) to be gradually disarmed, even though the proposed U.N. army would be little more than a SWAT team with airlift capacity. In other words, the proposal would ensure that when situations arise that require the use of force, there will be no force available. As for its funding and economic development proposals, expressions like "ramshackle" and "invitation to graft" come to mind. And actually, the commission does recognize that the burden of world governance would overwhelm the institutional arrangements the report outlines. The commission does not anticipate that the official institutions should bear the primary burden. Rather, the governance of the world will rest primarily on the spontaneous self-organization of global civil society.

They are onto something. Although the concept of a "citizen of the world" is very old, the fact is that, at most times in history, such creatures have been extremely rare. Particularly at the time the U.N. was created they were very thin on the ground. The world at the end of the Second World War was run by states with isolated, overprotected economies, mutually inexchangeable currencies, and visa regulations that Kafka would not have incorporated into his novels because they were too improbable. Global civil society, the people whose livelihoods and intellectual horizons could really be said to have a global dimension, was confined to a few thousand businessmen and a rather larger number of diplomats and higher civil servants. Today, the situation is quite remarkably different. Money and goods flow between states with an ease not seen since before the First World War, when the long twentieth century slide toward state control and militarism began. The costs of communication and travel have fallen spectacularly, and they are less and less under the control of private monopolies or state agencies. Businesses, if not losing their national character to the degree that some writers suggest, are at least developing a truly worldwide perspective. More important than any of these factors is the involvement of actual people with world affairs. For many, immigrants or the families of immigrants, this involvement is direct. For many others, far more influential, global questions have become questions of practical politics.

There are, according to the report, 28,900 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the world that operate in at least three countries. They include everything from the Sierra Club to Catholics for Free Choice to innumerable avatars of labor unions and trade associations. They have changed the face of international diplomacy. It used to be that international conferences were rather restricted affairs. Heads of government, their ministers and aides would get together for a few days in some picturesque spot, preferably in Switzerland, to bore each other into a pacific state of mind. Such events were rare, because the U.N. General Assembly, which sometimes seemed to think itself the Parliament of Man, was supposed to provide a continuing forum for such wide-ranging discussions. Today, however, the General Assembly is a sleepy anachronism. Instead, the U.N. takes bodily form in a series of monster international meetings, such as the Rio summit on the environment in 1992, the human rights get-together in Vienna in 1993, and the variously memorable Cairo summit of 1995 on population and development. Each of these conventions of diplomats is closely attended by a circus of NGOs to lobby and enlighten them. They attend in their thousands with posters and pamphlets, disproportionately young and unnecessarily humorless, housed in makeshift facilities that seem likely to become a permanent feature of U.N. operations. The literature on them is inadequate, though I might suggest P.J. O'Rourke's jaundiced account of the Rio summit in "All the Trouble in the World" (1994). We need a literature on them because they may become "the people of the world."

Something like this has happened before. When we think of "the people" in the revolutionary tradition, we are likely to think of shabbily-dressed peasants storming the gates of the masters' chateaux, or granitic Social Realist industrial workers staring into the eastern sunrise so as to expose the planes of their faces to best effect. In reality, however, as James Billington has explained in "Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith" (1980), the original "people" for the purposes of revolutionary agitation was the sophisticated rabble that patronized the cafes of the Palais-Royale in Paris. The gardens known as the Palais-Royale were owned by Louis XVI's slightly disreputable cousin, Phillipe d'Orleans, and so the activities there were largely immune to the police and censorship of the city. The cafes that ringed the gardens became the headquarters for most of the political factions that would play a part in the French Revolution. The gardens and cafes, many of the latter literally underground, provided venues for every philosophical sect, pleasure and vice that the late Enlightenment had to offer. The habitues were a special kind of person, and the gardens themselves a spiritually unique place, the place from which popular legitimacy issued. When the "people of Paris" marched on Versailles in 1789 to bring the king back to the city, it was from the Palais-Royale that they set out.

The NGOs and the international businesses that today seek both to expand the influence of international institutions and to shape their policies are new to the international system. Whereas heretofore international law and governance had been matters that concerned only states, now private parties are intimately involved. Moreover, there is nothing elitist or underhanded about these private parties. They are active in the political life of their home countries, so that decisions taken by international fora now have a reliable source of domestic political support. The political positions they promote are likely to be minority positions, but some minorities are always more influential than others, and the sorts of minorities that stand behind the NGOs are often very influential indeed. NGOs are now and will be for the foreseeable future overwhelmingly from the developed West. This is less of a drawback than it might seem. NGOs operate internationally in no small measure because they are frustrated with their lack of progress at home. They seek to go over the heads of their own governments. Thus, their rhetoric is often anti-Western, and so their oddly parochial origins are disguised, even from the NGOs themselves.

One of the chief restraints on the behavior of international bodies, and particularly the U.N., is that there is a big difference between a conference of ambassadors and an assembly of legislators. Ambassadors, after all, exist primarily to transmit the views of their home governments. They can generally be dismissed if they begin to act independently. To a lesser extent, these restrictions have also applied to the international civil service that was created to do the ambassadors' bidding. Today, though, ambassadors and civil servants who enjoy reasonable security of tenure can claim to represent something else, global civil society. This is not an empty abstraction, like the "We the Peoples of the United Nations" whose chimerical sovereignty is invoked by the preamble to the U.N. Charter, but a real population of breathing, rather persistent human beings. They are, of course, no more "the people of the world" than the denizens of the Palais-Royale were the people of France. However, like that other superior rabble, it is easy to imagine that they could someday become the "locus of legitimacy" for a new world order that is really new.

If global civil society as we know it today is going to play a major historical role, however, it will have to do so in fairly short order. Global civil society, for all its cant about transcending the Eurocentric vision of the world, is in reality the progressive West in its purest form. Perhaps it was only in the antiseptic, concrete-and-glass world of U.N. politics that this exotic flower could have come to maturity. Global civil society, like the society of Palais Royale, probably belongs to that class of exotics which flower dramatically but briefly. Napoleon closed down the Palais Royale only a few years after it had been the political center of the world. Napoleon knew the difference between government and governance.



This article originally appeared in the September 1995 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:

Copyright © 1995 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View 2002-08-01: War Plans

John has been definitely refuted here by the events that followed not only the downfall of the Baathist Iraqi state, but also Syria and Libya. Deposing Middle Eastern tyrants has shown us there are indeed worse evils. I suppose the one consolation we have is that while President George W. Bush was a true believer in the American gospel, spreading peace and democracy everywhere we go, whereas President Obama seems rather indifferent. This hasn't really affected our involvement in the Middle East since foreign policy is conducted by the same people under both Presidents, other than they do seem to have learned that Americans really don't want boots on the ground in the Middle East.

All of this might be less objectionable if our Deep State hawks were a little better at what they do. Instead, we get what Jerry Pournelle calls Incompetent Empire. We are exceptionally good at the breaking things and killing people part of Empire, what we are less good at is the political maneuvering afterwards. One needn't look far to find examples of competent Empire. Both the British and the Romans were quite adept at this kind of thing. The Deep State seems largely to be populated with folks who share whiggish understandings of human nature: democracy and liberty are culturally neutral goods sought by everyone at all times and in all places.

Something in John's favor is that he did understand that forms of government are culturally dependent, and that not all things are possible in all times and all places. John correctly notes that Iran is not liable to same weaknesses as many other Middle Eastern states. Some sort of state has existed in Persia for a very long time, the people there identify with their history and their nation. The last time we interfered in their internal affairs to any great effect, the Iranians rose up and threw us out. On the other hand, John felt that Iraq was a fictional country [it is], with a widely despised government [it was], such that you ought to able to depose one government and put another in its place without too much fuss [possible?].

If we were better at the game of Empire, perhaps we could have done this. As it turned out, we did not succeed.

War Plans

For the last week or two, we have been overwhelmed with plans for the war with Iraq. The invasion will happen next spring and involve a quarter-million regular Army troops, or it will happen almost immediately with just a few thousand members of the special forces. It will be a matter of all heavy armor or just air power, according to taste. The war will last some time between 72 hours and six months.

There really is a range of respectable opinions about strategy. Newspapers get an anonymous quote or two from someone associated with the military when they publish stories about these things, but I don't give special credence to these "leaks" from the Pentagon. In reality, the press has just been stating the obvious.

For me, at least, the obvious strategy has always been to shut down all intercity movement and communications in Iraq for a few days, install a provisional government based in the north and south, and then bring heavier forces to bear against the government's bunkers and other redoubts. From what I understand, the Iraqi military is largely irrelevant to the war it would have to fight. The heavy armor it favors simply cannot be used when the enemy has air supremacy. Small forces could defeat the large Iraqi military because that military would never be able to concentrate. The slow, massive, campaign favored by the US Army would obviate the advantages that Iraq offers.

A lightning campaign ought to foster or even create uprisings in the north and south of the country; the Iraqi government could be deprived of most of its territory at a blow. Additionally, the US should seek to eliminate the Iraqi government as a diplomatic actor within hours of beginning the assault. Ideally, that government should be unable even to communicate with its UN delegation. We might see not only most of Iraq's military quickly defecting, but also its diplomatic corps.

We have also recently seen another class of stories related to the war. These are assessments depicting the chaos that would follow the removal of the Baathist regime from Baghdad and the opprobrium in which the US would be held for doing such a thing. Unlike the matter of military strategy, such stories do not reflect a range of plausible opinions. They are uniformly tendentious. George Bernard Shaw, in his silly old age, opposed the British declaration of war against Germany in 1939. "What on earth would happen if we did defeat the Germans?" he would ask. "Is our policy to overthrow the governments of Germany and the Soviet Union, and replace them with the British constitution?" The difference between today's anti-war propaganda and that of 1939 is that Shaw was honestly stupid.

There is such a thing as overreaching, however. We see an example of this in Reuel Marc Gerecht's Weekly Standard article of August 5, "Regime Change in Iran?" The piece acutely points out that President Bush's approach to the war on terror is a species of "liberation theology." The article does not propose invading Iran while we are in the neighborhood, but simply that we should promote the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, not seek to engage it.

There are mysteries in this matter that do not apply to Iraq. One can plug and unplug the governments of most Middle Eastern countries because they are make-believe states to begin with. Their peoples barely tolerate them. This is particularly true of the Baathist government of Syria, the removal of which is the key to solving the Palestinian situation. Iran, in contrast, is a real country. It has a lively civil society and a notable cultural life, both rarities in the region. It even has an imperfect democracy. Gerecht's argument is that, with a little push, Iran could become a secular, democratic state like Turkey.

Maybe, but I have misgivings. For one thing, the Wilsonianism-with-teeth that the Weekly Standard promotes really is a "liberation theology," even if the people who favor it imagine that they are encouraging secular neutrality. Muslims often look on Western secular humanism as a kind of Protestant Christianity, and they have a point.

Islam is not a "medieval" civilization awaiting its Reformation. Mohammed was a sort of Luther, who brought simplicity and egalitarianism to the orthodoxies and heterodoxies of the Middle East. He even brought "sola scriptura," which would not enter Christianity for another 900 years. Islam is in fact a fossil Reformation. You can shatter a fossil, but you cannot get it to grow again.


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