The Long View 2004-06-07: Ronald Reagan; Ecumenical Americanism; UN Transnationalism

As I've said before, John wasn't a fan of Ronald Reagan, but John did think Reagan had some success as a chief executive. In fact, John saw him as embodying a bit of the archetype of the king [or the Emperor], the still center around which the world turns,. This is a bit odd for a late-twentieth century American president, because what we usually call the Imperial Presidency is a whirlwind of energy and rapid-fire decision-making, immortalized in Teddy Roosevelt.

The mental space filled by traditional kingship is an old, old idea, one that runs through the West and the East alike. In politics, few take this idea seriously, but artistically it is just as potent as it ever has been. Take this passage from the Return of the King, which I think of everytime the concept of the king comes up:

Standing there for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining; he saw it glowing on Sam's face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, down into the West. There, far away, beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towards the yet unsullied Sea. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.
Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king's head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. 'Look Sam!' he cried, startled into speech. 'Look! The king has got a crown again!'
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
'They cannot conquer forever!' said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell.

John mentions David Warren in passing in this blog entry. Warren wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen until 2012, mostly about the war on terror, but sometimes about his travels around the world, or Catholicism, or whatever struck his fancy. I was a regular reader for years, and then I just dropped off after a while. Like John J. Reilly, Warren was a defender of the Iraq War in the early 2000s, but when I have dipped into his new website on occasion, I get the impression that he is penitent for this, and for anything else he might have done.

The quoted passage from 2004 strikes me as especially relevant today. In part, you can cast the current political turmoil across the United States and Europe as a contest of localism versus globalism. I certainly have. Yet, in a curious way, the localists [or nationalists, as they are usually called by their opponents], have quite a bit in common with each other. John certainly isn't the first to notice that ordinary patriotism and Western identity are starting to converge

Ronald Reagan; Ecumenical Americanism; UN Transnationalism

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, Radio Moscow loved to air commemorative stories. They were essentially documentaries that consisted half of commentary and half of historical revisionism. For whatever reason, National Public Radio in the US has the same predilections. It would be unfair to say that they were delighted with the death of Ronald Reagan last Saturday, but they did rise to the event with singular enthusiasm. They actually cancelled regular programming for a while, so they could offer "continuous coverage." How do you offer continuous coverage of a wake? Hourly bulletins to say the deceased is still dead?

For myself, I cannot say that I was ever a great fan of Ronald Reagan. I actually voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. I did vote for Reagan in 1984, however; there's no point in arguing with success. Much nonsense has been written about Reagan's alleged divorce from the ordinary operations of government. In fact, he was an effective manager of a familiar type. Still, his chief abilities as a leader where charismatic, mimetic, symbolic. The traditional king, it has been said, is not an executive, but he "subdues opposition through the rumor of his imperturbability." There's the Reagan presidency for you.

* * *

David Warren, that invaluably gloomy Canadian, had this to say on the occasion of President Bush's trip to Europe for the D-Day commemorations:

The extraordinary thing about the West that was exposed, in the lightning of 9/11/01, is that it is one country, in an advanced state of decadence, turned against itself. And for one of the parties to this spiritual and intellectual civil war (not a battle of ideas, but a battle of "ideas against anti-ideas"), it is more important to defeat their internal enemy than to confront any threat from abroad. The loyalties are no longer to nations. Instead, an Italian who votes for Berlusconi has more in common with an American who votes for Bush, than either of them has with his own countrymen who vote the other way.

The idea that the Left is becoming transnational is now commonplace; Michael Moore wins awards in France for propaganda films that are praised from Berlin to Berkeley. However, as I have been arguing for a few years, there has been a corresponding internationalization elsewhere on the political spectrum. This sentiment, nowhere a movement, reconceives patriotism as an aspect of a broader sense of Western identity. The speech that Aragorn gives to the Host of the West in The Return of the King film might stand as an expression of it for the time being, until life starts to imitate art.

* * *

Speaking of art, a professor of political science at the Naval War College, one Thomas P. M. Barnett, is credited with providing the Pentagon with a new geopolitical map of the world. His model uses terms like "core" and "periphery," but this is not your father's World System's Theory. For Barnett, India and Russia and South Africa are as much in the core as Japan or Great Britain. A core state is any state that abides by international trade rules, which permanently demilitarize its relationship with other core states, or so Barnett hopes. That is far from saying that universal peace is about to break out: beyond "the functioning core" is the "nonintegrating gap." Michael Barone summarizes the strategic implications:

Barnett says we need two kinds of military forces. One he calls "leviathan"...a relatively small body of fierce warriors, heavily weighted to special-forces teams -- the kind of forces that achieved such speedy victories in Afghanistan and Iraq...But we need very much larger forces, set apart from the warriors, of what Barnett calls system administrators or sys admins. "The sys admin force will be civil affairs-oriented and network-centric," Barnett writes, "an always-on, always-nearby, always-approachable resource for allies and friends in need." They will be doing most of the things our military forces have been doing or have been trying to do in Iraq since May 1, 2003.

This is precisely what the Pentagon does not want to do. The Clinton Administration, through timidity, let the Pentagon get away with preparing to fight a high-tech version of World War II. The Bush Administration, in its first few months, let the Pentagon carry on the same way, but not through timidity: they had a theory about it.

* * *

One might reasonably suppose that the United Nations is the proper body to organize the "sys admin" forces that Barnett talks about. The problem is that UN peacekeeping is becoming a planetary laughingstock. Consider this recent report from Africa:

June 3 BUKAVU, Congo -- Renegade commanders captured this strategic Congolese town Wednesday, setting off a crisis that threatened the fragile transitional government and a peace process that ended five years of war....U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the capture of the eastern Congo city and called on the region's warring parties to abide by an earlier cease-fire. The United Nations defended its troops' inaction against the factions that took Bukavu, saying the mandate of its 10,800-strong Congo force did not extend to battles... Hundreds of people rioted outside U.N. headquarters in Kinshasa and in the main northeast city of Kisangani, blaming U.N. forces for failing to stop Bukavu's fall. The crowds in Kinshasa threw stones at U.N. headquarters and set vehicles afire, while protesters in Kisangani burned U.N. vehicles and a U.N. office.

Yes, you read that right: the mandate of the UN's army (an overwhelming force in that context) dids not extend to battles. International forces of neutrals and NGOs really should be keeping the peace in places like the Balkans and the Congo. However, it is becoming clear that some constitutional feature of the UN prevents it from doing this effectively.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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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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How Many Divisions does the Pope have?

A fun piece of history, and an interesting artifact, is the M1868 Pontifico, the only modern rifle ever manufactured specifically for the Vatican. An extremely rare military rifle, the M1868 was manufactured for the Zuavi Pontifici, the international brigade that defended the Papal States. There were a mere 5,000 Zuavi, the Papal States being by the 1860s a small and derelict Italian principality left behind by the great nationalist movements of the XIXth century. When King Victor Emmanuel II annexed the Papal States in 1868, the Zuavi had no hope of preserving the independence of the Papal States by force of arms. Pope Pius IX retreated inside the walls of the Vatican, and never again left until his death in 1878.

This represented a nadir of the power of the papacy both politically and spiritually. The nationalist movements meant that the local churches were largely under the control of the nation state. The remaining properties of the monastic orders were seized even in Catholic countries. Following his election as abbot in 1868, Gregor Mendel spent the latter part of his life defending his abbey from the depredations of the Hapsburgs, to the detriment of further experiments in genetics.

Pio Nono (as Pius IX was familiarly known), was famously not amused by this development. The Syllabus of Errors actually dates from before the loss of the Papal States, but the more time Pius IX had to think about the new world order, the less he found to like about it. This dislike is not entirely without justification. The unification of Italy had something of a colonial character, with the North dominating the South. The strife between the industrial North and the agrarian South of Italy continue to this day. [the North makes Ferraris, the south Mafiosi]

The involuntary stripping of the Papal States from the Pope had the paradoxical effect of making the Papacy stronger. Freed from the distractions of temporal rule, the popes eventually discovered a profound moral authority as the only remaining transnational institution in the West.  This was abetted by the very success of the nation state, which had discovered an astounding ability to tax and organize the lives and possessions of its subjects. This enabled great progress as well as great devastation: the Great War would not have been possible without the nationalist ability to mobilize the entire citizenry of a state to fight a war. The Papacy functioned here as a court of last resort, the only existing institution you could appeal to over the nation state.

This did not occur immediately, but developed over the course of two generations, taking full flower in the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII. The international reach and prestige of the papacy has continued to increase ever since.

Thus when Stalin asked, "how many divisions does the Pope have?", he did not realize that the elimination of the last remnant of the Papal armies had made the Pope more powerful than ever.

h/t DarwinCatholic