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Holger Danske

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    Entries in Natural Law (3)


    The Long View 2002-04-23: The Really Angry People

    John suspected that nationalist politics in Europe would grow because the EU has often been so feckless about representing the actual interests of Europeans. This seems to have been largely borne out. Right and center-right nationalist parties all seem to get tarred with the same brush in the press, but the actual amount of racism and anti-semitism varies among them. Le Pen's National Front really does seem to a hotbed of neo-Nazi sentiment, while the United Kingdom Independence Party does not.

    American politics have a seemingly indestructible populist bent, that continues to vex our betters to this day. By way of example, Bryan Caplan is a well-known economist, who while less dyspeptic than Paul Krugman, advocates for similarly extreme views. Caplan does at least notice that most people disagree with him, but seems perplexed why.


    The Really Angry People


    Paul Krugman is the most reliably inane columnist writing for the New York Times. (This is no small distinction at a paper that also employs Maureen Dowd.) His column today, entitled "The Angry People," finishes his analysis of the French presidential election like this:


    "What France's election revealed is that we and the French have more in common than either country would like to admit. There as here, there turns out to be a lot of irrational anger lurking just below the surface of politics as usual. The difference is that here the angry people are already running the country."

    What got his knickers all in a bundle, of course, was the good showing by Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front in the first round of presidential voting on April 21. With all of 17% of the vote, the results mean that Le Pen, rather than the socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, gets to be beaten by the conservative president, Jacques Chirac, in the final round of voting on May 5. For the National Front to be a serious contender for power really is not a good sign. The word is that, although they keep blatantly fascist sentiments out of their national propaganda, nonetheless their informal gatherings can be a good market for Nazi memorabilia. It is thus all the more remarkable that Mr. Krugman used his column to compare the Republican Party to the National Front. Both, he says, are parties of "angry people," who win elections only through accident and fraud.

    The tragic thing about this is that people like Jean-Marie Le Pen, and David Duke in the United States (who came close to winning the governorship of Louisiana), are in large part the product of just that kind of leftist bigotry. There is a kind of liberalism that, as Stephen Carter points out in The Dissent of the Governed, is genuinely totalitarian. It does not hear and reject arguments against its favored policies. Rather, it brands opposition as irrational and pathological. Where possible, it criminalizes organized protest. Everywhere it seeks to put opposition beyond the pale of decency. The result, however, is not to surpress opposition, but to ensure that the opposition will be indecent.

    To some extent, this seems to be what happened in France. There is a great deal to be said on both sides of the immigration question, but the fear that one's country might disappear in a flood of culturally alien foreigners is not irrational. Neither is the fear of rising crime. The French political establishment, however, tried to dismiss such concerns as prejudices. The issues were, predictably, taken up by irresponsible outsiders.

    As Robert Eatwell explains in his history of Fascism, the radical right succeeded in Italy and Germany between the world wars because, in those countries, the respectable parties of the right lost influence after 1918. When law and order became the only issues, only demagogues offered to do something about them. As always, the left was flabbergasted to learn that, by discrediting their electoral opponents, they had also discredited democracy.

    France is not in such desperate straits today. The establishment seems to have taken these recent election results as a heads-up, and will no doubt start to deal with matters that the French are really worried about. The same is increasingly true all over Europe. This is a good thing, with a single exception. This is very bad news for the European Union, which has become totalitarian liberalism incarnate. It did not have to be this way. The EU might have been the framework for a resurgent Christendom. As it is, the impulse toward self-preservation in Europe is taking a nationalist turn.

    Meanwhile, in the United States, the political system continues to express populist sentiment. Sometimes the expression is cynically symbolic, sometimes there are genuine changes in policy, and sometimes the answer to popular enthusiasms is, correctly, "No." The only really angry people are the would-be totalitarians, mostly on the left. They beat their tiny fists against the walls of their editorial terrariums, proclaiming all the while the insignificance of that large swatch of their countrymen who disagree with them. Happily, they can do little harm.

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View: Ecumenical Jihad

    Ecumenical Jihad is another book I read because of John. I like Peter Kreeft's work, but I find him a little odd. I think John did too. Which isn't to say his ideas aren't interesting. John recommends reading this book along with Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. I'm willing to guess the readership for the two books doesn't overlap much. More's the pity, since you can learn a lot more from the two together.

    There are a couple of lines in this review that strike me 18 years later. John, like me, has an eye for Providence. One of the more reasonable versions of American Exceptionalism notes that America has done far better than any judicious independent observer would have predicted [except maybe Tocqueville]. History seems to show many instances where things have turned out better than anyone intended. You should not be surprised by this.


    An interesting feature of Kreeft's Holy War is that he does not purport to be able to say how it will be won, or even what victory would look like. God is full of surprises, he reminds us, and we are likely to be astonished by the solution God actually devises. Though he does not mention the analogy himself, the whole thing sounds rather like the strategy devised at Rivendell for Tolkien's War of the Ring. By any reasonable criteria, defense against the Shadow was hopeless and an offense would have been insane. In the event, however, victory depended on not being reasonable.


    He is plainly in love with Thomism and, like many people in love with a theory, he genuinely cannot see why other people do not accept it.


    Throughout fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian conflict, both sides have repeatedly noted the commonalities between the two faiths and sometimes hoped for a commonality of interests. Never yet have these hopes been realized beyond the sort of temporary military alliances of which Samuel Huntington might approve. Kreeft more than once cites a poll finding that only 5% of Muslims today understand Jihad in a military sense. I don't quite see how you could poll the members of a religion that extends from Bosnia to Malaysia. Whatever that number represents, however, I strongly suspect that the percentage of Muslims who believe that Jihad absolutely excludes a military sense is zero.

    Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War
    by Peter Kreeft
    Ignatius Press, 1996
    172 Pages, $10.95
    ISBN: 0-89870-579-7

    The Really Good War

    This book belongs on the same reading list as Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations." Huntington's thesis is much discussed these days. According to him, whereas the global politics of the past few centuries was about conflicts between nations within western civilization, the global politics of the twenty-first century will be about conflicts among civilizations. The primary contenders will, perhaps, be China, Islam and the West. He further alleges that the moral and political principles that the West, and particularly the United States, spend so much effort promoting in the world as universal goods are in reality culture-specific customs. Freedom of speech, from this point of view, is as parochial a practice as eating with forks, and so is only imperfectly exportable. He advises that we cease trying to promote a pseudo-universal ethic and concentrate on realistic issues of trade and military balance.

    Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, thinks otherwise. According to him, the real division in the world today is between those who accept some form of natural law and those who do not. While people on either side of this divide can be found in every society, today overwhelming the opponents of natural law are to be found in the West, particularly in the United States (and even, one suspects, in no small part in the neighborhood of Boston). His analysis is explicitly eschatological. What we are seeing, he says, is the tangible incarnation of the City of God and of the City of the World as described by Saint Augustine. While he carefully distances himself from the proposition that the Battle of Armageddon is necessarily imminent, he does suggest a three-stage model of Christian history in which the first millennium was one of unity, the second is one of division, and the third will be one of unity restored. Such a schema is, of course, more than a little suggestive of Joachim of Fiore's three-stage model of history, as is Kreeft's expectation of a dramatic transition between the second and third eras. According to Kreeft, what we should not only expect but prepare for is a universal conflict in which the allied forces of light within every nation do battle with the forces of darkness, who are increasingly in league.

    What we have here is a diversity of opinion. The short answer to Huntington might be that his cultural relativism is as Western as Occam's Razor (in fact, I strongly suspect it is a lineal descendent of Occam's Razor). The short answer to Kreeft might be that he was overly impressed with the success the Vatican achieved in alliance with conservative Muslim states at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population. (On that occasion, readers will recall, this alliance succeed in defeating some of the more obviously pathological proposals of the American and West European delegations regarding the definition of the family and the status of abortion rights under international law.) Short answers are rarely complete answers, however, and in fact there is something to be said for both theses. Here I will attempt to provide a long answer to Peter Kreeft.



    Co-dependence of Natural Law and Positive Law