Hollow City Book Review

Hollow City: Book of Karma book 1
by Cheah Kit Sun
Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Hollow City is the second book in the Heroes Unleashed universe I have reviewed. I picked up this copy on my own, so you can’t blame the author for my opinions.

My opinion is: I like this book. Adam Song is a fascinating character, and I’ll delve into why at some length. Adam’s interests and profession also make this book a kind of gun pr0n, which is fun for me since I am also interested in firearms. Finally, I am enjoying the Heroes Unleashed take on superheroes, which doesn’t make them mundane, but at least routine. Not everyone has super powers, but you better take the possibility into account when making any kind of serious plan.

I doubt this review would pass a strict spoiler policy, but I’ll try to keep it under control. Consider yourself warned.

Let’s get into why I find Adam so interesting. Adam Song is a cop. Not just any cop, but a member of the elite Special Tactics and Rescue team. He is a doorkicker, a life-taker, and a heart-breaker. Well, probably not the last, now that I think about it. In so far as Adam has killed an average of one person a year in the course of his duties with the Hollow City Police Department, he definitely qualifies as a life-taker. But he lacks the dark triad traits that make murderers and terrorists the recipients of gushing fan mail in prison. If anyone’s heart is going to be broken, it is probably Adam’s.

Adam also has a secret. He is a Prime, the Heroes Unleashed version of a superhero. His powers are precisely what elevated him to the STAR unit. At the beginning of Hollow City, Adam has been a cop for six years, but a member of STAR for only eighteen months. Which just happens to coincide with the time since he gained his powers. This is because STAR, like Detroit SWAT, specializes in no-knock raids. But in Hollow City, unlike Detroit, the guy on the other side might have superpowers too, so HCPD makes sure to even the odds by having a Prime on the entry team. In that capacity, he goes by his codename Amp, and wears a mask when he is working.

Knock knock.

Knock knock.

Many men in Adam’s position would probably be insufferably arrogant, but Adam strikes me as a quiet, unassuming type. In part, this is a matter of self-protection, since his public persona would be liable to reprisals if his enemies knew where he lived, but also I get the feeling Adam would have acted the same way in public if there were no danger. His primary motivation is not fame or money, but duty.

His dutifulness is the prime hinge of his character, and the source of the two major conflicts Adam experiences in the book. In each case, he feels duty-bound to do two-incompatible things. In a sense, his life [and this book] is a quest to reconcile these moral imperatives.

First, Adam is first-generation Chinese immigrant. His parents brought him to America when he was thirteen, by way of Singapore and Hong Kong. He was old enough to remember his previous life, but also young enough to imprint on his new home. His parents have definite ideas about what constitutes honest employment, and neither his previous job [Marine] nor his current job [Cop], meet that definition. In the straightforward expectation of his culture, duty would require him to follow his parent’s wishes, and work in the family business.

Aaron and I were outsiders. Always had been, always were. In Singapore, primary schoolers made fun of our funny accents and weird speech patterns. In Halo City high schoolers did the same. Everywhere we went, the old rules no longer applied. We had to learn quickly, adapt even faster.

Aaron kept his head down, submerged himself into the local Chinese community, and followed in Father’s footsteps. I almost did the same, until I saw my first USMC recruiting advertisement. In the Marines, I saw a way to become a man. I wanted to prove that I was an American, more American than everyone else.

In America, duty primarily means service to the nation, rather than the family. So when Adam decides that he wants to be a good American, he does the thing that is expected of him as an American. He travels to distant lands, meets interesting people, and kills them.

This decision flows into his second conflict, which is secondary to his character, but primary to the plot. After Adam gets out of the Marines, his duty to the nation fulfilled, he naturally flows down to the next lower level of loyalty, and joins the Halo City Police Department. In America, the basic motto of any police department is To Protect and to Serve. It just happens that Adam is really really good at protecting the public by shooting bad guys in the face.

Which is exactly what he is hired to do once he becomes a Prime. Adam’s history with the HCPD prior to the STAR unit is a bit less explored in the book, but we do know that Adam was the trigger puller in more than one OIS [officer involved shooting] before he joined the high risk STAR unit. It is possible that this was overlooked in the overwhelming need to put an already employed Prime officer into the high risk STAR unit, but I suspect it is more likely that this was seen as a feature and not a bug.

At least until he became a political liability by killing an admittedly dangerous man [a Prime with the ability to shoot anything he pointed at] who was also the son of a gangster in the process of crossing the line between crime lord and pillar of the community. When Adam was in the Marines, this was his job, full stop. You killed anyone who was dangerous, and you did so in a way that maximized your odds of coming home at the end of the day. This is uncomplicated when you can identify your targets as enemy combatants, and potentially explosive then they are American citizens who are innocent until proven guilty.

In this way, Adam serves as the personification of the militarization of the police in the United States. The actual military is famously forbidden from engaging in police activities by the Posse Comitatus Act, but there is a creeping influence which can probably be measured by looking the kind of uniforms police officers wear, as can be seen by the image above of a no-knock raid training exercise. The fear is that the distinction between accused or suspected criminals and open enemies of the state is being erased.

There is also a positive sense, insofar as the militarization of the police has coincided with a professionalization of the police. Cops used to do pretty much any damn thing they felt like. Now, there is at least a standard to which they are expected to adhere. At the best, this means less chance of death for both the cop and the perp, insofar as options are sought that seek to maximize that outcome.

Adam Song occupies the ground precisely where that question comes into play. A question that is interesting to me is where does the line lie for police work as opposed to war? When is it acceptable to kill a man who might be a danger to public order? Or who is definitely dangerous, but not currently in the act of shooting his victims? For a soldier, that question is relatively simple. You act with maximum force at the first opportunity. For a police officer, the answer is always NO, you cannot kill except when your life or the life of another is directly at risk, or at least that is the moral and legal presumption in our society. What makes this hard is that a lot of former soldiers eventually find themselves in service as cops. Men just like Adam Song.

For Adam Song, what makes a strait-laced cop go rogue is the feeling of betrayal when your superiors throw you to the wolves for doing precisely what they hired you to do. Adam’s job, as Amp, the HCPD Prime, is to serve the warrants on dangerous Primes that would otherwise simply kill all of the arresting officers and then disappear.

This gets even more complicated when your job is to arrest the bad guys that are widely known to be bad, but who of course enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. When you mix in Halo City’s high-diversity, low-trust environment, along with a dash of corruption, you get a lot of guys like Adam, who start to feel that the military way has its attractions. Adam clearly loves his city, but he also feels like there are good guys, and bad guys, and he isn’t particularly interested in watching the bad guys take advantage of a system that was designed for a high-trust environment.

Since I happened to read Hollow City at about the same time I read Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series, I was struck by the differing trajectories the main characters in these books take. Jack Morgan starts as an outlaw, and over the course of the series eventually is reconciled to polite society. Adam Song starts out as a respected member of the community, and ends up becoming exactly what his detractors call him: a rogue cop, a vigilante, and a criminal defendant.

However, in many respects, what each of them do isn’t actually that different. Jack mostly tries to avoid killing, but his symbiont Draycos, the K’da warrior-poet who possesses the rights of judge, jury, and executioner in one person, kills a man in the first book because Draycos seems him commit a murder. This can only loosely be called defense of another, since the man was threatening Jack, but the book makes it clear that Draycos is like a monster of legend, as much greater in combat power than a human as a powerful Prime like Amp is. Also, Jack’s AI guardian, Uncle Virge, does lots of killing, it is just the kind where he shoots down other ships to protect Jack.

Once I realized that, my whole opinion of the weight of the Dragonback series started to shift. There are some real similarities, but also some real differences with Adam Song’s Halo City. Jack Morgan’s universe is a lot further down the path of societal dissolution that Halo City is only starting to tread. Is Adam’s vigilantism worth it if it prevents open slavery and corporations hiring mercenaries to fight literal turf battles over their commercial interests?

Even if we temporarily ignore the question of how probable the odds of success are for Adam’s attempt to stave off further dissolution, this is a worthy question. In the moral and legal framework of the United States, which is clearly the setting of Halo City, which I take to be an analogue of Los Angeles, Adam is pretty clearly beyond the pale. However, the reason I bring in Zahn’s more speculative universe here is that other arrangements that still seem just are imaginable.

Adam is pretty clearly doing what he finds to be his duty, in the circumstances he finds himself. We might judge that he has nonetheless crossed a line that should not be crossed, even if the results are otherwise just. That tension is exactly what makes this book fascinating. I don’t know what Cheah has in mind for Adam after this, but I would like to find out.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books in the Heroes Unleashed series

by Morgon Newquist

Heroes Fall: Serenity City book 1

The Long View 2006-10-11: Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself

A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the few Catholic apocalyptic novels. It remains one of my favorites, because of how seriously, and how imaginatively, Miller took Catholic doctrine.

Will Wilson's brutal tweet about the online LARPing of Catholic space empires is on point, and the best response I could imagine is the Catholic imagination of Walter Miller.

In this blog post, John also works at the essential dilemma that we face today regarding freedom of speech and the deplatforming tactics of groups such as Antifa. If all the West really stands for is allowing Nazis and other assorted ne'er-do-wells to have rallies, then it isn't worth defending. John discussed this in the context of the intentionally offensive cartoons of Muhammad in 2006, but the principle isn't really different now. John made an argument that allowing intentional transgressions was a necessary friction, but I think that time may have passed us by.

In 2002, John made an argument that healthcare was a public good, not a public right, and I still like this argument. He said that you couldn't call healthcare a public right in the same sense you could call the right to confront your accuser at trial, because healthcare depended upon an elaborate infrastructure of technology and training, while if you were going to have a trial, your accuser could simply be produced.

I think teasing out the subtleties of this argument would be a book, at least, but I think there is something here. 

In a similar vein, the relatively homogeneous Western European societies that developed ideals of free speech had a remarkable ability to tolerate cranks and dissent, within certain bounds. Think of Toad in the Wind in the Willows. The relatively unhomogeneous Western societies we have now, don't. Much like healthcare, our capacity to tolerate blasphemy and hatred depends on our capacity to provision public life with a common meaning. When that is lacking, it doesn't matter what the constitution says; no one is getting what is promised.

Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself


Alas for Millennial Studies, which made the mistake of trying to institutionalize itself in connection with the year 2000. Today, I think, few people would deny that the area is of more enduring significance. Consider, for instance, Thomas Hibbs' comments on the enduring significance of Walter Miller's 1959 novel about the interval between the Third and Last World Wars, A Canticle for Leibowitz:

[A]t a time when we are inundated with ideologically charged and artistically mediocre end-times stories — the latest entry is the CBS TV series Jericho — it is perhaps time to recommend Canticle, a novel that serves to put in question our simplistic apocalyptic oppositions between science and religion, knowledge and faith, even Jews and Christians. ...

End-times stories have become quite popular in recent years. In a recent New York Magazine piece, entitled “The End of the World as They Know It,” Kurt Anderson observes that from “Christian millenarians and jihadists to Ivy League professors and baby-boomers, apocalypse is hot...”

Buffy and other apocalyptic stories stress the recovery of a lost knowledge of good and evil, but this knowledge is typically needed, not so much to inform a living culture, but merely to fend off destruction and to do so by violent means. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, by contrast, the accent is not on destruction or even holding back destruction through violence but on preservation. The goal is integration and unification, however difficult that objective might be.

I have been saying that for years; I may be saying that until doomsday.

* * *

What are we going to call the rollback of Islam? The Reconquesta? Anyway, we will soon need a term if even a journal as clueless as The New York Times notices that Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center

Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values...Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits....

When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth....

In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate...The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away...

Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.

On the subject of free speech and expression, we should note Stephen Schwartz's report that there was less to the Idomeneo controversy than met the eye:

First, the Berlin Opera performance of Idomeneo was threatened with cancellation because German authorities decided that showing the decapitated head of Muhammad would offend Muslims and cause violent disorders.

Such a claim might have borne some weight, except that there was no evidence that any Muslims anywhere had ever heard about the opera or cared at all about it. Excitement among the Berlin officialdom was caused by a telephone tip from an individual who surmised the opera might cause problems. As this column is written, however, German Muslim leaders have called for the opera to be shown as planned.

Second, the appearance of the severed heads in the opera was a novelty created by producer Hans Neuenfels, to express his own hatred of religion. It does not appear in Mozart's original work, which is set on the island of Crete at a time when nobody in the Hellenic world knew anything about Buddha, and Jesus and Muhammad had not yet been born. Islamophobes (because people who irrationally fear and hate Islam do exist, unfortunately) soon blew the brouhaha far out of proportion, declaring that the Berlin Opera had surrendered to expressions of Muslim rage that, as noted, did not exist, and as much as declaring that the very survival of human liberty depended on the opera being presented in Neuenfels' version.

The latest news assures the opera public and global opinion that the Neuenfels production of Idomeneo will be mounted as planned, the head of Muhammad will be displayed, and the Western understanding of freedom will be, at least temporarily, saved.

That's an encouraging outcome, I suppose. It leaves us with the satisfaction of seeing cultural provocateurs fleeing from their own shadows. More important, maybe, is that it saves us the embarrassment of needing to defend this godawful production. As I have noted, the avant garde has become subversive of liberty:

The fact is that if democracy meant nothing else than that blasphemy could be freely circulated, or that pornography was always available at the touch of a button, or that Michael Moore got to make as many tendentious films as he wanted, then democracy would not be worth having; certainly it would not be worth dying for. The fact is that we put up with these annoyances because they are necessary frictions. We have freedom of the press and contested elections because, on the whole and over the long run, they produce good government and the improvement of the human estate. They produce virtue. The lethal danger that postmodernism and libertarianism pose for the West is their embrace of the transgressive. Their mixture makes Western society repulsive abroad and, in the long run, causes the freedoms on which they depend to become a matter of indifference at home.

These people need to read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

* * *

Speaking of forward-looking preservation, we see that Benedict XVI is about to do something else that needed doing:

THE Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times...The new indult would permit any priest to introduce the Tridentine Mass to his church, anywhere in the world, unless his bishop has explicitly forbidden it in writing.

I know people to whom this move has been almost an eschatological hope. We should remember, though, that priests educated after the 1960s do not know how to say the Tridentine Mass. As for the older ones who do know how, most of them would not do so even at gunpoint. Still, this is a positive development. The old liturgy needs to stay in circulation so it can be mined for ways to perfect the vernacular liturgy, particularly with regard to music.

* * *

Finally, take note of the website in which that Stephen Schwartz item above appears: Family Security Matters. In part, it describes itself thus:

We want to be your best resource for accurate and practical knowledge that will make your families and communities safer, stronger, and more secure. This problem is too important to wait for someone else to solve it. So explore our site, sign up for membership and FSM's Daily Security Updates, and come back often to learn everything you need to become active participants in America's struggle for security and peace.

This smacks of one of Mark Steyn's suggestions in America Alone, that it would be better if ordinary people took responsibility for their own physical security rather than waiting for the government to make them safe.

As Mr. Burns said when Smithers assured him that the Jade Monkey had been found in the glove compartment of Mr. Burns's limousine: "Excellent. It's all falling into place."

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2018-05-19: Revenge of the Stats

It has been a long since I did one of these, but they were always popular, so I'm bringing it back.

In particular, it was an article by Megan McArdle in the Washington Post, "Democrats are about to have to pay up", that sent me down a rabbit hole of tax policy and fiscal capacity

Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

Special Flood Hazard Zone of Flagstaff, which includes all of the historic downtown and Northern Arizona University

I've thought about this subject before, because of a local flood control project which is ruinously expensive for a small town like mine, but it is also required for economic growth and risk mitigation. We have to go, hat in hand, to Congress to ask for $100M to complete this project, because it exceeds the fiscal capacity of the city to pay for that unassisted.

How we subsidize suburbia

I hadn't know some of the mortgage underwriting bits of this.

The Other "Subsidized Housing": Federal Aid to Suburbanization

A more detailed look at the specific Federal laws in question.

Right-wing terrorism in America

I saw this graph, and others much like it, frequently on social media. I think is is a good idea to look into things that seem contrary to your impressions, and this one seemed to challenge mine.

As a engineer, I also always like to look at the source data, so I sought out the article from the New America Foundation, Terrorism in America, that was cited. The graph below appears in the article, and sure enough, it looks like the one above, with a big spike for Jihadist victims in 2016, since the dataset has been updated since the previous chart was generated. You can download a set of .csv files from the New America Foundation that contains all of the data they have collected. I appreciate the effort that went into compiling this, and I also appreciate the New America foundation and the authors choosing to share their data freely.

Looking at that data set [downloaded 2016-12-19], I was a little surprised at what I found. Looking at American domestic attacks only [Mumbai is a big spike in 2008], out of 210 plots, 190 had been categorized as Jihadist, as compared to 19 Right Wing and 1 Left Wing.[and one with no data, the 2010 King Salmon plot] That is an order of magnitude of difference between all three categories!

I decided to plot the data in a number of different ways, which is often a good way of looking at trends in a dataset. I excluded anything outside of the US [foreign_attack=TRUE in the dataset]. I also just summed victims by year, rather than using a cumulative sum like the New America Foundation chart. Here are my charts:

One of the biggest differences is how often a given plot is prevented. Jihadist plots are prevented much more frequently than right wing plots. In the chart of prevented/not prevented, deadly attacks are not included. You can see that in the next chart down, which compares plots per year to the number of people injured or killed. I've said before that we are lucky that our enemies are so incompetent. Here is proof it is true.

The big differences are in rate of occurrence, and in rate of prevention. I don't know enough to really understand why the FBI and other American police forces and security agencies are so much better at preventing Jihadist plots than right-wing ones, but I think that given the 10x difference in rate of plots, they are doing the right thing.

By the way, I think my initial impressions ended up justified by the data.

LinkFest 2016-03-18

We've Been Measuring Inequality Wrong

Lots of people forget that US tax and welfare policy is actually pretty progressive, in the fiscal sense. So you need to account for transfer payments to properly assess inequality.

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

If the United States is to continue to serve as the global security utility, then this would be the kind of Navy we would need. If we aren't going to do that, then something else would be possible.

Putin Got Exactly What he Wanted in Syria

One of the best comments I ever saw on Putin was "he has a weak hand geopolitically, but he plays it well." Nowhere can you see this better than Syria.

The Power of Mental Models: How Flight 32 Avoided Disaster

There was an interesting discussion about driverless cars on Steve Sailer's blog. One of the questions Steve asked was, "Have corporate jets’ autopilots improved to the point where most executives are willing to fly with just one pilot?" My input was that autopilots are already that good, but we elect to have human beings as backups for the machines. For part of the reason why, the linked Lifehacker article is pretty illuminating. The autopilot isn't any better than the scenarios and logic programmed into it. This is why I am unimpressed when a computer beats a human at a game; the game has predictable rules, and it is really just a bunch of people using a computer as their instrument to beat another person at those rules. For anything less constrained than chess or go, we are not yet so good at telling the machine what it will do. An autopilot is probably faster and more consistent than any human pilot in expected conditions, but every once in a while doing what the computer tells you would mean death. For skilled pilots, the crossover point where this occurs is probably pretty different than for the average automobile driver, who is far less capable. 

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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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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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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The Long View 2002-07-18: Morose Delectation

I had been a reader of First Things before I knew John wrote some articles for the magazine in its heyday, when Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was editor. Thirteen years later, I am still a subscriber, probably one of the more unusual ones, since it is primarily a journal for clerics and professional philosophers. Presumably, the average age of subscribers is also older than me, since many of the advertisements are for Catholic colleges. I am in the market for that kind of thing, but not for a long time.

John's prediction about the Federal budget deficit seems to have been correct. This also illustrates one of his consistent complaints about the Republican party: they have consistently advocated cutting taxes no matter what the consequence will be for the actual amount of money we will spend. He had a name for this: capital gains zombies. Gainsss! Gainsss!

John also believed that American evangelical Christians had an unseemly attraction to gum up the works Constitutional amendments, on the theory that government is a necessary evil. As a Catholic, John, and I, have no time for this kind of thing. This has informed my own views of the Tea Party movement. They are true believers that government is a necessary evil. This view simply has no place in Catholic political thinking.

Morose Delectation

Many thanks to Fr. Neuhaus of First Things for finding an English equivalent for "Schadenfreude." The term "morose delectation" was apparently used in some older guides to spiritual life to refer to the sin of taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Fr. Neuhaus mentioned the term in "The Public Square" section of the August/September issue of First Things. He assures us that this is not what he felt about the disgrace of the hurriedly retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. No, not one bit.

I actually share the lack of the sentiment. Rembert Weakland was a nitwit who deserved public repremand for undermining orthodoxy in the Benedictine Order and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee these many years. No point of principle was vindicated when he was discovered to have used hundreds of thousands of dollars of diocesan money to buy silence from a boyfriend. His personal failings were largely irrelevant to the harm he had done. One may be tempted to take satisfaction from the death of a suicide bomber who blows himself up prematurely in his basement, but not when he blows himself up in a crowd. That is pretty much what the archbishop did to the reputation of the American episcopate.


* * *

The New York City commission charged with deciding what to do with the old World Trade Center site has issued some tentative proposals. The disdain that met them was polite enough, considering the emotional sensitivity of the project and the natural contrariness of New Yorkers. Most people thought that the architecture in the six proposals was too timid. This was understandable, since the proposals really did not have much to say about architecture, but were mostly about where any new construction should be. The commission first wants to settle the street grid and the matter of the memorial. There is some sentiment that at least the holes where the Trade Center Towers used to be should be preserved. There are some people who want the whole 16 acres turned into a memorial park. The commission has tried to compromise.

For myself, I will begrudge every yard of open space as Osama's Victory Garden. Something superlative has to be done with the whole site to wrest it back from barbarism. The demand for real estate in the area is secondary; so, frankly, are the opinions of the families of those who died on September 11. Let the dead have a memorial that is among the wonders of the world, but the memorial cannot be a ruin.

Though I suspect the project needs no further promotion from me, I give my endorsement to Derek Turner's New World Trade Center. It consists of five towers, four at the corners of a square and one in the center. They would be connected by walkways every ten stories. Two garden levels transect all the towers. There would be a glass pyramid on top. Most elevators would be in the center tower, thus solving the familiar high-rise problem of elevator space. Redundant stairs and other escape mechanisms are in each tower. The whole thing would be over 1,700 feet tall, the largest building in the world. The memorial would be in the garden at ground level; each victim would be represented by an specified tree. The dead would not just get plaques. They would get their own forest.

Turner's plan calls for multiple use: commercial, residential, and retail. Also, the layout is open enough that the area in which the towers sit could become one of the world's great pedestrian malls. Maybe this particular plan is a pipe dream. Nonetheless, it would be a great improvement over not only the official proposals, but also the old World Trade Center itself.


* * *

Trent Lot was recently kind enough to send me a Republican Party Opinion Survey. The survey comes with a return envelope. The survey suggests, as an afterthought, that I post any spare dollars I might have on me along with the survey form.

Anyone who has ever done direct mail knows that the you don't tinker with a good package, even if it is full of obsolete information and misspellings. So, I can understand why these "polls" still ask whether I should be allowed to keep more of my hard-earned money, or whether I should pay higher taxes to conduct experiments on embryos. What none has asked recently, however, is whether the federal budget should be balanced, come Hell or high water.

The Republican claim about the current deficit is true: this year, at least, the deficit was not caused by the recent tax cuts, but by the downturn in the economy. However, that may not be true in later years. It is arguably the case that the cuts lock in a structural deficit for later in this decade.

The degree of seriousness with which the Republican Party deserves to be taken will turn on how it deals with this problem. If it gets into the habit of raising and lowering taxes in response to the real behavior of the economy, then the party will have a future. However, if it turns to bogus notions, like a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, then we know the party will come to a bad end in this world and the next.

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The Long View: Active Faith

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

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

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

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

by Ralph Reed

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

All Dressed Up and No Place To Go


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The Long View: On the Nature of the Coming World Government

As a proponent of a mild version of the cyclical theory of history, John thought that the development of a world-spanning universal state was inevitable in the 21st century. I am inclined to agree, and like John, I think it will probably be for the best. John felt that historical precedents made the terrifying states of the 20th century anomalous, and whatever is to come would be fundamentally unlike them.

This is good, in that ordinary people will probably be less affected by the worst the state has to offer. The downside is that ordinary people will also be less affected by the best the state has to offer. In John's view, the power of governments to motivate and corral their citizens peaked in the 1940s, and represented the culmination of modernity in the West. We should expect that as we slide into Empire, the reach of the state will gradually diminish along with the interest of the citizenry in the apparatus of government.

If you look at the average state of the world today, that is already the condition of much of the globe. A middle of the pack nation like Brazil is representative. They can host the World Cup, but can't maintain public order everywhere. Any world government will not be able to do any better.

On the Nature of the Coming World Government


John J. Reilly


I have every confidence that a political authority which is both sovereign and universal will be established sometime in the 21st century. The human world is now only a day or two wide, even by ordinary commercial transport. It is absurd to think that a society so concentrated could endure indefinitely without a government for the whole. During the time of the great European colonial empires, it required an act of will to keep worldwide social entities together. By the end of the 20th century, an act of will was required to inhibit their formation. In the 21st century, this resolve must inevitably weaken once, twice, maybe three times. Then the world will collapse into what Toynbee called a "universal state." This development is so inevitable that it is not even interesting.

The prospect of a state encompassing the whole planet occasioned much hope and anxiety throughout the 20th century. The hope was based on reaction to the militant nationalisms that framed the century's world wars. Since the right to wage war is one of the incidents of national sovereignty, it was thought that a world with only a single sovereign would necessarily be without war. The fear was based on the assumption that anything that is universal is also necessarily totalitarian. If government is only a necessary evil, the logic ran, then a universal government would be an evil of unprecedented proportions.

Both the hope and the fear are misplaced. They are based on extrapolations of the historically eccentric experiences of the 20th century. They overlook the common features that the universal states of particular civilizations have displayed in the past. They also overlook the nature of the society the coming world government will rule, which is to say, the civilization of Earth.

The key thing to remember about Earth is that it is essentially an advanced Third World country, rather like Brazil. This characterization is not necessarily an insult; there are Third World countries that have a lot to recommend them. The defining feature of Third World status, however, is not the presence or absence of democracy, or even the level of economic development. Taking the definition supplied by the former CIA analyst, Patrick E. Kennon, a Third World country is one in which the government, broadly defined, has little control over civil society. Using the sort of nautical expression so favored by the CIA in its Cold War period, he likens a Third World country to a great barge in a slow-moving river. It is hard to steer, hard to upset, and the very devil to right again if it somehow capsizes.

Countries can be like this for any number of reasons. They may have a tradition of tax avoidance. They may be so constitutionally constructed that governments cannot do very much and still remain legal. They may be chaotic places, with no law outside a few major cities. They may just be dirt poor. Whatever the particular circumstances, what Third World countries have in common is governments that lack the resources to either serve or police their citizens to any but the most rudimentary degree.

This is almost certainly what Earth would be like, should unification come late in the next century. The world in those days should have from 10 to 12 billion people in it. This is quite likely the figure that the human race will top out at for the foreseeable future, since the demographic transition to lower birthrates should have spread universally by then. This, of course, would also imply the general increase in living standards that goes along with the transition. Still, you are talking about an immense amount of territory, inhabited for the most part by relatively poor people. Also, since there are likely to be one or more world wars preceding unification, the infrastructure of civilization may be substantially damaged. The world government may be large, relative to that of national states. However, it will have to be relatively small compared to the society it purports to govern, simply because the per capita resources won't be available for more.

A universal state may have democratic features, but there has never been an instance of one with a genuinely democratic government. Even the Roman universal state, with its tradition of popular and aristocratic assemblies, rarely experienced effective Senatorial control. In the 20th century, of course, we see already that supranational bodies have only the most perfunctory democratic elements. This is not only true of the United Nations, with its General Assembly of rotten boroughs and its Security Council that serves chiefly to maintain the coalition that won World War II. It is also true of the European Union, which has an elected parliament, but one with very limited powers. (The system has been described as "The German Empire without the Kaiser.")

The truly "democratic" feature of universal states is their openness to "talents." They all rely heavily on bureaucracies, which are generally not recruited from the upper classes of the era of national states that precede them. These bureaucrats can enter government in the most haphazard fashion. The Roman Empire was administered in large part by "freedmen," who were former slaves. The Ottoman Empire was, to an appalling degree, run by people who still were slaves. (The empire's elite troops, the Janissaries, were a slave corps, recruited largely from Eastern European children.) China achieved universal states twice in its history, and by the second occasion, in the fourteenth century, it had a well-developed tradition of civil service tests to recruit staff for the new government. What all these examples have in common, however, is that world governments are open to some degree of influence from the lower parts of the social scale.

Something else that all universal states have in common, of course, is that they are all monarchies. For better or worse, the world government is going to be under the direction of an emperor, certainly in fact and perhaps also in name. Of course, the title "emperor" has meant different things in different contexts. It has been borne by men viewed by most of their subjects as a hated foreign tyrant, but then it has also been held by legitimate and well-loved rulers of partially parliamentary states. It will mean more than one thing in the coming universal state, too. Over the 500 years or so that a world government can be expected to exist, much of its political history is describable in terms of the transformation of the emperor from a military dictator to a ritual figurehead. Except at the very beginning, during the reign of the founder, the emperor rarely tries to employ the degree of initiative that the executive of a modern state routinely uses. What then does he do?

The function of emperors is to read their mail. That, at least, is the conclusion reached by Fergus Millar is his exhaustive study, "The Emperor in the Roman World." Most of the time, emperors waited for problems to come to them. They answered queries from their governors and they sat as the court of last resort in certain legal disputes. They answered a remarkable number of written petitions from private persons, even from slaves. However, except in extraordinary situations, and those mostly concerned military emergencies, they did not plan vast reforming "programs" for their reigns. They scarcely had "policies." Their policy was to keep the great barge of empire floating along with as little disruption as possible. They could act decisively to aid or punish individuals, even whole cities, but their capacity to affect life in the empire as a whole was limited.

Something like this also seems to have been true in China, to judge from Ray Huang's snapshot history of the Ming Dynasty, "1587: A Year of No Significance." In that case, the right of petition was rather more limited. It extended to local magistrates, who did not hesitate to pepper the imperial secretariat with memorials containing their bright ideas. The emperor exercised "government" by writing "approved" on the memorials he like or "acknowledged" on the ones he didn't. Except for a few large, continuing government functions, such as guarding the northern frontier and maintaining the dikes on the Yangtsee, that was the extent of administrative control that the central government would exert itself to exercise.

The social structures of universal states are not conspicuously unjust, compared to most times and places, but they are not very egalitarian. Social distinctions are most fluid at a universal state's beginning, which occurs after the most highly commercial phase of its civilization's history. By that point, traditional aristocracies have been exchanged entirely for far more flexible plutocracies. During the era of independent sovereign states, finance and commercial enterprises tend to slip beyond the effective control of any government. Universal states come into existence in part precisely to curb the power of money. However, class flexibility is one of the things that disappear along with the vulnerability of government to market fluctuations. By the second generation, there will be some attempt to return to a measure of ascriptive status. By the end of the empire, there will be an elaborate system of ranks and the beginnings of serfdom.

As for "peace," universal states are better at keeping it than are international systems, but this ability is not absolute. The argument that a world government will ensure the end of war is in part a semantic confusion. Certainly a world government can do away with the juridical state known as war. However, this is quite a different thing from suppressing all armed conflict. Insurgencies small and great clutter the history of every universal state. Sometimes the insurgents seek to be free of the world government, sometimes they accept it in principle, but want a change in administration. Not infrequently, and as we see in some areas of the world today, wars are merely random brigandage by groups with no particular goal or ideology. This sort of conflict requires any universal state to keep armed forces in being.

Historically, local universal states have also maintained militaries in order to control external barbarians. These efforts inevitably failed, but for most of a universal state's history, its standing army is remarkably modest in size. While Earth has no external barbarians at the moment, it could develop some in the form of breakaway space colonies. This could occur if the world government pursued a policy of colonization early in its history and later lost control of the settlements. There is also the possibility that extraterrestrial intelligence will be discovered. Even if the civilization is far away and lived long ago and could have no way of knowing that mankind existed, still the very possibility of a threat from space could promote the creation of warning systems and a force in space intended to counter it.

Whatever the rationale, we may be certain that the world government will have considerable military forces, though as is the case with everything else about a universal state, quite small forces in relation to the area and population they will be called on to police. On at least some occasions, particularly in the last half of the universal state's life, these forces will be used in civil wars between contenders for the imperial power. The wars in question will be smaller than those of the 20th century, but destructive enough in their own right. Additionally, they will be occurring in a civilization that is much less economically dynamic and demographically resilient than it was during the era of sovereign states. Damage that is done will often stay done. These remarks about the decline and fall, however, are premature, to say the least.

Let us rather imagine the universal state in its youth, in the 22nd century. There will be cities as huge and sparkling as anything imagined by modern science fiction. There will be other cities, perhaps more of them, not much improved from 20th century slums. There will even be notable ruins in the growing wilderness, as the world's population slowly retreats from its late modern climax. Politics at every level will be increasingly personal, a matter of family ambition and often of petty graft. Government on the ground will be tolerant, partly from conviction, partly from negligence.

It will be a more relaxed world, in many ways a more comfortable world than that of the modern era. The climate may even be warmer: it may help you visualize this future by thinking of white Panama suits and slowly turning overhead fans. The economy will chug along under fairly heavy state regulation. This will advance the interests of large enterprises, but also of job security for the growing portion of the world's population that works for them. People will have forgotten that, on the whole, living standards used to increase from year to year; they will complain only when they decline. New technologies will become a rarity, but the existing stock of industrial technique will still in many ways exceed those of the 20th century. For ordinary people living ordinary lives, things will not be so bad.

As for the world government itself, it will normally impinge on people's lives rather lightly. Taxes will be raised for it one way or another, though not necessarily through taxes on individuals. If there is an elective feature to the central government, participation in the elections is likely to be a ritualized matter. The people will love or mock the emperor and his government, but the universal state itself will be beyond question. It will seem to be the end of history, and few people will want to return to a world of sovereign states. Universal government will be considered not just inevitable but right, the only way that civilization could conceivably be organized.

This is scarcely an ideal future. Still, it is very far from the worst that might happen.



The Long View 2002-02-07: The Irrelevance of Peace

This entry of John's blog is pretty short, and pretty pithy, so I'm just going to copy the whole thing here.

John Derbyshire, unlike John Reilly, is rather a pessimist; John Reilly described himself as an inveterate optimist, and the mission of his blog was to view everything in the best possible light. Twelve years on, it is pretty clear the Reilly was more right about this little snippet than Derbyshire, Israel just keeps getting stronger. Lots of people hate the Jews, but the Jews seem pretty good at looking out for their own interests, and their immediate enemies seem feckless.

The rather more interesting part of this entry is the purported weakness of capitalist democracies. In his book review of A Republic not an Empire, John pointed out that a likely consequence of a German victory in WWI would have been to discredit the idea of capitalist democracies like Great Britain and the United States. In fact, that is not what happened, although we have no good reason to think it inevitable. Post-Cold War, it looks like Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama were on to something. All of the other theories of how to organize a state have been tried and found wanting. I think this is true even though China is currently surging in wealth and power. [you can blame John for my pessimism on China too.]

Democracies, when it really comes down to it, can be truly terrible opponents. Athens destoyed Melos for refusing to submit to their suzerainty. My own county is the only country to have ever used a nuclear weapon in anger. And then we used another one, to make sure both designs worked. And we firebombed the civilian populations of our enemies long before we had nuclear weapons, resulting in far more deaths. Jerry Pournelle calls this WARRE, "war to the knife, war to victory, fire bombs, nuclear weapons, death and destruction." Democracies, when threatened, respond the same way a mother does when you threaten her children: all rules are forgotten, and only victory matters. Kill them all and let God sort them out.

Finally, John touches on how South Africa avoided the fate of Rhodesia. Nelson Mandela certainly helped, although maybe not in the way you think. The collapse of the USSR was a bigger factor, as this allowed the Afrikaners to negotiate their way out instead of being lynched. Instead, we now have a slow-motion ethnic cleansing, as more and more Afrikaners are leaving South Africa, as they feel increasingly insecure and unwelcome. Neill Blomkamp keeps trying to make this point, but nobody is interested in listening.

The Irrelevance of Peace

John Derbyshire's column of January 31 in National Review Online [NB. I changed the link to point to Derbyshire's site, since the original link is broken], Israel's Future has this depressing assessment:

"I had better step out front and center here and admit that I am a pessimist…I think Israel will go down. The reason I think this is that I am British, and have been watching all my life, occasionally at very close quarters, the long struggle between the two constitutional nations of the British Isles and the terrorists of Sin Fein/IRA…The IRA now has offices in the House of Commons!"

The IRA, says John Derbyshire, graduated from terrorist to lobbyist through a combination of relentlessness, ruthlessness, and the fact that they do have a plausible case. Their argument for Irish unity may not be ultimately persuasive, but the mere existence of an argument can have a lethally debilitating effect on a democratic political system.

There is something to this. It seems to me that we are often inhibited from using decisive force against terrorists because of a category mistake about the principle, "violence never solves anything." It is true that violence does not answer questions of fact or logic; you cannot determine whether pi is greater than 3 by fighting a duel. On the other hand, violence can indeed determine whether people achieve their desires or not. Sophisticated terrorists purport to be interested in answering questions, but actually they are simply asserting themselves.

That said, though, I take exception to Derbyshire's premise. It is not true that capitalist democracies are particularly gullible, much less fragile.

Ever since such societies began to appear, their critics and enemies (groups that do not always overlap) have characterized democracies as weak and decadent. Democracies are supposed to be incapable of fighting wars. Supposedly they cannot maintain ordinary domestic peace, much less combat foreign subversion. Furthermore, they create the seeds of their own destruction. Every crisis is potentially lethal; it is only a matter of time before a crisis is actually fatal.

As General Norman Schwartzkopf said in that famous news conference at the conclusion of the Gulf War of 1991, "Ha!" The fact is that capitalist democracies are the most resilient societies that exist; maybe the most resilient that can exist. They have destroyed or eroded to dust all the great totalitarian monoliths that sought to supplant them. Sometimes democracies did this by direct assault, sometimes by patience. They can endure through economic hardships that shatter the most fearsome dictatorships. Democracies are mortal, of course, and they are not self-legitimizing: simply establishing a democracy does not mean that it will strike root. Nonetheless, even troubled democracies have an excellent record of fighting off deadly threats, terrorists included.

So why is a lobbyist from the IRA buttonholing MPs? The short answer is that the game of terrorism was no longer worth the candle. Elements of the IRA used to have all kinds of Khmer Rouge ambitions for the Ireland they hoped to create. By the 1990s, however, it was clear that all that remained to fight about was which province of the European Union that Ulster would belong to. Borders just don't mean that much in Europe anymore, including the one between the North and the Republic of Ireland. The IRA still has crank notions, but they see little point in blowing up perfectly good pubs to achieve them.

Possibly the greatest example of peace-through-irrelevance was the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Since the 1950s, it was obvious that the shrinking white minority could not continue to rule the country indefinitely. Nonetheless, the government did everything it could to exacerbate the situation. Meanwhile, the radicals of the world licked their lips when they contemplated The Day, when the revolution would arrive in Johannesburg and the mass executions could begin. In the event, though, reason broke out in both the government and the African National Conference at the end of the 1980s, and they negotiated a frictionless transition.

Western human-rights activists like to take credit for the South African government's change of heart, much to the annoyance of activists in South Africa, militant and otherwise. The fact is, though, that Apartheid was able to die because the Cold War ended. The government understood that the Soviet Union would not subsidize the creation of a new communist state, like the one it helped create in Ethiopia. The ANC understood that, if their new regime hoped to get any support at all, it would have to come from the West. The stakes became manageably small.

There are occasions in history when disputes are settled by what Toynbee called a "knockout blow." Sometimes a state or class so completely annihilates another that later archeologists have to search very carefully to find any trace of the defeated. At least as common, however, are cases where the issues and even the desires that engaged the protagonists just don't mean much anymore. With the decline of national sovereignty, this kind of resolution becomes easier and easier. It is hard to see how this could happen in the Middle East, but don't write the possibility off.

The Long View: Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

John was very interested in the form the future might take. He wrote a book that was his attempt to limn the future by means of a program he wrote in BASIC and the ideas of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Like myself, John felt that the idea of cycles in history does not preclude free will or moral agency. We might hope, tentatively and with great humility, to influence things for the better. Following William Ernest Hocking, John posited the idea of "unlosables", technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. This entry is intended to illustrate some of those ideas in political philosophy.

As a lawyer, John was well-positioned to draft a constitution. He knew that the failure of most modern constitutions was due to their complexity. The most successful modern constitutions, the American, and the Swiss [which is based on the American] are relatively brief. This is his attempt at a constitution for the Ecumenical Empire, his term for the universal state into which the world is likely to collapse sometime in this century.

This document was originally posted to an Alternative History newsgroup. It may not be a proper "what-if," but it is likely to interest alternative history buffs.

Every so often, I come across a model "world constitution" by groups or individuals who are interested in the question. These proposals are all non-starters. They are too legalistic, too complicated, and most of all too long. The draft constitution here is supposed to be more realistic. I imagine it coming into effect late in the next century, when the traditional international system has collapsed because of war and progressive economic integration. Like the Roman Empire, it is essentially a police measure. Feel free to propose amendments.

JR -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

This Constitution describes the structure of the Ecumenical Empire. 
The Ecumenical Empire is the final stage of human political evolution.
This Constitution is unchangeable.
The Empire's operations and functions must be further defined by legislation.

The Empire
The Ecumenical Empire possesses every power which a human government may possess.
The jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Empire is universal in space.
The Ecumenical Empire may permit Subsidiary States to exist.

The Emperor

The Emperor may hear all final appeals in judicial matters from whatever source.
The Emperor is the Commander in Chief of the Ecumenical Army.
The Emperor is the Director of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
The Emperor serves for life, subject to deposition or abdication.
The Emperor may veto acts of the Senate.
The Emperor may nominate his successor from among the Senators, subject to the approval of the Senate.
The Emperor is an Imperial Citizen for life.

The Senate
The Senate may have up to one thousand Senators.
The Senate may enact laws of universal or local application.
The Senate may tax Imperial Citizens directly.
The Senate may tax trade between Subsidiary States.
The Senate may issue and revoke charters for the existence of Subsidiary States.
The Senate elects the Emperor.
The Senate may depose the Emperor by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
The Senate may expel a Senator by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
Every Subsidiary State provides one Senator, selected by any means and for whatever term the Subsidiary State chooses.
All Senators not provided by a Subsidiary State are appointed by the Emperor for life, subject to expulsion or retirement.
Senators are Imperial Citizens at least for their term in office.

The Ecumenical Army
The Ecumenical Army includes all the armed forces of the Ecumenical Empire.
Only the Ecumenical Army may possess weapons of mass destruction.
Weapons of mass destruction may not be used against civilian populations without thirty days' warning.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Army directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Army enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Army serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

The Ecumenical Civil Service
The Ecumenical Civil Service collects the taxes of the Ecumenical Empire and administers imperial law.
The courts of the Ecumenical Empire are a branch of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Regions not under the jurisdiction of a Subsidiary State are ruled directly by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Civil Service directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

Subsidiary States
No Subsidiary State may exist without the charter of the Senate.
Charters for Subsidiary States are issued for perpetuity and are subject to revocation.
Subsidiary States may choose their own form of government.
Subsidiary States may exercise primary jurisdiction over their citizens and residents.
Subsidiary States may not maintain armed forces beyond those necessary for internal police.
Laws of Subsidiary States that are incompatible with imperial law are voidable by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Particular acts by Subsidiary States may be prohibited by the Emperor.
The governments of Subsidiary States are subject to suspension by the Emperor.

Imperial Subjects
All human beings are Imperial Subjects.
Imperial Subjects may not be enslaved. Imperial Subjects may not be coerced by law to perform acts of worship.
Imperial Subjects may be imprisoned or executed only after a trial.
Acquittals in criminal trials are not appealable.
Imperial Subjects not citizens of a Subsidiary State are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.

Imperial Citizens
Any Imperial Subject may be created by the Emperor to be an Imperial Citizen for life or for a term of years.
The spouse and children of all Imperial Citizens for life are also Imperial Citizens for life.
Imperial Citizens have the option to be citizens of Subsidiary States.
Imperial Citizens have the option to make themselves liable to the taxes and judicial process of a Subsidiary State.
Imperial Citizens are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Imperial Citizens are subject to direct taxes of the Ecumenical Empire.
Imperial Citizens may not be deprived of goods, money or land without a trial.
Imperial Citizens may say or publish anything that does not appear likely to cause immediate public disorder.

Prior Law
Any provision of international or domestic law contrary to this Constitution is nullified.
Fully sovereign states existing at the time of the proclamation of this Constitution may apply within one year for a charter from the Senate to become Subsidiary States.
Fully sovereign states that fail to apply within that time are abolished.

We the leaders of the Cabinet of the Final Alliance proclaim this Constitution on our own authority. We designate our chairman to be the first Emperor. The Emperor designates us to be the first Senators. [Signatures] [Date (circa 2080)]

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-01-23 The Sins of the Father

I would describe John as a cautious fan of George W. Bush. While this surely will mark him as suspect in many eyes, since W was widely despised, the reasons for John's assessment are unique. For instance,  he felt that we would have had a war with Iraq eventually because of a de facto state of war due to the no-fly zones we had been enforcing combined with Saddam Hussein's intransigence. Thus, which pretext it ended up being was simply a detail, because some crisis or another would eventually force the issue no matter who was in office. And John rather disliked Reagan, the patron saint of modern Republicans, so it wasn't simply a matter of John rooting for the home team. John appreciated W for things that are forgotten, while the real reasons people should hate W, like his responsibility for the housing bubble of 2007-08, have been flushed down the memory hole.

The Sins of the Father

The Enron corporation was a platitude with creative accounting. A broker in energy and data band, it swelled to awesome dimensions by leverage and the multiplication of legal fictions; it went "poof" when prices tumbled. In one form or another, this kind of thing happens so often that it isn't interesting. The particular variation this time involved lax accounting rules, paper mache' partnerships and off-balance-sheet liabilities, but these twists add nothing to the cautionary-tale predictability of the affair. Nonetheless, members of the chattering classes of the United States have been seen rebuking themselves in public for having failed to discern the cosmic significance of this very boring story when it first appeared last year.

The mere size of Enron is part of the explanation for this morbid fascination. Another factor is the falling-elevator feeling the story gives to those people whose retirement plans rest on 401k accounts. (Sure the Enron employees who had only Enron stock in their accounts did not diversify, but they were objects of envy just 18 months ago.) Still, the real reason for the interest is that Democrats in general and liberals in particular fervently desire an equivalent to the Whitewater Scandal, the one running gag of the Clinton Administration suitable for a general audience. That murky business deal, involving no great amount of money, became the license for investigation after investigation, in Congress and in the press, year in and year out. If you were a sufficiently partisan Republican, it was wonderful. Sufficiently partisan Democrats today, in Congress and the media, believe that there must be comparable embarrassments among the numerous connections to Enron that so many members of the Bush Administration have. In fact, they insist on it.


Things are different today. When increasingly desperate Enron executives called the high officials of George W. Bush's Administration, their pleas for a bailout were rejected.

Despite their political connections, Enron didn't get a bailout from W. Of course, the later bailout of AIG and other financial institutions was arguably his fault, but who remembers that?

Ed West leaving Telegraph blogs

But what a goodbye. I've only recently started reading West, through the odd confluence of Steve Sailer and Damian Thompson, but I shall enjoy his snark wherever he goes.

It's my job as a conservative to depress you, so I'm sad to say that, as this will be my last blogpost here, you'll have to find  some other way to get yourself down from now on; maybe stick yourself in a room with some Radiohead CDs and a bottle of gin and put Requiem for a Dream on a loop.


it’s a fundamental conservative principle that if something repeatedly goes wrong over and over and over again, it’s probably not going to work the next time, or ever.


Since the time of the Greeks, people have been coming up with schemes to create better societies that are hopelessly unrealistic, and from 1789 the human race has become hugely inventive at thinking of terrible ways to leave us all impoverished or dead, most of them based on the idea that humans are instinctively good.