Joseph Sobran: Final Verdict

Guest post:

Aristotle famously said: “I love Plato, but I love truth even more.” Can defenders of Joseph Sobran say the same?

While I don’t wish to make a blanket condemnation of paleocons, I am disappointed how many of them are wedded to an “old boys’ club” mentality. One sees this in the emotive rebuttal by Scott P. Richert (published on Taki Theodoracopulos’ blog) to James Hitchock’s criticism of Sobran and other paleocons in Human Life Review. Richert waxes nostalgic over Sobran’s essays for past issues of Human Life Review. But this is a case of resting on past laurels. Sobran may have done some good in the past but, if like Ezra Pound, a brilliant mind suddenly takes up with bizarre attitudes, this does not mean we should do the same.

What also bothers me is Richert’s mudslinging. He treats Hitchcock like a sophomoric upstart. Never mind that Hitchcock is a veteran conservative commentator and university professor (with a 1965 doctorate from Princeton), who has been in print at least as long as Sobran (who got started with National Review in 1972). To put Richert’s argument as simplistically as it deserves: “Hitchcock is just another neo-con hack. Neo-cons are stupid. Therefore, Hitchcock’s criticism is invalid.” This is the sort of ideological denunciation and deflection that one expects from Marxists.

Here are Hitchcock’s accusations (all documented in the article):

During the 2006 election campaign… Joseph Sobran, a Catholic who considers himself one of the few remaining spokesmen for authentic conservatism… characterized James Webb, the Democratic candidate for senator from Virginia,… as someone “who commanded my immediate trust and respect”….

Despite [Howard] Phillips’ obvious lack of interest in the abortion issue, Sobran has often endorsed the Constitution Party, which he says is the only reliably prolife party in America, and after the election (November 16 [2006]) he found it impossible to distinguish between two “factions” pretending to be two different political parties, but he expressed great satisfaction that Webb’s opponent, the “arrogant” Senator George Allen (who happened to be anti-abortion), had been defeated; then he declared (December 21) that Bush was a worse president than William J. Clinton (who happened to be by far the most zealously pro-abortion president ever to occupy the White House).

[Sobran] praised the pro-abortion Democratic Senator Joseph Biden as “someone who takes his faith very seriously”….

Sobran questions the justice and wisdom of American involvement in World War II.

After the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Sobran wrote a series of articles questioning (and sometimes ridiculing) the fear that al-Qaeda constitutes a threat to American security, and five years later… he reported that for him the real experience of terror was having to undergo a security check at Dulles Airport.

Does Richert address these? Not that I can tell.

I had my own dispute with a Sobran supporter recently. I was told that the controversial columnist was witty and incisive (it is his selling point against humdrum mainstream conservatives). But when I pointed out his collaboration with holocaust revisionists, this was chalked up to sheer guilelessness. So which is it? Either Sobran is a genius, in which case he must be right to get cozy with far-right racialists and anti-war leftists, or he’s a political naïf whose contributions to the conservative cause are extremely limited…. in fact, non-existent at this point.

Previous post: “Sobran’s Intellectual Decline and Fall

Sobran’s Intellectual Decline and Fall

Guest post:

As a disillusioned paleocon, I’ve complained about the old-right infatuation with extremism in my discussion of the late Samuel Francis. A further example of the paleocon meltdown is the career of Joseph Sobran, former National Review editor turned embittered pamphleteer, holocaust revisionist, and part-time campaigner for the Democratic Party—he has favored liberal candidates against Republicans, and has a decided preference for Democratic foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Sobran has alienated many readers over the years. Recently his erratic political musings were documented by a major Catholic intellectual (James Hitchcock, “Abortion and the ‘Catholic Right’,” Human Life Review, Spring 2007). This is particularly important because Sobran has marketed himself as a latter-day ultramontanist, publishing in Catholic journals like The Wanderer.

Sobran justifies his rhetorical excesses by pointing to the opposite extreme. But surely one can oppose racial quotas and reverse racism without endorsing the nearest Klan leader. Sobran, however, doesn’t have that sense of finesse. As early as 1986 he was offering cautionary praise (but praise nonetheless) for Instauration, a journal published by Wilmot Robertson who wrote The Dispossessed Majority, the bible of high-brow American racialism. As an aside, Robertson is as anti-Christian as he is anti-Jewish. The point here is that it’s hard to write off Sobran’s extremist statements as occasional foibles. No one can commit that many faux pas without really trying!

When people started criticizing Sobran, one of the first persons who rushed to his aid was Mark Weber, long-time member (currently director) of the Institute for Historical Review. The IHR is well known as a “holocaust revisionist” front for neo-Nazism. Sobran has returned the favor many times by championing the “courageous” views of the IHR. Sobran’s worst bit of journalistic muddling is seen in his piece “For Fear of the Jews,” which adopts his usual ingénue style of coy provocation. In it he tells us that Mark Weber is really a nice guy, which is quite beside the point (he’s trying to whitewash Adolf Hitler, who wasn’t a nice guy). As it turns out, Sobran was penning things for the Journal for Historical Review throughout the 1990s, including an essay on “Jewish Power” (January/February, 1999). In 2001 and 2003, Sobran attended conferences hosted by David Irving, who shares Weber’s habit of Hitlerian spin control.

Next time, an answer to apologists for Joe Sobran….

How Much Jail Time?

That’s the question asked by Anna Quindlen, in the current issue of Newsweek, about the punishment for abortion. Quindlen observes that

[i]f the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion. If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal.

The aim of Quindlen’s column is to scorn the idea of jail time as punishment for a woman who procures an illegal abortion. In fact, Quindlen’s “logic” reminds me of the classic definition of chutzpah: “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.” The chutzpah, in this case, belongs to Quindlen (and others of her ilk) who believe that a woman should not face punishment for an abortion because she has just “lost” a baby.

Balderdash! If a woman illegally aborts her child, why shouldn’t she be punished by a jail term (at least)? She would be punished by jail (or confinement in a psychiatric prison) if she were to kill her new-born infant, her toddler, her ten-year old, and so on. What’s the difference between an abortion and murder? None. (Read this, then follow the links in this post.)

Quindlen (who predictably opposes capital punishment) asks “How much jail time?” in a cynical effort to shore up the anti-life front. It ain’t gonna work, lady.

More from the Apocalyptic Left

This article in the current issue of Newsweek carries the subhed “If humans were evacuated, the Earth would flourish.” The final graph of the article puts the idea in perspective: “Too bad there’s no one there to see it.”

Actually, the central figure of the piece — one Alan Weisman — proposes more than evacuation. He’s trying to organize a voluntary human extinction movement. Weisman’s Leftist pedigree is quite evident in his affiliation with Homelands Productions.

Weisman is an extreme example of what I said here:

The emphasis on social restraints — to a Leftist… — means social engineering writ large. He wants a society that operates according to his strictures. But society refuses to cooperate, and so he conjures historically and scientifically invalid explanations for the behavior of man and nature. By doing so he is able to convince himself and his fellow travelers that the socialist vision is the correct one. He and his ilk cannot satisfy their power-lust in the real world, so they retaliate by imagining a theoretical world of doom. It is as if they walk around under a thought balloon which reads “Take that!”

Weisman isn’t content to foresee the apocalypse. He wants to rush toward it and embrace it.

Religion As Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation

I have written thrice (here, here, and here) about Richard Dawkins’s apoplectic views on religion. Dawkins — in a nutshell — views religion as a bad thing because, in his view, (a) many bad things are done its name and (b) it is anti-scientific. Now, (a) does not prove that religion causes people to do bad things (people just do bad things), nor does (b) prove that religion is anti-scientific (many religious persons are and have been excellent scientists).

Now comes an article by David Sloan Wilson (“Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins Is Wrong about Relgion,”, July 4, 2007). Wilson, an evolutionary biologist and professor of anthropology and biology at Binghamton University, assesses Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Wilson begins:

Richard Dawkins and I share much in common. We are both biologists by training who have written widely about evolutionary theory. We share an interest in culture as an evolutionary process in its own right. We are both atheists in our personal convictions who have written books on religion. In Darwin’s Cathedral [link added: ED] I attempted to contribute to the relatively new field of evolutionary religious studies. When Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues. Hence this critique of The God Delusion and the larger issues at stake.

Later, after summarizing his points of agreement with Dawkins, Wilson turns to the evidence for religion as an evolutionary adaptation that helps groups to survive and thrive. He observes, for example, that

On average, religious believers are more prosocial than non-believers, feel better about themselves, use their time more constructively, and engage in long-term planning rather than gratifying their impulsive desires. On a moment-by-moment basis, they report being more happy, active, sociable, involved and excited. Some of these differences remain even when religious and non-religious believers are matched for their degree of prosociality. More fine-grained comparisons reveal fascinating differences between liberal vs. conservative protestant denominations, with more anxiety among the liberals and conservatives feeling better in the company of others than when alone. Religions are diverse, in the same way that species in ecosystems are diverse. Rather than issuing monolithic statements about religion, evolutionists need to explain religious diversity in the same way that they explain biological diversity.

Wilson writes, later in the article, that

In Darwin’s Cathedral, I initiated a survey of religions drawn at random from the 16-volume Encyclopedia of World Religions, edited by the great religious scholar Mircia Eliade. The results are described in an article titled “Testing Major Evolutionary Hypotheses about Religion with a Random Sample,” which was published in the journal Human Nature and is available on my website. The beauty of random sampling is that, barring a freak sampling accident, valid conclusions for the sample apply to all of the religions in the encyclopedia from which the sample was taken. By my assessment, the majority of religions in the sample are centered on practical concerns, especially the definition of social groups and the regulation of social interactions within and between groups. New religious movements usually form when a constituency is not being well served by current social organizations (religious or secular) in practical terms and is better served by the new movement. The seemingly irrational and otherworldly elements of religions in the sample usually make excellent practical sense when judged by the only gold standard that matters from an evolutionary perspective — what they cause the religious believers to do.

What religions do (on the whole) is to cause their adherents to live more positive and productive lives, as Wilson notes in the passage quoted earlier.

Now, this says nothing one way or the other about the truth of religious belief. But it does underscore the irrationality and unscientific nature of the virulent anti-religious emissions of Richard Dawkins and his ilk. Religion is, in the main, a beneficial social institution.

Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux

In which I expose the intellectual sloppiness (or chicanery) of strident atheists in general and Richard Dawkins (noted scientist and virulent anti-religionist) in particular.

UPDATED 07/02/07 (addendum at the end of the post)

I posit this range of possible positions about God (from “Atheism, Religion, and Science“):

A. I believe that there is a God; that is, an omniscient, omnipotent being who created the universe, and who remains involved in the events of the universe, including the lives of humans. (Theism)

B. I believe that there is some kind of force or intelligence created the universe, but that force or intelligence has since had no involvement in the universe. (Deism)

C. I believe that there is no God, force, or intelligence of the kind posited in A or B. (Strong atheism)

D.1. I choose not to believe in a God, force, or intelligence of the kind posited in A or B, even though His or its existence cannot be proved or disproved. (Weak atheism)

D.2. I choose to believe in a God, force, or intelligence of the kind posited in A or B, even though His or its existence cannot be proved or disproved. (Weak theism or deism)

E. I take no position on the existence of a God, force, or intelligence of the kind posited in A or B because His or its existence can never be proved or disproved. (Agnosticism)

None of those statements implies a position about religion; thus:

A. A theist need not adhere to a religion. A theist might, for example, believe that religions have their roots in myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — and that they too often foment evil. But a theist may nevertheless believe that the existence of the universe and (at least some) documented events or natural phenomena are consistent with the possibility of an intervening Creator. Such a theist would be a “believer,” even though not affiliated with an organized religion.

B. A deist need not adhere to a religion. A deist might, for example, believe that all religions have their roots in myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — and that they too often foment evil. But a deist may nevertheless believe that the existence of the universe is owed to an intelligent Creator. Such a deist would be a “believer,” even though not affiliated with an organized religion.

C. Strong atheism and religious adherence — seemingly contradictory positions — can be found in the same person under certain circumstances. Such a person doesn’t accept the religious doctrines that proclaim God’s existence or demand that he be obeyed and worshiped. Such a person does believe, however, that certain religious traditions are valuable socializing influences which should be perpetuated; that is, his reasons for adherence might be called “non-religious.”

D.1. A weak atheist, like a strong one, may adhere to a religion for “non-religious” reasons.

D.2. A weak theist or deist, like his strong counterpart, might be a “believer” while rejecting organized religion.

E. An agnostic might adhere to a religion because he is “hedging his bets” or because he, like some atheists, values the “non-religious” benefits of religion. Contrarily, an agnostic might spurn religion because, like some theists and deists, he believes that religions have their roots in myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — and that they too often foment evil.

It should now be obvious that one’s views about God and one’s views about religion are entirely separable.
Atheists — like some theists, deists, and agnostics — may reject religion because it is founded on myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — or because it too often foments evil. But the rejection of religion neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. God exists (or not) regardless of the origins of religion, its value, or one’s beliefs about the existence of God.

Think of it this way: An atheist who rejects the idea of God because he rejects religion is (unwittingly perhaps) guilty of making this kind of circular argument:

  1. There can be no God if religion is based on myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — and is sometimes conducive to evil.
  2. Religion (in the atheists’ view) is based on myth, superstition, power-seeking — or some combination of these — and is sometimes conducive to evil.
  3. Therefore, there is no God.

Yes, the conclusion follows from the premises, but only because the conclusion is assumed in the first premise. Such reasoning is a type of logical fallacy known as “begging the question.” One’s disbelief in the existence of God or the possibility of God’s existence does not disprove God’s existence or the possibility of God’s existence.

There are multitudes (e.g., many theists, even more deists, and most agnostics) who — preferring not to beg the question — accept the existence of God, or the possibility of the existence of God, even though they reject religion. They understand (perhaps intuitively) that the atheist who rejects God because he rejects religion is guilty of begging the question.

There are, nevertheless, strident atheists (strong, vociferously virulent atheists) who believe that their arguments against religion somehow bear on the question of God’s existence. Christopher Hitchens — a non-scientist — is an exemplar of this brand of strident atheism. Hitchens and his ilk disdain religion for one reason or another (sometimes validly), which (invalidly) leads them to pronounce that there is no God. They simply adopt atheism as a matter of faith. Atheism is their religion.

What about scientists who are strident atheists, and who claim not to be “religious” atheists but scientific ones? An exemplar of that breed is Richard Dawkins, a noted British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and popular science writer who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. In spite of all that, Dawkins is guilty of the same kind of unscientific (and illogical) thinking as that of non-scientists like Hitchens.

Dawkins — like Hitchens and his ilk — is virulently anti-religious. But Dawkins tries to deny his “religious” atheism by asserting that the question of God’s existence is a scientific one.

Dawkins expresses his hostility to religion in A Devil’s Chaplain (inter alia), where he latches onto “Russell’s teapot“:

The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell’s teapot,[“] religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don’t exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don’t stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don’t warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don’t kneecap those who put the tea in first. [Quoted here.]
* A hypothetical, undetectable object in space, the existence of which cannot be disproved. The teapot (in Russell’s view) is analogous to God: ED.

Dawkins, like other strident atheists, is guilty of citing instances of evil committed in the name of (but not necessarily because of) religion, and then generalizing from those instances to the conclusion that he wishes to reach: Religion is evil because it is the cause of much evil. Dawkins, like other strident atheists, simply chooses to ignore all the good that is done in the name of (and even because of) religion (e.g., the humanitarian works of myriad Christian groups through the ages; the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust by many Christians — including Pope Pius XII). Or perhaps Dawkins — unscientifically — assumes that the evil outweighs the good. In any case, Dawkins’s anti-religious prejudices are evident.

Dawkins attacks religion because religion is founded on God — if not by God — and Dawkins simply doesn’t want to believe in God. His “faith” consists of a unfounded disbelief in God — and he admits it:

I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all “design” anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe. [Emphasis added.]

But Dawkins never ceases in his quest to disprove God “scientifically.” Here are some relevant passages from a recent colloquy between Dawkins and eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss (“Should Science Speak to Faith,”, June 19, 2007):

Dawkins: …I agree with you [Krauss] that it might be surprisingly hard to detect, by observation or experiment, whether we live in a god-free universe or a god-endowed one. Nevertheless, I still maintain that there is a cogent sense in which a scientist can discuss the question. There still is a sense in which we can have an interesting and illuminating scientific discussion about whether X is the case, even if we can’t demonstrate it one way or the other by observation or experiment. How can I argue this and still claim to be doing science?

In The God Delusion, I made the distinction between two kinds of agnosticism. Permanent Agnosticism in Principle (PAP) is exemplified by that philosophical chestnut, “Do you see red the way I see red, or might your red be my green or some completely different hue (‘sky-blue-pink’) that I cannot imagine?” Temporary agnosticism in practice (TAP) refers to things that we cannot (or cannot yet) know in practice but nevertheless have a true scientific reality in a way that the ‘sky-blue-pink’ conundrum does not. Bertrand Russell’s hypothetical orbiting teapot might be an example. Some people think the question of God’s existence is equivalent to ‘sky-blue-pink’ (PAP), and they wrongly deduce that his existence and non-existence are equiprobable alternatives. I think we should be TAP agnostic about God, and I certainly don’t think the odds are 50/50.

Statements such as ‘There are (or are not) intelligent aliens elsewhere in the universe’ are clearly TAP statements insofar as we are talking about the observable universe this side of our event horizon. At any time, a flying saucer or a radio transmission could clinch the matter in one direction (it can never be clinched in the other). What, though, of statements about the existence of intelligent aliens in those parts of the universe that are beyond our event horizon, where the galaxies are receding from us so fast that information from them can never in principle reach us because of the finite speed of light? In this case, at least according to the physicists I have read, the aliens would forever be undetectable by any means whatever. On the face of it, therefore, we would have to be PAP agnostic about them, not just TAP agnostic.

Yet I would resent it as a scientist, not just as a person, if you tried to rule out any scientific discussion of aliens beyond our event horizon, on the grounds that it is beyond the reach of empirical test (PAP). Suppose we take the Drake equation for calculating the odds of alien intelligences existing, and apply it to the whole universe rather than just our galaxy. Clearly it will yield very different results depending on whether we hold to a finite or infinite model of the universe. Those two models of the universe are discriminable by empirical evidence, and that empirical evidence would therefore have some bearing on the probability of alien life existing somewhere in the universe. Hence the probability of alien life is a question of TAP rather than PAP agnosticism, even though direct empirical experience of the aliens might be impossible. It is not obvious to me that gods are beyond such probability estimates, any more than aliens are. And a probability estimate is the limit of my aspiration.

What Dawkins wants us to accept is this: He is a scientist; therefore, any speculation on his part about the existence (or non-existence) of God is scientific if it is couched in the language of science (however devoid of empirical content). That is, of course, pure balderdash.

Science — the accumulation, interpretation, and organization of knowledge — may benefit from speculation, if speculation yields testable hypotheses. But the analysis suggested by Dawkins is nothing more than speculation. It does not and cannot advance our knowledge regarding the existence or non-existence of God. An article in Wikipedia says this about the Drake equation:

The Drake equation (rarely also called the Green Bank equation or the Sagan equation) is a famous result in the speculative fields of exobiology, astrosociobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

This equation was devised by Dr Frank Drake (now Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz) in the 1960s in an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact. The main purpose of the equation is to allow scientists to quantify the uncertainty of the factors which determine the number of extraterrestrial civilizations. [Emphasis added.]

The Drake equation says nothing about the actual possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations — or of God — as Krauss explains in response to Dawkins:

First, I have to say that I have nothing against trying to think about phenomena that might never be directly measurable. I do this all the time in my work in cosmology, where I consider the possibilities of other causally disconnected universes. Of course I do this to see if I can resolve outstanding puzzles in the physics of our universe. If this approach turns out not to work, then I find the issue less interesting. I also agree with you that probabilities are important, but I think your example of the Drake equation is quite relevant here, but perhaps not in the way you intended. First of all, the Drake Equation is really applied locally, within our galaxy. If the probabilities turn out to be small that there is more than one intelligent life form in our galaxy, I think most astrophysicists will not be particularly interested in worrying about the civilizations that might exist in other galaxies but which will be forever removed from us. But more important is that fact that the probabilities associated with the Drake equation are almost all so poorly known that the equation really hasn’t driven much useful research. Varying each of the conditional probabilities in the equations by an order of magnitude or so, one can derive results that either argue strongly in favor of extraterrestrial intelligence, or strongly against it. The proof is likely to come from empirical searches. As bad as this is, I would argue it is far worse when attempting to quantify probabilities for the existence of divine intelligence or purpose in the universe.

Krauss is being too kind to Dawkins. Or, perhaps I should say that Krauss skewers Dawkins politely. One can hypothesize until the cows come home, but hypothesizing about phenomena that cannot be quantified empirically is not science. It’s nothing more than college-dorm bull-sh*****g with a veneer of (pseudo) scientific precision. It is an appeal to authority — the authority of (in this case) an eminent scientist. But it is an appeal founded on two pre-conceived ideas: There is no God. Religion is evil.

There is no “probability” that God exists, as Dawkins would have it. God either does or does not exist. And the existence of God is a question beyond the grasp of science. To use Dawkins’s terms, the question of God’s existence is permanently agnostic in principle (PAP); intellectual sleight-of-hand cannot convert it to a question that is temporarily agnostic in practice (TAP). Whatever we might know (or suspect) about the foundations of religion and its influence on human behavior has no bearing on the question of God’s existence.

Related posts:
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
Evolution and Religion
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
The Universe . . . . Four Possibilities


After publishing this post, I came across a post by Keith Burgess-Jackson that led me to this article by Thomas Nagel (B.Phil., Oxford; Ph.D., Harvard; University Professor, professor of law, and professor of philosophy at New York University). Among many other things, Nagel has this to say about Dawkins’s efforts to make atheism seem scientific:

The theory of evolution through heritable variation and natural selection reduces the improbability of organizational complexity by breaking the process down into a very long series of small steps, each of which is not all that improbable. But each of the steps involves a mutation in a carrier of genetic information—an enormously complex molecule capable both of self-replication and of generating out of surrounding matter a functioning organism that can house it. The molecule is moreover capable sometimes of surviving a slight mutation in its structure to generate a slightly different organism that can also survive. Without such a replicating system there could not be heritable variation, and without heritable variation there could not be natural selection favoring those organisms, and their underlying genes, that are best adapted to the environment.

The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties. Since 1953 we have known what that material is, and scientists are continually learning more about how DNA does what it does. But since the existence of this material or something like it is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence. We are therefore faced with a problem analogous to that which Dawkins thinks faces the argument from design: we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back one step: how did such a thing come into existence?…

The fear of religion leads too many scientifically minded atheists to cling to a defensive, world-flattening reductionism. Dawkins, like many of his contemporaries, is hobbled by the assumption that the only alternative to religion is to insist that the ultimate explanation of everything must lie in particle physics, string theory, or whatever purely extensional laws govern the elements of which the material world is composed….

It is natural to try to take any successful intellectual method [i.e., modern science] as far as it will go. Yet the impulse to find an explanation of everything in physics has over the last fifty years gotten out of control. The concepts of physical science provide a very special, and partial, description of the world that experience reveals to us. It is the world with all subjective consciousness, sensory appearances, thought, value, purpose, and will left out. What remains is the mathematically describable order of things and events in space and time.

…The reductionist project usually tries to reclaim some of the originally excluded aspects of the world, by analyzing them in physical—that is, behavioral or neurophysiological—terms; but it denies reality to what cannot be so reduced. I believe the project is doomed—that conscious experience, thought, value, and so forth are not illusions, even though they cannot be identified with physical facts….

We have more than one form of understanding. Different forms of understanding are needed for different kinds of subject matter. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal.We have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection, or conceptual analysis as ways of discovering the truth just because they are not physics….

A religious worldview is only one response to the conviction that the physical description of the world is incomplete. Dawkins says with some justice that the will of God provides a too easy explanation of anything we cannot otherwise understand, and therefore brings inquiry to a stop. Religion need not have this effect, but it can. It would be more reasonable, in my estimation, to admit that we do not now have the understanding or the knowledge on which to base a comprehensive theory of reality.


The Censored Wisdom of T.S. Eliot

Eliot, unfortunately for us, censored himself on at least one occasion. Virginia Quarterly Review explains:

In May 1933, T. S. Eliot delivered three lectures at the University of Virginia, as part of the Page-Barbour Series. By Eliot’s own description, these lectures were intended as “further development of the problem which the author first discussed in his essay, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent.’”…

[T]he lectures, gathered in Spring 1934 as the slim volume After Strange Gods, have gained most of their notorious reputation, because they contain some of the strongest evidence of Eliot’s intolerance for non-Christian religions and his blatant anti-Semitism. At one point, he declared that, “The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”…

Barely a decade later….Eliot had grown leery of having his remarks published in post-Nazi Europe. Eliot withdrew After Strange Gods from publication, and it has remained unavailable ever since.

[O]ne of the lectures, “Personality and Demonic Possession,” appeared in VQR in January 1934…. The following essay is decidedly the least incendiary of the three Eliot delivered at Virginia; however, even here it is clear the degree to which his dogmatic artistic beliefs have blurred into social intolerance.

VQR, being a publication with academic pretensions, evidently takes the position that to it amounts to “social intolerance” when someone has coherent literary and social standards — as opposed to the morally relativistic stance that all ideas and cultures are created equal. What VQR calls “social intolerance,” is really a defense of the kind of civility and civilization that enables VQR and its ilk to survive, which it would not have done in the USSR or could not do in the Caliphate.

Recent events in Europe — and long-term trends in the United States — attest to the wisdom of Eliot’s statement that “where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate.” That really is an understatement, given the barely contained (and sometimes uncontained) state of tension (and sometimes violence) that exists where whites, blacks, and tans rub together in the U.S., and where Muslims and non-Muslims rub together in Europe.

Eliot does go too far in his emphasis on religious homogeneity. Jews certainly can be and have been staunch defenders of Western civilization — by which I mean a republican government of limited powers; respect for the rule of law; and, underpinning those things, rationality as opposed to emotionalism in political and civil discourse. But it must be said that many Jews (along with many more non-Jews) have been prominent among those who advance and fund ideas that are inimical to Western civilization. But the failings of those particular Jews cannot be laid to Judaism, else the failings of their non-Jewish brethren could be laid to Christianity.

In any event, here is what Eliot has to say about emotionalism, on page four of “Personality and Demonic Possession”:

[E]xtreme emotionalism seems to me a symptom of decadence; it is a cardinal point of faith in a romantic age to believe that there is something admirable for its own sake in violent emotion, whatever the emotion or whatever its object. But it is by no means self-evident that human beings are most real when most violently excited; violent passions do not in themselves differentiate men from each other, but rather tend to reduce them to the same state…. Furthermore, strong passion is only interesting or significant in strong men; those who abandon themselves without resistance to excitements which tend to deprive them of reason become merely instruments of feeling and lose their humanity; and unless there is moral resistance and conflict there is no meaning. But as the majority is capable neither of strong emotion nor of strong resistance, it always inclines, unless instructed to the contrary, to admire passion for its own sake; and if somewhat deficient in vitality, people imagine passion to be the surest evidence of vitality.

Thus do demagogues dupe the masses.

Liberal Claptrap

Hot on the heels of Markos Moulitsas‘s oxymoronical “The Case for the Libertarian Democrat,” comes Geoffrey R. Stone‘s “What It Means to Be a Liberal.” I will say no more about Moulitsas’s emission because it has been thoroughly disassembled and left in ruins by many a thoughtful person (e.g., Arnold Kling, writing at TCS Daily; Megan McArdle (a.k.a. Jane Galt) of Asymmetrical Information; and Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy).

I will therefore focus on Prof. Stone’s excrescence, which is more than a straightforward exposition of liberalism. It is, rather, a smug display of a typical liberal’s deluded belief that liberals — almost exclusively — actually care about and advance the welfare of their fellow human beings. It is calculated to build up liberalism by tearing down conservativism and libertarianism, which is hardly good salesmanship. But it’s what I expect of Stone, whose views I have encountered and written about before. In “Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It” I wrote:

Stone is a colleague of Cass Sunstein, a fellow traveler on the road to thought control. . . .

[I]n the world of Sunstein and Stone, we can — and must — legislate and regulate our way to a “tolerant society.” Hah! Notice how well it worked when forced busing was used to integrate schools?

Stone, slippery lawyer that he is, doesn’t give a hoot about Klansmen. What he really wants is to make it illegal for employers to fire anyone for saying anything that seems critical of government policy (Republican policy, in particular). When that’s done, he can take up the cudgels for the Dixie Chicks and go after radio stations that refuse to play their songs.

What Sunstein and Stone mean by “free speech” is “forced listening.” Reminds me of the brainwashing scene in the movie 1984. They’ll like the results as long as they get to play Big Brother. . . .

What Stone and his ilk don’t seem to understand (or choose to ignore) is that government involvement (choosing sides) warps the public debate. For every employer who fires a critical employee and for every popular right-wing talk-show host there are legions of protestors and political opponents whose messages the mainstream media amplify, with gusto. That’s the marketplace of ideas in action. Or do Stone and his ilk favor the suppression of the mainstream media? I doubt it very much. They’re just looking for a pseudo-legal justification for the suppression of speech they don’t like. . . .

[I]f you really favor free speech, you favor it for everyone, not just the lefties favored by Stone.

This is the same Stone who, in the essay I am about to skewer, says that “It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion . . . a more vibrant freedom of speech.” Well, yes, as long as it’s speech that liberals favor. (Consider the recent contretemps at Columbia University and the systematic suppression of speech at liberal-dominated universities, which FIRE documents so well.) Hypocrisy, thy name is liberalism.

Now, on to Stone’s essay about liberalism, in which he “tr[ies] to articulate 10 propositions that seem to [him] to define ‘liberal’ today.” I won’t regurgitate the entire essay, or even the fulsome defense Stone makes of each of his ten propositions. (Masochists may read the whole mess by following the link above.) I will simply reproduce the nub of each of Stone’s propositions and then dispatch it quickly, but mercilessly.

1. . . . individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.

Americans should doubt the truth of their commitment to the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press (for example) and consider for more than a moment the “truths” of fascism, communism, and Islamism? What utter, open-minded empty-headed nonsense.

2. . . . individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference.

What he means, of course, is that (to take just a few examples) free speech, property rights, and freedom of association should be suppressed for the sake of “diversity,” as long as the suppression is directed at conservative-libertarian, straight, white males who don’t teach at or attend universities.

3. . . . individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate.

See above for my take on Stone’s commitment to free speech.

4. . . . “we the people” are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind.

When “we the people” are, in fact, the “governors” they do a very good job of of treating as pariahs and enemies those who oppose the liberal socialistic agenda. Quintessential examples are Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt’s characterizations of the very businessmen who brought prosperity to Americans as “malefactors of great wealth” and “economic royalists,” thus legitimating the class warfare that liberals wage to this very day.

5. . . . government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.

Such thinking leads to the conclusion that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” as the saying goes. Balderdash! And more balderdash! As for “respecting” and “affirmatively safeguarding” the liberty, equality, and dignity of each and every individual, see my comments about propositions 2, 3, and 4.

6. . . .
government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.

Stone means, of course, that government should redistribute income and wealth from those who have earned it to those who have not, to the detriment of all. (See this and this for more.)

7. . . .
government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith.

That is, laws should not be motivated by the moral precepts of religion. Which, of course, rules out laws against murder, theft, rape, and so on. So much for the “dignity of each individual.” But, of course, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape” so that innocent individuals can suffer the consequences.

8. . . . courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties.

What Stone means to say is that courts — not legislatures — should make law, as long it is law that advances the liberal agenda.

9. . . . government must protect the safety and security of the people. . . .

Unless, of course, government acts to prevent terrorism. (See this post and follow the links therein.)

10. . . . government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. violating terrorists’ “rights.”

ADDENDUM: Read “Hard Truths for Soft Liberal Heads,” by John Hawkins; “What Does a Liberal Believe?,” by Johnathan Cohen; and “A Dialogue with a Liberal,” by Arnold Kling. See also these earlier Liberty Corner posts:

Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism
Libertarian-Conservatives Are from the Earth, Liberals Are from the Moon
Liberals and the Rule of Law
Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
More Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
The Liberal Mindset

I Said It First

Well, I said it before George Will did, anyway. There’s a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about Will’s column of today, in which he defends Wal-Mart. What did I say on September 2? This (among other things):

Wal-Mart provides jobs for low-income families; Wal-Mart offers low prices to low-income families. When politicians hurt Wal-Mart, they hurt low-income families. Get it? Republicans do.

Read on.

Singer Said It

From an article at

In a question and answer article published in the UK’s Independent today, controversial Princeton University Professor Peter Singer repeats his notorious stand on the killing of disabled newborns. Asked, “Would you kill a disabled baby?”, Singer responded, “Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.” . . .

“Many people find this shocking,” continued Singer, “yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion.” Concluding his point, Singer said, “One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.”

Let us be clear: Singer admits that it is the people who don’t support a woman’s “right” to have an abortion who insist that there is no distinction between the fetus and the newborn — or the fetus and an old person whose death might be convenient to others. Given Singer’s endorsement of involuntary infanticide — abortion and the killing of “disabled” newborns (“disabled” as determined how and by whom?) — Singer accepts, by implication, the rightness of involuntary euthanasia.

Related posts:
I’ve Changed My Mind
Next Stop, Legal Genocide?
Here’s Something All Libertarians Can Agree On

It Can Happen Here: Eugenics, Abortion, Euthanasia, and Mental Screening
Creeping Euthanasia
PETA, NARAL, and Roe v. Wade
Flooding the Moral Low Ground
The Beginning of the End?
Taking Exception
Protecting Your Civil Liberties

Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Public Morality
The Threat of the Anti-Theocracy
The Consequences of Roe v. Wade
The Old Eugenics in a New Guise
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Oh, *That* Slippery Slope
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
The Cynics Debate While Babies Die
The Slippery Slope in Holland
The Slippery Slope in England
The Slipperier Slope in England
The Slippery Slope in New Jersey
An Argument Against Abortion

Academic Fools

AP story:

Harvard dean defends Khatami invitation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The dean of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government defended the decision to invite former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to speak on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“Do we listen to those that we disagree with, and vigorously challenge them, or do we close our ears completely?” Dean David Ellwood said in an interview published Thursday in The Boston Globe.

This is an excellent example of what passes for rational thought in the academy.

What Dean Ellwood says, in effect, is this: We should listen to an armed thug who is preparing to attack us because if we listen we might learn something. Right! What we’ll “learn” is that the armed thug really isn’t preparing to attack us — just before he does that very thing.

It should come as no surprise to academicians of Ellwood’s ilk (which seems to be most of them) that non-academicians take them for deluded fools, dupes, and Leftists who prefer despotism to freedom. For that is what they are.

Conspiracy Theories

Wikipedia offers a thorough discussion of conspiricism and a long, annotated catalog of conspiracy theories that have been popular at one time or another. The final theory in the catalog goes a long way toward explaining the present state of affairs. It also justifies the use of the somewhat controversial term “Islamic fascists.” Here it is:

IslamicFascist Axis

Radio talk show host David Emory claims that Nazi leader Martin Bormann never died and has built a global empire involving, among many others, the Bush family, Hassan al Banna, Grover Norquist, Meyer Lansky, and Michael Chertoff. This may have sprung from the factual World War Two alliance between Nazi Germany and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a religious and political leader of the area then known as Palestine.

There’s a conspiracy theory for you: a Nazi, the Bushes, an Arab-Muslim extremist, an anti-tax conservative, a Jewish gangster, and a Jewish lawyer-prosecutor-cabinet secretary.

I can’t wait for the movie.

P.S. On a serious note, check out this piece about the “9/11 “Truth” movement.

P.P.S. In the same vein, there’s this at RightWingNutHouse.

Fire Ward Churchill

PirateBallerina has posted a petition to fire Ward Churchill:

Fire Ward Churchill

We, the undersigned faculty members of US institutions of higher learning, in order to protect and ensure the integrity of academic scholarship, applaud and support the efforts (however belated or inept) of the University of Colorado at Boulder to terminate the employment of Professor Ward Churchill, a documented historical fraud and serial plagiarizer.

The petition may be signed only by academics who teach (or taught) at U.S. institutions of higher learning. Two college professors have had the courage to identify themselves and sign the petition. If you qualify as a signatory, get in on the action. Follow this link for more information.

Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins

The nut-cases who believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” won’t be deterred or converted by facts and logic, but perhaps their paranoia will not spread too far if Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up To The Facts is well publicized. Austin Bay writes about Debunking at TCS Daily:

[It] expands to book-length a collection of articles Popular Mechanics published in March 2005. The book contains new appendices and updated analyses. . . .

[T]he book follows a “Claim” and “Fact” format. Here are excerpts from the section entitled “Melted Steel”:

“Claim: … ‘We have been lied to,’ announces the Web site ‘The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to melt steel.’ The posting is entitled ‘Proof Of Controlled Demolition At The WTC.’ …”

“FACT: … Jet fuel burns at 1,100 to 1,200 degrees Celsius … significantly less than the 1,510 degrees Celsius typically required to melt steel. . . . However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn’t need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength — and that required exposure to much less heat…”

The “Fact” section includes analysis from structural engineers, a professor of metallurgy and explosives experts.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories have overt and covert promoters. Some are more nuisance than threat. Howard Dean verbally toyed with 9/11 conspiracy theories when he was playing primary election footsie with hard-left constituencies. . . .

[Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James] Meigs analyzes eight 9/11 conspiracy-spinner techniques. I’ll mention two:

  1. Attempts to “marginalize opposing views.” Meigs says thousands of eyewitness 9/11 accounts and the analyses of numerous universities and professional organizations (including Underwriters Labs and the American Society of Civil Engineers) are dismissed as “the government version.”
  1. Circular reasoning. Meigs writes that ” … among 9/11 theorists, the presence of evidence supporting the mainstream view is also taken as proof of conspiracy.” He concludes: “Like doctrinaire Marxists or certain religious extremists, conspiracists enjoy a world view that is immune to refutation.”

Meigs’ analyses of “demonization” and the “paranoid style” are particularly crisp and compelling.

That should be that, but . . .

Bay’s mention of Howard Dean’s pandering to “hard-left constituencies” leads me to the conspiracy-theorists’ cousins:

  • First, there are the Leftists, who will seize on any excuse to bash a Republican administration. Such Leftists are not true conspiracy-theorists; they would not countenance an “inside job” theory were Al Gore or John Kerry in the White House. They are merely unprincipled, and unhinged in their own way. (See this and this, for example.)
  • Then there are the radical libertarians, who do not subscribe to “inside job” theories. No, their conspiracy theory runs on a parallel track: The undeniably evil state is interested only in power, and it seizes on every opportunity to accrue more power. Thus it overblows the threat of terrorism and takes away our liberties, a slice at a time. (See this, for one example.)

Radical libertarians would be a greater threat to liberty than conspiracy nuts and Leftists, were there more than enough rad-libs to fill a high-school football stadium. Why? Because they seem more plausible than conspiracy nuts and Leftists; that is, they do not foam at the mouth.

Rad-libs are quick to assign evil motives to the state, without examining the evil motives of our enemies or acknowledging the necessity of state action against those enemies (given that we do not live in the stateless nirvana to which rad-libs aspire). Rad-libs are quick to minimize the dangers of terrorism by comparing the risk of being killed by terrorism to such risks as dying in an auto accident or falling off a ladder — as if one could nullify terrorism by driving or climbing ladders more often.

Finally, rad-libs fail to acknowledge the likelihood that the low risk of being killed by terrorism is owed to those very actions that rad-libs assail as inimical to liberty (e.g., NSA surveillance, “sneak and peak” warrants). They prefer death in a pure state of liberty, which is not liberty at all.

The Purpose-Driven Life

The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, by Rick Warren, has been on The New York Times‘s list of best-sellers (in the Hardcover Advice category) for 184 weeks. I hadn’t heard of the book until today, when I happened to channel-surf by an interview with the author. The title of his book flashed on the screen and piqued my curiosity. I didn’t linger to watch the interview, but instead turned to the web for enlightenment. Here is‘s review:

The spiritual premise in The Purpose-Driven Life is that there are no accidents—God planned everything and everyone. Therefore, every human has a divine purpose, according to God’s master plan. Like a twist on John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address, this book could be summed up like this: “So my fellow Christians, ask not what God can do for your life plan, ask what your life can do for God’s plan.” Those who are looking for advice on finding one’s calling through career choice, creative expression, or any form of self-discovery should go elsewhere. This is not about self-exploration; it is about purposeful devotion to a Christian God. The book is set up to be a 40-day immersion plan, recognizing that the Bible favors the number 40 as a “spiritually significant time,” according to author Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, touted as one of the nation largest congregations. Warren’s hope is that readers will “interact” with the 40 chapters, reading them one day at a time, with extensive underlining and writing in the margins. As an inspirational manifesto for creating a more worshipful, church-driven life, this book delivers. Every page is laden with references to scripture or dogma. But it does not do much to address the challenges of modern Christian living, with its competing material, professional, and financial distractions. Nonetheless, this is probably an excellent resource for devout Christians who crave a jumpstart back to worshipfulness

That’s all well and good if you like your self-help with a heavy dose of Warren’s brand of religiosity. For those of you who are not inclined in that direction, I recommend Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, which I read (and re-read) some 20 years ago. Frankl survived a Nazi concentration camp, and he uses his experiences there to introduce what he calls “logotherapy,” or “meaning-therapy.” As Frankl puts it, logotherapy

focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, the struggle to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.

I will not try to summarize Frankl’s psychotherapeutic approach, which he outlines in the second half of the book, except to say that he addresses such topics as the meaning of life, the meaning of existence, the meaning of love, and the meaning of suffering.

Even if you’re not interested in logotherapy, the first half of this inexpensive book ($6.99 in paperback at — which recounts Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camp — is well worth the price. The story is candid without resorting to graphic sensationalism, and it sets the stage for Frankl’s explanation of logotherapy in the second half.

My Alma Mater in (Typical) Action


The Center for Naval Analyses has just released a report on “Managing Civil Strife and Avoiding Civil War in Iraq.” A senior military analyst emailed me his take after reviewing the report:

There are two interesting things about this report, in my view. First, although the panelists identified the power vacuum [see here for more on the roots of this vacuum) as the greatest factor contributing to the rise of militias on both sides, they assume, apparently without much discussion, that the US can do nothing to fill this vacuum. Second, they focus almost entirely on recommending solutions that rely on improvements in things we have the least control and leverage over. . . .

The discussion about what to do in Iraq is spinning off into never-never land as people focus ever more on irrelevant theories and propose solutions that can’t be implemented. . . .

This piece by Dexter Filkins in today’s New York Times seems to confirm much of the above.

Typical. It’s just what you’d expect from an institution which is headed by a self-described “Carter Democrat,” and the staff of which comprises too many political non-scientists, whose idea of finding the truth is to convene “balanced” panels of bloviators. Yet one more bit wasteful exercise in self-aggrandizement, at the taxpayers’ expense.

P.S. The first link in the block quotation takes you to the home page of the Center’s parent organization, The CNA Corporation. The conference report in question is here.

Wisdom from Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton, if you haven’t heard of him, is a conservative English philosopher. I first came across Scruton through his book of essays, Untimely Tracts. Marvelous reading. Scruton is witty, erudite, and articulate — everything one would expect of graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge. He is, moreover, bitingly and devastatingly iconoclastic about the idols of the Left. Nor does he spare conservatives and libertarians.

In any event, I recently found a speech given by Scruton two years ago, “An Englishman Looks at American Conservatism in the New Century.” In the course of the speech Scruton says that

the underlying purpose of left-wing argument is not to conserve existing things but to destroy them. It is always so much easier to find arguments against the imperfect customs of human society than arguments in favour of them, and so much easier to posture as the virtuous champion of the underdog than as the prudent defender of social hierarchy and other such ‘permanent things’.

What is neo-conservatism, really? Here is Scruton’s take:

When Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter and Gertrude Himmelfarb first staked out what came to be known as the neo-conservative position it was very obviously an attempt to repossess the European cultural inheritance, and to reaffirm for a secular community the moral values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It was a belated endorsement of the culture that was taken so much for granted by the Founding Fathers that it never occurred to them to make explicit that the Constitution was premised on it.

He talks about conservatism, American foreign policy, and the war in Iraq:

For me, the true conservative approach in international relations is that adopted by the paleo-conservatives – namely to do whatever is required by the national interest, but to leave others to their fate. However, I also think that leaving others to their fate is not always in the national interest. The September 11th attacks awoke America to the existence of enemies that it had neglected to uncover and therefore failed to destroy. Whether it was right or wrong to invade Iraq, I believe that the motive for the invasion was one that all conservatives – whether neo or paleo, American or European – could endorse, namely a perception that the national interest required it. That perception may have been wrong. But it was not so obviously wrong that a responsible president could merely choose to ignore it – as Mr. Clinton chose to ignore the persistent threats from al-Qa’eda during his presidency.

The difficulty for American foreign policy is that America is always held to a much higher standard than any other country. To be precise, America is required always to have some other motive than self-interest when it goes to war, and is therefore compelled – in the forum of world opinion – to justify its belligerence in terms of benefits conferred on others. We invaded Iraq, the President will find himself saying, in order to bring law, rights and democracy to a people which had suffered under tyranny. We will do what is necessary to confer these benefits, and then we will withdraw. It is somehow not acceptable to world opinion – though it would be perfectly acceptable to me, as an English conservative – for the President to say ‘we invaded Iraq in order to destroy a tyrant who presented a real threat to our security. Having destroyed him we will leave, and allow Iraqis to get on with their lives’. It is not American conservatism that has led to a foreign policy of democratic internationalism, but the tyranny of liberal opinion, which won’t allow to America what every other country claims by right, namely, the freedom to make war in the national interest. America is allowed to make war, but only in the international interest, as this is defined by liberals.

As for “world opinion”:

As the world’s most successful country, the place where almost all its critics want to live and whose generosity all its enemies are determined to enjoy, America occupies a large place in the envy and aspiration of the world’s people. Americans believe that people will therefore love them. In fact it means that people will hate them. Human nature is so framed that, unless rescued by a large dose of humility, people will hate those who possess what they covet. They will destroy what they cannot create. And the sight of freedoms enjoyed by a people who seem to have no special entitlement to them, other than being born in the right place at the right time, gets up the nose of snobs, failures and fanatics everywhere.

Toward the end, Scruton returns to the meaning of “conservatism”:

Conservatism, as I understand it, means maintenance of the social ecology. Individual freedom is a part of that ecology, since without it social organisms cannot adapt. But freedom is not the sole or the true goal of politics. Conservatism and conservation are in fact two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources. These resources include the social capital embodied in laws, customs and institutions; it also includes the material capital contained in the environment, and the economic capital contained in a free but law-governed economy. The purpose of politics, in my view, is not to rearrange society in the interests of some over-arching vision or ideal, such as equality, liberty or fraternity. It is to maintain a vigilant resistance to the entropic forces that erode our social and ecological inheritance. The goal is to pass on to future generations, and if possible to enhance, the order and equilibrium of which we are the temporary trustees.

Agree with Scruton or not, you will learn from him. You will learn not just because he sometimes supplies arguments that buttress your beliefs, but also because he challenges your beliefs and forces you to consider them more carefully.

The Greenwald Saga

Nine days ago I made a modest effort to address one of Glenn Greenwald’s many polemical effusions. But Greenwald has been up to a lot more than Left-wing propagandizing. Patterico has the full story, here. That’s all I’ll say. Go there, and enjoy.