Jonah Goldberg Searches His Conservative Soul

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Jonah Goldberg reviews Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul in the most recent National Review, and I had a few chuckles at this line:

Once a voice of restraint and reason, Sullivan now specializes in shrill panic: mercurial ranting full of operatic arguments, steeped in bad faith, aimed at people he once praised (including yours truly). Agreement with Sullivan bespeaks courageous enlightenment, disagreement advertises that you are a knave or ideological lickspittle.

Live by the shrill, die by the shrill, Jonah. I like Sullivan, and his writing has many virtues, but as I'm scarcely the first to note, the sense of doubt and fallibilism he's now advocating as central to conservatism has not always been one of them. When he was a booster for this administration and the Iraq war, Andrew was (in print, if not in person) at least as willing to suppose that people who disagreed were moral dunces at best, a threat to civilization itself at worst. He hasn't changed styles; he's changed sides.

As for the main argument of the book, Goldberg has two main beefs. The first is that "evil is rarely defeated by people who are unsure they are right," which Goldberg takes to mean that a "conservatism of doubt" will be too anemic to combat the enemies of liberal modernity: He mocks the idea of a "serious political movement" founded on the slogan "We're not sure!" But I think this misapprehends one paradoxical aspect of the relationship between doubt and confidence. I know, for example, that science proceeds haltingly, that its conclusions are always open to revision, and indeed, that many of the scientific beliefs of the past have been either rejected or developed to accommodate new facts. And this is precisely why I can be so confident in the scientific enterprise in the aggregate: Because I know there are scores of intelligent and skeptical researchers constantly testing and refining its conclusions. I can be fanatical in my defense of liberal societies, not because (like Islamists) I'm sure they have discovered the One Best Way of Life, but because they embody a process that allows fallible people to seek continual improvement.

Second, Jonah takes issue with Andrew's "divinization of conscience," which he casts as an arrogant rejection of tradition. And this brings us back to what I regard as the misreading of Hayek that keeps Jonah in the conservative camp—a point that Nick Gillespie tried to make when they debated a few months back, but I don't think Jonah fully grokked. First, to say we should "rely on tradition" doesn't actually relieve us of the responsibility for making our own moral judgments, for much the same reason the argument that the argument that we need religious texts as a guide to morality doesn't go through. There are multiple traditions to choose from, and multiple strains within each tradition, so an apparent "deference to tradition" always still involves the exercise of one's own judgment. (In the same way that you may outsource your health decisions to a doctor, but you're still responsible for finding a wise doctor.) Moreover, recall that Hayek's argument is meant to show why tradition's evolved rules are likely to produce better results than a wholesale constructivist rationalism. But this argument actually depends on people making use of critical reason, which is quite different. In effect, Jonah wants to say: Look what cultural evolution has produced—great, freeze it! But evolution works because of mutation, variation, and selection, and it's still going on. A tradition that can't accommodate that kind of variation is unlikely to stay adaptive for long.

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  1. Julian: remind me not to team up with you in a spelling bee.

  2. Great post, Julian.

  3. The minute I opened my copy of NR and saw that Jonah reviewed Andrew Sullivan’s work, I knew I was in for an enjoyable read.

  4. I used to read Sullivan’s blog and checked in on it recently. It’s now full of remorse and outrage over the Iraq War, but without a whisper of contrition for the opponents he smeared as cowards and terrorist sympathizers back in the day. “Live by the shrill, die by the shrill” just about sums it up.

    Sullivan isn’t dumb, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on someone who at least is capable of changing his views upon new evidence. But he fails to turn his criticism back upon himself. The Iraq War was a very unconservative venture based on pie-in-the-sky “we can remake the world!” ideas and a like-minded, if somewhat darker, assertion that the US “needed to make an example of someone.” Genuine conservatives recoiled with horror; Sullivan eagerly lined up with the neocons.

    Now he wants to sweep it under the rug with the sad reflection that he was deceived, but others weren’t, and I think he and the other rethinkers have something to prove when the Crusade to Liberate Iran From/With Nuclear Weapons gathers steam.

  5. Let’s face it: given that half of National Review’s Corner is devoted to taking childish potshots at Sullivan, is there a person in the world who really thinks Jonah sat down and thought about the book he was reading, let alone did more than skim it?

    Jonah is pretty much the epitome of what Sullivan is talking about: a guy who cannot think off the rails of his ideology.

  6. Well, the best you can say Jonah nowadays is that he is no K-Lo. My god, the knee-jerk authoritarians are bad enough over there, but having some clueless, fetus-obsessed dimbulb pour out her Catholic schoolgirl fantasies post after post is mindnumbing. Does she have her vibrator on every time she posts about Santorum or Romney? Either that or there is a bumblebee on the loose.

    And, no, “Catholic schoolgirl fantasies” is not a good thing in this context.

  7. I agree plunge. JG is a party hack. Great points on Hayek and tradition Julian. Not even Burke thought we had to always defer to tradition. It strikes me that capitalism is the happy medium: it cannot get too far away from tradition (one must be, to some degre, in touch with your society to do well in business) but it provides incentives to push the envelopes in ways.

  8. living in the past is not the same as standing on the shoulders of giants…we’re all smarter looking at history, but at the time Iraq was a threat, most (both public polled and intelligence agencies engaged) thought Iraq was a threat…it was the means of dealing with the perceived threat that nearly eveyone supported at the time…we’re all so much smarter now.

  9. Well, Julian, if you needed redemption from the post which has by now surely topped over 400 comments, this accomplished that.

    The current strain of political thought which bears the label of “conservatism” bears only the slightest resemblance to the philosophy that got my attention as a teenager. I think that Goldberg (and many other of the National Review conservatives) have taken too literally William Buckley’s message in his founding statement of NR

    Let’s Face it: Unlike Vienna, it seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it. The launching of a conservative weekly journal of opinion in a country widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather like publishing a royalist weekly within the walls of Buckingham Palace. It is not that of course; if National Review is superfluous, it is so for very different reasons: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.

    I’d say that in a sense reason is more the intellectual heir to Buckley than National Review is, because reason looks to learn from the mistakes of the past, rather than say “if only we had done this better, it would have worked.” Perhaps I’m being naive, or arrogant, or both, but the reason I am a libertarian is because I can look at the mistakes of the past, and see that while governments have come and gone, civilization has still progressed, and it is because of individuals, not governments, that progress has been achieved.

    Look at the last 6 years of the United States, and see how many mistakes have been made that could have been avoided. No country has ever been forcibly transformed into a liberal democracy, but the neocons said “we are smart enough to do it.” A Buckley conservative would have realized instantly the folly of the Bush adminstration’s stated goals for Iraq. Sadly, Mr. Buckley himself lost his way at the beginning of the war, but seems to have regained his footing after realizing the folly of this endeavor.

    Regardless of Mr. Buckley’s failings, though, the fact remains that he is a thinker, which is not something that can be said for the current bunch of sycophants at National Review. There was a time in high school (we’re talking the late 80’s here) where during research projects, I would take a break in the library to pull issues of both National Review and The New Republic from the shelves and immerse myself in fascinating political thought. Both magazines are now pretty much void in that area.

  10. By the way, I emphatically exclude John Derbyshire from the sycophant tag I placed on the National Review staff. Derbyshire has never shrunk from admitting his prejudices, and how they have colored his views in a way that I know is distasteful to libertarians. Still, he is a free thinker, and while I certainly don’t agree with him always, I find his views thought-provoking and insightful.

  11. Derbyshire is a totally different animal. How long will they tolerate him? Now he even comes out and calls the God Bullshit bullshit–that can’t be allowed indefinitely.

  12. Jonah Goldberg the author of: Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton.

    This shithead is calling Andrew Sullivan, “mercurial ranting full of operatic arguments, steeped in bad faith”.

  13. “Shrill” is a term that conservatives use when describing women who disagree with them, homosexuals who disagree with them, or heterosexual men whom they wish to portray as being like women or homosexuals.

  14. Kathryn Jean Lopez, Adam W.

    Best know for writing about the bulge in George Bush’s flight suit.

  15. There never was anything “conservative” about the war in Iraq; an insane experiment in social engineering gone bad. So under Clinton Federal payroll decreased by 200,000. Under Bush it’s up 79,000. So where is the conservative in this conservative?

  16. douglas,

    The first clue was when Bush 2 began calling himself a “compassionate conservative”. I suppose there’s a punchline there (the word “oxymoron” will certainly come to the mind of some), but our current president is no conservative by any definition of the term.

  17. joe,

    “Shrill” could also quite aptly be used to describe the tone liberals take when discussing black conservatives, homosexual conservatives, etc. Note that I said “also”, because sadly the current generation of scare-quote “conservatives” fit the description you give.

  18. Espcially female and gay liberals, right, jf?

    S”hrill: Of voice, sound: Of a sharp high-pitched piercing tone”

    But it’s not woman- and gay-bashing, jf. That’s really how Democrats sound when they say things you don’t like.

  19. joe,

    Quit putting words in my mouth, and quit creating strawmen, too. If you can’t accept that liberal Democrats have a plantation mentality when it comes to women, blacks, and gays, nothing I can say will change your mind. However, if you are willing to admit that liberal blogs (just to give an example, because the Democratic party they act as a proxy for does the same) routinely savage any woman/gay/black who dares be openly conservative, maybe we can have a dialog.

    And I noticed you conveniently ignored my repudiation of the current batch of so-called conservatives. Perhaps you should read what I type, rather than listen to the jf in your head (ok, that was a guilty little pleasure: I’ve always wanted to type that).

  20. “However, if you are willing to admit that liberal blogs (just to give an example, because the Democratic party they act as a proxy for does the same) routinely savage any woman/gay/black who dares be openly conservative, maybe we can have a dialog.”

    Riiiiiight. Because liberal blogs are otherwise so gentle about non-woman/gay/black conservatives….

    Maybe the reason woman/gay/blacks still seem to prefer Dems even with their supposed “plantation mentality”(a pretty vile accusation of course) is because Democrats at least seem to care about issues relevant to woman/gay/blacks… as opposed to mostly just wanting to kick them off the plantation entirely.

  21. plunge,

    Maybe the reason woman/gay/blacks still seem to prefer Dems even with their supposed “plantation mentality”(a pretty vile accusation of course) is because Democrats at least seem to care about issues relevant to woman/gay/blacks… as opposed to mostly just wanting to kick them off the plantation entirely.

    I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. If, for example, the conservative view (which coincides with the libertarian view) is that affirmative action is destructive, that justifies liberals vilifying any black (Ward Connelly and Walter Williams come to mind) who agrees?

  22. As for the main argument of the book, Goldberg has two main beefs. The first is that “evil is rarely defeated by people who are unsure they are right,” which Goldberg takes to mean that a “conservatism of doubt” will be too anemic to combat the enemies of liberal modernity: He mocks the idea of a “serious political movement” founded on the slogan “We’re not sure!”

    Didn’t he notice that one of the common characteristics of evil is that it’s certain that it’s right?

  23. Also, FWIW, plunge, I didn’t want this to turn into some bullshit Republican vs. Democrat argument, because neither party is worth a shit when it comes to issues of equality, fairness, etc. Sure, the Dems talk a good game, but how can it be that after 40 years of Great Society tinkering blacks are still ending up in prison at such a high rate compared to whites? Repub policies in the last 12 years certainly haven’t helped, but we’re looking at stats that go back to the Johnson administration.

    The fact is that there is no government fix to any inequality that exists in this country, whether it’s “glass ceilings”, race discrimination, or gay rights. People have to change, and they will, but as long as liberals keep playing identity politics (and pay attention, because this next part is important), and the fake-conservatives controlling the Republican party continue to take the opposite stance of liberals for political reasons, no progress will be made in this country.

  24. Mad magazine needs to create a new series titled “Pundits v. Pundit.” 🙂

  25. As for the main argument of the book, Goldberg has two main beefs. The first is that “evil is rarely defeated by people who are unsure they are right,” which Goldberg takes to mean that a “conservatism of doubt” will be too anemic to combat the enemies of liberal modernity: He mocks the idea of a “serious political movement” founded on the slogan “We’re not sure!”

    What are the odds of success if conservativism won’t change course–even when it’s barkin’ up the wrong tree?

    I like Sullivan, and his writing has many virtues, but as I’m scarcely the first to note, the sense of doubt and fallibilism he’s now advocating as central to conservatism has not always been one of them.

    I’ve come to think of myself as a champion of fallibilism, at least as I understand it.

    Isn’t it the time tested scrutiny of history that lends the thinking conservative his sense of decisiveness? Isn’t “It’s been done that way for years.” another way of saying, “My old way of doing things, unlike yours, has been heavily scrutinized.”? …that smacks of fallibilism to me if by fallibilism we mean, among other things, that the more something is scrutinized the more likely it is to be true.

    …and there’s a big difference, which I’m not sure Goldberg appreciates in this context, between being amenable to scrutiny and being indecisive. Heavy scrutiny and the knowledge that one can change course later makes a thinking person more decisive, not less so.

  26. “If, for example, the conservative view (which coincides with the libertarian view) is that affirmative action is destructive, that justifies liberals vilifying any black (Ward Connelly and Walter Williams come to mind) who agrees?”

    I disagree with your claim that they are especially vilified, over conservatives in general. You can find a few fringe verbal potshots that play on their race, but boo hoo. You can find potshots taken at everyone.

    I’m not a big fan of affirmative action myself. But the idea that it or “identity politics” are what’s causing African American poverty is just patently ridiculous, not to mention self-serving. Yes, it’s not ANYTHING to do with history, or social situations, or instititutions. Every black baby is born into a blank slate with just as much chance as Paris Hilton and V.I. Newhouse to succeed, but unfortunately they see Jesse Jackson on Tv, and just out of the blue choose to be poor.

    Yes, fantastic analysis there pardner. And conservatives wonder why more of them aren’t represented in universities…

  27. Julian:

    First, to say we should “rely on tradition” doesn’t actually relieve us of the responsibility for making our own moral judgments, for much the same reason the argument that the argument that we need religious texts as a guide to morality doesn’t go through.

    This is a dishonest reading as Goldberg himself states in the same article:

    Also, Sullivan would have us believe in an either/or choice: conscience or fundamentalist servitude. This is a false choice, one not found in American conservatism. Conscience is important, but conscience must be informed – not dictated to – by institutions, religion, tradition, and, of course, reason.

  28. No country has ever been forcibly transformed into a liberal democracy…

    japan and germany, to name two off the top of my head.

  29. Yes, it’s not ANYTHING to do with history, or social situations, or instititutions. Every black baby is born into a blank slate with just as much chance as Paris Hilton and V.I. Newhouse to succeed, but unfortunately they see Jesse Jackson on Tv, and just out of the blue choose to be poor.

    I would say this is closer to the truth than the sob story liberals like to put out. Like it or not, in the early 21st century what a black person does is more (if not significantly more) important to their success than what is done to them. I’m not saying there’s no racism anymore, or wealth inequalities, or an ugly history to live down, but by and large the things that keep most poor blacks down are the destructive attitudes and behaviors that better-off blacks have chosen not to emulate.

  30. Right, the old “anyone born into any kind of situation has an equal chance of succeeding” idea.

    Which, sadly, is the sort of self-comforting bullshit that allows one to wash away the need for any further thought.

    Put simply, ones environment and opportunities have a GREAT DEAL to do with shaping not only their possibilities in life, but ALSO their “attitudes and behaviors.” The idea of people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple applies here.

  31. Didn’t he notice that one of the common characteristics of evil is that it’s certain that it’s right?

    I’d say, “one of the universal characteristics of evil is that it’s certain that it’s right?

  32. Alright plunge, I’ll concede that where and how you’re raised has an effect on your attitudes and behaviors. That’s beyond common sense. But at what point do people take responsibility and rise above their beginnings? Or should they spend their whole life crying about their situations, passing along their unproductive thoughts and habits to their children and relying on the paternalistic, patronizing benevolence of people like you?

  33. What about the paternalistic, patronizing benevolence of people like you, andy, or jf, who want liberal to go easier on conservatives who are black or gay than on other conservatives?

    plunge has said nothing – zero, zip, nada – that remotely justifies the charge of paternalism. Economic and social inequality don’t produce unequal outcomes because people notice that they exist; they produce unequal outcomes all by themselves. That’s not paternalism, it’s just a recognition of reality.

  34. Ok, can someone fill me in on how Churchill, FDR, and Harry Truman (the last Democrat who was worth a damn) defeated the Axis powers with sense of trepidation?
    -jcr

  35. japan and germany, to name two off the top of my head.

    This comparison always annoys me. Before we turned Japan and Germany into liberal democracies, we conquered them in an all-out war that had broad popular support (in Germany and Japan, I mean), wiped out popular governments, and dropped the only nuclear weapons ever used in a theater of war. We had troops in both countries not for counter-insurgency but to make sure everyone, government and civilians, knew who was boss. Those transitions from totalitarianism to democracy were forced onto conquered populations at gunpoint.

    Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that – it worked, and if any nations in history ever had conquest coming to them, the Axis powers did. But the population of Iraq is not conquered (we were very clear about that when we went in – the war was against Saddam, not the Iraqi nation as a whole), and and we were never going to have a MacArthur-like figure rule the country with an iron fist until democracy was in place and legitimized. The comparison doesn’t fly. What we were trying to do was force democracy into a non-democratic country without actually using force to do that part of the job.

  36. Ok, can someone fill me in on how Churchill, FDR, and Harry Truman (the last Democrat who was worth a damn) defeated the Axis powers with sense of trepidation?

    The degree of uncertainty drops dramatically when it comes to self-defense.

    Even the reasons given for the Iraq War, preventing WMD and spreading Democracy, were presented in terms of self-defense. …and my sense is that the degree to which a person bought those arguments as arguments of self-defense, generally speaking, was the degree to which that person supported the Iraq War. How many people would have supported the Iraq minus phony pictures of mobile WMD labs and the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein was complicit in 9/11?

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2003-09-06-poll-iraq_x.htm

    Indeed, I think it was the uncertainty about those claims that kept the occupation of Iraq from enjoying the kind of support given our efforts in Afghanistan. …but there was little uncertainty about who attacked Pearl Harbor or who was bombing London.

    There are degrees of certainty.

  37. joe,

    Pointing out that liberals are harder on black and homosexual conservatives than other conservatives is not the same thing as saying that liberals should go easier on them simply because of their race/sexual preference. Please stop rewording what I say to fit your mindset of what you think I’m saying.

  38. Ok, can someone fill me in on how Churchill, FDR, and Harry Truman (the last Democrat who was worth a damn) defeated the Axis powers with sense of trepidation?

    I think the contrast we’re looking at is between Hitler, who was so sure he was always right he wouldn’t listen to his generals or allow them to make major decisions, and Churchill, who was humble enough to know he didn’t know all the answers, and did listen.

    It’s the difference between libertarians who say, “I like vanilla, but if you think chocolate is better it’s your decision to make” and conservatives and liberals who say, “Butterscotch is the best flavor so we need to outlaw chocolate and vanilla so people will make the right decision.”

    Maybe the reason woman/gay/blacks still seem to prefer Dems even with their supposed “plantation mentality”(a pretty vile accusation of course) is because Democrats at least seem to care about issues relevant to woman/gay/blacks… as opposed to mostly just wanting to kick them off the plantation entirely.

    This is the kind of statement that supports jf’s position. It presupposes that people who are female/gay/black support Democrats and primarily care about issues liberals consider relevant to them.

    When the liberals run into female/gay/black gun owners, for instance, they are labeled as “not really ” because they disagree with the approved Democratic position.

    Of course the conservative religious Republicans engage in the same bigotry, labelling anyone who is pro-choice or pro-gay “not really Christian.”

    Which is why I’m libertarian.

  39. japan and germany, to name two off the top of my head.

    Germany was a democracy before the Nazi party took over. We simply restored it in (western) Germany. And I would argue that Japan is not and has never been a democracy in the western sense. After all, how many political parties have held power in Japan since the end of the occupation?

  40. Yes, APL, and I used to fall into the same trap before people on this very board set me straight. Germany’s liberal democracy was merely restored (of course, only in the Allied-controlled sections) and Japan had been on the path to a liberal democracy since the Meiji Restoration.

  41. david, i would agree with you. that’s why the project was doomed- we were not willing to truly conquer.

    i love the notion of pre-hitler germany being described as a liberal democracy. the spinning sound you hear emanates from the kaiser’s grave.

  42. Agreed, but the catch-22 comes in in the fact that if we had committed to “true conquest,” the war would never have gotten off the ground – for good reason. There was never a case that the citizens of Iraq were a threat to the US or needed to be subdued, other than that the invasion and its aftereffects would serve to radicalize them. And if the administration had used that argument, support for the war would have been rather thin on the ground.

  43. again, agreed. i supported the war to the point where saddam was out of power and the elections were held. after that, it’s none of our business what a mess the iraqis make out of their own country (the derbyshire argument). with saddam gone, they could not be a threat to us. we’re only there because of the same governmental hubris that causes them to try to run our lives, too.

  44. “But at what point do people take responsibility and rise above their beginnings?”

    This sentence makes no sense: its basic incoherency seems to stem from the non-idea of free will. Everyone is simultaneously responsible for their actions AND we as outsiders can see that their choices a product of who they are (which is in part a factor of their genetics, upbringing, etc).

    “Or should they spend their whole life crying about their situations, passing along their unproductive thoughts and habits to their children and relying on the paternalistic, patronizing benevolence of people like you?”

    Wow: you can make up things I never said. Congrats!

    Of course everyone should be encouraged to try as hard as they can to improve their situations. But the fact is, at the SAME TIME, we can all realize that massive poverty is not some consequence solely of moral perfidy.

  45. Live by the shrill, die by the shrill, Jonah.

    Margaret Thatcher was known as “Attila the Hen” as an honorable MP, even after voice lessons to unshrill her voice.

    Then there’s Hillary http://rhhardin.home.mindspring.com/imuscut.hillaryrush.ram “big time shrinkage” and “reminds me of my first wife”

    It’s brought up by questions of the female nature, the interchangeability of two mouths, and the inside becoming outside, according to Anne Carson’s reading of the Greek.

  46. “This sentence makes no sense: its basic incoherency seems to stem from the non-idea of free will. Everyone is simultaneously responsible for their actions AND we as outsiders can see that their choices a product of who they are (which is in part a factor of their genetics, upbringing, etc).”

    You know what I mean. If someone beats their kid we don’t let them off just because they themselves were beaten as a child. Yes it’s horrible they were maltreated but they still have the responsibility not to do the same to your kid. Just because someone’s parents never acted responsibly and passed on negative values to their children, the kids still need to get over that upon reaching adulthood.

  47. edna,

    Re:Pre-WWII German liberal democracy

    You might consider acquainting yourself with the Weimar Republic. Despite the fact that Germany was in near-constant instability between 1919 and 1933, that country had actually established a liberal democracy, which unfortunately was the key to Hitler and the National Socialists gaining power.

  48. plunge,

    Wow: you can make up things I never said. Congrats!

    Let’s see if you have been guilty of the same thing.

    But the idea that it or “identity politics” are what’s causing African American poverty is just patently ridiculous, not to mention self-serving.

    Searching through the thread, I see…

    I never said anything remotely resembling that. I will, however, quote what I think you think I said that meant that, and bold the part you seem to have missed:

    People have to change, and they will, but as long as liberals keep playing identity politics (and pay attention, because this next part is important), and the fake-conservatives controlling the Republican party continue to take the opposite stance of liberals for political reasons, no progress will be made in this country.

    As long as “identity politics” is nothing more than a power play in this country, you aren’t going to see any of the current inequalities erased. Do you disagree with that statement?

  49. Today’s “conservatives” are futile, impotent and, culturally, dead. They have nothing to offer and can achieve nothing. They can only help to destroy intellectual standards, to disintegrate thought, to discredit capitalism, and to accelerate this country’s uncontested collapse into despair and dictatorship.

    -Ayn Rand
    “Conservatism: An Obituary” (1960)

  50. Obituary? From Ayn Rand, a more appropriate title would be “An O-BITCH-uary”.

    Because she was a major bitch.

  51. jf, thanks. i’m pretty familiar with weimar, a very short interregnum. i could argue that the very briefness and instability of weimar demonstrates my point. the “forced” liberal democracy has been far more stable and actually lasted.

  52. would like to see an evolution beyond the two party system where the only thing that changes is which lobbyists the congressmen are getting bribed by.

  53. The point, edna, is that the “forced” liberal democracy in post-World War II Germany and Japan was the restoration of existing democratic/parliamentary/republican systems, not the introduction of a republic where it had never existed before, and where there had never been any republican institutions or popular support for republicanism to build from. Germany and Japan both had those. Iraq didn’t.

    The key variable here isn’t the use of force, but the involvement of locals who were already on board with a democratic republic.

  54. “Japan and Germany”

    It’s crazy to equate the democratizing of these two nations with the efforts in Iraq for the reasons already enumerated here by other posters, namely, these two countries were first defeated in a conventional war, their political leaders had, crucially, SURRENDERED, and the political ideologies that had led them into war were completely bankrupt by 1945. But, if you want to bolster the Iraq invasion by reference to success in Germany and Japan, it’s worth remembering that in both cases there had been a huge effort to develop a Phase 4 plan in preparation for defeating these countries- the thing that Rumsfeld famously regarded as unnecessary.

  55. “The point, edna, is that the “forced” liberal democracy in post-World War II Germany and Japan was the restoration of existing democratic/parliamentary/republican systems, not the introduction of a republic where it had never existed before, and where there had never been any republican institutions or popular support for republicanism to build from. Germany and Japan both had those. Iraq didn’t.”

    You’re on shaky ground, Joe, when you suggest that democracy was reestablished in Japan and that Iraq had no historical experience of one.
    Japan under Meiji, Taisho and Showa (Hirohito) was not a democracy in the way that Weimar or England or the US were at the time. Meiji’s constitution gave the emperor autocratic powers which the monarch in England, for example, could never have had in those days. Also the whole system was controlled by the powerful genro, unelected elites. There was a brief movement towards establishing real democracy during the Taisho era (1912-1926) and it is historically known as the Taisho democracy movement. The movement capitalised at the time on the weakness of the country’s emperor, who was very ill. It was quickly put paid to when Hirohito came to power. It’s worth bearing in mind that until 1945 the emperor was believed to be divine. Hirohito had to publicly renounce his divinity in order to become a constitutional figurehead in MacArthur’s Japan.
    You could draw parallels between the Taisho democracy movement and democracy movements in Iraq in the years 1945-58. Also, let’s not forget how much the homogeneity of the societies in Germany and Japan facilitated the allies in their post-invasion plans. Compare that to the democracy efforts in Iraq at the same time, which were undermined by ethnic and sectarian vying and loyalties among other reasons. Of course, the same thing is happening in Iraq today.

  56. But, if you want to bolster the Iraq invasion by reference to success in Germany and Japan…

    i’m searching through posts trying to see who has advocated that position. apparently no one has. so what’s your point?

  57. “As long as “identity politics” is nothing more than a power play in this country, you aren’t going to see any of the current inequalities erased. Do you disagree with that statement?”

    Yes. But how can you claim I misinterpreted you when you basically just restated my point again?

    You are asserting that “identity politics” is ITSELF the reason for inequality/barrier from ending it! As if the crack-baby son of a single mother on heroin in the inner city doesn’t rise to become a clean cut investment banker JUST because he spends too much time reading the views of the New York Times on race.

  58. To add to the comment about how Japan and Germany differed from Iraq I would also say that those two nations, especially the former, had basically made up and recent cult religions that were shoved onto the people, whereas in Iraq we’re dealing with a deeply ingrained and fundamentalistic Islam, that has been passed on from generation to generation for centuries, with little to no friendliness towards liberalism.

  59. Edna, the “you” in that sentence of mine wasn’t directed at any particular poster. I hadn’t even taken note of the name of the person who responded to another poster’s claim that liberal democracy had never been “forcibly imposed” on a nation. I now see it was you who first brought up Japan and Germany. I was responding to the often used argument by defenders of the Iraq invasion and believers in its ultimate success that the same thing was done in Japan and Germany post-1945. My “point” in posting was to explore the limitations of such an analogy.

  60. I think a high school debate class caught hold of this thread and won’t let go . . .

  61. As long as “identity politics” is nothing more than a power play in this country, you aren’t going to see any of the current inequalities erased. Do you disagree with that statement?

    Inequalities are a fact of life. We differ from liberals in that we don’t look for men with guns to solve all the world’s problems.

    Every country in the world that has more then one race or ethnic group has some groups richer and more successful then others and some that are poorer and more crime prone. Government trying to fix it is generally a bad thing.

    Put it this way. I would have more success with the opposite sex if I looked like Brad Pitt. I don’t though, and that is a fact of life to be accepted. I take care of myself, work out, etc. I don’t form a lobby group with other average looking men pushing for the government to pay for our plastic surgery or to go around disfiguring movie stars.

    The “problem” is a fact of life and the “solution” only occurs with a huge intrusion of government into our business.

    Thomas Sowell wrote a book called “Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study”. Among other things he makes the observation that ever since affirmative action (and welfare) was implemented teenage pregnancy, crime and drug use among African Americans has soared. More have climbed out of poverty but that was a trend that started long before LBJ’s aministration.

    Its easy for anyone who has taken an introductory to economics course to see why. You start paying poor women for each baby you get more poor women with babies. You pay people not to work and you get more people not working. Send them the message that they’re victims always needed to be coddled and people start behaving like it.

    The indisputable conclusion is that the problems blacks have are not a legacy of slavery but a legacy of the welfare state.

  62. PG, my earlier point was that it could perhaps be possible to redirect iraq down the path of liberal democracy, but that it would take real conquering to do so. that’s neither in our national interest nor morally acceptable. once saddam was deposed and the country brought to an election, they could do it for themselves or not. we have no business doing it for them.

    and even if one believes that we do, the cost would be frightful. david pryce-jones’s conclusion in “the closed circle” is remarkably prescient.

  63. If you think the economic and social inequalities between black and white people in this country are as innate and unalterable as the difference between your looks and those of Brad Pitt, you’re part of the problem.

  64. If you think the economic and social inequalities between black and white people in this country are as innate and unalterable as the difference between your looks and those of Brad Pitt, you’re part of the problem.

    Thank you for providing an example of another one of Sowell’s points.

    When liberals are confronted with facts or logic, don’t respond to it. Just claim that the other side is not as compassionate as you and shout them down. Claim to be for “fairness” and “equality” and you’ll never lose an argument.

  65. It’s so pathetic to watch oh-so-hip HnR-ers play whack-a-mole with every mention of Ayn Rand to establish their anti-Objectivist street cred.

  66. Sodee pop:

    I don’t think Japan’s cult religion was “recently made up” at the time of WWII.

  67. Graphite –

    Well, there’s nothing wrong with a Rand quote here and there; she said things from time to time that made good sense. But if it’s just despicably hip to think Objectivism is on the whole pretty damn silly, then I’m hip as a byproduct of not being completely insane.

  68. I think Julian, and some of the posters here, are misreading Jonah’s argument.

    Reason must be informed, otherwise it’s a “catch-all” for doing whatever you want, so long as your individual consciences aren’t bothered…too much.

    As for Mr. Sullivan, he is hyperbolic, and if the only thing that is giving him greater “Hit-and-Run” cred is the title of his book, versus Jonah’s and even Ramesh Ponnuru’s, then the folks here at Hit-and-Run are really missing the argument.

    Do a cursory search at National Review Online (with whom I’ve had some differences from time-to-time), keying in “Andrew Sullivan” and Ramesh Ponnuru, and then search Sullivan’s sites (old and Time.com), and then you tell me, in honesty, who’s calling names and who’s trying to argue honestly (and, naturally, Sullivan does it to Goldberg as well).

    Sullivan’s a great thinker, but it doesn’t mean he’s the best. He’s far inferior (but, then, most people are, in my opinion) to Ramesh Ponnuru, both stylistically and, interestingly, in PRECISION of thought.

    Case in point: at least Jonah READ Andrew’s book (critically, to be sure); Andrew, to my knowledge, hasn’t (or, hasn’t acknowledged) that he’s read Ramesh’s book. But, he still lies about Ponnuru at a conference Ponnuru attended (which Sullivan didn’t), and he quotes e-mails from people who claimed to have gone to school with Ponnuru (but, no names, of course), but he won’t debate Ponnuru on the ISSUES, online or elsewhere.

    In any event, Goldberg’s analysis is quite akin to that of David Brooks’s interpretation. Simply put, Sullivan doesn’t “get” American conservatism, and he’s just mad that American conservatives don’t change-on-demand for him. And, if they won’t, he’ll slime, and smear, and misrepresent.

    Don’t tether the Libertarian label to that kind of tactic.

    Andrew Sullivan: no. Charles Murray: SI!

  69. Yeah, so judging by the below description of his upcoming book, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Jonah Goldberg really has no authority to talk about anything.

    From Amazon.com:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385511841/reasonfoundation-20/

    Book Description

    Since the rise and fall of the Nazis in the midtwentieth century, fascism has been seen as an extreme right-wing phenomenon. Liberals have kept that assumption alive, hurling accusations of fascism at their conservative opponents. LIBERAL FASCISM offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg shows that the original fascists were really on the Left and that liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism.

    Goldberg draws striking parallels between historic fascism and contemporary liberal doctrines. He argues that “political correctness” on campuses and calls for campaign finance reform echo the Nazis’ suppression of free speech; and that liberals, like their fascist forebears, dismiss the democratic process when it yields results they dislike, insist on the centralization of economic decision-making, and seek to insert the authority of the state in our private lives-from bans on smoking to gun control. Covering such hot issues as morality, anti-Semitism, science versus religion, health care, and cultural values, he boldly illustrates the resemblances between the opinions advanced by Hitler and Mussolini and the current views of the Left.

    Impeccably researched and persuasively argued, LIBERAL FASCISM will elicit howls of indignation from the liberal establishment-and rousing cheers from the Right.

  70. I’ve never really liked much of what Ramesh Ponnuru has had to say about any issue, but after I heard his voice on TV, I’ve respected him a lot less.

  71. That being said, I will say one thing positive about Ramesh and Jonah: They’re not Kathryn Jean Lopez.

  72. Chalupa,

    Describing racial injustice as the equivalent of the difference between your looks is neither factual nor logical; it is, however, deeply racist. The fact that you cannot see that attributing racial disparities to genetics is racist is your problem, not mine.

    I’m not going to pretend racism isn’t racism to spare the feelings of racists.

  73. “I don’t think Japan’s cult religion was “recently made up” at the time of WWII.”

    Dave, come to think of it, you’re right. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Japan and Germany *resurrected* (with the Nazi’s adding new twists) old folk religions and then thrust them onto the people. And from what I read, much of Shintoism and the cult of the emperor was a top down, state creation.

  74. Yeah, I just read Jonah’s response. Maybe I just misunderstood him, but it seems to me that either he didn’t get what Julian was saying or he intentionally ignored it.

  75. Describing racial injustice as the equivalent of the difference between your looks is neither factual nor logical; it is, however, deeply racist. The fact that you cannot see that attributing racial disparities to genetics is racist is your problem, not mine.

    I’m not going to pretend racism isn’t racism to spare the feelings of racists.

    Liberal debate tactic #2: Say people said stuff they didn’t and continue to pat yourself on the back for your moral superiority and compassion.

  76. Chalupa,

    As much as it pains me to take joe’s side, that was a pretty bad anology, although I’m going to stop short of calling you or it “racist.”

  77. I never understood the “tradition” argument against gay marriage. If we always gave deferrence to tradition, married women would be unable to own property and I couldn’t marry my “coloured” girlfriend, among other things. Society didn’t implode when those things became legal and I fail to see how allowing two men to marry will affect anyone else’s marriage.

  78. Ken Schultz,

    You say that Churchill, FDR, and Truman fought WW II with a great deal of certainty (lack of trepidation) because it was a war of self-defense.

    That is certainly true of Churchill, but the US was in no imminent danger of being conquered. Neither Japan nor Germany had any possibility of successfully invading the United States. And the US didn’t do much trading with the rest of the world. Had the entire western hemisphere fallen to fascism, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the day-to-day life of Americans.

    The real danger would have come many years down the road when they got nuclear weapons and guided missles. However, there was plenty of time for us to do the same. We could have wound up with a “cold war” with Germany and Japan, rather than with the Soviet Union.

    Of course, Japan had made a sneak attack on American territory and Americans were pissed and looking to kick ass, just as they were after 9/11. But that didn’t make the war one of survival.

    WW II was partly sold as a war of survival but also partly as a war of survival of “civilization” in Europe. FDR very much believed the latter are cared deeply about it. Sounds vaguely neo-conservative to me.

  79. As much as it pains me to take joe’s side, that was a pretty bad anology, although I’m going to stop short of calling you or it “racist.”

    Ok, forget the analogy if you must and address the facts about rising crime rates and break down of the family among blacks in the last 40 years.

    And if we’re going to worry about economic equality between races why not worry about economic equality of people born during the different seasons? Or people with large and short noses? Why empasise race?

  80. jf posts
    No country has ever been forcibly transformed into a liberal democracy, but the neocons said “we are smart enough to do it.”

    Does West Germany, Japan and Italy circa 1945 ring a bell. Think before you write. It’s even easier than thinking before you speak.

  81. “If we always gave deferrence to tradition, married women would be unable to own property and I couldn’t marry my “coloured” girlfriend, among other things. Society didn’t implode when those things became legal and I fail to see how allowing two men to marry will affect anyone else’s marriage.”

    How solid a “tradition” were laws against interracial marriage? Some English-speaking Protestant polities made such laws, but I am not aware of Catholic cultures (even cultures traditionally dominated by racist whites, as in Latin America) where intermarriage among different races and ethnicities was illegal (assuming no religious differences).

    It’s noteworthy that married women’s property acts were passed by state legislatures, not by courts. These laws were passed based (in large part) on specific abuses like husbands drinking away their wives’ propertly, abuses which justified some restriction on a husband’s traditional prerogatives. The laws were also based on respect for property rights — another tradition!

  82. “And if we’re going to worry about economic equality between races”

    You clearly do not understand what Affirmative Action is all about. AA is not about creating economic equality between the races… it is about providing equality of economic opportunity, (not equal economic outcomes, equal access). It is an important distinction. This is why your previous analogy is inapt for the argument.

  83. “He’s far inferior (but, then, most people are, in my opinion) to Ramesh Ponnuru”

    Wow. Y
    ou have a low opinion of most people.
    Or are you easily impressed…

    The cognitive dissonance your statement creates is impressive.

  84. Dave, Sodee Pop is pretty much correct in saying that state Shintoism was a recent creation in early 20th century Japan. Yes, it was based on Shintoism, which has a history going back to before the 5th century, but it undid the Shintoism that had developed in the intervening centuries, borrowing lots from Buddhism, and made worship of the emperors who had gone before a central part of it. It was brought in by Meiji in 1868.

  85. I just read Jonah’s response. Most of it seems fairly reasonable (even if I don’t agree with the views he expresses). However he ends with this non-sequitir:

    I can’t give you all the evidentiary and factual reasons why we shouldn’t revisit the practice of witch-burning but that’s hardly a good justification for a bold new age of social experimentation.

    How’s this for “evidentiary and factual reasons” to refrain from which burning:

    1) No convincing exist evidence for the existence of people with which-like powers.

    2) Natural causes have been identified for many phenomena previously attributed to whiches.

    3) There is substantial empirical data suggesting that those burnt to death as whiches suffer a very painful death. Reasonable people would generally consider this a violation of their rights.

    And it seems strange that he should end a post advocating “deference to tradition” with a reference to witch burning. When people stopped burning witches they were breaking with a centuries-old tradition on the basis of reasoned argument.

  86. MainstreamMan,

    You clearly do not understand what Affirmative Action is all about. AA is not about creating economic equality between the races… it is about providing equality of economic opportunity, (not equal economic outcomes, equal access). It is an important distinction.

    But perhaps, as the legal people say, a distinction without a difference. AA is based on the idea that without discrimination (and the effects of past discrimination), presently “over-represented groups” and presently “under-represented groups” would have equal outcomes. Lack of equal outcomes thus proves the need for AA, for preferential treatment of members of “under-represented grouups.” Equal outcomes shows that one is in compliance with the law.

    It seems to me that the practical effect is to require equal outcomes.

  87. But perhaps, as the legal people say, a distinction without a difference. AA is based on the idea that without discrimination (and the effects of past discrimination), presently “over-represented groups” and presently “under-represented groups” would have equal outcomes. Lack of equal outcomes thus proves the need for AA, for preferential treatment of members of “under-represented grouups.” Equal outcomes shows that one is in compliance with the law.

    It seems to me that the practical effect is to require equal outcomes.

    You beat me to it. I’ll believe AA isn’t about equality of outcome when its proponents stop using statistics about outcome to say its needed.

    And once again, for the umpteenth time, AA has been a disaster by any statistical measure.

    Laws are there to help us live and ensure our rights, not a search for cosmic justice.

  88. Damn squirrels ate my pithy response to J sub D.

  89. Well, in regards to AA, the passing of the ban on government AA in Michigan was one of the only victories for libertarians last week, especially for those of us from there who have to live with the odious Jennifer Granholm… :o—

  90. You say that Churchill, FDR, and Truman fought WW II with a great deal of certainty (lack of trepidation) because it was a war of self-defense.

    That is certainly true of Churchill, but the US was in no imminent danger of being conquered.

    We were attacked, and our allies were attacked. We declared war on the states that attacked us and our allies. The states that attacked us and our allies declared war on us.

    I’d argue that an alliance is an effective form of self-defense, but that seems a bit beside the point. We were attacked. Our allies were attacked. We defended ourselves and our allies. …end of story.

  91. Ken Schultz –

    We fought a war against Germany, which had not attacked us, tho it had declared war on us in solidarity with Japan under the “Tripartite Agreement,” for the most part far more seriously than we did against Japan.

    Sounds kind of like Iraq vs. Afghanistan.

    But wait a second – 85 percent of 1/5th of the world’s population is Sunni Muslim, making them roughly aligned with the Sunni-oriented Taliban.

    If WW2 is your example, then it would actually make more sense to go to war with all of those other Sunni Muslims first and foremost, while leaving the Taliban on the back burner, than it made to attack Germany more strongly than the Japanese who actually attacked us…

    Perhaps we should have just linked arms with the other members of the “Coalition of the Willing” and taken on the rest of the Sunni Muslim (which is where the Taliban comes from) population of the world as well?

    That sounds wicked crazy, admittedly, but it does seem a logical conclusion on parallel with your WW2 justification.

    “I’d argue that an alliance is an effective form of self-defense, but that seems a bit beside the point. We were attacked. Our allies were attacked. We defended ourselves and our allies. …end of story.” – KS

    Sounds like the embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack, Khobar towers, Madrid bombings, the attempted London bombings, etc. etc.

    So I guess the real question is why is WW2 defending ourselves and our allies and the current war somehow not?

  92. “And once again, for the umpteenth time, AA has been a disaster by any statistical measure.”

    Except for the dramtic rise of a black middle class, and the steady growth in the number of black people in positions of political and economic leadership, that have occured since affirmative action began.

  93. Ken Schultz,

    I wasn’t arguing that the US wasn’t attacked. I wasn’t arguing that various countries hadn’t declared war on us. I was arguing that WW II wasn’t a war of survival.

    The United States government could have said, “We understand that Japan feels she has greivances but war is not a productive way of resolving them. Let us declare a cease fire and then get together and work out a mutually beneficial peace.”

    Through back channels, the US government lets Germany and Japan know that it will give them a free hand in the eastern hemisphere in return for non-interference in the western (Monroe Doctrine and all that). I have little doubt that Japan and Germany would have accepted such terms.

    This would have meant the betrayal of an ally, and perhaps the triumph of fascism all over the western hemisphere. Those are moral problems but they don’t involve survival.

    FDR would never have made such an offer because, like the neo-conservatives, he thought, one, allowing fascism to triumph would be wrong, and two, it would come back to hurt us. Would it have been more hurtful than the Cold War? I don’t know, but we managed to come out of that one the most prosperous and dynamic country on the planet.

  94. Except for the dramtic rise of a black middle class, and the steady growth in the number of black people in positions of political and economic leadership, that have occured since affirmative action began.

  95. Didn’t get many comments here! We all know the Jews in Israel hate Christians almost as much as they hate Muslims. Wise up! They will use their gamma death rays on us Jesuits next.

  96. tly “under-represented groups” would have equal outcomes. Lack of equal outcomes thus proves the need for AA, for preferential treatment of members of “under-represented grouups.” Equal outcomes shows that one is in complianc

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