Friday, February 11, 2005

Happy Birthday "Bloody" Abe

Tomorrow is the Birthday of the Greatest President since Washington.

A word about my hierarchy - Washington first, then Lincoln. It is born out of my deep respect for how difficult it is the get something truly great going. In any worthy endeavor, there is a huge amount of sacrifice and "front end" investment at the beginning. How much greater were the sacrifices that it took to begin America? I don't know, but it almost HAD to be greater than any sacrifice that has kept it going. The Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the cause. In many cases, they lost their lives and / or their fortunes, but kept and validated and thus truly sacralized their "sacred honor." For this reason, I am with those who put Washington first in the hearts of his countrymen. Perhaps Washington's greatest sacrifice was his willingness to deny himself, when he was asked to become America's King and thereby set the precedent for all who followed. It was one of the greatest acts of abnegation ever recorded.

Having said that, America is a place that is being reborn and reinvented all the time. And Lincoln was the man present at our second founding. And here I am now prepared to concede something I have heretofore argued with the Neo-confederates. It now appears to me that Lincoln did, in fact, want war - that is, he was not prepared to forever compromise for peace. And that, in fact, the threshold for war with the South was much lower than the "Northern" myths of Lincoln as a kindly national grandfather could ever allow. This was a serious man, for a serious time, who made serious decisions, and did terrible, but on my view, necessary things.

"Spengler's" column last year on this subject.

February 12 is the birthday of a grim-handed killer who inflicted more casualties on his foes than anything the Russians did in Chechnya. Of course I refer to Abraham Lincoln, whom the Americans have reinvented as a kindly national paterfamilias. War ranks among the strangest forms of willful self-destruction, and America's Civil War of 1861-65 in turn ranks among the strangest of wars. Three-quarters of Southern military age men served in the Confederate ranks, and of these almost 40 percent fell. What prompted these men to cast away their lives with such abandon, and what motivated their enemies to slaughter them? ....

... Lincoln easily could have averted the war by agreeing to let the South acquire slave territories outside of the continental United States. His 1860 election victory (by a minority of votes in a four-way race) provoked a crisis. Future Confederate president Jefferson Davis supported a compromise that would have allowed the South to acquire slave territories to the south. Georgia senator Robert Toombs, along with Davis, the South's main spokesman, pleaded for the compromise that would have given the North "the whole continent to the North Pole" and the South "the whole continent to the South Pole", as Professor May reports.

It was Lincoln, not the Southerners, who shot down the compromise. "A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union ... There is in my judgment, but one compromise which would really settle the slavery question, and that would be a prohibition against acquiring any more territory," he wrote (cited in Robert May). Republicans preferred to fight ....

... A cloud of myth protects Americans from the truth about bloody Abe Lincoln. His statue sits in a mock-Greek temple like the statue of Zeus at Olympus. Chiseled into the marble are Lincoln's words to the nation weeks before the war's end, an abiding source of horror for European tourists: "Fondly do we hope - fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

It sounds like a sort of religious fanaticism that would make the mild Methodist George W Bush hide under the bed-covers. Yet that is how the Northerners sang as off to war they marched: "He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat/He is sifting out the souls of men before his judgment seat/O be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet!"

A noteworthy conclusion is that America fought the bloodiest war in its history (and a bloodier war than any in Western Europe since 1648) in order to prevent an imperialist war, that is, out of fanatical religious principle. Americans find it too painful to think about …

I am grateful to this author for his assessment of Lincoln's willingness to go to war, because it is a necessary corrective to some unmitigated bupkus recently spewed forth by a politician I dislike even more than Jimmy Carter. I can quantify my loathing of Jimmy "My initials are no accident" Carter. Having attempted to plumb the depths of my loathing for Mario Cuomo, I have yet to hit bottom. The latest outrage from this portentous, self-important featherweight is this pile of nonsense, reviewed to perfection here.
Occasionally, Cuomo's invidious use of history is not merely crafty, in the way polemical tricks often are. It can be genuinely repulsive. He reasons that because Lincoln opposed the Mexican-American war, which began in 1848, he would have opposed the invasion of Iraq, which began in 2003. "Lincoln's disinclination to go to war unless absolutely unavoidable made the notion of preemptory war abhorrent," Cuomo writes. But in an eerie coincidence, another politician of Lincoln's era did favor preemptory war. Cuomo quotes Jefferson Davis on the decision to fire on Fort Sumter: "To have awaited further strengthening of their position, with hostile purpose now declared, would have been as unwise as it would be to hesitate to strike down the arm of the assailant who levels a deadly weapon at one's breast, until he has actually fired."

Cuomo concludes: "But Lincoln's keen mind, inveterate caution, and strong aversion to violence would have insisted on inarguable proof. In the end, it is fair to say that President Bush settled for much less than that and so did Jefferson Davis." Bush had his war, just as Davis had his. And note the phrase, "it is fair to say." This Cuomo is a mean little man.

No one could make Abraham Lincoln a contemporary liberal without distorting either 2004's liberalism or 1860's Lincoln, and so the distortions of Why Lincoln Matters show up everywhere, in large matters and small. Cuomo says that "with the prescience that was another of his great gifts, Lincoln made clear that the need for government would grow as the people's interactions grew more intense," but even the scholarly Holzer, frantically thumbing his Lincoln books in the back room, can't find a quotation to support this assertion. (Conservatives have had as much trouble trying to make Lincoln a small-government man--it is fair to say.) Lincoln would have opposed "corporate welfare," Cuomo says, though this would be news to the president who signed the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, one of the most expensive government giveaways in history. Cuomo says Lincoln, like Cuomo, was a "passionate" advocate of "inclusion" and "diversity." "At the heart of his struggle and his yearning," he writes, "was always the passion to make room for the outsider and the insistence upon a commitment to respect the idea of equality by fighting for inclusion. Diversity, he said, was not a matter of discord but a bond of union."

CUOMO PRINTS THIS PASSAGE of his twice, once on page ten and then again on page ninety-six, for reasons unknown; he must think it really sings, or maybe he just forgot. In any case, you'll notice that he is deploying the words inclusion and diversity in their contemporary sense, as the cant phrases of identity politics. It should go without saying, but probably doesn't, that Lincoln didn't understand inclusion and diversity in this way. Identity politics--like raising the minimum wage, tightening environmental laws, subsidizing stem-cell research, or any number of policies Cuomo would force upon him--simply didn't occur to him. At the risk of pedantry, I'll point out that Lincoln scarcely used this "language of inclusion" at all. The Collected Works contains one use by Lincoln of the word inclusion, five of diversity, and then only in two senses: diversity of opinion, and the diversity of local governmental arrangements that federalism encourages (not one of Mario Cuomo's pet causes). Next to Mario, Shannon Jones begins to appear as a model of historical modesty.

Every once in a while, junior partner Cuomo hitches up his trousers and walks right into Old Man Lincoln's office and gives him what fer. It's not pretty but it has to be done. These are revealing moments. There are the unhappy matters of Lincoln's many recorded racist remarks and his problematic suspension of various civil rights during the Civil War. "Notwithstanding Lincoln's clever attempts at exculpation," Cuomo writes, "I still wish the great Lincoln had stood by the Constitution despite the strong temptation not to. . . . His transgressions during the war were political heresy, a heresy that made it easier for later presidents, including FDR and George W. Bush, to put aside the law for convenience sake." Ah, Bush. Quickly Cuomo regains the firmer ground. It may be that President Lincoln shuttered newspapers, threatened the arrest of an entire state legislature, deported a troublesome political opponent, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. But: "President Bush's excesses are worse than even the serious misappropriations of power by Lincoln."
In such moments, the most unattractive quality of Cuomo's historicism comes plainly into view. Cuomo may be blasting Bush, but he is patronizing Lincoln. How do you condescend to such a personage?

Indeed, it can be said without rhetoric, what a mean (in the sense of 'puny' or 'common') little creep. I have far more sympathy with those who call Lincoln the Devil. They, at least, are paying the great man a backhanded compliment.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Abe, and may we NEVER figure you out completely.

Friday, October 22, 2004

John Kerry is so nuanced, he isn't.

... because he doesn’t really understand nuance. Nuance for its own sake it simply mental indecisiveness and abject moral capitulation. It is what Chesterton described as "using mental activity to achieve mental helplessness." Such will often be the case for those who think Intellect is self-contingent and moral in and of itself (IOW, rationalism). For that reason I don’t think John Kerry is all that sharp either. A man who cannot make up his mind might not have one. At any rate, he, like Al Gore, strikes me as decidedly lightweight.

Nuance enables us to figure out a practical way to achieve an ideal goal, or at least begin the movement in that direction. But the ideal comes first. Other than getting his strange self into the big chair, John Kerry has no ideals. The real masters of nuance are people like the Apostle Paul, who for his ideal -the sake of the Gospel- became all things to all men. Another would be Churchill, who, for the purpose of achieving the destruction of Hitler, was very subtle and nuanced ("If Hitler invaded Hell, I should at least make favorable reference to the devil in the HoC").

I would include Bush in that category because he understands that the Moral must trump the Intellectual, or we will ultimately lose both. Nuance must pay its way, like everything else. History will record that Bush made many understandable mistakes in achieving his One Great Thing -continuing the clumsy but forward march of freedom. But Bush, the Man in the Arena, has dared mighty things, and shall know either real victory, or real defeat. In the event of the latter, the final victory will come through at the hands of others.

And the critics will be carping all the way, before they are consigned to a proper oblivion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Extraordinary ...

This both amazing and strangely cool, and yet, very disturbing too.

One of the three columnists in my Holy Trinity of Punditry, Mark Steyn, has had a column spiked by the UK's Telegraph. Apparently, he was too Churchillian British for Tony Blair's (Not So) Brave New Britain?

There are many kinds of courage in the world. In fact, like C.S. Lewis, I agree that courage is really every virtue at the point of testing. I am not going to say that Steyn has the kind of courage / virtue my cousin - a gov't contractor in Baghdad who has been under fire from mortars three times since I found out he was there and started emailing him- has, although Steyn it must be noted has been to Iraq, and bravely took a look at the situation for himself. But he has clearly demonstrated a kind of intellectual and moral courage that is much needed in this time too.

So it is amazing in that war really does bring out the best (and the worst.) In Steyn, it has manifested not just the "vision of clear seeing" of which he is so marvelously possessedm but the will to stand by it as well, even if it gets a column yanked. It is cool because Steyn is someone I admire, and this event only enhances that admiration.

And it is disturbing because I had not yet gotten a full handle on just how soft the "Dianysian" Brit elites were. One of the great and yet disturbing things about democracies is that democratic nations have the the leaders they want, or at least are prepared to tolerate. So leaders are a reflection to the world of their people and their weaknesses and other characteristics. I think this is also true, and maybe far truer, of more than just democracies or even governemnts / politics in general.

I have recently become convinced by discussions with a Brit of my acquaintance that even if the muslim imams were to preach against jihad as "war with the infidels", they wouldn't last long because the Muslims have the teachers and the teachings they want. Indeed, it is all but certain that the Arab Street has what it wants, because they kill what they don't want, if it within their presently puny power to do so. And we are at war precisely because, in the age of WMD and in light of the fact that genius can turn up anywhere, only a puny few of them have to get lucky and poof! there goes Chicago.

If the above is so, and I think it likely, we are dancing around an unpleasant truth: that we, the nation that more out of necessity than anything else invented religious tolerance, find ourselves at war with a religion. And that it's a war to the death. Steyn, in another column, was right: Daniel Pearl's killers weren't trying send a political message. Pearl's severed head, and every severed head since, is the message.

P.S.- Lest anyone think I intended insult, I am aware that the Brits number many brave people among them, and that many of them are in Iraq and elsewhere now. But it is disturbing to see this lack of clear thinking on the part of Britain's leaders. I am sad for Bigley's family. But as Steyn points out, "in this war the point is not whether you’re sad about the dead people, but what you’re prepared to do about it."

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Damn you, John Kerry ...

Apologies today, but I am ticked. I'll repent later.

I did not watch the debate, for reasons I will not go into now, except to say that I might watch a real debate.

But, now I almost wish I had, just to hear Senator Kerry reveal his true self, and one of his deepest "core" convictions.

KERRY: "Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.

You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.

Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation."

And that, you pasty, cadaverous reliquary of moribund leftism is why you do not belong within 100 miles of the White House. I congratulate you on being able to insult the entire nation in such a succinct summation. It is something in which are clearly practiced.

Let me hack away the nuance and translate what Kerry just said:

"America with nuclear weapons is the same thing as Saddam with nuclear weapons."

THAT is the "MIXED MESSAGE". America is no better than Ba'athist Iraq. The President is no better than Saddam. No wonder the thugs of this world have thought for thirty years that we didn't have the confidence in our civilization to defend it.

And THAT is the real John Kerry. The twenty-years-in-the-Senate-opposing-every-weapons-system, purile pacifist, sucking-up-to-commie-tyrants John Kerry. To hell with you, sir. Damn your self-righteous leftist, nuclear freezenik, appeasement mentality, moral equivalency arrogance. If you can't tell the difference between a civilized nation with nuclear weapons, and a two-bit thug (with a demonstrated proclivity for using WMDS on innocents) with nuclear weapons, then all your education has made you slightly less intelligent than a bag of rocks. To hell with you, I say.

Somewhere down the line, if we don't build the little low-yield nukes, we may have to use the big city killer nukes, and that will be good for no one. Not us. Not the people we use them on, and not the rest of the world.

As the Derb puts it, where the good guys are concerned:


Update: Hugh Hewitt is hosting a symposium on this and has link to this post. Many thanks. I only regret I have nothing more than an indignant screed to offer at this time.

Right now, as far as conservative talk radio (Radio Free America, I calls it) goes, Rush is king, and then the best of the best of the rest are three Californians: Hewitt, Hedgecock, and Medved, each for various reasons. Hewitt holds second alone, in part because he has Mark Steyn on occasionally. Hedgecock is Rush's undisputed ace reliever. And Medved often hits me with stuff that wows me and provides fodder for many cognitive meanderings.

But in all cases, Rush can be proud of his "progeny". They simply rock.

Further Update: I am trying to contribute to Hewitt's Virtual Symposium here.

Monday, September 13, 2004

How the meek will inherit the earth.

Speaking of Spengler, as I did in my previous post, keep pumping out those children believers. For truly, we are inheriting the earth.

For a number of reasons, which should be obvious to those who know a bit about me, I found this article a joy to read, and Mr. Longman's religious bigotry worth several good chuckles.

This is Spengler's review of Longman's Faith, fertility and American dominance

Rapid aging followed by depopulation on a scale not seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire threatens the modern world, writes Phillip Longman, an American journalist. Buried inside his book is the startling forecast that America's evangelical Christians will breed themselves into a position of global dominance. That idea horrifies Longman, who spends most of his pages hatching schemes to prevent this from happening.

In Longman's view, modernity itself is to blame for the population debacle. "Those who reject modernity," he argues, "seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons, or Muslims who remain committed to large families."

Having looked into the abyss, Longman proposes to save modernity from itself through tax incentives favoring larger families, an unconvincing approach. But he at least has taken the trouble to notice that modernity is consuming itself. A few sound bites give the gist:

Germany could easily lose the equivalent of the current population of East Germany over the next half-century. Russia's population is already decreasing by three-quarters of a million a year. Japan's population meanwhile is expected to fall by as much as one-third.

By mid-[21st]-century, China could easily be losing 20-30% of its population per generation.

Fertility rates are falling faster in the Middle East than anywhere else on Earth, and as a result the region's population is aging at an unprecedented rate. It took 50 years for the United States to go from a median age of 30 to today's 35. By contrast, during the first 50 years of the 21st century, Algeria will increase its median age from 21.7 to 40.

With deaths exceeding births by well over half, current projections show Russian population will fall by 29% by 2050.

Longman cannot make up his mind as to whether economic disincentives or existential despair account for collapsing birthrates. He offers an economic explanation as follows: In traditional society children were an asset, a source of cheap farm labor in the present and the equivalent of a pension later on. In the modern world, children are a cost. Because parents and non-parents both will receive pensions paid by the next generation, no individual has an incentive to make sacrifices to bring the next generation into the world. In the absence of economic incentives to reproduce, "Faith is increasingly necessary as a motive to have children."

Longman contemplates the future with trepidation:

... Where will the children of the future come from? They will come disproportionately from people who are at odds with the modern environment ... or who, out of fundamentalist or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether.

P-Prof: Okay, I'm going to interrupt here. Let me just translate a couple of words in that last quote. Fundamentalist = anybody who doesn't take God with a wink and a nod. A serious believer. Chauvinistic = Patriotic.

And now back to your regularly scheduled brilliance.

And again:

This much is sure: The uneducated have far more children than the educated, and the religiously minded generally have bigger families than do secularists. In the United States, for example, fully 47% of people who attend church weekly say that the ideal family size is three or more children, as opposed to only 27% of those who seldom attend church.

Longman is right about the correlation between faith and fertility, but wrong about the cause. Mortal existence is intolerable without the promise of immortality. Animals breed and foster their young out of instinct; humankind does so in the hope that something of our mortal existence will survive us in the continuation of our culture and the remembrance of our children. Longman believes that the religious continue to reproduce because the Bible or Koran so instructs them. Religion in the broad sense means hope of immortality. By reducing culture to a hedonist's shopping basket of amusements, modernity destroys the individual's hope for immortality, and with it his incentive to create a new generation of humans.

On this point I wrote last year (Why Europe chooses extinction, April 8, 2003):

Suicidal behavior is common among (for example) stone-age tribes who have encountered the modern world. One can extend this example to Tamil or Arab suicide bombers (see Live and let die, Asia Times Online, April 13, 2002). But the Europeans are the modern world. Have the Europeans taken to heart existentialism's complaint that man is alone in a chaotic universe in which life has no ultimate meaning, and that man responds to the anxiety about death by embracing death ... it bears on a parallel development, that is, the death of European Christianity. Fifty-three percent of Americans say that religion is very important in their lives, compared with 16%, 14% and 13% respectively of the British, French and Germans, according to a 1997 University of Michigan survey.

The implications of this trend appall Longman, who warns, "Such a trend, if sustained, would drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, and gradually create an anti-market culture dominated by fundamentalist values." This conclusion appears driven by prejudice. One may deplore or admire US evangelicals, but it is hard to argue that they will create an "anti-market culture". No one admires free enterprise more than American Christians, and one might conjecture that the growing proliferation of their denominations in Asia, Africa and Latin America will lend impetus to capitalist development.

The United States will adjust painfully to its aging population, argues Longman, and the concomitant aging of the countries whence the US now recruits immigrants will make it harder to compensate for declining native fertility. What worries him most, however, is that rising fertility among US evangelicals will shift the balance of power towards the religious.

Seem far-fetched? Not since the fall of the Roman Empire has the world ever experienced anything on the scale of today's loss of fertility. As sociologist [and Christian apologist] Rodney Stark demonstrates ... at that time Christians had marginally higher birthrates than pagans ... They also had better life expectancy ...The resulting demographic advantage, Stark argues, slowly transformed a marginal Jesus movement into the dominant cultural force of the Western world, as Christian communities gradually outbred and outlived their pagan counterparts. Demographic conditions today suggest that a culture transformation of similar proportions may be in store if secularists increasingly avoid the growing economic cost of raising children, while fundamentalists of all stripes do not.

It costs today's US middle-class family more than US$1 million to raise a university-educated child, including more than $800,000 in lost wages, according to a study cited by Longman. He proposes tax incentives to families with children, but these seem tiny next to the costs. The reader must fall back on his argument that faith, not pecuniary calculation, will motivate today's prospective parents. The reproductive power of an increasingly Christian United States will enhance the strategic position of the US over the next two generations, leaving infertile Western Europe to sink slowly into insignificance.