The ongoing violence in Iraq has caused observers to reflect on the challenges of bringing democracy to tribal societies. Before the Iraq War was launched in 2003, the Bush administration assured Americans and the world that the removal of Saddam Hussein would result in the creation of a peaceful, well-governed, and democratic society. But it is now becoming clear that building a successful democracy is not as easy as many Americans had assumed. Pure democracy is a system that works well in particular cultures, and not all cultures are equally capable of building harmonious democratic societies.
If the Bush administration had been interested in studying the track record of democracy-building efforts in tribal cultures, they should have studied the experience of Sub-Saharan Africa, where the introduction of pure democracy 50 years ago resulted in disaster for the people of the region. For the purposes of this article, I am defining ‘pure democracy’ as majority rule under universal suffrage, in which all citizens of adult age are guaranteed the right to vote in national elections.
In 1957, Ghana became the first black African country to gain independence from European colonial rule (Sudan gained its independence in 1956, but it regards itself as part of Arab Africa, rather than black Africa). The Prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, had won an election in 1956, campaigning on a platform of attaining immediate independence from British colonial rule. Nkrumah had served as Prime Minister from 1951 to 1956, a period in which Ghana enjoyed internal self-government, under the supervision of the British colonial governor in the country. The governor had the power to veto decisions by Nkrumah that he felt were harmful to the interests of the colony. This was the period in which Ghana enjoyed the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity in its history.
Two conservative Ghanaian politicians, J. B. Danquah and Kofi Busia, opposed Nkrumah’s campaign for immediate independence. They wanted to preserve the status quo, because of the stability and prosperity which Ghana was enjoying. They preferred a more gradual path to independence, in contrast to the campaign for rapid decolonization. Both men realized that without the supervision of the British colonial power, Nkrumah would turn Ghana into a dictatorship, and impose his deeply-held Marxist beliefs on the Ghanaian people.
The opposition political party that was supported by Danquah and Busia lost the 1956 elections, and Nkrumah was able to lead his country to independence on March 6, 1957. The dire predictions of Danquah and Busia came true, and in a couple of years, Nkrumah established Africa’s first post-colonial dictatorship. Danquah was subsequently arrested and jailed as a political prisoner, and he eventually died because of the terrible prison conditions in which he was held. Busia fled the country in fear of his life, and he returned to the country only after Nkrumah was overthrown in a Western-backed military coup in 1966.
Most of the Black African nations that gained independence after Ghana followed its path by establishing one-party dictatorships. Observers soon began to describe the practice of democracy in Africa as ‘one-man, one-vote, one-time’. In many of the cases, the winning political party at the independence elections used its majority in the national parliament, to pass legislation outlawing the existence of opposition political parties. This left the ruling party with a monopoly of power. This trend challenged the widely held notion that pure democracy leads to more freedom. If anything, in many countries, Africans enjoyed greater personal freedom and prosperity under colonial rule, than they do today under independent governments. While opposition parties have been permitted to exist in some countries in the last few years, the oppressive habits associated with one-party dictatorial rule have been hard to break.
In the 1960s, American conservatives were outspoken against the wave of decolonization and democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa, that was being pushed by the United States and the former Soviet Union. William F. Buckley, in his book, Up From Liberalism wrote:
“We see in the revolt of the masses in Africa the mischief of the white man’s abstractions: for the West has, by its doctrinaire approval of democracy, deprived itself of the moral base from which to talk back to the apologists of rampant nationalism….Democracy, to be successful, must be practiced by politically mature people among whom there is a consensus on the meaning of life within their society….If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be the indicated, though concededly the undemocratic, course. It is more important for a community, wherever situated geographically, to affirm and live by civilized standards than to labor at the job of swelling the voting lists”.
Buckley tried to make the distinction between universal suffrage and freedom, in his analysis of the conditions in the American South before the passage of Civil Rights legislation, which he compared to colonial rule in Africa:
“Does the vote really make one free? I do not believe it necessarily does….Being able to vote is no more to have realized freedom than being able to read is to have realized wisdom. Reasonable limitations upon the vote are not recommended exclusively by tyrants or oligarchs (was Jefferson either?). The problem of the South is not how to get the vote for the Negro, but how to train the Negro – and a great many whites – to cast a thoughtful vote”
Buckley was however careful to distinguish his position in opposing universal franchise in the American South, from that of the southern segregationists who advanced genetic arguments in opposing black voting rights in the South:
“There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities. The problem is not biological, but cultural and educational”
Today, if one was to argue in favor of restrictions to the right to vote, one would be labeled as an enemy of freedom. But, as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and in much of Black Africa, democracy does not necessarily lead to freedom. With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing their country as a result of the violence that has engulfed that nation, can anyone seriously suggest that Iraqis are freer today than they were under Saddam Hussein? Are the nations of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo freer today, than they were under colonial rule?
The state governments that existed in the American South during the Jim Crow era discredited the respectable and honorable Western tradition of placing reasonable restrictions on who to allow to vote. Putting restrictions on the vote using poll taxes, literacy tests, and property ownership qualifications, has helped many Western nations to preserve liberty and order for centuries. But Southern state governments in the post-Reconstruction era applied such restrictions unfairly, in a manner which was blatantly discriminatory on the basis of race. In the early part of the 20th Century, Booker T. Washington called on black Americans to work hard to improve their educational and economic status, in order to more fully participate in the American political process. But by denying educated and financially successful Blacks access to the ballot, the state governments of the South destroyed Washington’s vision of building racial harmony in America. As a result, divisive demagogues like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have risen to prominence, and shape the agenda on race relations in America today.
Universal suffrage is a very recent development in the West. Britain attained universal suffrage only in 1928, when all adults over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. A century earlier, voting in Britain was limited to a tiny percentage of the adult male population. The Tories held power from 1783 to 1830, a 46 year stretch that was only briefly interrupted in 1806-1807. Charles Grey finally took over as a Whig Prime Minister in 1830. He passed the Reform Act in 1832, which significantly expanded the percentage of male citizens who were allowed to vote. The 1832 reforms gave one in five adult males the right to vote. The property qualifications for voting were gradually lowered over the decades, enfranchising more and more people, before they were finally abolished in 1928. During this time, the educational, social, and cultural level of the British masses was gradually raised, which enabled a successful transition to majority rule without destabilizing the social order.
In the United States, the founding fathers set out to create a constitutional republic, not a pure democracy. At the time the Constitution was adopted, half of the white adult male population could not meet the property qualification for voting in elections. Because women could not vote, that meant that only 25 percent of the white citizens of the US were entitled to vote. The U.S. finally gained the universal franchise in 1965, where adult citizens of both genders and all races were given the right to vote. By this time, the majority of American families were middle-class people who owned their homes—and therefore, such a measure did not threaten the stability of the market economy. Given that Britain and the US took so long to build well-functioning democratic systems, it is unrealistic to expect African nations to have set up successful democratic societies, given the high poverty rates and the low levels of civilization of most of the population.
Classical liberals have long said that one cannot build a free society without putting in place a political system that protected property rights. The 17th Century English philosopher, John Locke, asserted that the prerequisites for a free society were the protection of life, liberty, and property. Locke did not limit his definition of property to material goods, but included as a form of property the ownership of one’s labor. Twentieth century Communists understood that, by abolishing private property through nationalization, they would completely strip private citizens of their means of self-support and independence, reducing them to the status of slaves. This led to a situation where people living under Communism were completely dependent on the government for their very survival, which allowed the government to control every aspect of their lives.
With this understanding of liberalism, Ian Douglas Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, can be rightly regarded as Africa’s first classical liberal revolutionary. In 1965, he led a revolution for freedom, when he initiated the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Rhodesia from Britain. The UDI was intended to preserve Christianity, freedom, and civilization. For that courageous action, Smith became one of the most vilified men in history, and his country was subjected to comprehensive United Nations economic sanctions in 1966. He was falsely labeled as a racist and white supremacist. But, unlike the architects of apartheid in neighboring South Africa, he has never supported claims that blacks are inherently inferior. However, like Buckley, Smith recognized that the low levels of education and cultural development of most of the blacks, made the establishment of a successful pure democracy a difficult undertaking.
In addition, there were numerous previous examples of failed attempts to establish pure democracies in Africa, from Guinea and Ghana, to Nigeria and Uganda, and there was good reason to expect that Rhodesia would follow a similarly tragic path if the universal franchise was extended. Facing a possible future of either a Marxist dictatorship or anarchy, the Rhodesian leadership declared independence and prevented Britain from imposing majority rule in the colony. The lives, liberty, and property of people of all races in Rhodesia were preserved.
Smith was motivated by the desire to uphold the historical Anglo-Saxon tradition of limiting the vote to that segment of the population that would be able to use it responsibly. The Rhodesian UDI of 1965 was modeled on the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Rhodesians had great respect and admiration for America. However, the Rhodesian admiration for America was not reciprocated, and the U.S. joined the rest of the world in denouncing and isolating a friendly country.
The Rhodesian government was unfairly compared to the segregationist state governments of the American South, and to South Africa under apartheid rule. However, Rhodesia did not have the rigid racial segregation that characterized those two other systems of government, and Blacks were allowed to vote in Rhodesian elections. Blacks were allowed to have 16 seats in the 66 member Rhodesian parliament, while whites held 50 seats. Voting was limited to those who could meet the literacy and property ownership qualifications, just like in Britain and the United States in the relatively recent past. Rhodesia was a limited democracy, not a pure democracy.
It was expected that, with time, as black Rhodesians became better educated and more prosperous, they would gradually gain greater representation in the Rhodesian Parliament. Eventually, white and black Rhodesians would share power in the Rhodesian Parliament, under a 50-50 arrangement. This position fell short of majority rule. But since the whites had created and built the country, and were expected to pay a disproportionate share of the taxes even in the future, this arrangement seemed to be fair. Many white and black Rhodesians felt that this power sharing model would prevent Rhodesia from becoming a Marxist dictatorship like Nkrumah’s Ghana, or deteriorating into the chaos of the democratic republics of Congo and Somalia. But the international community would not accept anything less than black majority rule.
By the mid 1970s, Rhodesia had, proportionally, the largest black middle-class in Africa, and it was growing rapidly. This was despite the fact that Rhodesia was under U.N. economic sanctions, and the government was spending vast sums of money waging a war against Marxist terrorists, who were based in neighboring Mozambique and Zambia. Despite those challenges, Rhodesia was a successful limited democracy, governed by the rule of law, having independent courts, and a multiparty system of government. The leader of the official opposition in parliament was black, and he and other black members of parliament were able to openly criticize Prime Minister Smith and his government for what they felt were their shortcomings. This was in stark contrast to the situation in the rest of Africa, where one-party dictatorial rule was the norm, and criticism of the president was equated with treason.
In 1979, a power-sharing agreement between white Rhodesians and their moderate black allies was arrived at. Free and fair elections were held under universal suffrage, which led to black majority rule, but there were strong guarantees put in place to protect white minority rights. The new government was headed by the moderate black clergyman, Abel Muzorewa, and he was committed to maintaining Rhodesia’s capitalist system and its economic prosperity. However, Muzorewa’s government was denied recognition by the West, and Rhodesia remained under U.N. economic sanctions. U.S. President Jimmy Carter and British Prime Minister James Callaghan, demanded new elections that would include the participation of terrorist leaders who did not believe in the democratic process.
New elections were held in 1980, and the Maoist terrorist Robert Mugabe won the vote through appeals to tribal sentiment and by intimidating rural voters in the Shona-dominated provinces. Mugabe was a devoted student of Kwame Nkrumah, having lived and worked in Nkrumah’s Ghana in the late 1950s, where he closely observed how his mentor managed his government. Since 1980, Rhodesians (now called Zimbabweans), have had less freedom than they ever had under Smith.
The economy of Zimbabwe gradually declined from 1980 to 1999. In the year 2000, the Mugabe regime launched the infamous invasions of white-owned farms that completely destroyed the country’s agriculturally-based economy. Ironically, the Zimbabwean government already owned millions of acres of land, which it could have re-distributed to poor blacks, without touching the white-owned farms. But Mugabe did not want a sensible solution to the land question. He was driven by the desire to punish white Zimbabweans for supporting the emerging opposition party, known as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). As anyone with knowledge of the situation in Zimbabwe knows, Mugabe never had any intention of helping Zimbabwe’s poor, despite his rhetoric on the issue. The black middle-class, which had thrived under Smith, has now been almost completely wiped out. Just as the Bolsheviks of the former Soviet Union enslaved the Russian people by abolishing private property, Mugabe is now in the process of seizing privately-owned business enterprises, just as he seized the white-owned commercial farms. Instead of condemning Mugabe, corrupt African politicians view Mugabe as some sort of hero, for his defiance of the West.
Out of concern for Africa’s future, I founded the African Conservative Forum (ACF) in May, 2007. My organization seeks not just the downfall of the Mugabe regime, but the complete dismantling of the disastrous Marxist legacy that Nkrumah and Mugabe have bequeathed to Africa. One of the major tasks that I plan to undertake is the distribution of 10,000 copies of Ian Smith’s autobiography, The Great Betrayal, to African legislators, civil servants, academics, journalists, university students, diplomats and others. Individuals or organizations that may be interested in assisting in this important task, can contact me.
Reading Smith’s memoirs changed my life. His book helped to make me a conservative. If African intellectuals were to get an opportunity to read his autobiography, they would realize, as I did, that the true freedom fighter from Rhodesia is Ian Smith, not Robert Mugabe. Once they learn about the link between property and freedom, and how pure democracy and political independence do not necessarily translate into freedom, then they would get a true idea of what freedom is all about.
If there is any African leader who deserves a presidential library, it is Ian Smith. His memoirs spell out how Africa can move forward to a future of liberty and prosperity. It is often said that prophets are not honored in their home countries. Smith can accurately be described as a prophet, because he predicted disaster for Rhodesia once it came under the control of the communist terrorist, Robert Mugabe. Many people who opposed Smith in the past are finally coming to realize how right he was. In the British Sunday Times newspaper of September 23, 2007, Judith Todd, a left-liberal human rights activist who was one of Smith’s most outspoken opponents in the 1970s, now admits that “Mugabe was rotten from the start”.
Not surprisingly, the Marxist government of Zimbabwe viciously attacks Smith’s legacy in the history books and in the state-controlled media. But what is more difficult to understand is the reaction of the brave men and women who make up the opposition to the Mugabe regime, whenever the UDI era is mentioned. Zimbabwean opposition activists, both white and black, make strenuous efforts to distance themselves from Smith, out of fear of being labeled lackeys of the colonialists by the Mugabe regime.
The minds of the Zimbabwean people have been so poisoned against Smith, that it seems highly unlikely that he will receive the honor he truly deserves, even if the opposition comes to power in the next general elections scheduled for 2008. I often dream about building an Ian Smith Library here in Nairobi, where I would be able to educate future generations of African leaders about Smith’s admirable legacy. But I guess, given the high cost of such a project, it will remain an impossible dream.
In 1980, when Mugabe came to power, Rhodesia had a GDP per capita that was comparable to that of Malaysia. Today, Malaysia is hailed around the world as one of East Asia’s great economic success stories, and is a newly industrialized country that manufactures goods of all sorts. Yet, in 1980, Rhodesia had economic policies that were more business-friendly than those of Malaysia, and a civil service that was far more honest and efficient than Malaysia’s. Both nations are former British colonies, and have a public service modeled on that of Britain.
Where would Rhodesia be today, if Ian Smith’s vision of power-sharing rather than majority rule, had come to pass? I will try to hazard a guess. Rhodesia would have experienced an economic boom without precedent in Africa’s history, with impressive double-digit growth in the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. The white population would probably be double what it was in 1980, growing from 250,000 to 500,000. This would have been partly as a result of natural increase, because of the lower costs of raising children in Rhodesia. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese settlers who fled from the Communist revolutions in Angola and Mozambique would have moved to Rhodesia. There would also have been some immigration from South Africa, as well as from many Western nations, attracted by Rhodesia’s pleasant climate and promising economic future. All those whites would have brought useful skills that would have benefited the country immensely.
Interestingly, the dynamism of the free market would have reduced the racial disparities in land ownership in a fair and transparent manner. This is because the rapid growth in manufacturing, tourism, and other industries, would have led to many black workers abandoning their jobs in the white farms for better economic opportunities in the cities. The resulting rise in average black agricultural wages would have put many white farms out of business, and some of the farmers would have been forced to sub-divide and sell their farms. The newly economically empowered blacks would have purchased plots of land for residential use, or for small-scale horticulture.
If Smith’s vision had prevailed, Zimbabwe would have had a GDP per capita equal to, or higher than, that of Malaysia. But the sad reality is that Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita today is lower than that of Haiti. The Caribbean nations of Barbados and the Bahamas are majority black former British colonies, and they can provide us with a model of what the future could have been in Rhodesia, if the Communists had not taken over. Both nations have maintained the colonial tradition of providing strong protections for property rights, and, today, both nations have a GDP per capita higher than that of Malaysia.
My British and American friends often ask me to predict the future of South Africa, and whether that nation will go the way of Zimbabwe. I am often tempted to tell them what they want to hear – the politically-correct answer that the situations in Zimbabwe and South Africa are different, and that all is well in South Africa. But the past record of the ANC does not give me much cause for optimism. During the days of white rule, the ANC worked to mobilize black support by stirring up anti-white hatred. The late ANC activist, Peter Mokaba, is credited with creating the infamous chant, “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer”. Not to be outdone, the main rival of the ANC among the black radicals, the PAC party, had its own rallying cry, “One settler, one bullet”.
As one can expect, the anti-white hatred that the ANC and PAC stirred up during the era of white rule, did not dissipate with the coming of majority rule. The ANC leadership blames all its failures on whites and the supposed ‘legacy of apartheid’. There has also been an explosion in the rate of violent crime, in which whites have been disproportionately targeted, and which the ANC has shown an unwillingness to deal with. Some 210,000 blacks and 40,000 whites have been murdered since 1994. When he was challenged on his failure to tackle violent crime, the South African Security Minister, Charles Nqakula, told his critics that if they were unhappy with the conditions in South Africa they should leave the country. His statement was widely understood as being targeted at South African whites.
Blacks in South Africa enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Africa. Yet the ANC blames whites for the poverty and landlessness of much of the black population. The government of South Africa owns millions of hectares, and is the largest land owner in South Africa. Instead of offering this land to South Africa’s poor people of all races, the ANC focuses on making the blacks envious of the white land owners who produce most of South Africa’s food. The ANC plans to maintain its hold on power for decades to come, by inciting racial resentment against the white minority. There is a real danger that the country may join the long list of failed democracies in Africa. Unless a new generation of enlightened black leaders emerges in South Africa, committed to promoting Christian values, property rights, and free market economic policies, South Africa’s future looks bleak.
I have to say that watching Ron Paul on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno was one of those surreal occurences, like an out-of-body experience, that leave one wondering: Did that really happen? Well, yes, it did: that was What’s-His-Name of the Sex Pistols calling out “Hello, Mr. Paul!” in between the snarling refrain of “Anarchy in the UK.” Ron Paul meeting the Sex Pistols is like matter meeting anti-matter, and yet one called out to the other, and, instead of an explosion of cosmic proportions, there was … harmonic convergence.
Jay Leno‘s interview was pretty telling: Leno is Everyman, and his bafflement—you mean, get rid of the IRS?—and yet willingness to give Paul the benefit of a doubt reflects what the campaign is up against. I note that, after an extended discussion of economics, Leno got into the Iraq question, and noted that this is what got him interested in the Paul campaign.
It’s great that there’s one candidate out there who is talking about the consequences of having an empire—Paul uses that word—an American Empire that is costing us trillions that could be spent here at home. Instead, we are throwing our wealth—and the lives of our children—down a neo-colonialist rat hole.
Today Leno, tomorrow New Hampshire.
Here’s the video:
As Halloween is the antithesis of All Saints’ Day (November 1), kindly allow me to beat John Zmirak to the punch-bowl and reverse his custom (or “motsuc sih esrever”) of supplying booze recipes at the end of each of his delightful Holy Feast Day articles. Tonight is an occasion to celebrate Edgar Allen Poe, the secular patron saint of American Gothic Horror, and when we’re talking about Poe, the drinks should come first:
CELEBRATE LIKE POE:
1. Gulp a double shot of the cheapest rotgut available.
2. Fall down because your body can’t handle it.
3. Suffer posthumous defamation by an envious hack journalist.
Well, all right, there is some evidence that Poe sporadically had more than just two drinks. What is less well known is that he had very low tolerance for alcohol and usually drank less in a year than the likes of Taki or I do in a week. Poe’s posthumous reputation for chronic drunkenness and for other reprobate habits, and for a disagreeable temperament with possible sadistic or Satanic inclinations, originated in a smear-job obituary by one Rufus Wilmot Griswold, a frustrated envious hack who was a forerunner of today’s Christopher Hitchens. Consider, if you will, how a talentless vulture like Hitchens has to some extent successfully – and profitably – defamed the discarnate spirits of Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul the Great, and all three persons of the Holy Trinity, and then you’ll understand Griswold’s defamation of a beautiful soul like Poe.
Allow me, then, to introduce you to “My Own Private Idol, Poe”. (He would have appreciated that pun on a ridiculous Homintern movie’s title.) Several American cities have claimed him as their own, due to his peripatetic poverty – he lived, at various times, in Richmond, New York, and Baltimore – but he spent his most productive years (1838- 1844) in my own home town, America’s most Gothic city: Philadelphia,.
“What’s so Gothic about Philadelphia,” you ask? Alas, not so much as there used to be, now that the formerly oh so peculiar, so quietly eccentric Philadelphia has fallen prey to the general flattening out of American culture, including the preternatural flattening of accent into Californianised, palatalized pabulum.
But it was not always so. The typical Anglo-American Philadelphia gentleman of 1840 (and almost all of them were Anglo, then) spoke a kind of English and deported himself with manners similar to those of gentlemen of antebellum Maryland or Tidewater Virginia. Some vestiges of those old voices and manners survived in the semirural counties adjacent to Philadelphia, including parts of my native Montgomery County, as late as my childhood in the 1970s. But suburban “development” and the cultural viruses of Hollywood and TV have finally extinguished most of those remnants.
Poe’s gentle, chivalrous Virginian manners and words would have made him almost indistinguishable from his Philadelphian neighbours, and as a Virginian he shared another peculiar patrimony with them: He was, for the most part, a pre-modern man, whose mind and spiritual inclinations were informed more by the late Middle Ages than by modernity.
What’s that, you say? Philadelphia, the birthplace of America’s Enlightenment-Age Constitution, the city of the original publicity hound Ben Franklin – was that old Philadelphia a transplanted remnant of Medievalism?
For the most part, yes it was. Throughout Philadelphia’s history there has been a duality in its soul, between the conflicting dreams of the romantic, melancholy aristocratic Quaker William Penn – who in his own way personified American Chivalry – and those of Ben Franklin, the callow, populist progenitor of “America the Abstraction.” Or should I say “the Advertisement”: Franklin affected a “pioneer” furskin cap in Paris, which he’d never donned in America. Franklin was the first American publicity hound.
But the Quakerism of William Penn – the father of Philadelphia’s soul – was one of the last gasps of Medievalism, of the late Gothic Age, transplanted to America. The romantic, aristocratic, humble Quaker William Penn was in his own way an early-modern English analogue of St. Francis of Assisi—just as Ben Franklin was an intelligent 18th century version of Rupert Murdoch.
Into antebellum Philadelphia, the offspring of a shotgun marriage between mechanistic, populist modernity and romantic medieval chivalry, Poe settled during his most productive years. And in that city, behind the thin veneer of Quaker reserve, the externally humble and internally voluptuous small redbrick townhouses of respectable Philadelphians were inhabited by many wild eccentrics and their covert friends and admirers – like the mad young Gothic-horror writer George Lippard and his absinthe-addicted friend Henry Hirst, a lawyer-cum-poet who spent more time collecting birds’ nests than trying cases. These two friends of Poe would inspire themselves to write horror stories by lying awake all night in unlit, abandoned buildings, or dancing on rooftops shouting “WOE UNTO SODOM” at the Quakers below. It’s not recorded how many of those respectable Philadelphians practiced sodomy, but we do know that a fair number were slave-traders. In any case, a lynch mob drove Lippard out of town for his nocturnal jeremiads.
Such were the bosom buddies of Edgar Allen Poe: drunken, drug-abusing romantics who spoke their minds and were scapegoated for it. Their persecutors were the progenitors of today’s “country club Republicans.” While the tinder of the American Civil War was being lit—to be fanned by the bellows of Bostonian Yankee hypocrisy—Poe and his honest, albeit dissolute, friends had been striving to examine, and to diagnose, the darker angels of America’s, and of Man’s, nature. And their reward, within their lifetimes, was poverty and obscurity.
But Poe in fact, was by no means so dissolute as his gifted friends. Poe’s principal crime as the worst crime anyone can commit in America: Having no money, and being unwilling to whore his talents for it.
He had soft, gentle hands, and a Virginian gentleman’s voice intoning the reassurance of spiritual constancy – so he has been described in letters and other memoria by those who met him in person, especially the many ladies whom he charmed without specific intention. Take another look at his face. Those eyes are not the eyes of Satanic malice, but of melancholic longing for the Divine – the very quality without which the American spirit transforms itself into its Satanic aspect.
Over 160 years ago, Poe understood the dark underbelly of America – and of Man – in a way we need to be reminded of today. See his “Words With A Mummy” in which he satirises the American illusion of “progress”— in 1845! And his poem, “El Dorado,” a reminder that there is no Utopia except in Hell.
And please don’t ignore Poe’s talent for comedy! He had a wicked (or I would say, “divine”) sense of humour. My favourite is his surreal extravaganza, “The Angel of the Odd.” It’s all the more proof of Poe’s inspired sense of humour, that the funniest character he ever created – the Angel of the Odd – was a German robot, who is all the more funny BECAUSE he has no sense of humour! Pure genius – seventy years before 1914, mind you. Poe was a Germanophile, and his loving caricature of Germans was all the more hilarious for that.
Before we close, let me tell you a secret I know about Poe. When I was a boy, in 1975, Poe’s house in Philadelphia (at around 6th and Spring Garden) was owned privately, by a lovely old lady who made it a private museum, furnished just as it had been in Poe’s time. She knew more about Poe than any Ph.D. of today. Alas, some 20 years ago, the federal government took possession (demonically, I would say) of Poe’s house, and under federal law a “national historic site” can have nothing in it which cannot be identified as “original”—and so Poe’s house has been stripped, and all that remains of it are the walls and floors. Bloody stupid Feds. But I can tell you two secrets about Poe’s Philadelphia house, and I learned them from the old lady who owned it and hosted me there in 1975:
1. As you enter the house, you’ll turn left, and then in the first room you enter, you’ll face another doorway. Just to the right of that doorway, around four feet above the floor, you will see a rough inscription carved into the wall: “DEATH TO THE”….
Poe wrote that. He carved it into the wall on one of his bad nights. I have pointed it out to the Federal National Park Service, but they refuse to put a plaque over it, because of Federal law. But now you know where to find it. And what did Poe mean by “Death to the?” I take it as a Halloween gift from him, for us to fill in the blank – or even better, just to leave it blank.
2. In the room just beyond that one, look to your left and you will see a door with an old, oval-shaped doorknob. The lady who owned the house in 1975 told me, “That doorknob is the only one that goes back to Poe’s time. His hand touched it. Now, Vincent Price often visits here, and he always rubs that same doorknob so that some of Poe’s genius will touch him.” And she asked me, “What do you want to be?” I said, “I want to be a writer.” Then she beamed, and she said, “Well, Honey, just rub that doorknob!”
Poe’s cause of death seems fitting somehow: In Baltimore, some party hacks got him drunk and took him to vote in myriad polling places until he collapsed. Poe was killed by a lethal combination of democracy and booze.
Now I have my reservations about democracy, if not about booze. Myself, I’m now four years older than Poe was when he died –so I’ll outlive Poe, though I surely won’t outwrite him. But then maybe that’s an unsought for blessing, because in America, isn’t genuine literary talent – or unpopular intellectual honesty – a temporal curse?
The American cult of publicity and popularity was instrumental in Poe’s poverty, obscurity and posthumous defamation. Maybe, among American writers, Poe is a kind of patron saint – a martyred one after all – ruined in his lifetime and for some years after by the publicity hounds of Hell, who hated him for contemplating sin in a country which believes itself to be sinless.
So, on this Halloween, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, let’s remember all those who, like Poe, have been equated in popular imagination with evil only because, like Poe, they discomfited others by naming Evil for what it is. They, and all obscure and forgotten and unknown saints—and other merely decent sinners who name evil for what it is—are anathema to the Publicity Hounds of Hell.
There have been two intriguing book reviews over last weekend in the establishment press. Both concern the overriding topics of war and peace and the future of America. The first article was in Friday’s New York Times, written by the inimitable Michiko Kakutani, perhaps the most influential book reviewer in the country. The book under review was Norman Podhoretz’s
” title=“World War IV”>World War IV. The review is a zinger, although not in the same category with the frontal assault by former CIA agent Mike Scheuer a month ago. Scheuer’s attack was entitled “Why Does Norman Podhoretz Hate America?” and was the result of studied and understandable outrage by a man who had worked inside the Cheney Regency.
The significance of Kakutani’s review comes from the fact that it is written by a neutral, innocent bystander, for lack of a better term. Ms. Kakutani does not bring ideology or foreign policy expertise to the table. She is trying to judge Podhoretz’s book on the merits, for what it is. Kakutani concludes that “neocon” godfather Podhoretz “has served up a hectoring, often illogical screed based on cherry-picked facts and blustering assertions (often made without any supporting evidence), a book that furiously hurls accusations of cowardice, anti-Americanism and sheer venality at any and all opponents of the Bush doctrine, be they on the right or the left.” The review goes on to give credit to Scheuer: “In claiming that Mr. Bush’s strategy of regime change is draining the swamps that breed terrorism, he [Podhoretz] ignores experts like Michael Scheuer, a former head of the bin Laden tracking unit at the CIA, who have argued that the Iraq war, far from making America safer, has served as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.”
Is Scheuer right? Of course he is right. It is self-evident that Scheuer is right. It is beyond dispute. Al Qaeda did not exist at all inside Iraq prior to the Cheney/Bush invasion. Washington created Al Qaeda and the insurgency in Iraq. But here’s the kicker. This may well have been the Cheney/Bush strategic game plan from the outset, presumably sold to them by their “neocon” brain trust, of which Podhoretz is an outside consultant. The chaos and insurgency inside Iraq, south of Kurdistan, may have been a deliberate U.S. strategy. Fight the Arabs over there, before they can bomb us here. Get the picture? Keep the bad guys busy. This is not complete speculation on my part. It can be inferred from Bush Jr’s statements and his actions in 2003.
Look closely at what the dauphin said in his famous “Bring ‘em on!” pronouncement of July 2nd, 2003: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” Have you ever? The “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq commenced on March 19th of that year; Bush Jr. declared that “major combat operations” in Iraq had ended on May 1st. Afterwards, some in Congress were suggesting that U.S. troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible. It must be clear in retrospect that withdrawal from Iraq was never part of the Cheney/Bush agenda. Just the opposite. A long term occupation was and is the “neocon” agenda, allegedly for the purpose of spreading “democracy”.
What was needed was a tangible excuse to stay, to buttress the “democracy” cover story. What better reason for staying than to fight an insurgency by terrorists as part of a “war on terror”? Bring ‘em on! After enduring more than a decade of murderous economic sanctions, Iraq was doomed to become the battleground of choice for the New World Order. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) was dumbfounded by Bush Jr’s July 2nd, 2003 remarks. “I am shaking my head in disbelief,” said the Senator. “When I served in the Army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander—let along the commander in chief—invite enemies to attack U.S. troops.”
From the American military point of view, the only problem with the “bring ‘em on” strategy as it has played out to date, aside from being amoral and insane, is that it has resulted in an urban guerrilla war in which the American military has ceded its technological advantage. By bringing the war down to street level, we are back with German troops in Stalingrad and with Napoleon’s Grand Armee inside Moscow and during its retreat from Moscow, fighting partisans. The advantage of American B-2 stealth bombers and tomahawk cruise missiles has been negated. We are at the mercy of crude roadside bombs and fanatical suicide bombers. Under this scenario of asymmetrical warfare, ground troops of the U.S. Army and the Marines are at a distinct disadvantage. The “insurgents” can’t win, but the situation is self-defeating for the American side. Concurrently, the U.S. treasury is being steadily drained of assets, with no end in sight.
Obviously, somebody somewhere has badly miscalculated the best interests of America from the very start of this whole rotten affair. Why? How did it happen? At this point, one is even justified in wondering if, in fact, those in charge at the White House were primarily interested in America’s own best interests at all. Did elected officials inside the White House and those on Capitol Hill have in mind some other overarching domestic political agenda which blinded them to reality in foreign affairs? What was their ultimate concern? What were they thinking? Or were they just clueless?
In our current predicament, we are left to contemplate apparent gross incompetence on the part of the Regent Cheney and the dauphin, which incompetence beggars belief. It is either that or malfeasance by the “neocon” brain trust who sold Cheney and Bush Jr. a flawed and idiotic strategy. Either way, the results are a disaster. The warmongering Podhoretz is a prime representative of the brain trust, a close-knit gang of “neocon” operatives and propagandists, many of whom worked at the very top levels of the Administration, put there by Cheney and Karl Rove. What were Norman Podhoretz and his fellow “neocons” trying to achieve in the Iraq misadventure? Why is he now praying for Bush Jr. to bomb Iran yesterday?
These important questions bring me to the second book review. Entitled “Cents and Sensitivity”, it appeared in the weekend edition of the Financial Times of London. The book under review is the now-famous treatise entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by Professors J.J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and S.M. Walt of Harvard. The book is reviewed by the FT’s UN correspondent, Harvey Morris. He is not in the same league with Kakutani, but his short article is more thought-provoking in ways perhaps not intended.
What is Morris trying to say here: “By conflating the influence of the pro-war neo-conservatives…with the pro-Israel lobby, they [Professors M & W] ascribe the decision to go to war [the invasion of Iraq] to the campaigning efforts of the latter.” Can anyone honestly separate the “neocons” from the “pro-Israel lobby”? If so, I would like to see how. Morris concludes: “The neo-cons were militantly pro-Israel and included a high proportion of Jews. But then so did the left-radical, anti-Stalinist ’ but not exclusively Zionist ’ tradition from which many of them sprang.” Come again? Ah yes, the charms and machinations of 20th century, left-wing intellectual life in the U.SA. Read the FT review, and try to figure it out.
But wait. Does not “the left-radical, anti-Stalinist but not exclusively Zionist tradition” bring us right back to the whacky world of Norman Podhoretz? Of course it does. Wasn’t he a Trotskyite in his salad days at Columbia University? Or am I getting him confused with the “founding father” of Neoconservatism, Irving Kristol who attended City College? Does it matter? An infatuation with Trotsky’s folderol was par for the course in such left-wing circles back then. Of late, Podhoretz has transmogrified into the “neocon” godfather, advocating perpetual war for perpetual peace. How very debonair. One wonders why, with such a dubious track record, Podhoretz is taken seriously. The exact same could be said of that fellow former Trotskyite and intellectual mountebank, warmonger and irritating one-man debating society, Christopher Hitchens.
In point of fact, has not the Iraq war itself completely discredited Podhoretz, his ideas, forecasts and assumptions, along with all the other “neocon” luminaries and their fellow travelers? One would certainly hope so. But clearly the “neocons” do not reason on the same wavelength as the rest of humanity. They are alive and kicking. Their effrontery, egocentricity and ethnocentricity are hard habits to kick, and beyond all reason. And they have no shame.
The best deconstruction of Norman Podhoretz could be Murray Rothbard’s “The Evil of Banality” written in 1979 for the almost-forgotten intellectual journal, Inquiry. My essential concern here is not the self-obsessed mind of Norman Podhoretz, but U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East under the Cheney Regency. Maureen Dowd aptly described the situation in
” title=“a recent column”>a recent column: “Dick Cheney’s craziness used to influence foreign policy. Now it is foreign policy.” I am interested in Podhoretz only to the extent that he and his comrades have distorted and hijacked U.S. foreign policy, using Dick Cheney and Bush Jr. to do so.
In this regard, the brilliant libertarian icon Rothbard hit the nail on the head back in 1979 with the following observation on Podhoretz: “Explicitly and unabashedly, Podhoretz assumes ideological positions on the basis of the old question ‘Is it good for the Jews?’ Not for Podhoretz the older, broader, but presumably namby-pamby ideal of the intellectual as citizen of the world…. His foreign policy is grounded on an all-out and unmitigated support for the state of Israel, which he identifies with the cause of Jewry. A foreign policy of nonintervention is attacked, not on the basis of moral principle or even of American security, but because it ‘represented a direct threat to the security of Israel.’” Is it all coming into focus yet?
Bereft of obfuscation and flag-waving, there you have it, in Rothbard’s 1979 description of Podhoretz: the essence of current U.S. foreign policy, as carried out by the Regent Cheney, using the dauphin as a front man. At some point in the 1990’s, Cheney caught the bug from godfather Podhoretz and/or from Podhoretz’s comrades like “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and David Wurmser. Besides, the domestic politics were perfect, which was icing on the cake for Karl Rove and the dauphin. The charade known as the “Israel Lobby” continues unabated. After reading Rothbard’s “The Evil of Banality” and Mike Scheuer’s article noted above, one can set aside and be done with Podhoretz and with the canard called “neoconservatism” for at least a few months, maybe forever.
Excerpted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.
Halloween has a very long pedigree, reaching back into Celtic pagan days, when peasants believed that the times which marked transitions between the seasons”such as the autumn equinox, which happens around this date”opened the door between our world and the Unseen realm of the spirits. For a few days every year, the dead could walk the earth again, and the eerie powers possessed by fairies, witches, demons and other “undocumented residents” were greater than ever. They could kidnap children, blight crops, poison wells, and bring on plagues with impunity on this night, which the Celts called “Samhain.” In part to fool the spirits by passing as one of their own, country folk would dress up as these creatures themselves. They might also have hoped to placate these enemies of mankind”or even to make fun of them. It was this last meaning that Christian missionaries decided to give the holiday as they spread the new faith through old Europe. With few exceptions, monks and preachers gave their new converts permission to keep up their old traditions”provided they were willing to instill them with new meaning.
To help the newbies along, the Church created feasts of its own to fit the season: The Feast of All Saints, which marked the special activity of friendly spirits from the Other Side; and The Feast of All Souls, which gave people the chance to pray for their dead friends and family, to help them climb into Heaven. Even today, it’s much easier on this feast than at any time throughout the year, through a few simple prayers, to help your dead relatives escape the sufferings of purgatory”assuming you want to help them.
In America, this feast has been commercialized, and lurched backwards quite a ways towards its pagan roots. It’s hard to see how gays parading through Greenwich Village dressed as Britney Spears has much to do with Purgatory. But in other lands and certain regions, the day is still marked with celebrations that carry a religious punch. Cajuns and residents of New Orleans clean and decorate family gravesites, then picnic atop their long-lost relatives. Mexicans revive the gorier elements of their country’s heart-rending¹ Aztec past, celebrating their “Day of the Dead” by dressing up as skeletons, making cookies they call “Dead Man’s Bread” and decorating their homes with “luminarias,” candles inside paper bags marked with skulls and other uplifting insignia, that flicker, dangerously, all through the night.
Some Catholics in America have reacted against the paganizing trend by abandoning Halloween altogether. Influenced by their Evangelical neighbors, they’re giving up on the hard work their ancestors did to harness the coolest parts of paganism and put them to work, and I think that’s a shame. Others try to sanitize the day by dressing their kids up as saints and angels. This works pretty well for some of the girls, and the boys under 5, but after that it gets old mighty quick. The only way to keep such a party interesting is to dress the boys as soldier saints, warrior archangels such as St. Michael, or the Angel of Death sent by God throughout the Old Testament to smite the Egyptians. Or else-and here’s an idea I’m really proud of”to let the kids play out the martyrdom scenes of the early Church, with the more outgoing boys done up as Roman soldiers, lions, and dragons”whose job it is ravage and slaughter the girls, dressed up as virgin martyrs. Get enough Roman helmets, fresh white togas, and fake blood packets, and you can make Halloween mighty interesting to the most jaded American boy. (Get plenty of plastic swords.)
For impressionable adults, however, such doings might come across as kinky. (Do you really want to watch your wife “devoured” by your accountant, dressed as a lion?²) So I’d like to offer my own idea for celebrating Halloween which is both spooky and meaningful”and unforgettably delicious. I call it my “Halloween Purgatory Soiree.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Purgatory is that awkward transitional phase most of us (we hope) go through en route from earth to heaven. Call it “metaphysical puberty,” since it’s marked by all the discomfort, awkwardness, and growing pains we associate with early teenagers and the newly dead. (One of my favorite religious films, Beetlejuice, depicts this nicely.) Like a teen, you’re entering a strange new world”and you’re not too happy about what’s happening to your skin.
The doctrine of Purgatory is pretty simple: When most of us die, our souls are in dirty underwear. In fact, it’s stuck to our skin. And we could really use a couple of long hot baths. So God set up a kind of spiritual car wash for us to clean off all the crud we’ve accumulated over seventy mediocre (or twenty-seven really eventful) years. Dante, in his Purgatorio, saw the realm of purification as a mountain, around which sinners march in a spiraling path upward to heaven. Around and around each sinner would trudge, on a different story according to his favorite sin, hearing endlessly rehearsed every thing he had ever done wrong, and what he should have done instead. (It’s like slogging your way to the top of a sixth-floor walk-up”to have dinner with your parents.)
You can take this sobering reality and have some fun with it, by turning the home into “Purgatory for a Day,” and filling it with your very favorite sinners. Here’s how.
Make your front door the gateway to the spooky realm of purgative suffering by hanging the entrance, inside and out, with thick black velvet curtains. Keep the lighting dim, and improvise a fog machine with dry ice and a fan-or clouds from your favorite hookah pipe.³ Cover all the windows with black crepe paper, and rope off whole sections of the house with crime scene tape. If you have wooden floors, play a game with the kids, where you sketch the outlines of their little “corpses” on the floor. The atmosphere you want is something like a funeral parlor”run by the Addams Family. Drape all the mirrors with black or purple paper, and pull out the red candles you have left over from Pentecost.
You should announce that tonight costumes are mandatory”and they really should be thematic. If you want to be true to Dante, dress up the hostess as an angel and the host as the poet Virgil (a toga will do, with some bay leaves stapled”no, taped”to his head).
Of course, you won’t want to be “true to Dante””what kind of a geek are you? Instead, you’ll probably dress as some great sinner of history, preferably one whose costume is easy to make. Attire the lady of the house as glamorously as a queen, with a homemade tiara-and a blood line of lipstick around her neck, to suggest Marie Antoinette, or Mary, Queen of Scots. Gussy up the host as some famous megalomaniac, like General Patton or Jim Morrison. Attire the kids as the tiny devils who punish sinners. (Depending on your kids, this may strike too close to home.) Or have fun costuming each child as the deadly sin you know all too well he likes to indulge. Your sadistic son can carry some implement of torture, such as the TV remote. Your goth daughter can wear”whatever she would to a first date. And so on.
Tell every guest to come as his favorite dead sinner, without telling you who it is. And here’s the key to the fun-everyone should show some sign of suffering: grimace lines painted on the face, some ashes smeared on the clothes to suggest he has been burning, or a t-shirt from a Bible camp. Purgatory isn’t like Woody Allen’s sex-addict daydream of Hell in Deconstructing Harry”an S&M club full of buxom, sweaty women, with Billy Crystal telling jokes. It’s more like one of those Caribbean reform schools where suburban parents send their unmanageable kids. But tonight is their Senior Prom!
If your guests actually do play along and show up as historical sinners, don’t ask their “identity” when they arrive. That’s the key to the game you’re going to play as you nibble on dinner”a cocktail spread of seven courses, one for each Deadly Sin. It’s a guessing game, in which each guest, in turn must answer questions about what he did, what were his vices, etc. The object is to figure out who each guest is supposed to be, and what crimes he is “in for.” Call it “prison interrogation” to get the boys interested.
Food: The Seven Deadly Courses
Pride: Black Caviar, arrayed with chopped red onions, sour cream, toast points and lemon wedges on your finest silver tray.
Envy: Something thin and green”Roasted Asparagus with Lemon and Garlic.
Gluttony: Something WAY too fattening”Dates Stuffed with
Cheese, Wrapped in Bacon. (See recipe below.)
Anger: Shrimp and Mussels Fra Diavolo.
Lust: The medieval symbol of sexuality”Figs, Coated with Belgian chocolate.
Greed: Something irresistible: Peanut Butter Cookies.
Sloth: Something good but ridiculously easy: Haagen-Daz ice cream”self-service, straight out of the container.
Drink: Flaming Purgatory Punch.
Recipe by Denise Matychowiak
Gluttony: Stuffed Dates Serves 8.
1 pound good quality dates
8 ounces Gorgonzola or other bleu cheese
1/2 pound bacon
Fry bacon to chewy stage. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Remove pits from dates. Stuff the cavity of each with cheese. Wrap each date with 1/2 slice bacon. Pass under broiler momentarily and serve.
IMPORTANT NOTE: To illustrate theme of Gluttony, do not make enough of these treats to satisfy all your guests”then watch them fight over scraps.
1. Literally”it’s said that the Aztecs would rip out and eat some 10,000 human hearts a month from defeated enemies and helpless neighboring tribes, offering blood to the Sun God to keep him getting up in the morning. Apparently, coffee didn’t suffice.
2. Okay, you need help. Reach out, and ask for it. This marriage can still be saved.
3. It’s like a bong, only for Arabs.
A piece over at The Politico on Ron Paul is snarky yet informative, which seems to be the signature style of that site: “Libertarian Paul wins young minds” gives us brief profiles of young Ron Paul enthusiasts, naturally framing the whole thing in terms of isn’t-that-cute-ness. Oh those kids! What’ll they think of next!
Bright, energized, and contemptuous of the “neocons”—a phrase The Politico always adorns with ironic quotes—not all of them are libertarians: many are self-described Old Right conservatives. This is the real, happening fusionism—a fusion of libertarianism and old right conservatism over the issue of the war—which is being realized in the fulcrum of the Paul campaign. These young people are the future of what Ron calls the “freedom movement,” if it is to have a future.
“Though Paul defines himself as a libertarian and attributes the dedication of his young supporters to libertarian positions “ such as allowing people to opt out of Social Security and Medicare “ many libertarian pundits say Paul isn”t in sync with younger, more ‘modern’ libertarians.
“‘He’s sort of an old-style, old-right libertarian candidate,’ explained Brink Lindsey, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. Paul departs from younger libertarians with his opposition to abortion rights and free trade agreements, for example, Lindsey said.”
What Lindsay, who enthusiastically supported the Iraq war, doesn’t say—or isn’t quoted as saying—is that he hates Paul’s old right and quintessentially libertarian opposition to our foreign policy of global interventionism. Senor Lindsay and his fellow “modern” libertarians have made their peace with the Empire. As long as they can take drugs, abort fetuses, and sodomize each other to their hearts’ content, he and his Beltway buddies have no problem with the US rampaging over half the earth, regime-changing and taking out “rogue” states at will. As long as it’s a “free market” empire, they’re all in favor of it.
Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason magazine, is hauled out, too:
“He has a set of principles applied consistently. He’s not a bullshit artist,” said Gillespie, who contrasted Paul’s plainspoken approach with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s waffling on abortion. ‘I think that’s very attractive to younger voters who are too stupid to realize that’s not how politics works.’”
Yeah, those poor dumb jerks, who actually believe that principles matter, and individuals can act to make history: they’ll soon learn! This is the typical mantra of the Beltway know-it-alls, who have no real connection to the actually-existing libertarian movement—Gillespie came out of a short-lived online magazine entitled “Suck”—and wouldn’t lower themselves, either. That doesn’t stop these generals without an army from pontificating, judging, and often belittling the movement, and especially cultural conservatives like Ron Paul, who don’t fit into their own narrow little cultural paradigm.
The world-weariness of poseurs like Gillespie is a tired act that the young people who are flocking to Paul can see right through. These kids don’t read Reason magazine, with its strained, oddly archaic hipness: they’re much more likely to be reading The American Conservative, Antiwar.com, and maybe Counterpunch.
The denizens of the Beltway “libertarian” crowd are largely legends in their own minds: Ron Paul, on the other hand, is a real world person, a nine-term Republican congressman from the Gulf coast of Texas who has nonetheless managed to maintain his unblemished record of libertarian integrity. Paul, as Gillespie would have it, is “too stupid to realize that’s not how politics works.” Here we have a former editor of “Suck” lecturing America’s most successful libertarian politician on how politics works: it’s laughable. Paul’s entire career in politics is a living reproach to the cynicism of Gillespie and his fellow wannabe “libertarian pundits, and that’s why they get wheeled out to sneer at him.
Let them sneer. As the Ron Paul buzz gets louder, they’ll soon be jumping on the Paulian bandwagon—if only on account of the impressive grassroots financial support the Paul campaign has generated. After all, these alleged libertarians believe in the market, right? Well, the market has decided that Ron Paul, and not some half-baked self-proclaimed “libertarian pundit,” is where the real libertarianism is at.
This week I stumbled across an astounding blooper in a column by the usually informative Bob Novak about the “Abortion War’s Newest Front.” Novak was discussing a Kansas District Judge, James E. Vano, who had brought criminal charges against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri for its involvement in “facilitating” late-term abortions. Novak commended Vano for having gone after the pro-abortion lobby; and he praised the anti-abortion former attorney general Phill Kline for having taken similar actions at the state level.
But then Novak pulled out this counterfactual comparison: “”Bloody Kansas” was the battleground between rebel and loyal forces nearly 150 years ago, and it’s now an epicenter of abortion conflict.” In point of fact there were no “rebel and loyal forces” battling in Kansas in the 1850s because the Civil War didn”t start until seven years later. What famously happened in Kansas when it was being settled in the 1850s was that Northern Abolitionists and slaveholding Southerners landed up fighting each other. Although it would have been good for the country if Kansas did not become a “slave state,” most of the violence emanated from anti-slavery fanatics like John Brown, who had received their arms from partisans as far away as New England. The bloodbath there had nothing to do with rebels and loyalists.
It would not be implausible to suggest that Novak has picked up on a favorite (stupid) tactic of the pro-life movement. It is to compare slavery in the Old South to a presumably comparable evil, which is to snuff out the lives of unborn children. The problem is that no one, save for Mike Gerson, a few of his Evangelical friends and perhaps some half-educated editors at National Review trying hard to sound serious, can believe in such moonshine. This groping for PC comparisons is obviously intended to bring blacks and their liberal well-wishers into the pro-life camp by appealing to the themes of the civil rights movement. Actually the two injustices do not seem comparable, if one believes that abortion involves homicide. (In the case of late-term abortion, where one is dealing with an empirical human being, only a feminist lunatic or a sleazy politician like Hillary Clinton or the “moderate” Joe Lieberman would deny the obvious.)
While slavery entails a grievous loss of liberty, it does not reach the same degree of evil as abortion, if one believes that abortion involves the destruction of human life. If what we are examining, however, is some kind of natural rights argument, the comparison may be even more misleading. Unlike a slave, who can be made aware of his servile condition and therefore can demand his right to freedom, the fetus has no real awareness of its right to life. The slave but not the fetus, as some feminists have properly argued, can be conscious of inborn rights and can act on the basis of them. The same rights-consciousness by contrast does not exist in the unborn child. Despite the eagerness of the pro-lifers to apply their favorite line out of the Declaration, about being “endowed with inalienable rights,” it is hard to see how Jefferson and John Locke were referring to the status of the fetus. Their “inalienable rights” pertain to those who are already born—and especially to those who are engaged in making social contracts.
The real reason that our anti-abortionists get so exercised about involuntary servitude is the race issue, which lies at the heart of the American politics of guilt. Otherwise they would not be dredging out the race question every time the discussion turns to the fetus before its passage down the birth canal. Note that I am not a fan of slavery for blacks or for anyone else. I am simply sick of the dishonest historical parallel that comes from the pro-life forces, a parallel that is broadly hinted at by Bob Novak. No one, and particularly not the minorities whom the pro-lifers wish to flatter, seems interested in this ritualized reaching out.
By the way, nothing in my criticism should be read as an endorsement of “abortion service providers,” who deserve the same respect that is owed to crack-peddlers or former guards in Nazi concentration camps. I am not endorsing a “woman’s right” to dispose of her fetus, except in the most uncommon of circumstances. And I believe there are sound “scientific” arguments that pro-lifers should stress in making their case for the sanctity of human life. But this productive approach to a burning moral question requires the exclusion of a useless comparison. We should learn to ignore those who cannot talk about abortion without dwelling on America’s racist past.
While I cannot (by which I do not mean “will not,” but truly cannot) endorse the opening paragraph of Kevin Michael Derby’s “The Silence of Father Neuhaus,” the rest of the piece is excellent, and even the fulsome praise in Mr. Derby’s first paragraph serves a rhetorical purpose, heightening the effect of the criticism throughout the rest of the piece. Mr. Derby demolished almost everything that Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote in his rhetorically clever but intellectually dishonest blog post, so I’ll confine my remarks to one rather curious comment that Father Neuhaus made. He writes:
“And all of this, of course, in defense of ‘authentic’ Catholic social doctrine before it was muddled by the likes of the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II.”
Let’s take a moment to unpack these words, because there are a number of possible ways to interpret them. Let’s start by reading them sequentially. Since Father Neuhaus is writing in praise of James Hitchcock’s article in Human Life Review, and Hitchcock’s discussion of social doctrine focused primarily on things that Paul Likoudis wrote, it’s reasonable to assume that the unstated object of this attack is Mr. Likoudis. Father Neuhaus and I can agree that Mr. Likoudis is defending . . . something. Here’s where things get a little more interesting. I believe, as does Mr. Likoudis, that Mr. Likoudis is defending Catholic social doctrine. Does Father Neuhaus? Well, probably not: The scare quotes he places around “authentic” echo those that Hitchcock placed around the words “Catholic Right” in the title of his essay.
Father Neuhaus, of course, makes no attempt—not even the feeble, guilt-by-association one made by Hitchcock—to prove that Mr. Likoudis misunderstands or misrepresents Catholic social doctrine. That may have something to do with the fact that (based on my familiarity with the writings of both men) Mr. Likoudis has, over the years, quoted the social encyclicals (including Centesimus annus, a point that will prove important in a moment) more often and at greater length than has Father Neuhaus. Father Neuhaus, like his friend and ideological soulmate Michael Novak, is fond of the quick, out-of-context, heavily ellipsed quotation from Centesimus annus, designed to show that John Paul II was, despite his own words to the contrary, an unabashed supporter of capitalism.
Continuing on with Father Neuhaus’s words, we come to a puzzle. Father Neuhaus writes “before it was muddled.” These words could mean at least two things. First, Father Neuhaus could be claiming that Mr. Likoudis believes that Catholic social doctrine was changed (“muddled”) by Vatican II and John Paul II. If so, he is either unfamiliar with Mr. Likoudis’s writing, in which case he probably should refrain from commenting, or he is lying. At the heart of Mr. Likoudis’s many discussions of Catholic social doctrine lies the firm conviction that it hasn’t changed. Centesimus annus does not contradict Rerum novarum, any more than Quadragesimo anno did, or any more than Rerum novarum contradicted, say, St. John Chrysostom’s sermons on Lazarus and Dives. That probably has something to do with the fact that Mr. Likoudis believes that the Holy Spirit does guide the Church and that the Church is a divine, as well as human, institution, unlike the series of all-too-human political organizations that Mr. and Pastor and Father Neuhaus has been involved in over the years, which release documents that are sufficient to the needs of the day, and discarded as soon as they no longer serve their desired purpose.
Which brings us to a second possible meaning of Father Neuhaus’s words: namely, that he believes that Vatican II and John Paul II changed Catholic social doctrine. This interpretation has the advantage of allowing us to believe that Father Neuhaus isn’t lying; he simply assumes that it is obvious that the Church no longer believes in that old, outmoded social doctrine, passed down by popes who hadn’t lived through the collapse of communism and the triumph of democratic capitalism. Therefore, since Mr. Likoudis continues to refer to Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno and St. John Chrysostom and all of those pre-1962 types instead of referring exclusively to the one document—Centesimus annus, as glossed by Novak and Neuhaus and Weigel—that superseded them all, Father Neuhaus reasonably assumes that Mr. Likoudis must regard John Paul II’s contribution as “muddling.” It’s an honest mistake for an old-line progressive such as Father Neuhaus to make. Progressivism is not simply a doctrine but a way of thought, and even many who today call themselves “conservatives” find that way of thought awfully hard to shake.
We come now to the final part of Father Neuhaus’s statement: “by the likes of the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II.” Again, Father Neuhaus has put the reader who knows something about Mr. Likoudis’s writing in the very uncomfortable position of having to assume that Father Neuhaus is either lying or blustering on about things he simply doesn’t understand. After all, neither Mr. Likoudis nor The Wanderer has rejected Vatican II or bashed John Paul II. That fact lies at the heart of the break within the Matt family, between The Wanderer, which has defended Vatican II, the new Mass (as well as the old), and John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and The Remnant, which, to put it kindly, has unstintingly criticized all of the above. Unfortunately, the fact that Father Neuhaus alludes to the break between the publications would seem to indicate that he knows something about it, which suggests that he’s deliberately imputing the views of the latter to the former in order to score rhetorical points.
I have to wonder why Father Neuhaus went out of his way to heap praise on Hitchock’s attack on Mr. Likoudis and The Wanderer, and to do it in such an odd way, when (as far as I can tell) he’s failed to criticize a much more prominent dissenter from the neocon trinity’s interpretation of Centesimus annus: Pope Benedict XVI. After all, First Things editor Jodie Bottum has made it pretty clear, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, that the current Holy Father brings some baggage to the throne of Peter, particularly on “economic issues,” that places him “to the left of his predecessor” and therefore outside “authentic” Catholic social doctrine, at least as Father Neuhaus would understand it:
“If the 1991 encyclical from John Paul I, Centesimus annus, might be described as three cheers for democracy, two cheers for capitalism. Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have gave only one cheer . . . “
We’ll cut Mr. Bottum a break on his atrocious grammar; I’m sure the lights on the Meet the Press set are so bright that even the best-trained editor might occasionally forget the past participle of give. But Mr. Bottum and his colleague Robert Miller and Father Neuhaus seem to have forgotten something much more important: “Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI,” is indeed the Holy Father, and if our own interpretations of Catholic social doctrine or just-war theory don’t coincide with his, we should be questioning ourselves, not those who do agree with him.
Unlike some of my respondents, I am not surprised that Norman Podhoretz in his latest book goes after the isolationist Right. For years Norman has been looking frenetically over his right shoulder, e.g., denouncing Taftites and representatives of the pre-neocon Right, a practice going back to Commentary’s spats with the Buchananites at the end of the Cold War and to its swipes at right-wingers who were perceived as being insufficiently supportive of the Israeli government. But even more interesting than the fact that the older generation of neoconservatives have always believed they were in a dogfight with the hated “paleoconservatives” is the way the liberal establishment and the reconstructed conservative movement have kept us out of the public debate. The reviewers of Podhoretz’s most recent book did not want to mention our guys, even if Podhoretz did; just as the antiwar leftist media continue to treat paleo opponents of the Iraqi War as non-existent or beneath contempt. If it were our partisans against theirs, that is, the neocons and their hacks, we might be able to hold our own.
Unfortunately it is the liberal side that helps to preserve the reputation of the neoconservatives as the only intelligent and relatively humane opposition to the Left. For those who seek more proof, look at the commentary “Saying the Unsayable” by British left-of-center journalist Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman (September 13, 2007). Although this commentary pretends to be about the Walt-Mearsheimer exposé of the American Jewish lobby, it quickly turns into a rant against the “far-right, libertarian congressman” Ron Paul. Supposedly, when Paul noted that the “neoconservatives” played a major role in getting the US to invade Iraq, he was “saying the unsayable,” by “resorting to coded language.” Paul, who is apparently a bigot playing to “far-rightists” was telling his audience that all of our problems in the Mid-East have been “cooked up by the Jews.” Walt and Mearsheimer, who say much more daring things in their book than Paul did in his debate response, are treated respectfully for obvious reasons. They are politically on the left and identified with prestigious leftist academic institutions.
The reason I was struck by all of the errors and oversights in The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism that reviewers did not disclose is the inflated reputation that the media has created for the neoconservatives as the “brainy, cultured” Right. Although there is much I didn’t like about the neoconservative sources that I consulted for my latest monograph on the conservative movement, the quotations from liberals about the high intelligence and learning of neoconservative journalists and fund-raisers are not at all fabricated. I first learned about Podhoretz and his friends from reading the New York Times in the 1970s, and everything I saw there about him and his movement made me adore the neoconservatives. As late as the 1990s, the Times Sunday Magazine featured glossy pictures of Bill Kristol, Mr. and Mrs. David Frum and other second-generation neocon dignitaries, with flattering commentaries typically prepared by neocon scribblers. The Times and Washington Post give massive and usually favorable coverage to books published by such neoconservative authors as Gertrude Himmelfarb, David Brooks, and Dinesh D’Souza, and both of these national newspapers, as well as Time and Newsweek magazines, feature neocon columnists.
And well they might. It is they who helped manufacture this alternative opposition to a more genuine Right. Their exuberant support got others to buy into the kinder, gentler “Right” that the Left bestowed on this country. Opportunistic movement conservatives later ran to join those whom Clyde Wilson in the 1980s recognized as “interlopers.” And certainly Zionist New Dealers and big-government corporate executives have thrown largesse in the direction of these “moderate conservatives.”
But we got the neocons mostly because the Left wanted that kind of bogus opposition. My late friend Sam Francis knew whereof he spoke when he scorned the neocons as the “harmless persuasion.” Sam meant that this group was innocuous to establishment liberals, who laid it on with a trowel when they described their “brilliant” neocon adversaries. But both groups were pure fury when it came to beating up on us.
Another related point is that Sam and I both became interested in studying certain Frankfurt School concepts, although neither of us was a “cultural Marxist,” because they cast light on how the neocons took and exercised power. There is—it seemed to the two of us—a “hegemonic” leftist ideology, which among its defining traits is anti-anti-Semitic, anti-racist, anti-German and generally anti-Southern white. This ideology also favors government social engineering and a welfare state but not necessarily a socialist economy. Most of the adherents of this ideology are not in fact Jews, although Jews may be disproportionately represented among its carriers. Indeed if its success depended on a two-percent Jewish minority in the US, this hegemonic ideology could not have spread as well as it did. Its numerically preponderant supporters have been liberal Christians, who in recent years have been significantly supplemented by such Evangelicals as Michael Gerson, Cal Thomas, and George W. Bush.
There is a second layer to this hegemonic ideology—and here differences may be allowed in the U.S. but not in Western Europe, where the core ideology has progressed farther because of an extremely controlling public administration. The second layer centers on multiculturalism and special group rights for designated victims, such as gays and Muslims. In the face of an evolving core ideology, a mild opposition is allowed to function, as long as it challenges only certain implications of the belief or attitude system. And these “conservative” attacks are encouraged insofar as what is being attacked is only an advanced version of the core ideology but not the underlying sentiments and values. The “moderate conservative” critics of certain excrescences of the core ideology stress the “legacy of the civil rights movement, as embodied by Martin Luther King, and the need to fight anti-Semitism with special zeal, a task that now apparently requires a new world war against “Islamofascism.”
But the criticism here, to use another Frankfurt School term, remains “immanentist.” It proceeds out of the same post-Christian, post-bourgeois hegemonic ideology as the Left that it pretends to resist. Since “democratic politics” requires some kind of organized debate, the neoconservatives and the liberals stage discussions within their own broad consensus—which obviously excludes “fascists” and “extremists,” who challenge their shared understanding of progress and government-promoted equality or the need to exert force internationally in order to end gender disparities, homophobia, etc. Sam and I adopted another Frankfurt School term, “artificial negativity,” to describe what went on when the hegemons blow off steam, mostly for show. Anyone who is looking for an illustration of “artificial negativity” should turn on Hannity and Colmes or listen to the discussions held between the two national parties that clog our TV and radio networks. Such spectacles typically combine utter triviality with the grunting and screaming that one might easily associate with professional wrestling.
A final point about the functioning of this mostly bogus opposition is that it reaches rightward in a way that affects the behavior of the Old Right. Earlier this week, I read on FRONTPAGE, a neoconservative-financed website, a scathing article by the spirited Heather McDonald on the Jena race-hustle, and the scapegoating in the national press of the whites in this Louisiana hamlet, for insisting that severe charges be brought against local blacks who had nearly killed a white high school student. I defy my paleo colleagues to publish anything as critical about American blacks as this lady did on a neocon website. The Old Right is terrified of the subject of race, and it is impossible even while reading its endless hymns to the antebellum South to learn that what is being described is a slave society. Lest it be called racist, the Old Right tries to stay clear of pressing social issues that have to do with race. But neocons do not feel as constrained about the subject, perhaps because they are less likely to get attacked from the Left as racists. Nor are they as frightened of raising the question of significant behavioral differences among the races.
On the other hand, there is no philosophic consistency in how the neocons take on hot moral issues. Although sometimes, when it is useful, they may deplore gay marriage, they are also quite happy to back candidates who favor it. And when it helps their bellicose plans, they will bow and scrape before the gay lobby. For days now, I have been noticing the way neoconservative commentators are trying to enlist the gay movement against the government of Ahmadjinedad. Apparently the failure of the Iranian regime to recognize gay rights now goes against conservative “values.” Since these values, as I argue in my book, are whatever neocons say they are, neocons may be acting consistently on their own Hobbesian principle that power determines meanings as well as justice.
Someone who has dared to go beyond “decent” debate is former DePaul political science assistant professor Norman Finkelstein. This now unemployed figure resigned from his post at De Paul University in September after having been denied tenure last spring. Although a self-described leftist and the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, 53 year old Finkelstein leaned on the third rail once too often. By now, as I note in an article for the German weekly Junge Freiheit, this hapless truth-teller may have no other professional prospects left but to work in a shoe store. After all, he has published entire tomes exposing the pap of PC celebrities. Among Finkelstein’s targets have been Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, a screed that Finkelstein shows was at least partly lifted from Joan Peterson’s even longer botched work on how there were hardly any Palestinians in Palestine when the European Jews arrived, and Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners. With incredible diligence, Norman has dissected neocon-liberal fixations, about German history, the abuses of the Holocaust for propagandistic purposes, and the bullying tactics of AIPAC. Although never entirely in agreement with the solutions of this zealous pro-Palestinian advocate, I was astonished by his research and transparent courage. Two of the flawed books he focused on, by Goldhagen and Dershowitz, were so fetid and malicious, that I thought he may have been actually too kind to their factual errors and gratuitous gracelessness.
I was therefore not at all surprised that Dershowitz pressed the tenure committee and the president at DePaul to get rid of his critic. Nor was I appalled that he boasted of his accomplishment after Finkelstein was turned down for tenure—despite his voluminous accomplishments and advanced age. Nor was I horrified that the former president and current dean of the law school at Harvard took Dershowitz’s side as a maligned scholar who had fallen into the hands of a bully. Note that the same institution had produced a plethora of endorsements for Goldhagen’s sweeping indictment of the Germans as an “eliminationist anti-Semitic nation.” As far as I know, no one at Harvard has bothered to acknowledge the fraudulent history which riddles Goldhagen’s book. In passing I would note that Norman’s fate at a Catholic university paralleled my own at CUA in the late 1980s. Once some professional victimologist brings up the charge of nurturing “anti-Semitism,” the timid administrators of such schools, often associated with easily intimidated Princes of the Church, cave in. Needless to say, it makes no difference if the would-be disseminator of “prejudice” happens to be Jewish. It serves me (and Finklestein) right for challenging “enlightened” opinion in this most tolerant and caring-and-sharing of liberal democracies.
As the government of Turkey weighs whether to invade the single prosperous, relatively orderly part of Iraq—Kurdistan—one’s natural, Christian impulse is to pray for peace. The Kurds have been oppressed for far too long, they are U.S. allies, et cetera. An invasion of Kurdistan would set back Turkey’s apparent moves toward democracy and stop its march toward membership in the European Union….
Hey, wait a minute. Some turn of events that could stop the march of Islamist parties toward power in Ankara? Which could force the EU leaders to slam the door on Turkey? This is sounding better and better.
Remember that if Turkey joins the EU, every single person in Turkey will have the right to move anywhere in Europe, by treaty. As will anyone who can sneak into Turkey from its uncontrollable borders. It would mean the end of Christian Europe, period. Our mother Continent would be overwhelmed, never to reemerge. It would disappear as surely as Christian Syria, Christian Egypt, Christian Kosovo, Christian Bethlehem—never to rise again.
Given the already troubling difference between Islamic and Christian birthrates, the churches of Rome, Paris, Vienna, Dublin, and Warsaw would sooner or later end up mostly as mosques. EU elites, who hate Christianity more than they love liberty, are willing to foster this process—even if it means their granddaughters will walk around in burkhas. At least they won’t be wearing crucifixes, or having large families. So that’s all right then.
Just about the only thing that will stop Turkey’s slide into EU membership is some catastrophic mistake—like an invasion of Kurdistan. So while I can’t exactly bring myself to hope for it, I’ll use my peace prayers on another country considering an ill-advised invasion. Our own.