Over in Great Britain, the House of Commons recently passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which, among other things, keeps the time limit on abortions at twenty-four weeks (in spite a hope that it would be lowered), authorizes the creation of “savior siblings (brothers and sisters deliberately created in a lab solely for their organs to be harvested for use by the already-born), and allows for the creation of animal-human hybrids. The British human rights activist James Mawdsley, famously jailed for over a year by the military junta in Burma, has asked opponents of the HFE Bill to sign a petition to Queen Elizabeth II imploring her to withhold the royal assent necessary for the Bill to become law.
Under the British constitution, a bill only becomes a law when it has received the assent of all three components of the British Parliament: the Commons, the Lords, and the Crown. The last time the Crown withheld consent was in 1708 when Queen Anne refused to sign the Scottish Militia Bill. Since that time, it has been an unspoken convention that should the Crown object to a piece of legislation, it should privately inform its ministers before the legislation is voted upon in order for it to be withdrawn, thus preventing the scandal of the Crown and the Commons appearing to be in disagreement. Despite this convention, however, the Crown still has the right to withhold consent, but merely neglects to exercise that right.
While the Crown has faded to near-irrelevance in the everyday workings of the British government, this was certainly not always the case, and the Crown has intervened in politics several times since Queen Anne’s refusal of assent in 1708. What follows are but a few twentieth-century examples.
In 1925, William Mackenzie King was Prime Minister of Canada with 99 Liberal MPs to the Conservative opposition’s 116. He was able to do this by forming a minority government with the support of the 24 MPs of the Progressive Party. A year later, Liberal MPs were implicated in a bribery scandal and so the Progressives having withdrawn their support for the minority government. As parliament debated a motion to censure the MPs involved, the Prime Minister asked Lord Byng, the Governor-General of Canada (and thus the direct representative of the Crown), to dissolve parliament and call a general election.
Lord Byng did not want it to appear that the Crown was allowing parliament to be dissolved in order to prevent the censure of government MPs and so used the royal prerogative and refused to call an election. The Conservatives, as the largest party in parliament (Lord Byng argued), should have a chance at forming a government instead. The Governor-General invited Arthur Meighen, leader of the Conservatives, to form a government instead, and Meighen agreed. This, in turn, infuriated not only the Liberals but also the Progressives, throwing the middle-man back into the Liberal camp. Meighen put his government up to a vote of confidence, lost it by one vote, and so resigned and asked the Governor-General to dissolve parliament and call an election, which Lord Byng duly did.
“I have to await the verdict of history to prove my having adopted a wrong course,” Lord Byng wrote, “and this I do with an easy conscience that, right or wrong, I have acted in the interests of Canada and implicated no one else in my decision.”
In 1931, when the Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald submitted his resignation to the King, George V took the unprecedented step of asking MacDonald to form a national government with the support of Conservatives and Liberal Members of Parliament. MacDonald lasted as Prime Minister until 1935, but Great Britain would not be governed by a single-party government again until 1945.
More recently, the Crown controversially intervened in Australian politics in 1975. Gough Whitlam’s Labor government commanded a majority in the House of Representatives but the opposition coalition of the Liberals and the National Country Party held sway in the Senate. It is traditional in Westminster-style systems that if a money supply bill fails to pass, the government falls with it. The Senate refused to vote on the annual Budget, in hopes of provoking Whitlam into calling a new election. Whitlam stubbornly refused, and the impasse grew as the weeks passed and, with no budget approved, it looked like the government of Australia would not be able to meet its financial obligations for the year.
Finally, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, used the royal prerogative to dismiss Whitlam as Prime Minister, asked the opposition leader Malcolm Fraser to take the job. Fraser formed a caretaker government solely to pass the appropriations bill then immediately called a new election which his own Liberal/National Country coalition won handily.
Such royal interventions, however, are not limited to the English-speaking world. Belgium’s King Baudouin I, a Charismatic Catholic and friend of Francisco Franco, famously refused to give assent to a bill liberalizing the kingdom’s abortion laws. The Prime Minister, Wilfred Martens, simply had the King declared temporarily unable to reign and the Government signed the Bill in place of the King (as is provided in the Belgian Constitution). Two days later, the Government declared the King able to reign once more, and all was back to normal (except for the unborn children killed thereafter, of course).
One of the great benefits of a monarchy is this: that the Crown act as a source of authority, free from democratic accountability, who is capable of blocking any egregious acts which the government of the day may attempt. The HFE Bill is the perfect example of a bill the Crown ought to reject, for the benefit of all the kingdom, most especially the unborn. Yet we can reasonably assume that Elizabeth II will grant her assent to this travesty of law nonetheless, as the current occupant of the throne has (ironically) so thoroughly and woefully imbibed the democratic spirit that she knows not how to fulfill her purpose and duty as Queen. (It is important to note that in neither the King-Byng affair nor the Whitlam-Kerr affair was the Governor General acting on the orders of the actual person who was the Crown at the time, but rather on their dutiful instinct as the local incarnation thereof). It is disappointing to those who are unflinching in their attempts to defend the British Monarchy that the British Monarchy insists on participating in, and sometimes urging on, the very sort of wickedness which we look to the Crown to protect us from. Alas, so far we have looked in vain.
The Supreme Court of California provoked the usual howls of indignation and triumph with its decision mandating government recognition of same-sex marriage. As often happens, however, both sides of the controversy share assumptions that make their disagreement possible in the first place. That is, both opponents and advocates of same-sex marriage agree that marriage is the best possible loving relationship. As the justices put it, marriage is:
[T]he most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime. The ability of an individual to join in a committed, long-term, officially recognized family relationship with the person of his or her choice is often of crucial significance to the individual’s happiness and well-being. The legal commitment to long-term mutual emotional and economic support that is an integral part of an officially recognized marriage relationship provides an individual with the ability to invest in and rely upon a loving relationship with another adult in a way that may be crucial to the individual’s development as a person and achievement of his or her full potential.
Few marriage “traditionalists” would question this sonorous apology for marriage. Yet the view that a “committed, long-term, officially recognized family relationship” with another is the highest sexual ideal is not only not traditional but is indeed quite novel. Consider by way of contrast the words of the English Book of Common Prayer, which gives the following three justifications for marriage:
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
Clearly, the good doctors who authored the BCP had nothing like California’s confidence that marriage is “the most socially productive and individually fulfilling” relationship possible. On the contrary, the first reason they give for marriage is purely utilitarian, that it is the best way to deal with children coming into the world. The second reason is almost pejorative, namely, that marriage is a concession to those individuals who lack the self-control to do any better. The last reason the BCP gives for marriage”that it provides aid and comfort to both parties”is slightly more optimistic. Even this reason, however, is uninspiring, insofar as a couple’s mutual aid is a good way to relieve society of the burden of caring for each of them.
The BCP’s dim view of marriage might shock the pious justices of California’s Supreme Court. Yet the notion that marriage as an inferior state is far from an eccentricity of Anglican religion. On the contrary, if any view of marriage is eccentric, it is the exalted view championed by the California justices. Socrates found his most “individually fulfilling relationship” not in his wife Xanthippe but contemplating the form of the beauty. Augustine thought that marriage was only good for producing children; the “indecent because disobedient” motions of a man’s flesh he saw as a humiliating reminder of our depravity. Medieval troubadours once argued that love and marriage could not even coexist. The only true love as they saw it was adulterous love.
For what it is worth, the only view of marriage I can think of that comes close to California’s is John Milton’s:
Hail, wedded Love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise, of all things common else!
By thee adult’rous love was driven from men
Among the bestial herds to range; by thee,
Founded in reason, loyal, just and pure,
Relations dear, and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother, first were known.
Yet even Milton’s view of “wedded Love,” though laudatory, differs little from the BCP’s. Wedded love for Milton is antithetical to “bestial” desire and reflects only the rational need to procreate. As with the BCP, marriage in Milton’s view does not so much consummate love as cure it.
We live today in a relentlessly earnest and humorless marriage culture. Lovers often talk about taking their relationship “to the next level,” as if love were a long and arduous climb with marriage at the apex (or perhaps at the first of many apexes). When they do marry, they compose their own wedding vows in a grim determination to make it the most solemn utterance of their lives. Same-sex couples of one’s acquaintance take the gravity of marriage today to an astonishing extreme. When they talk about taking the “next step” in their relationships, they seem to really mean it, as if they really did seek nothing less than the most “socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime.”
“Traditionalists” have it all backwards. Marriage isn’t in decline; it has instead been glorified beyond all recognition. The only way back to traditional marriage may be to allow same-sex marriage without protest. Let marriage first be deflated. Then perhaps it can it can be restored.
After losing both houses of Congress in the 1994 election, Bill Clinton expostulated: The president of the United States is not irrelevant!
On learning his trusted aide from Texas Scott McClellan has denounced as an “unnecessary war” the same Iraq war McClellan defended from the White House podium, George Bush must feel as Clinton did.
The synchronized savagery of the attacks on McClellan as turncoat suggests he drew blood. For what he has done is offer confirmation to the president’s war critics, from within the White House inner circle, that Bush’s motive in going to war was not a clear and present danger of attack by Iraq with weapons of mass destruction, but to advance a Bush crusade to impose democracy on the Middle East.
Neoconservative ideology, not U.S. national interests, McClellan is saying, motivated Bush to launch one of the longest and most divisive wars in U.S. history.
When loyalists defect and seek to profit from that defection, it is usually a sign of a failing presidency. And, indeed, events suggest that history is passing Bush by.
Despite the administration’s designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, and of Syria and Iran as state sponsors of terror with whom we do not negotiate, America’s clients are ignoring America.
Israel has ignored Bush’s demand that it stop building and expanding settlements on a West Bank that is to be the heartland of a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been secretly negotiating with Syria for the return of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.
When America refused to play honest broker between Jerusalem and Damascus, Turkey, at Israel’s request, stepped into the role.
The pro-American Lebanese government of Prime Minister Siniora has negotiated a truce and power-sharing arrangement with Hezbollah, giving that militant Shiite movement and party veto power in the Beirut government. Egypt is negotiating with Hamas for a truce in the Israeli-Gaza war and to effect the exchange of a captured Israeli solider held by Hamas for Hamas fighters held in Israel.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, designated a terrorist organization by the Senate, helped to arrange the ceasefire between government forces and the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City. While the United States has used the roughest of language to denounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president has been received as an honored guest by the Iraqi government we support and by the Ayatollah Sistani, who has yet to meet a high-ranking American.
When Bush went to the Middle East to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel as the Zionist he has become, he was criticized by a Palestinian leader who survives on U.S. aid. When he went to Riyadh to plead for an increase in the flow of oil, he got a token concession from the king.
In Pakistan, the new government has been negotiating a truce with the radicalized frontier provinces, which would leave the Taliban with a privileged sanctuary from which to prepare their annual offensives to overthrow the government in Kabul and expel the Americans, as their fathers expelled the Russians.
As Russia and China move closer together to oppose U.S. missile defenses and the U.S. presence, military and economic, in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Latin America seems to be going its own leftward way. The halcyon days of the Alliance for Progress are long gone.
The world seems to be waiting for Bush to depart and for the next American president. For the foreign policy differences between John McCain and Barack Obama are as real and stark as they have been since the Reagan-Carter election of 1980, or the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972.
Looking back on the years since 9-11, it is hard to give the Bush foreign policy passing grades. We pushed NATO eastward and alienated Russia. We have 140,000 Army and Marine Corps troops tied down in Iraq in a war now in its sixth year, from which our NATO allies have all extricated themselves. We have another war going in Afghanistan, where the situation is as grave as it has been since we went in.
The Bush democracy crusade was put on the shelf after producing election triumphs for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, after Iraq, appears to be headed there, as well.
America remains the first economic and military power on earth. But after seven years of Bush, we no longer inspire the awe or hopes we once did. We are no longer the world hegemonic power of the neocons’ depiction. And the reason is that Bush embraced their utopian ideology of democratic empire and listened to their siren’s call to be the Churchill of his age.
Of Bush, it may be said he was a far better politician and candidate than his father, but as a statesman and world leader, he could not carry the old man’s loafers.
It is odd, to say the least, to read a colleague of mine at this site complaining of someone else’s idiosyncratic positions, as if we prized conformity and predictability here, or attacking his skepticism of mass hysteria directed towards a supposedly pervasive foreign enemy. It is especially strange to find such derision of anti-anticommunism in Richard’s post, since I very much doubt that that most of us would have taken a very different line on popular anticommunism at its origins than we have taken on the sort of crude jingoism that dresses itself up in appeals to combating jihadism. The similarities between the popular anticommunist response and the overreaching anti-jihadist response are noticeable, and I have noted them before. Before anyone gets too carried away in anti-anti-anticommunist fervor, I suggest we consider the very real problems that mass anticommunism has posed for the conservative movement over its history.
Anticommunism served as the common ground, the chief organizing principle of diverse groups on the right, which compelled traditional conservatives into a dubious alliance with the cheerleaders of corporate capitalism not necessarily that much less antithetical to the stability and integrity of their communities and their way of life, drove the right to embrace a series of questionable foreign wars, deployments and foreign commitments that continue to burden our country with their costs and to reconcile itself to an expansive security state whose unchecked power makes invocations of constitutional constraints quaint and amusing and, of course, opened the door to the neoconservatives who gained entry and found common cause mostly thanks to their even more intense anticommunism that was the fruit of old quarrels from the left. At the end of the Cold War, some anticommunists who had embraced a relatively more hawkish line in the Cold War now saw the conflict as over and all of the things just mentioned as no longer necessary, yet it is almost unavoidable that “emergency” and “temporary” powers that they are never temporary and will continue long after the emergency has ended (especially when the “emergency” lasts for five decades). The anti-anticommunists protested against the ideology that justified all of this, while most conservatives insisted on the necessity of all these things. In retrospect and on balance, who looks to have been more in the right?
It is not just that we are today in the position comparable to the anti-anticommunists of old, but the anti-anticommunists made a good deal of sense and we should at the very least give them a serious hearing rather than dismiss them as idiosyncratic and their position as “highly dubious.” There is, of course, nothing dubious about defending a strategy of containment and refusing to embrace apocalyptic policies of confrontation, just as today those who counsel containment and deterrence against such lesser powers as Iran and the like are not promoting anything that could be confused with appeasement.
Here is George Kennan, not exactly an appeaser in dealing with the Soviets, on the problem with a certain kind of anticommunism:
They [anti-communists] distort and exaggerate the dimensions of the problem with which they profess to deal. They confuse internal and external aspects of the communist threat. They insist on portraying as contemporary things that had their actuality years ago. They insist on ascribing to the workings of domestic communism evils and frustrations which, in so far as they were not part of the normal and unavoidable burden of complexity in our life, were the product of our behaviour generally as a nation, and should today be the subject of humble and contrite soul-searching on the part of all of us, in a spirit of brotherhood and community, rather than of frantic and bitter recrimination. And having thus incorrectly stated the problem, it is no wonder that these people consistently find the wrong answers.
Kennan had just finished saying that he believed that many of those whom he was criticizing were sincere, “many of them are good people,” but he said that he had “the deepest misgivings about the direction and effects of their efforts.” This was not only a humane and reasonable response to popular anticommunism, but I think it will be judged as the right one as we come to appreciate with the passing of time the remarkable weakness of Soviet communism as a system and as a strategic threat. To say that the threat was weak is not to say that there was no threat or that nothing should have been done, but that one of the problems with an exaggerated view of the threat that anticommunists advanced is that the response tends towards excess, overkill and focusing on the wrong targets.
Richard says elsewhere in his post:
And for an historian who prides himself in grasping that “ideas have consequences” and who stresses that “material conditions, almost always, matter less than mental conditions and inclinations” (Democracy and Populism, p. viii), he’s taken pains to deemphasize the importance of Marxism-Leninism.
I am not sure what point Richard thinks he is making, since it is quite possible to argue that Marxism-Leninism was not the driving force behind the foreign policy of the USSR and that Great Russian nationalist ambitions had a significant part to do with it while still believing that ideas have some primacy in understanding history. I think Lukacs is badly mistaken if he discounts the difference between the ideologically-driven mass murder of tens of millions of people and the small-scale cruelties and injustices of the tsarist system, and one wonders if he would respond favorably to a similar conflation of the Habsburgs and the Nazis (I think not), but his critics would likewise be badly mistaken if they misunderstood his (and Kennan’s) argument about the secondary importance of communist ideology to Soviet foreign policy to be a claim that ideas are somehow unimportant or secondary. Plainly, Lukacs’ point here is that ideas are driving human action, but it is not the official, communist ideas that the Soviets professed as their state doctrine, but rather the Russian nationalism that defined the scope of their ambitions and the limitations of their power. A universalist ideology such as Marxism-Leninism lacks the same kind of mobilizing power that nationalism does because it cannot appeal to natural and tribal affinities, but is instead often seen to be at war with them, and this has been a consistent theme in Lukacs’ works: socialism is less powerful for mobilizing masses than nationalism. It is for this reason that nationalism is both more powerful and thus also potentially more dangerous. Perhaps this is yet another of the “banal” and obvious claims that Lukacs makes, but if so then why it is also being contested so fiercely?
The postwar history of communism bears this out: it thrived when it attaches itself to nationalist and anti-colonial revolutionary movements, failed when it did not and otherwise broke apart along lines of nationality. Splitting the Sino-Soviet alliance was made possible by the greater power of nationalism over communism. The imagined global communist threat was divided against itself according to nation, much as jihadis today are divided by sect and to some extent by ethnicity, and it was ultimately the inability of the Russians to “digest” eastern European nations and the unwillingness of the latter to be under the whip of the Russians forever that brought down their empire in Europe. Nationalism was the main political force in the 20th century, and this seems obvious when you consider his claim, which seems quite solid, that the defining year of the century (indeed, the dawn of the “short” 20th century and the end of the “long” 19th) was 1914, not 1917. Anticommunists are fixated on 1917 with more intensity than White Russian emigres, but the Revolution was but an after-effect of 1914, which was a year in which the nationalisms of several European peoples ushered in one of the greatest conflagrations in the history of the world that set the course of the rest of 20th century history.
Richard thinks he has caught Lukacs up in a contradiction when Lukacs says that Churchill was a defender of an older world against Hitler’s revisionism, but of course the history of the two world wars can also be understood as the story of second-tier revisionist powers trying to raise themselves up and trying to knock off the first-tier world powers of their time. Churchill’s older world was not terribly old, and he was in many ways a thoroughly modern man, but he was defending the established order—the order in which Britain was on top—against those powers that sought to catapult themselves into the first tier. Yes, Churchill was a nationalist in his way, but he was a nationalist defending a British imperial regime that at least still paid a certain lip service to older ideals of station, service and rank. Clearly the world of Churchill’s British establishment was deeply at odds with the “New Order” and the New Man, whether or not you want to dub him with the honorary title of reactionary.
Richard also has a number of problems with Lukacs’ Democracy and Populism, which I discussed here in a very old post. Rather than rehash all of that here, I will let my previous review address what I find persuasive and lacking in that Lukacs work. Meanwhile, for those tempted to believe that Lukacs’ recent works offer “diminishing returns,” I offer my review of his biography of George Kennan, which should lay to rest this particular complaint against Lukacs.
Tomorrow I take my first driving lesson: New Hampshire be warned! I did once drive, in Baton Rouge between 1994 and 1996, having almost achieved my lifelong goal of getting a Ph.D. before I got a license”which has long since expired. But I haven’t controlled an internal combustion vehicle in12 long years. In my brief tenure as a real American, I mostly crept around (in a sky-blue ‘78 Dodge Aspen wagon with a Battle Flag bumper sticker) on side roads because I couldn’t muster the nerve to merge on the freeway.
It’s best, I’ve figured out, to pick up driving skills while one’s still 16, and firmly convinced of earthly immortality. By 30 or so, you start to think a little too much. And as I tried to get onto I-10, what I was thinking in 1994 was: “Come on, they’ll let me in. If they don’t, we’ll crash. It’s in their rational self-interest!” Then I remembered that half these people had voted for the felon Edwin Edwards for governor”and the other half for David Duke. So much for “rational self interest.” So I kept steering away from the merge lane until I ended up stuck in the mud on the shoulder.
A tow truck driver kindly pulled me out, and from then on I traveled from teaching my screenwriting class at Tulane back to my reporter’s job in Baton Rouge on Huey Long’s old Airline Highway. While it took a good hour longer, and wasn’t actually safer, it was a great deal more scenic”dotted with cane fields, lined with old fashioned “No-Tell Motels” with Art Deco signage from the 40s, and the one subdivision which has ever tempted me to fork over for a mortgage. The place, which I passed twice a week, was proudly named “Cretin Homes.”
The story behind it, I heard from locals in LaPlace, was that a family came from Sicily bearing the unfortunate name “Cretini,” which means (loosely) “idiots.” Apparently, the name came from an old euphemism, invented in those dark days before selective abortion, when retarded people were often born alive. While scientists might label them with precision “idiots,” “imbeciles” and “morons” (each term was once used by psychiatrists, and corresponded with a certain IQ range), European peasants referred to them, in various languages, with terms like “poveri Cristiani.” This charitable phrase got shortened into terms like “cretini.” Euphemisms tend to backfire. That’s why the word “special” now pretty much means “retarded,” “opportunity” means “problem,” “diversity” means “no whites need apply,” while “choice”…. You get the idea.
The Cretini family, I was told, made good in South Louisiana building homes, and as part of marking the distance they’d traveled from the old country, changed their name to Cretin… which means “idiot” in English. So my point is that”assimilation works!
It was bad enough that it took me seven years of living in a town with no public transit system to convince me I needed to drive, hitching rides to Latin Mass and making my dates do all the driving. But by the time I was comfortable enough to get on the interstate, my mother was dying of lung cancer and I had to move back to New York. Given its public transit system (and the taxes you pay to support it) owning a car in New York is slightly more quixotic than keeping a horse. And much less eco-friendly.
So I stopped driving and started smoking. What kind of idiot takes up that habit at age 33? The same kind that learns to drive at around that age. Now, you might think that as a Reagan-era Republican who once tried to start a magazine called Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (my own idea for a title, and we came within a hair of raising $2 million to start the project) I would be gently disposed to this vegetable derivative of Native American origin, whose production is key to the economy of many developing nations and several states that elect desirably right-wing senators.
But no. In fact, for the first three decades of my life, I was an anti-smoking activist. At age four, I deduced that if my chain-smoking mother could get cancer from breathing the stuff, then so could I. (As soon as I learned to read, I began to peruse Consumer Reports, checking out the ratio of insect parts and rodent hairs in the brands of TV dinners that constituted most of our evening fare. All I will say about that is: If you really want chicken pot pie, for the love of God… please make it from scratch.) I”d open windows for fresh air, to have them promptly slammed shut for fear of drafts. I”d lie awake sleepless from the reek of those Marlboro Lights, wafting through that small (but rent-controlled) apartment. At last, I resorted to sabotage, filling my mother’s cigarettes with little doodads from the practical joke catalog that made them explode, or send up a cloud of “snow” that would fall all around her. Finally, I stuffed a pack with live earth worms. The look on her face was worth every lick of the subsequent whipping.
At Yale’s Party of the Right, I was the annoying guy who always objected to the cigar smoke, and sat scowling by an open window in winter. This particularly irked the young Charles Bork (son of the should-be Chief Justice of the Cour) a hard-drinking, gun-toting character straight out of a Tom Waits song. Charles was famous for his zonked-out Nietzschean style of argument. On abortion, for instance, he once observed, with a shrug and a Cheshire Cat grin: “They”re only babies.” (Hard to know what to make of that….) As Charles once said to me with a smile, “Zmirak, why are you such an a”hole?”
And when it came to smoking, he was right. (They’re only cancer cells….) I was a positive health Nazi on this issue until one fine day in 1999 when I was working for a company owned by secular non-Christians which made its business of… offering Vatican-branded Internet access to Catholics. That’s right. Thanks to a handy-dandy licensing deal in which some shifty cardinals had essentially snookered these New York marketers, we were the “official Internet service of the Vatican Treasury Museum.” That’s a small museum off to the left hand side as you enter St. Peter’s, which holds things like the hand-shaped silver reliquaries that contain the hands of saints, and head-shaped reliquaries for skulls, and so on. At the time, it didn’t have a Web site or even an email address, so our affiliation was… nominal. Indeed, I was the only Catholic working at the company, where it was my job to populate with daily news a home page which would come up when people signed in on the dial-up service we offered”so they’d have Church news and commentary every time they logged on. Since I really needed the job, I didn’t raise with my employers my doubts about the enterprise… for instance, the fact that few Catholics cared if their dial-up Internet service was run by the Vatican”or the Freemasons, for that matter. They wanted what was cheapest. Or my gut feeling that “official Internet service of the Vatican Treasury Museum” made as much sense as “official dental floss of the Vampire Bat Museum.” I showed up every day in Silicon Alley, and did my best”as they frantically tried to go public before the Dotcom bubble burst.
Most of my stress at this job stemmed from my immediate boss, who was not only anti-Catholic, but a lefty gay activist with a penchant for foot stomping, desk pounding hissy fits. Privately, we called him “Rumpelstiltskin.” Every day for some nine months, I had to try to squeeze reports of the Church’s official doings and doctrines through this hostile filter. It was the catechetical equivalent of passing a kidney stone. Never before or since have I found myself shouting at the top of my lungs, for instance, at my employer, “Go find someone else to do this f——ing job!” It says something about the state of this company that at this, Rumpelstiltskin backed down.
Each day, I came within a hairsbreadth of slamming this opera-lover’s face through a shiny Macintosh, and I knew that sooner or later my self-control would snap. (Irish and Croatian”it’s like being half nitro and half glycerine.) Then one day, I came across an article in National Review by an old schoolmate, and one of Charles Bork’s smoking buddies, Mark Cunningham. In it, Mark explained that “nicotine is a wonderful drug, and cigarettes perhaps the best drug-delivery device known to man. I savor the bitter taste and dusty feel of the smoke as it enters first my mouth and then my lungs; my spirits rise even with the tiny buzz the habit now provides. It picks me up when I’m feeling down, and adds to the joy of fine food, good drink, heartfelt conversation”of almost everything the good Lord put on this earth for our delight. It helps me think.”
Faced with the alternative of job loss and a likely assault conviction, I decided to give it a try. Not cigarettes, of course”the smell of which will always bring me back to a bunch of blue-haired biddies playing bingo under a crucifix. No, I began to pick up each day a single $8 cigar, usually a thick maduro, one that took a solid hour in Madison Square Park to smoke. I’d sit by the dog run, watching the labs chase the chihuahuas, smiling as the lovelies strutted their stuff on the way to the gym, soaking in the fresh air I was helping to pollute. And after that break, somehow, I’d no longer feel the need to argue with Rumpelstiltskin. I’d accept his snarky emails with equanimity, and when he chatted with his boyfriend in the next cubicle as tried to I edit a piece on Humanae Vitae, I’d simply sink into my golden, druggy haze and do my job.
In time, I refined my taste in cigars. I began by pursuing “piramidos,” then moved up to the more expensive “double torpedos,” cigars hand-rolled from larger leaves of higher quality. I inched up in price, and began to frequent those faux-Edwardian smoke shops in New York City which are among the last refuges of masculinity. No need to post illegal rules excluding women; the smoke accomplishes this nicely.
I settled at last on a brand called Acid, whose cigars “are cured in a large room called the cuarto armatico (aroma room) for several months prior to being rolled…. This room is lined with well over two hundred assorted herbs, botanicals and essential oils,” the company reports. These smokes have a slight taste of incense about them, and even a hint of patchouli. They give color to the room and”combined with the aroma of frisky beagles”create the perfect bachelor atmosphere. That is, one which might guarantee that you always remain one.
When my second parent died of cancer, I began to get the idea it was time to stop. I didn’t want to die a bachelor, and wasn’t so otherworldly that I was in a hurry to reach the next one. Anyway, the Bubble had burst, the Vampire Bat Museum had collapsed in a flurry of lawsuits”and the URL for its porn-filter Web site had been hijacked by an outfit that offered phone sex. I was working from home for a nice Catholic magazine”one owned by actual Catholics”and there was no more reason to stun my nerves into submission for $8 per day. Big surprise, now I couldn’t stop. I tried switching to cheaper, nastier brands”but like other forms of asceticism, on me this doesn’t work.
After years of struggling back and forth, I became a connoisseur of fine-toned, carefully crafted nicotine gum. While it’s not exactly good for you”chew enough and you get heart palpitations”it’s not a carcinogen, and seems a decent compromise. It fulfills the need to busy your hands and mouth with something that offers a mellow buzz, and works as enough of a sedative to keep a writer seated and working steadily.
There is much less critical literature on nicotine gum than there is on, say, cigars. The first glossy issue of Nicorette Aficionado has yet to hit the stands”and when it does, I doubt that it will feature Heidi Klum. (At the height of Kenneth Starr’s revelations, I checked the stands every month for Cigar Aficionado, awaiting what seemed inevitable… but they never put Monica on the cover. The cowards.) Nevertheless, it’s important to know some of the basics of gum appreciation, if you don’t want to waste your money at the pharmacy counter, and relapse into stockpiling stogies.
First and foremost, avoid the generic, drug store brands. In their most primitive form, they are not even coated, and taste a lot like chips you might pull from an old Commodore 64. Hard on the teeth, tough on the gums, they’re a positive punishment; you might as well go cold turkey. CVS does offer a coated version, which retains a soupÃ§on of minty taste for some five minutes”after which it reverts to form, and you once again have a mouth full of cardboard, and perhaps a busted crown.
No, it’s worth the extra $10 or so a week to insist on quality, flavor, and elegant presentation. And nothing says all those things like the founding father, the “old-school” standard”Nicorette. That varietal has come a long way since its early days, the pioneer period in oral nicotine delivery. The “original” flavor is still the same plastic Chiclet it ever was. A crisis in my current love relationship arose when my beloved blew $50 of my blogging money on a box of these. But we came to an understanding. I took her on a tasting tour, and revealed to her the new and sophisticated flavors that Nicorette now offers. The best known, of course, is Mint”which while still uncoated, catering to the tough-guy constituency that used to smoke Marlboros, does retain its flavor long enough for me to finish, say, a blog for Takimag.
But the company has moved on, and so have I. Much tastier, in a brash way that challenges the palate, is FreshMint”¢, which its patient craftsmen justly boast is “coated for a delicious burst of mint flavor.” Like a glass of dry Magner’s cider, it’s a nice touch after a spicy dinner of Thai Drunken Noodles. It also makes a fine accompaniment to coffee.
For those with a sweeter tooth, there’s the frothier, more feminine Fruit Chill”¢. This dessert-style gum is, makers aver, “coated twice for an intense fruit flavor with a hint of mint.” It’s the nicotine gum equivalent of Amaretto.
Best of all, in my opinion, is Cinnamon Surge. Now it’s true that the name isn’t trademarked”and in culinary matters labels often mean more than you might think. For instance, in wines from France, the acronym AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) signifies a careful attention by wine makers and regulators to qualities that connoisseurs collectively call terroir“the soil, the climate, the varieties and proportions of grapes employed, as well as the vine density, pruning schedules, the alcohol proof, and other critical variables. However, in case of Nicorette, I think the absence of the “¢ is evidence less of shoddy production than of problems in the company’s legal department. Indeed, I can report that Cinnamon Surge, “coated for an intense rush of bold cinnamon flavor,” is my very favorite oral nicotine replacement. Zingy, bold, and as “curiously strong” (“¢) as a simple Altoid, it soothes the nerves as it challenges the palate in a manner that recalls the very best digestivi. It is Nicorette’s answer to grappa.
Neocon. Crank. Appeaser. Such are the terms that my colleagues have lately been heaping on John Lukacs in response to his review of Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War. There is something powerful strange about complaints of oversimplification, tendentiousness and axe-grinding expressed through the use of such labels. While I must defer to Paul Gottfried’s testimony, since I know neither man personally, I don’t think it necessary to accept the excessive and rather frustrating attacks on Lukacs’ broader body of work and, indirectly, on those who agree with his critiques of nationalism and popular anticommunism. There were problems with the review and claims that I think can and should be challenged, but to say, as Richard does, that Lukacs “avoids seriously evaluating any of Buchanan’s historical arguments, preferring instead to rely on vague gesturing towards Buchanan’s propagating of “half truths” ” is not really true, unless by “seriously evaluate” we mean “agree with.” Understandably put off by the gratuitous David Irving references, Lukacs’ respondents have been doing most of the avoiding of serious evaluation with regrettable results. First, I will consider some of the problems with Lukacs’ review, and then turn to the responses in a later post.
He [Buchanan] claims that the transformation of the United States from a Republic to an empire was started by George W. Bush. What Bush has done and is still doing is, of course, lamentable. But the reaching out of American power all over the world, the fact that there are now American bases and missions in more than 700 places around the globe, the building of a 600-ship Navy, etc., began with Eisenhower and Dulles. It went on with Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and especially with Buchanan’s hero, Reagan, and then under Clinton. Already in 1956, Section Nine of the Republican Party platform called for “the establishment of American air and navy bases all around the world.” This was the party that so many liberal commentators still wrongly called “isolationist.” This was the party to which Patrick Buchanan adhered and the American foreign policy that he vocally thumped for until very recently.
Is 20 years ago the same as “very recently”? In any case, having read A Republic, Not an Empire, which Mr. Buchanan wrote prior to Mr. Bush’s first term, I would be extremely skeptical about this first claim even without consulting the new book, since much of the first book’s critique focuses on U.S. foreign policy since 1898, U.S. entry into WWI and WWII and the more recent interventions of the 1990s. George W. Bush was still referring to “Grecians” on the campaign trail when that book first came out, so clearly the anti-imperialist thesis predates this administration and the arguments in it locate the origins of empire before 2001. Does Mr. Buchanan make that claim in the new book? In fact, Mr. Buchanan says on page 421, “After seven years of a foreign policy rooted in such “moral clarity,” the world of 1989 has disappeared and America has begun to resemble the Britain of Salisbury and Balfour, a superpower past her prime, with enemies rising everywhere.” This is a fair assessment of the state of affairs, which does not necessarily entail any claim that American empire or projection of power around the world was some new invention of the Bush Era, and indeed there is no such claim. This was an exaggeration and wrong. So here a calm reading of the review discovers this seemingly significant point to be quite off the mark.
But then Lukacs makes a reasonable objection:
The other trouble with Buchanan’s anti-imperialist thesis is his argument that what happened to the British Empire applies obviously to the present American one. There are two points against this. One is that history does not repeat itself, and the rise and decline of Britain’s empire was and remains quite different from the American situation. Buchanan’s argument is that the Second World War”more precisely, Churchill’s decision to resist Hitler, no matter what the cost”was a disaster for Western civilization but, more directly, for the British Empire itself. Yet the gradual liquidation of the British Empire, and the piecemeal acceptance by the British people of that, long preceded World War II.
Of course, it’s true that history does not repeat, and the empires and their histories are not the same. It is true that the Empire had begun to deteriorate before WWII (in some ways, its grave had been dug during WWI), but it does not necessarily follow that WWII was not the catalyst for its more rapid and complete dissolution. Indeed, if one wanted to square hostility to FDR and his efforts to involve America in WWII with an appreciation of the British Empire, which Lukacs seems to find irreconcilable, one might dwell on FDR’s insistence on the weakening of the Empire as part of the cost of American aid and support. Like Wilson before him, his sort of crusading anti-imperialism (i.e., his opposition to the imperialism of other peoples) unleashed a later cavalcade of horrors from which many millions still suffer. Here I should note that I agree with Marcus that there is no question that Mr. Buchanan has made a point on more than one occasion of regretting the dissolution of the British Empire, in no small part because of the terrible misrule that has often arisen in the wake of decolonization, and it is worth noting this again because it was Churchill who wished to preserve the Empire and FDR the one who wished to see it break apart. Of course, it was not Churchill, but Chamberlain, who honored a war guarantee to Poland, as Mr. Buchanan notes in his ninth chapter, in which he describes Churchill’s initial enthusiasm for the action giving way to doubt and uncertainty. Churchill continued the war to which Chamberlain had committed Britain, but he was not directly responsible for giving the guarantee (though he applauded it at the time), and that seems worth bearing in mind, as much as I have no time for what I call Churchillolatry.
Meanwhile, one of the most important modern-day connections that Mr. Buchanan made between the situation in the late 1930s and today, which has gone missing from this discussion entirely, is between unenforceable security guarantees to countries one has no intention of defending, or at least no ability to do so, and the spate of NATO guarantees that Washington has been making and keeps making.
Mr. Buchanan writes:
As Chamberlain gave a war guarantee to Poland he could not honor, the United States began to hand out NATO war guarantees to six Warsaw Pact nations, the three Baltic republics, and, soon, Ukraine and Georgia. Should a hostile regime come to power in Moscow and reoccupy these nations, we would have to declare war. Yet no matter how much we treasure the newly free Lithuania, Latvia, ad Estonia, their independence is not a vital U.S. interest, and never has been. And the threatened loss of their independence cannot justify war with a nuclear-armed Russia.
This is the heart of the issue—vital interests—and it is a shame that there is this oversight in the review, which I have noted before, that prevents the consideration of whether it was, in fact, in the British interest to commit to a war for Poland, especially before it had fully rearmed and when Poland was basically indefensible. Making guarantees your government cannot honor is worse than not making any guarantees, and committing to a war to which you do not yet have to join and before you are prepared, and all for the sake of a country whose sovereignty is not your responsibility, is reckless folly. Persisting in that war may be less avoidable, but it is not obviously any less foolish. Critically, the claim that Churchill is the “savior of England” assumes that it was to the benefit of the United Kingdom to persist in the war rather than see the rise of a pan-continental power, even to the point of hastening the demise of the Empire and inviting two different rival powers into Europe, yet this takes for granted that the traditional balancing policy of successive British governments has been wise, when by and large it has drawn them into war after war that was properly none of their affair. It is not certain that once the war began Churchill could have left Britain with more than it ended up having, but then this would seem to be the essential point: the war was ruinous and was unnecessary for Britain.
As for the claim that German rule would have proved more enduring than that of the Soviets, I have answered it before, but I would add again that this is an assertion strangely at odds with Prof. Lukacs’ appreciation for the power of nationalism, since every country in eastern Europe they occupied saw the rise of national liberation movements that worked to expel them and the “New Order” was designed explicitly to exploit subject peoples for the benefit of Germany. German occupation turned the otherwise pro-German Greeks into dedicated enemies, and turned many of the peoples whom they briefly brought out from under Soviet control against them almost as quickly as they had arrived. Some self-deluding nationalist collaborators existed in every puppet regime, such as Gotzamanis, the embodiment of the anti-patriotic nationalist type, who persuaded themselves that anticommunism justified their treason, but who were ultimately vastly outnumbered by and alienated from the majority of their fellow citizens who hated the collaborationists—these are points that might be profitably advanced against the thesis of enduring German postwar rule and in favor of anti-anticommunism. That is the sort of conversation that might actually be interesting to have, rather than flinging epithets and denunciations.
Having looked at the review of Pat’s latest book by John Lukacs and the critical remarks offered by Takimag-contributors and having seen the defense of the American Conservative’s commissioning of John’s review posted by Daniel Larison on Eunomia (May 24), I feel impelled to add my two cents. Let me begin with the fact that I have been a personal friend of Pat and John both since the 1980s and that I serve on American Conservative’s editorial board. Although I lean more strongly toward Pat’s critical interpretation of Churchill than toward John’s words of praise for the same figure, I feel personally closer to John, who reminds me strongly of my Central European father, than I do to Pat. Despite my personal feelings about John, I would not have picked him to review a controversial work by Pat Buchanan for the American Conservative. As Richard Spencer correctly indicates, John despises everything Pat has stood for over the years, and he has emphatically equated Pat’s populism with Nazism. John has made this charge so often about nationalists and populists and, more specifically, about Pat that one would have to be pretty obtuse not to notice.
Daniel Larison’s defense of having John do the review brings up some points that need to be questioned. Dan depicts the American Conservative as a magazine that gives space to conflicting points of view. But, contrary to this interpretation, the magazine is usually predictable, for example, in opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and in supporting the Palestinian cause, sometimes to the point of playing down Palestinian violence. The same magazine is also vehemently against the war in Iraq, indeed so much so that its tirades are often formulaic. Almost every issue has at least one piece on the war, and often by authors who have made similar denunciations in earlier issues. On most other matters, the American Conservative rarely stands to the right of the neoconservative press, and its tendency to feature fairly conventional leftists suggests for me that the editorial staff is trying to build up a following among liberal establishment journalists.
Even more important, the editor-in-chief Scott McConnell is openly solicitous of the good will of certain people whom he admires, and to his credit, he never hides these feelings. Scott deeply and effusively respects Norman Podhoretz, and the leftist German historian Fritz Stern, with whom he studied at Columbia. He also speaks highly about a number of Washington journalists. Moreover, it is not likely that he would allow me or (I suspect) anyone else to review a book by someone he admires if the probable results would not be flattering. That is, Scott obviously refuses to commission reviews from writers who are not likely to say nice things about authors whom he seeks to cultivate. This is surely Scott’s right as an editor, and a right I too would assert if I were in his place. But it is wrong to claim that he gives out reviews hoping to see sparks fly. I”ve never known anyone who is less likely to act in that way.
What Scott did in this particular case was to allow an unmistakable adversary of Pat to rail against him in a magazine that Pat had helped to found”and indeed one with which he continues to be identified. Scott might have commissioned this review to underscore how mainstream his magazine is, by showing he was willing to publish attacks on certain views that the liberal- neocon press would find unacceptable. Whatever his calculation might have been, the result was diplomatically unfortunate. The review did nothing to add to John’s luster, but it probably angered Pat and put the American Conservative in an awkward position in terms of holding its support on the right. I regret this happened but there is no need to pretend that it was not a faux pas, which it clearly was.
Finally, it would be wrong to claim that the American Conservative was being even-handed when it allowed John to inveigh against Pat, after having printed a review of an earlier Lukacs work that its author found insufficiently appreciative. This review, by Lee Congdon, a known devotee of John’s, contained the observation that John’s lifetime revulsion for Germans might have been nurtured by his wartime experience with the Nazis. (John’s maternal grandparents were Jewish and when the Nazis occupied Budapest, he was forced to go into hiding with them.) John’s Teutonophobia is so obvious that a reader would have to be sight-challenged in order not to pick up on it. As might have been expected, Lee’s review was generally positive; and so was an earlier review of another Lukacs book, done by me, for the American Conservative, in which (if truth be known), I too showed uncharacteristic restraint. Like Lee, I understated my differences with John, in this case with his equation of populism with Nazism. Therefore it is not true that John’s attack on Pat in the American Conservative was an attempt to give John his say, after the magazine had taken him to task. Unlike Pat, John has been treated in Pat’s magazine with remarkable courtesy.
It’s not particularly surprising that in his critique of Pat Buchanan’s new book and highly controversial interpretation of Churchill, John Lukacs would reduce the Second World War down to a morality play and claim that it’s irreconcilable to argue that the Third Reich was evil and that it might have been a mistake for Churchill to war against it.
As Tom Piatak has noted, we”ve heard this all before, albeit in a debased form, when Wolfowitz and Co. chided critics of the Iraq war with some variation on the line, “If you don”t back the invasion that means you”re part of Saddam’s fan club.”
It’s also not particularly surprising that Lukacs would forego a thorough investigation of Buchanan’s thesis and instead make rather not-so-subtle attempts at guilt by association, constantly linking Buchanan with the sometime Holocaust denier and fulltime Nazi nostalgic David Irving, as if to reassure his readers that it’s only those two crazies who have dissenting opinions about Churchill and the “Good War.” This kind of stuff is a dime a dozen, but we probably wouldn”t expect it from a world-renown historian and idol of many a paleoconservative.
Around 30 years ago, Lukacs himself wrote an essay that made use of counterfactual reasoning”history of what wasn”t but might have been”on much the same topic as Buchanan’s book. In “What if Hitler had won the Second World War” (1978), Lukacs concluded that after 1945 the Third Reich probably would have transformed into a far less radical if still authoritarian regime that would have pursued dÃ©tente with the U.S. and perhaps even European unification (a vision not too dissimilar to that in Robert Harris’s “What if?” mystery-thriller Fatherland.)
That Lukacs once wrote such essay makes it all the more surprising that in his review for The American Conservative, “Necessary Evil,” he avoids seriously evaluating any of Buchanan’s historical arguments, preferring instead to rely on vague gesturing towards Buchanan’s propagating of “half truths” (which, as Aquinas reminds us, are “more dangerous than a lie.”)
I don”t think Lukacs actually reviewed The Unnecessary War without reading it, but then he certainly could have, for his critique of Buchanan amounts to a revival of some of the leitmotivs and greatest hits from his last 10 books or so, which themselves have been much like variations on a theme, each one suffering from the law of diminishing returns.
As a book review, Lukacs’s piece is thus highly disappointing, but then as kind oeuvre en miniature, it’s an invaluable portrait of an historian”and a window into his conceptions of Left and Right, World War II, and the Cold War. Lukacs doesn”t so much criticize Buchanan’s actual thesis or his counterfactual as return to many of his preoccupations of the past 50 years and lash out at old enemies who have little to do with the author.
Throughout the Cold War, Lukacs was notable for positioning himself as an “anti-anticommunist,” a highly idiosyncratic position””Mathematically thinking, of course, an anti-anti-Communist is a pro-Communist, but we neither speak nor think mathematically””and one that I ultimately find highly dubious. It’s through this lens that Lukacs views The Unnecessary War and because of this position, feels it quite necessary to oppose the book, without, it seems, much consideration of its content.
All of this begins to comes to the fore in this passage on the question of whether Hitler’s hegemony in the East might have been a lesser evil than Stalin’s:
Let me now raise the question: What would have happened if Britain and France had allowed Hitler to conquer Poland? After that he would have gone further east and then conquered the Soviet Union, with the acquiescence of the West. All to the good, Buchanan writes, since Communism was evil, more dangerous than German National Socialism. But there is”and there ought to be”no comparison here. Germany was part and parcel of European culture, civilization, and tradition. Russia was not. Stalin had a predecessor, Ivan the Terrible. Hitler had none. German National Socialist brutality was unprecedented. Russian brutality was not.
It’s of course rather un-PC (perhaps refreshingly so?) to argue that mass murder in Russia is par for the course and nothing to get worried about. But then it is rather odd to dismiss the crimes of the Soviet Union as “Russians behaving Russian” since Lukacs supports intervention against Germany on the basis of absolute morality. (There’s also the minor detail that Stalin was not, well, Russian (!)).
Lukacs has long had a tendency to dissolve Soviet violence into a kind of natural, predictable expression of “Russian national character.” And for an historian who prides himself in grasping that “ideas have consequences” and who stresses that “material conditions, almost always, matter less than mental conditions and inclinations” (Democracy and Populism, p. viii), he’s taken pains to deemphasize the importance of Marxism-Leninism. For Lukacs, the philosophy of communism has very little appeal outside the intelligentsia and thus regimes based on it won”t last. The Gulags and purges were a product of Russia, not Marx, anyway.
A rather contestable reading on many fronts. Sure, Russian history is pretty brutal, but the social engineering attempted under the Soviet regime”from forced famine to the institutionalized terror of the purges to almost unbelievable attempts at forcibly breeding half-man/half-ape New Soviet Citizens“were of a different character than any monstrosity of the Czars. And these were perversions that occurred in every communist experiment no matter the nationality. As for staying power, the miserable German Democratic Republic lasted only a couple of years less than the strong-as-iron German Empire. As for being a threat to the world, was it so wrong for Western nations to take the Comintern at its word?
Lukacs was certainly well aware of all this, and yet still opposed anticommunism because he viewed it as part and parcel of the real catastrophic ideology of the 20th century, nationalism.
This trope surfaces in his review of Buchanan:
Nationalism, not Communism, was the main political force in the 20th century, and so it is even now. When the Third Reich collapsed in 1945, perhaps as many as 10,000 Germans killed themselves, and not all of these had been Nazis. When the Soviet Union and Communist rule in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989, I do not know of a single Communist, whether in Russia or elsewhere, who committed suicide.
I”m not sure what if anything can be made of Lukacs’s comment about suicide since the Third Reich and Soviet Union collapsed is such vastly different historical contexts. What’s clear are the exact terms in which Churchill is to be admired and in which his warring against Germany is to be viewed as inherently justified: Churchill fought the evil “force” of nationalism.
The quotation above comes directly out of a famous passage from The Duel in which Lukacs compares Churchill and Hitler:
Churchill was the opponent of Hitler, the incarnation of the reaction to Hitler, the incarnation of the resistance of an old world, of old freedoms, of old standards against a man incarnating a force that was frighteningly efficient, brutal and new. Few things are as wrong as the tendency to see Hitler as a reactionary. He was the very antithesis of that. The true reactionary was Churchill. (pp. 14-15)
Hitler as modernist, mass democrat”Hitler as leftist even”is certainly a provocative, engaging interpretation and one that upturns most of what’s taken for granted and was taught to us in high school. But whatever we want to make of it, it’s also clear that in justifying the Second World War on the basis of Churchill’s “incarnation” of some mythic struggle against the force of nationalism, Lukacs is no longer writing history but has moved on to sentimental literature or moral allegory.
It’s also an allegory I doubt Churchill would have much understood. Churchill opposed Hitler not because the bulldog was an “antinationalist””an almost laughable claim”but due to national rivalries stretching before the First World War when Germany emerged as the new kid on the European block. Churchill never expressed aversion to nationalism”was he not himself a full-blooded British nationalist!?!”and in his Great Contemporaries spoke highly of Mussolini and wrote of the FÃ¼hrer, “Whatever else may be thought about these exploits, they are among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world.” (see Buchanan, p 336). As for incarnating the Old World against “modernism,” let’s not forget that Churchill supported Eugenics, helped develop area bombing of civilians and the use of poison gas, and possessed a worldview that Buchanan argues was, in many ways, “post-Christian” (see Buchanan, pp. 399-404).
(There’s also the curious problem of this “force” of nationalism, against which Churchill supposedly did battle. Lukacs seems to forget that nationalism is always national. Hitler didn”t embody “nationalism” but the prospect of Germany domineering Europe. By their very nature, various nationalisms can never be unified, and they usually end up fighting each other (a good thing, one would think, from Lukacs’s perspective.) Monolithic Nationalism has never be a threat. Communism, on the other hand, is a different story…)
My point here is not simply to bash Churchill, he’s rightly regarded as a hero. It is instead to bring to the fore the way that Churchill functions within Lukacs’s imagination. And never far away from Lukacs’s infatuation with the great “antinationalist” is his pose of “anti-anticommunism.”
For Lukacs, anticommunism was never merely anticommunism. For as the actual communist menace is a mirage, “anticommunism” is agitprop and fear mongering that props up wicked nationalism, again Lukacs’s central enemy. In his major essay, “The Poverty of Anticommunism,” Lukacs lists “anticommunism””which he links directly with “nationalist socialism” and the “radical right””as a force of history capable of overwhelming communism and liberalism. It emanated from Germany but is now particularly rampant in the United States.
The camp of “anticommunism” is actually quite large and includes some rather strange bedfellows. Hitler is of course there, but then so are the Kennedys, Sen. Robert Taft, William F. Buckley, the members of American First Committee, Ronald Reagan, and Buchanan himself. If these figures every met at a cocktail party, they”d probably get into heated arguments; however, in the imagination of John Lukacs, they”re all on the same team. Put simply, if at one point in your life you questioned the need to war against Germany (or, excuse, “the force of nationalism”) and also considered communism a threat, and perhaps wanted to roll it back, then you”re a right-wing nutjob.
Thus Robert Taft, the classical liberal non-interventionist who in the interwar period thought that Bolshevism was a greater threat than fascism, is depicted as inseparable from the “extreme nationalists” (Democracy and Populism, p, 67). The AFC, the largest antiwar movement in American history which warned against the danger of instituting totalitarianism at home in order to defeat it abroad, is depicted in grotesque fashion in The Duel as a gaggle of Germanophilic imperialists (pp. 13-14).
Lukacs even thinks the forces of “anticommunism/nationalism” won, that Hitler won in the sense that the Third Reich is but an “extreme variant” of the contemporary state. “We are, at least in one sense, all national socialists now” (Democracy and Populism, p. 41).
Lukacs’s logic is as simple as it is flawed:
Hitler = Nationalism. Churchill warred against Hitler; ergo Churchill = Antinationalism.
Hitler = Anticommunism; ergo an Anticommunist “ Hitler
Such a sentiment (not exactly logical) seems to lead Lukacs to make rather breathtakingly wrong claims, such as that Robert Taft is “the idol of almost all present American conservatives” (!) (well, he is among a few), or that Hitler has great acclaim on the right in Europe and South America (!!).
Lukacs clearly doesn”t get out much. And as an historian, he has a rather annoying tendency of allowing grand, sweeping interpretations of history”as provocative, interesting, and “reactionary“ as they might be at times”to get in the way of understanding the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen,” how it really happened.
It’s become rather predictable that whenever “nationalism” is mentioned in a discussion among paleos, someone will invariable quote Lukacs’s distinction between nationalism and patriotism, which he first set down in Historical Consciousness (1968) and has managed to repeat in just about every book since. Put simply: Nationalism is a modernist force based on a myth and “inseparable from the desire for power.” Patriotism, on the other hand, is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life” and is thus defensive in character. In one of his recent books he even calls nationalism “self-centered and selfish” and links patriotism with “charitable love.” (Democracy and Populism, p. 73).
This is all well and good; however, I find this distinction to be so uncontroversial and banal that I doubt one could find a single person on the planet who”d actually want to contest it”who wants to come out against “love” or give a shout out for delusional and self-centered “desire for power”? The statement is also rather unhelpful if we want to ask the question whether, in fact, in a world of mass communication and migration across the continent, the nation and nation-state actually are good categories for our conceptions of identity and “us-ness.” At any rate, before we cite Lukacs again to express our patriotism, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we want to adopt all the rest of the Lukacsian accoutrements as well.
I’ve written elsewhere about the gut-wrenching smugness of Stanley Fish, who after having spent a career destroying the study of the humanities at major American universities (especially Duke), has now established himself as an avuncular observer of the education scene at the New York Times. And he wears a different mask; emulating the studied “objectivity” of the Times, he now makes a show of standing aloof from the grim conflicts that dominate classrooms and faculty lounges, and in the frequently grim (and always ridiculous) conflicts between the academic establishment Left and occasional conservative or libertarian dissenters, Fish poses as an impartial spectator. To the centrists or rightists who complain about what we can only call the “hyperpower” of the academic left he even tosses, betimes, a Fish bone. But it always sticks in one’s throat.
This week, Fish reflects on the attempt of the University of Colorado to recover its reputation from the slow-motion train wreck involving Ward Churchill“the cigar-store Indian who crassly and cruelly compared the victims of 9/11 to Adolph Eichmann, because you see the workers in the Towers were complicit in the power-structure which…. No, it doesn’t bear analysis, or even repetition. Churchill’s rantings contained as much intellectual content as the stuff some poor schizophrenic might scrawl on the walls of a state mental hospital”or the racist/ anti-Semitic drivel some losers insist on posting at otherwise thoughtful conservative Web sites. Mind you, Churchill’s comments were only a teensy tad more outrageous than the stuff that passes almost unnoticed at other universities. For instance, a deeply untalented poet at my alma mater named Rodger Kamenetz once told a reporter that “the history of Western civilization is the history of murder.” (Had he left out “Western” he might have had a kind of Augustinian point.) Kamenetz also briefly made a mark by proposing, with a straight face, an entirely new basis for morality in our times. Now, you might think this was overreaching for somebody with just an MFA in English, but that’s what tenure will do to people. So Kamenetz proposed that since we can no longer believe in God, we have no grounds for holding to an absolute notion of the Good. But we do know the Absolute Evil, in the form of the Holocaust. So we should construct a post-modern morality by a kind of via negativa“approving or disapproving of things based on whether or not they would help bring on another Holocaust. (This struck me as rather parochial, as if an Irish poet proposed constructing future moral codes around preventing potato famines. But let’s leave that aside.)
This is the level of thinking which prevails in graduate schools at state universities”even in conservative states in the old Confederacy. I shudder to think what things might be like down the road from me at U.Mass. In fact, the humanities at nearly every major university in America have been, it’s a sad but truthful clichÃ©, taken over by “tenured radicals.” The departments which once were a fair mix of suburban Marxists, Kennedy liberals, and occasional Southern reactionaries, are now dominated by the children of the 60s and 70s, whose own education and pursuit of intellectual fashion have shaped them to hate the very Western civilization and humanistic values on which the modern university is predicated.
Let’s forget, for the moment, the fact that universities in the West were the daughters of the Church, originally centered on theology and philosophy, and accept the sad reality that in most cases the best we can expect from secular (and from many “religious”) schools is kind of melancholy, Matthew Arnold respect for the “best that has been said and thought.” It’s true that in the absence of Faith, such a humane secularism is doomed in the end to bankruptcy, once it consumes the sentimental capital stored up by centuries of Christianity, and stands face to face with the “fact” that man is only a clever primate.
Nevertheless, in such an environment, about which the young William Buckley complained so bitterly in God and Man at Yale, a religious believer could navigate perfectly well, learn to hone his arguments against learned unbelievers in an atmosphere of high-minded mutual tolerance, and emerge with his degree. He might even go on to pursue his Ph.D., and someday teach about Shakespeare or Racine or Schiller”careful not to infuse his classes with catechesis, just as his teachers had not gone out of their way to promote agnosticism. Such a peaceful coexistence among the intellectually incompatible was not as rich or fruitful, I’m sure, as the Paris of Thomas Aquinas”but it wasn’t half bad. I enjoyed the last flickering rays of this Victorian sunset in my own undergraduate years.
But try to go to graduate school in the humanities almost anywhere today, and you’ll breathe quite a different atmosphere”the chemical smell of openly anti-human ideologies. You think I exaggerate? In my first year of Ph.D. study at LSU, I was taught that the “current consensus” in literary theory was “anti-humanism,” a rejection and outright attempt to purge from the study of literature the last traces of Matthew Arnold’s “elitist”, “nostalgic” regard for so-called “higher values.” In their stead, we must study, in a promiscuous selection of works, all the political implications of the unholy trinity of “race, class, and gender.” In other words, to quote the 80s rap band Niggaz With Attitude, “Life ain’t nothin but bitches and money.”
This meant that dour, paisley-frocked Baptist girls from Shreveport and red-faced Irish-Americans from New Orleans would be trained to study literature for grimly ideological purposes. Go through every chapter of … (fill in the blank) a Jane Austen novel, a Shakespeare play, or a memoir by a transvestite crack whore. Find every incident where poor people, non-whites, or women get a raw deal. Deplore these incidents, cite some incomprehensible French homosexual theorist in a dozen or so footnotes… and get your guaranteed A- or B+. Then move on to the next work, feeding everything through the same meat-grinder, producing reams of academic chopped meat. This Stakhanovite approach to literary study has reached the point of self-parody by now. One brilliant academic who survived the slog toward a Ph.D. with his wits intact has created a Web-based “Postmodernism Generator,” which will on demand produce an entirely persuasive, utterly meaningless tissue of jargon”and one which would certainly have gotten a decent grade in most of the English Ph.D. classes which I took. One professor, may God bless him and keep him, Alan Sokal, produced such a willfully meaningless paper on purpose, and got it accepted in an academic journal, Social Text“generating a lengthy and self-important debate among the drones who fill faculty lounges across America.
Of course, if one is a graduate student of right-ish views attempting to get a degree under such a conditions, it’s extremely tempting to hide or even give up his dissenting views”for fear of the likely bad grades, the ugly ostracism peculiar to lifelong dweebs who finally have the whip-hand over someone, and the blackballing that will probably make it impossible for him ever to get a job.
Now, to rectify the grim situation at their school, and cozy up to the taxpayers who fund it, the University of Colorado has proposed a $9 million program to attract some conservative faculty members to its campus. This sounds like one of the less pernicious uses of taxpayer funds I’ve heard this year”and of course, since it appalls Stanley Fish, one is tempted to support it. Certainly, if conservatives can use some leverage in their state legislature to counteract indoctrination on public campuses, they should do so. But I question whether it really does much good to try to locate and hire the occasional conservative who somehow squeaked through grad school without going native or insane”then set him up in a special chair designed to “counterbalance” the mainstream opinions in his department.
First of all, it’s dead-bang certain that most such jobs will be nabbed by neocons, who are simply better at soaking up money, seizing cozy sinecures, and generally getting by in the world than those of us with real conservative principles. (“The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”) Which means that the best we can expect from initiatives such as Colorado’s will be Fox News in tweed with elbow patches. I for one, would rather have Ward Churchill to kick around than find myself “represented” by Professor Dinesh D’Souza, or Dean David Frum.
More importantly, as someone who pursued and completed a Ph.D. in English at such a university, and who now teaches the liberal arts at a college, I have really come to question the usefulness, in our cultural situation, of advanced studies in the humanities. For every scholar who turns up something genuinely new to say about Faulkner, or Shakespeare, or even The Matrix, there are dozens who spend their careers training young people to view literature (or painting or religious studies) through a jaundiced ideological lens”essentially spoiling “the best that has been written and thought” for these people, perhaps for life. Much better if, in universities where the faculty have been so thoroughly corrupted”which is to say, most of them”we didn’t offer any literary study at all. I’d much rather take my chances that my kids would read Metaphysical poetry for fun than have the works of Donne and Crashaw forever poisoned for them by some grim, embittered feminist. So here’s my proposal, stark and simple:
Defund the humanities. State legislatures should cut off the money required to support higher level classes, and force the tenured radicals to offer the grimly pragmatic courses they really hate (and usually fob off on starving grad students): Freshman comp, business writing, and technical writing. As for courses in literature, art history, and the like”we should simply stop offering them. If young people want to learn about art or literature, they can go to a tiny liberal arts college where they are properly taught”and I know of one or two. Or they can do what people did in the 19th century, before any literature aside from Latin and Greek was taught at universities: They can take out books from the library. (They’d do best to stick to studies published before, say, 1975.) Or else they can use the Web. Form book clubs in their spare time, and pursue the rare beauty, complex considerations of reality, and extraordinary range of human experience that literature offers free of the methane cloud which has descended upon American academia.
I think this would lead to a rebirth of love for literature and the arts. And that would be wonderful. But mostly, I just want to see creeps like Stanley Fish reduced to teaching Freshman Comp. Hey Stanley, remember how to diagram a sentence?
Under Consideration: Benny Morris, 1948: The First Arab Israeli War, Yale University Press (2008), 524 pages.
Back in the late 1980s and 90s, Benny Morris was identified, some would say targeted, as the stormy petrel among Israeli historians. In tomes such as The Birth of the Palestinian Problem (1988), Israel’s Border Wars (1993), and Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict (1999) he slaughtered any number of sacred cows. He started with the heretical idea that during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, 600,000 or so Palestinians did not leave their homes out of their own free will but had been expelled by the Israeli army. He ended with the equally heretical one that most of the Palestinians who were caught (many of who were shot) by the IDF while trying to “infiltrate” across the border to Israel during the 1950s were unarmed civilians who were simply trying to return to their former lands. It speaks volumes about Morris’s work that for several years, no Israeli university would give him a job. That work also earned its author the undying hatred of many Israelis from Likud minister of education Limor Livnat down (or up: when it comes to nationalist stupidity, it is hard to sink lower than she did). As the saying goes, it is by his enemies that a man should be judged.
Then came the Second Palestinian Uprising. Morris, who hitherto was considered the doyen of the so-called “new historians,” changed his mind (though it took him some time to admit the fact). Like many other dovish Israelis, for years on end he had placed much of the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel’s own leaders who, in his view, had been far to harsh in their dealings and with the Palestinians. To achieve that peace he advocated negotiations with the PLO”in spite of all the terrorist acts the latter had committed, and in spite of its refusal to recognize the Jewish State”and withdrawal from the occupied territories.
Like many of his fellow doves, he simply lost patience with Arafat, the PLO, and the Palestinian people as a whole. Much to the surprise of those familiar with his works, the historians who had criticized his government for so long started defending it and justifying it. If that is bad news for the peace process and for the Palestinian aspirations to obtain a state of their own, then so be it.
In 1848, Morris” central message is simple. The Arabs, both those inside Palestine and those who live in the neighboring countries, hated the Zionist enterprise right from the beginning and did whatever was in their power to stop it and”as many of their leaders said”push the Jews back into the sea. They were, however, hopelessly unable to resist the Zionist onslaught. In part this was because of the extraordinary dynamism of the Zionist movement itself; in the whole of history, it is hard to find a national liberation movement that was more determined and more prepared to do whatever it would take. In part it was because the international situation, specifically including the great powers, often favored the Zionists, and in part because the Palestinian community, for all that it outnumbered the Jews in Palestine (as late as 1948, twice as many Arabs lived west of the Jordan than Jews) was backward, disorganized, and corrupt. Time after time, first the British Imperial Government and then the United Nations came up with proposals to defuse the conflict by dividing the country between Jews and Arabs. Time after time, the former accepted whereas the latter refused.
It was the last of these proposals, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 29 November 1947, which formed the immediate background to the war. In narrating the history of the latter, Morris comes up with few surprises. The traditional picture that presents the war as a desperate struggle for survival mounted by the small and the few against the big and the many is, generally speaking, correct. At the beginning of the war the Israelis (as they now were) fought outnumbered, but owing to a much more efficient system of mobilization this soon changed. By the time the state was proclaimed on 14 May 1948, the Palestinians had already been decisively beaten; had the armies of the neighboring Arab countries not intervened in the conflict, the Israelis would have made mincemeat of them even more easily than was actually the case. Of the five invading armies, the Arab Legion was far and away the best both as a fighting force and when it came to observing the law of war in regard to the wounded, prisoners, and so on. By comparison the remaining Arab armies were, in a word, lousy.
From the Israeli point of view the most difficult period in the war, and the only one in which their state and they themselves were in real danger, was the one that began on 15 May, when the regular armies of the neighboring Arab countries invaded Palestine. That period ended on 11 June when the so-called first truce, mandated by the United Nations, went into effect. Though both sides tried to use the truce for their purposes, the Jews were much better at doing so. By the time hostilities were resumed they had decisively changed the balance of forces by mobilizing many more personnel and importing heavy weapons from abroad. Though hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes because of the war, many of them after being expelled, there was no overall plan coordinated from above to get rid of them. Both sides committed atrocities, but owing to the fact that the Arabs only succeeded in conquering very few Jewish settlements”whereas the Jews, on their part, conquered hundreds of Arab ones”the latter probably committed more of them than the former. Had the Jews lost the struggle, the outcome would very probably have been a real holocaust. Had it not been for the intervention of the great powers, which twice saved the Egyptian army in particular, Israel would have completely demolished its enemies and expanded its borders.
To a reader familiar with the literature, especially the Israeli literature of the last twenty years or so, none of this will come as a particular surprise. Sixty years after the events, the time for the kind of hagiography that often marked the first few decades of Zionist-Israeli inquiries into the origins and development of their state is past; that of real historical research, based on real sources many of which have only recently become available, has arrived. What makes this volume unique is the author’s unrivaled mastery of the Israeli and British archives (no Arab archives have been opened to the public; in any case, Morris does not read Arabic) as well as his eye for detail and splendid style. The result is a fascinating work that contains any number of fascinating details.
Morris has often been criticized in the past, and there can be little question about that, in publishing this book, he has opened himself to more criticism in the future. Some will no doubt accuse him of not being sufficiently Zionist”after all, he does say that the Palestinians were never any match for the Israelis, and he does mention some atrocities the latter committed. Others will claim, in fact are already claiming, that in presenting Israel’s conduct of the war in a favorable light he all but ignores the role the country played in originating the conflict and perpetuating it. In this short review, I do not want to go into the details or determine who, Morris or his critics (and, among the latter, which ones) is right and who is wrong; perhaps the fact that he has come under fire from both sides speaks for itself. Suffice it to say that he has produced a comprehensive, very well documented, and very well written, work. For anybody who wants to understand the war in which modern Israel was created, but also the present mood of much of the Israeli left, a better starting point is impossible to find.
Martin Van Creveld is professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of The Culture of War and Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security.