Archive for September 2006

Bravo for Walter Jones, Goodbye Republic

September 29, 2006

Not only has the North Carolina congressman come to see the Iraq War as folly, he was one of only a handful of Republicans to oppose the torture bill. The honor roll also includes Roscoe Bartlett, Wayne Gilchrest, Steven LaTourette, James Leach, Jerry Moran, and of course Ron Paul. Along with most of the Democratic caucus.

Notice anyone missing from that list? On Bovard’s blog, “libertarian” Jeff Flake’s absence was noted. But I was most surprised — and sickened — by John Duncan’s pro-torture vote. He’s an antiwar Republican (YouTube video) who’s long seemed like one of the few decent human beings on the Hill, though there’ve always been places where one could quibble with his record. But this is just shameful. John Hostettler, of Indiana’s firecely contested “bloody eighth” district, is another antiwar but pro-torture Republican. His opponent is a pro-war Democrat. Thanks to Hostettler’s “coercive interrogation” vote, though, I hope the Dem wins just so his party gets closer to retaking the House, since that’s clearly the only thing that will stand between George W. Bush and Divine Right.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, not only did McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Warner capitulate to Bush, they voted against an attempt to preserve executive detainees’ — which is what “enemy combatants” ought to be called, since the executive branch can decide arbitrarily who fits the “enemy combatant” bill — habeas corpus protections.

I’ve never felt so slimy to be an American. The Bush administration has been torturing and illegally holding people for years, of course, but without the fig leaf of law. Now waterboarding, stress positions, extended sleep deprivation (which, if you’re keeping people awake for days on end, may be more cruel than traditional thumbscrews), and a whole array of modern torture techniques are, at least implicitly, part of the law of the land. The rule of law has become the rule of the Marquis de Sade.

In all of this, the branch of the federal government that has acquitted itself best is the Supreme Court. Why are we supposed to want a Republican Senate and president again?

Biblioblogging

September 29, 2006

Daniel Larison has tagged me for a books meme that’s been making the rounds. So here we go:

1.) One book that has changed your life?

The Twilight of Authority, the first book by Robert Nisbet that I read.

2.) One book that you have read more than once?

An important one is Red Planet by Robert Heinlein, the first book I ever read.

3.) One book you would want on a desert island?

I’m tempted to say The Odyssey, but the spirit moves me to say Don Quixote instead.

4.) One book that made you cry?

Deliver Us From Evil by Sean Hannity. I regularly weep at what makes the bestseller lists.

5.) One book that made you laugh?

The Diaries of Auberon Waugh

6.) One book you wish had been written?

My Life As Author and Editor by H.L. Mencken. The book we have by that title is drawn from his unfinished manuscript, which breaks off before the launch of The American Mercury.

7.) One book you wish had never been written?

Joyce’s Ulysses, the book that launched a thousand (or rather, a thousand thousand) pseuds.

8.) One book you’re currently reading?

Academic Freedom by Russell Kirk

9.) One book you’ve been meaning to read?

The Borzoi Turgenev, which has been sitting on my shelf for a year or so, untouched.

10.) Pass it on.

I’ll tag Jesse Walker, who may be too busy for this sort of thing; R.J. Stove, who’s welcome to reply in the comments section here since his own site isn’t a blog; and my old friend from college Matt Cole.

Theocontroversy

September 27, 2006

Former First Things editor Damon Linker‘s new book criticizing his old boss, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, is starting to pick up media notice. My review of The Theocons appears in the forthcoming (in about a month) December issue of Reason, along with my take on Patrick Hynes’s In Defense of the Religious Right. In the meantime, Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist (and The Right Nation) reviewed it for the New York Times earlier this week, and Commonweal editor Paul Baumann has covered it for The Washington Monthly. Wooldridge and Baumann offer very different takes on the book, though they agree (with me, too) that Neuhaus and company are not nearly as powerful as Linker makes them out to be.

Also weighing in is Russell Arbens Fox of the In Medias Res blog, which includes a bit at the end that’s worth a quote:

There are, in fact, many of forms of deep and serious (even “conservative”!) piety that are obviously public but not in any sense driven by populist pre-occupations; populist sentiments themselves are, I think, quite abused when taken out of their subjective contexts and turned into an objectively accounted crusade. Among other things, that’s when populism is most likely to become warlike, exclusionary, paranoid–qualities which I do not at all agree with Damon in thinking always characterize public religiosity, but which admittedly have graced the pages of First Things a fair amount lately, especially as things have turned bad for their champion, George W. Bush.

There is a religious discontent with modern liberal secularism in this country; this Damon knows. He would have rather the theocons had, at the first signs of that discontent, rejected public religiosity entirely, embraced the liberal account of secularism as not only correct but a wise compromise, and preached solely private resistance to changes in our culture. I’m glad they didn’t; they have done good things with their influence, they’ve put issues on the agenda that might never have made it there otherwise. But now, with them fixated, at least as Damon persuasively presents them, on their current path of preaching unity between moral truth and popular power and partisan success, I think they need some serious correction. If Damon’s book can help provide it, more power to him.

Mencken’s House

September 26, 2006

Scott Lahti brings to my attention this article about Mencken’s house on Hollins Street in Baltimore. The city has neither the means nor much will to take care of the place (which was a museum at one point). Luckily, the Maryland Historical Society and the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House might soon have a greater say in what becomes of HLM’s family home.

Human Sacrifice, American Style

September 25, 2006

I’m looking forward to “Apocalypto.” While promoting the new film, Mel Gibson put the collapse of Mayan civilization in context:

In describing its portrait of a civilization in decline, Gibson said, “The precursors to a civilization that’s going under are the same, time and time again,” drawing parallels between the Mayan civilization on the brink of collapse and America’s present situation. “What’s human sacrifice,” he asked, “if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?”

National Intelligence Estimate: Iraq War Has Exacerbated Terrorism

September 24, 2006

The government’s own intelligence assessment has come to the conclusion to which The American Conservative and other informed observers have been pointing for a few years now. From the NY Times:

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

The New Pantagruel, RIP

September 24, 2006

One of the most stimulating and original web zines of the past few years is closing down. The New Pantagruel at its best really was a “localist, decentralist, anarcho-Christian and authentically conservative” journal as well as an ongoing rejoinder of sorts to the neocon/theocon First Things.

Torture’s Mastermind

September 23, 2006

The American Conservative has put up a sneak preview of one of the stories from our Oct. 9 issue: Jim Bovard’s takedown of John Yoo and his book War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account of the War on Terror. As deputy attorney general under Ashcroft, Yoo was one of the authors of the infamous “torture memos.”

Jim Antle Predicts

September 21, 2006

My colleague W. James Antle III presents an informed opinion on the shape of things to come in November.

What Do You Call Yourself?

September 21, 2006

Twice last week I was asked whether I’d call myself a conservative, a libertarian, a paleoconservative, or what. Both times I said the same thing: “anarchist.” The first time I was drunk enough that nobody was likely to put too much weight on my words. The latter time, regrettably, I was stone-cold sober and on hearing the answer my interlocutor asked, “No, seriously…?” Did I just dislike labels or something?

Labels have their uses. But in Washington, D.C., especially, I won’t very well call myself a conservative; here the term denotes either a supporter of Bush or, at a minimum, an appendage to the conservative movement — or someone broadly sympathetic to that movement perhaps, even if not directly implicated in it. I don’t fit those criteria and wouldn’t want to be mis-identified as doing so. I think Bush should be in jail and that the conservative movement is about as inimical to the conservatism of the thinkers I admire as it’s possible to get, as I’ve suggested before. In writing, or when my listeners have a good deal to time to devote to a discussion of semantics, I might still be inclined to try to relate what I think conservatism properly is and how it differs from what it’s commonly perceived as being. And for that matter, in other parts of the country, where people are less inclined than in Washington, D.C., to believe that politicians and the movements that carry water for them are what truly matter in life, there may still be some value in the term “conservative.” Here, however, there isn’t.

I’m not a native libertarian, so I usually think it presumptuous to append that label to myself. I don’t mind if others do so. My politics are libertarian, but I don’t necessarily go in for all of the other social views commonly — rightly or wrongly — associated with libertarianism. Libertarians tend to be optimists, for example, which I am certainly not. The only truly pessimistic libertarian I can think of is Robert Higgs who, perhaps not coincidentally, would also, I gather, about as readily identify himself as an anarchist as a libertarian. I’m not a believer in “dynamism” or any inexorable march of liberty.

“Anarchist” has the advantage of being disreputable enough that no respectable person would call himself one. No Trotsky fan mugged by reality is going to label himself an anarchist, and no bomb-dropping patriot would even think of it. In some respects the term isn’t quite an accurate description of what I think, since I do acknolwedge the need for institutions of public order. But the modern state is, if anything, an institution of public disorder and a thing whose essence is coercion and the abrogation of property rights, and which is almost totally lawless to boot. The present administration gives about as much evidence of that last point as anyone might ask for. “Anarchist” has its own negative connotations and dubious history, of course, but it’s far and away better than to be a Beltway “conservative” and not nearly as presumptious as calling myself a libertarian. So I think I’ll stick with it.


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