Wait for the Box Set

Rather interesting piece in the Guardian on the phenomenon taking off in the UK (and here, as the DVD shelves in the big stores attest) of watching television in the form of DVD box sets rather than episodic broadcasts.  I’m probably obsessive-compulsive enough to fall into that kind of habit, but I haven’t yet: I’m too poor and there’s too little television that interests me.

Speaking of television, although I haven’t set aside the time to read it myself yet, I think a link to Paul Cantor’s “Popular Culture and Spontaneous Order or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tube” is in order.


Hammer Time

Wired has some advice for fixing the leaky RFID in passports issued by the U.S. State Department after Jan. 1.

I really wish I had replaced my passport this year, so I could avoid the RFID peril for a decade, by which time maybe they’ll have moved on to the next privacy-invasion scheme instead.  As it is, though, I think I’ll hold off on the hammer approach and maybe consider this in the short term.  Or I’ll just wrap the new passport in tinfoil.

Here’s a Guardian article on how insecure RFID passports already in use in Britain have proven to be.  Proponents of the RFID passport like to say that sense the key that reads the passport’s data is printed on the passport itself, it’s secure.  Well, a key is just an alphanumeric sequence — in the British case, one composed of “the passport number, the holder’s date of birth and the passport expiry date,” all of which is hackable, even by sheer guesswork, given enough time and computing power.

The Wanderer Looks At “GOP And Man at Yale”

A friend brings to my notice this piece (originally from the Wanderer) which comments on my “GOP and Man at Yale” article from a few months back. It’s a fair piece, but it misses an important point: the difference between talk-radio conservatism and the political philosophies of a Kirk or a Weaver is not just a difference in intellectual rigor; on substantive questions of war and foreign policy (and much more as well) the popularized conservatism of today stands for something contrary to the thinking of the traditionalist Right’s founding fathers.

I don’t begrudge anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage for the entertainment or trivia value of their programs. But someone who looks to them for sound counsel on questions of war, ethics, or political philosophy is making a serious mistake.

Russell Kirk on War for Oil (and more)

A week or two back I was asked if I knew where to find an on-line copy of Russell Kirk’s 1991 Heritage Foundation talk in which he more or less directly called the first Gulf War a war for oil. Well, it turns out that Wes McDonald has put it up here. It’s worth quoting at length, since Kirk’s criticisms apply even more strongly to our latest Mesopotamian misadventure:

Mr. Bush, out of mixed motives, has embarked upon a radical course of intervention in the region of the Persian Gulf. After carpet-bombing the Cradle of Civilization as no country ever had been bombed before, Mr. Bush sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers to overrun the Iraqi bunkers — that were garrisoned by dead men, asphyxiated.

And for what reason? The Bush Administration found it difficult to answer that question clearly. In the beginning it was implied that the American national interest required low petroleum prices: therefore, if need be, smite and spare not!

That excuse reminds me of Burke’s rebuke to the Pitt ministry in 1795, when it appeared that the British government was about to go to war with France over the question of the navigation of the River Scheldt, in the Netherlands. “A war for the Scheldt? A war for a chamber-pot!” Burke exclaimed. Now one may say, “A war for Kuwait? A war for an oilcan!”

“The blood of a man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man,” Burke wrote in his first Letter on a Regicide Peace. “It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.” Burke was eager that England declare war against France because of the menace of the French revolutionaries to the civilized order of Europe, and because of their systematic crimes. But he set his face against war for mere commercial advantage. So should Republicans. “The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.”

War for Righteousness. A war for an oilcan not turning out to be popular, however, President Bush turned moralist; he professed to be engaged in redeeming the blood of man; and his breaking of Iraq is to be the commencement of his beneficent New World Order. Mr. Bush has waged what Sir Herbert Butterfield, in his little book Christianity, Diplomacy, and War, calls “The War for Righteousness.” As Butterfield begins the third chapter of that book, “It has been held by technicians of politics in recent times that democracies can only be keyed up to modern war — only brought to the necessary degree of fervor — provided they are whipped into moral indignation and heated to fanaticism by the thought that they are engaged in a ‘war for righteousness’.”

Now indubitably Saddam Hussein is unrighteous; but so are nearly all the masters of the “emergent” African states (with the Ivory Coast as a rare exception), and so are the grim ideologues who rule China, and the hard men in the Kremlin, and a great many other public figures in various quarters of the world. Why, I fancy that there are some few unrighteous men, conceivably, in the domestic politics of the United States. Are we to saturation-bomb most of Africa and Asia into righteousness, freedom, and democracy? And, having accomplished that, however would we ensure persons yet more unrighteous might not rise up instead of the ogres we had swept away? Just that is what happened in the Congo, remember, three decades ago; and nowadays in Zaire, once called the Belgian Congo, we zealously uphold with American funds the dictator Mobutu, more blood-stained than Saddam. And have we forgotten Castro in Cuba?

Momentum of Its Own. I doubt whether much good is going to come out of the slaughter of perhaps a hundred thousand people in Iraq. “For one of the troubles of war,” Butterfield writes, “is that it acquires its own momentum and plants its own ideals on our shoulders, so that we are carried far away from the purposes with which we began — carried indeed sometimes to greater acts of spoilation than the ones which had provoked our original entry into the war. Before the war of 1914 had lasted a year, its own workings had generated such a mood that we had promised Russia Constantinople and had bought the alliance of Italy with offers of booty, some of which had later to be disavowed by President Wilson. And it is a remarkable fact that in wars which purport to be so ethical that the states attached to neutrality are sometimes regarded as guilty of a dereliction of duty, the great powers primarily concerned may have required an iniquitous degree of bribery to bring them into the conflict, or to maintain their fidelity. The whole ideal of moderate peace aims, and the whole policy of making war the servant (instead of the master) of negotiation, is impossible — and the whole technique of the ‘war for righteousness’ has a particularly sinister application — when even in the ostensibly ‘defending’ party there is a latent and concealed aggressiveness of colossal scope, as there certainly was in 1914.”

You may perceive some parallels between Butterfield’s description of the course of the Allies during World War I and the course, so far, of the coalition against Iraq. Already there is talk of what shall be done with the “remains of Iraq.” Mr. James Baker talks of rebuilding Iraq; others talk of dismantling Iraq altogether, by way of spoilation. And what promises and bribes were provided by the government of the United States, in recent months, to secure the assent of such murderous governments as that of Ethiopia to strong measures against Iraq; to secure, indeed, by holding out prospects of massive economic aid, the cooperation of the Soviet Union, Iraq’s former patron?

Was not Egypt’s cooperation obtained by forgiving the Egyptian government’s indebtedness of several billion dollars? Was not Syria’s assent gained by America’s ignoring of the Syrian conquest of the Lebanon, with a massacre of General Aoun’s Christian army? What began as determination to restore a legitimate (if somewhat arbitrary) government in Kuwait may result in the overturn of several governments in the Levant. As for regarding neutral states as guilty of dereliction of duty — why, the United States has done just that to Jordan, by cutting off economic aid at the very time when Jordan is crammed with destitute refugees from Iraq.

Disagreeable Consequences. In short, deliberate entry into war commonly brings on consequences disagreeable even to the seeming victors. Prudent statesmen long have known that armed conflict, for all involved, ought to be the last desperate resort, to be entered upon only when all means of diplomacy, conciliation, and compromise have been exhausted. In Iraq, we have crushed an insect with the club of Hercules. Temporarily, Mr. Bush’s stroke is popular. When a democracy goes to war, at first there occurs a wave of enthusiasm: “Bop the Wop; sap the Jap; get the Hun on the run!” But afterward, when troubles arise….

True, we did not suffer a long war in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq. But we must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq.

In Egypt, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Morocco, in all of the world of Islam, the masses now regard the United States as their arrogant adversary; while the Soviet Union, by virtue of its endeavors to mediate the quarrel in its later stages, may pose again as the friend of Moslem lands. Nor is this all: for now, in every continent, the United States is resented increasingly as the last and most formidable of imperial systems.

In this century, great empires have collapsed: the Austrian, the German, the British, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Italian, and the Japanese. The Soviet empire now languishes in the process of dissolution. “Imperialism” has become a term of bitter reproach and complaint; all this within my own lifetime.

American Empire. But there remains an American Empire, still growing — though expanding through the acquisition of client states, rather than through settlement of American populations abroad. Among the client states directly dependent upon American military power are Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Israel, and El Salvador; and until the withdrawal of American divisions from Germany for service in Arabia, Germany, too, was a military client. Dependent upon American assistance of one kind or another, and in some degree upon American military protection, are the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and Panama; and also, in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan, and formerly Lebanon. Now Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are added to the roster of clients. I hardly need mention America’s earlier acquisitions: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgins, and lesser islands. I refrain from mentioning America’s economic ascendancy, through foreign aid or merely trade, over a great deal more of the world. In short, although we never talk about our empire, a tremendous American Empire has come into existence — if, like the Roman Empire, in a kind of fit of absence of mind. No powerful counterpoise to the American hegemony seems to remain, what with the enfeebling of the U.S.S.R.

…presidents of the United States must not be encouraged to make Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, nor to fancy that they can establish a New World Order through eliminating dissenters. In the second century before Christ, the Romans generously liberated the Greek city-states from the yoke of Macedonia. But it was not long before the Romans felt it necessary to impose upon those quarrelsome Greeks a domination more stifling to Hellenic freedom and culture than ever Macedon had been. It is a duty of the Congress of the United States to see that great American Caesars do not act likewise.

Echo of 1984. If that duty is forgotten, before many years are out we may receive such television communications as follows.

The voice from the telescreen paused. A trumpet call, clear and beautiful, floated into the stagnant air. The voice continued raspingly: “Attention! Your attention please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within a measurable distance of its end. Here is the newsflash — ”

Bad news coming, thought Winston. And sure enough, following a gory description of the annihilation of a Eurasian army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners, came the announcement that, as of next week, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grams to twenty.

Perhaps you have already recognized the preceding passage from Orwell’s 1984. Orwell describes our world of 1991, too. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace comes to pass in an era of Righteousness — that is, national or ideological self-righteousness in which the public is persuaded that “God is on our side,” and that those who disagree should be brought here before the bar as war criminals.

I shall have more to say about such concerns in my Third Heritage lecture this year. Just now I conclude my thoughts on Republican errors by suggesting that it would be ruinous for the Republicans to convert themselves into a party of high deeds in distant lands and higher taxes on the home front. Such a New World Order, like the Pax Romana, might create a wilderness and call it peace; at best, it would reduce the chocolate ration from thirty grams to twenty. And in the fullness of time, the angry peoples of the world would pull down the American Empire, despite its military ingenuity and its protestations of kindness and gentleness — even as the Soviet Empire is being pulled down today, thanks be to God.

Trust, Don’t Verify

That seems to be Ramesh Ponnuru’s advice to social conservatives concerning Mitt Romney. My former colleague Jim Antle begs to differ.

There was a time — a long time ago now — when even movement conservatives were willing to hold off on throwing their support behind a candidate like Romney; when they would try very hard to recruit guys like John Ashbrook, who didn’t have a chance of winning the nomination but who would at least put some rightward pressure on a Richard Nixon, in part to show the Republican Party that conservatives were willing to put up a fight. Now there’s no effort at all.

Our Enemy, the Administrative State

Paul Gottfried on the difference between Right and Left:

While the Left rails against the bogus Right (that is, the neoconservatives) as the sponsors of a military state that is taking away popular liberties, it knows where its real domestic enemy is to be found. The media Left lurches fitfully into attack mode against the Militia Men as rightwing extremists, a reaction that is never apparent when it discusses the Black Panthers or Hispanic racial nationalists. One likely reason is that, in contrast to designated indignant minorities, “rightwing extremists” are not clients of the administrative state. In fact they would be happy to junk this entity entirely. And whenever the Left here or in Europe is promoting its social engineering policies, it urges obedience to judicial-administrative governance, as the appropriate democratic behavior. I doubt that the Left really believes that the worst thing about the Right is neoconservative militarism. The long-term enemy is those who want to get rid of the system of behavioral control that the central government set up in the twentieth century, in order to equalize it subjects through confiscation and threats as well as redistributed goodies and to fight every alleged form of discrimination.

Too Many “Conservatives” for 2008?

National Review editorializes against Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback getting into the race for the Republicans’ ’08 presidential nod: “He could fracture the conservative base and contribute to the success of a ‘half-scale’ Republican.” Apparently, conservatives of all stripes are meant to shut up and rally around Mitt Romney — Romney, who only discovered that he was “pro-life” about the time he decided to seek the GOP nomination and whose devotion to free-market principles can be gauged by, among other things, his health-care plan for Massachusetts: “The state would work harder to enroll all residents eligible for Medicaid; employers, most of whom already offer insurance, would be encouraged to continue doing so voluntarily; and individuals who don’t have insurance would have to sign on to one of two new insurance pools, one of which would be subsidized for lower-income residents.” (That’s USA Today‘s description, which alos notes that “Failing to sign up [for the mandatory insurance scheme] could lead to a loss of a personal tax exemption or garnishment of wages.”

Brownback is not a whole lot better than Romney — on foreign policy, he may be worse, since the Kansan is eager for the U.S. to manage Africa’s affairs as well as the Middle East’s. But you’d think that social conservatives would demand that at least one contender in 2008 be reliably in their corner. (Brownback himself wasn’t always anti-abortion, but his turnabout is long-established now.) The thin gruel — for conservatives that is — of the GOP’s 2008 line-up so far is a pretty good indication of just what movement conservatives have won after decades of activism and eight years of Bush. As NR would have it, they’ve won themselves a choice between Giuliani, McCain, and Romney. And maybe Newt Gingrich, the man who wants to colonize Mars and amend the First Amendment and whose ethics make Bill Clinton look like George Washington.

All this ought to create an opening for a third-party candidate, but it won’t, and not just because the bugaboo of Hillary Clinton will keep most disgruntled conservatives in line. More fundamentally, conservatives have long since tied themselves so closely to the GOP and partisan politics that they’ll take whatever they get, and NR will be there to tell them they should like it.