American Easter, 2012

April 4, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

The New Republic:

A significant milestone in the history of American conservatism passed largely unnoticed last month: the fiftieth anniversary of William F. Buckley Jr.’s editorial attack on Robert Welch, the head of the John Birch Society. Buckley’s successful effort to read the conspiracy-minded anti-Communist organization out of the conservative movement deserves to be remembered by the Republican Party. Indeed, the fact that today’s GOP has paid the anniversary little heed is a telling indictment of a party gone seriously astray. Rather than honor Buckley’s example, the right-wingers currently controlling the party have made an unabashed habit of defying it.

Welch was a retired candy maker who created the Birch Society in 1958 to mobilize conservatives against what he saw as an imminent Communist takeover of the United States from within. Buckley himself had sounded similar alarms on behalf of red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, but believed that Welch crossed into paranoia with his assertion that America’s government leaders—including President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and most members of the Supreme Court—were active Communist agents. Buckley was also distressed by other Birch claims: that Red Chinese armies were massing at the Mexican border to invade the U.S.; University of Chicago professors were plotting to deprive Americans of their rights to vote and hold property; and elite groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bildergbergers were seeking to merge the U.S. with the Soviet Union in a one-world socialist government. The Birch Society’s notion that those who doubted these theories thereby revealed themselves as Communist sympathizers struck Buckley as self-reinforcing lunacy.

Having spent the better part of a decade doing research in Buckley’s archives, I can attest that it was no easy matter for Buckley to take on Welch and his Society. Many of the financial backers and readers of Buckley’s National Review magazine admired Welch and his organization; Buckley’s own mother was a Bircher. His editorial colleagues warned that criticizing Welch risked splitting the conservative movement. Buckley’s position as movement leader would be jeopardized by the liberal plaudits that predictably would follow his editorial condemnation of the Birchers; as Buckley put it privately, “I wish to hell I could attack them without pleasing people I can’t stand to please.”

Nonetheless, in February 1962 National Review ran a six-page editorial against Welch, arguing that he was damaging the anti-Communist cause by “distorting reality” and failing to distinguish between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectually anti-Communist liberal.” It would be several years before Buckley excommunicated all Birchers from the conservative movement, but his editorial emphasized that “There are bounds to the dictum, Anyone on the right is my ally.”

Buckley paid a price for his stand, as National Review endured torrents of angry letters and cancelled subscriptions, and the defection of some of its deep-pocketed donors. But in the long run, Buckley’s break with Welch saved conservatism. At the time Buckley wrote his editorial, the movement had been tainted by its associated with the Birch Society: In the spring of 1962, Buckley was considered such a fringe public figure that he was invited, in earnest, by Hunter College to speak in an “Out of the Mainstream” lecture series along with leaders of the Nation of Islam, the Communist Party, and the American Nazi Party. By separating conservatism from the Birchers, Buckley made his movement respectable and introduced it into the mainstream of American political life.

Buckley’s struggle against the Birchers has clearly acquired new relevance with the rise of the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party is not the modern-day counterpart of the Birch Society; it more resembles the broad and diffuse right-wing upheaval of the early 1960s of which the Birch movement was a part, and which culminated in the conservative seizure of the GOP presidential nomination for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Still, there are parallels between the two phenomena that ought to concern conservatives today.

Tea Partiers for the most part have policed their ranks to exclude overt racists and anti-Semites, but have trafficked in wild, Birch-flavored conspiracy theories, such as the claim that Christians are persecuted in America and that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Muslim socialist. Glenn Beck, while he was the Tea Party guru at Fox News, peddled the views of Welch and Birch fellow-traveler W. Cleon Skousen to an audience of millions. In order to pass muster with grassroots conservatives, Republican politicians increasingly find that they must subscribe to the belief that global warming is a hoax concocted by the international scientific community.

Buckley felt that outlandish stances discredited conservatism by making it seem “ridiculous and pathological,” as he wrote to a supporter who had criticized his editorial. They allowed the media to tar all conservatives as extremists, and turned off young people. He insisted that conservatism had to expand “by bringing into our ranks those people who are, at the moment, on our immediate left—the moderate, wishy-washy conservatives” who comprised the majority of the Republican Party. “If they think they are being asked to join a movement whose leadership believes the drivel of Robert Welch,” he warned, “they will pass by crackpot alley, and will not pause until they feel the embrace of those way over on the other side, the Liberals.” Buckley consistently maintained that conservatism was the “politics of reality.”…

Read it all.

World Affairs:

Twenty years after the great debate over NATO’s future at the end of the Cold War, we appear to have come full circle—“back to the future,” in John Mearsheimer’s words. Its instrumental role in pacifying the Balkans, its major commitment in Afghanistan, and its recent operation in Libya notwithstanding, the role and relevance of the alliance appear no more certain today than they were when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. International relations specialists are certainly wondering. Rajan Menon has recently pondered “the end of alliances,” and Stanley Sloan speculated about whether NATO might no longer be a “permanent alliance.” In April 2011, James Joyner joyfully declared that the Libyan operation was helping “NATO get its groove back,” but only four months later, toward the end of an exhausting half-year battle with Muammar el-Qaddafi’s third-rate force, he was much less optimistic, penning a commentary for the National Interest titled “NATO fails in Libya.”

At the same time, so-called coalitions of the willing seem to be emerging as an increasingly serious competitor to the Atlantic alliance and its traditional role as the primary conduit for Western security policy. Particularly in post-9/11 Washington, such informal and flexible arrangements are enjoying considerable popularity as a means for projecting power and stability out of area. At least since the French push for employing a similar model in the fight against Qaddafi, this preference for ad hoc coalitions over permanent alliances is no longer unique to the superpower.

It is therefore high time to stop and ponder what role and relevance a Cold War alliance can still aspire to in (what appears to be) an age of coalition warfare: that is, to inquire into the post–Cold War trends that explain NATO’s troubles of the past two decades, to examine how their (superior) ability to cope with these trends can account for the rise of coalitions over the same period, and to delineate from this a potential future role for the alliance based not on competition, but on cooperation with the coalitions.

To a significant extent, the persistent uncertainty about NATO’s role and relevance in the post–Cold War world is the result of a development that was set off by the collapse of the bipolar Cold War superstructure more than two decades ago: the gradual demise of security policy’s systemic dimension. Three aspects of this broader trend in particular have profound implications for the global relevance, operational effectiveness, and political cohesion of a standing formal alliance like NATO: the increasingly situational nature of threats and challenges, capabilities and commitments, and interests and alignments.

During the Cold War, any conflict or crisis, occurring anywhere, could have implications for the security of almost everyone in either of the East-West camps. This began to change once the global ideological antagonism subsided. As the threat—real or imagined—that a local or regional conflict halfway around the world might evolve into a global nuclear holocaust faded into history, security became an increasingly situational affair, shaped by—and properly understood only against the background of—the particularities of specific political, geographical, and historical contexts.

Events in Somalia and Rwanda, for instance, no longer necessarily affected the interests and security of the entire Western camp and its dominant alliance the way that similar occurances had in the past, however indirectly. European allies had always sought shelter under the US umbrella, but now they had much less reason than before to concern themselves with the global responsibilities of the sole surviving superpower. No longer having to fear that local conflicts elsewhere might spark a catastrophic confrontation on the Old Continent, much of Europe happily retired from any global role or aspiration, comfortably settling into what Robert Cooper calls a “post-modern world” of regional peace and prosperity.

The flip side of this was, of course, that events in Europe no longer had immediate implications for global security (or US interests) either. Yugoslavia, for example, which had prominently figured in many Cold War–era war games as the fuse that might set a continent—and eventually the world—ablaze, now took years to attract any serious attention in Washington when it actually exploded in the early 1990s. The primary battlefield—and prize—of the Cold War, the Old Continent, had now lost much of its earlier geopolitical centrality.

The natural consequence of this trend toward a more situational conception of threats and challenges was for the Atlantic alliance to adopt a much more decidedly regional posture, refocusing from containment of the former USSR to trying to stabilize its immediate neighborhood. Even as NATO cautiously initiated a process of enlargement, started to institutionalize its relationships with countries in the post-Soviet sphere, and embarked on its first out-of-area operations in the Balkans, it remained an essentially Eurocentric alliance, in terms of both its membership and operational reach.

This changed only when the geopolitical center of gravity eventually shifted from Europe to the Middle East and Central Asia in the aftermath of 9/11, after which two other trends with profound implications for the alliance started playing out more forcefully: the increasingly situational character of capabilities and commitments as well as interests and alignments.

During the Cold War, when there had been a high likelihood of local crises escalating into a global confrontation, a strong NATO force in Europe could help to deter the Soviet Union from pursuing some of its more objectionable projects even in faraway places like Central Asia. Once the threat of a systemic escalation of regional conflicts decreased after the Cold War, however, power would henceforth have to be actually projected on a global scale for it to have a deterrent effect: Quite naturally, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are much less easily impressed by a strong NATO force in the German lowlands than the Soviets used to be, particularly if the alliance lacks the strategic airlift capabilities to move it to Afghanistan.

Thus, when NATO eventually did accept global responsibilities in the aftermath of 9/11, the support and assistance offered by the alliance collectively, and by European allies individually, under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, had little more than diplomatic significance in American strategic thinking. Much more than French and German battle tanks, what was needed in the unfolding war on terror were basing rights and overflight permissions from countries like Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and particularly Pakistan. The significant leverage these nations possessed with various important players inside Afghanistan would also be more of an asset politically than the procedural legitimacy accorded by various international organizations. As they gradually regained their confidence in the days and weeks after the attacks, some planners in Washington thus came to perceive the invocation of Article 5 by NATO not (primarily) as a genuine expression of allied solidarity, but also as a more or less thinly veiled attempt on the part of the allies to gain some sort of institutional control over the Bush administration’s response to the attacks…

Read it all.

Wall Street Journal:

Deirdre McCloskey certainly leaves an impression. With her robust frame, hoarse voice interspersed with an occasional stammer, and extraordinary charisma, she is anything but your typical economic historian.

On a recent trip to England, she gave a talk at Hartwell House in the heart of Buckinghamshire that felt like a good stand-up comedy show, on par with the better performances of Eddie Izzard or George Carlin. But humor and witticisms aside, the talk revealed her conviction that economists should not shy away from the subjects of love, friendship or virtue.

Ms. McCloskey sees a problem in the way that economic models are dominated by a strange, sociopathic character—”Max U” as she calls him, referring to the standard economic problem of maximizing utility subject to various constraints. Her own scholarly work has become increasingly focused on bringing love, hope, faith, courage and other virtues back into economics.

Ms. McCloskey enjoyed a stellar career in economic history before her apostasy, being among the earliest pioneers of cliometrics—the quantitative study of economic history. In her career as an economic historian, with appointments at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, she built and used historical data sets to answer seemingly arcane questions about the British steel industry during the 19th century and medieval agriculture.

But then Ms. McCloskey started crossing boundaries. She became interested in the way economists formulate their arguments and use persuasion in public discourse. Her research, questioning some of the fundamental tenets of neoclassical orthodoxy, was not always met warmly by her colleagues. In the context of her scholarly transformation, she is fond of quoting Mae West: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

In the mid-1990s, Ms. McCloskey went through another radical transformation, changing her gender and ditching her given first name, Donald, to become Deirdre. Although many of her colleagues in academia were supportive of her crossing, that period was difficult for her and her family. Her children have cut ties with her, and she has never met her 13-year old grandson. “People throw away love too easily,” she told me as we drove to Hartwell House.

If her talk of ethics sounds fluffy, recall that in 1759 Adam Smith earned his reputation by publishing “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” in which he accounted for the emergence of sympathy and moral judgments. It was only in the 20th century that ethics disappeared from economics, partly as a result of the increased mathematization of the discipline. Ms. McCloskey says it was a fundamental error for economists to start making their arguments in terms of “Max U” alone. “In fact, ‘Max U’ would be a much more sensible person if he had gender change and became ‘Maxine U,’” she chuckles.

In 2006, Ms. McCloskey published a 600-page book, “Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.” In a meticulously documented volume, drawing from a range of philosophical traditions, she asks whether one can participate fully in the modern capitalist economy and still be a moral person. Ms. McCloskey is a free marketeer and used to be a close personal friend of Milton Friedman, as she eagerly points out. Her answer is therefore an emphatic yes. It would be ill-advised, she thinks, to claim that profit-seeking makes one inherently corrupt, especially if it is balanced by other virtues.

Four years later, she completed a 600-page sequel, “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.” “I’ve forgotten how to write short books,” she says apologetically, adding that she would like both to be part of a four-volume series on the bourgeois era.

Unlike “Bourgeois Virtues,” “Bourgeois Dignity” makes a historical argument. Modern economic growth, she claims, is a result of an ideological and rhetorical transformation. In the Elizabethan period, business was sneered upon. In Shakespeare’s plays, the only major bourgeois character, Antonio, is a fool because of his affection for Bassanio. There is no need to dwell on how the other bourgeois character in “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock, is characterized.

She contrasts this with attitudes 200 years later. When James Watt died in 1819, a statue of him was erected in Westminster Abbey and later moved to St. Paul’s cathedral. This would have been unthinkable two centuries earlier. In Ms. McCloskey’s view, this shift in perceptions was central to the economic take-off of the West. “A bourgeois deal was agreed upon,” she says. “You let me engage in innovation and creative destruction, and I will make you rich.” A commercial class that was not ostracized or sneered at was thus able to activate the engine of modern economic growth…

Read it all.

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Last Saturday Night

April 4, 2012

Via TribLive

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