Archive for August, 2006

A Fit Instrument?

War and peace, again.

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Hitler vs. Satan

I don’t know about you, but when I hear America’s latest enemy described as
a "New Hitler" my eyes glaze over and I assume I am being assaulted by
fear-mongering propaganda. Invoking the shadow of Hitler is a way to bypass
analysis and sway opinion, to silence dissent, to rally the troops.

Mr. Bush invokes this shadow when he speaks of "Islamic fascism", and we
have argued about similar terms on this weblog in the recent past. I wonder if
this tendency to call one’s enemies "fascists" is not some residual habit left
over from the Leftist pasts of some of the leading neoconservative thinkers. To
those of us with similar pasts it is embarrassing to remember throwing the term
around so carelessly.

Those who defend such language will usually point to some combination of
aggressiveness, expansionism, and ideological agenda on the part of the radical
jihadists to justify such rhetoric.

Or they will mention anti-Semitic comments from Mr. Ahmadinejad, though
from what I have read these are taken out of context: "What will you do if
Israel bombs Iran?", the interviewer will ask. "We will destroy Israel!", he
will bluster, and the next day the headlines blare "New Hitler vows to destroy

I wonder at the selectivity of this.

The last two issues of the international version of The Jerusalem
have contained two paid political advertisements. The one obliquely
suggested using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran. The other was a petition to
annex southern Lebanon.

These ads- in a mainstream Israeli newspaper- clearly show the existence of
violent, expansionist, ideological Zionists. Do you think Mr. Bush would call
them "Jewish fascists"?

Don’t hold your breath.

I fear we are seeing the demonization of enemies that is necessary in
preparation for war. And I have become convinced that there are those in the
Bush administration who think that the only way out of the mess they have made
in Iraq, the only way to proceed with their stated goal of American hegemony in
the Middle East, is to provoke a major war. Too many of them are crowing about
World War III. Others are preparing us to accept total war, citing Hiroshima as
a model, telling us that we are too soft-hearted, that we need – in John
Podhoretz’ chilling phrase- "the cold-eyed singleness of purpose" that it takes
to incinerate the innocent by the hundreds of thousands.

Personally, I resist this cold-eyed propaganda by invoking the image of the
blind Iranian boy, Muhammad, his devout granny, and his adorable sisters from
the Iranian film The Color of Paradise whenever I hear the word

And I invoke the image of the Hasidic Jews Moshe and Malli from another
favorite film, the Israeli Ushpizin, whenever I hear the words "Jewish"
or "Israeli".

It works for me; just a little tactic to keep everyone human.

And if it is aggressiveness, expansionism, and ideology that qualifies one
to be the latest Hitler, then the neocons meet the standard.

Of course, I am not saying it is only our leaders who demonize. They call
the Iranian president the new Hitler, but the ayotollahs of Iran have long
called the United States "the Great Satan", which is a very literal

So. The war that is shaping up is going to be Hitler vs. Satan?

I hope no one minds if I declare my neutrality right now.

Daniel Nichols

Read Full Post »

Where Did the Party Go?

Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy

I received a press release about this interesting-sounding book about the problems and prospects for the Democratic party a couple of weeks ago and have been meaning to post a notice. From the description:

What has happened to the national
Democratic Party? It’s easy to blame it
all on the machinations of evil Republicans, but honest Democrats know that
their own party needs to take some responsibility for its failures. In the last presidential election, a
distinguished senator who was also a decorated war veteran was unable to defeat
someone widely viewed as a failed president and an ignorant if not stupid man,
someone tainted by his association with “religious extremists,” corporate
criminals, and an unpopular war. Why?

  Click on the title above to go to a blog with much more info.

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Provoking the Provocateurs

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Last Hope, Last Ditch

2008 approaches. The nation faces perhaps the greatest dangers I have seen
since I was a small boy. Many suspect that powerful forces in the government are
intent on provoking a world war.

Do you really want to choose between Hilary and Newt for president? Or Gore
and McCain? Or any other candidates likely to be offered by the Evil Stupid
Party or the Stupid Evil Party? Whoever runs, the choice appears destined to be
between Endless War and War Without End.

For those of us who believe that the time is ripe for an ambidexterous
Third Force in American politics, an alternative- in Bill Kauffman’s words- to
the "two for the price of one parties", the discussion always ends with the
question of leadership: who in the world could lead us?

The great American populist- alright, technically he is Canadian- Neil
Young, in his recent album Living with War,  has a song called "America
Needs a Leader". This is true enough: boy, do we ever. But when he names names
it is a bit pathetic. The best he can do is Barack Ubama and Colin Powell
(though he does suggest Powell run to atone for his sins).

And the whole thing sounds a bit desperate, like we are eager for a

I am not eager for a demogogue.

I am not eager for any sort of politician, even a Catholic one.

No Brownback.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of his conversion, but like most American
Catholics, I don’t think he realizes the social implications of his faith.

And no Santorum. If his career survives prolife Democrat Bob Casey Jr.’s
challenge, I’ll let Specter take up his defense.

No nobody on the current scene.

Any candidate in the Last Hope movement- or perhaps the "Last Ditch"
movement- would have to at a minimum:

a) Not carry undue Leftist or Rightist political baggage, which pretty much
eliminates Nader and Buchanan, whatever their merits.

b) Offer an alternative to politics as usual.

c) Not be any sort of Mass Media pundit.

d) Not be politically ambitious, for the desire for power is itself the
prelude to corruption.


e) Appeal to every patch of the crazy quilt coalition some of us dare hope
for: decentratlist Leftists, Paleo and Traditionalist Conservatives, the better
sort of libertarians, Greens, Catholic Worker type anarchists, working class
people, farmers, po’ folks, and all the other assorted malcontents that may,
just may, in the best American tradition, pull together to save the country from
the neoconservative nightmare that has fallen upon us, to tear us away from the
grinning proclaimers of World War III, to call America home.

But wait.

There is someone on the periphery of the national scene who offers an
appeal to the better sorts on the Right and the Left, someone who flies with
both wings, who has written for both The American Conservative and
The Sierra Club magazines, who is at once antiwar and antiabortion, who
is quintessentially American without being a rabid nationalist, whose analysis
of the national dilemna reaches far beyond politics to the cultural and
agricultural roots of the problem.

What’s more- and this to his credit- he has shown absolutely no political
ambition whatsoever.

He is a poet and a farmer, an honest man. He hails not from the Beltway or
one of the little beltways of the New America, but from a real place, a holdout
from the Old Jeffersonian America.

And he is a prophet.

Draft Wendell Berry for President!

Daniel Nichols

Read Full Post »

More fodder for the debate still going on under the "Crunchy Conned" thread: this article from the Touchstone archives. It seems to me that what’s missing from the thinking of those who argue for practical pacifism in the face of a Hitler is some acknowledgment of a duty to protect the innocent. I’m bothered by a kind of glibness in the logic that says "Well, it would be immoral to resist, too bad, die." Real circumstances are likely to be rather more ambiguous than that, and I thought this article was excellent (I ran across it a few days ago while culling my back issues of the magazine, which I heartily recommend–it’s the subscription I would keep if I could only have one).

Let me reiterate, emphatically, that this is not a rejection of the principle that it’s wrong to target non-combatants.

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Poetry and Politics: Guernica with Graffiti

On Patti Smith’s powerful but flawed song about the Qana bombing.

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

For people who read this blog but not Open Book (if any), re our discussion of just war principles here: there’s an excerpt from Elisabeth Anscombe’s protest of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and interesting discussion following, over there.

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Masters of War

Maclin Horton

Read Full Post »

Crunchy Conned

Late last winter and into the spring this weblog was dominated by discussion of Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons. This was only natural: not only did the book discuss many things dear to Caelum et Terra readers, but it also quoted our own Maclin Horton at length, and he spoke well indeed.

If you recall, I had to wait a while for the book to come in on interlibrary loan, and in the meantime I investigated this Rod Dreher fellow, whose name was new to me.

I was not impressed.

A former employee of National Review, I found his writings to be pretty standard expressions of Republican orthodoxy, more of the usual polemics.

So I was skeptical.

But also hopeful: from what I was hearing of his book it sounded like he was a man in transition, questioning many of his conventional conservative presuppositions.

So when the book came in I read it with a mixture of suspicion and hope.

And annoyance, beginning with the title. If someone has the luxury of self-designation, why on earth would he choose such and infelicitous term as “crunchy con”? To do so is to beg for wisecracks and bad puns.

The book has many shortcomings, not least the “gee whiz” tone; Mr. Dreher fancies that he is the discoverer and proclaimer of a new phenomenon, a synthesis of conservative ideology and earth-friendly, granola-crunching aesthetic wholeness.

Then there is his caution, his tenacious insistance that he is a conservative no matter what. He may strain at the leash but he dare not break free.

I am not, as I have said, a conservative. But I have many conservative friends, Catholic and otherwise, who live earthy, look  funky, grow their own vegetables, make soap, throw clay pots and otherwise defy the buttoned-down, wingtip right wing stereotype. And have done so for decades.

Indeed, I would guess that a plurality at least of C&T subscribers fit this description, and endured the magazine’s occasional forays into more radical territories in light of a shared lived praxis.

So there was not much new in Mr. Dreher’s discovery, except to him.

Still, as I said at the time, there was more good than bad in the book. I even said, in a bit of hyperbolic praise, that Crunchy Cons was perhaps a signpost on the road to a new populism, or something like that. I said this as a sort of olive branch, as it prefaced an unflattering comparison of Mr.Dreher’s book with Bill Kauffman’s, and I realized after I wrote it that it was one of
the dumber things I have ever written: whatever its merits, Crunchy Cons appeals to instincts that are anything but populist. Listen to this, the first of the ten statements in the book’s “Crunchy Con Manifesto”:

         1) We are conservatives who stand outside the mainstream; therefore we can see things more clearly.

Huh? Elitist in sentiment, the claim is utter nonsense. The Aryan Nation volk are outside the conservative mainstream; do they therefore see things more clearly?

And so my mixed feelings about Mr. Dreher and his project endured, until a couple of weeks ago, when I ventured onto his Crunchy Con blog at Beliefnet.

There had been a Crunchy Con blog at National Review Online after the book’s publication, which discussed and argued its thesis. After conventional and crunchy cons had beat each other silly that site was retired and Dreher launched his independent blog.

This site does not limit itself to discussing the book, but in more typical blogger fashion discusses all and everything.

I wonder how these people find the time to do this. Don’t they have jobs? Families? Dogs to walk?

And Rod Dreher the blogger reveals more of himself than Rod Dreher the author ever did.

There is a lot of typical Republican carping, in spite of the occasional wistful nod to the need for a politics that transcends the Right/Left dichotomy.

I am not too hard on him for this; it takes time to overcome longstanding bad habits, after all. I always said that Rod Dreher seemed like someone on the first steps of a journey on the way to he knows not where. And who among us consistently conforms to his higher aspirations?

However, it is when his attention turns to foreign affairs, especially in light of the recent conflict in Lebanon, that my annoyance turned to alarm.

To Dreher, the situation is stark: Israel is good, Muslims are evil.

In his manichean world there is no mention of Israel’s abysmal human rights record, no acknowledgement of the suffering of the Palestinians, no nod to the idea that the thing is other than high melodrama. All nuance is lost, and in Dreher’s words, “the terrorist fanatics of Hezbollah launched a war that is destroying Lebanon.”

To give some feel for his tendency to demonize Muslims, I note a recent post entitled “How do you say ‘Sieg Heil’ in Arabic?”

This post was a reaction to a photo in Time magazine last week that showed a group of young Hezbollah recruits extending their hands in an open-palmed salute.

Now when I saw this photo my first reaction was “Geez; that looks like the Nazi salute.” Unlike Dreher, who took that initial reaction and created an inflammatory post, I had a second thought:”Wait a minute; I really don’t have enough knowledge to draw any conclusion”. Perhaps the young Arabs in the photo did mean to emulate a fascist salute- itself an adaptation of the Imperial Roman salute- or perhaps not. I rather doubt a Muslim would consider himself a Nazi,
with that ideology’s weird mix of pseudo-scientific racialism and Nordic myth. Perhaps the gesture had a different meaning within Shi’ia culture. I once saw a commentator, after all, who described a group of charismatic Christians, their arms outstretched in blessing, as offering a fascist salute!

Or take another example: if I saw a photo of a man holding up two fingers in a “V” shape how do I know if he is giving the Churchillian “victory” sign, the sixties “peace” sign, or merely indicating the number “two”? I don’t, if I don’t know the context.

I have googled “Hezbollah salute” and found a lot of people jumping to conclusions and precisely no one offering information about the actual intentions of the militants in the photo. In fact, it turns out that this is how Shi’a pray, just like penecostals raise their hands.

But no matter, it is grist for the mill, fuel for the fire.

But it gets worse.

While most of the debate over Israel’s recent attack on Lebanon revolves around the question of whether or not bombing cities and killing civilians by the hundreds- so far- is a disproportionate response to Hezbollah’s capturing and killing a few Israeli soldiers, Dreher will have none of that: “I see a disproportionate response from Israel as justifiable in principle.”

He links to an article by Washington Post writer Richard Cohen, which he captions “Proportionality is Madness”, where Cohen argues that the idea of proportionality should be scrapped, that total war is justified. (Cohen, who seems to me the epitome of the dumb ugly wing of the Left, might seem an unlikely presence on a conservative blog, crunchy or no, but then war makes
strange bedfellows.)

Dreher links, too, to Charles Krauthammer, who argues the same, justifying indiscriminate killing by invoking Hiroshima: “That’s what it took with Japan.”

And Dreher quotes neoconservative bigshot John Podhoretz at length on the lesson of the Second World War: “Didn’t the willingness of [American and British] leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and back of their enemies?

“What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of sectarian violence now?”

Allow, for a moment, the ramifications of that last sentence to sink in.

God spare us from cold-eyed singleness of purpose.

And God spare us the sight of Jewish pundits constructing a rationale for genocide.

That Rod Dreher, who only recently, in article 7 of his “manifesto” stated “Beauty is more important than efficiency” now invokes the efficiency of indiscriminate slaughter, of total war, reveals the shallowness of his crunchy conversion.

That the guy who not so long ago invoked Dorothy Day and Wendall Berry and who writes for the antiwar American Conservative now beats the drums of war and death and oils the engine of Empire with such glee shows a density of soul that is stunning.

Mr. Dreher: you may eat your vegetables, wear funny shoes, and live in a bungalow, but if your critique of the mainstream you claim to eschew does not go beyond such superficialities you are part of the problem.

In one recent post you criticized the Holy See’s measured response to the crisis in the Middle East; in others, you, a Catholic, want to jettison the Just War principles, at a time when the Church is trying to tighten them. If such moral heresy is not a justification for terrorism and genocide I don’t know what
is. To espouse such a thing is what a Thomist would call formal participation in mortal sin.

You claim to have second thoughts about Iraq and regrets for your support of that War, but you are apparently no wiser; indeed you seem to have grown in folly.

I have long thought that “crunchy con” sounded like some sort of swindle, a scam. Now I know it: when it comes to moral principle and foreign policy a crunchy con is just a neocon in sandals.

Daniel Nichols

Read Full Post »