From time to time, I have commented that the Middle East that we are in the process of transforming never had the experience of either a Reformation or Enlightenment and therefore did not have the same cultural reference points as the West for a successful transition to the modern world. As we contemplate a possible “enlightenment” of the Islamic Middle East, hopefully in parallel with a belated reformation of Islam itself, we might reflect on the question of which enlightenment model we wish for—the popular and romanticized French model of “liberty, equality, fraternity” or the less exalted, but profoundly more successful British and American models. Now comes Gertrude Himmelfarb and her book, The Roads to Modernity, with very useful perspective on the differences among the three Enlightenments—French, British, and American—and the difference they have made. And, although she doesn’t specifically speak to the question to which I allude here, she clearly answers it without serious doubt.
For Himmelfarb, the key differentiation is the driving force for the three “roads”—for the French, it was the ideology of reason as the enemy of, and to completely supplant, religion; for the British, it was the “social virtues” or “social affections” of the moral philosophers; and for the Americans, it was “the politics of liberty”. Unlike the French model, which attempted to transform human nature itself, the British and American models recognized the innate similarity in human nature across cultures and social status. And, critically for the success of the latter two, reason was an instrument for the attainment of the larger social end, not the end itself, and religion was an ally, not an enemy, in this pursuit. So as we observe and help guide the transformation of the Middle East, it is helpful to remember which models have produced true human freedom and productivity and which one, notwithstanding its popular appeal, has produced human strife. Himmelfarb’s book provides helpful insights.
To the volumes written and spoken about Pope John Paul II over the past few weeks, there is not much to be added. I will simply make a few personal observations. First, after reading two of his books and closely monitoring his leadership over the 27 years of his papacy, it seems to me that he came as close as one could come to the proverbial “philosopher-king”—a man who combined wide-ranging and deep philosophical insights with enormous spiritual conviction, compassion, and moral courage, and who personified leadership with an acute awareness of the highest anxieties and yearnings of his constituents. Second, I was struck by Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s identification of the idea that was his singular coherence—the sanctity of life, and the triumph of life over death. For him, human dignity was not only primary, it was almost everything. Third, I agree with Charles Krauthammer’s analysis of what I will call the convergence of forces and personalities, in which John Paul (along with Reagan, Thatcher, and Solzhenitsyn) was prominent, in the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism. I will quickly add that, although I am a believer, it doesn’t require an inordinate amount of faith to buy into Krauthammer’s suggestion that there was a providential hand at work in the choice of Karol Wojtyla as Pope at a critical juncture in history when the Brezhnev Doctrine appeared to be a permanent fact of life. And I will go further in asserting that it is not a big reach to assign a significant role for this providence to the choice of his successor at this particular time, a point to which I will soon return.
It appears that predictions of a new and long lasting Republican governing majority may have been premature and, in fact, if they don’t start acting like a majority party pretty soon on a range of issues, they won’t be one for very long! Of course, in any evaluation of policy priorities, there are big issues and small issues, issues that are transformational and those that are transactional. And it is the transformational issues that require principled leadership, significant expenditures of political capital, and, in many cases, absolute party discipline; here are some examples:
- The Bolton nomination to the UN—To lose a nomination such as this would send the message that aggressive reform initiatives on behalf of a conservative President and outspoken critique of the liberal international order represented by a corrupt and incompetent institution in dire need of serious reform are out of line and detrimental to one’s career.
- Social Security reform—There is a limited window of opportunity to completely change the seventy-year old social contract mindset from one of entitlement to one of ownership and move the national retirement system from an antiquated one based on defined benefit to a defined contribution system more aligned with the aspirations of ownership and inheritability. Personal accounts are transformational, salvaging the current system isn’t; let’s get on with it.
- Judicial appointment confirmations—Capitulation here will serve to perpetuate the perversion of the constitutional principle of advise and consent, enshrine a super-majority precedent for judicial nominees, send the message that elections have only limited consequences, and condone and accelerate the trend toward judicial supremacy in matters involving core moral and social issues.
- Permanent tax cuts—In the face of all the accumulated evidence of its success, it is amazing that we are still debating the wisdom of supply side economics as a primary driver of economic growth, and continue to subject ourselves to the intimidation and demagoguery of the various “fairness” arguments.
- Life and death issues—It is time to put to rest the questions of the creation of embryos for cloning and stem cell research and move forward on the implementation of the recommendations of the President’s Bioethics Council before the rapid advances of our science present us with a fait accompli and a perversion of what it means to be human.
- Tom Delay—His defense may seem marginal as a transformational issue, but if one of history’s better enforcers of party discipline for the conservative cause can be eliminated from leadership because of indiscretions that, however unsavory, are fairly typical and of minor consequence, it will have a chilling impact on like-minded legislative leaders who as a result might be less inclined to confront or ignore the liberal media elite and their fellow travelers for many years to come.
All of these have a price, and some say a few of them exact a price too high in terms of “comity” and political fallout, but my response is that the bigger price will be paid for failure to aggressively pursue the wedge issues that are critical to the base of the majority as well as the welfare of the country.
Those who criticize the Bush Doctrine in dealing with world terrorism and Islamofacsism as well as others who wonder about its place in historical perspective would benefit from a small book by John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Gaddis places George W. Bush in a context that reaches back to John Quincy Adams’ term as Secretary of State under President James Monroe to find that Bush’s strategy is more consistent than not with the American tradition of foreign policy. Adams’ innovation at the time was to introduce the notion of national expansion as the basis of providing the necessary security for the relatively new country. And his methods for pursuing this expansion were preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. Sound familiar?
Gaddis traces these concepts through the next two centuries and finds that they were consistently applied, albeit in different ways in different situations, in every foreign policy crisis until World War II and the Cold War, when more of a multilateral approach came into vogue and the concept of American exceptionalism was diluted, while American hegemony overseas was justified and accepted because there existed “something worse” in the form of Soviet domination. The question Gaddis poses is whether Osama bin Laden is enough of this “something worse” to permit the same degree of American hegemony, and he wonders if the part of the Bush Doctrine that is at odds with Adams, that of the deliberate American expansion of liberty and democracy abroad, is sustainable. This is a very provocative historical perspective on critical foreign policy issues and I highly recommend it.
Of all the current national policy issues, the one on which I find myself most at odds with the President is immigration, and I believe that those who dismiss the sentiments embodied by the “Minutemen” on the Arizona border do so at their political peril. The issue is often expressed in terms of its implications for national security, but to me it’s about much more—it’s about the credibility of the rule of law in a society that preaches it consistently to emerging democracies but looks away as it is snubbed with impunity by those in this country who hire illegal labor; it’s about fundamental fairness to law-abiding legal immigrants; it’s about the unreasonable burden on our taxpayers of the welfare and education of illegal immigrants; it’s about whether a nation can practice one of the most basic acts of sovereignty—the control of its borders; and it’s about preserving our culture in the face of its undermining by the ravages of multiculturalism. And I agree with Congressman J. D. Hayworth—enough is enough, Mexico! His message to President Vicente Fox: If you want to work constructively for immigration reform in general and a guest worker system in particular, you must start by becoming a partner in securing our border instead of being an accomplice in overrunning it. And I would add to that: you must transform your monopoly-based slow growth economy so that you can wean yourself off the black market in annual remittances from those who are in this country illegally.