Maybe the jury is still out in some quarters, but can there be any doubt that the BP Gulf blowout and oil spill was an over-hyped “environmental catastrophe”? It has been reliably reported that the death of birds was less than 1% of the number in the Exxon-Valdez spill and that the fertilizer runoff into the Gulf long predates the spill. There remains the question of “the missing oil” from the spill, but the reports from scientists I have read so far are that the data do not indicate anything like a catastrophe. Of course, the loss of any amount of wildlife is tragic, and the loss of human life both tragic and avoidable in this case, but most of the economic damage has been caused or at least made worse by failed government policy during the reaction to the spill and in the aftermath. To name a couple of examples: the decision not to waive the Jones Act so as to allow foreign flag vessels to help with the cleanup and the denial of Louisiana Governor Jindal’s proposal to allow oil skimming from the water surface. Of course, the most disastrous decision has been the drilling moratorium, which has no doubt inflicted much more long-term damage on the Gulf economy and its people than the explosion and the spill. Certainly, BP and its partners should be held responsible and liable to the fullest extent under law, but as is so often the case we find that government is at least as much the problem as the solution.
I am getting very tired of reading and listening to accusations of my intolerance, bigotry, racism, sexism, and nativism in my objections to the construction of the Ground Zero mosque, support of the Arizona illegal immigration law, and support for the California anti-same sex marriage law, among other cultural issues on which I share the views of the substantial majority of Americans. I’m sorry, Americans have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone, including Jeremiah Wright, as to their record as the most generous, benevolent, unselfish, tolerant, and welcoming society in world history. Jonah Goldberg has it right–those Americans who are in the majority on these issues are the real victims of hate, directed I would add by a totalitarian left that cannot win a democratic majority on any of these issues. Of course the response from my President is that my refuge from this brand of “progressivism” is to “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like me”. And of course, according to the progressive elite and their fellow media travelers the only people who could hold views like mine are ignorant bigots or political panderers. The demonization of its opponents is a well honed tactic of the left and a very effective one over the years. Well, I have news. This time the totalitarian left has overplayed its hand. For about half a century, it has relied on the good will of Americans coupled with the guilty instincts of many in the majority in pursuing the progressive agenda, but it has now overstepped its bounds and overestimated the size of its mandate and it is about to be rolled back.
Most of the media analysis of the upcoming election characterize the central issue as the economy and jobs, and this is to a large extent reflected in the polling, but I have a different take. The issues raised by the mosque, the Arizona law, and the gay rights issue are about who we are, and we are manifestly not the bigots the left would have us believe. The guilt trip is over.
In September 2002, I wrote this: ” Saddam Hussein must go. Now. Not after re-instituting United Nations arms inspections (a red herring); not after we prove to an international court of world opinion that he is harboring weapons of mass destruction; not after we or one of our allies has been attacked again; and not after we have commitments from a multinational coalition of allies. Certainly President Bush should make the case, forcefully and with as much candor as prudent, and he should also ask for Congressional approval, not that he needs it except as a politically unifying gesture. But the evidence is in, and I can’t improve on Lady Margaret Thatcher’s words: ‘His continued survival after comprehensively losing the Gulf War has done untold damage to the West’s standing in a region where the only unforgivable sin is weakness. His flouting of the terms on which hostilities ceased has made a laughingstock of the international community. His appalling mistreatment of his own countrymen continues unabated. It is clear to anyone willing to face reality that the only reason Saddam took the risk of refusing to submit his activities to U. N. inspectors was that he is exerting every muscle to build weapons of mass destruction. To allow this process to continue because the risks of action to arrest it seem too great would be foolish in the extreme.’
There is no doubt that we are at the dawn of a transformation in foreign policy, diplomacy, and our role in the world. This should have been obvious since 9-11-01 and the enunciation of the Bush Doctrine. Steve Forbes says we are ‘at the creation’, no less so than at the end of World War II. The first real test of the new doctrine will come in Iraq.”
It has been a long and deadly, mistake-filled road from that point until President Obama’s announcement of “the end of combat operations”. Was it worth the effort and price? Yes, but only if we sustain the effort to its satisfactory conclusion, which is the transforming presence of a working democracy (no, not by American standards) in what has been called “the Germany of the Middle East”, the economic and cultural linchpin of the region, and one that is a peaceful and mostly reliable ally of the U. S. What will it take to reach this conclusion? Probably what many Americans don’t want to hear, but what most believe will be necessary to finish the job and validate the price we have paid, and that is nothing less than what was required to ensure a peaceful, independent, and friendly Japan, Germany, and South Korea.
And wouldn’t it be an honorable gesture for Obama to at least acknowledge the vindication of his predecessor in making the politically bold, courageous, and unpopular, but ultimately successful decision to launch the military surge that produced the victory that made this day possible?
Neither Beast nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person, by Gilbert Meilaender.
Some of the most contentious social issues of our time, many of which regularly invade our politics, have as their centerpiece the notion of and appeals to human dignity. What does this dignity mean? Well, it means different things to different people and groups and Meilaender, who served on President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, helps us through the maze. In this short book, he elaborates the philosophical, social, theological, and political implications of the question of dignity, and suggests a path to understanding the concept in a way that we will need as we proceed through the pitfalls and threats of policy that are looming in this century.
The Naked Public Square, by Richard John Neuhaus
On the occasion of the author’s death in 2009, I remarked on this 1984 masterpiece, which probably did more than any other work to restore the debate on the notion of the vitality of religious faith in informing the deliberation of public policy in America. In this and other pursuits, notably including his ecumenical work involving Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, he was totally dedicated to the proposition that religious faith and practice and their intersection with philosophical reason were critical to the sustenance of the American strain of the Enlightenment and, in fact, American exceptionalism.
The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite, by Lee Harris.
A couple of months ago, I referenced the author’s essay from a recent edition of Policy Review entitled “The Tea Party vs. the Intellectuals” and he wrote offering a copy of his new book, which I accepted to my considerable reward. It is in many ways an expansion of his theme in the essay, which is plenty provocative, but it is also a broadening of the description of the conflict and the history of American thought that brought us to this point. I have a few quibbles on certain points, but on the whole I concur with his analysis of the cultural warpath on which we find ourselves. One exception, however: Where do people like me fit into his characterization of the two sides in this battle? I get the impression that he is congregating the cultural divide into the intellectual elite and anti-intellectual camps, as though there aren’t a large number of politically conservative, populist, and traditionalist intellectuals who are entirely sympathetic with the Tea Party movement. It strikes me that the cultural divide is more philosophically and intellectually grounded than he describes, but he provides a good addition to the debate.
Progress & Religion: An Historical Inquiry, by Christopher Dawson
As described by The New Criterion, Dawson’s work “lingers on the edges of two critical contemporary debates that have consumed the public life of America and Europe for the last two decades, and especially since the attacks of September 11”. These two debates involve the rise of political liberalism and the importance of religion in human culture. Dawson wrote this book in 1929 and it is his most famous work among fifteen books. Coming in the period between the two great wars of the 20th century, he argued that Western Civilization was at a turning point and confronted with two real choices—reappropriate a vital Christian culture or move increasingly toward more dangerous and alienated expressions of consumerism and totalitarianism. I read it feeling that these choices resonate at least as critically eighty years later.
God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, by Walter Russell Mead
This is a masterful account of the contemporary global economic and political system, the essence of which Mead calls “the Anglo-American maritime order”, actually initiated by the Dutch Republic in the 16th century and sustained since the early 18th century by the British and the Americans, that has created the modern world. Mead believes that the key to the establishment and maintenance of this order lies in the individualistic ideology inherent in the Anglo-American religion. Although severely threatened over the centuries, it has prevailed. He further outlines his belief that the current conflicts in the Middle East threaten to change that record unless we foster a deeper understanding of the conflicts between the liberal world system and its foes. While I agree with this point, I take issue with his notion of this understanding, in particular his apparent assignment of moral equivalence to the Puritan and Wahhabi worldviews, his failure to reference the reason/faith split in Islam or the “pure will” of Allah well noted by Pope Benedict XVI and others, and his neglecting to note that, while Christianity has had its Reformation, Islam is still long overdue. Despite these differences, a good read.
The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla
For those so inclined, this is a real philosophical treat, a survey of the thinking of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel for purposes of analyzing what Lilla calls “The Great Separation” which, of course, implies the beginning of the alienation of religion from public life. For Lilla, to no surprise, this separation begins with Hobbes’s Leviathan in 1651, at the time “the most devastating attack on Christian political theology ever undertaken”. There are important lessons here and it’s a fun read for philosophy nerds like me, although Lilla clearly admires Hobbes and he often presents the “separation” theme in too much of an “either/or” context—either the politics of intolerance demanded by revelation or the politics of tolerance of the secular human order. To his credit, he does acknowledge that Islam, in its adherence to sharia law which prescribes the totality of private and public life, is not subject to any such separation, a point that we continue to ignore at our peril.
The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power, by Melanie Phillips
This one was really fun. In it, a long list of current myths and irrationalities that have achieved widespread credibility and popular assumption are provocatively challenged and disrobed one by one as flights from reality. These cover a range of issues, from war in Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, global warming, Darwinism, cults and conspiracies from Diana to Obama, the neoconservative movement, and scientific triumphalism, among others, in addition to analyses of why the Jews and Western Civilization bear the brunt of most of the world’s hatred and how the Enlightenment “unraveled”. Behind it all, Phillips offers insight into the links and correspondences between left-wing progressives and Islamists, environmentalists and fascists, militant atheists and fanatical religious believers. She notes that the correspondences between Western progressives and Islamists are really quite remarkable in that both have in their own way ended up suppressing freedom and imposing a tyranny of the mind and, in the end, she wonders whether or not the West really wants to truly defend reason and modernity any longer. Good question.