Oh, Julian…

I meant to reply in kind to Julian Sanchez’ backhand of Rob Lyman for his defense of “communitarian patriotism,” but it slipped through the cracks. I was reminded tonight, because his post is at the top of our Technorati list.

Click on over and take a look; pay careful attention to the obvious respect and consideration with which he treats Rob. Then notice the giant mound of Swiss Cheese he erects as an argument.

Simply put, Julian made two gross errors in his argument, and caps it with an even more gross error in his behavior.
First, he makes claims about what Rob wrote that aren’t true.

Sanchez:

Step one: individuals in a democratic society bear responsibility for the actions (or failures to act) of their governments. This, as you may recall, is Osama bin Laden’s justification for killing American civilians. It’s asserted without argument. If it strikes you as plausible on face, notice that this is not the weaker claim that citizens are obligated to make a good faith effort to participate in the democratic process, vote for the best people given the information available to them, and so on. This is—and has to be for the purposes of this argument—a “strict liability” theory that looks at consequences. Bad policy enacted by the guy you voted against? Your fault. Some covert-op that only folks at the NSA knew about turns into a massive cock-up? You take your share of the blame as well.

Lyman:

Consider: Americans enjoy a democratic government which is, to a greater or lesser degree, responsive to our will. We are the authors of our government’s actions. If I vote for someone whose platform is opening up the prisons, I am partly to blame for the victimization of innocents which results when all those murderers and rapists get turned loose. If I vote for a politician whose platform is unilateral disarmament, I am partly to blame for whatever military catastrophe results. If Americans are killed by terrorists that my government failed to hunt down and kill, I am partly to blame.

Notice a few differences? Julian’s positions are two: either you buy into tribal blood-connection a la Bin Laden, or you have a procedural authorship that comes from your ‘good faith effort to participate.’ Rob isn’t making that point at all. he’s making the same point Schaar and I make, that we take on obligations by living in a society; some of the obligations are not of our choosing or making, but we bear them nonetheless.

Next he attempts to drive Rob’s argument off a cliff.

Sanchez:

Step three: Therefore (and I use the term loosely) each of us has a responsibility to be especially concerned with the welfare of our fellow Americans, rather than with people in general. This is my favorite. If you tilt your head and put your ear to the screen, you can almost hear these lines hollering: “Hi! I’m the fallacy of composition! You may remember me from such arguments as John Stuart Mill’s justification for utilitarianism, and Gladys the Groovy Mule.” If you’re bored and have some free time, see how many invalid arguments you can construct using this obviously incorrect form of inference. I’ll get you started: Corporations have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to be profit-maximizing. Therefore, shareholders must each act as profit maximizers in their own lives.

Gosh, Julian, I’m just not sure where to begin patching the holes in your argument. There’s a whole literature on obligation and citizenship; Waltzer and Schaar would be good places to start. And if theoretical arguments based on history and literature make one squirmy and uncomfortable, I’ll suggest a brief detour into emergent computation once he gets past the Introduction to Logic class.

I’ve got three problems with Julien’s post.

First, he carelessly misreads and misrepresents what Rob actually said.

Second, he ignorantly misapplies elementary logical propositions to a complex system, and ignores a whole raft of readily accessible literature both within the areas of logical analysis of complex systems, the limits of formal logic in modelling complex systems, and human history and politics – which was, after all, what we were talking about. I don’t know Sanchez’ writing well, so I can’t tell if he’s being willfully obtuse or just ignorant about the notions of obligation and citizenship, from a political theory perspective (note that I’ll make a careful distinction here between political philosophy and political theory. For a good primer, take a look at my post on it or at Chris Bertram’s, Russell Fox’s, or Matthew Yglesias.)

I have other philosophical issues with the ahistorical, atomistic individuality that his post infers, but I really don’t have enough data to know that’s where he’s coming from, so I’ll look around a bit before going there.

And finally, his dismissive and superior tone – particularly when combined with the intellectual failures set out above – set him up for the only appropriate response I can come to – which is to ask just exactly whose argument was it that is busted?

I don’t care whether you’re on the right or the left, Stalinist or Libertarian. There is no excuse for not treating your intellectual or political opponents with some modicum of decency and courtesy. When people don’t, I’ll certainly make it a point to nail them for it, as I’m nailing Julian (the fact that his arguments were such a wonderful example of pseudointellectual arrogance was a perk), and I hope that other people will as well.

Why I Support Gay Marriage, and Why I Will Never Be Angry At Those Who Do Not

The part of my brain that does the writing can be annoying; it is often difficult for to sit down and write about what I mean to write about – often the topics seem to select themselves, and I just come along for the ride.

In this case, I meant to finish a pretty unfavorable commentary I’m writing on George Soros’ article on Iraq in this month’s Atlantic. ‘The Bubble of American Supremacy,’ and instead started writing about the recent Massachusetts court decision on gay marriage.

As is typically the case with me, I have three responses which somewhat collide, so writing this is a chance for me to try and set them out and see what evolves (probably why I’d rather write this than comment on Soros’ article; I already know why that’s wrong).

The facts, law, and politics, are already well covered by others, so I’ll make a quick point of information, than start rolling. Here’s the news: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided this week that denying gay couples the right to marry was unconstitutional, and ordered the legislature and executive branch to come up with something in the next 180 days.

Here are the three perspectives: One is broadly social, and talks about why it is that I support gay marriage and think that it should be legal. One is moral, and talks about the thorny issues that are presented when rights collide with deep-seated beliefs. And the final one is deeply personal, and I hope will explain why it is that I will always personally support gay marriage.

On the social front, I’ll suggest that we spend all too much time focusing on the wrong part of the body – the crotch – and not enough on the part that matters – the heart – of those involved. This is a part of the broader issues I have with the way society deals with sex, and with the collapse of traditional sexual norms and the fact that nothing has stepped forward to replace them.

Look, it’s like this. What is marriage about? It’s about a deep commitment between two people who promise to care about and for each other. Historically, it has been tied to sex and procreation – which means heterosexual sex – but that tie is eroding, in the face of the increasing sexualization of society.

Eroding? It’s eroded, folks. Paris Hilton may be ‘deeply shamed’ by the release of her self-made video; but the next celebrity won’t be, and soon we’ll have migrated celebrity to something like Gibson’s character Tally Isham, whose entire life (especially the naughty bits) becomes the subject of a reality show. Soon we’ll be just a credit card away from the weekend cavorts of our media stars, whose stardom will be reinforced, not destroyed, by granting us this access.

Please don’t take me for some kind of neopuritan – I’m not, and my own history (two marriages and divorces, with a variety of relationships stacked around them) doesn’t exactly make me the poster boy for durable relationships. But hey, I’m trying…

The old models are broken, and we can do two things – we can fight a rearguard action to try and reclaim them, or we can look at them anew, try to see what it is that we saw of real value in them, and forge new models that include those things.

What it is that matters in a marriage? Commitment. Duration. Primacy. It is a commitment – which means that in the face of conflicting desires, you have to anyway. It has duration – meaning it gains in value over time. An old good relationship is better than a new one. My dream is to grow old with TG, and to have the span of our history together as a part of what we share. It means that I will take care of her, and be taken care of by her in turn, and that in the time where long shadows come over our lives, we won’t be alone in facing them. And it has primacy over your other relationships. The act of saying to this person “You are the most important person in my life. Not my children, not my boss, not my pastor or anyone else matters more to me than you do,” fundamentally changes both one’s life and one’s relationships to others.

These are good things. They are not only good for people, they are good for society. They bind people to each other, and bind them to a future. They create the kind of ‘units’ of people that can successfully build societies and raise children.

The kind of sexual equipment that the people involved have, and what they do with that sexual equipment, has nothing to do with these core values. You’d hope that they were sexually compatible and satisfied, since seeking out other sexual outlets tends to conflict with the core values. But for crying out loud, what difference does their sexual behavior make to what really matters?

The answer to that, of course, cuts to the second point.

At one of my first blogger events – Roger Simon’s book signing – someone asked how I felt about gay marriage, and I replied “For it, of course.” Cathy Seipp was a bit put out – and I think rightly so – and pointed out that reasonable people could well disagree on this, and that for some people, it might actually be a deeply moral issue.

There are people for whom homosexual sex is, literally, a sin. For their government to recognize homosexual marriage – and put it on a par with normal marriage – means that their government is caving in to sin.

I used to be frustrated with those people, who thought abortion was murder and homosexuality was sin.

Then we deliberately got pregnant (not me, exactly, but my first wife).And the nature of what was going on in doing abortions fundamentally and irrevocably changed for me. Do I stand outside clinics with pictures of bleeding fetuses? Not a chance. I’m still on the other side, and support abortion, but with a wince.

And I do understand how, legitimately, people might want to stand outside a clinic, or how legitimately, people might be uncomfortable with the acceptance of homosexuality, and I won’t condemn anyone for those views (I will freely condemn them for their behavior, however, should they choose to commit murder, arson, or simple rudeness in my presence).

To me, people may choose to live pretty much however they want to. I have friends who are ultra-Orthodox Jews, and friends who are devout Catholics; each operates their life around their principles, and wishes everyone else did as well. But I draw the line when someone restrains another from leaving – as some Muslim families violently do with their adult daughters, or Muslim men do their wives (note that this happens with Christian sects as well, and over issues other than religion; I’m wary about pointing to Muslims, but I’m more wary of ignoring the real stories in order to be inoffensive). And I draw an even bolder line when someone wants to change the laws of the state to make them congruent with their especial cultural choice.

So how do we resolve these things? Awkwardly and over time. We all operate in a mesh of invisible social norms, which change slowly – and inexorably. The tug-of-war that we are going through is the tension that drives that change, and while we all participate in it, we all ought to be understanding of it for what it is, as well.

Do I support gay marriage? Of course. Do I think that all right-thinking people do? Of course not.

But for those who don’t, I keep wanting to ask – given the array of horrible sexual behavior that we all see around us every day; given the fact that most of the specific sex acts homosexual couples commit are committed by heterosexual couples as well – shouldn’t we look more favorably on a gay couple that has made a lifetime commitment and is living it out, and willing to do so before the state, and maybe a bit less favorably on someone like me?

And finally, I support gay marriage because of the piece of paper on my desk. It’s a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care; TG and I are updating ours (since we’re not yet married), and I pulled this out of the file.

Back in the 80’s, I made a lot of money, and actually had investments (as opposed to bills). I hired a pretty good asset manager, and he became one of my closest friends. He ultimately became the godfather to my oldest sons. His name was Steve, and he was gay and died of AIDS in the early 90’s.

When he came out, he was fired by his parents from the family owned firm that he was a partner at; when he got AIDS, he was fired from his job at Drexel. As he got sicker, he couldn’t always manage his medical affairs, and his parents – who had fired and rejected him, became conservators of his estate over his objections. He didn’t want them to take control of his medical care, so he asked me to.

He’d been in a committed relationship for six years at this point, and his parents undid much the estate planning he’d done to ensure his partner’s financial security; his partner couldn’t do anything about it – after all, in the eyes of the law at the time, he was a nonentity. His partner couldn’t legally control Steve’s health care without a document; and because of the legal conflicts over the financial matters, Steve was concerned that it would be invalidated. So I took the legal responsibility. His partner made the decisions; I was the formal authority that the hospitals could use to validate it. Because his partner was, after all, a legal nonentity when it came to the legal authority over Steve’s care.

Ultimately his parents lawyered up and attempted to get me removed. We’d have won, and I’d have gladly spent the money to win, but at the very end, Steve did what he should have done in the beginning, and married.

He married a casual lesbian friend, who managed his care for the last six months of his life, and when he died, took the remaining assets and left Steve’s partner – the person who should have had them – destitute and alone.

You know, if you believe homosexuality is wrong, I can understand not doing business with Steve. I could understand not socializing with him, or even politely expressing your disapproval.

But I have a really hard goddamn time understanding why it is that his control of his dignity and assets should be stripped from him – and the man who he had lived with in a committed relationship for as long as I had been married to my first wife – because of it.

And so personally, I’ll support gay marriage until it becomes legal. If we need to do anything about marriage in this country, it ought to focus on we straight people who seem to be doing such a bad job of marriage on our own.

(in a personal note, TG is certainly working on that issue as far as I’m concerned.)

FEB/04 UPDATE: TG and I are taking the plunge and getting married ourselves!. There’s a good friend who we’d like to have at the wedding. Can you help?
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So How Was Your Weekend?

One of the downsides of blogging under a pseudonym is that you can’t fully leverage the two parts of your life; I can’t use this blog to point out personal things in quite the ways non-pseudonymous bloggers can.

I’ll crack that a bit to publicly thank the various doctors, nurses, and staff at Torrance Memorial Hospital, where Littlest Guy, our 7-year old, wound up Saturday night with a bad enough case of viral enteritis that he spent the night getting fluids intravenously. TG and I were at dinner at Ann Salisbury’s, enjoying her great food and company along with Henry and Mr. and Mrs. Calpundit when Littlest Guy’s mother called and we unceremoniously bolted for the exit and the 405. Middle Guy stepped up, as we called him from the road to get much-needed clothes and cleanup supplies to the parents waiting at the hospital as we drove up from OC.

Littlest Guy is much, much better now, and planning on bragging to all his friends that he stayed up until 4:00 a.m. The laundry is almost all done, and none of us have gotten sick, so it looks like we’re through this.

I didn’t get much done yesterday or last night, so I’m way behind on work that needs doing, which means I’ll be ignoring blogging for the next day or so. I’ll catch up midweek.

So public apologies for bailing out to our dinner companions, and again, thanks to the good people at Torrance Memorial for their excellent care of him and all four of his parents.

Huh?

From CNN:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Iraq will have a new transitional government with full sovereign powers by the end of June 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council said Saturday, and will have a constitution and a permanent, democratically elected government by the end of 2005.

My first reaction: sha-WHAT?

On reconsideration: shaaaa-WHAT?

OK, time to calm myself down. There really isn’t enough information there for me to start testing Dean banners on the site yet.

But the first sniff certaily does sound like a big departure from “we’re done when we’re done,” which I’ve argued is the right approach. If so, it’s a diplomatic disaster unparallelled during my lifetime. If we didn’t have the bottom to do this, we should have stayed home.

We’ll know more next week. But it sure could make my decision about who I’ll vote for in ’04 much, much simpler.

Some Reading For Today

I’m busy all day today, but two things you ought to go take a look at while I’m gone.

Den Beste makes my point about what happens if we don’t succeed in tempering Islamist rage – and it isn’t pretty for the Middle East. He seems to suggest that total war is new (it isn’t – think Troy), but he makes good points, and in case anyone wonders what I’m so damn afraid of, he nails it.

Julian Sanchez demonstrates once again that libertarians seem to have spent waaay too much time in logic class and not enough studying history or political theory, as he backhands Rob Lyman’s post below. I’m out till this afternoon, but watch this space for a fisking.

Dialog w/Calpundit, Part 1

As agreed, Calpundit and I will have a back and forth on the six points I raised in my post a week or so ago, plus the thorny issue of internationalization. Buckle up…

First, we’re not going anywhere in Afghanistan or Iraq until we’re done. Afghanistan will not turn into Vermont any time soon, but we will make sure that the power of the warlords is checked, and that it doesn’t collapse again. Iraq could be the leader of the Middle east, and we intend to help build it into that;

My comments from this post.

The essence of war is a violent struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. War is fundamentally an interactive social process. Clausewitz called it a Zweikampf (literally a “twostruggle”) and suggested the image of a pair of wrestlers locked in a hold, each exerting force and counterforce to try to throw the other. War is thus a process of continuous mutual adaptation, of give and take, move and countermove. It is critical to keep in mind that the enemy is not an inanimate object to be acted upon but an independent and animate force with its own objectives and plans. While we try to impose our will on the enemy, he resists us and seeks to impose his own will on us. Appreciating this dynamic interplay between opposing human wills is essential to understanding the fundamental nature of war.

USMC Warfighting Manual MCDP-1 (.pdf)

In any negotiation, there are two ideal positions: 1) “I don’t care,” in which you challenge the other side to get you to engage in a negotiation at all; and 2) “No matter what it takes,” in which you make it clear that no matter what the other side does, you have the will and means to escalate further and prevail.

Looking at the war with Islamism that’s taking place primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s clear that option 1) isn’t available to us (it really hasn’t been since 9/11).

Our objective needs to be to break the effective will to fight of the opposition. This isn’t about the will of the hundred thousand or so fanatics who will fight the West to the death; it’s about the more-rational millions who are on the verge of tipping over toward that position, and who are inclined to do so because they think they will win.

We brought 9/11 on, in part, by showing irresolution in the face of earlier attacks. (We also brought it on with a hamhanded and shortsighted foreign policy as relates to the Middle East and Arab world, but that’s a subject for another, longer blog post). Osama Bin Laden genuinely believed that the U.S. would withdraw – as we did from Lebanon and Somalia – if we were bloodied.

Their perception is based on two simple facts; most of us don’t like to kill other people, and most of us really, really don’t like it when ours get killed.

Our goal, I believe, is as much to correct those misapprehensions as to physically disrupt the infrastructure that supports the Islamist movement. This presents some significant dangers. As long as I’ve been quoting Schaar in support of my views, let me quote him challenging them (from his essay ‘The American Amnesia’):

Action taken for psychological objectives (e.g. credibility) inherently contains an element of theatricality, and can easily slide into pure theater. Policymakers come to think of action – even military action – in theatrical terms and lose sight of the real costs. Policymakers’ and spectators’ sense of reality become attenuated. Even death becomes unreal. Image and substance become independent of each other.

Public policy becomes public relations.

A war fought for symbolic ends is very difficult to explain and justify to the citizenry. Officials easily employ concealment and evasion, and retreat into isolation. Government and the public get out of touch with each other. Furthermore, when the symbolic end sought is an image of national toughness or determination, then any domestic opposition or criticism threatens that image, thereby threatening – in the eyes of the government – the national defense. Under these conditions, opponents at home seem more dangerous than the enemy abroad. Feeling beleaguered on all fronts, seeing enemies everywhere, officials fear loss of authority and strive for more and more power, even at the expense of constitutional processes. The government becomes enclosed in a private reality, and wrapped in a mood of paranoia and impotence. That was exactly the mentality of the Nixon Administration. And that mentality drove it to the near destruction of the Indochinese peninsula and the American constitutional order.

Schaar sums up what it is that I fear about this war; that it will become a war of theater rather than substance, and that – because our leaders are too weak or afraid to demand our commitment in it – that we will create a ‘shell’ of a war, using theater and image to replace substance. He also sums up the core position of many of the opponents of the war, as well.

The problem, of course, is that if you read the theorists (well summed up in the USMC manual), a substantial part of war is theater; it involves both the physical destruction of the enemy and their assets through violence, and the degradation of their ability to use them – through a number of means, including violence, misdirection, reduction in morale, etc. And I do believe there is a key difference between the war in Vietnam and this war: In Vietnam we were fighting our enemy (the Soviet/Chinese alliance) indirectly, through the Vietnamese. The war was as such purely theatrical, in that the resources at risk and expended far outweighed the possible gain (this isn’t a complete explanation of my position, but it’ll do as a placeholder). Suffice it to say we were fighting the shadow of our real enemy, not the enemy itself.

In fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are directly confronting two of the many faces of the Islamist movement. Arab Nationalism – one of the roots of the ‘Baath movement, and the reason why Iraq, Egypt, and Lybia briefly entertained the notion of uniting – was a secular attempt to restore Arab greatness and create a secular Caliphate. It is another face on the core desire that is expressed in terms of fundamentalist Islam by Qutb and Bin Laden.

And, simply, I’d rather convince an enemy not to fight than actually kill them (because I do in large measure subscribe to the facts about our Western society set out above).

Now in a real wrestling match, one isn’t going to win – impose one’s will on the opponent – simply by sitting on them. They will continue to fight, or simply wait until you get bored and get up, and then continue to fight. Particularly if you’re having a loud dialog about whether it’s worth it or not to fight with them in the first place; they will simply be more confident that in the face of resistance, or simple patience, you will give up and get up. Sadly, that path leads only to more fighting – because they aren’t defeated, they are simply at what they perceive to be a momentary disadvantage.

So you will get tired of the game, get up, and then they will attack again. You will sit on them again, and the whole process restarts. Much like our response to the escalation of Islamist rhetoric and action through the 80’s and 90’s.

The way to win is simply to sit on them and make it clear that you will sit on them until they have really and truly given up – until their will is broken to yours.

John McCain said it simply and well in his Nov. 5 speech to the CFR:

“Let there be no doubt: victory can be our only exit strategy. We are winning in Iraq – but we sow the seeds of our own failure by contemplating a premature military drawdown and tempering our ambitions to democratize Iraqi politics. Winning will take time. But as in other great strategic and moral struggles of our age, Americans have demonstrated the will to prevail when they understand what is at stake, for them and for the world.” [emphasis added]

Let me repeat it: “victory can be our only exit strategy.”

By taking this position, by making it clear that we will stay as long at it takes, spend the treasure and blood required to break the wave of Islamist rage, in my view we will reduce the amount of actual violence we will ultimately have to impose.

We have broken the bad governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. We are there, on the ground, and there we will stay until we have accomplished some basic goals.

What are these goals? Here is a rough first try:

First, until the overall level of violent Islamist rhetoric and action will have abated.

Second, until Iraq will have attained some level of stable civil society (note that I think Bush misspoke when he set democracy as the threshold; I’ve discussed it before, and I believe that simply establishing civil society – the primacy of law – is the necessary precondition to democracy, and that alone will be difficult).

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, I doubt that we’ll break the isolated, violent tribal culture. I do think that we can restrain it, and prevent it from being used as a base and recruiting ground for Islamists, and provide some skeletal level of civil society while reining in the tribal warlords who truly rule the country.

These goals will require a certain level of commitment – of resources, cost, and most of all of lives disrupted, damaged, or lost. I will leave it to people who more than I do about the levels of forces required, but I will say that I seriously doubt that we have them today.

Making sure we have those forces – through alliances or through a commitment to expand our own military – is the necessary first step down this road. When Bush does that, I’ll have more confidence that he means what he says.

Chickenhawks And Other Interest Group Politics

I had an “aha” moment about the chickenhawk debate this morning.

It wasn’t about the fact that it’s used as a slur, with the intent of shaming people into silencing debate (which I obviously think of as a bad thing). It was a moment in which the argument also illuminated what I have trouble supporting at the core of progressive values (and I’m not talking about self-righteousness).

Think of it in terms of a ‘community of interest groups,’ rather than ‘a community’ and find the parallel arguments:

* No one who could be and isn’t serving should speak out on Iraq;

* No one except women of child-bearing age should speak out on abortion;

* No one who isn’t poor should speak out on welfare;

* No one who isn’t in school should speak out on education;

* No one who isn’t (I can’t decide on this one between ‘a criminal’ and ‘a victim of crime’) should speak out on criminal justice.

It’s a fun game and all can play; add your own in the comments below.

And it’s horribly destructive, if you see the tie that connects us as Americans as the bonds of common obligation and ‘reverence’ that Schaar talks about below.

Just thinkin’…

“…No Worse Than Your Average Dictator”

You have to go over to Roger Simon’s to check out this thread (started by the snarky Tom Tomorrow cartoon at Salon on ‘Chickenhawks’).

I only have a limited amount of snark, so can’t see wasting it here, but I did want to make sure that no one got left out of the fun. I’m always being busted for talking about the ‘irrational left’ without pointing to any examples; so here’s one. Folks, click over and meet Matt:

As far as Saddam’s cruelty goes, it is greatly exaggerated. By world standards, particularly in the Middle East, he wasn’t that bad. As long as you didn’t oppose him politically you could pretty much carry on your regular life. I’m not defending him, mind you. I’m saying that he is no worse than your average dictator, and I don’t see the hawks clamoring to topple, say, the president of Uzbekistan, who boils his political opponents live. Saddam quashed a rebellion and killed a bunch of people in the process. As I said before, standard practice for a head of state. Try taking up arms against the government with a few thousand people and see if you don’t get killed and dumped in a mass grave.

To R.C. Dean: did you not see my other post on this “300,000” number? Saddam killed these people in an uprising that was egged on by our own President. So it seems a little strange to me to use that as evidence of Saddam’s cruelty. And are Iraqis more free today than they were under Saddam? I don’t know, let’s see. Saddam let them have weapons, Bremer won’t. Saddam didn’t send soldiers for sweeps through people’s houses to see if they had guns. In fact, if you didn’t challenge Saddam politically he pretty much left you alone. Citizens of other countries have worse deals. Oh, and you forgot to mention all the U.S. soldiers who died in this war, since we’re playing the “whose policy saves more lives” game.

Now I certainly don’t hold the Democratic nominees or progressives in general responsible for this fella. But since he and his buds are the ones Mr. and Mrs. America will see in the letters to the editor section, they tend to be the ones who public opinion coalesces around. And public opinion is not going to be kind.

As a counterpoint to both Mike and Tom T., I’ll offer a link to an article from back in the days when salon was inconoclastic and interesting. The money quote?

I wish I still believed, as I used to, that the United Nations was always the world’s best chance to avert bloodshed. I wish I could join, as I once would have, the placard-waving peace protesters outside the U.S. Consulate here in Sydney.

I wish I’d never seen the piece of ear nailed to the wall.

[corected doofus mistake in poster’s name.]

JK UPDATE: Fellow biker Mike Hendrix throws in an even more egregious quote from Democratic Underground (shooting fish in a barrel, that is), then adds a very interesting example of Republican Presidential nominee Dewey remaining close-mouthed about a major intelligence failure while running against FDR.

Selective Service

In my ill-tempered post responding to Matthew Yglesias, I made the statement that

…I think they opposed the war because they believe they can have the benefits of modern liberal society without getting their hands dirty. They value moral purity and self-satisfaction above everything else – with the possible exception of creature comfort.

Two people recently wrote things that – to me – perfectly expressed this issue.Over at Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies has a post up about Remembrance Day:

On the 85th Armistice day, I remember with honour the memory of:

* Military casualties of the First World War
* Military casualties of the Second World War
* Casualties of conscripted labour in the Second World War (such as the “Bevin Boys” conscripted to work in coal mines in the UK, who had a casualty rate higher than most active service units)
* Casualties of the Second World War among the fire service, ARP, ambulance service and similar, many of whom were conscientious objectors to the war itself
* Military casualties of the Falklands War

In their own ways, all of these people gave their lives in protecting the lives and liberty of Britons, for which we owe them the most profound thanks.

I also remember with the deepest sympathy and pity the men and women of our armed forces who gave their lives in the other military operations which the United Kingdom has carried out in the last century. They died for the most part in the service of dishonourable missions which were forced on them by governments which we elected, so we bear them an equally heavy debt, though much less glorious and more shameful.

This is the nearest I can come to a pacifist’s response to this day; I long since gave up wearing a white poppy in remembrance of the conscientious objectors in my own family, simply because it caused so much offence. I wholeheartedly apologise for any offence caused by this statement, without withdrawing any of it.

And then a comment on Rob Lyman’s great post here on “Tribal Patriotism”, poster ‘Anonymous Coward 8′ wrote this:


This prompts a question: If I vote against someone who wins, am I blameless?

I voted against Clinton and I voted against Bush, and I think the war in Iraq weakens us with respect to terrorists (more cause for terrorists to attack the US, while wasting our strength disarming the disarmed). This administration seems uninterested in my opinion, or in the opinions of anyone outside of a very small circle, excluding the CIA, state department, hawkish bloggers, and conservative members of the military, legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. If they want me to accept blame or responsibility for their actions, they’ll have to sell it a lot harder than as ‘patriotism’. Attacking Iraq seems like an act for the sake of action, or a diversion from the retribution against Al Qaida. It isn’t enough to be gifting freedom to the unfree while bartering away our bill of rights in the name of homeland security.

If you want me to share blame, you’ll have to share the planning and answer criticism. If not, it is your responsibility.

I think these two quotes perfectly embody one of the defects I see in liberalism today; the notion that one can, personally, have clean hands despite the acts of one’s people. You get to that position, I think, because you have a fundamentally cosmopolitan viewpoint – you are an individual whose connections are equally to all other individuals, and the connection you have to other Americans (or Britons) is really no stronger or less strong. The connection to the nation is therefore arbitrary and most of all, chosen, rather than accepted.

Schaar explicitly rejected this notion when he talked about patriotism:

“To be a patriot is to have a patrimony; or, perhaps more accurately, the patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts; one is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality.”

And I do too.

I wrote a long time ago that


Part of political adulthood is the maturity to realize that we are none of us innocents. The clothes we wear, money we have, jobs we go to are a result of a long, bloody and messy history.

I see my job as a liberal as making the future less bloody than the past.

But I accept the blood on my hands. I can’t enjoy the freedom and wealth of this society and somehow claim to be innocent. I don’t get to lecture people from a position of moral purity. No one spending U.S. dollars, or speaking with the freedom protected by U.S. laws gets to.

Both Davies and AC8 seem to think that they can.

They can’t. You don’t get to enjoy the material and political benefits without bearing the costs, and so somehow claim that one can be born into privilege and enjoy it without taking on its obligations is offensive.

And they shouldn’t if they want progressivism to succeed. It is exactly that position of obnoxious (and demonstrably false) moral superiority that violates Schaar’s (and my) prescription for an effective progressive movement. Remember?

“Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”

Listen to those words, folks, because we on the left haven’t shown those things, and we’re getting our heads handed to us as a consequence.