Journalism, again.

Vietnamese journalist and spy Pham Xuan An has died.

As a reporter for Reuters and then for Time magazine, Mr. An covered American and South Vietnamese military and diplomatic events and was one of a handful of reporters admitted to off-the-record briefings by American authorities. Time made him a full staff correspondent, the only Vietnamese to be given that distinction by a major American news organization.

At the same time, however, Mr. An was delivering a steady stream of military documents and reports to North Vietnamese authorities, writing in invisible ink and leaving the material in containers at designated spots around Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

The responses from his American colleagues are interesting:

His former colleagues had conflicting reactions to his dual life.

“He felt it was doing his patriotic duty by being an agent,” Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a reporter for The Washington Post, said at the meeting, “but we were his friends, and he had great admiration for the United States.”

Mr. McCulloch, the Saigon bureau chief for Time during the war, said: “It tore him up. If circumstances had been reversed, if hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had occupied my land, I probably would have done the same thing.”

But Burton Yale Pines, a Time correspondent during the war, said he was shocked. “Worse,” he said, “I am embarrassed that I trusted Mr. An as enormously as I – and my fellow journalists – did.”

An’s take is also interesting:

“The truth? Which truth?” he said in his interview with Mr. Safer. “One truth is that for 10 years I was a staff correspondent for Time magazine, and before that Reuters. The other truth is that I joined the movement in 1944 and in one way or another have been part of it ever since. Two truths – both truths are true.”

I’m going to think about that for a bit.

Military Book Bleg

OK, sorry – I took the weekend for maintenance – household chores and a long motorcycle ride (455 miles for lunch – mental maintenance). Work has also been intense, and so my blogging time has been sliced a bit. I’ll work on another post on Weber (I think that discussion has interesting issues that didn’t get resolved) over lunch and try and get it posted then or this evening.

Meanwhile – Biggest Guy (my UVA graduate son who has enlisted in the Army and is in Basic Training) has been told that he can receive nonfiction military books, and he’s requested:

Inside Delta Force
Shadow Warriors
Imperial Grunts
Masters of Chaos

To which I added:

On Combat
On War (Clauswitz)
The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
Book of Five Rings (Mushashi)

What other books should I send him? What do you think our soldiers should read to make them better – better soldiers and better people?

Success Against a Networked Enemy

I want to take a moment and talk about what may be happening in Iraq – why it is that we’re seeing such a precipitous drop in attacks, how we may have gotten there, and some things to think about in terms of what comes next.

A lot of attention is (rightly) being paid to the specific tactics being employed by our military leadership, and that’s obviously a key point to keep in mind. But I want to raise a slightly more subtle one, which is that there may be a structural reason for the collapse of the insurgency.

One issue we struggle with is the notion that we can’t defeat a networked guerilla force (see John Robb). That truism has pretty well taken hold, and is reinforced by our perceptions of the power of networks – particularly the scale-free networks that provide good models for the Internet, for fads – and for political movements. There are many heads, and so you can’t decapitate such a network, the argument goes. And since every violent act against a member of the network damages the network, and simultaneously helps it heal (by, for example, recruiting others to join the network), the issue is the ratio between damage/healing, and the attacker risks facing an impossible task, since the more damage they do the network, the stronger it may get.

The best book I know of for beginners on networks is ‘Linked‘ by Albert-Lazlo Barabasi. He discusses his efforts to take networks apart:

Motivated by the DARPA proposal, in January 2000 we performed a series of computer experiments to test the Internet’s resilience to router failures. Starting from the best available Internet map, we removed randomly selected nodes from the network. Expecting a critical point, we gradually increased the number of removed nodes, waiting for the moment when the Internet would fall to pieces. To our great astonishment the network refused to break apart. We could remove as many as 80 percent of all nodes, and the remaining 20 percent still hung together, forming a tightly interlinked cluster. This finding agreed with the increasing realization that the Internet, unlike many other human, made systems, displays a high degree of robustness against router failures. Indeed, a University of Michigan-Ann Arbor study had found that at any moment hundreds of Internet routers malfunction. Despite these frequent and unavoidable breakdowns, users rarely notice significant disruptions of Internet services.

Soon it became clear that we were not witnessing a property unique to the Internet. Computer simulations we performed on networks generated by the scale-free model indicated that a significant fraction of nodes can be randomly removed from any scale-free network without its breaking apart. The unsuspected robustness against failures is that scale-free networks display a property not shared by random networks. As the Internet, the World Wide Web, the cell, and social networks are known to be scale-free, the results indicate that their well-known resilience to errors is an inherent property of their topology – good news for the people who depend on them.

Which represents pretty much the Standard Model for our perception of fighting networked enemy forces – we kill or capture a member (a ‘node’ in the model), and the system routes around the damage. So it’s hopeless, right?

Maybe not so much.

Because one property of scale-free networks is that they are hierarchical – some nodes (Huffington Post, Instapundit) are better-connected than others (Winds of Change) who are in turn better connected than others (The Concerned Troll). That’s also a property of scale-free networks (power-law distribution). And it is apparently a property that can be exploited. Here’s Barabasi:

Mimicking the actions of a cracker who brings down the Internet’s largest hubs one after the other,’ we embarked on a new set of experiments. Like MafiaBoy and those involved in Eligible Receiver, we no longer selected the nodes randomly but attacked the network by targeting the hubs. First, we removed the largest hub, followed by the next largest, and so on. The consequences of our attack were evident. The removal of the first hub did not break the system, because the rest of the hubs were still able to hold the network together. After the removal of several hubs, however, the effect of the disruptions was clear. Large chunks of nodes were falling off the network, becoming disconnected from the main cluster. As we pushed further, removing even more hubs, we witnessed the network’s spectacular collapse. The critical point, conspicuously absent under failures, suddenly reemerged when the net¬ work was attacked. The removal of a few hubs broke the Internet into tiny, hopelessly isolated pieces.

Many people (including me) have been kind of mocking about the steady stream of ‘high-value targets’ that have been killed or captured in Iraq over the last year. But I’ve got to believe that the patient work of chasing connections and neutralizing higher and higher value ‘nodes’ in the insurgent network actually may be paying off as the network begins it’s sudden collapse.

Indeed, our group observed an equally spectacular breakdown when we removed the highly connected proteins from the protein interaction network of the yeast cell. The same collapse was seen by ecologists when they deleted highly connected nodes from food webs. Two subsequent papers, one by Havlin’s research group and another by Duncan Callaway from Cornell University, working together with Mark Newman, Steven Strogatz, and Duncan Watts, provided the analytical backing for this observation. They demonstrated that, when the largest nodes are removed, there is a critical point beyond which the network breaks apart. Therefore, the response of scale-free networks to attacks is similar to the behavior of random networks under failures. There is a crucial difference, however. We do not need to remove a large number of nodes to reach the critical point. Disable a few of the hubs and a scale-free network will fall to pieces in no time.

So it’s possible to degrade and the destroy the effectiveness of networked insurgencies – and they will collapse as rapidly as they came into being.

The problem, as I’m so fond of saying, is What Next?

How do we take advantage of the opportunity opened by the collapse?

I’ve thought it ridiculous that people are declaring the surge a failure because a month in ther was no political reconciliation. Clearly, that is something that will lag far behind security conditions.

But it can’t lag forever.

And for that, I wonder if we can’t thank Joe Biden, which has provided the Iraqi poltical sphere with a common enemy. The next six months will be darn interesting.

Fixed incomprehensible sentence in 3rd paragraph.

Off To Chicago

I know I’m way behind, and there are some good arguments to be a part of here and there, but we’re off to Chicago for my mother-in-law Alice Tanaka’s funeral. She had quite a life. Here’s a story one of her sisters who lives in Japan sent TG:

Before world war started, our parents made a decision to go back to Japan.

And our family left Tacoma on Feb.1932 to Japan, taking Japanese ship “Hikawa-Maru” which is still very famous as a museum at Yokohama Pier. It took 2weeks, finally reached at Yokohama Bay Feb28.

It was Alice’s birthday and we all celebrated Alice ‘s 8years’ birthday!!

We were greeted by about 20 relatives who were waiting at the pier. Mother & Father were really really happy to see them at the pier and greeted them. It had passed more than 14years since parents left Japan so that parents was so happy to see relatives in Japan.

And we all settled at hotel and parents were just chat&chat for a week until we moved to Nagano where parents were borned. After 1&half year, finally, we all went back to Tokyo.

[During WWII] As a result, the house being bombed was temporary rented to escape from the our original house was in Omori. where was thought as a dangerous area. However the original house was saved. That is the one you have visited 43years ago. Unfortunately almost of our valuables such as photos were all lost.

Almost the last stage of the War, bombing was getting often in Tokyo area and we moved to parents’ country “Nagano” for safety so we were not in that house when it was bombed.

And we have been still living at original house in Omori, of course, it has been re-built.

Somehow ‘almost went to Woodstock’ doesn’t seem to compare. What a life she must have had…

…I’ll be back next week, and will jump into the discussion with both feet.

Beauchamp, TNR and WTF?

Bob Owens, at Confererate Yankee, has kind of owned the Scott Beauchamp/TNR story all along. Today, he posts an interview that – if valid and correct – moves the bar from ‘embarassing for TNR’ to ‘devastating’.

Q: TNR also claimed that, “the Army has rejected our requests to speak to Beauchamp himself, on the grounds that it wants ‘to protect his privacy.'” At the time those statements were made by TNR’s editors on August 10, were they factually accurate? To your knowledge, have the editors of The New Republic spoken with Scott Thomas Beauchamp since August 10, and if so, when? Does Scott Beauchamp currently have the capability to speak to The New Republic if he so desires, and release all documentation relating to the investigation if he so desires?

A: The statements made by TNR on Aug. 10 about Beauchamp’s availability were accurate- given the investigation’s status, he was not authorized to conduct interviews with media outlets. However, as soon as the investigation concluded in mid-August, he was free to speak openly if he so desired. He rejected interview requests from Confederate Yankee and the Weekly Standard, but did in fact speak to TNR on the 7th of September, while Maj. John Cross conducted a separate interview with TNR roughly one week later.

Pvt. Beauchamp also canceled scheduled interviews with Newsweek and the Washington Post after speaking to TNR.

My own takes on l’affaire Beauchamp have been somewhat mixed; but I have felt all along that TNR wasn’t playing it’s cards as openly as they should to retain their credibility.

I dropped my online subscription to TNR in the middle of this because I was just not comfortable paying for a product with neither quality control nor apparent concern about quality – and the ongoing silence and half-steps by TNR have left me uncomfortable in both areas.

And now this, if true – the notion that TNR spoke with Beauchamp a month after posting ‘their final word’ and a month ago – and that they are still silent about it – is something that makes me wonder what, exactly, they are thinking. Their reputation relies more on being seen as searching after truth than on having attained it. I fear they will wind up with neither here.

Cherrypicking Weber

It’s just so damn much fun to read Yglesias again – I’d dropped him from my blogroll, but people I read (Crooked Timber, in this case) keep linking to things he says and I just can’t help myself; his posts are a kind of intellectual pinata; a gift that just keeps giving.

In this case he cites Max Weber’s ‘Politics As A Vocation‘ – an essay Schaar drilled us on relentlessly one class – and cherrypicks a cite that he claims justifies his moral certitude about the war:

You may demonstrate to a convinced syndicalist, believing in an ethic of ultimate ends, that his action will result in increasing the opportunities of reaction, in increasing the oppression of his class, and obstructing its ascent–and you will not make the slightest impression upon him. If an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil. However a man who believes in an ethic of responsibility takes account of precisely the average deficiencies of people; as Fichte has correctly said, he does not even have the right to presuppose their goodness and perfection. He does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say: these results are ascribed to my action. The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels ‘responsible’ only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quenched: for example, the flame of protesting against the injustice of the social order. To rekindle the flame ever anew is the purpose of his quite irrational deeds, judged in view of their possible success. They are acts that can and shall have only exemplary value.

Yglesias goes on:

And that’s what this is all ultimately about — an effort to evade responsibility by suggesting that what’s really at issue here is a controversy over ends. The hawks must have felt Saddam’s evil more intensely, must have been more moved by Kenan Makiya’s pleas, been more attuned to the gulag, whatever. But no. Everyone knows and everyone knew that Saddam was a bad man. What some also knew was that invading Iraq was unlikely to have beneficial consequences.

The problem with history is, of course, that you never know in advance how it’s going to come out. Yglesias has decided the outcome of the Iraq War, and wrapped sure in his opinion, he rejects it.

Weber actually talks about just that kind of stance in – of all things, ‘Politics As A Vocation':

Let us consider examples. Rarely will you find that a man whose love turns from one woman to another feels no need to legitimate this before himself by saying: she was not worthy of my love, or, she has disappointed me, or whatever other like ‘reasons’ exist. This is an attitude that, with a profound lack of chivalry, adds a fancied ‘legitimacy’ to the plain fact that he no longer loves her and that the woman has to bear it. By virtue of this ‘legitimation,’ the man claims a right for himself and besides causing the misfortune seeks to put her in the wrong. The successful amatory competitor proceeds exactly in the same way: namely, the opponent must be less worthy, otherwise he would not have lost out. It is no different, of course, if after a victorious war the victor in undignified self-righteousness claims, ‘I have won because I was right.’ Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, ‘I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause.’ And likewise with the defeated in war. Instead of searching like old women for the ‘guilty one’ after the war–in a situation in which the structure of society produced the war–everyone with a manly and controlled attitude would tell the enemy, ‘We lost the war. You have won it. That is now all over. Now let us discuss what conclusions must be drawn according to the objective interests that came into play and what is the main thing in view of the responsibility towards the future which above all burdens the victor.’ Anything else is undignified and will become a boomerang. A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honor has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness. Every new document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified lamentations, the hatred and scorn, instead of allowing the war at its end to be buried, at least morally. This is possible only through objectivity and chivalry and above all only through dignity. But never is it possible through an ‘ethic,’ which in truth signifies a lack of dignity on both sides. Instead of being concerned about what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned about politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all. And it overlooks the unavoidable falsification of the whole problem, through very material interests: namely, the victor’s interest in the greatest possible moral and material gain; the hopes of the defeated to trade in advantages through confessions of guilt. If anything is ‘vulgar,’ then, this is, and it is the result of this fashion of exploiting ‘ethics’ as a means of ‘being in the right.’

[emphasis added – apologies for the long cite, but was important to put the quote in full context]

Weber’s essay is in part about the deep uncertainties that confront the political actor when attempting to take action-in-the-world. He talks about uncertainty in war here (in the freaking two paragraphs immediately after the one that Matt cites):

But even herewith the problem is not yet exhausted. No ethics in the world can dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of ‘good’ ends is bound to the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morally dubious means or at least dangerous ones–and facing the possibility or even the probability of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent the ethically good purpose ‘justifies’ the ethically dangerous means and ramifications.

The decisive means for politics is violence. You may see the extent of the tension between means and ends, when viewed ethically, from the following: as is generally known, even during the war the revolutionary socialists Zimmerwald faction) professed a principle that one might strikingly formulate: ‘If we face the choice either of some more years of war and then revolution, or peace now and no revolution, we choose– some more years of war!’ Upon the further question: ‘What can this revolution bring about?’ Every scientifically trained socialist would have had the answer: One cannot speak of a transition to an economy that in our sense could be called socialist; a bourgeois economy will re-emerge, merely stripped of the feudal elements and the dynastic vestiges. For this very modest result, they are willing to face ‘some more years of war.’ One may well say that even with a very robust socialist conviction one might reject a purpose that demands such means. With Bolshevism and Spartanism, and, in general, with any kind of revolutionary socialism, it is precisely the same thing. It is of course utterly ridiculous if the power politicians of the old regime are morally denounced for their use of the same means, however justified the rejection of their aims may be.

What a pile of horse patootey Yglesias has served up to us. The issue isn’t as Yglesias suggests that one side was ‘right’ and one ‘wrong’ – in an exam that hasn’t yet been graded by reality. The issue is that to act politically is to take risks and accept moral hazard. Yglesias and the ‘purity’ crowd somehow feel that wrong-through-inaction is morally superior – a topic we’ll return to in the coming week.

But there’s a pony in there – some very good points we all should take away from Weber’s great essay:

Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was ‘not of this world’ and yet they worked and sill work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the ‘cool approbation’ of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls.

If one says ‘the future of socialism’ or ‘international peace,’ instead of native city or ‘fatherland’ (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the ‘salvation of the soul.’ If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. The sentence: ‘The devil is old; grow old to understand him!’ does not refer to age in terms of chronological years. I have never permitted myself to lose out in a discussion through a reference to a date registered on a birth certificate; but the mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly.

[emphasis added, again]

And Weber’s conclusion is one that any political actor should take to heart:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth –that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.

So thanks, Matt, for getting us to read it again. Can I gently suggest that you go read it again, with an open eye – one that isn’t looking for cites to cherrypick? The reality is that what Weber would have said is that the decision to go to war – or not – is one fraught with moral cost for those who would consider it seriously, and that keeping a morally pure heart and also doing good politics are not typically something that can be done. Weber, meet Hoderer. Yglesias, meet reality.

edited for clarity

France Bleg

We’re headed to France to see Middle Guy over the holidays – we’re going to be in Paris for a week, then probably travel for a week…at the worst, most expensive time of the year.

Any great tips on small, nice hotels in Paris? Any good travel agents out there? Anyone with an apartment they would rent for a week to TG, Little Guy, and me?

Rorty on Patriotism

Wandering the Net for a good way to condense Habermas into a blog post (a laughable effort, I think – but my familiarity with Habermas is close to twenty years old, so should be refreshed), I tripped over this, which seems dramatically relevant to the enterprise of this blog and to the point I’m trying to make about patriotism:

Rorty’s last words on Habermas!

“When I was told that another figure much discussed in Tehran was Habermas, I concluded that the best explanation for interest in my work was that I share Habermas’s vision of a social democratic utopia. In this utopia, many of the functions presently served by membership in a religious community would be taken over by what Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism.” Some form of patriotism – of solidarity with fellow-citizens, and of shared hopes for the country’s future – is necessary if one is to take politics seriously. In a theocratic country, a leftist political opposition must be prepared to counter the clergy’s claim that the nation’s identity is defined by its religious tradition. So the left needs a specifically secularist form of moral fervor, one which centers around citizens’ respect for one another rather than on the nation’s relation to God.

My own views on these matters derive from Habermas and John Dewey. In the early decades of the twentieth century Dewey helped bring a culture into being in which it became possible for Americans to replace Christian religiosity with fervent attachment to democratic institutions (and equally fervent hope for the improvement of those institutions). In recent decades, Habermas has been commending that culture to the Europeans. In opposition to religious leaders such as Benedict XVI and the ayatollahs, Habermas argues that the alternative to religious faith is not “relativism” or “rootlessness” but the new forms of solidarity made possible by the Enlightenment.

The pope recently said: “A culture has developed in Europe that is the most radical contradiction not only of Christianity but of all the religious and moral traditions of humanity.” Dewey and Habermas would reply that the culture that arose out of the Enlightenment has kept everything in Christianity that was worth keeping. The West has cobbled together, in the course of the last two hundred years, a specifically secularist moral tradition – one that regards the free consensus of the citizens of a democratic society, rather then the Divine Will, as the source of moral imperatives. This shift in outlook is, I think, the most important advance that the West has yet made. I should like to think that the students with whom I spoke in Tehran, impressed by Habermas’s writings and inspired by the courage of thinkers such as Ganji and Ramin Jahanbegloo, may someday make Iran the nucleus of an Islamic Enlightenment.

from here

[emphasis added]

From Ali Rivizi’s blog “Habermasian Reflections”

Some form of patriotism – of solidarity with fellow-citizens, and of shared hopes for the country’s future – is necessary if one is to take politics seriously. Rorty says it far more clearly than I have managed to so far. But then, he was a famous philosopher, and I’m a high school dropout…

Welcome Instapundit readers…it appears to be ‘patriotism’ week here, so please check out the four posts I’ve done this week on the subject: ‘Patriotism – Goldberg to Couric to Yglesias‘, ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me‘, ‘Patriotism Rears Its Head Yet Again‘, and ‘Rorty on Patriotism

Patriotism Rears Its Head Yet Again

The Atlantic Magazine email I got today leads with

The Future of the American Idea. As The Atlantic celebrates its 150th anniversary, scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

So I click through the link, and I get to (subscriber-only, I believe):

Consider The Atlantic’s passage: through a permanent revolution in technology, from the telephone, to the practical fountain pen, to the radio, to the note pad, to the television, to the Internet; through financial crises, beginning in 1857 with what The Atlantic called a national “flurry” over credit (or liquidity, to use the present flurry’s term); through national arguments over slavery, suffrage, evolution, immigration, prohibition, anticommunism, civil rights, feminism, gay rights, evolution and immigration (again); through the international contests of ideology that defined the last century and into the new contest that so far is shaping this one. How has The Atlantic endured? More to the point, why?

The Atlantic was created in Boston by writers who saw themselves as the country’s intellectual leaders, and so its scope from the start was national, if rather theoretical. It was founded on an encompassing abstraction, expressed in the words that appeared in the first issue and that appear again on the cover of this one: In politics, it would “honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.” That sounds pretty good.

And pretty good to me as well. They continue:

In the pages that follow, George F. Will rings an alarm over the danger inherent in embracing a singular American idea, but many of the contributors agree on a rough definition of the idea itself…the easy part, as John Hope Franklin suggests.

So I click through to Franklin’s piece, since I’m a big believer in starting with the easy part.

If the American idea was to subdue Native Americans and place them at the disposal of European settlers, to import several million Africans to the New World and subject them to a lifetime of slavery, to impose on Asian immigrants a lifetime of discrimination, then perhaps the American idea was not so admirable.

If the American idea, once the Civil War had concluded, was to sentence the freedmen to a lifetime of racial segregation, discrimination, and humiliation, then perhaps the American idea was not so praiseworthy.

A litany of abuse and failure follows. I keep digging, looking for an idea, or a pony, and find:

The American idea is the nation’s holiday garb, its festive dress, its Sunday best. It covers up an everyday practice of betraying the claims of equality, justice, and democracy. It calls for Thomas Jefferson to advise his young protégé Edward Coles to abandon his plan to emancipate his slaves and migrate to Illinois, and to reconcile himself to his country’s “unfortunate condition.” While Coles did not accept Jefferson’s advice, many of his contemporaries did, thus strengthening the American idea of inequality and injustice.

It is fairly late in the game, but one hopes that there is still time to grasp the reality of American life for those of different racial and national backgrounds and to embrace the country’s professed ideals of freedom, equality, and justice.

If that’s what ‘the country’s intellectual leaders’ really think, we’re well and truly f**ked. What’s worse is that it reads almost word for word like a slam that I laid out against just that kind of thinking. I did a post on patriotism back in 2002 (yes, I obsess over the issue) and in it I said:

I know two really bad parents. One is a couple that simply refuses to control their children; they love them totally, and so, they explain, they love everything they do. Unsurprisingly, they are raising two little monsters. The other is a single mother who explains that everything bad in her life is the fault of her child, and that everything he does is wrong. Unsurprisingly, her child is depressed, withdrawn and equally badly damaged.

I’ll define patriotism as ‘love of country’. Both the parents above (all three of them, actually) claim to ‘love’ their children. But to blindly smile and clean up when your child smashes plates on the floor is not an act of love. And blindly smiling and waving flags when your country does something wrong is not an act of patriotism.

But – there is a point where criticism, even offered in the guise of love, moves past the point of correction and to the point of destruction. It’s a subtle line, but it exists. And my friend (who is less of a friend because I can’t begin to deal with her fundamentally abusive parenting) is destroying her child. And there are liberals who have adopted an uncritically critical view of America. Who believe it to have been founded in genocide and theft, made wealthy on slave labor and mercantilist expropriation, to be a destroyer of minorities, women, the environment and ultimately they argue, itself.

I’m sorry but their profession of love for America is as hollow to me as that [bad] mother’s profession of love for her son. Are those things true? As facts, they are an incomplete account of this country’s history. As a worldview, they are destructive and self-consuming.

(Note the clever tie to the comment thread below and the connection between patriotism and marriage)

Franklin’s piece is to America what that abusive mother is to her child. An intelligentsia that adopts that kind of attitude is not going to create a culture in which mutual connection and a sense of patrimony exist – the root of patriotism as a concept.

Let me go on for a moment and try and explain why it is so important that we have a healthy patriotism here in America (and why other countries need to have them as well).

Schaar explains it well –

“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. The gift of land, people, language, gods memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines what he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two are barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its homes and fears come from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those who will come after.”

Successful societies are ones in which each member adds to the social capital that can be passed on to the next generation. To do that – to save, rather than spend, to build rather than consume – requires some sense of obligation, of one’s place in a chain that stretches from your ancestors to your descendents – and which is broad enough to expand ‘ancestor’ and ‘descendent’ to include other than your blood kin.

Habermas talks about it differently. He bases his view in Marxist and Enlightenment philosophy (unlike the Frankfurt School of post-Marxists, he embraces the Enlightenment). He’s always a difficult read, and his arguments are hard (impossible, really) to reduce to bloggable soundbites.

I’ll do something on his views over the weekend.

But the reality is that someone who sees the central American Idea as Franklin does owes – what, exactly – to the future of America?

Yes the things he talks about are part of the American history, people, and idea. But they do not define the American idea, and people who believe they do – as does Yglesias, I’ll suggest (from his own words and from his suggested reading in the area) are fundamentally missing what it is that Middle Americans see in America. And in doing so, they do two things – as the ‘shapers’ of our culture, they mis-shape it in fundamentally damaging ways (thank God for hysterisis), and they isolate themselves increasingly from the mass of American people who are grateful for the patrimony America has given them, and who are willing to contribute to the future.

Perhaps that’s why children are so out of fashion in certain circles…

Welcome Instapundit readers…it appears to be ‘patriotism’ week here, so please check out the four posts I’ve done this week on the subject: ‘Patriotism – Goldberg to Couric to Yglesias‘, ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me‘, ‘Patriotism Rears Its Head Yet Again‘, and ‘Rorty on Patriotism

One Letter

I don’t ask you folks for much – no tip jar, I pay for my own laptop by working a day job, etc.

But I really, really would appreciate it if you could take a few moments today and write one letter to one of the companies on the list of businesses that do business with Burma.

Let them know what you think of the situation there, and what you think of them for profiting from it.

Yes, it’s not something that will have an immediate or massive impact.

But if we can get enough people to do it, it will have some impact.