This note is the conclusory paragraph of a message I sent to a very good friend of mine. It encapsulates my thoughts on the said topics.
I guess if I had to put it into a bite-sized chunk, it would be this- I think it is very possible to be respectful to all people without being politically correct, and very possible to be appreciative of other cultures without buying into multiculturalism.
The Jains, centuries ago, would hunch over and sweep the floor beneath their feet so as to avoid squishing bugs and breaking the vow of nonviolence. I would say that political correctness and multiculturalism demand similar vows and practices by their followers, with the unintended consequence being that the person sweeping can neither walk with dignity as his own culture, nor shake hands/bow/converse with the various representatives of other cultures he meets in this world of nations and peoples. The experience of life would lose its meaning, but the sweeper would feel himself to be validated as a more moral being than the intolerant barbarians bustling around him.
But I wouldn’t say that- it would be offensive to other cultures, and politically incorrect.
Thoughts on the future of American strategy and policy towards Iraq, in light of the Islamic State’s recent gains.
A friend sent me this article and asked me my opinion; this is my response.
‘The Lop-Sided Death Toll in Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts’
Well, I’m not particularly interested in Israel-Palestine beyond its importance for general Middle Eastern politics, global geopolitics, or political theory, but because of its relevance to that I have done a lot of thinking on the matter in the past so thank you for sending- this is relevant to me.
1- No one’s denying (except asshole Bush-era officials and some of the extreme rightist Israelis) that every time the Israelis respond or occupy, they go way overboard. No one’s saying it’s just, no one’s saying it serves the Palestinians or the terrorists among them right, etc etc etc. The Paths of Man are drenched in blood, and particularly at the level of international politics, any idea of justice is primarily a phantasmic illusion.
2- That said- it’s really easy to be sympathetic to the Palestinians. Third World anticolonial complex, etc. What’s harder is to be sympathetic to the Israelis, and it’s necessary to be sympathetic to both if you truly want to have an unbiased and disinterested view of the resolution of the conflict. We Americans are lucky that Mexican drug lords don’t lob rockets over the border every other year (they only lob psychadelic drugs over every hour, which apparently is less detrimental to our republic.) However, IF the Mexican drug cartels DID lob rockets and gunshots and other nasty things over our border, I guarandamntee you we’d be responding in kind with airstrikes, commando raids, occasional occupations, and other unjust and inhumane stuff. We did it a century ago when Pancho Villa crossed the border and revolution threatened, and we’re not above doing it again.
3- So what if the Israelis ‘overreact?’ So what if they kill more people than are killed on their territory, and happen to kill more noncombatants? War is not and was never supposed to be fair. In fact I would posit that overbearing response is, if possible more humane than tit-for-tat; if the Israelis lobbed the same number of rockets over at the Palestinians as the Palestinians lobbed over, if the Israelis kidnapped the same number of soldiers the Palestinians kidnapped- if the Israelis used ‘proportional response’ and sunk to fighting wars the way Hamas does- there’d be literally no end to a tit-for-tat, Stone Age type revenge conflict, the political situation could never be solved, and what’s a tragedy would wind up being something that’s petty. If I were in Tel Aviv charged with protecting the Israeli people, I would not hesitate to respond to attacks with overbearing force. Bear in mind that the overbearing force is not directed at civilian targets the way Hamas’s rockets are- it’s directed at the suspected headquarters of Hamas cells and at the known locations from which the rockets came forth. We Americans do the same in Iraq and Afghanistan (or we did the same anyway) and collateral damage in all its unfortunateness aside, there’s nothing non-strategic about it.
4- I’m not absolving the Israelis of anything. In fact I’m of the opinion that you would be hard-pressed to find a more self-righteous, confused, pig-headed people on this planet, less disposed to stirring up trouble and seeking hypocritical hegemony in the name of security. I don’t think the constant overtures to Israel are healthy on the part of American politicians, and I don’t think the subservience we display to Israeli strategic interests is befitting of a great power. I think the Israelis are idiots for continuing the expansion of settlements on the West Bank when they know what that brings and are even worse dumbasses when they perpetually walk out of negotiations and peace talks and need American presidents to be the ones calling them back into said peace talks. Again- I’m not absolving the Israelis of anything.
I just find the opposition to Israel’s military tactics to be incredibly uninformed.
5- All this being said, we find ourselves in a dilemma that can only be resolved by military means (god forbid if it comes to that) or by political means (in which case we’ll be dealing with this dilemma until one or both peoples either evolve into something else, are absorbed into a larger power, or are extinguished off the map.)
Two peoples with legitimate national identities on a strip of land both claim for their own, with one immensely powerful but not omnipotent and the other weak but not powerless, one with supporters across the seas, the other with supporters on the same landmass. Do you THINK there can be anything we slobbish UN-worshipping multicultural Westerners could call ‘peace?’ This is a clash of civilizations and a clash of interests that was bound to be ever since it was born, and I would venture that the only ways to preclude it would have been for the Jews to have found another homeland and kicked off the inhabitants there, for the Arabs (in the late 1940s not yet Palestinians) to have summoned all their might and pushed the Jews back to the sea, for the Jews to have systematically exiled all the Arabs of Palestine to a spot off of their territory, or for a larger power to have administered Israel-Palestine as part of its empire and kept the two peoples subjugated under its might, and prevented them from fighting each other over the land (as the Ottomans, the Abbasids, the Ummayids, the Sassanids, and so many other empires so successfully did before ideas of self-determination hawked by Westerners conquered the minds of the peoples involved.)
6- All this being said, where do we go from here? Personally I don’t think any of the geostrategic preclusions I laid out above are viable at this moment in history, so we come to an unresolvable dilemma in our grandparents lifetime, our parents lifetime, our lifetime, our childrens lifetime, and our grandchildrens lifetime.
The best that can be hoped for is that cooler minds will prevail in East and West Jerusalem, that the radicals on the Gaza Strip and in the Knesset will be silenced by their peers, and that the two peoples will live, by diplomacy and negotiation so much as is possible, in a relative, uneasy peace, until the trends of geopolitics might lead the two peoples into a historic moment where a more permanent solution- not compromise, but solution- is possible.
Until then, no one ought to condemn the patriots on either side- if I were born to Palestine, I’d be participating in intifadas by night and coming to the table by day, and were I born to Israel, I’d come to the table by day and rain fire down on the Gaza Strip by night- and everyone ought to condemn the radicals on both sides, rather than condemn the radicals on the other side and absolve their own. All solutions ought to be considered, all compromises ought to be entertained, and no one ought to be made into demons, for the peace and happiness of the two peoples relies on the coolness of trigger fingers in the capitals (and, I might add, in Tehran, Washington, Ankara, Cairo, and Riyadh too.) But the sort of peace known to a people blessed by impartial imperial domination will until then be unknown to the Jews and Arabs. We should not impose our standards upon them.
7- So tldr, this isn’t a problem with a solution.
Also, radical pro-Israel types and radical pro-Palestine types, go ahead and eat me alive and charge me of ignorance and bigotry. I’m used to it.
Finally, here is an excellent and hilarious primer on conflict in the Holy Land, if you haven’t seen it yet.
Photo and Video Credit to Nina Paley, whose creativity makes cynics and wise men of us all.
FINALLY finally, the animator of the above video also made these great thematic quilts. They’re for sale online someplace if you want one.
And yes, you guessed it- if you guessed it, you guessed right! I don’t think the above dilemma is a dilemma of the Holy Land alone. It is rather an allegory for one of the most important parts of the human story in entirety, a basic foundation of the tragedy that is human life.
Yes, I do have thoughts on people who don’t identify with any country, specifically. Not so much for those who don’t identify with any religion or company or other faction, but I suppose it could apply to those too.
Teddy Roosevelt said ‘The Man who loves another country as much as his own is morally equivalent to the Man who loves another woman as much as his own.” I think it follows that ‘The Man who loves no country is morally equivalent to the Man who loves no woman.’
(gender theorists, don’t even get started- “man” and “woman” can be replaced with “person” or “partner” or something gender-neutral and non-heteronormative and it will mean exactly the same thing. Not committing to something greater than yourself is the thing at stake here.)
Anyway, sorry for digressing. ‘The Man who loves no country is morally equivalent to the Man who loves no woman.’ ‘The man who loves no woman’ is probably not a bad man. He is probably a decent enough person, who works hard, doesn’t harm others, builds himself, and is a generally all-around good person. But he’s missing something from his life, and without the maturity and joy that flow from partnership, he remains a single individual- he does not go forth to create a family, and he cannot become a full man united in civilization by the social bonds of exclusive love. He does not become more than a man.
It is the same with the man who loves no country. He is probably a decent enough person, he probably works hard, he probably doesn’t harm others, and he probably builds himself and is a general all-around good person. But he’s missing something essential to human life- he’s missing the social bonds of exclusive love, and cannot become a full man united in civilization. He cannot become more than a man.
And again, gender theorists- you know precisely what I mean. A penis and a proclivity towards liking vaginas are not what I’m talking about. I say ‘man’ in the archaic sense- a full human being, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, depending not on first principles but on the choice to LIVE.
So, long story short, I don’t think non-patriots are bad people. I just don’t think they’re getting everything they could be getting out of life, and I don’t think they’re contributing to the higher purposes binding nations.
In response to your individual points:
Mindless nationalism- the kind you see at the world cup, the kind you see being peddled by demagogues to the mobs of democracy, the kind that inspires hatred and chauvinism- that is the caricature of nationalism which those who believe in cosmopolitanism have portrayed. And that is not nationalism or patriotism as it ought to be. Here is the CIA’s take. Bear in mind CIA officers can’t be jingos, can’t be Murica-sayers, can’t be flag-wavers and can’t be blatant nationalists. They display true patriotism as it ought best be displayed:
“We put country first and Agency before self. Quiet patriotism is our hallmark.”
You are right that it is ridiculous and dangerous to mindlessly hawk American ideals- but the key word here is mindlessly.
And you are right that everything ought to be questioned. But that does not mean that we ought never have faith ever. Were we to have entire prudence, and were prudence the only necessary virtue for life, perhaps complete skepticism would be worthwhile. But the fact is, vigor is equally necessary for life, and from vigor sprouts faith, allegiance, and dedication to causes greater than self. It’s a paradox and it doesn’t make rational sense- and that’s what makes it human.
You are also right to question why anyone must bear allegiance to something they had no choice in affiliating with, though I must say that it seems to be a very adolescent perspective. The fact of the matter is that though Man has free will, Man is not born free. He is born with imperfect body, born into a torn and bloody world, born into an exclusive family, born to a historical epoch he had no choice in entering, born with DNA he did not design, born to a country he never chose. Oh yes, he has free will, and that is one of the most beautiful things about human life; but he is born with one foot in freedom and one in slavery to fate, one foot in choice and one foot in necessity, one foot in paradise, one in the waste. There’s no logical explanation, there’s no escape. The fact is: that’s the way things are. Men are born in and to times, families, countries, nations, and though the worst excesses of class and privilege can indeed be curbed, the fundamental reality of unchosen birth is a fact of human existence.
Might as well make best use of it.
The nice thing about citizenship, though, is that it can be both born and chosen. The link between Man and the State is therefore one that transcends most paradigms and is truly an organic yet artificial relationship, one defined both by will and fate, a mystery that can never be solved.
Part of the beauty of human life is those things which can’t be controlled- and that is why its beauty is fundamentally tragic, at its very core.
Anyhow, there are a multiplicity of identifications and factions and communities which we can enter, some of which are natural, others of which are artificial, all of which are communities. There’s no staying in one while avoiding the other.
I will close with something that has made me feel guilty for the longest time.
Why do people sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors for the idea of the nation? Why do soldiers, spies, and diplomats do what they do, and give what they give? It’s not rational. It’s not selfish, it’s not about self-expression, and it’s not about utilitarian sacrifice. It’s much more sublime, and much more beautiful.
I ask you, and everyone who questions the benefit of patriotism: Can you stand before the men and women of the United States Military, the National Clandestine Service, the United States Foreign Service, and all those other agencies and departments and services whose missions center on the preservation of the American republic against all enemies foreign and domestic- can you stand before these men and women who give so much, whose comrades so often make the ultimate sacrifice, and tell them that their ideals, their careers, their very lives, mean NOTHING? That they are part of the problem? That they are not noble, but despicable or otherwise misguided? That the country they fight for and its ideals are not worth defending, and that they instead ought to retire to their homes to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die?”
They are a different and greater breed of human than most of us, and there is something, I think, which every citizen ought to learn from them. Here is the Preamble to the American Legion’s constitution, in my opinion the greatest oath of citizenship ever pledged.
“FOR GOD AND COUNTRY WE ASSOCIATE OURSELVES TOGETHER
FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES:
To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America;
To maintain law and order;
To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism;
To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars;
To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation;
To combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses;
To make right the master of might;
To promote peace and goodwill on earth;
To safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy;
To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”
Man, the State, and God
I have made my reputation thus far by endorsing and praising controversial things in all sorts of areas. The greatness of just nations, forged by iron, built upon former and ongoing injustices and fueled by the blood, sweat, and tears of the vanquished. An antiquated manliness attained only by great pain and suffering, capable of both great good and great evil. War and trade- wrath and greed- the two strongest drivers of human affairs, the source of much misery and of much comfort. An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the universe, who loves his children in the harshest possible manner, and causes them to grow by the fiery trials of life.
Nationalism, Manliness, Theism, Conservatism, Statism, Realism- all the isms with which I prefer to be associated are quite dark and bloody grounds, polluted by the unfortunate experiences and excesses of human history. I consciously avoid affiliation with environmentalism, feminism, progressivism, liberalism, and the like, although any reasonable and balanced definition of those terms, applied to me, would reveal me to be an environmentalist, a feminist, a progressive, a liberal in the best sense of any of those words.
For my affiliation with the darker side of human life, and my incessant mockery of the lighter side, I am often rejected as a cynic, a pessimist, a privileged patriarch, a careless chauvinist. But I do not mind- such is the fate of those who walk the path I have walked.
I look at the isms of progress, the isms that see injustice everywhere and a path up from it if we would only shed our barbarous past, and when I see them, I see thinkers afraid of embracing the fullness of human life- the pain, the suffering, the terror, which must inevitably accompany the beauty, the relief, and the pleasure. I see thinkers who do not want to stain their consciences with admittance of the necessary evils of life- or worse, who do not wish to tarnish their self-images with revelations of their own hypocrisy. I see thinkers who dream up a perfect world in their minds, and impose their vision upon this world, and curse it for its failing to live up to their imaginations.
I see excess of the worst sort- excess of a good thing. For in environmentalism, feminism, progressivism, and liberalism, and for that matter in socialism, anarchism, and any utopianism, there is a foundation which contains within it many good things. Human equality- prudent management of natural resources and appreciation of beauty- a forward-looking, enterprising view of human life in society- the freedom of the individual- the importance of central planning- the importance of freedom- the acknowledgement of a world which we do not know which we will someday know- all of these are the best of dreams, and inspirations necessary for the creation of a more just and equitable society on Earth.
Yet the acolytes who place these upon a pedestal and seek them in their extremes, and reject the life of the world as it is, seek a goal which can never be equaled or even neared, while promising themselves an indolent way of thinking for the entirety of their careers. They reject reality for their dreams, and lose the capacity to synthesize both.
I was once of this type, albeit for the cause of individual freedom rather than for any of the other causes.
But when I realized the inadequacy and overzealousness of this way of thinking, as I read of the great works of political thought which inspired the Founders of this country, I came to a far more pessimistic view of life and human achievement. And from there my thought went further into the recesses of human evil, balanced by human good.
I have come to love those things which I formerly despised, and many still despise, because I have found them to be the best recipes for maintaining an orderly and free society without resorting to the excesses of totalitarianism or anarchy. I have discovered them to be the building blocks of social order, that social order which accommodates the thought of those who would demean or even overthrow it.
I love these monsters- these monsters called nationalism, manliness, and theism. The first, imbued with political realism and philosophical conservatism; the second, imbued with views of objective reality and the balancing of rights with responsibilities; the third, founded upon an acknowledgment of human weakness and wickedness, yet divine perfection as the ultimate reality of the universe; these are not pretty thoughts, nor particularly inspiring for those who seek a better world. But I have found them to be the most real and the most practical truths to hold fast to in a swirling world that, for all its constant shifts in condition, never changes in structure.
And I therefore defend them and embrace them with every chance I find, while avoiding affiliation with their more popular rivals. It is not that I dislike the causes which environmentalists, feminists, progressives, and liberals hawk (and bear in mind- ‘liberals’ here includes many Americans who think themselves to be conservative.) It is, rather, that I see a fundamental order which must be upheld, an order which these other forces tend to attack. And in defense of the principles I hold dear, I inevitably wind up across the battlefield from the prophets of postmodernity.
What has been the significance of this long-winded and self-righteous defense of my core principles?
There is essentially none. But for all those who find themselves across the battlefield from me- you now know why I am there.
Why are you where you are?
“Eisenhower remains, to me, a near-great Republican president. In most things, he was fact-based, prudential, and essentially conservative. His Presidency and his approach offer an excellent paradigm for a reformed Republican party today. But getting there will not be easy. If a large majority of Republicans try to reform the party in a common sense direction with Eisenhower as the paradigm, a third party could very well be the result.”
“So what can Republicans learn today from Ike’s presidency? They can learn the importance of tying all their policies together under a single banner. For Eisenhower, national security required a balanced budget, more infrastructure, even civil rights. This theme provided a cohesion to his policies and his presidency. Republicans can also learn that conservatism is an approach, not an agenda. For Ike, incremental change beat revolutionary zeal. Too often, Republicans have drunk from the fount of power and pursued grand plans. Better to walk the sober path of modest steps and gradual progress. Republicans can learn that realism must be the foundation of foreign policy. The party must accept the realities of this world before it can seek to change them. Idealism can help inform the party’s philosophical architecture; but it must be built upon the pier and beam of hard realism. Finally, Republicans can learn that old parties need new ideas. Certainly in foreign policy, Eisenhower showed innovation in how he viewed the world and how he fought the Cold War.
For today’s Republican Party, it might be time to go back to the future…and become a little more like Ike. “
-Kasey S. Pipes
My fellow Republicans,
I would argue that the greatest Republican Presidents of our modern GOP were Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Indeed, there seems to be a legacy connecting the four of them beyond simply GOP membership.
Of the four, it should be remembered that Nixon and Reagan- though undoubtedly the more effective, and the ones leaving the greater legacy- were able to do what they did because they successfully energized the rising populist wing of the Republican Party, and thus the principles they espoused were distorted by the passing rumblings of a Jacksonian people. These men should be remembered for their craft- not for their words.
But as it is harder to emulate craft than it is to emulate words, if we must define ourselves by the quotations of great men long gone, then let us emulate the words of Eisenhower and Bush Sr. Moderate and principled, reasonable and pragmatic, true Washingtonian statesmen (rather than great Californian movement-surfers,) the principles they enshrined in their words were more tenable and accessible than the easily malleable and misinterpretable words of the other two greats.
The essence of the GOP is and has always been not conservatism, but nationalism, moderated by a conservative temperament, and pragmatically dealing with the political and cultural situation at hand (hence Nixon’s and Reagan’s skillful embrace of populism in their methods.) We trace our true roots not to Jefferson and Jackson, but to Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and Alexander Hamilton- great nationalists and men of conservative temperament all.
The true opponents of the nationalists in American politics have always been the ideological populists- represented by the Democratic-Republican parties of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson which later formed the intellectual currents of Jefferson Davis, and the populists who arose under William Jennings Bryan and his ilk. The early 20th Century saw a dramatic realignment of American politics, with both nationalists and populists alive and well in both parties and mostly populists energizing the third parties that occasionally arose. The GOP of the 20s and 30s was essentially populist. The Democratic Party under FDR’s New Deal coalition tread dangerously far in the direction of populist social democracy, while still containing a great many nationalists. The Cold War saw a continuation of this division, but Eisenhower successfully resurrected nationalism within the Republican Party.
The shifts of ideology have fluctuated much since the 1950s, especially with the Democratic Party’s populist resurgence of the 1960s and the Republican Party’s populist resurgence of the 1970s and 80s. But there are nationalists still alive and well in both parties, and their pragmatism and influence remains, albeit at a shrinking level and in a drowning state. Moreover, these nationalists, moderates, and centrists have, in their relative stagnation, grown decadent and uncreative, and thus the perennial street protests of both Left and Right populism have emerged.
It is time for a resurgence of nationalism within both the Democratic and Republican parties, not merely for a spirit of compromise or reason, but for a revitalization of the American project and the opening of a new and majestic chapter in the history of the United States of America. Democrats should look to Jack Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, pragmatic men both; Republicans should look to Eisenhower and Bush, temperamentally conservative men both; and American nationalists of all stripes should look to Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington- our true intellectual forebears and the most transformative statesmen in our history. Posterity will place us among their ranks. We must fail neither the great men of the past nor the children of the future; and most importantly, we must not fail our fellow Americans whom we walk amongst today.
Essays on such a program will follow.