Cliopatria HNN'er, Ralph E. Luker, gives us a list of the"Ten Most Harmful Books." I have to admit that I've got a real problem with the whole category of"harmful books," not because I believe that no book can do harm, but more because I think"harmful" comes with a stigma attached to it ... that perhaps such books should not be read. But it is the books that are most"harmful" that often require the most study.
Some of Luker's books are predictable: Hitler's Mein Kampf, Lenin's What Is To Be Done?, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and so forth. But on that list, Luker mentions Ayn Rand's two mega-novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Jonathan Rees chimes in and thanks Luker for including Rand on that list, since her books offer"a philosophical excuse for extraordinary selfishness."
Rand's work has been an inspiration to people of all different walks of life, including individualist feminists, libertarians, conservatives, and even a few liberals, those who see in architect Howard Roark, protagonist of The Fountainhead, an exemplary model of artistic integrity, self-esteem, and authenticity. These same liberals may not like Rand's advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism, but not even they would suggest that those who have emulated Roark will be predisposed to go out and blow up public housing projects.
To be fair, I personally know a few people who were deeply harmed by some of the more" cult-like" aspects of the Objectivist movement, and by some of the brutal comments that Rand made on such subjects as homosexuality. I'm not in any way belittling the real hurt and damage that some have experienced in that context.
But all this is a far cry from the mass murder of the Nazis, Soviets, and Maoists. If the most significant policy-maker to come out of the Randian movement is Alan Greenspan---who, himself, has departed fundamentally from his earlier Randian views in favor of the abolition of the Fed ... can't we have a sense of proportion here?
Even poor Herbert Spencer, whose Evolution of Society [ed: I was wondering about that title] also makes Luker's list, wasn't the"Social Darwinist" his critics make him out to be. Roderick Long, where are you?
Mr. Luker, at the very least, couldn't you provide us with the reasoning behind your list? Right now, I find it unreasonable. For this Rand-influenced libertarian scholar, I find it obscene, quite frankly.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Ralph Luker posts his reply to my criticisms of his list of the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. A few other people have gotten in on the discussion too, including fellow HNN'er Irfan Khawaja and Grant Jones.
Luker titles his reply,"Listmania and Maturity," and then goes on to express surprise at my use of the word"obscene" to describe his inclusion of Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead on a list that includes Mein Kampf and Protocals of the Elders of Zion. He also expresses disapproval of a comment left at my blog by Technomaget, who calls Luker, in no uncertain terms, a"moron."
Let me clarify a few things.
First, I am not calling Luker"obscene" and I have not called him a moron either. What I thought was"obscene" was placing a pair of works by Rand on a list that includes titles written by mass murderers. I use"obscene" as a synonym for"offensive" and find that particular coupling of Rand and Hitler very offensive.
If Luker had called his list a list of the ten worst books he'd ever read, or a list of the ten most annoying books, or the ten most useless books, or the ten most immature books, I probably would never have noticed it. But"harmful" carries with it a certain stigma, as I explained in my L&P/Notablog post. Strictly defined it means" causing or capable of causing harm." And on those grounds, I just don't see any reasonable criterion by which to equate Rand's novels with Mein Kampf. As Grant Jones puts it succinctly:"Has any reader of her works built Death Camps?" (brings back memories of Whittaker Chambers' cry, upon reading Atlas:"To a gas chamber—go!") As we say here in Brooklyn:"Fuhgedaboudit! You gotta be kiddin' me!"
Luker states:"In a moment of weakness (it just seemed like years of agony), I read Ayn Rand and I don't worship at her shrine! My lack of admiration for Ayn Rand is well known." Well that's fine. I admire her work but I don't worship at her shrine either. And, again, I would have had little problem if Luker had simply said:"These books suck." But suckitude is not the criterion for"harmfulness," especially when one is drawing up a list of books that crosses the line into Hitler territory.
As for Rand's work being serious or unserious, I'm afraid there's nothing in Luker's post that would give me a clue as to the nature of his assessment. Luker may not like Rand's philosophy, but let me assure him that it is not a"so-called philosophy," as he puts it. It may not be a philosophy with which Luker agrees, but it's a systematic philosophy, with integrated positions in ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. It is a philosophy that includes a commitment to realism, ethical egoism, individualism, and capitalism. And it is being taken seriously by people on every end of the political and philosophical spectrum, not only in the pages of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies but in a growing list of professional scholarly journals (see here).
If Luker would like to broaden his realm of toleration to include a few of us who were at least moved by Rand's work, let alone influenced, and who don't manifest"immaturity" or a" cult-like psychological disorder" or"delayed adolescent omnipotence," maybe we could talk more seriously. Ad hominem masquerading as psychological diagnosis is no substitute for discussion.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Of all the tributes that I've read this Memorial Day Weekend, this one, entitled"A Mothers' War," by Cynthia Gorney, had particularly poignant passages. The story centers on Tracy Della Vecchia, who runs a website for mothers nationwide whose children are fighting, and being injured, and dying, in Iraq. Tracy's son,
Derrick Jensen, has spent three birthdays in a row deployed in Iraq. There are about 140,000 American troops stationed in Iraq; 23,000 of them are marines. As this article appears, Corporal Jensen should be somewhere near Falluja. He is an infantry radio operator, which sounded to Tracy like a good, safe job until she found out that radio operators carry big antennas, which make them easier targets. She let me stay at her house for a while this winter partly because I am a reporter and happen to have a 22-year-old son who is not in the military. Tracy thought people like me might want to know something about what it's like to live all the time with that kind of information about your child, to go to sleep knowing it and wake up knowing it and drive around town knowing it, which makes it possible to be standing in the Wal-Mart dog-food aisle on an ordinary afternoon and without reason or warning be knocked breathless again by the sudden imagining of sniper fire or an explosion beneath a Humvee. Still. Derrick has been shipped home twice since President Bush delivered his May 2003 speech in front of the"Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and shipped back twice. He has had one occasion of near death that Tracy knows about in some detail; there are others, she assumes, that Derrick has so far kept to himself."During the first deployment," Tracy said to me once as we were sitting in her car, a lipstick-red PT Cruiser with a yellow"Keep My Son Safe" ribbon magnet on the back,"the only emotion I could imagine him having was fear." ...
Tracy's closest friends in the world right now are other parents whose sons and daughters have served in Iraq or are serving there now. Some of these parents think the war is righteous, some think it was wrongheaded from the outset and some, like Tracy, have made fierce internal bargains with themselves about what they will and will not think about as long as their children and their children's comrades remain in uniform and in harm's way. The women Tracy meets every week for dinner, each of whom has a son in the Marines or the Army, have a"no politics" rule around their table; this was one of two things I remember Tracy telling me the first time she took me to a gathering of the mothers. The other thing was that draped over a banister in Tracy's house was an unwashed T-shirt Derrick had dropped during his last visit home. I thought Tracy was apologizing for her housekeeping, which I had already seen was much better than mine, but she cleared her throat and said that what I needed to understand was that she hadn't washed the T-shirt because if the Marine Corps has to send you your deceased child's personal effects, it launders the clothing first."That means there's no smell," Tracy said. She let this hover between us for a minute."I've heard from so many parents who were crushed when they opened that bag, because they had thought they'd be able to smell their son," Tracy said. ...
When I woke the next morning, it was barely light outside, but Tracy was already at her computer. She was smoking at her desk, which she usually doesn't do, and her face was bleak."I got a D.O.D.," she said. A D.O.D. is what Tracy calls a death notice from the Department of Defense. These notices come to her as e-mailed press releases, each with a headline that identifies the service the deceased American belonged to ... She had walked around with it all day ... she had known ... only that it wasn't Derrick, first because the Marines had not come to her house ..."The knocking on the door." ... Tracy jammed her cigarette into the ashtray, hard."And the way I'd react: You've got the wrong house. I just talked to my son. This can't be right. Denial is the first thing. And knowing there's just complete and total despair in somebody's home right now. This is their Easter." She started to cry."And I feel so grateful, and then so guilty," she said."Nobody's going to say, 'Thank God, it wasn't my son.' But that's what we're all thinking."
Read the whole article.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I haven't seen"Revenge of the Sith" just yet, but I enjoyed today's column by John Tierney in the New York Times:"Darth Vader's Family Values." I especially like the fact that he cites my pal and colleague Dan Klein on"The People's Romance." Tierney writes:
The People's Romance is [Klein's] explanation for why so many Americans have come to love bigger government over the past century. Their specific objectives in Washington differed—liberals stressed charity and social programs for all, while conservatives promoted patriotism and spending on national security—but they both expanded the government in their quest for a national sense of shared purpose.
The result, though, has not been one happy community because America is not a clan with shared values. It is a huge group of strangers with leaders who are hardly altruists—they have their own families and needs. Tocqueville recognized the inherent problem with the People's Romance when he described citizens' contradictory impulses to be free while also wanting a government that is"unitary, protective and all-powerful."
People try to resolve this contradiction, Tocqueville wrote, by telling themselves that democracy makes them masters of politicians, but they soon find that the Force is not with them, especially if they're in the minority. Republicans used to rail helplessly at Democrats for taxing them for destructive social programs and curtailing their economic liberties; now Democrats complain about the money squandered on the Iraq war and the threat to civil liberties from the Patriot Act.
For those Democrats, the signature line in this"Star Wars" is the one spoken after the chancellor, citing security threats, consolidates his power by declaring that the republic must become an empire. Senator Padmé listens to her colleagues cheer and says,"So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."
She's disgusted with them, but their enthusiasm is understandable. The chancellor has tapped into their primal desire to unite in one great clan with a shared purpose. They're in the throes of the People's Romance.
I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding episode of George Lucas's myth.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I have posted a few reflections on the increasingly cozy relationship between Iran and the new majoritarian Shi'ite Iraqi regime at Notablog.
At Notablog, I've posted a few thoughts about how art appreciation is slowly being infected by various shades of"political correctness" coming from both the left and the right.
See"Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation." Comments welcome.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to do an encyclopedia article on"Karl Marx" for the forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, to be published by Routledge. Amazingly, there was not a single entry offered for Herbert Spencer (who many view as one of the founders of sociology) or of any of the great classical liberals. I knew that Spencer had fallen out of favor with sociologists over the years, and that too many working in that discipline had a tendency to dismiss (wrongly, I might add) the work of classical liberals as somehow too"atomistic" and not worthy of the sociological imagination.
Whatever the reason, I was quite frankly shocked that nothing on Spencer, liberalism, or libertarianism had been scheduled for discussion in the encyclopedia. So, I asked the fine editor if he would be interested in one additional contribution from me: a general, broader piece on libertarianism, that is, on the relevance to sociology of theorists working in the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. The editor accepted my offer. And instead of writing a sole piece on Marx, I wrote two pieces.
The entry on libertarianism brought into the encyclopedia a discussion of the works of Herbert Spencer (to whom I devote much space, relatively speaking), Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and others.
I've just been informed today that the encyclopedia is due out in October 2005; I'll be sure to note it here when the time comes.
Thus, this is my way of thanking Roderick Long doubly: not only for his continuing work on Spencer, but also for offering constructive commentary on my essays before they were submitted to Routledge.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I've written ad nauseam about Election 2004, still of the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage (and its connection to the broader issue of"moral values") had an important impact on the outcome. I have always believed"that other issues, especially the war, had an effect in shoring up Bush's winning coalition." Still,"the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were promoted by GOP strategists to bolster one aspect of the winning Bush coalition"; without"the socially conservative vote," which supported those initiatives, Bush could never have won such states as Ohio—indispensable to his national electoral victory.
One recent analysis of the Presidential election comes to a similar though much more informed statistical conclusion. Gregory B. Lewis, in the April 2005 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, concludes that the"same-sex marriage" issue"mattered ... less than some issues but more than most. ... At the state level, even after controlling for Bush's vote share in 2000 and the general conservatism of the state population, popular disapproval of homosexuality influenced Bush's share of the 2004 vote and may have contributed to party switches by New Hampshire and New Mexico." Lewis admits that"[t]he vote was close in Ohio despite relatively high disapproval of homosexuality." But the question remains:"Would it have turned out differently without same-sex marriage on the agenda?"
That question will inspire many different answers. But I think the evidence strongly suggests that without the support of socially conservative Protestant and Catholic voters, who came out en masse to vote against same-sex marriage, Bush would have lost to Kerry.
In the same issue of PS, even those with a dissenting view (such as Hillygus and Shields) argue that the"values-based appeals," though not the only crucial issue, served to reinforce Bush's appeal among his supporters. As I have argued for months, this was part of the Rove strategy: without that support among Bush's core constituency, Bush does not win re-election.
Whatever one's views on this subject, I think the implications are becoming clearer with each passing week. Social conservatives believe that the Bush administration owes them. Of greater importance is the apparent belief of the administration that social conservatives are owed.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Well, in Episode #2,345 of this Quixotic Political Saga, the Saudi royal family, which has been a trusted US"ally,""has been under pressure from Washington to engage in political reform at a time of social tension and a two-year campaign against the state by militants associated with al-Qaeda." Today, the news tells us:
Candidates on an alleged"golden list" backed by religious clerics have swept the final round of Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal elections. Islamist candidates won all the municipal council seats contested in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. They also fared well in northern towns as well as the comparatively liberal port of Jeddah, according to results released on Saturday. Women were barred from the polls, which were presented as a step towards more popular participation in public life.
Of course, the regime itself will pick"roughly half" of 1,200 councillors, which might"dilute" the power of Islamicists. Not that the Saudi regime is all that liberal by comparison. After all, this election news comes on the heels of another news story that the Saudis had detained 40 Pakistani Christians who were caught"attending a service in Riyadh" in a private home. The police also found (horrors!!)"Christian tapes and books." Since one cannot practice any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia, this is a crime, in case you were wondering.
I get exhausted pointing out the obvious. This is a regime that is allegedly a"friend" of the United States government. Let's put aside the prospects for democracy among"unfriendly" regimes. Of what use is procedural"democracy" when a"friendly" regime schools its citizens in a fanatical ideology of intolerance, when it marginalizes and criminalizes women, non-Muslims, and freedom itself? Of what use is"democracy" when the dominant culture would bring about a political condition that might make the current Saudi regime appear"moderate" by comparison?
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I've been writing about the rise of the religious right for quite a while now, most recently in connection with the re-election of George W. Bush. Starting with my essay,"Caught Up in the Rapture," I have argued that the political impact of the religious right is second only to its cultural and economic impact, which is growing significantly:
Christian merchandising is a $4.2 billion industry, which includes a $100 million video game business. The Christian book market is particularly lucrative: Evangelist Rick Warren has sold 15 million copies of his book, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? There are even Christian diet books that sit alongside Atkins and South Beach manuals: The Maker’s Diet helps you to lose weight by eating just like Jesus. From number one best-selling books such as The Da Vinci Code to"Joan of Arcadia" on television and"Bruce Almighty" on the silver screen, God is Hip and Hot. ... A blockbuster film such as"The Passion of the Christ"—which was condemned initially as"anti-Semitic" by some critics—has now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibson’s cross-promotional merchandising efforts—sales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. ... [And the] 12-volume LaHaye-Jenkins work—from its first installment, Left Behind, to its action-packed finale, Glorious Appearing: The End of Days—now qualifies as the best-selling Christian fiction book series of all time[, having] sold in excess of 60 million copies in the past nine years.
Ultimately, the Left Behind series is not simply a religious narrative. It is a political one. Glenn W. Shuck, author of Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, argues persuasively that"the novels have less to do with escaping and more to do with remaking the modern world" (emphasis added). It is the kind of"remaking" that Friedrich Hayek would have characterized as thoroughly rationalist or" constructivist" in its political implications.
Except that in this instance, the"Left Behind-ers" are praying that God will be the ultimate constructivist, and fix things for good. The fact that so many of them voted for George W. Bush as His messenger is not a comforting thought.
Well, God makes a prime-time appearance on NBC in a major network mini-series that begins this Wednesday, April 13, 2005. As Frank Rich puts it (hat-tip to Arthur Silber):"It's all too fitting that 'Revelations,' which downsizes lay government in favor of the clerical, is hijacking the regular time slot of 'The West Wing'" (the show aired its season finale on April 6th). Fitting indeed. The typically liberal"West Wing" is being replaced by a Left Behind knock-off that will merge an"X-Files" sensibility, an Omen-like horror quotient, and an apocalyptic scenario worthy of the Millennium Group.
In the end, of course, the Apocalypse is not the most disturbing prospect; it's the fact that the Apocalypse has become so marketable in this culture.
So much in the news on this April Fool's Day, 2005. For example, the"final verdict" on prewar"intelligence" has been issued. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. The"final verdict" won't be issued for years and years. But this particular verdict does make it appear that there were plenty of fools running America's"intelligence" community. American"homeland security" is gravely dependent on the quality of its intelligence. That should make all of us feel very safe.
And then, on the heels of the departure of NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS's Dan Rather, another Long-Time Talking Head will be Leaving the Airwaves—this coming December: Ted Koppel, long-time host of ABC News'"Nightline." I've actually been a fan of"Nightline" for many years, if only because it does offer an opportunity for a more comprehensive look at the news of the day, with more in-depth interviews and coverage than that offered on the nightly news broadcasts.
I'm also a religious viewer of the Sunday morning news broadcasts, but I have found them infuriating for the last few years. I spend most Sunday mornings doing a most un-Godly thing: Cursing at the TV Screen. Not only because of what is being said, but because it's the same people saying the same things. Ted Koppel puts his finger on it. As the NY Times reports this morning:
Mr. Koppel said he had been concerned about what he saw as the uniformity of all the Sunday public affairs programs—particularly when a viewer can flip from one channel to the other and see people like the secretary of defense or secretary of state interviewed on each."That seems to be the general understanding in Washington these days," Mr. Koppel said."The administration sets the tone and theme and presents the same guests to all the programs at the same time. I don't think anyone is served by that."
Quite honestly, let me put it another way: ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
That felt better.
[begin rant] Why don't they just call the Sunday morning news programs: The Condi Rice Show? Or The Don Rumsfeld Show? Or The John McCain Show? Or (up until recently) The Colin Powell Show? EVERY DAMN WEEK, the same people, over and over and over again. On every channel. Sometimes simultaneously. Taped broadcasts putting to rest the maxim that one can't be in two or three different places at the same time. Who needs a Pentagon Channel? [/end rant]
April Fool's Day? The Washington establishment makes fools of all of us, every day of the year.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
My post"The Costs of War" has elicited more than a dozen comments so far, raising a number of issues. At Notablog, I continue to"think out loud," taking an opportunity to expand on some of the points made in my former post, having benefited from onlist and offlist exchanges on the nature of moral complicity and responsibility in wartime.
Read"The Costs of War, Part II" here.
Volume 6, Number 2 of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has just been published. This Spring 2005 issue is the second of two symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary. It is entitled"Ayn Rand Among the Austrians," and it features the articles and contributors listed below. This landmark anthology surveys Rand's relationship to key thinkers in the Austrian school of economics, including Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, and F. A. Hayek. (Some of our L&P colleagues are among the contributors to the issue.)
Spring 2005 Table of Contents
Centenary Symposium, Part II
Introduction: Ayn Rand Among the Austrians - Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Larry J. Sechrest [a PDF version of this article is available online here.]
Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises - George Reisman
Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics: Two Peas in a Pod - Walter Block
Alan Greenspan: Rand, Republicans, and Austrian Critics - Larry J. Sechrest
Praxeology: Who Needs It - Roderick T. Long
Subjectivism, Intrinsicism, and Apriorism: Rand Among the Austrians? - Richard C. B. Johnsson
Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond - Edward W. Younkins
Two Worlds at Once: Rand, Hayek, and the Ethics of the Micro- and Macro-cosmos - Steven Horwitz
Our Unethical Constitution - Candice E. Jackson
Teaching Economics Through Ayn Rand: How the Economy is Like a Novel and How the Novel Can Teach Us About Economics - Peter J. Boettke
Reply to William Thomas: An Economist Responds - Leland B. Yeager
Rejoinder to Leland B. Yeager: Clarity and the Standard of Ethics - William Thomas
For article abstracts, click here.
For contributor biographies, click here.
For information on subscriptions, click here.
There is a thought-provoking article by Reza Aslan in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education. Entitled"From Islam, Pluralist Democracies Will Surely Grow," the article asserts that"it is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy," that"Islam has had a long commitment to religious pluralism," and that democratic change is therefore not as unreachable a goal as some might think.
Aslan is worth quoting at length:
For most of the Western world, September 11, 2001, signaled the commencement of a worldwide struggle between Islam and the West -- the ultimate manifestation of the clash of civilizations. From the Islamic perspective, however, the attacks on New York and Washington were part of a continuing clash between those Muslims who strive to reconcile their religious values with the realities of the modern world, and those who react to modernism and reform by reverting -- sometimes fanatically -- to the"fundamentals" of their faith. ...
When politicians speak of bringing democracy to the Middle East, they mean specifically an American secular democracy, not an indigenous Islamic one.
There exists a philosophical dispute in the Western world with regard to the concept of Islamic democracy: that is, that there can be no a priori moral framework in a modern democracy; that the foundation of a genuinely democratic society must be secularism. The problem with that argument, however, is that it not only fails to recognize the inherently moral foundation upon which a large number of modern democracies are built, but also, more important, fails to appreciate the difference between secularism and secularization.
Clearly, if the Western world itself had to wait for full and complete secularism in order to achieve even a modicum of freedom, it would still be waiting. But it is a key point, I think, to insist that the secularization of the Western mind took centuries and that such secularization has been a key ingredient in the evolution toward free insitutions. Aslan continues:
As the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox notes, secularization is the process by which" certain responsibilities pass from ecclesiastical to political authorities," whereas secularism is an ideology based on the eradication of religion from public life. Turkey is a secular country in which outward signs of religiosity, such as the hijab, are forcibly suppressed. With regard to ideological resolve, one could argue that there is little that separates a secular country like Turkey from a religious country like Iran; both ideologize society. It is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy. A democratic state can be established upon any normative moral framework as long as pluralism remains the source of its legitimacy.
I take certain issue with some of these claims, especially since the"normative moral framework" of an"Islamic democracy" might"force the rights of the community to prevail over the rights of the individual," when the individual's behavior (e.g., drinking or gambling) goes against"Quranic commandments." Alas, if prohibitions on drinking or gambling were the only thing to worry about from within the Islamic world, then it would not be much worse than old Sunday Blue Laws or gambling prohibitions in New York State. Still, I find this nexus of rights, pluralism, and secularization to be persuasive:
... neither human rights nor pluralism is the result of secularization; they are its root cause. Consequently, any democratic society -- Islamic or otherwise -- dedicated to the principles of pluralism and human rights must dedicate itself to following the unavoidable path toward political secularization.
Aslan thinks there is a certain inevitability in the democratic-pluralistic developments in the Muslim Middle East, but I'm not so sure."It will take many more [years] to cleanse Islam of its new false idols -- bigotry and fanaticism -- worshiped by those who have replaced Muhammad's original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living in it," Aslan writes.
How might the United States encourage this kind of political secularization? It's one thing to introduce procedural democratic rules into countries like post-Hussein Iraq. But it's quite another to actually achieve some sort of liberal democracy, because, as Aslan suggests, political secularization is crucial to that achievement. There are hopeful signs that this process is underway in such countries as Iran, for example. But there is something to be said about a"laissez faire" U.S. approach to Iran under these highly volatile conditions. As Stephen Kinzer writes in"Clouds Over Iran," in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:
One of my Iranian friends, a graduate student in his twenties, recently wrote this to me:"The US government is helping Iran's government with its continuing hostility.... Every time the State Department or White House speaks about human rights conditions in Iran, our government uses this against reformers. It says that reformers are supported by the United States. Many reformers are in jail because of these accusations. Many newspapers have been closed. The United States should be concerned about Iran's problems, but this policy is hurting the reform movement. Non-intervention is the best help the United States can give to Iran's people." ...
There is every possibility that in time, Iran will return to the democratic course from which the United States so violently forced it in 1953. If Americans allow events there to proceed at their own pace, they will finally see the result for which they hope. It is also the result most Iranians want: an Iran that respects the will of its people and helps to stabilize a dangerously unstable region. ... Seeking to destabilize [Iran] will intensify its leaders' sense of isolation. Attacking it will turn its remarkably pro-American population into America-haters once again. Military intervention could set off a wave of patriotic indignation that will solidify the mullahs' regime rather than weaken it, and would probably set the cause of democracy back a generation."Regime change" would probably not even turn Iran off its nuclear course, since most Iranians of all persuasions agree that their country has at least as much right to nuclear power as Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Treating Iran as a member of the world community with its own set of reasonable hopes and fears, however, might lead it toward responsibility, peace with its neighbors, and perhaps even democracy.
Alas, this might be wishful thinking. But it is certainly in keeping with many of my own observations (archived here) about the delicate evolution toward liberal democracy and cultural secularization that is required not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I'm a little behind in my reading, but I wanted to pass along a link to another interesting article by Franklin Foer (one of whose pieces I previously discussed here). In"The Joy of Federalism," Foer traces the historical development of a"liberal federalism" as a bulwark against the growth of the federal government under the Bush administration. As Foer puts it:
Like many of his predecessors, [Bush] entered office promising to rescue the states from federal pummeling. Yet his administration has greatly expanded federal power, and some conservatives have been complaining. Writing in National Review two years ago, Romesh Ponnuru observed that"more people are working for the federal government than at any point since the end of the cold war." State governments have their own version of this complaint. They say the Bush administration has imposed new demands—federal education standards, homeland security tasks—without also providing sufficient cash to get these jobs done. The Republican senator Lamar Alexander recently told The Times,"The principle of federalism has gotten lost in the weeds by a Republican Congress that was elected to uphold it in 1994."
The whole essay is worth a good read.
I know this is old news already... but since I posted on this topic here and here back in November, I felt an obligation to report that the FCC ruled that the unedited showing of"Saving Private Ryan" did not violate its guidelines on"indecency." This should send a signal to those 66 ABC affiliates who chose not to air the film in the wake of FCC crackdowns and fines in the post-Janet Jackson Boob Era.
It's interesting that the FCC suggests that it's all a matter of context. Saying"FUBAR" ("Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition") in"Saving Private Ryan" is okay, but would probably be cause for a fine if, say, Chris Rock had uttered it on the Academy Awards broadcast. In this atmosphere, it's understandable why Steven Bochco, co-creator of NYPD Blue, which ended its 12-year run last night in a glorious finale, would be reluctant to launch such a show today. As Bochco puts it here:"I don't think today we could sell NYPD Blue in the form that it launched 12 years ago ... I had hoped, and I think probably everybody in television had hoped, that NYPD Blue would pave the way for a more open approach to programming, a more adult, 10 o'clock kind of programming. But there's no question that over the course of the last 10 years, the medium has become increasingly conservative."
Well, either way, I'll miss the drama of Andy Sipowicz and the cops at the 15th Precinct. And I'll switch over to premium cable channels if I'd like a dose of"blue" language and images.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
At"Not a Blog," I posted some musings on neoconservative ideology, and the nature of political and cultural change. As I state in my conclusion:
I am in full agreement with the neoconservatives ... that a freer world is more desirable and that it is a necessary (though not sufficient) ingredient in the creation of a more secure world; my fundamental problem with the neocons is that they do not understand the complex conditions that foster either freedom or security.
Read the whole post here.
I just wanted to recommend a new article by David Glenn,"Who Owns Islamic Law?," which has been published in the February 25th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It asks a key question about the relationship between democracy, Islam, and secularism:"Will Iraq's political forces manage to find a consensus about what role, exactly, Islam should play in the public sphere?"
While some insist on"authentically Islamic" enforcement of"Shariah" or"traditional religious law—in all spheres of life, from banking to inheritance to the performing arts," others argue"that lines must be drawn between mosque and state—even if those lines do not look exactly like Western secular pluralism." One professor of political science, M.A. Muqtedar Khan, insists:"'There will be no Islamic democracy unless jurists permit the democratization of interpretation.' ... In Mr. Khan's view, political elites in the Muslim world have for centuries restricted the development of democracy and political accountability by hiding behind religious principles that they proclaim to be fixed in stone." Khan is concerned"that basing government around consultation and shura ... could lead to majoritarian tyranny. 'Even if shura is transformed into an instrument of participatory representation,' he wrote, 'it must itself be limited by a scheme of private and individual rights that serve an overriding moral goal such as justice'."
Some others have observed, however,
that"secularism" has been so thoroughly discredited in the Muslim world by Kemal Atatürk's ruthlessly anticlerical regime in Turkey and by the later secular-authoritarian governments in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Only in Iran, which has suffered under a clerical tyranny for decades, do reformers now commonly talk about secular pluralism.
The fundamental challenge for would-be democracy-builders in Iraq and elsewhere is the contested relationship between Islam and the public sphere ... Where religious authorities and institutions once had breathing room from the state and their own spheres of influence, ... colonial regimes brought everything under the heel of the government. (And their postcolonial successors have been happy to do likewise.) ...
This, then, is the dilemma for reformers today. Centrist Islamists and liberal reformers would like to develop a model in which Muslim institutions are independent from the government and vigorously inform public governance, but do not swallow all of society in a totalitarian project like the Taliban's. ...
Mr. Khan, meanwhile, insists that the most urgent danger of authoritarianism lies in entrusting Islamic thought and interpretation to an elite corps of scholars and jurists. ...
Mr. Khan acknowledges that his is very much a minority view. He is nonetheless excited about the current intellectual climate."Two weeks ago I was at the Stanley Foundation and one-third of my audience was Muslims," he says."Afterward we spent the whole night having a Muslim-Muslim dialogue. We disagreed about everything. But we did come to consensus on one point—and that is that the discussions are getting more sophisticated. There is no doubt about it."
I recommend the article to your attention.
Cross-posted to Not a Blog.