The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Beyond "Political Correctness"
My big problem with the term "political correctness" is not that it refers to a non-existent phenomenon ("the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups," according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary), but that it has long since degenerated -- thanks in the main to overzealous conservatives -- into a simplistic, catch-all explanation for all manner of complex phenomena, many of which cannot be ascribed merely to the machinations of the "PC Left" (another misleading term). Take as case studies Alan Dershowitz's and Roger Kimball's analyses of Larry Summers's resignation in the Boston Globe and New Criterion respectively. Both authors are absolutely convinced that Summers's fall had everything to do with his committing, to quote Dershowitz, the "cardinal sin against the academic hard left: He expressed politically incorrect views regarding gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and the military." Now it is true that Summers said and did several things considered un-PC in academia today (challenging Cornel West and Afro-American Studies by extension, expressing support for Israel and ROTC, suggesting that biology might explain the relative dearth of world-class female scientists). But to claim that political incorrectness was the sole factor behind his fall is really far too cushy and monocausal a theory to withstand serious scrutiny. As multiple commentators, including Peter Beinart and Matthew Yglesias, have pointed out, Summers was also professionally incorrect -- exceedingly, annoyingly so in the eyes of the Harvard faculty. He wanted tenured professors to teach undergraduate survey classes; he pushed out the popular Dean of the Faculty (Bill Kirby, a Dartmouth graduate by the way); he tried to centralize the entire University and decrease the power of the Arts and Sciences Faculty; and so on. Writing in TNR, Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz put it best:
Summers was brought down not because he was politically incorrect or bad at soothing academic egos, though those things contributed far more than they should have. The core problem is that he wanted to shake up the comfortable world of higher education. Most Americans think of universities as a bastion of the political left, and in one sense they are. But in a deeper sense, institutions like Harvard embody a particularly blind sort of conservatism: All change causes discomfort, and so must be resisted.Conservatives should be able to identify with that last part; Dartmouth folk may find it instructive to compare the Summers case with that of erstwhile Dean of the Faculty (and soon-to-be erstwhile Dartmouth Professor) Michael Gazzaniga. The latter, as you'll recall, resigned as DoF after the faculty judged him to lack the "skills necessary to continue his job." Though the precise causes of his departure remain unclear to this day, political incorrectness doesn't appear to have had much to do with it at all. (He was on the President's Council of Bioethics, but he frequently disagreed with the conservatives he worked with.) Had he, for instance, done a Summers and commented provocatively on gender and neuroscience, the Dartmouth community at large would have heard about it, probably through some irate faculty member. It's far more plausible that Gazzaniga "merely" upset the faculty in non-ideological ways. My point here is that, contra what some conservatives seem to believe, liberal faculty care about more than just not having their political views challenged by either their Dean or their President. Those of us who've actually spent some time in the company of these professors will attest to this.
Has John given up on posting, you may ask?
The answer is no. February, however, has been an unfortunate month for academic backlogging. Clearly, I'll have to update through my Spring Break (part of which will be spent in Philly, the other half in Hanover).
But I assure that I am doing productive thinking/writing on: democratization and war, European integration, and meaning in the Human Condition. All in a day's work.
After I'm doing with this, though, there will be history, law, snide commentary, and general all around fun. Until then, CW will hold down the fort?
Monday, February 20, 2006
Wow, (Chris) Roach responded to my first post (from 13 Feb Monday). I'm throwing up a link to his site and will have more to say on Tuesday/Wednesday.
Here's a link to his site.
Are Muslims Illiberal By Nature?, part II
I finally finished this post. I will try and blog more this week than the two previous. I will also try shorter posts. Enjoy. I'll grammer proof tommorrow.
I have four disagreements with Roach's argument, and with the arguments about the illiberality of Islam in general. First, this argument misconstrues the nature of religious belief, and, thereby attribute characteristics to "true Muslims" that don't exist in the real world. Second, this misreading of religion is also present in his reconstruction of Christianity. Third, the causal logic of Roach's argument--that Islamic beliefs lends itself to radicalism when confronted with the demands of liberalism--should apply to American Muslims. If we are to believe his argument, the Muslims in America should have similarly revolted. Why is this revolt limited to Europe? Fourth, this argument reinforces the idea of a clash civilizations and creates a situation where the only solution to the "Muslim Question" is conversion or extermination.
First, religious observance is not a passive behavior in which a religion reproduces itself in the minds, words, and bodies of believers. Practitioners and confessors co-construct religious observances and traditions. Institutions of communion and association, like churches, mosques, and prayer groups, as well as external expectations, mean that the believers can't do just anything they want. Nevertheless, there is a lot of room for creation, manipulation, and redefinition within any given religious belief system according the practices and lived experiences of the worshippers.
Put more concretely: does Islam exist prior to the Muslims who enact it? Does a religious exist without people to practice and believe it? If it is the case that any analysis of religion and religious belief must begin with the practitioners of the religion, then Ibn Warraq's quip "there may be moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate. There is no difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. At most there is a difference of degree but not of kind" becomes a meaningless statement. For fundamentalists, there is no difference between Islam and what they practice. The same is true for moderate Muslims.
A sophisticated account of religion would necessarily begin with the following definition as "explanations of existence based on assumptions about the nature of the supernatural and about the purpose of being." Roach can't make claims about what Islam truly is without taking into account the experiences and practices of actual Muslims.
Second, not only does Roach get Islam wrong, he misses the comprehensive nature of Christianity, which is no less a life world than Islam. The texts of Christianity contain recommendations for family life, suggest obedience to state authority, and a preference against, though not prohibition of, slavery (especially against fellow believers.) While textual Christianity certainly need not be interpreted as a rule-based view of religious observance, in practice many Christian congregations affirm rule-based, comprehensive life projects. To the extent that diverging opinions about textual interpretations are justifiable, the disagreements are legitimate.
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let's assume, with Roach, that the nature of Islam (and not just the content) can be radically different from the nature of Christianity (and Judaism). From whose point of view are Islam and the Muslims to be judged? How is it that we come to know the nature of religion and the people who affirm it? Roach certainly provides us with one model: a Euro-centric framing of the issue in which the normals going ons of free speech becomes vastly complicated by Muslims who take their faith seriously.
Muslims may disagree about terrorism; Islam, like Christianity, counsels certain limitations on warfare aimed to protect innocents. But Muslims do not (at least within the framework of Islam) disagree about jihad. It's a core obligation of Muslims. It's a central part of their religious beliefs and religious history. And by its nature it defines who is innocent and who is the enemy very broadly.
However, it does not seem that a Euro-centric vantage is a fair origin for criticism or even a justifiable one. European know-towing to free speech notwithstanding, there is not a strong historical record in favor of any given European government's relationship with non-Europeans. Even in the postcolonial age, Europe does not seem to have much respect or concern with the domestic institutions of the postcolonies nor the persons and immigrants within and from those postcolonies.
Roach's particular reading of the Islamic consensus on jihad seems equally unjustifiable. What Roach says is that no reasoning Muslim, if she is being true to her faith, can disagree with jihad. He could have also said that no Christian, if he is being true to his faith, can disagree with agape. Assuming that this is true, there can still be disagreements about the nature, scope, and limitations of jihad and agape. Muslims may be uniformly committed to jihad as a matter of faith; what that means in practice is less clear. All Christians believe in love, but individual Christian behavior and conceptions of love differ wildly. It is reasonable to assume that within Islam, Muslims can possess an equal amount of reasonable disagreement and pluralism.
Moreover, the history of religious "persuasion" is not the history of missionaries and remarkable speeches. The spread of Christendom was as blood soaked as the spread of Judaism in ancient Palestine, or the spread of Islam in the Arab and Islamic worlds. With great zeal did the faithful convert and persuade with their fervor and military technology. Spain persuaded the Americas to give up their native religious beliefs (and land, gold, and treasure) just as the British persuaded the Native Americans to make way for their colonies. If Islam is so essentially violent in comparison to the pacific Christians, why is it that Christianity, and not Islam, produced witch-hunts?
Third, the causal logic of Roach's argument would imply that Americans should fear Muslims within the United States as much as Europeans fear Muslims within the EU because, as a matter of religious principle, both populations may spontaneously erupt into violence.
From the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, to the riots by disaffected Muslim youth in Paris, as a group Muslims living in Europe have shown themselves to be a turbulent minority that feels free to demand obeissance to its own notions of the sacred from the broader community while according little such respect to others. Europe should act on what is increasingly obvious: the liberal and tolerant way of life to which they are accustomed is incompatible with a large and growing minority that has little respect for the beliefs of others.
Let us bracket the discussion of whether Muslims are a threat to Europe and instead focus on the violence that didn't happen in America. The key problem for Roach's "argument" is this: if Islam is so intolerant, why didn't the American Muslims revolt? Here why: unless Roach is willing to forward and defend the claim that his interpretation of Islam is the legitimate one based on a careful and considered reading of the text that American Muslims lack, it seems that the essence of Islam thesis is an untenable causal logic. For Roach, sincerity of Islamic beliefs (independent variable) leads to political violence (dependent variable) against orders that do not conform to Sharia law (conditional variable). If we hold constant the conditional variable and the independent variable, we should see regular violence by Muslims against liberalism in the United States. Why don't we see that?
One of the respondents on the blog observed a fact:
European Muslims, on the other hand, don't have this kind of success in Europe. there are a number of institutional, economic and psychological reasons -- IN WHICH BOTH THE EUROPEAN ESTABLISHMENT AND THE IMMIGRANT MENTALITY are complicit. as a consequence of these wide scale failures, the European muslim minority fears reprisals when their beliefs are so publicly mocked. the thought is: "if they can mock our most holy man, they surely won't stop at anything if they come after us."
Spencer Akerman, in a New Republic piece entitled "Why American Musliums Haven't Turned to Terrorism" (registriation required), has an answer to this quandry:
Al Jazeera aired the communiqué of 30-year-old Mohammad Sidique Khan, which Khan recorded to explain why he helped murder over 50 of his fellow Britons on a bus and in the Underground. "Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment, and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight," Khan declared. "We are at war. I am a soldier. And now, you, too, will taste the reality of this situation." When Khan spoke of "my people," he wasn't talking about his British countrymen. Rather, he was referring to the members of a global Islamic community, which he, like Osama bin Laden, believes is under siege by the rapacious Western world...
Instead of blaming the Muslim population, we should instead blame Europe. More specifically, there is political dynamic to the European construction of Muslim identity lacking in America. This identity creates a state in which Muslims exist outside of public law and thus live by the dictates of the state of nature. As Kant reminded us in the Metaphysical Elements of Justice, a state of nature is one in which persons lack publicly guaranteed rights and can only claim to have what they can possess and defend. Muslims in Europe can only have toleration and political speech through acts of violence.
Their religious difference matters only in so far as it is the particular politicized difference of their current environment. Furthermore, it is their social position in relationship to the social and legal equality of opportunity afforded to non-Muslims that explains the European Muslims turn to violence.
Hannah Arendt once remarked that violence is prepolitical; in political relations violence stifles speech and is counterproductive. Nevertheless, this violence, for her, was necessary to secure the preconditions of political life: self-reproduction of physical life (nourishment, etc) and use-objects to build a common world. Her insight is particularly helpful in answering Roach's question of "Why now and why the Muslims?". The alienation of Muslims from European civil society and the political sphere means that relationship of the state to the Muslims communities are by nature violent. Muslims aren't allowed to be political liberals in Europe; they cannot choose and deliberate the norms under which they are to be governed. The state can only impose onto them its authority while denying them opportunities for autonomous self-reproduction, inclusion, and deliberation. The current arrangement in Europe can only be described as a colonial/ imperial relationship within a domestic political order. As such, violence is the only speech--and trust me, it's not free--that Muslims have because our hands are covering their mouth and choking the very life out of their communities.
Lastly, Roach's solution to the problem only perpetrates the problems of the relationship. He gets to the heart of his agnst however in this telling rant:
Now is a time to stand up for Denmark, to tell the Muslim world that their tyrannical belief system will not affect our behavior in the least, and that our principles and values are RIGHT in this regard and, in any case, we will continue to live under them and not give into pressure. Now is time not to offer nuanced considerations of whether our free speech principles might be outdated, but a time to be a partisan for free speech and our western way of life in the face of violence abroad and the activities of subversive, would-be tyrants at home.
The Clash of Civilizations argument was old, and wrong, when Sam Huntington gave it formulation in the 1990s. The worst part of the Clash of Civilizations logic is its ironic juxtaposition of tolerance and incompatibility as liberal virtues. In three conceptual moves, the logic removes the innate pluralism at the heart of justifiable political liberal projects and creates a monistic comprehensive puritanical order.
The first move requires the creation of an other in an oppositional, existential threatening dyad. Tolerance and pluralism are first excised from liberalism in this us or them situation. The second move, after the excision, is the announcement of the immutability and correctness of our values. If the conflict is to be about essential nature and fundaments, then we're right and "they" need to change. The third move is the logical extension of the first, unreflecting opposition to the phantom menace crated. In the clash of civilizations logic, being liberal means not changing and not learning from the views and experiences of others.
By invoking the logic of the clash of civilizations, Roach wants a contest of wills. That's not politics, that's violence. What is needed is actual pluralism and public deliberation in European with more viewpoints represented than a bunch of chauvinists threatened by change. This dialogue must include the alienated, the wretched, the disaffected, and the damned. Political liberalism is only liberal to the extent which it facilitates the governed determining the conditions and extent of their governance. Everything else is just warfare.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Are Muslims Illiberal By Nature?, Part I
I'm anticipating a full week of blogging after last week's vacation. This post is made possible only because I worked on it on the plane.
The recent Hamas victory, the continuing Sunni insurgency, and the violent reaction to the shameful cartoons published in the European press have furthered the deep suspicion that Europeans elites and some American publics hold in regard toward Muslims capacity for liberal politics. I take liberal politics in the European and American elite story to mean: (1) a public guarantee of private property, (2) an ethical and legal system centered on the individual, (3) a formal disavowal of ethnicity, race, and religion as interdiction on individual entry into the public sphere, and (4) a respect for the freedoms of the press and free speech as inalienable rights. From (1) and (2), liberal politics produces formal and informal limits on the power and purview of state authority. From (2), (3), and (4), liberal politics creates the concept of (a) toleration, which is the non-interference to prevent those persons with different worldviews from expressing themselves and living their lives under conditions of deep disagreement or moral revulsion, and (b) recognition, which is the positive acceptance of and commitment to furthering a diverse, and even contradictory, set of life-choices for individuals within liberal societies.
These suspicions arise out of two different traditions, both of whom I believe are imperialist at their core. The first tradition's claim is that public respect for liberal politics is the peculiar historical development of particular states in Europe and Asia. In this story, a certain level of development--whether civil society, a proto-capitalist market, or increasing governmental restraint by certain elites--is a precondition for liberal politics; Muslim societies, with the Arab world in particular, either lack this institutional development, or, are only now beginning to move toward liberalization. The second tradition claims that Islam, as an ideology and religion, is hostile to the four features of liberalism, and, therefore, militates against (2), (3), (4), (b), and (a) save for the other people of the Book. The net result of both stories is that individuals who confess Islam, and, social networks that take Islamic principles, practices, and theologies as their grounding principle are essentially opposed to the creation of liberal polities in the Islamic world, and the continued maintenance of liberal polities in Europe.
Both see terrorism as something specific to the Arab and Islamic worlds. The first story, about historical and institutional development, views Bin Laden's jihad as the natural response of a world that has been left behind in historical progression. The public will of the Arab world, sometimes pejoratively referred to as "the Arab street", therefore manifests itself in the anti-liberal tendencies of the global jihad, the antipathies of Muslim publics in Europe, and in anti-Americanism in political Islamist movements in the Arab world. The potentially redeeming feature of this story is that while Muslims are presently illiberal, sufficient time and development (toward Western ways of life, no doubt) will make them non-liberal (which is to say backwards without being antithetical to values), and then liberal. The second story, about the ideological basis and confessional core of Islam, explain global jihadism as the logical extension of the Muslim belief in violence and inability to separate religion from public life. The only remedy to a threat such as that is either conversion or eradication; dialogue is not possible.
Needless to say I disagree with the view that Islam is inherently "illiberal." No particular culture or religious system has any inherent liberal or illiberal tendencies. Rather, liberalism is a type of political commitment toward a vision of society; it is affirmed by individuals as one of the many factors in their lives when they think about what they wish their public spheres to look like. Moreover, the development story grants an unjustified superiority to the current political arrangements by positing, as an ontological fact, that all political and social forms of organization will affirm liberalism in the future; therefore, liberal elites and polities grant themselves a license to transform other life-worlds to fit into a liberal mosaic. The story about the confessional nature of Islam, I believe, demonstrates a poor understanding of how, phenomenologically, religious beliefs and religion as practice manifests itself as a lived experience.
Saul Levmore, on the UChicago faculty law blog, implicitly adopts the position of the first story in his entry. This quote, in particular, attempts to cast the political backlash as an economic inefficient action, boycott, driven forward by an angry response, re-presenting the anger as a liberal measure holding another nation accountable:
The boycott of Danish goods that has taken hold in parts of the Moslem world may be a fairly good response. I do not mean "good" in the sense that I approve of it, but rather in the sense of people's ability to express their preferences in a way that might influence behavior in another part of the world and in a place where the more direct route, of holding the host government responsible and expecting domestic restraints, is unavailable.
One of the commenters, who has identified himself as Roach, responds to the first view with the undisguised bigotry of the second:
We've seen in the last few days that this is not a normal boycott. This is a riot, a boiling over of a resentful, angry, and fanatical constituency, complete with the burning of the Danish embassy in Lebanon. One is tempted to dismiss these as the acts of a few fanatics, a facsimile of extreme Western behavior of, say, the 15th-17th Centuries. But it is different. The solution to the vices of Christendom could be found in Christianity itself, which teaches a fundamental equality of man rooted in the belief that each person is entitled to respect as a creature made in the image of God. That is to say Christians could collectively learn they were behaving un-Christianly and that our modern liberal, democratic way of life more fully recognizes this principle than its predecessors.
Roach even more explicitly blends the two approaches. In his story, although the Muslims have adopted a current political format, the boycott, unlike the Westerners, they have not evolved beyond a medieval framework.
Roach then makes a subtle shift in language usage whereby he acknowledges that the "bad" Western past avowed Christian beliefs more so than the "West" does today while castigating Islam as the actual source of the antiliberal poison. "The solution to the vices of Christendom", he declares, "could be found in Christianity itself, which teaches a fundamental equality of man rooted in the belief that each person is entitled to respect as a creature made in the image of God." The Christian religious elites were closet liberals all along and thereby possessed a self-correcting function. Musliums, by contrast, lacking the divinely-revealed liberalism of Christendom, have received instead "core commandmaents [sic] [to] violence against nonbelievers that dare to fail to submit to what is believed to be a perfect code of behavior." Roach further clarifies his view of Islamic doctrine:
It's easy enough to find passages that support the kind of violent intolerance in the Koran itself. 'VIII.39-42: Say to the Infidels: if they desist from their unbelief, what is now past shall be forgiven; but if they return to it, they have already before them the doom of the ancients! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's.' Islamic apostate Ibn Warraq said it best when he wrote, "There may be moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate. There is no difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. At most there is a difference of degree but not of kind."
Whereas God revealed liberalism to the early Christians-- who subsequently waited until the 19th century to emerge as political philosophy-- to the Muslims he gave an invitation to violence, who waited until the 20th century to begin holy war. The timing of his causal logic is convenient if nothing else.
After employing an apostate to define Islamic doctrine, Roach continues his exposition of the Islamic faith:
Islam is a complete religion and way of life. It counsels laws, a form of government, and modes of mandatory behavior by believers and unbelivers [sic] alike. These are contained in the legal code promulgated by Mohammad himself, the Sharia. In contrast to Christianity which speaks to individual behavior and Judaism which teaches a detailed code for the Jewish community, Islam has a complete code for Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike that is meant to be imposed through force by one who is believed to be a divinely appointed regime, the Caliphate. This legal code is believed to come from God Himself. It does not permit deviation. This is a core belief of Islam: that legislation is a divine function that man cannot alter. Islam is pardoxical [sic]; it uses words like freedom from violence, but it means them in a different way. The Koran is clear that no man is really free (to choose Islam for example) unless he is under the aegis of the Sharia code. The Sharia is perfect and works to man's benefit and thus Muslims believe they are commanded to fight (literally) to impose this "freedom" on others.
Roach's argument is illustrative of a third criticism of the nature of Islamic belief that runs through the intellectual communities. This criticism, most simply, maintains that Islam is fundamentally illiberal because it is comprehensive in its prescriptions and recommendations. There is no room for a public deliberative sphere in Islam because the object of the liberal political publics--the formation of laws, institutions of government, and the creation of inter-subjective norms--are already provided for in the commandments of God. Christianity and Judaism are more restricted in their scope, and thereby allow their adherents to make choices outside a religious framework and to engage in liberal politics. Liberal politics is only liberal, this argument would say because the norms and laws are consensual and changeable; Islamic law, by contrast, is imposed and immutable.
If the law cannot change, Roach's logic would suggest the publics subject to those laws cannot develop the virtue of tolerance nor can they permit free speech.
While anti-Christian polemics from the Last Temptation of Christ to South Park proliferate in our culture, the death threats and spasms of violence we've seen in recent days in the Islamic world stand in sharp contrast to the quiesence of Christians occasionally aggrieved by what they see as disrespect for their religion. And, more important, acts of violence by Christian extremists find little support in the broader Christian community. One does not hear even in Baptist and Catholic Churches kind words for those that would defy the law and use violence again, for example, abortionists or others that deviate from their religious and moral teachings. The reason is not some cultural difference, but different commandments to the faithful; Christians are told, in essence, to ignore unbelievers and pray for them. Christianity may influence one's political philosophy, but only indirectly. Christianity at its core is concerned with one's orientation to the world, not the structure of worldly affairs. In contrast, Muslims are told by their holiest text that such offenses must be met with violence.
The totality of the Islamic system combined with divine injunctions to violence mix to produce an unchanging illiberalism, and, in the present world, an unhealthy anti-liberalism.
In the next post, I will argue against Roach's reading of the situation for four reasons. One, this argument misconstrues the nature of religious belief, and, thereby attribute characteristics to "true Muslims" that don't exist in the real world. Two, this misreading of religion is also present in his reconstruction of Christianity. Three, the causal logic of Roach's argument--that Islamic beliefs lends itself to radicalism when confronted with the demands of liberalism--should apply to American Muslims. If we are to believe his argument, the Muslims in America should have similarly revolted. Why is this revolt limited to Europe? Four, this argument reinforces the idea of a clash civilizations and creates a situation where the only solution to the "Muslim Question" is conversion or extermination.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
The tribute to Corretta Scott King and Rosa Parks before the Superbowl was a nice touch. I'm not sure what Aretha Franklin was doing there though. Though her choir's robes were better than Stevie's choir's robes. Did anyone catch Condi Rice almost moved to tears doing the national anthem? It was touching. And they remembered those who suffer in New Orleans.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Here's a sneak preview on what I'm planning over the next few months.
The main attraction is a two-part answer to the question "Should Wire-tapping Be Illegal?" In the first post, I want to sketch out the strongest arguments for wire-tapping, paying particular concern as to why its advocates want to engage in such behavior. In order to construct the strongest possible case for wire-tapping, I will draw on the argument of Judge Richard Posner whose recent writings have encouraged Congress to enable this measure. In the following post, I want to forward that in order to maintain a liberal constitutional government, the executive's power to spy, monitor, and otherwise control the lives of its citizen must be limited as a matter of principle, which should remain inviolate outside a clear existential threat. In that post, I want to refute Posner's argument and forward that for liberal governments civil liberties do not obsolesce during times of war. However, I need a little time to do so because I want to quickly read the late Chief Justice's book All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties during Wartime, published in 1998, and largely written during 1997. Justice Rehnquist was a very intelligent person, and though I don't often agree with him, he has a formidable legal mind. Learning his arguments and perspectives can only strengthen my case.
Moreover, given that next week is a vacation week for me, I want to answer three questions that my readers have left me that I have not yet addressed. The first question concerns the need for United States military bases around the world; I will address that in a post entitled "Does America Need Its Worldwide Network of Military Bases?" The second query concerns what the restrictions on ex-convicts ought to be; I will address that in a post entitled "Do Convicted Criminals Ever Stop Being Guilty?" The third unaddressed claim concerns the relationship between universalism and parochialism; I have not yet thought of a question to address that claim.
Lastly, since February is "Black History Month" I will try to devote a series of posts to my view on the race question, domestically, internationally, and across time. I already have two concerns on the table to think about the issue of race. The first line of inquiry emerges in the wake of the deaths of Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, and asks the question: "Does America Need Another (Great) Civil Rights Leaders?" The second line of inquiry involves my response to two articles in the latest issue of the Dartmouth Review, one on the relationship of King's Christian beliefs to his civil rights mission, and the other on Dartmouth's admissions policies toward minorities as that evolved over the years.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Do Pictures Add to the Blogging Experience?
As many of you faithful readers may have noticed, I have begun to incorporate pictures and comics as additional commentary on this blog.
You may be wandering why have I done that? There are four reasons for this change.
The first is that pictures break the uniform flow of text. While I generally enjoy my writing, looking a page of titles and text makes the blog seems more stuffy than it needs to. The weight of the blog stems from the hefty topics it decides to lift.
The second is that pictures grant you a concrete snapshot of the images that I believe define the debates upon which I comment and to which I hope to add. Thus, if we take a recent post of mine, Does Being Gay Make You an Enemy of the People?, I have four pictures to accompany that post. The first picture juxtaposes the military nature of the management of New Orlean's displaced, while portraying the displaced in more dignity than the pictures of darkened bloated bodies floating in the water. The second picture, with the sign "We all deserve the freedom to marry", accomplishes two very important conceptual moves for me. One, the sign itself connects the issue of marriage to the issue of positive rights; the push for gay marriage, then, is a push for equality of freedoms granted by the government. Two, this ideal of positive liberty under conditions of equality hangs under the American flag, suggesting that there is nothing foreign to American politics about this ideal.
The third is that pictures connect images of the politicians about whom I comment--Bush, Hilary Clinton, Condi Rice, John McCain--to my argument about them. I try and search for pictures that do not demean my subject, or, unnecessarily paint them in a bad light.
Fourth, and finally, comics allow me to juxtapose bitter ironies. The comic accompanying my post, How Domestic Pressures Against the Iraq War Will Cause Mass Killing, best demonstrates my case.
All in all, I hope that the use of pictures improves your reading experience of this blog while further illuminating the thought processes which motivate me to both scholarship and civic engagement.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Early Thoughts on David Kaiser's Politics and War
Drawing upon Clausewitz, (the aptly-named) David Kaiser argues that European wars from Philip II to Hitler were the consequences of specific political developments, as opposed to simply the desire of individual states (viz. Spain, France, and Germany) to dominate the continent. I’ve only just begun reading the book, but already there appear to be some problems with Kaiser’s historiography.
First, Kaiser does not explain why he begins his book with Philip II, even though his thesis implicitly refers to the idea of universal empire that Charles V cherished and sought to realize. Kaiser might have discussed why this idea was abandoned – if indeed it was, as his thesis suggests – and what this meant for European politics.
Second, Kaiser’s thesis – that European wars from the 16th to the 20th centuries were motivated by domestic political concerns, as opposed to expansionist visions of empire – comes across as fairly uninspiring at first glance. Why can’t both factors cannot coexist, mingle, and overlap – as indeed they probably did?
Third, in such cases when a book’s thesis strikes even the non-specialist as being scarcely out of the ordinary, the burden is upon the author to marshal the historiography and show that his predecessors did in fact misinterpret or oversimplify the evidence. But Kaiser, perhaps overly eager to launch into his narrative, offers little evidence to support his claim that earlier historians homogenized early modern and modern European wars as expansionist.
Fourth, in discussing the revolt of the Netherlands, Kaiser, marshalling Geoffrey Parker, delves deeply into the machinations of the Castilian aristocracy and the intricacies of Spanish finance to explain the difficulties Philip II faced in curbing the Dutch revolt. Kaiser’s argument, virtually identical to that of Parker in the latter’s Grand Strategy of Philip II, is that the Prudent King was prevented from achieving his aims by the weaknesses of the incipient Spanish state. But what were those aims? Parker contends that Philip increasingly sought to defend Catholic Europe (and beyond) against Turks and Protestants and engaged in “messianic imperialism.” Does Kaiser subscribe to Parker’s conception of Philip’s Grand Strategy? He doesn’t really say, because if he replies in the affirmative, he undermines his own argument.
I'm writing these comments from memory and don't have the book in front of me at the moment, but when I do, I'll try to flesh out my criticisms a little bit more. If they prove off the mark, I'll say so as well.