Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's Costly Fruitless Blind Faith

by Tibor R. Machan

President George W. Bush stood before Congress and the few million Americans and people across the globe to plead that they all give his new approach to the Iraq war a chance: "Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq—and I ask you to give it a chance to work," he intoned. "And I ask you to support our troops in the field—and those on their way."

I hope very much that his plea will meet with a resounding rejection from all concerned. First of all, the death of one more American soldier who signed up to defend the United States of America and the American Constitution from enemies must not be wasted on this miserable war, one for which very few are asking and hardly anyone is grateful, certainly few, it appears, in Iraq.

When Americans volunteer for the U. S. military—something I once did for four years—they do not mean this to be taken as carte blanche permission to be sent to do anything anywhere on the globe. The purpose of a government and its military arm in a free country is, as the political philosophy sketched in the Declaration of Independence states so clearly, "to secure [our] rights."

Second, even if one accepts that despite its misconceived commencement, this war now spawned expectations that the U. S. needs to take seriously, at most this means that as the military disengages from Iraq, it leaves as intact an Iraqi security force as is possible under the circumstances, not that it wait until who knows when for an ideal Iraqi security organization to come into existence. Do the best to assemble such a security force and leave ASAP. Anything else amounts to an indefinite commitment to "stay the course" which is, as noted, completely misconceived and puts thousands of Americans in harm's way—many of them did not enlist to do this kind of service but enlisted to defend America. (Perhaps some kind of operation, run by the CIA or whatever to abate terrorism abroad and by the FBI or some other organization to hold it at bay here at home can do the bit of legitimate work the military is expected to be doing in Iraq now.)

Third, by permitting Bush to start up a new approach to this ill-conceived, badly conducted military operation—not necessarily because the military is inept but because this is an impossible war for it to fight, like sending in a bulldozer to squelch heavy fog—the American government is simply going to consume extensive resources in a futile operation, bent then, inevitably, to do so for an indefinite period of time. Even if our security does require serious expense, this isn't were the investment needs to be made, not, if as we are told by Bush, the objective is to abate terrorism.

Fourth, generally government needs to be curtailed in its enormous growth and this policy sure as heck isn't going to help with that goal, one Bush at least claims he supports.

Obviously more could be remedied in this awful mess, but these are just some of the reasons the Bush approach is a bad one and needs to be nipped in the bud. The entire notion that America is to establish democracy around the globe is flawed; but that it must do this in Iraq and elsewhere in the most unstable regions is out and out suicidal—literally so for many American citizens. No one abroad is entitled to be protected against monsters by America's military, not unless a firm and well conceived, mutually advantageous military treaty has been drafted and approved for this purpose.

My plea, in response to President Bush's, is to end this utterly disgusting undertaking and to restore the legitimate function of the U. S. government and its military arms. It is utterly incomprehensible to me why this president is pursuing this war, why he has any confidence in such a demonstrably fruitless and unjustified undertaking. Let's end it ASAP instead of carrying on in what comes to be nothing but blind faith.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

American Conservatism, RIP

by Tibor R. Machan

Back when I became actively political, meaning I started to pay attention to elections, candidates and so forth in the wake of the Kennedy-Nixon TV debates, you would have considered me a conservative in the American sense of that term. As someone who was smuggled out by a professional from Hungary in 1953, I had very strong anti-communist sentiments. And as someone who was raised for a while by a virulent anti-Semitic father and was surrounded by quite a few anti-Semites in my family and their friends, I also felt repulsed by Nazism. Perhaps there was also that personal attitude I have harbored for as long as I can remember, namely, wanting to figure things out for myself and resenting any attempt to group me or any other human beings with others because of birth, location, color of skin, or any other trait I might accidentally share with other people.

American conservatives like William F. Buckley, Jr., and some of his own heroes like Frank S. Meyer and Frank Chodorov, made a great deal of hay with the ideas of the American founders. To my somewhat cursory observation, they favored individualism, civil and property rights—in short, the ideals sketched in the Declaration of Independence. They were committed, I thought, to preserving—conserving—those ideals as against all the collectivisms that Europe embraced, both Left and Right. I discovered Buckley while reading his article, "Why Don't We Complain?" in Esquire magazine, back in 1961 or so, and I felt I had a comrade in arms, even a leader, in him. I started to read National Review and felt quite comfortable with the spirit and letter of what it contained—up to a point.

The thing about American conservatism is that it is only so much American but also a bit too much conservative. The essence of conservatism is expressed poignantly by the 18th century leader of the movement, Edmund Burke. He made the observation that "... Men have no right to risk the very existence of their nation and their civilization upon experiments in morals and politics; for each man's private capital of intelligence is petty; it is only when a man draws upon the bank and capital of the ages, the wisdom of our ancestors, that he can act wisely."

Burke he also noted that "We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank of nations and of ages." The gist of this is that human individuals may not be entrusted with the wisdom and virtue to figure things out for themselves. The idea comes from the somewhat retrograde part of Christianity, contained in spades in Thomas a Kempis's disturbing book, Imitation of Christ. Kempis (1380-1471) taught that for a good Christian it was immoral to seek knowledge since doing so is an affront to God, the only one who can truly know. Of course, not all Christians believed or believe this but even today some Christian groups swear that Kempis's book is a wonderful piece of work, with the most valuable advice for human living.

The American element of the conservatism of this country eventually became overshadowed by the conservative element and in our time many conservatives are scornful of what the Founders believed, namely, that individuals have unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They might not quarrel much with the right to life—although considering how some are now calling for the military draft, even that isn't universally true—but they do have serious problems with the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Conservative intellectuals like Russell Kirk were mercilessly harsh about these notions, believing, as show in Kirk's The Conservative Mind, that individual human beings are fundamentally corrupt or at least very, very easily corrupted, so for them happiness will mostly turn out to be short term pleasure and freedom nothing better than license.

Once the conservative began to overshadow the American for American conservatives, what they stood for became something dismal and pessimistic, namely, a kind of spiritual nanny state. Having no confidence in the fundamental innocence of human beings at birth, they focused on what we need so as to stop from descending into degradation, something we are all inclined to do.

In time I realized that the conservative mind was indeed an anti-American mind, in the last analysis, one the logic of which would return us to the European ideal of a strangling communitarianism, even tribalism. At this stage the conservative becomes indistinguishable, in his essence, from the Leftist collectivist—today mostly represented by communitarianism. Both detest individualism since it affirms the right—and implicitly the legitimacy—of everyone to govern his own life instead of entrusting this task to some elite or group.

American conservatism, in the main, isn't American anymore. Which is one reason libertarianism is needed to reinvigorate the American soul.
From "Tibor R. Machan" hide details 5:19 am (13 minutes ago)
date Jan 23, 2007 5:19 AM
subject From Tibor--re: debate on libertarianism January 29, Shreveport LA

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Primer on Progress

by Tibor R. Machan

In some realms, progress means the creation of more and more efficient means by which to achieve worthwhile objectives.  So we find that in the area of technology progress has been nearly undeniable (although some argue that with each improvement of the means to reach one worthy objective, the attainment of some other worthy objective has been impeded).  Elsewhere it means advancement toward a better and better state of being. In philosophy there have been some notable champions of the idea that not just humanity's journey in history but that of reality itself is taking a progressive course.  The future, on the whole, is always an improvement over the past, not just technologically but ethically, aesthetically, politically and so forth.  Hegel and Marx are obvious examples of progressivism but John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer are also likely candidates.

In contemporary science fiction the idea is commonplace that humanity is always lurching ahead, and that only through unnatural influences does it ever regress.  There are detractors even here, ones who hold that the future will be worse than the past has been. They produce the opposite of utopian fiction, namely, dystopian literature.

In particular there is a good deal of thinking that sees the future improved by means of genetic engineering and other "artificial" means, to the point that some envision human beings improved intellectually and even morally or, alternatively, the emergence of artificial intelligence suppressing what humans are capable of.  Arguably, however, such a picture challenges the idea that those who would embody such progress would still be human beings.  Moreover, one of the most well-entrenched conceptions of human nature is that we are all capable of both good and evil, regardless of our levels of intelligence.  So while progress may be possible in one or another special region of human life, the idea that humanity in its essence might somehow become upgraded is likely to be wrong. Evolution or God produced humanity and it is what it is. There may emerge something different from it but also much like it but that would no longer be humanity.

What is likely is that progress of the fundamental sort that motivates the works of optimistic science fiction writers can take place only in the course of an individual human being's life.  Someone may become a better and better person, although even there nothing is guaranteed.  Certainly one can improve one's skills and techniques, learn to play an instrument or a sport better and better up to a point.  We all may well reach a later stage of life at which we must face the end and this may be advantageous to some, while not so much to others--it depends on their character, ultimately. (Character is detiny, said Heraclitus wisely many moons ago!) Yet the inevitability of death and old age, as far as current mainstream understanding has it, seems to place a limit before everyone's progress.

When one is inclined, as have been Hegel and Marx, among others, to treat humanity (even reality) as a developing organism, the idea of holistic progress comes naturally to one's mind, since the organisms with which we are familiar, including ourselves, do undergo progress or development. But the extrapolation is probably mistaken.  Progress of the kind that would in the future remove the necessity for individual effort, for vigilance and tenacity, is not likely to be possible.

In general, the kind of progress that it's reasonable to strive for in human communities has to do with individual self-improvement, some measure of improvement on the system of laws, and the overall deployment of technologically improved means for doing what is important to people. None of this, however, can reasonably be guaranteed or expected and regress, stagnation, as well as progress, are always a possibility. Expectations that progress is inevitable are not reasonable when it comes to human beings, given their nature as self-directed, self-governing beings, each of whom individually needs to make the choice to advance in life. If that choice isn't made on a sustained, ongoing basis, progress will not be forthcoming.  Nor can the diligent, effortful life of one person carry over to his or her offspring.