Monday, March 4, 2013

National Review Mission Statement. By William F. Buckley, Jr.

Our Mission Statement. By William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review, November 19, 1955.

Do We Need a Pro-Israel Lobby? By Martin Kramer.

Do we need a pro-Israel lobby? By Martin Kramer. Sandbox, March 4, 2013.

Review of James M. Banner, Jr., “Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History.” By Jim Cullen.

Review of James M. Banner, Jr., Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). By Jim Cullen. History News Network, February 24, 2013.


Though he has enjoyed a series of elite perches in his career, which have circled around elite research universities, the core argument of Being a Historian is a strongly ecumenical one: there are many ways to unselfconsciously claim that identity. Yes: being a historian always involves writing – but not necessarily monographs, much less books, in an age of blogs, video and other new media. Yes, historians are always teachers – but not necessarily at colleges, much less classrooms, at a time when “students” of history come in all shapes, sizes, and walks of life. Unfortunately, he notes, far too many people absorb the message that a meaningful career turns around the circumscribed compass of tenured professor. The reasons for that, he explains, are largely historical (and he duly traces the emergence of the profession in the last nineteenth century and its solidification in the first half of the twentieth). But the last few decades in in particular have witnessed a vastly expanded scope and reach for Clio in ways that its practitioners have failed to recognize, much less prepare for.

Among his more provocative observations are those that note the diminished role for style and voice in contemporary historical writing. “When have we read, as we do in literary and art criticism, of the literary influences on a historian, of the other historians from whom a scholar seems to take inspiration for argument, evidence, and style in addition to ideology and research approach of the shaping of traditions of historical writing and form rather than method or subject?” he asks in a footnote. “Historical knowledge is impoverished to the degree that question must be answered with silence.” To put the matter more succinctly: “One often summons great respect for works of history without taking much pleasure in reading them.”

All this said, there is an air of the unreal surrounding Becoming a Historian, because Banner seems to understand the principal problems with the profession in terms of misplaced perceptions and overlooked training opportunities, when its real crisis is grounded not in the preparation of scholars or in longstanding arguments about epistemology, but rather its economic foundations. He does take note of longstanding controversies like unionization efforts among graduate students or the growing – even dominant – role of adjuncts in most history departments. At one point he describes the reduction of institutional reliance on part-time faculty as “an effort broadly under way,” which seems out of touch, because there is little discernible success in this regard among historians or anyone else in higher education.

Banner seems to conceive becoming a historian in terms of talented and ambitious people assessing it as a possible career in the way they might finance or health care.  (Until recently, one might have said medicine or law, but these two fields are undergoing the kind of upheaval aspiring professionals might have hoped to avoid – upheaval of the kind workers in other sectors of the global economy have taken for granted for a generation.) Instead, a decision to embark on a career as a historian today is a little closer to that of deciding to become an actor, musician or professional athlete, an ambition likely to instill concern if not terror in a parent's heart. As even the most insulated senior scholar now says as a virtual incantation: “There are no jobs.”

Of course, this is not literally true. Baby Boomers are leaving the profession all the time, and someone will get that tenure-track job -- for a while longer, anyway. And yes, there's probably more of a demand than ever for certain kinds of public history professionals, albeit on a much shakier pecuniary basis. Amid the growing power and appeal of foreign universities (which will increasingly retain their own students), the proliferation of alternative online learning opportunities (whose existential threat to smaller liberal arts colleges is quickening), and the shrinking government role in financing research and subsidizing tuition (which is forcing schools to refocus their priorities, a.k.a. reduce their program), change is coming to the historical profession – academic or civic, public or private – whether scholars want to acknowledge it or not.

To invoke a distinction Banner is careful to cultivate at the outset of this book: history will survive as discipline, as it has for thousands of years. But as a profession? That’s a lot less clear. A more likely scenario would seem to involve history as a disposition or focus for an individual teacher in a larger humanities field, which has shrunk as a locus of student interest amid well-founded anxieties about finding well-paying job (never history’s strong suit in any iteration). I happen to chair the history department of a private high school where roughly half of the teachers I supervise hold doctorates, most, though not all, refugees from the university world. But if I have my way, our department will be evolving in a significantly interdisciplinary way in which history will become one color on a palette from which students will practice the arts of reading, writing and thinking. I’ll always consider myself a historian, even though my own doctorate is in American studies. But that’s a matter of personal loyalty, not livelihood.

The American Dream: A Cultural History. Review by Jim Cullen.

Review of Lawrence R. Samuel, The American Dream: A Cultural History(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2012). By Jim Cullen. Reviews in History, February 21, 2013. Also find it here.

The Sequester and the Arab Spring. By Andrew C. McCarthy.

The Sequester and the Arab Spring. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, March 2, 2013.


Like the sequester molesters, “Arab Spring” devotees have their own fantasy vocabulary. The whoppers are “freedom” and “democracy,” the ideals, we’re told, that have swept the Middle East, even as it sinks into repression, social unrest, and the persecution of religious minorities. Islam and the West use the same words, but we are not conveying the same concepts — just as a “cut” in your budget means something very different from a “cut” in Washington’s.

Freedom? “Let it be known to you that the real meaning of freedom lies in the perfection of slavery,” explained al-Qushayri, a celebrated eleventh-century scholar of Islam.

I offer this bit of Islamist wisdom as an explanation, not a put-down. Not that the distinction matters much. As Spring Fever makes clear, the culture of Middle Eastern Islam is convinced of nothing so much as its own superiority. It does not judge itself by non-Islamic standards, particularly the standards of Western civilization, with which it sees itself in a conflict that will end only when one side prevails.

The dynamic, classical, supremacist Islam of the Middle East teaches that Allah has given mankind, His creation, the gift of sharia: the “path,” the all-purpose societal framework — covering all aspects of life, not just spirituality — for living in dignity through obedience. “Freedom,” in this context, is to make the “free” choice to surrender oneself entirely to this path.

That is the antithesis of a freedom to chart one’s own course, the freedom of the West. Here, Allah is not the sovereign. Our faiths may guide us, but the people are sovereign, with a right to govern civil society as they see fit — including in contradiction of sharia’s provisions, which deny what the West sees as basic civil rights.

Thus the folly of Arab Spring apologists, who envision a new generation of Muslim rulers, popularly elected and thus — the fable goes — responsive to the needs of their “constituents.” Responsive government, however, is the hallmark of societies in which freedom means self-determinism. In the Muslim Middle East, it is foolish to speak of “constituents.” The ruler’s fidelity is not to the people but to Allah. It is for the people not to dream but to obey, as long as the ruler is faithful to sharia. They don’t enjoy the prerogative of deviating from the path.

“Accommodation,” like “constituents,” is a term that echoes through the Arab Spring. Sharia must be accommodated — given pride of place in the Middle East and growing deference in the West. “Accommodation” turns out to be Arab-Spring for “balanced approach,” the oh-so-reasonable packaging of an idea that is actually perverse.

Almost never do we hear that federal law must accommodate, say, the law of Tennessee. When people’s principles are the same, their legal systems — a reflection of their notions about right and wrong — will mesh easily. When there is a conflict, it is not because of a lack of accommodation; it is because either the federal government or the state government is in error. We don’t accommodate error; we correct it, either in the legislature or in the courts.

Calling for “accommodations” is a polite way of saying that cultural values and the legal systems they create are incompatible. When a culture cedes ground to a different culture’s antithetical principle — when, for example, we are told free speech must “accommodate” sharia blasphemy laws that proscribe negative criticism of Islam — that is not a reasonable compromise. It is a corruption of the good. That is how a culturally confident society sees it.

There is a reason why the Islamic supremacists who run the Organization of Islamic Cooperation insisted in 1990 on having their own “Declaration of Human Rights In Islam.” The purportedly Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by non-Muslim diplomats after the Second World War, does not work for them. Islamist leaders understood that Western concepts of civil rights and human rights do not jibe with sharia. They wanted their own declaration, reflecting their own very different aspirations.

Neither does “democracy” work for the Islamists on the rise across the Middle East — at least, not as we understand it in the West. For us, democracy is not a process but a way of life, a worldview implying basic assumptions about liberty and equality. To the Islamic supremacist, “Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination,” as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now Turkey’s prime minister, put it in 1998 when he was the mayor — or, as he referred to himself, the imam — of Istanbul.

The destination Erdogan had in mind is power. Not the empowerment of free people that is the genuine augur of spring. The power of the “Arab Spring” is the imposition of perfect slavery.

The Arab Spring and the Scary Hidden Stressor. By Thomas L. Friedman.

The Scary Hidden Stressor. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, March 2, 2013.

The Arab Spring and Climate Change: A Climate and Security Correlations Series. Edited by Caitlin E. Werrell, Francesco Femia. Preface by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Center for American Progress, February 28, 2013. PDF.

Zhang Xin: China’s Real Estate Mogul. By Lesley Stahl

Zhang Xin: China’s Real Estate Mogul. By Lesley Stahl. Video. 60 Minutes, March 3, 2013. Transcript. YouTube. Complete 60 Minutes episode for March 3, 2013 here.

Fareed Zakaria Talks to Chinese Developer Zhang Xin. Video. Fareed Zakaria GPS, June 20, 2010. YouTube. Transcript.

More interviews with Zhang Xin, here, here, and here.


No one symbolizes China’s rapid 30-year rise – from the backwaters of communism to the second largest economy in the world – better than real estate developer Zhang Xin.

What’s interesting about her is that while we think of China as being uncreative, repressive and as far as you can get from the American dream, she breaks every one of those stereotypes.

She’s a mogul who got her start not in China, but on Wall Street. But she missed the Great Wall, so she went back home, and made it big!

The mogul, Zhang Xin, is the fifth richest self-made billionaire woman in the world.

[Zhang Xin: This is us. The one outside is us.]

She’s pointing out her buildings. With her partner husband, she has built more of Beijing than almost any emperor in China’s history.

. . . . . . . . . .

Zhang Xin: China is the place that produced more self-made billionaires than any other country in the world.

Lesley Stahl: Do you know what the American dream is?

Zhang Xin: Uh-huh.

Lesley Stahl: It sounds like the American dream – doesn’t it?

Zhang Xin: Uh-huh. Very much so.

. . . . . . . . . .

Lesley Stahl: She believes open market tools like public auctions and transparent accounting will lessen the corruption and the cronyism. The woman who once slept on a dictionary, and now has about $3 billion in her bank account, may tout China as the new land of opportunity, but she knows it’s still not the land of the free.

Zhang Xin: You know, I hear a lot in the U.S., people praise Wall Street, people praise state capitalism in China, “Look at how efficient things get done. Decisions get made so quick and so effective. It can roll over a policy overnight nationwide. And here in the U.S., we need to go through Congress, Senate, and debate.” And you know, I have to say, for a Chinese living in China, Chinese—if you ask one thing, everyone craves for is what? It’s not food. It’s not homes. Everyone crave for democracy. I know there’s a lot of negativities in the U.S. about the political system, but don’t forget, you know, 8,000 miles away, people in China are looking at it, longing for it.

Lesley Stahl: Do you think there will be democracy here? Let’s say, I’ll put a time frame on it, in 20 years?

Zhang Xin: Sooner.

Lesley Stahl: You’re an optimist.

Zhang Xin: I am.

Lesley Stahl: A bold statement in a country with heavy government censorship and limited freedom of speech.