Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Europe at the Edge of the Abyss. By Victor Davis Hanson.

Europe at the Edge of the Abyss. By Victor Davis Hanson. National Review Online, March 28, 2016.


America can still avoid sharing Europe’s fate. But only if we take action.

Because of what Europe has become, it now has few viable choices in dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. Its dilemma is a warning to Americans that we should turn away from a similar path of national suicide.

After suffering serial terrorist attacks from foreign nationals and immigrants, a normal nation-state would be expected to make extraordinary efforts to close its borders and redefine its foreign policy in order to protect its national interests. But a France or a Belgium is not quite a sovereign nation any more, and thus does not have complete control over its national destiny or foreign relations.

As part of the European Union, France and Belgium have, for all practical purposes, placed their own security in the hands of an obdurate Angela Merkel’s Germany, which is hellbent on allowing without audit millions of disenchanted young Middle Eastern males into its territory, with subsequent rights of passage into any other member of the European Union that they wish. The 21st-century “German problem” is apparently not that of an economic powerhouse and military brute warring on its neighbors, but that of an economic powerhouse that uses its wealth and arrogant sense of social superiority to bully its neighbors into accepting its bankrupt immigration policies and green ideology.

The immigration policies of France and Belgium are unfortunately also de facto those of Greece. And a petulant and poor Greece, licking its wounds over its European Union brawl with northern-European banks, either cannot or will not control entrance into its territory — Europe’s window on the Middle East. No European country can take the security measures necessary for its own national needs, without either violating or ignoring EU mandates. That the latest terrorist murders struck near the very heart of the EU in Brussels is emblematic of the Union’s dilemma.

As far as America is concerned, a fossilized EU should remind us of our original and vanishing system of federalism, in which states were once given some constitutional room to craft laws and protocols to reflect regional needs — and to ensure regional and democratic input with checks and balances on statism through their representatives in Congress. Yet the ever-growing federal government — with its increasingly anti-democratic, politically correct, and mostly unaccountable bureaucracies — threatens to do to Americans exactly what the EU has done to Europeans. We already see how the capricious erosion of federal immigration law has brought chaos to the borderlands of the American Southwest. It is a scary thing for a federal power arbitrarily to render its own inviolable laws null and void — and then watch the concrete consequences of such lawlessness fall on others, who have been deprived of recourse to constitutional protections of their own existential interests.

Europe’s immigration policy is a disaster — and for reasons that transcend the idiocy of allowing the free influx of young male Muslims from a premodern, war-torn Middle East into a postmodern, pacifist, and post-Christian Europe. Europe has not been a continent of immigrants since the Middle Ages. It lacks the ingredients necessary to assimilate, integrate, and intermarry large numbers of newcomers each year: There is no dynamic and fluid economy, no confidence in its own values, no belief that class and race are incidental, not essential, to one’s persona, no courage to assume that an immigrant made a choice to leave a worse place for a better one. And all this is in the context of a class-bound hierarchy masked and excused by boutique leftism.

Naturally, then, Europeans are unable to understand why a young Libyan came to Europe in the first place, and why apparently under no circumstances does he wish to return home. Specifically, Europeans — for a variety of 20th-century historical and cultural reasons — often are either ignorant of who they are or terrified about expressing their identities in any concrete and positive fashion. The result is that Europe cannot impose on a would-be newcomer any notion that consensual government is superior to the anarchy and theocracy of the Middle East, that having individual rights trumps being subjects of a dictator, that personal freedom is a better choice than statist tyranny, that protection of private property is a key to economic growth whereas law by fiat is not, and that independent judiciaries do not run like Sharia courts. It most certainly cannot ask of immigrants upon arrival that they either follow the laws of a society that originally made Europe attractive to them, or return home to live under a system that they apparently rejected. I omit for obvious reasons that few present-day Europeans believe that Christianity is much different from Islam, and apparently thus assume that terrorists might just as well be Christians.

Even worse is the European notion of medieval penance: Because one in the concrete present apparently wants little to do with a Moroccan second-generation ghetto dweller, he fabricates abstract leftist bromides to square the circle of hypocrisy and assuage his guilt — sort of like Hillary Clinton or Mark Zuckerberg calling for perennial open borders to justify their Wall Street–funded luxury and tony apartheid existence.

In Europe, immigrants are political tools of the Left. The rapid influx of vast numbers of unassimilated, uneducated, poor, and often illegal newcomers may violate every rule of successful immigration policy. Yet the onrush does serve the purposes of the statist, who demagogues for an instantaneous equality of result. Bloc voters, constituents of bigger government, needy recipients of state largesse, and perennial whiners about inequality are all fodder for European multicultural leftists, who always seek arguments for more of themselves.

So unassimilated poor immigrants from the former Third World become easy proof that inequality and unfairness are still here and must be addressed with someone else’s money — as if France has failed because it did not make an immigrant born in Algeria a good French socialist restaurant owner in 20 years.

The same phenomenon is with us in the United States. Without open borders, the Democrats would have had to explain to Americans how and why more taxes, larger government, more subsidies, less personal freedom, racial separatism, ethnic chauvinism, and a smaller military make them more prosperous and secure. Yet importing the poor and the uneducated expands the Democratic constituency. The Democrats logically fear measured, meritocratic, and racially and religiously blind legal immigration of those who want to come to America to seek freedom from statism. If a poor Oaxacan, who crossed into the U.S. three years ago — without education, legality, or knowledge of English — does not have a good car, adequate living space, and federalized health care, then the Koch brothers, Wall Street, Fox News, or the Chamber of Commerce — fill in the blank — is to blame, and legions of progressives are available to be hired out to redress such social injustice.

The Western therapeutic mindset, which maintains that impoverished immigrants should instantly have what their hosts have always had, trumps the tragic view: that it is risky, dangerous, and sometimes unwise to leave one’s home for a completely alien world, in which sacrifice and self-reliance alone can make the gamble worthwhile — usually for a second generation not yet born.

Demography is Europe’s bane. One engine of unchecked immigration has been the need for more bodies to do the sorts of tasks that Europeans feel are no longer becoming of Europeans. Demographic implosion is an old and trite observation; but more curious is the reason why Europe is shrinking — the classic and primary symptom of a civilization in rapid decline.

Europeans are not having children for lots of reasons. A static and fossilized economy without much growth gives little hope to a 20-something European that he or she can get a good job, buy a home, have three children, and provide for those offspring lives with unlimited choices. Instead, the young European bides his time, satisfying his appetites, as a perpetual adolescent who lives in his parents’ flat, seeks to milk the system, and waits for someone to die at the tribal government bureau. After a lost decade, one hopes to hook up with some like soul in her or his late thirties. The last eight years in the U.S. have seen an acceleration of the Europeanization of America’s youth.

Socialism also insidiously takes responsibility away from the individual and transfers it to the anonymous, but well-funded, state. The ancient Greek idea that one changes one’s children’s diapers so that one day they can change his is considered Neanderthal or just crudely utilitarian. Why seek children and the honor of raising and protecting them when the state can provide all without the bother and direct expense? Why have a family or invest for the future, when the state promises a pleasant and politically correct old-age home?

Without a Second Amendment or much of a defense budget, Europeans not only divert capital to enervating social programs, but also have sacrificed any confidence in muscular self-protection, individual or collective.

Even postmodern nations remain collections of individuals. A state that will not or cannot protect its own interests is simply a reflection of millions of dead souls that do not believe in risking anything to ensure that they are safe — including their own persons and those of their family. Finally, Europe is Petronius’s Croton. It does not believe in any transcendence as reified by children or religion. If there is nothing but the here and now, then why invest one’s energy in children who live on after one dies? Like atheism, childlessness reflects the assumption that ego-driven rationalism and satisfaction of the appetites are all there is and all that there ever will be.

Europe’s perfect storm is upon us. A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort. In the Middle East, the fundamentalists are growing in numbers, and they most certainly do believe that their own lives are nothing in comparison to the Phoenix-like resurrection of their Caliphate and the sensual pleasures in the hereafter that will reward their martial sacrifices in the here and now. Of all the many reasons why immigrants to Europe so often dislike their generous hosts, the simplest may be because they so easily can.

Even H. G. Wells could not dream up any better harvest of Eloi by Morlocks, and it would take another St. Jerome (“All were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew. Who could believe this?”) to chronicle the Western tragedy.

As a general rule, whatever Europe is now doing, we should do the opposite — for our very survival in an increasingly scary world.

Monday, March 28, 2016

How Crony Capitalism Works. By Jason Willick.

How Crony Capitalism Works. By Jason Willick. The American Interest, March 28, 2016.


In a provocative Brookings essay, Jonathan Rothwell challenges standard assumptions about economic inequality on the left (which tends to assume that markets inherently lead to exploitation of workers by capitalists) and right (which often assumes that the existing wealth distribution is a fair reflection of workers’ talents and abilities). A major source of growing inequality, he says, is not an excess of capitalism, but the distortion of it: The force of market competition has been concentrated on workers and small businesses, while elite professionals and financiers (who encompass the lion’s share of the 1%) have managed to engineer protectionist rackets.

Some examples: Dentists lobby for rules that prevent dental hygienists from performing teeth-whitening; the lawyers’ guild sustains extortionate rates in part by making sure that less-credentialed workers are blocked from performing even basic administrative legal tasks; college administrators earn top-flight salaries while the federally-enforced accreditation system suppresses alternative education models; the American Medical Association strains to minimize the scope of work available to nurses and nurse practitioners; and hedge fund managers push finance regulations make sure they have a leg up on less-sophisticated investors. As Rothwell writes:

Politicians and intellectuals often champion market competition—but what they mean by that is competition among low-paid service workers, production workers, or computer programmers who face competition from trade and immigration, while elite professionals sit behind a protectionist wall. Workers in occupations with no higher educational requirements see their wages held down by millions of other Americans denied a high-quality education and competing for relatively precious vacancies.

Read the whole thing. The essay highlights that what we at Via Meadia call the decline of the blue model—the fading of the midcentury economic system built on monopolistic cooperation between unions, government, and business—has been uneven. Some industries (media, software, entertainment) have grown more competitive and dynamic, while others (finance, law, higher education, medical services) remain heavily regulated, often through hidden channels, in ways that benefit those at the top. It’s a similar story when it comes to labor: Private sector unions have been hammered by globalization and technology, but public sector unions have captured enough state and local governments that they can still provide their workers with lavish benefits. In other words, privileged insiders have been able to retain the parts of the old blue model system that suits their material interests.

The solution to this problem is not to try to reconstruct the blue model by strengthening monopolies and jacking up taxes and regulations. Rather, it’s to introduce competition into industries that have so far been shielded from it, by, for example, undoing repressive occupational licensing rules, modernizing higher educational accreditation, and repealing hedge-fund friendly financial regulations. This project couldn’t be more urgent: At a time when working class Americans are revolting against the democratic-capitalist order, it’s imperative that elites take steps to prove that markets and competition can also work for those who don’t have access to political power.

What’s the Matter with Liberalism? By Mike O’Connor.

What’s the Matter with Liberalism? By Mike O’Connor. History News Network, March 22, 2016.


New York Times columnist Timothy Egan recently wrote that Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has made “the word socialist…no longer toxic in the United States.” Perhaps ironically, the same cannot be said for the word liberal. For decades now, conservatives have gotten political mileage out of characterizing liberals as latté-sipping fops who despise religion and the family but love wasting other people’s tax dollars on their social engineering schemes. Democratic politicians have implicitly endorsed this characterization by putting distance between themselves and liberalism in their self-descriptions and policy choices. Many liberal voters, in turn, have turned away from this term because they do not want to associate themselves with the feckless politicians who, they believe, do not do enough to advance the values that are important to them. While Republicans think liberals are too radical, progressives find them too squishy.

Thomas Frank is clearly in the latter camp, as he explains in his new book, Listen, Liberal–or–What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? As the founder and former editor of The Baffler, one-time columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Harper’s Magazine, and author of 2004’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? (among several other books), Frank has never been shy about criticizing the inane celebrations of the business class, the phony populism of the self-serving culture industry and the duplicity he sees at the heart of the conservative project. In his latest book, Frank turns his gaze to the recent history of the Democratic Party, and he does not like what he finds. Specifically, he argues that its elected officials and house intellectuals have done little about the issue that, he believes, should be defining the nation’s contemporary politics: income inequality.

Inequality represents, in President Obama’s words, “the defining problem of our time.” As a concept, though, inequality is but a shorthand for a nexus of contemporary problems. George Packer compellingly describes this phenomenon as “the unwinding” in his 2013 book of that title, while Frank prefers the Victorian phrase, “the social question.” Regardless of the name, however, Frank locates in inequality “the reason why some people find such significance in the ceiling height of the entrance foyer and the hop content of a beer while others will never believe in anything again.” Over the last thirty or forty years, he avers, the lives of working people have become “wretched” and “precarious.” Yet in the face of such a catastrophe, argues Frank, Democrats “cannot find the conviction or imagination to do what is necessary to reverse” the tide of inequality. Instead, they emphasize the role of impartial, uncontrollable factors like technology and globalization, arguing that these problems can best be faced by obtaining the training and skills necessary to compete in the modern workplace.

While Democrats may believe that these positions represent the new face of liberalism, Frank argues that they abandon and even reject traditional liberal priorities. Higher levels of education will not create jobs or increase the strength of labor unions. And by emphasizing the “inevitability” of technology and globalization, liberal politicians minimize the extent to which those developments are shaped by public policy. Such an analysis absolves them of the responsibility to harness the power of government to shape the way that economic and technological factors influence the working class. Another longstanding liberal value has been that of collective action. Yet the Democratic emphasis on education and training heaps the entire burden of economic upheaval upon the individual displaced or soon-to-be-displaced worker

Frank argues that the source of the Democratic Party’s change in priorities has been a shift in its self-understanding. The party of Franklin Roosevelt once defined itself in class-oriented terms, as the representatives of workers in their battle against the “economic royalists.” Today, however, the party owes allegiance to a different group. “The deeds and positions of the modern Democratic Party,” Frank argues, “can best be understood as a phase in the history of the professionals.” The interests of the working class once defined the Democratic Party, but that time has passed. Today, it is the concerns of the professional class that set the Democratic agenda.

Professionals sit atop a hierarchy, but it is not one of wealth, but of knowledge. “Teachers know what we must learn; architects know what our buildings must look like; economists know what the Federal Reserve’s discount rate should be; art critics know what is in good taste and what is in bad.” Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of many interest groups, but “professionals are the ones whose technocratic outlook tends to prevail,” according to Frank. Indeed, “it is not going too far to say that the views of the modern-day Democratic Party reflect, in virtually every detail, the ideological idiosyncrasies of the professional-managerial class.”

The political values of professionals only occasionally align with those of workers and the poor. Thus, instead of challenging the idea of meritocracy that underlies this stratification, Democratic policies tend to celebrate it. Since movements such as civil rights, feminism and gay liberation all exist to knock down barriers to meritocracy, they can be incorporated into the contemporary party’s priorities. But Frank points out that inequality will never be a concern of the professional class because meritocracy makes no sense without it. “Professional-class leaders … feel precious little sympathy for the less fortunate members of their own discipline—for the adjuncts frozen out of the market for tenure, for colleagues who get fired, or even for the kids who don’t get in to the ‘good’ colleges.” In particular, there is no real sympathy in this class for organized labor. “The idea that someone should command good pay for doing a job that doesn’t require specialized training seems to professionals to be an obvious fallacy.”

Frank’s presentation of his “theory of the liberal class” is the most provocative part of the book. Much of the rest is historical in content: a walk through the recent past of the Democratic Party. The combination of the debacle of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the humiliating defeat of George McGovern in the 1972 presidential race prompted a wave of Democratic self-assessment in the late 1960s and early 1970s: the “New Politics” movement, the articulation of the new philosophy of “Neo-Liberalism” in the pages of the Washington Monthly and Al From’s Democratic Leadership Council are perhaps the most prominent attempts to chart a new Democratic course. Frank argues that such efforts represented a conscious “realignment of choice” in which the Democrats intentionally sought to distance themselves from workers in order to chase after the professional constituency. “In the 1930s, the blue-collar group was in the forefront,” wrote Democratic power broker Frederick Dutton in 1971. “Now it is the white-collar sector.” For Frank, the decline of Democratic interest in cultivating organized labor served as the source of many of the party’s problems. “Closing the door on working people’s organizations also meant closing the door on working people’s issues.”

The central figure in this narrative is, of course, Bill Clinton. The nation’s 42nd president found his positions by “triangulating” between liberal and conservative views, articulating a new “third way” of American politics. Historians have just begun taking up the period of the 1990s. So far they have generally characterized Clinton somewhat positively, presenting him as an innovative figure who responded to a changing world by revitalizing a tired doctrine. In The Age of Reagan, Sean Wilentz presented a Clinton boxed in between, on the one hand, the conservative revolution represented by Ronald Reagan’s presidency and, on the other, the “self-deluding Democrats’ unrealistic assessments and expectations.” Triangulation, on this interpretation, was a “means to revive and reinforce the refurbishing of American liberalism.” Gil Troy approvingly quotes Al From, Clinton’s guru of centrism, in his claim that the president “saved progressive politics … by modernizing it.” For these historians, Clinton was liberalism’s savior.

To Frank, though, Clinton was responsible for the death of an essential part of liberalism. “Erasing the memories and the accomplishments of Depression-era Democrats was what Bill Clinton and his clique of liberals were put on earth to achieve.” One of the president's favorite sayings was that “the world we face today is the world where what you earn depends on what you can learn.” This reflects, in Frank’s interpretation, the core New Democratic principle that “you get what you deserve, and what you deserve is defined by how you did in school.” Given such a premise, which is “less a strategy for mitigating inequality than it is a way of rationalizing it,” it is hardly surprising that Democrats have little interest in championing the cause of workers.

Frank is critical of Clinton-era developments such as the president’s emphasis on balancing the budget in the face of a recession, the appointment of Goldman Sachs alum Robert Rubin and Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan to prominent positions, the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994), the draconian crime bill that both Bill and Hillary Clinton now disavow (1994), welfare reform (1996) and the termination of Glass-Steagall (1999). He is also displeased by President Obama’s decision to continue and expand the Bush bailouts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Despite the hopes of many of his liberal supporters, Obama has turned out to be a moderate on inequality. Taking office in a turbulent atmosphere in which a large constituency wanted banks (and bankers) to be punished for their role in ruining the economy, Obama did little on this front. Frank’s interpretation of contemporary Democrats as those committed to the interests of the professional class explains why. “We must acknowledge the possibility that Obama and his team didn’t act forcefully to press an equality-minded economic agenda in those days and in the years that followed because they didn’t want to.”

Over the last several decades, many liberals and leftists have expressed dissatisfaction with the Democratic take on economic issues. What makes Frank’s book new, different and important is its offer of a compelling theory as to how and why the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Roosevelt is now so unlikely to champion the economic needs of everyday people. The Democratic abandonment of economic issues, Frank helps us understand, is due neither to cowardice nor to corruption. It is instead an expression of a coherent and consistent philosophy, albeit one that might not be terribly progressive. Today, conservatives who are themselves extremists caricature liberals as extremists. At the same time, would-be consensus builders decry partisanship and suggest that the best policies are to be found midway between the two major parties, without regard to what these parties support. In such a looking-glass world, Listen, Liberal is a desperately needed corrective.

Mike O’Connor is a history adjunct in Georgia and author of A Commercial Republic: America’s Enduring Debate over Democratic Capitalism. He blogs at the website eight hundred words.

NRA to Terrorists: You Haven’t Met the Real America—Jacksonian America.

Personal Liberty:

The National Rifle Association is out with a new video warning terrorists that even though the Obama administration is uninterested in protecting the nation, average Americans of all types can and will.

The video, from NRA’s “Freedom’s Safest Place” campaign, features country music superstar Charlie Daniels delivering a firm message “To the ayatollahs of Iran and every terrorist you enable.”

Daniels’ bottom line: In what elitists deem “flyover country” reside true Americans who are very different than the “fresh-faced flower child president and his weak-kneed, Ivy League friends” projecting an image of American weakness abroad.

NRA Introduction:

The absence of firm leadership in our executive branch shouldn’t fool the enemies of America into thinking that our nation is weak. Our true strength lies in the firm hands and ready steel of millions of proud, hard-working men and women. We are the NRA, and we are Freedom’s Safest Place.

NRA Transcript:

To the ayatollahs of Iran and every terrorist you enable: Listen up.

You might have met our fresh-faced flower child president and his weak-kneed, Ivy League friends.

But you haven’t met America.

You haven’t met the heartland, or the people who will defend this nation with their bloody, calloused, bare hands, if that’s what it takes. You haven’t met the steelworkers and the hard-rock miners, or the swamp folks in Cajun country who can wrestle a full-grown gator out of the water.

You haven’t met the farmers, the cowboys, the loggers and the truck drivers. You don’t know the mountain men who live off the land, or the brave cops who fight the good fight in the urban war zones.

No, you’ve never met America. And you oughta pray you never do.

I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m Freedom’s Safest Place.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Faux Nation-States Breed Violence — See Syria and Iraq. By Andrew Doran.

Faux Nation-States Breed Violence — See Syria and Iraq. By Andrew Doran. National Review Online, March 24, 2016.


Several years ago I heard the story of a freshman chemistry course at an elite American college. The professor informed the class that the electron model that they were about to learn was known to be incorrect. Chemists had not yet ascertained the correct model, so the students would learn the wrong model for now. In any case, teaching the wrong model would not get anyone killed.

It is hard to imagine political-science professors conveying a similar sentiment about certain applications of the nation-state paradigm: “We are about to learn a failed model, one that we know does not work where the requisite social, cultural, and political elements are missing. But we don’t yet have a model that works for those situations.” Perhaps chemistry professors are more candid about what they do and do not know. Yet Western professors and policymakers cling to the nation-state model today, even where it has proved untenable.

In February, the Atlantic Council launched the Task Force on the Future of Iraq at Georgetown University with a panel discussion led by former ambassadors Ryan Crocker and James Jeffrey and Lieutenant General Michael Barbero. The panel defended the borders created by the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, imposed following World War I. The Kurdish representative to the U.S., Bayan Abdul Rahman, pointed out that the current borders had been preserved at a terrible cost: “There has been genocide, chemical bombardment, war, bloodshed repeatedly. And we’re seeing it today in Iraq yet again. So I think we should stop thinking like 19th-century men” such as Messrs. Sykes and Picot. The Kurds — the largest group of people on the planet who share a common language, heritage, and culture but have no a country — and millions of others remain hostage to a cynical, artificial Western political construct.

Later in February, retired general Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, candidly acknowledged what should have been apparent for some time: Sykes-Picot and the concocted states it formed the Middle East have failed. “Iraq no longer exists,” Hayden said. “Syria no longer exists. They aren’t coming back. Lebanon is teetering and Libya is long gone.”

The two positions are, of course, mutually exclusive: Either Iraq and Syria are authentic states that merit continued recognition and sustainment or they are contrivances that have come apart, and attempts to hold them together will only lead to protracted violence. The claim against Sykes-Picot and faux nation-states is quite simple: States marked by a diversity of ethnicities, languages, heritages, religions, and cultures but lacking a developed concept of the common good can maintain their unity only through coercion; when that coercion is no longer present, parochial, sectarian interests will prevail and the state will break apart. Put another way: Pluralistic democracy cannot be sustained without a highly evolved public concept of common interest and the common good — or without force.

In the aftermath of World War I, several nation-states were recognized; others were more or less artificially created, carved out of disintegrating empires. Those with a common language, heritage, and culture, such as Poland, have been generally stable. The states with boundaries arbitrarily carved out of empires, such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Iraq, and Syria, have not proved durable.

By the early 1990s, Yugoslavia had come apart in all but name. The secular Communist state was sustained, despite its ethnic, religious, and cultural differences, through the brute force of Marshall Tito’s regime. With the Cold War over and Tito gone, Yugoslavia could not hold together; sectarian interests prevailed. Iraq and Syria, states carved out of the Ottoman Empire, passed through various phases of instability but were held together by ruthless Baathist dictatorships. These states could not survive without coerced unity. Iraq and Syria, following the Yugoslav pattern, descended into sectarian violence. Of the states created after World War I, only Czechoslovakia had the good fortune to dissolve along natural ethnic and cultural boundaries without bloodshed.

Ten years ago, then-senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb proposed a plan for a federated, decentralized Iraq. The Biden-Gelb model borrowed heavily from the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. We are left to wonder how many lives might have been saved, and whether ISIS would exist at all, had leaders listened. Sunni tribal leaders, however primitive their capacity to rule, no doubt would have preferred self-government to a Tehran-dominated regime in Baghdad. It is difficult to conceive of ISIS’s rise in a Sunni zone drawn out of the present Iraq: Indeed, Sunni tribal leaders had already substantially reduced al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, during the 2007 surge. The Shia zone would still have been dominated by Iran, but its diminished geography would necessarily have meant diminished significance, and would have obviated much of the anti-Shia animus that fueled ISIS. And the Kurds could have devoted their energy to economic development rather than battling the Islamic State.

Western policymakers failed first by imposing Sykes-Picot on the Middle East. They failed next by not correcting that error, as they could have done by following something like the Biden-Gelb proposal. This failure was accentuated by the naïve belief (especially in America) that democracy would be a panacea for the region. Some American leaders and policymakers believed that persistent sectarian strife could be reduced simply through the introduction of elections. But Anglo-American democratic governance is, of course, much more than elections. Even in more authentic Mideast nation-states, such as Egypt, democracy has proved fragile — especially democracy of the narrow, procedural variety. Even the more robust pluralistic democracies of Western Europe suddenly appear tenuous with the recent resurgence of ethno-nationalist movements.

A common heritage and culture are necessary to the viability of a nation, but for a democratic state to survive, there must be a strong sense of the common good.  American naïveté, while costly, is understandable: It is the projection of American exceptionalism onto the Middle East.

In pluralistic democratic societies such as America, the sociocultural and political order is maintained through the notion of the common good. Americans rarely use the term “common good,” but the concept informs nearly every debate in the public square, even amid the recent culture wars. Like social-contract theory, it is rarely mentioned explicitly but is a powerful organizing concept. However, it is highly unusual for nations with diversity of ethnicity, heritage, and culture to transcend those markers of identity and embrace the common good.

In the Middle East, the promise of democracy has failed to forge a sufficient sense of commonality in given populations or to overcome the more visceral division of sectarian and tribal affiliation. So the faux nation-states of Iraq and Syria have gone the way of Yugoslavia, descending into horrific sectarian violence. In the former Yugoslavia, borders have been redrawn along ethno-religious lines; cohesive, largely sovereign proto-nations have emerged; most important, conflict has subsided. The epicenter of that conflict, Bosnia-Herzegovina, has staved off violence for two decades through a decentralized, federated model — precisely the model called for by the Biden-Gelb proposal. This was possible only when the international community reached consensus on what should have long been obvious: that the state created no longer existed.

If a prominent public figure were to call for the restoration of Yugoslavia today, it would be an act of professional suicide. Yet to claim that Iraq and Syria must be sustained — for the sake of the “cartography of governance” or some such — is regarded as somehow palatable, even though Iraq and Syria, like Yugoslavia, have witnessed hundreds of thousands of deaths from violence: testament to the exacting cost of a failed model. If America is to achieve a meaningful foreign policy in the Middle East, its experts must learn to acknowledge, like the humble chemistry professor, when the model they are trying to apply is wrong.

Debate Between Ronald Reagan and Robert Kennedy on Vietnam, 1967.

Town meeting of the world. Reagan & Kennedy, 1967. Video. Memoryretro, Dec 20, 2014. YouTube.

Friday, March 25, 2016

America May Never Have Another New Deal. By Jefferson Cowie.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Gold Reserve Act, January 30, 1934. Wikimedia Commons.

America May Never Have Another New Deal. By Jefferson Cowie. The New Republic, March 15, 2016.


Why FDR’s massive reforms probably won’t be repeated.

Spilled across the pages of journals of opinion are demands for a new New Deal, a global New Deal, a New and improved Deal, to reNew the Deal, and even New Deal 2.0. The excitement following Barack Obama’s first election, just after the nation slipped into the abyss of a massive financial crisis, generated further New Deal analogies. Otherwise sober commentators began speaking of “Franklin Delano Obama.” Meanwhile, among union watchers, minor twists of the labor movement seem to generate unrestrained proclamations of the second coming of the union movement that swept across the nation during the Great Depression. Even before the coming of the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the New Deal has been metaphor, analogy, political principle, and guiding light for all that must be returned to the progressive side of American politics.

Then, inevitably, comes the shock: the new Gilded Age seems to have a lot more traction in American political culture than did the hope of a new New Deal. The return of nineteenth-century-style plutocracy, crony capitalism, and shocking levels of inequality—disparities that continued even after the excitement of Obama’s presidency—suggest a conscious, confident, and powerful ruling class that has largely separated itself from the concerns of the nation’s working people.

The New Deal and the postwar order it sustained once gave the illusion of permanence—for many, the inevitable domestication of capitalism. Marbled throughout its very creation, however, were a series of social and political fissures that help to explain its ultimate fall in the 1970s and beyond. Beneath the surface of the “fragile juggernaut” of America’s social democratic moment were a series of exceptions to U.S. history that are difficult to imagine being repeated: the massive but temporary transformation of the role of the state; the Faustian exclusion of African American occupations that kept the white South in the Democratic Party; the one-time leap forward in power of organized labor; the single period in American history in which immigration (and thus the politics of division) were closed off; and the temporary eclipse of the politics of culture and religion. Wrapping around all of these issues were the complex ideologies of a Jeffersonian individualism, which were muted but never resolved even as the New Dealers waded cautiously into collective waters.

Today’s politics are a regression to the norm. The fractious polity has chosen deeply rooted quarrels over individual rights, ethnic and racial hostility, immigrant versus native, and crusades over moralism and piety in lieu of a politics of collective economic security.

The Obama administration ultimately offered precious little in terms of the politics of material security. Part of that was President Obama’s unwillingness to make a bold, decisive break from previous decades and make the case to the American people that the state could help build economic security and opportunity for all. The first two years of the Obama administration was a lost opportunity for the American reform tradition—not just on policy grounds but in making the argument that government had a role in helping regular people. Seemingly insecure in his position, the new president appointed economic insiders, many of whom had played a role in creating the crisis, while shying away from larger stimulus packages or initiatives that would halt the decades-long growth in inequality and wage stagnation. Banking, finance, and important industries like auto were saved. Meanwhile, working people continued to inhabit the exact same economy they had in the decades leading up to the crisis.

While Obama might have made more of his moment, I do not believe he could come close to delivering the “next” New Deal. The remarkable differences between the politics of the crisis of 2008 and that of 1929 were too vast. When FDR was inaugurated in March of 1933, the Depression was already three and one-half years old. The mood of the country was a peculiar combination of resignation and depression, anger and calls to action. Focusing his 1932 campaign against incumbent Herbert Hoover’s inept handling of the crisis—ultimately refusing to even meet with Hoover to discuss plans during the four months before he took office—FDR gathered around him a coalition that demanded change. One-quarter of the population was out of work, and there was no unemployment insurance, no social security, no deposit insurance, and what state and private charities existed had either collapsed or were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. For three winters, the nation suffered untold misery, and major industrial cities had populations on the edge of starvation. Homelessness was rampant.

While horrific, the Great Recession of 2008 fell short of the full devastation of the Great Depression. Both the sense of panic and the unemployment rate were only a fraction of what they were in the 1930s. Although Obama entered office not long after the crash, he inherited a bailout engineered by the previous administration, a trillion-dollar deficit, and a set of unpopular wars that proved to be the economic and political opposite of the stimulus of World War II. Because of Obama’s almost militant commitment to economic centrism and his unwillingness to confront the political power of Wall Street, he immediately elected to continue the policies (and even many of the players) from the previous administration. That clouded the contrast with the Republican he succeeded—a dramatic contrast that FDR had used to superb effect. As compared to the era when government hardly existed in the daily lives of regular people, a safety net, under attack since 1981, still did exist in 2008: Social Security, unemployment insurance, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Medicare, and Medicaid all helped cushion the blows of the financial crisis. Yet there was also tremendous political activity, built up since the 1970s, to roll back existing government activity that did not simply serve business’s interests. The Solid South that FDR needed for his legislative successes had turned largely Republican—and militantly so. The “modern” Republicanism of the postwar era, which had made its peace with the New Deal, had already become a distant memory.

All of this is not to say that Obama’s presidency, especially his first two years, was a failure. It was not; it just was not a new New Deal. The failure rests more squarely in analysts’ insistence in using the Depression Era analogy where it was not helpful. He did help dig the country out of the worst economic disaster in eighty years, pulled the United States back from a disastrous foreign policy, and renewed federal effectiveness in health and safety, immigration, and the environment.

The fundamental difference between the two eras was the place of the forgotten man and woman. FDR took office explaining that the “money changers had fled the temple” and that “the measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” The unspoken mantra of the Obama administration, in contrast, was “Save Wall Street first,” a symptom of, not a solution to, what political scientists Hacker and Pierson rightly call “the winner take all society.” In the politics of the recovery after 2008, FDR’s forgotten man remained trapped in the dustbin of history. In the politics of rage, however, he was the folk hero to conservative pundits and talk news shows that constructed a pot-boiling industry exploiting the mythology of the hijacking of the nation by various others—be they cultural elites, secular humanists, immigrants, or blacks. As conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck co-opted the discourse of the 1930s, “What happened to the country that loved the underdog and stood up for the little guy? What happened to the for- gotten man? The forgotten man is you.”

Caught up in the whirlwind of our present, we overestimate how radically new the rate of change is in the global-digital age. The sense of standing at the abyss of a new world feels unprecedented. Yet when Henry Adams made his prayer to the electric dynamo in 1900, he said that the pace of technological change was so great that if left “his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.” In the creation of electric power, he saw the emergence of a religious faith in the rational, sterile, and technological future, which he regarded as “the break of continuity,” an “abysmal fracture” in everything he understood and trusted. Many would say the same about our own time. This is not to say that history has started over or is the same, but that our challenges are not unprecedented. The arguments made here do not mean that politics is the same as it was generations ago, only that the same issues that are deeply ingrained in American history and culture remain challenges for the past and the future.

Too often, political changes are seen as simple vacillating “cycles” of partisan history. While this might have some explanatory power when it comes to changes in what party is in charge, it fails to explain the underlying currents, coalitions, fractures, and agendas that run for longer periods. What replaces this generation of conservative, individualistic, “free-market” ideology, however, will not be some simple cycle back to a New Deal revival but will most likely be a much more chastened or radically different form of change that takes its cues from well outside of the New Deal paradigm.

To reframe the New Deal order as a great exception, I must emphasize, is not to take a jaundiced view of American history, but rather urges a more thorough and realistic understanding of our recent past in the hope that it can provide a more stable intellectual foundation for discussions of present and future politics. I recognize the contested nature of American politics and social life that have informed a wide variety of dissenting movements that reshape our politics and discourse, but I also understand that the most powerful aspects of American political culture have often proved resistant to these protests. My aim is also not to diminish the vision or values of those dissenters, but rather to resituate and rethink the New Deal Era in the broader terrain of U.S. history. Our founding mythos of individualism has structured our collective life, created much of value, and become so intimately intertwined with the very essence of the nation itself that its limitations become most difficult to perceive and discuss. If this argument is correct, then conservative victories are more understand- able and progressive victories all the more precious.

Despite the New Deal’s many flaws and fissures, the programs of the 1930s represent the best of what the United States can be as a nation—caring, sharing, secure, and occasionally visionary. Few issues seem more important today than the need to bring the concerns of working people out of the shadows and into the political and economic light.

But bad history makes for weak political strategy. While it is useful and hopeful to imagine that the United States can take the issue of collective economic rights as seriously as it did in the 1930s and 1940s, our present politics ought not be misled by freewheeling historical analogies based on an extraordinarily unique period in American history.

Excepted from The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics by Jefferson Cowie. Copyright © 2015 by Princeton University Press.

How the Tribal Warfare of Our Ancestors Explains the Islamic State. By Luke Glowacki.

An ISIS fighter celebrates the conquest of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer.

How the tribal warfare of our ancestors explains the Islamic State. By Luke Glowacki. Washington Post, March 24, 2016.

Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and War in Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers: Evaluating the Chimpanzee Model. By Richard W. Wrangham and Luke Glowacki. Human Nature, Vol. 23, No. 1 (March 2012).

The Role of Rewards in Motivating Participation in Simple Warfare. By Luke Glowacki and Richard W. Wrangham. Human Nature, Vol. 24, No. 4 (December 2013).

Warfare and reproductive success in a tribal population. By Luke Glowacki and Richard Wrangham. PNAS, Vol. 112, No. 2 (January 13, 2015).


Luke Glowacki is a postdoctoral fellow in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

From Brussels to Paris to San Bernardino to Syria, the world appears to be erupting in violence. In this war, the targets can be anyone and anywhere. While attackers take inspiration from Islamic State leadership, in many cases they seem to act on their own initiative. In Syria, the Islamic State carefully stages theatrical acts of barbarity to create terror and awe around the world. Is this a new kind of war?

Only through the short view of modern history does this type of war look new. Public displays of brutality have long been used to terrorize and subdue populations around the globe. The theatrics of the Islamic State pale in comparison to those seen in Europe just a few centuries ago. Burning alive, drawing and quartering, drowning, garroting, disemboweling or breaking on the wheel were all common methods of dispatching criminals, enemies and those who ended up on the wrong side of a theological debate.

Even in the United States, executions were historically public affairs. At one of the last public executions in the United States, in 1936, at least 20,000 people turned up to watch. The city of Owensboro, Ky., built a gallows 25 feet tall. Bars were packed while “merrymakers rollicked all night” and many homes had “hanging parties.” The New York Times reported that when the body fell, “souvenir hunters rushed forward ... and tore the black hood ... off his head before he had been pronounced dead.

Where does this capacity for horrific violence come from? My colleagues and I have been studying the origins of war through systematic analysis of chimpanzees, hunter-gatherers and modern conflicts. We have learned that lethal violence against out-groups is found, in one form or another, at all scales of society, including among our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

In a pattern that disturbingly resembles human warfare, chimpanzees across East Africa regularly kill members of neighboring groups, including infants and females. Sometimes these attacks cause the extermination of entire communities, a phenomenon akin to genocide in human society. When this happens, the successful group takes over the territory of the defeated group, gaining access to valuable resources.

What about the traditional human societies, such as hunter-gatherers, that best represent our prehistoric past? Using ethnographic and historical documents, my Harvard colleague Richard Wrangham and I found that for most of human history, societies generally carried on some form of war with neighboring groups, even when the people spoke the same language and looked like them. Although there are well-documented cases of hunter-gatherers living peacefully with their neighbors, these are the exception rather than the rule. Such groups usually gave up violence after coming into contact with more powerful neighbors.

Like the terrorist attacks of today, these conflicts generally targeted members of a perceived enemy group, commonly including women and children. The bodies of victims were frequently mutilated with a creativity that the Islamic State would find astonishing. Entire populations and ethnic groups were wiped out. This type of violence stretches deep into our prehistory. Evidence of the first prehistoric massacre dates to more than 13,000 years ago, well before the invention of agriculture.

What explains how people can commit such violent acts? One answer lies in our psychology. Humans are hard-wired to adopt their communities’ norms, and these norms can include rules for how to treat others — including whether to tolerate differences or attack outsiders. When norms provide status, material rewards or membership in a privileged group, they become even more potent.

Cultures are able to hijack this psychology for violent ends by providing status, promises of an afterlife and a sense of meaning. People belonging to communities that advocate violence will adopt norms of violence, whether those communities are tribal societies, neighbors and family, or Facebook friends. Cross-cultural research I’ve conducted shows that the most important predictor of warfare in a society is a cultural system that awards warriors with social benefits.

In East Africa, where groups battle each other for livestock, access to grazing lands and water, conflicts are fought with modern weapons such as AK-47s but occur along tribal borders and resemble the dynamics of ancestral warfare in important ways. Access to resources such as livestock and water can be critical for a group’s survival, and so these cultures award status and livestock to successful warriors. Such warriors are able to marry more wives and have more children than other men. Half a world away, in the Venezuelan Amazon, researchers found that warriors also ended up better off than non-warriors. Over the time scales at which humans and cultures evolve, benefits such as these may have had profound significance in the development of human behavior.

Such incentives help explain how people can be lured into supporting the Islamic State. The group promises its recruits prestige, a sense of community and the possibility of glory — the same types of incentives that cultures across the globe have historically used to motivate youth to take up arms.

The difference between tribal societies and the modern world is that now social media makes it possible for isolated individuals to adopt the values of a movement halfway around the world. A Detroit teenager can be more connected to his Twitter followers in the Levant than to his peers at school. If his peers overseas advocate violent jihad, it is not surprising if he eventually considers it, especially if it comes with promises of fame and glory.

There is nothing historically unique about the type of war the Islamic State is waging, but the diffuseness of contemporary social networks presents a new challenge. What is clear is that countering the Islamic State will require creating cultural values that can compete with the community, glory and meaning the Islamic State offers its recruits. Can we engineer an alternative that makes supporting democratic values and tolerance of others as alluring?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What Europe Needs to Do to Stop the Next Brussels. By Ralph Peters.

What Europe needs to do to stop the next Brussels. By Ralph Peters. New York Post, March 23, 2016.


What used to be bitter slums are now militant colonies.

The Muslim guts of European cities, from Brussels to Marseilles, and the high-rise banlieues of Paris (designed by the left as earthly paradises) or the grubby Stadtteile of Cologne or Hamburg, are no longer way-stations for readjusting immigrants. They’re imperial holdings of a bloodthirsty caliphate, poisoned with the spirit of jihad.

And the Islamist fanatics who rule from the shadows intend to slaughter the trusting aborigines, whose tribal chiefs are enchanted by the trinkets of political correctness — as we were reminded, again, Tuesday when terrorists killed 31 and injured hundreds in a double-barrel attack in Brussels.

Will Islam really conquer Europe? Of course not. But reality leaves Islamist terrorists unconvinced and unmoved.

And they’ve already disrupted societies, upended politics and seized strategic ground at Europe’s heart: The Brussels attacks were symbolically perfect, striking not only a national capital, but the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

Consider Belgium. The police and intelligence organizations (mindlessly divided between Flemish- and French-speakers) couldn’t crack the local Muslim community. Contributing scores of jihadis to ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Molenbeek and neighboring slums also protected the terrorists in their midst.

Some locals must have known. Many more must have suspected. But none warned the authorities that hundreds of their “fellow Belgians” faced impending attacks.

The roots of radicalism had gone so deep that support for the fanatics trumped even the desire for self-protection. Of course, the locals saw that, in the wake of multiple terror attacks and arrests, they’d face suspicion, scrutiny and an end to the craven tolerance of their crimes.

But nobody talked. Nobody will.

Nonetheless, “humanitarian” groups will continue to defend the “rights” to government financial, medical and housing support for those who send their sons on jihad and beat their daughters to death.

Which brings us to the question: What can Europeans do? If they somehow summon the strength of will? Before the situation worsens monstrously?

Apart from the obvious measure of restricting migration that seeks only to feed at the public trough, there are three steps Europeans could (but likely won’t) take:

First, work on the families. In the Islamic cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, the family is the fortress. European states need laws that permanently deny all further state assistance, including subsidized housing, to the extended families of terrorists and their abettors.

Collective punishment? Islamist terror is a collective crime. As the residents of Molenbeek just reminded us. You have to do what works. And we need to remember the elementary truth that receiving countries owe immigrants nothing beyond their physical safety. We’re not in their debt, they’re in ours.

Second, not only resident status, but citizenship must be revoked from anyone affiliated with terror — including birthright citizenship. We must stop letting left-wing activists creatively interpret international law to protect monsters bent on massacre. The first human right is for law-abiding citizens to be able to live in peace, free of bodily harm.

Third — and toughest — the Europeans need to find ways to break up the Islamist colonies that even the police prefer to avoid. Just as European colonialists brought smallpox to the natives of the Americas, the jihadi colonists bring their plague of fanaticism.

Even in our own country, where a different class of Muslim immigrant — largely educated, ambitious and law-abiding — means we don’t face the crisis Europe does, the toughest problems we do face come when Muslims from underdeveloped states are allowed to immigrate in mass and concentrate in one area.

That lets them cling to their old culture and language, instead of learning English and digesting our social values. Note the way we’ve mishandled Somalis, who, in turn, have disproportionately slipped off to jihad.

American Muslims are yet another of our nation’s success stories (though we need to confront the bad actors abusing our tolerance). We get genuine immigrants seeking their American dream. Europe gets fanatical colonizers.

Don’t think there’s a difference? Check out Brussels.