Month: August 2006

An "Idolization" of Democracy?

“I think that, on the whole, the faith that democratic capitalism is the Answer is one that tends to characterize the neocon project.”

That’s Mark Shea, circa 2006, summing up the “idolatry” of the neoconservative project in his latest post.

Methinks there is more to “neoconservatism” than meets the eye, or the curt dismissal of Mark Shea. For example, here is Irving Kristol, considered the “founder” of American neoconservatism:

Though the phrase “the quality of life” trips easily from so many lips these days, it tends to be one of those cliches with many trivial meanings and no large, serious one. Sometimes it merely refers to some externals as the enjoyment of cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner streets. At other times it refers to the merely private enjoyment of music, painting and literature. Rarely does it have anything to do with the way the citizen in a democracy views himself — his obligations, his intentions, his ultimate self-definition.

Instead, what I would call the “managerial” conception of democracy is the predominant opinion among political scientists, socialogists, economists, and has, through the untiring efforts of these scholars, become the conventional journalistic opinion as well. The root idea behind this managerial conception of democracy is ‘a political system’ (as they say) which can be adequately defined in terms of — can be fully reduced to — its mechanical arrangements. Democracy is then seen as a set of rules or procedures, and nothing but a set of rules and procedures, whereby majority rule and minority rights are reconciled in a state of equilibrium. If everyone follows these rules and procedures, then democracy is in good working order. I think this is a fair description of the democratic idea that currently prevails in academia. One can now say that it is the liberal idea of democracy par excellence.

I cannot help but feel there is something ridiculous about being this kind of a democrat, and I must confess to having a sneaking sympathy for those young radicals who also find it ridiculous. The absurdity is the absurdity of idolatry — of taking the symbolic for the real, the means for the end. The purpose of democracy cannot possibly be the endless functioning of its own political machinery. The purpose of any political regime is to achieve some version of the good life and the good society. It is not at all difficult to imagine a perfectly functioning democracy which answers all questions except one — namely, why should anyone of intelligence and spirit care a fig for it?

There is, however, an older idea of democracy – one which was fairly common until the beginning of this century – for which the conception of the quality of public life is absolutely crucial. The idea starts from the proposition that democracy is a form of self-government, and that if you want it to be a meritorious policy, you have to care about what kind of people govern it. Indeed, it puts the matter more strongly and declares that if you want self-government, you are only entitled to it if that “self” is worthy of governing. There is no inherent right to self-government if it means that such government is vicious, mean, squalid, and debased. Only a dogmatist and a fanatic, an idolater of the democratic machinery, could approve of self-government under such conditions.

And because the desirability of self-government depends on the character of the people who govern, the older idea of democracy was very solicitous of the condition of this character. It was solicitous of the individual self, and felt an obligation to educate it into what used to be called “republican virtue”. And it was solicitous of that collective self which we called public opinion and which, in a democracy, governs us collectively. Perhaps in some respects it was never oversolictitous – that would not be suprising. But the main thing is that it cared, cared not merely about the machinery of democracy but about the quality of life that this machinery might generate.

Shea portrays neoconservatives as treating democracy as a panacea for troubles in the Middle East — their fault in, quoting Shea, “predicated on a sincere religious faith in a false god and that god’s power to redeem and heal”: overthrow a tyranny, put in a “managerial” form of democracy, and things will right themselves as long as the machinery of democracy is in place.

I think the quote from Kristol — a neoconservative if there ever was one — demonstrates that Kristol possesses anything but a faith in democracy as a “cure-all,” as “The Answer.” Kristol in this case (if I read him correctly) argues against such an idolization of democracy, a concern for establishing the “machinery” of democracy without taking into consideration the development of character that is essential for its very survival.

So when Shea characterizes “the Neocon project” as an idolatry of democracy, I have to wonder how much he really knows of Irving Kristol, the founder of neoconservatism?

You can read more of Kristol’s work in Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. For a broader perspective on neoconservative thought, see The Neocon Reader (Grove Press, 2005).

At the same time, it was reading Mark’s post that called to mind a passage from Building the Free Society: Democracy Capitalism and Catholic Social Teaching, edited by George Weigel, Robert Royal. (Eerdmans, 1994), a great compilation of essays — not necessarily “neoconservative” — on various encyclicals and conciliar documents. This from Kenneth Grasso:

There is no single notion of democracy. Rather, there are various theories, rooted in different understandings of politics and animated by divergent conceptions of nature and destiny of man. Although similar in their institutional and procedural frameworks, the democracies created by these conflicting philosophies differ greatly in their spirit and substance. In the face of the democratic revolution that is sweeping the world today, the key question becomes: Which conception of democracy is animating this revolution?

This is no academic question. History attests that democracy is a rare and delicate form of government that has eventuated more often in anarchy or tyranny than in the regime of ordered freedom it promises. Democratic institutions, as John H. Hallowell has warned, “are a means to freedom . . . but they are not identical with freedom itself.” In the end, “it is the way in which they are conceived and the way in which they are used that will ultimately determine their efficacy as instruments of freedom.” Not all versions of democracy are equally capable of advancing the cause of the freedom and dignity of the human person, or of providing a secure foundation for a vigorous democratic polity. “The fatality that has worked against . . . modern democracies,” Maritain observed, is “the false philosophy of life” they have enshrined at the center of their public life. The direction taken by the democratic experiments of today will depend largely upon what philosophy undergirds them.

Advertisements

War "no good to anyone" – The words of a Pacifist Pope?

On August 13, 2006 Pope Benedict gave a first-of-its-kind television interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF (complete transcript available on the Vatican website). We’ll get the to the content and commentary of the interview in our upcoming Pope Benedict roundup, but this past week there has been much discussion on a particular segment:

Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don’t want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There’s a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it’s up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

That war is, indeed, “no good for anyone” prompted the following protest from First Things‘ blogger Robert Miller:

I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?

As it stands, this statement from Benedict is unsupportable. All serious people know that war is a terrible reality to be avoided whenever possible, and Benedict should certainly say this. But he is also a great theologian, well able to make moral distinctions. He ought not make statements that can so easily be understood as endorsing a dangerously naive pacifism that is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition.

Needless to say, Miller’s challenge caused quite a stir.

  • Mark Shea says “I basically agree with Miller”, howbeit issuing a plea for context:

    On the whole, though I disagree with the Pope’s remarks as they stand (since I believe in Just War teaching), I find myself thinking that I’d rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes. In short, I don’t have much in the way of solutions, but I have a clearer and clearer idea of who I trust as I try to think things through.

    CAEI reader M.W. Forrest also speculates:

    For perspective, I think we should take into consideration that he was speaking to German reporters. What grievances did WWI and WWII solve for the Germans? WWI brought them the lost of some of their most productive land in the west and economic collapse. WWII gave them 1/4 of their country put in communist oppression.

  • Amy Welborn blogged the piece, with a not-entirely-unexpected 120 comment reaction and some good exchanges on pacifism and the just war tradition (“No Good War?” August 16, 2006).

Looking at Pope Benedict’s remark in and of itself, Robert Miller’s reaction is understandable. But this is not the first time that papal statements on war have resulted in a plethora of conflicting interpretations. Back in May, this blog took a stab at assessing various positions and papal pronouncements on the war in Iraq and the legitimate use of force (Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006).

In response to that particular post, “rcesq”, a member and contributor to the RatzingerFanClub’s EzBoard forum, pointed out to me that, in Cardinal Ratzinger’s address in Normandy on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day (reprinted as Chapter 6 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, first published April 2005, new edition by Ignatius Press 2006) — we have good reason not to hasten to the conclusion from such papal comments as “war is the worst solution for all sides” and “today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a “just war”” — that we are in the presence of a pacifist-pope.

What follows are my friend rcesq’s observations, quoted in full (with permission) for your consideration:

* * *

[In his Normandy address], the Cardinal describes how the Nazis had seized power and caused

justice and injustice, law and crime [to become] entangled by carrying out both the legislative and administrative functions of the state. It was therefore in one sense entitled to demand that the citizens obey the law and respect the authority of the state (Rom 13:1ff!), while at the same time this government also employed the judicial organs as instruments in pursuit of its own criminal goals. The legal order itself continued to function in its usual forms in everyday lives, at least in part; at the same time, it had become a power that was used to undermine law.

According to the Cardinal,

[t]he only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. . . . Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a “just war” . . . perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.

Calling WWII a “just war” is pretty obvious and most commentators would place that conflict squarely in the just war tradition as you have explained. What’s interesting, though, is that the Cardinal does not justify the war on the ground of self-defense. After all, each of the Allied powers had been attacked first by the Nazis.

Instead, Ratzinger considers the war justified because it liberated the German people from their criminal government, gave them freedom and restored the rule of law. He describes it as an “intervention” — which sounds like the language used in AA programs when family and friends gather together to “stage an intervention” for the benefit of letting a drug or alcohol addicted friend or family member know that help for self-destructive behavior is available and required. Such a “therapeutic” approach to justifying war is not something I saw [in my prior blog-discussion of just war].

The Cardinal goes on to declare that this “real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable.” Even though it appears that some just war moralists are heading in the direction of pacifism by setting the bar for justifying war impossibly high, one would expect this far more rational conclusion from someone as grounded in reality as Joseph Ratzinger, who knows well that man is fallen and sinful and will fall and sin over and over again.

It seems unusual and is, to me, unexpected, that the Cardinal would open the door to justifying military intervention “against unjust systems of government,” when the intervention “serves to promote peace and accepts the moral criteria for peace.” Does this allow a “pre-emptive war” against a criminal regime that flouts resolutions of the United Nations to disarm, terrorizes and kills thousands of its own people, repeatedly attacks it neighbors without provocation, and credibly boasts of having weapons of mass destruction? One could argue that it does. After all, one can look at such a regime as suffering from an addiction that requires intervention. Unfortunately, the address just offers this tantalizing thought and then moves on.

Farther on in the address, the Cardinal turns to the phenomenon of “terror, which has become a new kind of world war.” He contrasts the destructive powers that lay in the hands of recognized superpowers — who one hoped would be susceptible to reason — with those potentially in the hands of terrorists, who cannot be counted on to be rational because self-destruction is a basic element in terrorism’s power. He identifies as a “basic truth” that it is impossible to overcome terrorism by force alone, but notes that:

the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force. . . .

Again, the Cardinal’s thoughts suggest that it could be entirely legitimate for a country like Israel to use force against terrorists who try to undermine it; provided that the force is “precisely calculated.” Naturally you have to ask how you calculate force precisely, even with so-called smart bombs: human error will occur and you can end up with horrible misfires. But I think that the Cardinal’s reasoning does contradict those pundits who claim that American and Israeli soldiers are somehow acting immorally because their cause is unjustifiable.

The Cardinal posits another limit to the justifiable use of force against terror: “strict criteria that are recognizable by all,” and cautions against one power’s going it alone to enforce the rule of law (not stated but obvious: unilateral U.S. action). He also calls for an investigation into and addressing of the causes of terrorism that “often has its source in injustices against which no effective action is taken.” This formula for dealing with terror strikes me as a fair balance of realism and idealism, practicality and morality. It’s certainly not woolly headed or starry eyed — which is how some of the bishops’ pronouncements sometimes sound to me.

Ultimately, however, Cardinal Ratzinger advocates the way of Christ. Forgiveness is necessary to break the cycle of violence.

Gestures of humanity that break through [the cycle] by seeking the human person in one’s foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance a waste of time.

These thoughts may be useful tools to assess what is happening now with Israel. I think it’s possible to see their influence in Benedict XVI’s endorsement of the G-8 position while he is pleading for an end to the violence and prays so fervently for peace. [The Ratzinger Forum; edited by: rcesq at: 8/2/06 5:32 pm]

* * *

“As is usual with Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings, he sketches ideas, asks provocative questions, but offers no definitive answers,” concludes “rcesq”. At the end of my own post, I closed with the pressing need for some kind of authoritative clarification on the status of the “just war tradition”, together with the proper interpretation of papal pronouncements on the war in an informal context.

Ratzinger’s own thoughts on the use of force, as published in Chapter 6 of Values in a time of Upheaval will hopefully alleviate somewhat Robert Miller’s concerns of a “dangerously naive pacifism.”

Reading the diverse reactions on Open Book, I found Tom Haessler’s comment on the different papal “styles” especially helpful:

Benedict XVI’s theological and homiletic rhetoric is more kerygma (proclamation) than didache (teaching). John Paul the Great was immersed in Aquinas and modern phenomenology. Benedict XVI is immersed in the Fathers, especially in Augustine. The parsing of various aspects of just war theory is quite foreign to his approach. He’s trying to call all to their senses, to awaken new communities of conscience, to help us discover new zones of sensitivity and awareness not previously attended to; he’s NOT playing Jesuit anagrams with just war theory. Far from believing that military force is always wrong, he’s supported the Afghanistan and Kosovo interventions. But he’d be the last one to insist that his own prudential judgments trump every careful scrutiny of all pertinent aspects of an enormously complex problematic. He’s asking that he be heard, not that he be obeyed. . . . we’re all orthodox Catholics here, trying to discover God’s will in fidelity to all the values and norms we’ve learned through our membership in the Body of Christ. We all have something to teach (through our own experience), and we all have something to learn.

A Second Response to Mark Shea

I see Mark Shea has responded to me (“The Ratzinger Fan Club is Taking Me to Task” Catholic and Enjoying It August 17, 2006). Let me point out that this blog is hosted at the RatzingerFanClub — I do employ it as a means of posting the monthly Pope Benedict Roundups as has become a hobby since the time of the conclave. But as I clearly note in the margin, Against The Grain features “Occasional notes by the guy who maintains the RatzingerFanClub and the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club” — I don’t presume to speak for anybody but myself on this topic.

[Mark Shea:] First, the issue for me is not Lieberman as Senator but the Weekly Standard‘s dreamy hopes for Lieberman as a GOP Veep. If that’s not prostitution of the entire pro-life movement to the neocon agenda, I don’t know what is.

I hold no brief at all for Lamont as Senator. Sounds like another typical Sacrament of Abortion Dem to me.

The chief intent of my post (“Some Thoughts on Mark Shea, Joseph Leiberman and Ned Lamont” August 16, 2006) — was to explain why I think Kristol might have a legitimate motivation for reaching out to Leiberman, and perceiving the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the Senator to embrace the “Lamont/Sharpton/Jackson/Murtha/Soros/Sheehan/Moore/Kos” wing as something we should be concerned about.

Personally I hold no enthusiasm for bringing Leiberman aboard as VP on any kind of ticket — but at the same time, I think I know Kristol well enough through his other writings to find myself skeptical of your explicit agreement with Pat Buchanan’s caricature (and your own “Money and Power Firster”). As I believe I’ve demonstrated, rather than impute in Kristol the most Machiavellian of intentions, another (perhaps more charitable) reading is possible.

I don’t think “neocon” is a code word for “Jew”. . . .

Of course you don’t, Mark. I’m very much aware of your opposition to the antisemitism of the “Catholic” fringe. (Wish I could say the same for Pat Buchanan, but that’s another sad topic altogether). That said . . .

[Mark Shea:] I think [“neocon”] is a term that loosely defines a wide number of people from many backgrounds who have the Administration’s ear and who have had Big Dreams about making America a force for good in the world, even if some eggs have to be broken to make that geopolitical omelette. It’s not an ignoble dream, but it is one that has shown itself vulnerable to all the normal drawbacks associated with attempts to seize the One Ring and do good with it. The commonality I see between the contemptible power-worshipping ideas of guys like Michael Ledeen and the equally contemptible power-worshipping ideas of John Derbyshire (not Jewish, so far as I know) are an easy willingness to do evil that good may come of it. What irked me about the warm fantasizing over Lieberman at WS was the transparent disinterest in issues some of us still think are vital, so long as it afforded an opportunity for Gondor to continue the dream of remaking the world in this New American Century. . . .

Q: What makes a neocon? — Given the twists and turns in the interpretation of the term ‘neocon’ over the decades, I believe that when the ‘neocon’ label is liberally applied without proper clarification, it all to easily becomes an impediment to the discussion. This is as evident on your blog as it is on any other anti-war or conspiracy website.

When Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton are referred to as “neocons” (Is Neoconservatism Really Conservative?, by J.P. Hubert Jr. TCRNews.com); when the Houston Catholic Worker can assert that “Neoliberalism is known in the United States as neoconservatism”; when conspiracy-minded “end-times” quacks rave about The Prince of Darkness and Other [Jewish] Neocons Pulling Bush’s Strings . . . it’s more than enough to propose that the term neocon be banished from blogdom. And I daresay you’d agree with me here.

[Mark Shea:] I’m just sayin’ some of us think that it’s possible to have a conservative who supports the war on Terror *and* cares about human life. That the latter issue is so remote from Kristol’s mind as he gazes dreamily into the New American future says rather a lot about him, and Weekly Standard‘s editorial stance, and about some of the fault lines in American conservatism.

Just out of curiousity, Mark, how often do you read the Weekly Standard and how do you view its relation to neoconservatism? What is neoconservativism?

I admit I find myself confused by your mish-mash of terms. In one of your latest posts you exclaim

I find myself thinking that I’d rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes

But who are you referring to exactly in the above sentence? — It is often the case that you wildly tar the “neocons” and “conservatives” alike with broad, sweeping strokes, without bothering to clarify who or what you’re referring to.

Example — Neither Michael Ledeen nor John Derbyshire are affiliated with the Project for a New American Century or one of its principle documents, Rebuilding America’s Defenses [.pdf format]. Nor do they write regularly (if at all?) for the Weekly Standard (the locus of “neoconservative” thought these days) — their affiliation is rather with the National Review. But you refer to both Ledeen and Derbyshire in your explication to me of what you mean by “neocon.”

Likewise, the term “creative destruction” is properly attributed to Michael Ledeen. Can you tell me how Ledeen refers to the principle of “creative destruction” and where it appears in the proposal of PNAC? — “War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on “creative destruction” and other Machiavellian schemes” rolls easily enough off the tongue and makes for a good soundbyte . . . until you start to think about the origin of the terms and their relation to each other, and just who is being referred to here.

Likewise, I’m mystified by your present hostility to the Weekly Standard as a neoconservative publication — are you at all aware that, with respect to torture (a subject you’re undoubtedly familiar with), the Standard has, under the editorship of the same “Money and Power Firster” William Kristol, published articles adopting a moral stance more sympathetic with your own?

In May 2005 Reuel Marc Gerecht published Against Rendition: Why the CIA shouldn’t outsource interrogations to countries that torture (which I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way); and in One Code To Rule Them All (October 4, 2005), Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk charged that

FOOL ME ONCE, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. When it comes to detaining prisoners seized in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the other fronts of the terror war, the Pentagon’s “just-trust-us” mentality continues to undercut American strategy. Thankfully, Congress is at last on the verge of doing what the administration clearly cannot: set clear standards for the treatment of detainees.

And on a similar note, here’s the Hobbsian and “demi-pagan” (as you called him), professor Victor Davis Hanson, who asserted:

The United States can win this global war without employing torture. That we will not resort to what comes so naturally to Islamic terrorists also defines the nobility of our cause, reminding us that we need not and will not become anything like our enemies.

(The Truth about Torture Dec. 5, 2005).

I’m not sure whether you had linked to any of these articles while blogging the case against “The Torture Apologists” and “Rubber Hose Right.” I know each of us has a blogging ‘style’, but I think that we might have had a lot better discussion on these issues (which are controversial and inflammmatory enough as they are) if such generalizations could be abandoned in favor of seeking a
definition of terms and attribution of views (properly represented) to specific individuals rather than an amorphous group of “neocons.”

Last year, I found it refreshing that a number of individuals including Daniel Darling (Detainee abuse redux Winds of Change October 6, 2005) and Fr. Neuhaus could engage in a civil and intelligent discussion on so inflammatory a topic while foregoing this kind of rhetoric.

If you want to know what set me off with your citing of Buchanan, I caught a whiff of these same tactics — the misrepresentation, the generalization, the caricatures — in your treatment of William Kristol.

Perhaps if the ‘McCain-Lieberman ticket’ were a reality and Kristol had actually joined their campaign, I would readily share your concern (and would probably have some questions for Kristol of my own).

But what I see now in Kristol and a number of other writers (some of them Catholic, like William Bennett), is a concern of what the Connecticut Democrats have chosen to embrace by its ousting of Lieberman — and the necessity of reaching out across party lines to those like Lieberman who, for whatever their defects or disagreements on a host of other issues, nonetheless recognize the existential threat posed by the global jihad against the West.

* * *

To those not remotely interested in this issue or wondering what purpose it has on this blog, thanks for indulging. Another “Pope Benedict Roundup” is in the works and I’ll be returning to our usual fair shortly.

Some Thoughts on Mark Shea, Joseph Leiberman and Ned Lamont

Siding with (and citing) Pat Buchanan, Mark Shea takes issue with the (neo)conservative embrace of Sen. Joseph Lieberman:

Last year, Joe’s rating by Americans for Democratic Action was 80. The ACLU gave him an 83, the NAACP an 85, the AFL-CIO a 92, LULAC a perfect 100. In 2004, Joe got a 100 rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League and a zero from National Right to Life. His American Conservative Union rating was zero. His Christian Coalition rating was zero. The National Rifle Association, which grades by letters, gave Joe a big, fat “F.”

But as long as you support war in Lebanon, war in Iraq and a “war-fighting Republican Party,” in the Weekly Standard’s phrase, you get a pass on everything else. Beat the drum for permanent war for global democracy and against Islamo-fascism, and all other sins are forgiven you.

Such is the state of conservatism, 2006. [Source: The meaning of Connecticut”, Pat Buchanan World Net Daily August 10, 2006]:

Mark links directly to Buchanan’s editorial, but fails to provide readers with the original essay by Kristol (Anti-war, Anti-Israel, anti-Joe: The New Democrats, Weekly Standard 08/14/2006, Volume 011, Issue 45). I’d like to forego the paraphrasing and examine what William Kristol actually thinks:

The key point in Kristol’s essay is that “You fight the global war against jihadist Islam with the political parties you have.” Not necessarily, he might have added, with the political parties you desire.

As Kristol observes, we have the Republican Party, led by President Bush, whose “heart and mind are mostly in the right place. Its performance as a governing party in time of war is, admittedly, another matter.” Despite some legitimate criticisms on what he perceives as a dearth of leadership (Kristol has strong words for Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and has sharply criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in the past),

“. . . at least we have a president who knows we are at war with jihadist Islam. And he is willing to stake his presidency on that fight, and to support others, like Israel, who are in the same fight.”

Kristol goes on to recognize a similar disposition in the person of Joseph Lieberman, who has distinguished himself from a Democratic party which — to quote William Bennett — “think[s] they can become a national party by taking their cues from Howard Dean, George Soros, MoveOn.Org, the Daily Kos, and George McGovern’s appeasement-first philosophy.”

Kristol concludes:

There is a political opportunity for the Bush administration if the Democrats reject Lieberman. If he’s then unable to win as an independent in November, he would make a fine secretary of defense for the remainder of the Bush years. If his independent candidacy succeeds, it will be a message to Bush that he should forge ahead toward victory in Iraq and elsewhere. Either way, the possibility exists for creating a broader and deeper governing party, with Lieberman Democrats welcomed into the Republican fold, just as Scoop Jackson Democrats became Reaganites in the 1980s. Is it too fanciful to speculate about a 2008 GOP ticket of McCain-Lieberman, or Giuliani-Lieberman, or Romney-Lieberman, or Allen-Lieberman, or Gingrich-Lieberman? Perhaps. But a reinvigorated governing and war-fighting Republican party is surely an achievable goal. And a necessary one.

William Kristol – “Money and Power-Firster”?

I can’t say I share William Bennet’s or William Kristol’s personal enthusiasm for the good Senator and will refrain from indulging in speculation on a presidential ticket. At the same time, I think Mark Shea and Pat Buchanan, in their venting against the dreaded neocons, are being more than a little unfair in their portrayal of Mr. Kristol.

In July 2006, Mark Shea professed his indecisiveness or agnosticism on whether “William Kristol and other neocons are warmongers untethered from reality”, on account that “I distrust the reliability of the information I’m getting and I just don’t know enough yet to make a judgment that’s worth any thing.”

Yet, in August 2006, Mark quotes approvingly Pat Buchanan’s depiction of William Kristol as one willing to sacrifice core moral principles and “give a pass on everything else” to anybody who “beat[s] the drum for permanent war”.

Presumably Kristol is included as well in Shea’s description of the current political debate as a struggle between the “God first conservatives and the Money and Power First Conservatives”:

And it’s quite clear that, for the neocons, the only thing that matters is war and the entire prolife movement and social conservative types can drop dead. The Neocons are All About Power and Realpolitik. Conservatives are morphing into the mirror of their postmodern nihilistic Leftist opponents.

Now, if you listen to the chatter from the anti-war left (antiwar.com, daily kos) and the “paleoconservative” right (The American Conservative), you might recognize William Kristol as a member of the Project for the New American Century, editor of the Weekly Standard, and one of the grand architects of the neoconservative-Zionist conspiracy for perpetual warfare.

Others, however, might recall another side to his political career:

In 1996 he signed his name to The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern, a joint statement by Catholics, evangelicals and conservatives. In his opposition to human cloning, Kristol has allied himself with Charles Colson, William Bennett, Fr. Neuhaus, James Dobson, George Weigel and other major pro-life religious and conservative voices.

Kristol has demonstrated a personal interest and keen grasp of the issues involved in the recent debate over ESCR (embroyonic stem cell research) and human cloning. In February 12, 2001 he authored an editorial “The Future Is Now” in that infamous neocon propaganda machine otherwise known as The Weekly Standard. Drawing from C.S. Lewis’ prophetic The Abolition of Man, Kristol concluded that

“Before this prospect [of genetic human conditioning], before this possibility, every other issue pales not into insignificance, for many other issues are significant, but at least into lesser significance. The challenge of the scientific revolution in genetics and biotechnology, of scientific “progress” loosed from natural, human, or religious moorings, is the challenge we face.”

Together with Eric Cohen (editor of the Ethics & Public Policy Center’s journal New Atlantis), Kristol co-published The Future is Now: America Confronts the New Genetics (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), providing a substantial introduction to the debate (see contents and excerpts here).

In May 2004, he co-authored another article with Eric Cohen, “The Politics of Bioethics: Playing Defense is Not Enough”, The Weekly Standard, Volume 009, Issue 33.

It’s because of Kristol’s thought on these issues and the overall nature of his writing that I can’t help but take umbrage with Pat Buchanan’s — and Mark Shea’s — depiction of him. Frankly, I think the choice of phrase tells us more about a personal animosity toward the elusive neocons and the war in Iraq than it does about Kristol himself.

Lieberman’s Pro-Choice Credentials

Shea/Buchanan base their criticism of Lieberman largely on his pro-choice credentials. But, correct me if I’m wrong, Ned Lamont’s record on the life issues is no more admirable than Lieberman’s — and if you happen to read some of the more liberal blogs, they’re characterizing NARAL’s support of Lieberman as a scam, calling into question his loyalty to the pro-abortion cause:

There is much one could — and should — rightly criticize about Lieberman’s record on the life issues, but at the same time we should recognize that his “pro-choice” credentials, as touted by Buchanan, aren’t as stolid as he makes them out to be. In the end, given as how Republicans haven’t exactly offered any contenders with a fighting chance against the Democrats, we are left with the choice of Lieberman or Lamont in Connecticut. Which leads us to the question:

What’s wrong with Ned Lamont?

And as one of Mark’s commentators (“Ed the Roman”) observed,

Everything for Mark to dislike about Lieberman is there in Lamont, except that he’s anti-war.

The problem is that based on comments like “we are strongest when we negotiate with our enemies”, he’s against the entire war, not just the part in Iraq. Lamont isn’t necessarily going to stop with a withdrawal from Iraq. He shows no signs of willingness to do anything about Iran’s onward march to nuke Haifa.

Forgive me for the lengthy quotation, but Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has put it best:

Spin it as he may, the central plank in Lamont’s platform is for the U.S. to accept complete and utter defeat at the hands of terrorists and insurgents in Iraq — and, by implication, before long, elsewhere too. It does not fool most of the people to say, as Lamont did, that he will bring the troops “home to a hero’s welcome.” In the real world, that is not what awaits those who suffer defeat — however painful their wounds, however great their courage under fire.

The war we are fighting — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — is nasty and bloody and we are not doing very well. But this is the face of war in the 21st century. We either learn to win such battles or we get used to getting whipped; maybe we even start to like getting whipped. Think of John Murtha almost bragging about the retreats he has favored in the past, from Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993 — as though those retreats did not pave the way to 9/11/01.

What’s worse is that Lamont and his supporters believe America deserves defeat. They don’t say it the way Ward Churchill does but you can read it between the lines. They claim it will not be them or the U.S. that is defeated; only Bush and the hated neocons will be vanquished by the forces formerly led by Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That is akin to a passenger on a ship saying that when the vessels sinks, only the captain and crew will drown.

So this is a bad day for America, too. There was a time when Americans united against their enemies. But our enemies in this war have been allowed to divide us. Bush may deserve some of the blame for that. But disunity has been the goal of the Lamont/Sharpton/Jackson/Murtha/Soros/Sheehan/Moore/Kos wing of the Democratic party., the wing that triumphed last night in Connecticut.

In the end, we are faced with the question: Is it possible for Kristol to appeal for possible cooperation and common ground between “Lieberman Democrats” and Republicans on the issue of national security without sacrificing pro-life principles?

Update! For those arriving at this post by way of Mark Shea’s, I’ve written a response to Mark here. Probably the last in this little exchange.

Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Christ c.1441. Fresco, 181 x 152. Museo di San Marco, Cell 6, Florence, Italy

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant. [Mark 9: 2-10]

Dale Vree Revisited