Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Another Leftist Travels the Damascus Road

An erstwhile lefty explains why he has chosen to defect in a remarkable essay in the San Francisco Chronicle. Some excerpts:

I'm leaving the left -- more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together.

I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode.

My estrangement hasn't happened overnight. Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see. Now it's all too obvious. Leading voices in America's "peace" movement are actually cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom.

A turning point came at a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan's use of the word "evil" had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.

When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find "evil'" too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport.

My progressive companions had a point. It was rude to bring a word like "gulag" to the dinner table....I look back on that experience as the beginning of my departure from a left already well on its way to losing its bearings.

Stated simply: The force wielded by democracies in self-defense was declared morally equivalent to the nihilistic aggression perpetuated by Muslim fanatics.

Susan Sontag cleared her throat for the "courage" of the al Qaeda pilots. Norman Mailer pronounced the dead of Sept. 11 comparable to "automobile statistics." The events of that day were likely premeditated by the White House, Gore Vidal insinuated. Noam Chomsky insisted that al Qaeda at its most atrocious generated no terror greater than American foreign policy on a mediocre day.

All of this came back to me as I watched the left's anemic, smirking response to Iraq's election in January. Didn't many of these same people stand up in the sixties for self-rule for oppressed people and against fascism in any guise?

I'll admit my politics have shifted in recent years, as have America's political landscape and cultural horizon. Who would have guessed that the U.S. senator with today's best voting record on human rights would be not Ted Kennedy or Barbara Boxer but Kansas Republican Sam Brownback?

He is also by most measures one of the most conservative senators. Brownback speaks openly about how his horror at the genocide in the Sudan is shaped by his Christian faith, as King did when he insisted on justice for "all of God's children."

This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

The author of this piece is a writer by the name of Keith Thonmpson. You'll want to read the whole thing.

The New Fusionism

Joseph Bottum has a piece in the current First Things entitled The New Fusionism in which he dissects the coalition that comprises contemporary conservatism. Of the three distinct spheres of political life that define one's ideology - social, foreign policy, and economic - Bottum focuses on the first two. He stresses that those who are pro-life in the social sphere (many paleo-cons) have joined with those (mostly neo-cons) who are supportive of the administration's prosecution of the global war on terror to form an alliance that has reversed the defeatism of the post-Vietnam era. Economic concerns have largely been subordinated to the higher imperatives of remoralizing the nation by defeating the culture of death at home and defeating the violent enemies of Western civilization abroad. Here are a few highlights:

Down somewhere in the deepest understanding of what America is for-somewhere in the profound awareness of what it will take to reverse the nation's long drift into social defeatism-there are reasons that one might link the rejection of abortion and the demand for an active and moral foreign policy. Things could have fallen into different patterns; our current liberal-conservative divisions are not the only imaginable ways to cut the political cake. But neither are they merely accidental.

The opponents of abortion and euthanasia insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in domestic politics. The opponents of Islamofascism and rule by terror insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in international politics. Why shouldn't they grow toward each other? The desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in one realm can breed the desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in another.

But taking the word in both the old sense and the new, we should note at least one visible change: The people called neoconservative are much more opposed to abortion than they were even ten years ago. The shift has occurred across the spectrum. The ones who started out solidly pro-choice are now uneasy, the ones who started out uneasy are now more uneasy, and the ones who started out quietly anti-abortion are now strong pro-lifers.

Maybe it was all the time spent with Catholics, or maybe it was the rise of the worries about biotechnology that Leon Kass and others have brought to light, but-whatever group we use the word to encompass-the neoconservatives have generally grown in their alliance with the social conservatives to accept a central place for the pro-life position in any theory of conservatism.

Meanwhile, the social conservatives have grown up, too. When the Evangelicals burst on the political scene in the 1970s, they hardly knew what the words "foreign policy" meant. But now "one cannot understand international relations without them," as Allen Hertzke observed in Freeing God's Children, his 2004 report on American religious impact around the world. From the Virginia congressman Frank Wolfe to the Kansas senator Sam Brownback, the religious conservatives in Washington have led the fight against international sex trafficking and a host of other human-rights abuses.

They achieved real results in southern Sudan, and they are straining to find similar traction in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Far beyond their Democratic counterparts, they have demonstrated seriousness about human rights in North Korea and China. "Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback," the left-leaning columnist Nicholas Kristof reluctantly admitted in the New York Times this Christmas, "are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad."

And then there's Israel. "No one outside the Jewish community has been more supportive of Israel than U.S. evangelical Christians," the Jerusalem Post bluntly noted in 2002-

In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?

Perhaps they are missing because, however important, they do not bear hard on the immediate question of social defeatism-on the deep changes that might reawaken and remoralize the nation. The one thing both the social conservatives and the neoconservatives know is that this project comes first.

The article is very good and can be read at the link.

Desecrating the Koran

If American troops have gratuitously beaten, tortured and murdered enemy soldiers they must be prosecuted. They have tarnished the military, besmirched their country, and violated the law of God. Such crimes cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Having said that, it must be asked why there is such a kerfuffle over alleged "desecration" of the Koran. It is not that we think it acceptable to treat this book disrespectfully, but distinctions need to be made.

Let's start with a question. What exactly is wrong with mistreating the Koran? Is the offense spiritual? Is it moral? Or is it merely political? Unless one believes that the Koran really is the word of God then it's hard to see how it could be spiritually offensive to treat it with contempt. Nor is it easy to see how flushing a book down a toilet (Has anyone asked whether this is even possible)could be immoral, even if it enrages the devout. After all, people are enraged by those who burn the flag and profanate the Bible, but that such acts are immoral seems a hard case to make in a secular society.

That leaves us with political offense. It is argued that it's wrong to mistreat the Koran because such behavior does not endear us to the world's Muslims, and, of course, here we agree. We should be sensitive to the religious sensibilities of those whose hearts we wish to win over, and our troops should for pragmatic reasons be ordered to treat the Koran in a reasonably dignified manner out of respect, not so much for the prisoners, who may indeed be detestable human beings, but for the multitudes of Muslims who are watching how we conduct ourselves. If soldiers violate this order they should be punished, but their punishment should be a consequence of defying an order. It should not be because their conduct is inherently despicable.

It will not do to reply that Muslims hold Christianity in contempt and therefore they have no claim on our respect. First, if we are Christians we are prima facie obligated to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness. That means respecting, to the extent practicable, their most deeply held beliefs even if they don't respect ours. Second, it may be true that they do not respect Christian belief, but then they're not particularly eager to win our affections either. We are eager to win theirs. Without the support of the world's Muslims we'll never prevail in the war on terror, and we won't have that support if our troops don't display a modicum of deference to their most profound convictions.