Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mr. Obama Goes to War

The Obama administration has determined that Moammar Qaddafi poses a significant humanitarian threat to his people and has decided that we will participate in - though not lead, the President has made clear - an attack on Mr. Qaddafi's ability to murder his own people.

Very well, if the administration believes that Qaddafi is about to commit mass slaughter we should do what we can to prevent it, but the President's tentativeness and timidity in this venture are disconcerting. He promises that we will be involved only for a few days, as if wars can be waged in between golf outings, and that we will not be deploying ground troops. Well, what if ground troops are the only way to stop the slaughter? What then? And why is he telling Qaddafi what we will do and not do? And what's wrong with American leadership, anyway?

One might think that we would have long ago learned a couple of lessons about these affairs. One lesson in particular is that it's folly to employ half-measures. If you're going to strike against the king, as Machiavelli advised some 500 years ago, you must kill him. To leave Qaddafi in place is sheer madness. Whether he is stymied in his attacks on the rebels or not he will almost certainly return to his support for terrorism against the West and probably on a greater scale than ever. He'll be a threat to every citizen in every nation in the coalition that has arrayed against him.

The President has made it clear (one of his favorite phrases) that getting Qaddafi is not part of our objective, we only want him to stop attacking the rebels, but if so we should never have launched missiles at Libya. Dealing with tyrants is not a pastime for dilletantes. We have essentially declared war (without consulting Congress, by the way), but we're going to allow the man who is responsible for that war to remain in place so that he can support more terror assaults against the West like the Pan Am 103 bombing. This makes no sense.

Mr. Obama has been at pains in his public pronouncements to tacitly stress that he is emphatically not George W. Bush. Unlike Mr. Bush's conduct in Iraq, Mr. Obama has instructed us that we are to make no mistake (another of his favorites), he has a coalition of nations with him, he is not leading those nations, he will not be inserting ground troops, and, apparently, he will not be cutting off the head of the snake.

He's right to insist that he's not George Bush, and it's most unfortunate that he's not.

Statistically Suspicious

Suppose there were some field of endeavor putatively open to minorities but in fact populated only by whites. There would, in such a case, almost certainly be a presumption of either discrimination or at least a hostile climate which deters minorities from entering that field. This rumination leads us to a piece in First Things about a concern raised by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt:
Social psychologists have “taboos and danger zones,” Haidt told a convention of his peers, drawing on his own observations and some statistical data. Harvard’s president Larry Summers asked why so many more men taught math and science at the nation’s top universities, and instead of reasonably considering his hypothesis that there may be “a sex difference in the standard deviation of IQ scores between men and women,” social psychologists stood by or joined the resulting attack on Summers as a sexist. “If you’re inside the force field, [Summers’ suggestion] is not a permissible hypothesis. It is sacrilege.”

And there is, Haidt continued, “a statistically impossible lack of diversity” in social psychology. He polled his audience of approximately 1000 social psychologists and found the ratio of liberals to conservatives was approximately 266 to 1. “When we find any job in the nation in which women or minorities are underrepresented by a factor of three or four, we make the strong presumption that this constitutes evidence of discrimination. And if we can’t find evidence of overt discrimination, we presume that there must be a hostile climate that discourages underrepresented groups from entering.”

Contrasting this to a Gallup data that showed that Americans are about two-to-one conservative, he concluded that “underrepresentation of conservatives in social psychology, by a factor of several hundred, is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering.”
The same sort of underrepresentation exists in the major media. A survey conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1997 found that 61% of reporters shared the beliefs of the Democratic Party. Only 15% said their beliefs were best represented by the Republican Party. The rest were undecided or Independent.

There's nothing wrong with unequal ratios if they result from a disinclination on the part of conservatives to enter these fields and as long as ideological bias is straightforwardly acknowledged by those who hold it. It's when the bias of the scholar or the journalist distorts and misrepresents the truth the general public trusts them to deliver that there's a problem, and when the public believes it's getting a slanted, inaccurate picture of things from the "experts" and those who report the news, that mistrust grows. That's the situation much of the media, and the academy, finds itself in today.

Ten Books That Shaped Modern Conservatism

My friend Jason turns our attention to an ISI article that discusses ten of the most influential books in the shaping of modern conservative thought. The ten are:
  • The Road to Serfdom ........................... F. A. Hayek
  • Socialism ................................... Ludwig von Mises
  • Memoirs of a Superfluous Man ...... Albert Jay Nock
  • Witness ................................. Whittaker Chambers
  • The New Science of Politics ............... Eric Voegelin
  • In Defense of Freedom ........................ Frank Meyer
  • The Conservative Mind ....................... Russell Kirk
  • Ideas Have Consequences ............... Richard Weaver
  • The Quest for Community .................Robert Nisbet
  • On the Democratic Idea in America .... Irving Kristol
The article gives a summary of each and discusses their impact. Anyone who wishes to understand the intellectual foundations of modern conservatism should be familiar with at least several of them, and the article at the link is a good starting point.
It might be noted that these books were all written between 1940 and 1960. There were a number of books written both before and after that period which have also been very influential in shaping conservative thought. Several that come to mind are:
  • The Federalist Papers ...... James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, et al.
  • Democracy in America ..... Alexis deToqueville
  • On Liberty ..... John Stuart Mill
  • Atlas Shrugged ..... Ayn Rand (actually written during the same period as the above works)
  • Conscience of a Conservative ..... Barry Goldwater
  • Almost anything written by William F. Buckley, including his magazine, National Review.
Perhaps one explanation of the current difficulties we face in America is that there are too many Americans who have never read any of these works.