Promoted Back to the Top: The Point of Politics

This post has been attracting a lot of comments, so I thought I’d bring it back up top for convenience’s sake. –Hunter B.

Ross Douthat, newly returned from filling in for Andrew Sullivan, points to an essay on the ol’ question of why those red-staters are voting red. (follow the links)

Now, I think the question is a bit hackneyed, not least because the fact that some state tends conservative or liberal is a long way from being able to say anything about the effects of social conditions on voting behavior. Having 55% of a state’s voters (not citizens, mind you) who vote conservative or liberal and then making snarky comments (a la the NYT’s Frank Rich) about how funny it is that those states have higher divorce rates, watch Desperate Housewives, etc. doesn’t get you very far.

In any case, it seems to me that the whole question is based on a misunderstanding, namely, that politics is primarily about economics and only then about “cultural” issues. That’s just nonsense, mostly dreamed up by people who *want* politics to be all about economics. Politics is, rather, primarily about culture, it is a vehicle for people to decide “who” they are. Economic decisions, the allocation of resources or opportunities, is a part of that “who-ness”, but it does not contain it. Economics does, of course, shape culture, but I think it’s a mistake to think it’s primary.

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99 thoughts on “Promoted Back to the Top: The Point of Politics

  1. I could almost take offsense to this, you’re implying that those on the wrong side of this culture war could be criminals. You guys are truly intent on taking ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ as far as possible aren’t you… Religion… no, we mean culture.

    As thomas frank points out though, cultural issues are very rarely, almost never, legislated upon (could you seriously make the case that the tax cut was more cultural than economics?), so if politics is about cultural issues, nobody’s told the politicians.

    You really should define culture. I could repeat a lot of what’s the matter with kansas…

  2. Thomas Frank is out to lunch. Read James Nuechterlein’s response to Frank in First Things. Nails it dead on. You can get it free at the FT website.

  3. So, man doesn’t live by bread alone after all. Welcome to reality, reality-based community. Better late than never.

    The original American Prospect article is actually a repudiation of Thomas Frank with his class warfare crap–he’s so 2004, so Bob Shrum, if not 1932 and FDR.

    Recommended reading for all—the polling it recounts already appears to be highly influential: the new poster boy for the “new” progressive movement is the very religious Tim Kaine, newly-elected Democrat governor of red-state Virginia.

    Kaine has just been selected to give the Demo response to Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address.

    Coincidence? I think not…

  4. If people were persuaded to vote economics, the democrats would win every election (tax cuts notwithstanding). Republicans have some excellent reasons for emphasizing cultural values.

    I can always depend upon Tom to show me the neo-conservative agenda.

  5. Study after study confirms that the number one correlationary factor in how you vote is… how your parents vote. Children of Democrats tend to vote Democrat; children of Republicans tend to vote Republican.

  6. Actually, Friend Connie, we’re introducing you to your new lefty talking points, the new and improved neo-progressive agenda, which is why the article was recommended for all.

    American Prospect is perhaps America’s foremost lefty magazine, replacing the Nation, which is wack, and The New Republic, which is growing dangerously centrist.

    The Reform Club keeps you, the gentle reader of any and all political persuasions, on the cutting edge. Class envy is out: the system works for the vast majority (at least of voters), where more people make $100K+ a year than make under $15K.

    Bob Shrum’s (and John Edwards’ “Two Americas”) class warfare is an electoral loser, since 55% of the (Bush-Kerry) electorate makes over $50K a year, the point where most people consider themselves comfortable.

    After that, they think of societal cohesion, morality, ethos, and values, which in classical philosophy are called “virtue”.

    Hard work, self-sufficiency and personal responsibility are part of America’s (and Calvinism’s, and classical philosophy’s) ethos, or character. A political party that ignores its nation’s ethos consigns itself to irrelevance.

    Except for modern (and failed) experiments like Marx’s, which claim universal political truths, governments must suit the ethos of a people, not the other way around.

    Hillary, the progressives, and the Democratic Party seem to be getting the message, albeit only through more sophisticated polling. They could have saved a lot of dough by just picking up some Montesquieu. (Pretenders like Thomas Frank lie dead, and unlamented.)

  7. Study after study confirms that the number one correlationary factor in how you vote is… how your parents vote. Children of Democrats tend to vote Democrat; children of Republicans tend to vote Republican.

    My parents were Republican. I did manage to finally persuade my dad to register as a Democrat.

  8. Tom, that is true only so long as the middle class thrives and the poor are maintained in a safety net.

    As long as the Bushies keep redistributing wealthy more and more towards the top of the food chain, more and more people will become Democrats. It really is in their best interest not to redistribute wealthy to the wealthy too much.

  9. All of these, quite good, articles didn’t seem to get the point of Frank’s book at all. First off, Kansas is the extreme case and the supposed leading indicator, the populist reforms which were started here, and their undoing have done the most good, and the most harm here. Everything he says in the book is thus meant to foretell the future possible domestic trends in America (the backlash spreading), since Kansas historically leads the nation (slavery, even abortion). And secondly, If the democrats are the ones lacking the self-image, the Republicans aren’t much better off underneath their proud conservative selves. There are the two Republican America’s, the mods and the cons (the backlash America), this difference is striking in Kansas, but quite unnoticeable nationally, atleast to me, except maybe McCain.

    If people earning < $50,000 did vote for Kerry by a pretty slim margin (<5%) all over America, they voted in Kansas for Bush by a 30% margin in Kansas' poorest district. Imagine that nationally! Something the Nuecterlein article refuses to accept. On pg176 and at the end Frank mentions everything the Nuechterlein article does to fault the Democrats. The republicans can only try to teach the Democrats because it's the Republicans who have gotten lucky in having the cons land on their side of the fence. If it wasn't for the straw man of liberal intellectualism and the unwinnable culture war--the backlash, there'd be no republican victories: pg136-pg137:“…for the aggrieved “Middle Americans,” the experience has been a bummer all around. All they have to show for their Republican loyalty are lower wages, more dangerous jobs, dirtier air, a new overlord class [the liberal elite] that comports itself like a King–and, of course, a crap culture whose moral free fall continues without significant interference from the Christers whom they send triumphantly back to Washington every couple of years. By all rights the charm of Republicanism should have worn off for this part of the conservative coalition long ago. After all, how can you lament the shabby state of American life while absolving business of responsibility for it? How can you complain so bitterly about culture and yet neglect to mention the main factor making culture what it is? How can you reconcile the two clashing halves of the conservative mind?

    By believing in bias, that’s how. Alone among the many, many businesses of the world, the backlash thinkers insist, the culture industry does not respond to market forces. It does the ugly things that it does because it is honeycombed with robotic, alien liberals, trying to drip their corrosive liberlism into our ears. Liberal bias exists because it must exist in order for the rest of contemporary conservatism to be true. … Bias has to be; therefore it is.”

    Even when the poor get poorer and the middle class union workers in Wichita become less and less well off, they vote Republican because of the backlash.

    It is the backlash which provides the populist votes for an unpopulist agenda. It’s Kansas which is the leading indicator here. And I’m sure the backlash plays a big role in most southern states. It’s not just the population on the fringes, and it makes a difference as ‘middle-class caring about culture votes republican’

    You guys are all optimists and point the the evidence of there being no more social classes, but that’s merely an illusion because of the backlash. You should hear limbaugh on a regular basis… nobody that’s reading this won’t, and for good reason, the guy is wrong beyond comprehension.

    Most intellectuals in other countries worry about their kids being carried away too much by western culture, I’m for one glad western culture is being confronted, even if rhetorically. When the ones put in power to do so give us worse drinking water, I can be realistic about them ‘confronting’ culture.

    I hope that was coherent… And I blame it on Reagan, I ran across some popular culture comedy of the 80’s and it made fun of Reagan the same as the current Bush, unintelligent. It all adds up, ‘don’t think too much, free market saves all’.

  10. As for the backlash, which in my midwest living experience is very true, it is a feedback loop, where the feedback is the deteriorating culture blamed on the liberal elites. There is only more and more of it, this is why liberal is bad word now. You can find out for yourself by coming to Kansas or Missouri. I’ve had the privelage of arguing with several people who believe this… regularly! The rest of the world is liberal… it’s because they all have liberal media outlets, they would NEVER be otherwise! no more thought is needed. When O’Reilly says ‘The liberal CBC shouldn’t be funded by the canadian government’, It’s Proof! There is no seperation of powers doctrine in the republican house, senate, executive, it’s the liberal media! The free market doesn’t provide stability (i.e. Irrational Exuberance), It’s liberal! Neo-Conservative agenda, liberal speak! NO more thinking is required. The kids are voting like their parents, overwhelmingly. It’s quite amazing, shocking and true, to say the least. These are students at UMR, the school should nationally be known for it’s American Solar Challenge winning Solar Car team.

    As a person who lives in Cupcake Land (the description is correct, and there isn’t nearly enough poverty here for a Democrat to win an election), as affectionately put by Frank and another author, and as someone who went to the same school Frank did, If only somebody gave me a penny for arguing about much stricter gun control at times, I’d be filthy rich… guess what, I was almost convinced into believeing current gun control is good enough, even when the US does no better in crime rates compared to the rest of the world. This place has infact at times pulled me to the right on everything, healthcare, guns, you name it, and if it wasn’t for my reading habit (Irrational Exuberance currently), I’d be a basket case. You can only ignore so many self-filling prophecies, before accepting some. I’ve typed way too much.

  11. When I read the original post I thought I knew what we were complaining about, but now I’m confused.

    I will say that I find the meta-bias issue to be way funny. The conservatives complain about the alleged liberal bias in mainstream media, then the liberals complain that conservatives who think there is a liberal bias . . . are themselves biased. Meanwhile, the mainstream media claim to be unbiased, and occasionally report on the biases, alleged biases, and biased allegations of bias. Then we blog about those reports and how they are biased.

    Who can you believe anyway? I have followed many news sources on a regular basis for some time, and found that Fox appears (to me) to be more “balanced” than the AP; usually Fox News brings up both sides of an issue, while many AP articles (in my experience) have been a few steps short of an editorial. Then again, I’m probably biased.

  12. “Having 55% of a state’s voters (not citizens, mind you) who vote conservative or liberal and then making snarky comments (a la the NYT’s Frank Rich) about how funny it is that those states have higher divorce rates, watch Desperate Housewives, etc. doesn’t get you very far.”

    Maybe not but (for example) when you can point to policy like insisting on abstinence only education and then you show that it correlates with much higher instances of teen pregnancy (and it does) then you do indeed have something that gets you far.

    Voting percentages may not mean much but enforced policies do.

  13. JC: “Who can you believe anyway?”

    Both liberals and conservatives complain about media bias and both can point to legitimate cases supporting their points. The most logical conclusion is the one that I have repeatedly offered here: the media is media-biased.

    It is biased toward whatever view helps it sell more copy. That neatly fits with our expectations of capitalistic endeavors as well as explaining the evidence.

  14. The poor in Kansas vote overwhelmingly republican because of the backlash. While this may not be true nationally, it could be. The ‘culture’ will inevitably continue to worsen, as defined by the backlash. This is a grassroots movement, and the ‘liberals’ are the enemy, again, as defined by the backlash.

    My experiences with living in Kansas agree with Frank.

  15. Devang, I admire the effort you’ve put into these posts.

    Something else you should consider in addition to culture backlash is the notion that many Americans regardless of income level consider wealth redistribution to be akin to theft.

    It might benefit them, but darn it, they want no part of it.

  16. This reminds me of an exchange in a basic economics class. It went something like this.

    Teacher. “[…] The richest 1% of Americans pay 2/3 of the taxes.”
    Student. “Well, rich people don’t deserve all that money.”

    This is, of course, the classic liberal view on redistribution. Conservatives might respond with the rhetorical “Should the government be responsible for determining who ‘deserves’ money?” Our economy is founded on the principle that the answer is “usually no” (free market). The political issue is the precise definition of “usually.”

    Mr. Baker correctly observes that, on principle, even poor people might take a side that doesn’t “benefit” them. And yes, tax cuts can be “cultural” in that your opinion of who deserves what tax cuts when can be affected by culture in the same way that your views on abortion or gay rights are. Expansive social programs vs. small government is a cultural issue, as well as an economic one.

  17. The Kansas view is based almost completely on a materialistic world view; ie, I will vote my pocketbook, period.

    It ain’t that simple …

  18. “Something else you should consider in addition to culture backlash is the notion that many Americans regardless of income level consider wealth redistribution to be akin to theft.”

    If that is the case Hunter then why are tax cuts always so thoroughly lied about by those seeking to make the cuts? For instance why does the GOP lie about the estate tax and claim it causes all these family owned farms to be repossessed? Why must people lie to sell a product you claim the public is eager to buy?

  19. The Kansans are also voting against unions, and for corporate welfare. Both are not theft, and makes their economic situation worse. Add that to the rest of the republican platform, poorer environment, poorer social services, it becomes obvious to me, that something like the backlash and unwinnable cultural issues are needed for the Kansans to vote the way they do.

    If you frame the question asking people about social programs, they overwhelmingly say yes.

    It’s easier for a corporation to come out of bankruptcy than it is for a human now… corporate welfare.

  20. Devang, I don’t like corporate welfare , either. No good conservative does. As a percentage of the budget, however, corporate welfare is a very small piece of the pie. The non-discretionary chunk of the budget, by far the biggest slice, goes to social programs regardless of who the president is.

    The welfare reform of the late 90’s helped considerably, but without social security being likewise improved, we’ll still have a very entitlement heavy government.

    It’s really quite shocking how rapidly this state of affairs developed. As of 1960, we spent just a small portion on social programs as a nation with the lion share going to defense. Since the late 80’s, the inverse has been true.

    And say what you want about the military-industrial complex, but defense is just about the only thing we’ve successfully trimmed as a budget item through the years.

  21. The welfare reform of the late 90’s helped considerably, but without social security being likewise improved, we’ll still have a very entitlement heavy government.

    Why do you call social security an entitlement government program? It doesn’t come out of tax dollars. It comes out of money we all pay in and was self-supporting until a bunch of the surplus was taken away.

  22. Connie, social security hasn’t been self-supporting ever. It has always been one group paying for the retirement of another group. It had a surplus for a long time because the baby boomers were paying for a numerically smaller generation. The Gen-Xers are going to have a terrible time paying for the boomers because we were also numerically small.

    Self-supporting would be if I pay in and get back what I put in with interest. When you take from one person to pay another, that is an entitlement.

  23. “Devang, I don’t like corporate welfare , either. No good conservative does.”

    Well then might you guys actually elect a ‘good’ conservative for once?

    “The non-discretionary chunk of the budget, by far the biggest slice, goes to social programs regardless of who the president is.”

    Which is exactly how it should be. There is no reason to have a government if it provides no social benefit, now is there? Social benefit is their entire reason to exist.

    “The welfare reform of the late 90’s helped considerably”

    Sure if by “helped considerably” you mean hurt the weakest members of society. Children’s nutrition for example plummeted in the wake of those reforms.

    “And say what you want about the military-industrial complex, but defense is just about the only thing we’ve successfully trimmed as a budget item through the years.”

    You are joking right? We spend more per capita on defense than any other country in the world. The only one that comes close is Israel. Israel is a small country surrounded by hostile entities. What is our excuse for wasting that much cash?
    Over the last five years the defense budget has grown by an average of 6.7%. The overall discretionary budget has grown by 5.5%. It’s getting bigger- not being trimmed- and it could be trimmed a long long ways before it was reasonable.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006/tables.html

  24. Just as a general statement not directed toward anyone in particular:

    The basic purpose of government is the mutual defense of its citizens.

    I don’t think anyone bowed their heads to the masters of law and order to get a prescription drug benefit.

    Again, not talking to anyone in particular, but I think I have met the most confused anarchist in the history of mankind.

  25. This is, of course, the classic liberal view on redistribution.

    Wow. That is, I believe, called “putting words in others’ mouths.” It’s also known as “making it up as you go.”

    You can go to Beliefnet.com, or pick up the latest Atlantic Monthly, and read an interesting bit on the “twelve tribes” (oh the imagery!) of America. It’s an interesting read that makes a lot more sense than the simplistic “red/blue” paradigm that is oh-so-popular and acrimonious.

    There’s this and this.

  26. “The basic purpose of government is the mutual defense of its citizens”

    Certainly not. Defense has just as often as not been accomplished through citizen militia which were relatively devoid of governmental control or influence. Rather it was the social benefits of government that made it flourish. A centralized and nominally equitable system of justice. Standardized monies for trade. Provisions and planning for disaster. Leadership.

    “Again, not talking to anyone in particular, but I think I have met the most confused anarchist in the history of mankind.”

    I’m not sure why you bother to pretend you aren’t talking to me when you are. I suppose it’s some sort of insult but frankly it lacks any weight. As to your point: you do indeed think I’m confused but as usual that’s because you’ve been so severely miseducated. That’s a tragedy but not a personal failing. I suspect you are smart enough to see past the ideological blinders you have had instilled. Of course if confronted with evidence you choose not to discard those theories proven false then that is indeed a personal failing.

  27. “The basic purpose of government is the mutual defense of its citizens”

    “Certainly not.”

    Hoo boy.


  28. Hoo boy.

    What’s that supposed to mean? I think we all know that the purpose of government is a pretty fundamental divide among conservatives and liberals.

  29. “Hoo boy.”

    Ah, I hadn’t considered it like that before. Silkly me I was thinking of say the Babylonian code of law under Hammurabi and the hellenic traditions of government. Neither of which had to do with mutual defense and both of which are fundamental starting points to understanding western civilization. But of course that can’t possibly match up to a disdainfull muttered “hoo boy.”

  30. Look if you really thin the purpose of government is simply to provide for defense than you have to be anti-democratic. Democracies are the single worst way to maintain a militarily secure state EVER. They take forever to decide anything, are constantly second guessing themselves, and lack any real continuity of decision making.

    Unquestionably a system of imperial or monarchal rule is vastly superior militarily. What you want is something very much like North Korea. Notice that despite their small size and incredible poverty they are enormously militarily powerful. The enormous and incredibly wealthy US fears to attack them.

    I suppose if that is really what you believe then it makes sense why you have no problem with Bush’s attempt to grab total control of the government. Still it does make me wonder why you claim promoting democracy in Iraq is a worthwhile endeavor, unless of course the goal is simply to make/keep them weak, while we put on our iron boots.

    See how your stated philosophy is in direct conflict with your equally stated beliefs? Military might is not the purpose of government. It is an appropriate practice of government only to the extent that it supports the real purpose of government: social benefit.

    Do we need a military? Sure, I’d never deny that. But we need a military for defense. Period. Our military should exist to protect our nation from attack. The only time they should operate outside of our territory is either when another state has initiated war against us or as part of legitimately international humanitarian missions.

  31. Tlaloc’s got himself a point, Hunter. You’ll have to broaden your definition of “defense” to an incredibly tenuous level just to justify the governmental functions you alone use daily.

  32. James, I think the basic statement is being radically understood. The first and primary goal of government is to provide for the physical safety of its members. This is not a novel interpretation of political theory. It is RIDICULOUS, repeat RIDICULOUS, to argue otherwise.

    Are there other functions? Yes. Legitimate functions? Yes. The simple and modest point was that physical safety is primary and precedes the others.

  33. And by the way, that “Hoo boy!” is pretty devastating, isn’t it?

    Morrie Brickman made an absolute career of the phrase in his political cartoon “The Small Society.”

    To my recollection, he ended virtually every installment with that two word atomic bomb.

  34. “The first and primary goal of government is to provide for the physical safety of its members. This is not a novel interpretation of political theory. It is RIDICULOUS, repeat RIDICULOUS, to argue otherwise.”

    It may indeed not be novel but it is also incorrect. And it is furthermore inconsistent as I demonstrated above. You CANNOT be both democratic and also believe government exists primarily or only for the common defense. You simply can’t unless you are staggeringly incompetent in matters of military history. A single leader is always far more efficient in terms of security.

    The fact that western culture broke substantially with the traditions of having single rulers is a repudiation of your central thesis. It’s fine if you don’t take my word for it, take the word of ALL of our founding fathers.

    Look at the constitution, how big a role does the military play? Tiny. Miniscule in fact. It’s relegated to the slightest mention in Article 1 section 8 and Article 2 section 2. “Defense” is mentioned in the Preamble but after “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility” and before “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” This was by a people who had just suffered through a significant war against a vastly superior military power. And yet defense is given little significance within their very founding document.

  35. I kind of thought “Hoo boy!” was more of a preaching to the choir, playing to the crowd sort of response, devoid of either triumph or argument.

    You’re also using the “universalist” argument – I don’t know the technical term – of ascribing universiality to your argument. You state that your point is “obvious” and “not worth challenging” (I know, not your words, I’m just trying to demonstrate).

    From Plato to Rawls, the answer has been somewhat different than yours: The protection of rights and administration of justice. One might also argue that its purpose is the protection of the priviliges of a select group. Of course, these broad statements raise questions all their own. This is what I meant by your stretching “defense.” Defense is a very limited concept in political economy.

  36. “And by the way, that “Hoo boy!” is pretty devastating, isn’t it?”

    It altered my entire world view.

  37. “It altered my entire world view.”

    FINALLY!

    By the way, your take on single leaders (read dictators) and military history is highly explanatory (cough, cough) of the outcome of WWII.

  38. Just out of curiosity, me wonders how often idealogues in this forum concede that the opposition might have a point? Is it really that difficult? Seems rather damning to me. Rather sad to see everyday people resort to rhetoric characteristic of “talking points.”

    There has been a fair amount of talk about how poisoned political discourse has become. Perhaps it has reached the point of no return.

    For example, Fred Barnes and Jon Stewart recently had the following exchange:

    JS: …The new Republican establishment seem like sore winners to me.

    FB: Look, I think the president could have done more to reach out to Democrats…

    JS: Not even Democrats. Forget about Democrats…

    FB: Then who???

    JS: Reasonable People!!!

    FB: (nervous laughter)

    JS: Forget about Democrats… I don’t even know what that… See, that brings up my point. …Washington … views the world bicamerally, as though the world is ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’, or ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative, where the rest of us sit on the outside and just think: “Holy #@*&!!! These can’t be the only two options!!!” Do you know what I mean??? That is the part that is so like, weird…

    FB: The difference though is, in Washington, those are the only two options.

    JS: Why is that??? Aren’t there independent thinkers that can have a chance to affect policy?

    FB: There are independent thinkers, but there are not independent parties. There are two parties, remember? There’s a Republican party and a Democratic party. That’s it; that’s all we’ve got…

    Perhaps there are “mysterious jollies” to be gained from having a particular point of view validated?

    Is this what it means to be passionate, or am I just missing something?

  39. Aardvark,

    Just out of curiosity, which ideologues were you addressing? I only ask because, from where I sit, Tlaloc and I aren’t the only ones, so that makes it kind of hard to figure out who you were addressing.

    I also thought I was being fairly reasonable, but, you know, it’s not like I haven’t been accused of ideological myopism before, with some validity.

  40. Connie, social security hasn’t been self-supporting ever. It has always been one group paying for the retirement of another group. It had a surplus for a long time because the baby boomers were paying for a numerically smaller generation. The Gen-Xers are going to have a terrible time paying for the boomers because we were also numerically small.

    Self-supporting would be if I pay in and get back what I put in with interest. When you take from one person to pay another, that is an entitlement.

    Hunter, that may be so, but it was self-supporting as it didn’t come out of the federal budget or taxes (yes social security is a tax, but it’s a set-aside that was to be funded totally out of the taxes). To call it a misnomer or to even relate it to the federal budget, or government spending, deficits, etc. might satisfy your ideology, but it is not in common parlance.

    I can’t believe your obsession over redistribution. Do you understand all the ways in which government funding redistributes money all the time in ways that benefits you?

  41. James, I think the basic statement is being radically understood. The first and primary goal of government is to provide for the physical safety of its members. This is not a novel interpretation of political theory. It is RIDICULOUS, repeat RIDICULOUS, to argue otherwise.

    Are there other functions? Yes. Legitimate functions? Yes. The simple and modest point was that physical safety is primary and precedes the others.

    I guess I misread Locke and Rousseau when I was in graduate school.

  42. There were over 4000 years of human history before Locke and Rousseau, and lotsa of humanity before that.

    The West as we know it is a baby, an experiment. Its survival is by no means assured.

    In fact, of late it seems to be an open question of whether it even has the will to reproduce itself.

  43. Connie, I think you definitely misread Locke because physical safety is quite primary in his reasoning for why we emerge from the state of nature.

    The difference between him and Hobbes is that Hobbes thinks life without government would be hell, which thus justifies an overaweing Leviathan King. Locke thinks it would merely be a little less safe, thus justifying a limited government.

  44. On the redistribution issue, I’m not obsessed, but I do want to make sure we call a spade a spade and don’t pretend that we simply have a right to the fruit of another person’s labors. Taking something via act of government is still taking something via force. Whatever we do, you must remember there was a very large contingent that did not wish to go along, but they must pay regardless.

  45. “By the way, your take on single leaders (read dictators) and military history is highly explanatory (cough, cough) of the outcome of WWII.”

    Uh yeah it is. Notice that Germany, a nation that was absolutely crushed in WW1 and reduced to unbearable poverty rose up to almost thrash all of the rest of the world with the help of the Imperial Japanese. I don’t know if you’ve ever compared German and Japan (circa 1938) with Russia, France, Britain, and the US (combined) in terms of land area, GDP, or population but if you do you’ll see it is amazing they came so close to winning.

    Are you really going to deny that a single leader is more militarily effective than a democracy?

  46. “Just out of curiosity, me wonders how often idealogues in this forum concede that the opposition might have a point?”

    It does happen but certainly not often. Of course you have to expect that to some degree given that for the most part there are huge differences in outlook between say JE or myself and say Hunter or Jay.

  47. “There were over 4000 years of human history before Locke and Rousseau, and lotsa of humanity before that.”

    Indeed and if you look back (as I said before) at say the code of hammurabi you find it is about social justice and not physical defense. In other words whether your perspective is modern or ancient the thesis that government exists for military power doesn’t hold up.

  48. “Taking something via act of government is still taking something via force. Whatever we do, you must remember there was a very large contingent that did not wish to go along, but they must pay regardless.”

    Inevitably those same people are content to “take by force” their share though. Barring some strange republican hermit nobody in GOP is complaining about their OWN benefits, only those that go to others.
    Besides which it is not “taking by force” to redistribute wealth that is only possible due to the support of the society at large. No company could make it’s profits without the infrastructure that the society has created and maintained. There is then absolutely no reason to allow them to horde those profits when they might be used to pay back society in some measure.

    You play you pay. Simplest transaction ever. If you don’t like it you can always live unabomber style.

  49. “Yup.”

    Is that in answer to my question “Are you really going to deny that a single leader is more militarily effective than a democracy?”

    I just want to be crystal clear because what you are saying runs contrary to every military theory concept ever.

    Quick question: does the army run as a democracy or as a heirarchy? According to what you are saying here democracies are more capable of fighting than institutions controlled by a central leader. So why do we have ranks at all? The army could simply sit down and vote on each tactical and strategic manuever. They could just vote on whether they feel like fighting to today at all. Sounds like a grand idea.

    You’ve said some stupefying things, Hunter, but maintaining that democratic institutions are better than centralized leadership in the specific field of warfare is a whole new level of absurdity.

  50. Are you really going to deny that a single leader is more militarily effective than a democracy?

    I believe they (Germany & Japan) had quite a head start on the Allies – and yet they still lost. You are correct that the indecisiveness of democracies is problematic, but once they (finally) set their mind on something, they tend to annihilate despots. Democracies produce far superior war making organizations – it’s really not even close – once they’re unleashed.

  51. “I believe they (Germany & Japan) had quite a head start on the Allies – and yet they still lost.”

    In what alternate reality is this? Germany was flattened utterly by WW1 and the sanctions put on it afterward. Its economy was in ruins. Its infrastructure had taken a pounding. Meanwhile britain had come through basically unscathed (as far as infrastructure, they had of course lost a huge number of men but so had germany). France had taken it pretty hard but still not as bad as Germany especially when you consider the after war conditions. America was untouched by WW1 as far as infrastructure.

    By what measure then did the Axis have a head start?

    “You are correct that the indecisiveness of democracies is problematic, but once they (finally) set their mind on something, they tend to annihilate despots.”

    Really? Quick question: in which branch of our government is war power concentrated? The democratic Congressional branch or the autocratic Executive? And during war do we increase or decrease the executive’s power relative to the congressional? In fact during war time do we not have provisions for suspending our entire democratic system at the discretion of the executive?

    Yes we do.

    I wonder why the framers chose to put basically all the war powers in the hands of the branch you are contending is the least capable of wielding it?

    My god this is Military Theory 101. It forms the underpining of our entire system of military organization as well as the conceptual framework for US military and government interaction. Has nobody here ever studied military theory? I mean even the basics. Sun Tzu anyone? Anybody?

  52. “Just out of curiosity, which ideologues were you addressing? I only ask because, from where I sit, Tlaloc and I aren’t the only ones, so that makes it kind of hard to figure out who you were addressing.”

    Interesting that you would ask that. While drafting the post, I was going to include the caveat “…James Elliott does NOT count…” since it seemed rather obvious.

    Based on your previous posts, the only conclusion that could be fairly drawn is that you intentionally (or not) avoid casting aspersions or employing inflammatory rhetoric.

    Now, it should be said that your comments have a liberal bent, but it would seem that we all have prejudices. My point is simply to find out why it is so difficult to find people who can disagree on a certain issue while refraining from being disagreeable.

    Not a troll, just a thought…

  53. “My point is simply to find out why it is so difficult to find people who can disagree on a certain issue while refraining from being disagreeable.”

    The sociological effects of anonymous internet communication are pretty well researched at this point. Take a look at the work by Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. They ran Lamda MOO for a while as a way to study online social interactions.

    But in a nut shell people feel more free online to be aggressive and even offensive in presenting their views, which of course means that they are essentially being more honest. These are the things they think but would not say to your face.

  54. Tlaloc>> The head start I was referring to had to do with military intention. Hitler had mobilized his military and capitalized on the unpreparedness of the rest of the world (due to the shock of WWI). By the time that the Brits and the US woke up, the Axis powers had quite a head start.

    As for the rest of your point about command structure, obviously pure democracies are not best suited to make command decisions during wars. So from that standpoint, you are correct and that’s why all militaries have similar command structures.

    The difference – and you can read a little Vic Hanson on this – is that citizens of western cultures (primarily with democratic forms of govt) are the most effective killers in the world for the same reasons that they are the most effective marketers, scientists, engineers, etc. In other words, the fruit of our culture (and it’s democratic institutions) is what makes us tough to beat – not so much the design of the command structure.

    [I should note that none of this is a comment on the primary role of govt.]

  55. “Yup.”

    “Is that in answer to my question “Are you really going to deny that a single leader is more militarily effective than a democracy?””

    Yup. 🙂

  56. An argument in favor of your position, Hunter.

    Free men fight more ingeniously, and harder, because they fight for themselves, not for the state.

    (By extension, I think, also an argument against collectivism, substituting “work” for “fight.”)

  57. “The head start I was referring to had to do with military intention. Hitler had mobilized his military and capitalized on the unpreparedness of the rest of the world (due to the shock of WWI). By the time that the Brits and the US woke up, the Axis powers had quite a head start.”

    Which is just one way that militarily an autocratic system is superior to a democratic one. Hitler was able to take advantage of that fact.

    “As for the rest of your point about command structure, obviously pure democracies are not best suited to make command decisions during wars. So from that standpoint, you are correct and that’s why all militaries have similar command structures.”

    I’m glad we are starting to get on the same page. So if as you admit democracies are not the best way to operate a military and if as hunter claims the primary purpose of government is military might then the obvious conclusion is that hunter is or should be anti-democratic as should anyone who agrees with his position. A pure autocratic system beasts a partial democratic beats a pure democratic system in this one regard.

    “The difference – and you can read a little Vic Hanson on this – is that citizens of western cultures (primarily with democratic forms of govt) are the most effective killers in the world for the same reasons that they are the most effective marketers, scientists, engineers, etc. In other words, the fruit of our culture (and it’s democratic institutions) is what makes us tough to beat – not so much the design of the command structure.”

    I don’t see how you reach that conclusion at all. If the US was not an enormous country (fourth largest overall but when you consider actual usable land area it’s either #1 or #2) with enormous natural resources and a history mericifully free of strife it would not now be a world leader in military power. Indeed we are very near to a point where we will be eclipsed in military power by… guess who? Those very democratic chinese. For pities sake look at North Korea. They are a tiny fly speck with nothing of any value and no economy but their military is daunting to the US.

    There is nothing magical about democracy that makes it good at war. In fact there are a great many things about it that make it terrible at war.

  58. “…in a nut shell people feel more free online to be aggressive and even offensive in presenting their views, which of course means that they are essentially being more honest…”

    While there is something to be said for being “rigorously honest” or “having a spine”, I am not fully convinced that anonymity is to blame here. An argument could be made that the nature of the medium unintentionally provides license to be rude with impunity. However, that still does not explain the chaos that travels through the ether (as opposed to the ‘Ether’…)

    Even if that were the case, how does one reconcile such odious behaviour exhibited by “media trolls” whose presence is almost ubiquitous? Take your pick: stage, page or screen; the bile is being pumped out rather regularly.

    So much for thinking one thing and saying another…

  59. “An argument in favor of your position, Hunter.”

    An argument that requires you ignore all evidence in the matter. Look I’m not making any of this up. War powers are reserved to the executive for a reason. Militaries are heirarchies for a reason. Autocratic governments have done much better in warfare for a reason.

    Feel free to try and explain how any of those historical facts fit with your theory.

  60. “Even if that were the case, how does one reconcile such odious behaviour exhibited by “media trolls” whose presence is almost ubiquitous? Take your pick: stage, page or screen; the bile is being pumped out rather regularly.”

    That’s an entirely different thing. When you talk about shock jock popularity you are talking about how people like to feel jazzed up. When they are angry they are feeling something, and it can be cathartic. It can even be addictive. So whether the person is listening to Limbaugh and thinking “Gawd, I hate libruls” or “Damn, Rush is teh suck” it’s the same thing. Both are enjoying the rush of being extremely pissed off about something.

    As I said that’s a different mechanism than people forcefully debating subjects that they are passionate about. In the first the anger is the point of the message, in the second the anger is a side effect.

  61. So if as you admit democracies are not the best way to operate a military and if as hunter claims the primary purpose of government is military might then the obvious conclusion is that hunter is or should be anti-democratic as should anyone who agrees with his position.

    I’m not arguing that defense is the sole purpose of govt – I’m merely stating that democratic govt’s tend to have militaries that are superior to despotic ones. A democratic govt gets the best of both worlds – a professional military with the direct chain of command (just like all those groovy despots) but with the added feature of having the assets (people, technology, motivation, worldview, capital) to make it extra-lethal.

    Indeed we are very near to a point where we will be eclipsed in military power by… guess who? Those very democratic chinese.

    China is not sure that it can pull off an invasion of Taiwan right now, let alone the US. But you have to ask yourself, why are the Chinese so far behind in the first place? They’ve been focused on their military for so long, you’d think they’d be better at it by now – what resource don’t they have going for them?

    For pities sake look at North Korea. They are a tiny fly speck with nothing of any value and no economy but their military is daunting to the US.

    If we invaded, their conventional forces would be toast – the only issue would be how insanely humane we wanted to be during their annihilation. Any anxiety on our part is due to all of the collateral issues involved with them and our natural desire to avoid conflict.

    War powers are reserved to the executive for a reason. Militaries are heirarchies for a reason.

    No one is arguing with you here. The military is a branch of the govt that fulfills (one of) it’s primary obligation(s). That branch takes its cue from a democratically elected executive and congress – it does not need to be a democracy itself.

  62. “I’m not arguing that defense is the sole purpose of govt –”

    I know you aren’t, Hunter is. My question was whether you concur that logically it follows that such a position requires one to be anti-democratic.

    “I’m merely stating that democratic govt’s tend to have militaries that are superior to despotic ones. A democratic govt gets the best of both worlds – a professional military with the direct chain of command (just like all those groovy despots) but with the added feature of having the assets (people, technology, motivation, worldview, capital) to make it extra-lethal.”

    Wait, so a democratic government gets the best of both world by not being democratic entirely? I still don’t see how you contend that nominally democratic governments have better militaries. Yes the US has a very powerful military but that’s because we’re A) rich B) large C) haven’t had any major wars on our shores to destroy our infrastructure, and D) psychotic about paying for tanks instead of food/health care.
    North Korea for instance is also D. Were they A, B, and C as well they’d far out stip us militarily.

    As it is, once more the chinese are on the verge of surpassing us and they are pretty dang far from being a democratic establishment.

    “China is not sure that it can pull off an invasion of Taiwan right now, let alone the US.”

    I agree that China would have a very hard time actually invading the US just as we’d have a very hard time invading them. Taiwan though? The Chinese are considerd a significant threat to India, a country that’s a bit more of heavy than tiny Taiwan.

    “But you have to ask yourself, why are the Chinese so far behind in the first place? “

    In WW2 they were absolutely trampled by the Japanese, and then they had to rebuild pretty much from scratch? They were in a terrible economic situation (recall the millions who starved). DESPITE that they have risen up to be a first rate military power that challenges us. Why is that when we had every starting advantage we seem to be losing the race?

    “If we invaded, their conventional forces would be toast – the only issue would be how insanely humane we wanted to be during their annihilation.”

    Assuming neither side went nuclear would we win? Yeah. Would it be bloody? Oh hell yes. The casualties would be extremely disproportionate to our relative sizes and economies. In fact if we want to be realistic we wouldn’t win because within a week the American Public would be demanding we get our troops out. Again the deficiency of democracy in wartime.

    “No one is arguing with you here.”

    Ah but you have to for your argument to be consistent. You want to say that democracies have better militaries but when we look at those militaries they are all run as autocracies. In other words democracy only manages to be effective militarily to the degree in which it denies or negates itself.

  63. I believe they (Germany & Japan) had quite a head start on the Allies – and yet they still lost. You are correct that the indecisiveness of democracies is problematic, but once they (finally) set their mind on something, they tend to annihilate despots. Democracies produce far superior war making organizations – it’s really not even close – once they’re unleashed.

    That’s not necessarily counter to Tlaloc’s point. The decision-making apparatus of any military force is one-direction hierarchical. Military leaders are appointed, not elected. The military is not subject to civilian oversight or justice. It bears remarkable resemblance to the more effective command styles of certain totalitarian regimes.

  64. “Holy crap! I went to bed when there was something like 41 comments yesterday… “

    I don’t bother with sleep anymore. It’s the rapid eye movements that you need and I get enough of those when I’m awake!

    (bonus point to anyone who knows the reference)

  65. Now, it should be said that your comments have a liberal bent, but it would seem that we all have prejudices.

    Cute. I far prefer this.

  66. The difference – and you can read a little Vic Hanson on this – is that citizens of western cultures (primarily with democratic forms of govt) are the most effective killers in the world for the same reasons that they are the most effective marketers, scientists, engineers, etc. In other words, the fruit of our culture (and it’s democratic institutions) is what makes us tough to beat – not so much the design of the command structure.

    An interesting thought, worth discussion. I generally have an unfavorable opinion of Victor Davis Hanson’s writings. I had way too much of him in one of my favorite classes (with the best title EVER): Political Science 121 – “War.”

  67. Free men fight more ingeniously, and harder, because they fight for themselves, not for the state.

    (By extension, I think, also an argument against collectivism, substituting “work” for “fight.”)

    Sorry, Tom, but you’re contradicted by history on this one. The individualist is anathema to an effective fighting force. Throughout history, the most effective war-fighters have been those who fought for something greater than themselves: homeland, family, community, religion, ideal, etc. Just a few examples: The Israelis. The Maccabees. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Hezbollah and Hamas. Both Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War. The individualist urge is something every military – including ours – has sought to diminish in its fighters. The highly individualist Gauls, fighting to preserve their individual freedom, were defeated by the communitarian Romans who fought to “bring the light” of civilized Rome to the barbarians. The highly individualistic Native Americans were defeated by the collectivist US. Your contention is emotionally appealing and completely inaccurate.

    If the US was not an enormous country (fourth largest overall but when you consider actual usable land area it’s either #1 or #2) with enormous natural resources and a history mericifully free of strife it would not now be a world leader in military power.

    This is very true. Iceland’s (the oldest parliamentarian country; since 980 CE) army doesn’t exactly provoke fear, for all its fierce Viking heritage. Athens, a proto-deomocracy, was militarily ineffective without allies. And the world’s oldest participatory democracy, the Iroquois nation, couldn’t stand up to the avaricious Old Worlders.

    Indeed we are very near to a point where we will be eclipsed in military power by… guess who? Those very democratic chinese.

    Sorry, Tlaloc, and you were doing so well. China cannot compete with the US militarily. It lacks the navy, air force, and armored divisions to compete with the U.S. Its strategic and tactical nuclear arsenal doesn’t start to compare. Please note that this is not a comment on its political, fiscal, or economic ability to compete. China could, with some success, compete with India and maybe Russia, but not with the US.

    I used to subscribe to the “coming military conflict with China” theory too, but I’m thinking I was wrong. That was six years ago, anyways. In terms of arms, precision warfare, and sheer military might, the US is the unparalleled superpower. However, this has not made America safer. Just look at how poorly we’ve fared in unconventional, low-intensity warfare. The US is unsurpassed when it can meet the enemy in combat. But when it cannot find or engage the enemy? You cannot defeat an enemy who refuses to engage you, who disappears into the population at large. Not unless you want to descend into totalitarianism or genocide.

  68. Connie, I think you definitely misread Locke because physical safety is quite primary in his reasoning for why we emerge from the state of nature.

    The difference between him and Hobbes is that Hobbes thinks life without government would be hell, which thus justifies an overaweing Leviathan King. Locke thinks it would merely be a little less safe, thus justifying a limited government.

    Hunter, that you are a fan of Locke and Hobbes comes as no surprise. That you’ve either completely misinterpreted or attempted to ignore everyone from Plato to Rawls is rather a surprise.

  69. It’s been a long time since I actually read Locke or Rousseau (pushing 30), but I seem to recall a common good theme as a major reason why we give up a state of nature (while still maintaining our natural law rights). I thought the common good was more than just protection.

    Certainly Aristotle saw government and civil society as for the common good.

  70. On the redistribution issue, I’m not obsessed, but I do want to make sure we call a spade a spade and don’t pretend that we simply have a right to the fruit of another person’s labors. Taking something via act of government is still taking something via force. Whatever we do, you must remember there was a very large contingent that did not wish to go along, but they must pay regardless.

    But Hunter, virtually everything the government does is redistributive. When it builds airports, investigates airline crashes, pays air traffic controllers, it is taking money from people who may never fly and giving it to people who fly. Certainly all my husbands aunts and uncles who worked and paid taxes all their life never flew anywhere. Upper income people fly poor than lower income.

    Government is by its nature redistributive. People pay money in and then government decides how to spend it. Every spending decision is going to benefit some portion of a population more than another.

    The alternative is to have user taxes like toll roads and bridges, gasoline taxes.

    To me complaining about redistribution is akin to saying we should go back to the state of nature. It’s an inherent part of government.

  71. “…When you talk about shock jock popularity you are talking about how people like to feel jazzed up … enjoying the rush of being extremely pissed off about something…”

    Eew. Is it just me, or is that unrepentant ugliness?

    “…that’s a different mechanism than people forcefully debating subjects that they are passionate about. In the first the anger is the point of the message, in the second the anger is a side effect.”

    So, does that mean that you accept the premise that casting of aspersions against bearers of opposing viewpoints as being permissible? That, for all intents and purposes, is a license to be disagreeable in the event of any difference of opinion.

    Intellect without intelligence can be lethal. Rather damning, if I may say so.

    It would seem that Pogo was right after all.

  72. “Cute. I far prefer this.

    Fair enough. The results seem to be rather consistent; the result from both evaluations were rather similar.

  73. Fair enough. The results seem to be rather consistent; the result from both evaluations were rather similar.

    Well, according to yours, I’m a socialist. According to mine, I make Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama look like fascist paleo-cons.

  74. “Well, according to yours, I’m a socialist. According to mine, I make Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama look like fascist paleo-cons.”

    Yikes! If that is the case, perhaps the test is biased in favour of centrists?

    In the test you linked to, I am a hair off-center, with left-leaning libertarian tendencies. I am in the same neighbourhood as Ghandi, but much closer to the center.

    In the one I referenced initially, it seems that I am one of those “moderate Democrats”, with an equal predisposition to libertarianism and socialism.

    While the results are interesting, I wonder what any of this has to do with being civil. I mean, even if I am a dead-on centrist, what does it matter if I am the embodyment of utter ugliness?

    What does it matter if I am, as Tlaloc said, “forcefully debating subjects” that I am “passionate about”, yet remain disagreeable?

  75. “Hunter, that you are a fan of Locke and Hobbes comes as no surprise. That you’ve either completely misinterpreted or attempted to ignore everyone from Plato to Rawls is rather a surprise.”

    Wrong on both counts. Not particularly a fan of the gents mentioned. Haven’t misinterpreted or ignored.

    Physical safety is the lowest common denominator in the equation, the most basic need and purpose of government. The one that drives people to give up the absolute freedom that isn’t freedom at all because bigger, faster, meaner, stronger can take it away at any point.

    Connie, on your point about redistribution, I’m not sure you’re right. At the federal level, at least, the lower income groups pay absolutely no income tax and often receive a net surplus payment. Their big contribution is to the payroll programs from which they hope to receive later benefits. In other words, they aren’t paying for highways and airports.

  76. In other words, they aren’t paying for highways and airports.

    At the federal level, about three-quarters of the cost of constructing and maintaining highways is generated by gasoline taxes and tolls. So the poor do pay for highways, but only in proportion to how much they actually use them, which is not redistributionist either.

  77. For anyone who thinks I am making a mountain out of a molehill, perhaps reading David Broder’s most recent observations on the matter will help clarify my point.

    Perhaps my analysis is wrong, but it seems that the current environment is a catalyst for the crystallization of counter-productive attitudes.

  78. Tlaloc>> Ah but you have to for your argument to be consistent. You want to say that democracies have better militaries but when we look at those militaries they are all run as autocracies. In other words democracy only manages to be effective militarily to the degree in which it denies or negates itself.

    I agree that militaries are structurally set up as autocracies, just like most of our instituitions and businesses that operate within a democracy are. The question then is, why do our institutions – if they are run in the same autocratic fashion as everyone else’s – dominate the world? Your answer seems to be that we have all of the material advantages. I don’t buy it. Free men choose – or at least have the sense that they choose – their destiny, and the motivation that flows from that mindset is what encourages them – from the lowliest clerk to the chairman of the board – to pursue excellence.

    James>> The individualist is anathema to an effective fighting force. Throughout history, the most effective war-fighters have been those who fought for something greater than themselves: homeland, family, community, religion, ideal, etc.

    James, you are right on here in emphasizing the power of a ’cause’. I think TVD and I would agree with the thought that having a purpose beyond ourselves is the most powerful motivation we can have. The main point we’re making is that free people have a far better chance of tapping into that power (or the next best thing, self-interest) because they have a part in deciding what is worth their commitment of time and energy as opposed to those who exist as part of ‘the system’ to fulfill someone else’s aims.

    Everyone needs a cause, and the strength of that cause helps determine how productive a life we will live.

  79. I like your point about disagreeability, aardvark. I’ve experienced some great times arguing major controversies with people dedicated to civility AND respect. I sink down sometimes, but I aspire to something better.

  80. “Sorry, Tlaloc, and you were doing so well. China cannot compete with the US militarily. It lacks the navy, air force, and armored divisions to compete with the U.S. “

    Okay lets throw out some numbers.

    The US Army and Marines COMBINED have 13 divisions. The Chinese PLA has 75. Seventy five. On top of that they have a militia of approximately 1.5 million men. We have a militia of 0.

    As a general rule of thumb you should assume that about ten percent of Chinese forces have modern top shelf equipment while the rest do with somewhat lesser (and in some cases disasterously worse) gear. By the way that rule of thumb is from the US naval attache to china. That being the case China has ~7-8 divisions that directly compare to our 13. And another ~67-68 that aren’t as good. In some cases not as good may mean “fodder.” But even if their poor equipment gave our forces a 10:1 advantage the chinese would be basically even with us for ground forces.

    The PLAAF (chinese airforce) is the third largest in the world currently and they are very rapidly modernizing it. It used to be stuck with a lot of outdated hardware but they’ve been buying russian modern fighters as well as using US technology that the Israelis sold them.

    Their navy is their biggest weakness and, like the airforce, it is getting updates quite quickly. They are retiring half of their submarine fleet of old ww2 era boats and replacing them with modern ships like Russian Kilos.

    All of which ignores perhaps the most important point: the US has it’s forces spread out (literally) all over the globe with bases in 20 some countries. The Chinese military is basically all together. Don’t kid yourself, if thinks keep on as they are the chinese will have eclipsed us militarily in the next decade or two.

  81. “Eew. Is it just me, or is that unrepentant ugliness?”

    I think it’s a less savory aspect of human kind, certainly. It goes a long ways to explain partisan shock jocks as well as jerry springer and professional wrestling. The triumvirate of declasse if you will.

    “So, does that mean that you accept the premise that casting of aspersions against bearers of opposing viewpoints as being permissible?”

    If you mean SOLELY because of their opposing viewpoint then in general no. However I suspect you’d have no problem cursing out someone who is literally a Nazi because we have little or no tolerance for that destructive bigoted ideology now a days. If I’m wrong feel free to correct me. Assuming that I’m not then the question is simply one of how extreme/ugly does an opponent’s position have to be before you are okay with calling it a personal failing?

    Personally I’m less concerned with what a person beleives in the first place as opposed to whether they learn when the evidence is put in front of them. As I said to hunter in another thread: being miseducated isn’t a personal flaw. Refusing to learn and overcome your miseducation is.

    ” Intellect without intelligence can be lethal.”

    As far as I can tell, intellect without intelligence is an oxymoron. Fortunately those aren’t lethal or the human race would be long since expired.

  82. “Perhaps my analysis is wrong, but it seems that the current environment is a catalyst for the crystallization of counter-productive attitudes.”

    Oh certainly. Which is why we should abandone the two party system in favor of something more open.

  83. “Your answer seems to be that we have all of the material advantages. I don’t buy it.”

    Wait, you don’t believe we have the material advantages or you don’t believe that explains the discrepency? I can guarantee you we have the material advantages, and if you like we can pull out the long long list to prove it. But if you are arguing the latter then that’s different.

    “Free men choose – or at least have the sense that they choose – their destiny, and the motivation that flows from that mindset is what encourages them – from the lowliest clerk to the chairman of the board – to pursue excellence.”

    So anyone who chooses to be say a janitor will automatically be the hardest working janitor? Because I chose my current job I must slave away constantly at it, accoridng to your thesis here. And yet I don’t. I do a good job but obviously when things are slow I feel free to blog on the company nickle. Yes people have choices but that in no way means they choose to do absolutely the best job possible, often a decent job is good enough to satisfy us.

    “The main point we’re making is that free people have a far better chance of tapping into that power (or the next best thing, self-interest) because they have a part in deciding what is worth their commitment of time and energy as opposed to those who exist as part of ‘the system’ to fulfill someone else’s aims.”

    As James said before, it’s a nice idea but it isn’t accurate. People who have choices make terrible armies in general because they do not all choose the same.

    Look I’m an anarchist which by your logic should make me a butt kicking uber ninja. But it doesn’t. And an army of anarchists would be extremely weak for the kinds of duties a modern military does. I’ve always said that an anarchist community would be fairly easy to wipe out by an organized military force, controlling it however would be next to impossible.

  84. Tlaloc>> Wait, you don’t believe we have the material advantages or you don’t believe that explains the discrepency?

    I don’t believe it explains the discrepancy. [Although, I will say that if you want to count the quantity of people (not to mention the quality) we have as a material advantage, then I would agree with the former. I’m with Peter Drucker and Mark Steyn on the significance of demographics.]

    As James said before, it’s a nice idea but it isn’t accurate.

    I believe I followed up on that – and agreed with James that having purpose in life (especially something beyond yourself) is where real productivity comes from. Personal freedom is the fertile soil that enables these purposes to develop. So even though you have free people in democracies working in autocratic institutions, their freedom to choose to ‘buy-in’ to that organization’s mission (and the hope that it will be mutually beneficial) allows them to be more productive than they otherwise would be.

    Look I’m an anarchist which by your logic should make me a butt kicking uber ninja. But it doesn’t.

    Maybe you’re not, and maybe our system holds you back some – but relative to the rest of the world, you have a much better chance of becoming one here. As a whole, we lead the world in ninja production (and productivity in general) because of our culture – of which personal freedom is a major, but not the only, component.

  85. A curiosity related to aardvark’s civility comments:

    I so desperately wanted to keep debating – if I may use that word. But I found that in order to continue, I would have to start arguing against the concept of free will, against self-determination and the efficacy of the individual, all of which are things are things I fervently believe in. A tip of the hat to you, Mr. Huisman: Well debated, and you’ve swayed me in some important respects.

  86. “Maybe you’re not, and maybe our system holds you back some – but relative to the rest of the world, you have a much better chance of becoming one here.”

    Come on Husiamn, you can’t be serious. You really want me to believe that the US has a better ability to turn out a master warrior than say the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan? That’s ludicrous. That was a military culture. Ours is nowhere near that. Look what are the cultures renown for martial ability? Shogunate Japan. Ancient Sparta. Old Zulu nation. The Mongolian Horsemen. Imperial Rome. The Scottish Picts. Notice that none of these were democratic? We have nothing that compares in our culture. The best we could muster would be the special operations teams of the various military branches. Hard sure, but they are such a tiny minority as to be negligible. The cultures I listed earlier often had broad swaths of the population dedicated and seasoned into formidable warriors.

    Our military is very powerful, not because our people are one whit better intrinsically, but because we can afford the best training and equipment. That’s it.

  87. Well I appreciate that James – I know that I don’t usually convey similar sentiments when I should.

    You bring quite a bit to the table here, and though I love the hosts – the place wouldn’t be the same without you.

  88. “As far as I can tell, intellect without intelligence is an oxymoron.”

    While I see your point, I think I may have been misunderstood. What I mentioned intelligence, I meant that in the context of Psychology.

    Psychologically speaking, I am of the opinion that there are at least eight different components to intelligence: logical, linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalist, intra-personal and inter-personal.

    At the moment, I am unpersuaded that an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) evaluation is capable of making valid assesments of the last two members of the aforementioned component list. As such, intelligence, as I understand it, cannot be quantified.

    “Fortunately those aren’t lethal or the human race would be long since expired.”

    Funny you should say that. Here is a pop quiz:

    Citizens of this Major Power in the world invented (or enhanced) the following:

    + Television
    + Jet-propelled aircraft (including the ejection seat)
    + Electronic computers
    + Atomic fission
    + The electron microscope
    + Data-processing technologies
    + Guided missiles
    + Pesticides.

    Can you guess which country I am referring to?

  89. “As such, intelligence, as I understand it, cannot be quantified.”

    I quite agree with that. IQ measures only one thing: how well the individual takes the particular brand of IQ tests.

    “Can you guess which country I am referring to?”

    I’m not sure your point bu obviously te US. eminds me of a favorite old cheesy spy movie: Ice Station Zebra. A british spy tells an American colleague:

    “The Russians put our camera made by *our* German scientists and your film made by *your* German scientists into their satellite made by *their* German scientists.”

  90. Yeah, I was going to say, “Germany under totalitarian rule.” But really, what’s the point anymore?

  91. “As far as I can tell, intellect without intelligence is an oxymoron. Fortunately those aren’t lethal or the human race would be long since expired.”

    Given that all those fine products have been brought to you by the folks of the Weimar republic, I think that is ample evidence that intellect without intelligence can be lethal.

    The idea that intellectuals are by default sentient beings is proved wrong by the “extra-curricular activities” of the Nazis during WWII. While I could be wrong, I think that 6 million (or more?) people would beg to differ with your analysis regarding intellect and intelligence.

    My point is this: intellectuals can dazzle, but could just as easily be disagreeable. Most successful media trolls also happen to be fairly intellectual. Intelligent people, on the other hand, are able to avoid stoking the flames that lead to “…all the misery there is…”

    Based on James Elliott’s response, I will have this be my last post, as it is not my intent to cause anyone headaches.

    Speaking of which, if you have ever taken aspirin, guess who you can thank for inventing that?

  92. Tlaloc>> Come on Husiamn, you can’t be serious. You really want me to believe that the US has a better ability to turn out a master warrior than say the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan? That’s ludicrous.

    As far as your examples of warrior cultures go, I’m reminded of the scene from Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford is being challenged by an intimidating Arab warrior wielding a scimitar(?) – Ford watches in amazement, then pulls out a gun and shoots him. It’s not that we have a military or warrior culture – we don’t need one – we have a culture that develops concepts like OODA loops, Six Sigma, etc. Here’s the final paragraph from an article by Hanson prior to the OIF invasion:

    But ultimately we will fight as we live. Thus our military will simply be an expression of our larger values of freedom, consensual government, secular rationalism, capitalism, religious tolerance, individualism, group discipline, civilian audit, self-critique and egalitarianism. And so we will win decisively a war that we did not seek — allies or not.

    Our military is very powerful, not because our people are one whit better intrinsically, but because we can afford the best training and equipment. That’s it.

    I have made no comment about the intrinsic abilities of our people. With respect to being able to afford training and equipment, I would think that Saudi Arabia should have been able to defend itself from Saddam rather than depend on the US. They have plenty of resources, don’t they? Even Saddam should have had enough money to train his folks better than they were. What gives?

    In other words, there is more than just money at work here.

  93. “As far as your examples of warrior cultures go, I’m reminded of the scene from Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford is being challenged by an intimidating Arab warrior wielding a scimitar(?) – Ford watches in amazement, then pulls out a gun and shoots him.”

    Exactly! We don’t have a martial culture, we have a wealthy one that can afford the most efficient weapons. But (assuming it wasn’t a hollywood movie) if you give the scimitar guy a gun and Jones a sword who wins? The gun guy does. It has nothing to do with a cultural advantage of a free society and everything to do with the prosperity of our nation.

    “But ultimately we will fight as we live. Thus our military will simply be an expression of our larger values of freedom, consensual government, secular rationalism, capitalism, religious tolerance, individualism, group discipline, civilian audit, self-critique and egalitarianism. And so we will win decisively a war that we did not seek — allies or not.”

    And in the face of horrible military abuse scandals hopefully it is clear that Hanson as usual doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about. Our military reflects our society in only the most distorted fun house mirror way.

    “With respect to being able to afford training and equipment, I would think that Saudi Arabia should have been able to defend itself from Saddam rather than depend on the US. They have plenty of resources, don’t they?”

    US GDP- 12.37 trillion
    Saudi GDP- .3 trillion

    or in per capita terms:
    US GDP/c- 41,800
    Saudi GDP/c- 12,900

    (all figures from CIA worldfactbook at cia.gov)

    And of course you have to consider the actual willingness to spend money on defense. As before the only country to spend anywhere near what we do per capita on the military is Israel. Their Per capita GDP is about half ours but they are willing to spend almost as much per person on the military.

    “Even Saddam should have had enough money to train his folks better than they were. What gives?”

    Saddam had a very effective army until a major bombing campaign followed by ttwelve years of occasional bombing and sanctions. That kind of thing plays havoc with a military force.

  94. Lets put it this way:
    say we have a little gladiator fun. You get to take the 100 hardest mofos from any US military outfit. I get to take the 100 hardest mofos from some non-democratic country. Say China. Better yet afghanistan. Everybody gets a knife. That’s it.

    Now you really think your side has a significant advantage?

  95. Tlaloc>> But (assuming it wasn’t a hollywood movie) if you give the scimitar guy a gun and Jones a sword who wins?

    I don’t know, does the scimitar guy know how to maintain and fire the gun? What if you gave the Iraqi’s our tanks and planes and five years to prepare, and we got theirs – who do you think would win? Hanson relates the story of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, where 100 Brits hold off 5,000 Zulus – each side with similar weaponry. The Zulus were fierce warriors – how did this happen?

    Lets put it this way:
    say we have a little gladiator fun. You get to take the 100 hardest mofos from any US military outfit. I get to take the 100 hardest mofos from some non-democratic country. Say China. Better yet afghanistan. Everybody gets a knife. That’s it.

    Look, the more ‘extras’ you take away from our side, the closer the battle becomes. But since a battle of 100 mofos would involve unit coordination, I’ll take my chances.

    However, as soon as you say that each side gets knives and anything else (radios, maps, money, tanks, guns, whatever) our edge grows dramatically.

    Maybe we should just arm wrestle?

    And in the face of horrible military abuse scandals hopefully it is clear that Hanson as usual doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about.

    Abu Grahib is the exception that proves the rule – Gitmo is a complete joke. Let’s imagine anyone else in the world pulling off this ‘occupation’ – maybe the Russians or your beloved Chinese – I wonder how we would compare?

  96. The Russians a great example. Afghanistan nearly broke them. We subdued it in a bout 0.5 seconds.

  97. Hunter>> That certainly goes to the point about our current military superiority. Now add in the (relatively) humane way in which we executed these missions – who on earth, even if you gave them the same resources, would do them better?

    Tlaloc>> By the way…

    US GDP- 12.37 trillion
    Saudi GDP- .3 trillion
    Iraq GDP- .1 trillion

    The Saudi’s have plenty of resources to defend themselves relative to Iraq. Either they were too cheap to do it themselves (and spare the outrage of having the Great Satan on their soil) or they determined we might be better at it.

    Look, this whole train of thought got started by your insistence that it was illogical to choose a democracy if defense was the primary responsibility of government. Operating a military and setting its objectives do not have to share decision-making structures. As far as I’m concerned, a democratic form of government is a completely logical way to protect ourselves given that ‘we the people’ want to have a say in shaping the military’s agenda. The same thinking would apply to anything else we want government to do – we don’t just turn the keys over to an individual and say, here, design and build all the highways and let us know how it turns out. We would rather use an inefficient bickering process to set our common purposes than have a Leviathan – not just because an autocrat can’t be trusted, but because its lack of participation disconnects us from the purpose and turns us into dependents.

    I’m sure we’ll never agree on this subject, and I’m sure that I have to be carefull not to go overboard with this western exceptionalism stuff – but there’s no way that I’m buying into the notion that autocratic govt’s are superior in any significant way to ours.

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