Thursday, August 24, 2006

Evil Recognized

How can we recognize the particular kind of evil among our enemies that is not merely totalitarian, but imperialist as well? Let us ignore the generalizations about physical attractiveness, stature, and certain other anatomical shortcomings, for which pop psychology posits that they compensate with the accumulation of personal power.

For those trite observations are of little help in spotting the next Alexander, Napoleon or Hitler, and distinguishing him from the next Amin, Hussein, Stalin or Mao. While all of those men were capable of great evil, there is an important distinction to be made between classes of despots: those overgrown thugs who are content to rule their homelands with an iron fist, and those more visionary villains who wield dictatorial power not for its own sake, but as a means to establish a base for imperialism.

How do we recognize the truly dangerous, and what can we do to stop it?

There has developed, at least in the West, a sense that there are no more Hitlers. There is even a popular pseudo-Latin phrase embodying the belief: reductio ad hitlerum, and Godwin's Law. Reductio ad hitlerum is a logical fallacy in which something is declared evil because Hitler or the German National Socialist Party advocated it. Godwin's Law says that sooner or later, all online discussions devolve to Reductio ad hitlerum. Common Internet culture says that the one using the fallacy loses the debate, but that is only so because further discussion with someone using the tactic is seen not to be fruitful. And so, many will dismiss my arguments here as a premature Hitler invocation.

But there is a remarkable difference between the two kinds of dictators, the thugs and the emperors. The thugs are focused inward, on not losing the base of power they have achieved. The emperors are unsatisfied with the conquest of one nation, and want to extend their rule to the entire human race. Imperialists tend to use religion as a rallying point. While there is some overlap, and a thug may eventually develop aspirations to conquer more territory, the principle seems clear:

The broader the base an autocrat has in his own country, the more likely he is to want to expand.

I ran across a chilling quote a while back. But first, here is a quote from Ahmadinjejad:

The brave and faithful people of Iran too have many questions and grievances, including: the coup d'etat of 1953 and the subsequent toppling of the legal government of the day, opposition to the Islamic revolution, transformation of an Embassy into a headquarters supporting the activities of those opposing the Islamic Republic (many thousands of pages of documents corroborate this claim), support for Saddam in the war waged against Iran, the shooting down of the Iranian passenger plane, freezing the assets of the Iranian nation, increasing threats, anger and displeasure vis-a-vis the scientific and nuclear progress of the Iranian nation (just when all Iranians are jubilant and celebrating their country's progress), and many other grievances that I will not refer to in this letter.
And here is the chiling quote:
After the renewed refusal of my peaceoffer in January 1940 by the then British Prime Minister and the clique which supported or else dominated him, it became clear that this war-against all reasons of common, sense and necessity-must be fought to its end. You know me, my old Party companions: you know I have always been an enemy of half measures or weak decisions. If the
Providence has so willed that the German people cannot be spared this fight, then I can only be grateful that it entrusted me with the leadership in this historic struggle which, for the next 500 or 1,000 years, will be described as decisive, not only for the history of Germany, but for the whole of Europe and indeed the whole world. The German people and their soldiers are working and fighting today, not only for the present, but for the coming, nay the most distant, generations. A historical revision on a unique scale has been imposed on us by the Creator.
That was. of course, Adolph Hitler, courtesy the Jewish Virtual Library.

Can we recognize the Evil One yet? It seems clear that Ahmadinejad's grip on his own country, and his hatred for Jews, is similar to that of Hitler. We'll probably only know for sure by losing Tel Aviv.

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Monday, August 14, 2006


We all have heard the admonitions against the admixture of religion and politics into polite conversation. The turbulence of religious or political discussions can turn into arguments, and the arguments can soon take a quiet family reunion or dinner party to the brink of civil war.

There is an undernourished principle, the importance of which can be seen by ignoring it: whether in matters of faith or polity, disharmony causes those outside the disharmonious sphere to look into it with disfavor, and those inside it to lose their energy.

Hear, then, this call for Unity.

The faith and beliefs about government of many or most people are a single body of principles, greatly diminishing the possibility of tearing us away from our convictions about either. Politics and religion not only have these areas of commonality, but they are truly inseparable and often indistinguishable. Faith tells us how we ought to live; politics is how we get others to do the same, either by force of persuasion or force of law.

For many people, political activism for their causes takes on a religious role in their lives. It gives their lives meaning and makes them feel part of a larger whole in the way that religion does. They may also believe that their lives have more than a temporary impact, by leaving behind the aftereffects of the policies they attempt to implement.

For other people, conformity to the values of their religion requires them to have certain political views, and to be active with them. Taking action displays their faith to themselves and others, because our values are shown by what we do.

Religious views become mixed up with political ones, to a greater or lesser extent. Religious values say that saving life is Good, that helping the poor is Good, that chastity is Good, or that being kind to other species is Good. Adherents then are prone to wanting those Good things put into law, or at least to have their government support their practice. And it is an affront to them for their government to fund things with which they disagree.

Like numbers brought to life, people see themselves as having a "right" or "left" sign. They belong to one side or the other, and think they have to conform to all of the beliefs associated with that side. The religious overtones for certain issues bring religious conformity to bear.

But one thing is certain: separating religion from politics is a fool's errand. Calls for the separation of Church and State notwithstanding, few people can separate their deepest held beliefs from their opinion about governance -- and even fewer of those who do can be trusted. Trustworthy people are only found among those whose inmost beliefs (whatever they may be) are reflected in all phases of their lives.

But people of good conscience can disagree on the best way to dot an "i" or on fundamental issues. What we do with those disagreements depends on their centrality to our objectives. If we believe that the other's positive value to our side is outweighed by the negative value of the issue over which we disagree, we take steps to mitigate the damage, even up to dissociation. We ought to be careful, but often are not, that the steps we take to limit the negative effects of a disagreement we have with one of our own do not create more trouble for us than the other's mistaken opinion itself.

Francis Bacon, English scholar, politician, and Christian philosopher wrote of the twin effects of disunity "..[N]othing doth so much keep men out of the church, and drive men out of the church, as breach of unity...". There can be little doubt that this principle applies to all religions, and even to religion in general: few things keep the unfaithful that way more than the strife caused by religious disagreements.

In politics, people in general are attracted by a clear message, and repelled by petty squabbles over corruption, partisanship, and negativism. Whether the clear message is one of sacrifice or prosperity, war or peace, people will accept it more readily and rally to it more easily than if a mixed message is presented by multiple voices. Those already part of a faction may be temporarily energized by charges of corruption, or attacks on an opponent, and partisan fights over minor issues may test the mettle of a party, but viewed from the outside those tiffs are cause for the disdain of politics in general. Negativity requires escalation, as people become inured following each new outrage.

Unity is not the most basic good, however, as noted above. There are times when people disagree, and do so on matters of principle. When principles conflict, we must either capitulate or fight. But how to choose between Unity and some other value such as Life, Liberty, or Pursuit of power? We are required to choose sides, and to know how strongly we adhere to the side we have chosen.

For instance, we Christians have a basic agreement with the Islamofascists that there is a God, that there is life after death, and that certain things are moral and others are not. There are other specific areas of agreement, but the point is that on some level, we both battle the forces of atheism and postmoralism, those who have no God but themselves and no morality but mere ethics. Yet we oppose the Islamofascists, principally and obviously because they want us either to accept their way of thinking or to die. No theoretical partnership between Islam and Christianity can overcome their need to carry the banner of faith themselves, especially since they have chosen to view us as the enemy. So Unity with Islam will have to wait until its radicalism can be brought to heel.

In politics, as well as in religion, there are barriers to Unity. The case of Joe Lieberman is illustrative: here is a man of national stature, a statesman for whom our country should be grateful. But because of his refusal to subvert the defense of his country to politics, he is being shunned by his party. The same can be seen for ostensible Republicans who drift too far into liberality, populism, or intolerance, and are shunned, as well.

There is a difference, however, in rancor and divisions over matters of principle and questions of strategy. It is of utmost importance to maintain integrity of principle, and arguments visible to outsiders over these principles are a necessary evil. Squabbles over strategy and tactics are also harmful, and completely unnecessary unless they cast an unprincipled shadow; even then these should be kept private. Disagreement over strategy is often a mask for a hungry ego, or a poisonous ambition.

Unity is important, and I ask you: are the things on which we disagree, the things over which we squabble, argue, protest, and the things on which we go to war, are these things so important that our disagreement over them outweighs our value to each other?

I have answered the question specifically with respect to Islamofascism, which seeks to destroy first Israel and then the rest of the free world. But what of our fellow Americans of a different political party -- how great is the divide which separates us from them? Forget for a moment your rhetorical need to be right, and ask: is the amount of energy we apply to correct the wrongs of the other side greater than the damage to be done simply by accepting their errors? Can I unite with my rival to defeat our common foe?

Would you really rather show division to our common enemy than accept the goodwill of those with whom you disagree?

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Meanwhile, from the echo chamber

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (DailyKos) has a certain perspective that I seem to lack. Living in an echo chamber can do that to a guy.

Speaking of Tuesday night primary winners and losers, he goes through a long list you can read about at his site if (if you promise to wash before returning). Then he says this:


Republicans. They're going to do some silly press conference on Wednesday claiming the Democratic Party is held in thrall by craaaazy people who agree with, um, 2/3rds of the American people on Iraq. If they want to make a big deal and remind people they have no exit strategy for Iraq, then by all means, therein lies the path to bizarro 1994.

If they really thought Lieberman losing was such a bad thing for the Democratic Party they wouldn't have gone out of their way to prop him up. Instead, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, the wingnutosphere, several Republican congresscritters, and the GOP's Big Money all rallied around their man. This is not a happy day for them.


Democrats. Did you see Rahm out of the gate tonight?

"This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the leader of the Democratic House Congressional campaign. "This is not about the war. It's blind loyalty to Bush."

This is a party with purpose. United on the war (under the call for withdrawal from Iraq), fueled by record fundraising and shockingly good poll numbers, and operating in the best political climate for the opposition since 1994, Dems are poised to make killer gains this fall. And without Lieberman in the caucus to undermine it from within, unity and commonality of purpose is now on the table.

One more point, and an important one to close with --

Tonight's race was watched from every corner of this country. There wasn't a city I hit during my book tour (and I hit over 40 of them) in which someone didn't ask about this race, where people didn't cheer when I mentioned Lamont's name.

Ignore for a moment that the leader of the Congressional Democrats called Senator Joseph Lieberman George Bush's "love child".

Kos thinks we "backed" Lieberman. He's sure that we aren't happy to see a three-way race in Connecticut, in which the huge war chest of Lieberman and the hordes of the nutosphere will do battle over one Senate seat in a Blue State, a seat that was so solidly theirs that it wasn't even on the radar.

So instead of getting behind their party chairbat, they'll be stuck in CT. Instead of taking advantage of the Internet's leverage to bring together local supporters with non-local ones across the country, as Republicans are doing, they will be stuck in the Purple Northeast, doing their best to beat Lieberman again.

Happy? You bet we are.

Ok, so what is this about an echo chamber?

Kos went on a book tour, out among the people of this great land. How many Conservatives showed up? Uh, I would say approximately none. The only voice he heard on his nationwide book tour and Venus natal declension party was the same one he hears every day on his blog, and every year at their little love fest. More moonbats.

So no wonder he thinks he's winning. Get someone in office first, n'kay?

The leader of the Congressional Democrats called Senator Joseph Lieberman George Bush's "love child". I wonder where Joe will caucus when he wins in November: with his knuckledragging neocon worshippers in the Republican Party, or with someone who dishes out personal insults?

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