Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Obama Embraces His Inner Bush’

Full piece here.

‘President Obama has long hesitated between the idea that Bush had the wrong strategy and the idea that the strategy was sound but that the tactics and presentation was poor.  He seems now to have come down firmly on the side of the core elements of the Bush strategy.  This frankly is more or less where I thought he would end up; American interests, American values and the state of the region don’t actually leave us that many alternatives.’

Mead makes a good case, but some of the administration’s undercurrents are definitely Left toward human rights (Samantha Power and Anne Marie Slaughter would be examples of Obama’s foreign policy guides…for whom Hilary Clinton’s hawkishness was likely too hawkish), while some of the bureaucratic constraints and choices would be similar for any president.

Mead goes on:

‘The President is nailing his colors to the mast of the Anglo-American revolutionary tradition.  Open societies, open economies, religious freedom, minority rights: these are revolutionary ideas in much of the world.’

I’m not necessarily convinced.  I do still think Obama is giving us more long-term leverage in the Middle-East that McCain would have. He is, to a certain extent, hitting the reset button.  This is very valuable.  As regards Israel, he seems to be more interested in peace and fairness rather than its religiously nationalistic impulses. This frustrates many Israelis and the American religious right to no end, but Obama’s view may simply be naive, aiming so directly for ‘peace’ and the kind of faith universalists have in institutions. Here’s a quote from Obama’s speech:

‘We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.’

Domestically, Obama seems more toward the Great Society, managed economy, minority rights end of the spectrum, much more Left than I’m comfortable with.  There are parts of the  Anglo-American tradition not very well represented by Obama at all (the threat of economic liberty by growth of government, the threat of the excessive egalitarians and their illiberal impulses).

How are the two most recent president’s definitions of freedom (Bush’s human freedom…Obama’s arc of history…) getting crafted into foreign policy?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Transcript of Obama’s full May 19th, 2011 speech here.

Addition: Netanyahu and Obama meeting here, where Netanyahu humbly points out that Obama’s peace vision is not based in Middle-Eastern reality.

Related On This Site:  Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”… From The Washington Post: ‘Obama Authorizes Predator Drone Strikes In Libya’

Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Mubaraks, Mamelukes, Modernizers and Muslims’Walter Russell Mead’s New Book On Britain and America

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Stanley Fish At The NY Times Opinionator: ‘Sex, the Koch Brothers and Academic Freedom’

Full post here.

Denying CUNY’s gift of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner does not necessarily stifle academic freedom. Fish revisits his original post.

‘My general point is that academic freedom is a useful notion only if it is narrowly defined. More things escape its ambit than fall within it.’


LeVay and Wallen are behaving as so many in the Kushner controversy did; they are crying academic freedom whenever a university does something they don’t like, and by doing so, they cheapen the concept.

because academic freedom issues:

“…arise when the university either allows its professors to appropriate the classroom for non-academic purposes, as some think John Michael Bailey did, or allows itself to become the wholly owned subsidiary of another enterprise, as FSU may have done.”

It must take a certain courage to point this out at the NY Times.

Art can serve many masters: religion, politics, ideology, commerce etc…but I suspect good art (a play, in this case) does more, at least staying faithful to simply giving pleasure…or sustaining dramatic tension?

David Mamet wakes from Brechtian slumber, and conservatives rush in.

Related On This Site: Fish defended Ward Churchill’s academic freedom too: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Broad, but maybe not broad enough.  Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

A lot of this could be avoided by keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart, argues Roger Scruton: Repost-’Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment’

From Scientific Blogging: ‘Geniuses Of Britain – The First Five’

Full post here.

Some science storytelling with a bit of nationalism thrown in:

‘I will contend that Britain was to science what America’s founding fathers were to democracy and China was to culture; a confluence of brilliant minds who dramatically changed the world.  And I intend to do it briefly.’

Related On This SiteRepost-From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is NotA Short Post On Red Sprites And Blue Jets: Cosmic Origins Of Lightning?

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May 13th, 2011-From Yahoo News: ‘Libyan Rebel Leaders Hold White House Talks’

Full post here.

“Obama held talks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen about Libya, and they pledged that “as long as the Gaddafi regime continues to attack its own population, NATO will maintain its operations to protect civilians.”

NATO armed forces chief David Richards (Britain) says NATO must target Gadhafi.

Related On This Site:  Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”From The Washington Post: ‘Obama Authorizes Predator Drone Strikes In Libya’

Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

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From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Full piece here.

A good summary of historicism:

‘I believe that naturalist historicism is most exemplified by Kant’s writings, and this historicism is warped first by Hegel and next by Fichte by adding the element of ‘the chosen people’ as Germans. Marx alters this naturalist historicism to reflect a more economic approach, replacing conflicting natural desires with class-struggles and the Germans with the Proletariats.’

and in conclusion:

As we have seen, common in each author is the idea that humanity is pushed along a course by forces beyond ourselves. Whether these are based in nature, some world-spirit, national identity, or class struggle, we are nonetheless driven towards our complete development. The differences lie in the level of this development. Kant believes our capacity lies at the global level, eventually enveloping each and every human being. But Hegel and Fichte stunt this historicism and narrowly present it as the development of the German state and nation. In doing so, they neglect human development on the whole and attempt to bypass complete human development and resolution. However, Marx returns the discussion to a global level, and removes the German ethnocentrism injected by Hegel and Fichte. By doing so I believe he opens the door to a more robust and thorough view of humanity’s development, one unfettered by national identities and arbitrary borders.

Does the pursuit of meaning, and absolute meaning through man’s post-Enlightenment use of reason alone, and the lure of historicist logic and German political organization need counterweights…or are they obviously already here?

Is Leo Strauss a useful path?  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy seems to have some doubts:

In the end, how one evaluates the circular nature of Strauss’s questions and answers will depend upon how seriously one takes Strauss’s diagnosis of the “theologico-political predicament of modernity.” If one does not think Strauss has made a serious case for the dire intellectual and political implications of this predicament, then one will not be persuaded that Strauss has done much more than creatively re-read some pre-modern philosophers, for better or for worse. If on the other hand, one finds Strauss’s diagnosis of the “theologico-political predicament” persuasive, one might think that Strauss has accomplished quite a lot by raising the questions of truth, revelation, and nature anew in a day and age in which discussion of these matters seems to have been deemed mute.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:  As a reader points out, I’m quite aware the quote above is from someone quite sympathetic to Marxism.

Related On This Site:  Some discussion of  Isaiah Berlin’s attempt to address the dangers of historicist logic/the perfectibility of man once such an idea becomes the seed for political organization: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Ayn Rand borrowed heavily from Kant:  Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx

Getting a better hold on Strauss and his definition of historicism?:  Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss…See the comments: Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

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Repost-Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?

Full post here which is a response to this NY Times interview.

This analysis suggests that yes, it does:

“…educational degrees, whether they confer skills or credentials, are more important to income than IQ when minimum thresholds are met.”


“People with average and below average IQs are getting just as much of a financial return out of their 4-year degree as those above the 85th percentile. This suggests many more people of marginal ability should be seeking a Bachelor’s degree, not less.”

So, Murray’s argment for more vocational and apprenticeship education having greater value than a college degree may not be valid.

However, I still like Murray’s idea that there is a kind of top-heavy credentialization going on; more people are placing more value on a degree (with more externalized incentives?).

Yet, many of Murray’s arguments are based on the idea that we’ve gotten away from core principles that could serve us well (serve the brightest, don’t put ideology above natural talent)…and this analysis is partially motivated by libertarian politics and a certain political philosophy.

Are Murray’s ideas deep enough to encompass some of the longer-lasting problems of education?

Related On This Site:  In looking at his articles, some of his claims seem rhetorical, designed to focus attention on a potential problem:  Charles Murray In The WSJ: For Most People, College Is A Waste Of TimeCharles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational RomanticismCharles Murray On The SAT Test: Abolish It

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Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Full piece here.

The City Journal is taking on some of the consequences of California’s progressive politics, and how San Francisco policies can create rewards and little to no punishment for the string of homeless kids who travel from city to city up and down the West coast.  Living in Seattle, I can testify to this behavior (McDonald characterizes it as a new hippie trail and a logical consequence of its morally suspect origins, though I suspect that there are other reasons, including manifest destiny).

Attempts to impose law and order are met with strong rebuke:

‘The homelessness industry instantly mobilized against the Civil Sidewalks law. Its first tactic was to assimilate the gutter punks into the “homelessness” paradigm, so that they could be slotted into the industry’s road-tested narrative about the casualties of a heartless free-market economy. “Homelessness, at its core, is an economic issue,” intoned the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco’s most powerful homelessness advocacy group, in a report criticizing the proposed law.’

But this is San Francisco.  There’s a huge pool of sentiment (and often votes) for anything even mildly anti-business, anti-establishment, and sometimes full-on anarchic (this would help explain the WTO protests here in Seattle).

But point taken: someone’s moral concern becomes a cause for action (often with other people’s money, and righteously), which can become a non-profit (run with other people’s money, sometimes well, sometimes terribly) which can become part of a political force seeking its own self-interest (which then seeks more of other people’s money through politics and taxation)…and eventually…becomes willfully ignorant and dismissive of the burden it places upon the businesses, residents and citizens of its client host.

Of course, McDonald has been focusing on crime, and the harm done by crime against idealists seeking to round up criminal actors and the worst parts of our nature under a certain progressive ideology and politics:

“I don’t hang out in the Tenderloin because I don’t feel like smoking crack,” Cory says primly. Such scruples suggest a keen sense of self-preservation, notes Kent Uyehara. “These kids couldn’t handle the Tenderloin,” he says. “The local drug dealers won’t tolerate hippie punks interrupting their operations; they’d get beaten up or shot.”

At least most of them usually aren’t violent, or as violent as the actual people who murder, rob and steal. McDonald focuses on the effect on civil society, which is likely her strongest argument:

‘It is also about the most basic rules of civilized society, which hold that public spaces should be shared by the public, not monopolized by the disorderly few.’

Related On This Site:  This is the city that brought a near ban on toys in happy meals…From Strange Maps: ‘Crime Topography Of San Francisco’Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’

California’s anti-immigration, anti-union Democrat: Full video and background on Mickey Kaus here.

More broadly:  An anarchist who ended up conservative:  Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

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