Repost-Vidal/Buckley Debate, 1968


A lot of wit, wisdom and political theater.  As for Vidal, I find him a fascinating character, first-rate essayist, second-rate writer (A Thirsty Evil?), but I don’t follow his thinking to his grimmer vision of America, the empire.  He has been condemning it for well over 40 years now, and he’s still around (here’s the Nation’s bio of him, which in the best sense, I wonder if he didn’t write himself).

Maybe being a hero to some is better than a leader to all.

Addition: The debate gets heated.  Really heated.

Another Addition: Buckley will be missed.  One deeper dispute between the two men stems from Vidal’s adherence to certain principles (I will call them aesthetic and politically left), which allow him to illuminate the plight of the poor and the racial divide, as well as observing (too cynically for me) the nature of politics.  What I admire in Buckley is that he, perhaps through compassion though more through honor and nationalistic pride, stands for the troops in Vietnam and the political realities this created.

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Paul Rahe At Ricochet: ‘What Is Wrong With The Individual Mandate?’

Full piece here.

Rahe responds to a commenter thus:

‘There is a simple answer to the question posed by ParisParamus. Government exists first and foremost for the sake of our protection. Without it, our lives and our property would not effectively be our own. Government exists also to promote our well-being. For its support, however, taxation is necessary, and we have tacitly agreed that, to be legitimate, these taxes must be passed by our elected representatives. By our own consent, we give up a certain proportion of our earnings for these purposes.

The money left in our possession, however, is our own — to do with as we please. It is in this that our liberty largely lies. Romneycare and Obamacare, with the individual mandate, changes radically our relationship vis-a-vis the government.’

Rahe sees Romneycare as an intolerable compromise away from first principles (however pragmatic it may have been for Romney as governor of Massachussetts…as well as for the Republican party to oust Obama).

He concludes:

‘I doubt that anything will be done by this managerial progressive to roll back the administrative entitlements state. If I am right in my fears in this regard, the Tea Party impulse will dissipate; the Republican party will split; the Democrats will return in 2016; and 2012 will be seen in retrospect as just another bump in the long, gentle road leading us to soft despotism.’

Comments are worth a read.

Also On This Site:  Straussians likely see a long fall away from virtue, from Natural right, from the reason/revelation distinction into the flawed logic of moral relativism and the triumph of a post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under reason alone (addition: and the 1st and 2nd crises of modernity); the successes and dangers of historicism:  From Volokh: Harvey Mansfield Reviews ‘The Executive Unbound’From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

From The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’

From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’Peter Suderman At The WSJ: ‘Obamacare And The Medicaid Mess’

From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’

Full piece here.

This seems worthy of note, given the current American foreign policy regime:

‘And yet Libya—so far the most aggressive humanitarian intervention of the 21st century—depended not on any broad public movement nor any urgent security threat. There was instead a chain of private conversations: Hillary Clinton moving Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy moving Dmitri Medvedev, and at the chain’s inception this romantic propagandist, Bernard-Henri Lévy. “I think this war was probably launched by two statesmen,” Lévy told me. “Hillary Clinton and Sarkozy. More modestly, me.”*


“No, no, no, no,” Lévy says. “My country, our country, for the first time since the American Revolution, has come to a foreign country to help a revolution, to help a war of liberation, and this is good, this is beautiful, this is noble …”


“Pascal Bruckner, another French philosopher and often an ally of Lévy’s, notes that this is Lévy’s natural mode. “Elections, discussions with the unions, economic problems—all these problems do not interest him,” he says. What Lévy has instead is “a will to turn politics into an epic, and to abandon everything that is prosaic.”

Well, I’ve heard the approach unaffectionately termed “neo-neo-colonialism.”  Is it working?

Is victory defined as freedom from the injustices of the tyrant?  Was this the “wise” course as opposed to the invasion of Iraq (which is flaring into sectarian violence after withdrawal)…by properly distancing ourselves and by respecting the will of  the Libyan people (or leaving them to their mess and alligning with Europe)?  Or is that just because some folks agree with the principles and the less violent outcome is a bonus?

Are the architects of any war responsible for those outcomes?


Here’s a Leo Strauss quote on Edmund Burke posted earlier.  It’s a strange place to find ourselves with a Frenchman (of the Left) potentially at the helm of our foreign policy:

“What ever might have to be said about the propriety of Burke’s usage, it is here sufficient to note that, in judging the political leaders whom he opposed in the two most important actions of his life, he [sic Burke] traced their lack of prudence less to passion than to the intrusion of the spirit of theory into the field of politics.”

Addition:  Of course, if he is actually at the helm of our foreign policy…

Related On This Site:…Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And OthersFrom The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’

From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Problem With Obama’s Decision To Leave Iraq’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’

Yes, Edmund Burke opposed the French Revolution: Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

James Kirchik At The American Interest: ‘Egyptian Liberals Against the Revolution’

Full essay here.

Kirchik homes in on a problem:

“…a media narrative developed about the political state of play in Egypt that persists to this day. It presents a story that is as simplistic as it is erroneous. There exist, according to this analysis, roughly three groups in Egyptian politics: the “liberal” protestors, the Islamists and the military. The last of the three has been the easiest to define: The military is the strongest and most respected institution in Egypt, and its agenda—preserving its economic power and privilege in society—is evident in every action it takes.”

There are, apparently, are some Egyptian liberals actually against the recent revolution (a la Burke):

‘But Rezkalla—along with a small band of other young Egyptian liberals whom I’ve met—has no time for the discredited ideologies of the past like Arab nationalism. Grouped around a relatively new non-governmental organization, the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth (EULY), they look to the classical liberal thinkers of Europe and America—to John Locke, not Gamal Abdel Nasser…’

and on the poverty, need, and want of a majority of Egyptians:

‘This is why, Badr says dismissively, the secular protestors who initiated the revolution were mostly middle class. The vast majority of the country, which remains poor, did not have serious problems with the Mubarak regime as it was steadily enjoying a higher quality of life under it. But the aspirational class, which has access to the Internet and some means of foreign travel, whose social advancement is more visibly thwarted by the corruption and nepotism of a dictatorial regime, and which is not living hand-to-mouth, places a higher value on political rights than do residents of Cairo’s vast slums.’

This reminds me of Niall Freguson’s observations (halfway through the video) on China:

Now that China has enacted economic reforms (by the old Communist structure) and is developing capital markets rapidly, it’s developing a broader “middle-class” of 200 million or more.  This is the group with a longer time-horizon that will force a diversification of institutions, challenge the old authoritarian structures as they demand more freedoms and opportunity.  This is the next wave (if it appears) that can go about creating longer-term political stability.

Would Egypt have similar options?

Addition:  Via Instapundit, more not promising reports.

Related On This Site:  It seems like one point of discussion is what kind of Western ideas lead the debate:  Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’Paul Berman At The New Republic: ‘From September 11 to the Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?’…french Liberte?: Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

Yes, Edmund Burke opposed the French Revolution: Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution..

From The National Interest Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rawls Visits the Pyramids’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’From Michael Totten: ‘The New Egyptian Underground’

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From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’

Full post here.

‘The real news in Asian politics yesterday, the kind of thing that will likely show up in the history books, was a quiet meeting announced by the State Department. If you missed it, it’s because people didn’t cover it much, but for the first time ever, India, Japan, and the US held a round of trilateral talks on the future of Asia and the strategic picture.’

An anglosphere connection?

Related On This Site:  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’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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From FuturePundit: ‘Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?’

Full post here.

This seemed interesting, as it’s been true in my experience:

‘In order to function in a city a greater level of callousness seems necessary. Being parsimonious about your empathy makes the most sense for those who have a larger list of potential candidates for their empathy…’

Try to help everyone and you’ll get taken advantage of too, and be a sap, or a saint.  Also:

‘The difference between pity and disgust is interesting. An elderly body is the fate of everyone and so far it can not be fixed. Becoming elderly is not seen as a moral failing. But becoming a drug addict (rightly or wrongly) is widely seen as a moral failing. It makes sense that people are more disgusted by those who make wrong moral choices.’

That reminded me of this post put up previously on this site: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.

And 1st in the comments was this quotation about living in a city.  It reminded me of my own experience:

‘Having walked the beat several times a week for several years, you begin to recognize faces, and that also changes you. You realize that the problem isn’t lack of resources; the problem is that the people misuse what they have. No amount of giving will fix that, so I no longer give. It’s not cost effective, and often counterproductive.

I think you should be free to give as you see fit, and it’s good to break the ice every now and again once you’ve put on a stoic face or developed a practical hardness because of the realities around you.

I’m a little skeptical of some of the interests potentially lined up at the nexus of psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience as regards political philosophy…there’s a case to be made that these fields hold an appeal to many secular moralists and social engineers…but that’s also probably my own bias.

Related On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

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

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

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Repost-From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not

Full post here.

A brief response by our author to this NY Times Op-Ed piece:

“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”


“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”

Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences?   There has been some successful modeling of some scientific rigor in the past.

There are still a few rigorous teachers of the canon, but they’ve often been replaced by a more fractured group of interests, continental leftists, and semi-politicized groups in many a liberal arts program (and it’s important as ever as a discipline in my opinion).  I think this helps explain the corner some people in our culture have painted themselves into; clutching at the remnants of moral relativism with an all too earnest scientism (the people who need climate science to be true for various reasons other than scientific ones), multi-culturalism and a sadly politicized set of goals for higher ed.  Clearly, there’s been a lot of change, and little discussion of the reasons behind the change.

On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Shakespeare and The Second Law Of ThermodynamicsStanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Did Strauss have it entirely right? Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

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Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Full piece here.

‘The range of achievable outcomes in Afghanistan is narrowing as Western effort wanes. The ambitious goals of the Bush administration were probably never attainable and are certainly not now. But even minimally democratic accountability may soon be beyond reach. If so, some form of delimited warlord rule will be the outer bound of the achievable.’

Meanwhile, at Tahrir Square.

Related On This SiteRelated On This Site:  From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And Pakistan…A tense relationship: Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Terrorism’s Supermarket’Christopher Hitchens At Vanity Fair: ‘From Abbotabad To Worse’Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

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Via The Telegraph: Christopher Hitchens

Full obituary here.

I suspect the Marxist materialist/radical days encouraged his particularly anti-religious bent.  As a member of the new atheists, he had a real and passionate hatred for the ability of religious doctrines and religions themselves to encourage (and potentially cultivate) many darker parts of human nature, including mysticism, passionate conviction tied only to respect for authority, righteous justification for action (no one may know some of these traits better than a former Marxist…and usually writers know the darker parts of the human heart).  He loved going after religious charlatanism.  He was also a war correspondent (real courage is always mixed with fear), a fine writer, and excellent in debate.

I remember being drawn to him for his withering critiques of the failures of multi-culturalism in Europe.


From the Telegraph:

‘He began as a leading iconoclast of the Left and, during the 1970s, was a voluble member of a talented and raffish gang, with Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and James Fenton, which gave the New Statesman magazine its glittery literary edge. But he got tired of British politics and, in 1981, moved to America where, despite occasional disagreements with his erstwhile comrades (as when he took Britain’s side against the Argentine junta in the Falklands conflict), his repeated assaults on such hate figures as Ronald Reagan and Henry Kissinger continued to guarantee him a welcome in radical circles.

All this changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, an event he interpreted as a turning point in “a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate”. He became an outspoken opponent of “Islamofascism”, forging a breach with the Left which became a permanent rift after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.’

Addition:  Transcript of a very interesting Reason interview here from November, 2001.

Related On This Site:  Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue……From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’From Michael Totten: ‘An Interview With Christopher Hitchens’

How does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

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