From Michael Totten: ‘The Syrian War Gets Even Uglier’

Full post here.

Totten notes a NY Times article which highlights how Syria has become a magnet for Saudi Salafis, Al Qaeda, and various others:

‘But the most likely outcome will continue to worsen the longer this lasts. And if Al Qaeda, the Qataris, and the Saudis have the most on-the-ground influence when the dust clears, the odds that Syria will remain a terrorist-sponsoring enemy of the United States even after regime-change are substantial.

Addition:  From Walter Russell Mead’s piece:

‘The larger point here is that anarchy and chaos in Syria is inherently destabilizing and offers many routes to a wider international conflict. Israel can’t allow Hezbollah to inherit Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Russia has citizens, military assets and significant economic interests in the country. Turkey cannot allow the Kurdish areas to be used as bases against it. Iraq fears (and with very good reason) that a Sunni government in Damascus would start exporting weapons and fighters to Sunnis inside Iraq. With Assad out of power, the delicate political arrangements in Lebanon are completely unbalanced; historically, Lebanese politics are adjudicated through the mechanism of civil wars that, from time to time, draw in outside forces as well’

There’s a lot going on.

Related On This Site:  What are some downsides of liberal internationalism?: Richard Fernandez At PJ Media: ‘The New Middle East’

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Is Manaf Tlass’s Defection a Sign That Assad’s Regime Is Cracking?”  Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. MillFrom Foreign Affairs-’Former Syrian General Akil Hashem on the Uprising in Syria’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’

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From The Wall Street Journal: ‘Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back’

Full piece here.

Back to empire if the U.S. doesn’t stand up for liberal democracy?

‘But the message remains dead serious. The “battle” for liberal democracy and some semblance of international order “has been being won because the U.S. has been putting out the effort for it,” he says. “And now we’re not.”‘

What happened to peace through strength?

Related On This Site: Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Richard Muller At The NY Times: ‘The Conversion Of A Climate Change Skeptic’

Full op-ed here.

‘Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.’


‘Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.’

Addition: As a friend points out, there’s still a lot of work to be done in illuminating the true-believing, absolutist, sometimes totalitarian cult of people beneath the more moderate Western Left (who in turn just want a highly taxed and regulated economy and much of your liberty on the back of an enormous, perhaps even global, entity).  The secular doomsday is upon us.  Nature has spoken.  As for the science, that’s another matter.

Another Addition:  More here and here.  It bears watching.

Yet Another Addition:   Ronald Bailey has more at Reason.

And Still More:  Watts Up With That has a post and a link to a Rachel Maddow interview.  I think anybody interested in the science and in free thinking would be wise to mostly stay away from the public sphere, where important political and cultural battles are being fought daily. 

Related On This Site:  From Youtube Via Reason: ‘Robert Zubrin: Radical Environmentalists And Other Merchants Of Despair’Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And Liberty

Jonathan Adler At The Atlantic: ‘A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change’ Monbiot invokes Isaiah Berlin and attacks libertarians:  From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Repost-From if-then knots: “Response To Yetter On AGW”

From Watts Up With That: Richard Lindzen On Positive Climate FeedbackFrom Chris Colose: Lindzen On Climate Feedback

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From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Full post here.

‘It seems, then, according to Strauss, that Nietzsche was correct in his critique of modern rationalism, which created a crisis leading to fascism, and that Nietzsche offered no way out of this crisis.  But any reader familiar with Nietzsche’s writings must wonder why Strauss says nothing about Nietzsche’s acceptance of Darwinian science in his middle period as an alternative to the apocalyptic rhetoric of “will to power” and “eternal return” in his later writings.  It is this Nietzsche of the later writings that Strauss and the Straussians have embraced–the Nietzsche who shows the “manly nihilism” admired by Harvey Mansfield.’

A commenter responds.  Worth a read.


For a friend at her request, here is a crude summary of some of Strauss’s thinking:

Most modern thinkers since the Enlightenment, because of the triumph of physics, mathematical physics and a split from natural philosophy, theology, and the Church’s old Aristotelian models, have had to wrestle with a new set of problems regarding the pursuit of truth and our claims to knowledge.  Some of them have believed that just as physics (and metaphysics as Kant intended to put metaphysics on the same ground as the natural sciences) yields new knowledge of the natural world, so too can epistemologies can be built and entire disciplines based upon the universal truths of historicist and positivist thought.

For Strauss however, historicism and positivism both lead to relativism and nihilism, which pose great dangers to liberal democracy and which have led to the three crises of modernity, including the most recent descent into fascism upon the European continent.

Politics on this view, for example, won’t be studied as it was for Aristotle (man is a political animal) in the polis, but now as a (S)cience.  A modern wall has been put up.  Political scientists will be necessary.  Politics, too, involves groups of people, therefore a new field of study like sociology is required to understand groups of people.  Groups of people are made up of individuals, therefore a field of study like psychology is required to understand individuals.   Next, perhaps, would be a general theory of personality for all of those individuals.  And if we can observe individual humans in a political group, why not animals, or plants, or bacteria?  If we must look at all cultures, and all epochs in their specific contexts…why is our time, our culture, and our traditions any better than anyone else’s?  This reasoning should be familiar to us all, though it clearly has it uses.

Here’s Strauss:

‘The new political science denies in a way that there is a public reason: government may be a broker, if a broker possessing “the monopoly of violence,” but it surely is not the public reason. The true public reason is the new political science, which judges in a universally valid, or objective, manner what is to the interest of each, for it show to everyone what means he must choose to attain his attainable ends, whatever those ends may be.”

Strauss’s critique of the new political science highlights the limits and logical fallacies he sees within modern thought and modernity itself.  And much like a man who wears glasses, historicist and positivist thinkers soon forget they are wearing them.  The “Is” become “Oughts” and crowd out other possible, differing and perfectly valid ways of thinking about man, politics, man’s nature and his natural ends which Strauss wanted to recover within his own project of returning to the ancients.  Hegelian historicism, in particular, comes under Strauss’ criticism and the collectivist political ideologies (Marxism, Communism) that have sprung from it.

Obviously, this approach has been very important to many conservative thinkers in the U.S, those who are particularly religious, Natural Law thinkers (addition:  many have disagreements with Strauss), and other assorted enemies of the collectivist projects of the Left, including the actual Communists and Neo-Marxists, moral relativists, modernists and post-modernists etc.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Link to a paper given at Oxford suggesting there are reasons to be skeptical of Strauss’s motives.

*Essays On The Scientific Study Of Politics, edited by Herbert J Storing (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).  (2nd paragraph of this post is a summary in my own words from pg 318…2nd quotation is from pg 320):

Related On This Site:  Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…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’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

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

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Richard Fernandez At PJ Media: ‘The New Middle East’

Full piece here.

The same old Middle East, but a little different:

‘Washington has finally convinced itself that the Syrian regime is doomed and that its plan to shape the post-Assad outcome through the UN is, and perhaps always was, a fantasy. However, the administration is still trying to limit its involvement to diplomacy, including efforts to close airspace to reinforcements bound for Damascus and working with a wide spectrum of Syrians through NGOs’

Assad has retreated to the coast, where he has barricaded himself, and where his fellow Alawite minority has been moving.   There are some chemical weapons in play, and Fernandez suggests that it’s looking more like Lebanon every day; a country dividing along tribal and sectarian lines with simmering levels of violence and tension, potentially erupting.  There aren’t many good outcomes at the moment.

Addition:  Juan Cole is on top of it.

Fernandez is raising another point as well:  It seems when you tie U.S. interests to liberal internationalist doctrine, there are serious downsides:

Here’s a quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter:

‘The central liberal internationalist premise is the value of a rules-based international order that restrains powerful states and thereby reassures their enemies and allies alike and allows weaker states to have sufficient voice in the system that they will not choose to exit’

An important question here is:  Who determines the value of that rules- based international order?  Also:  What are the underlying ideals that guide that order?

Likely, not all parties find these ideals to be universal nor the rules that flow from these ideals binding.  If the U.N. as it’s functioning today is an example, then clearly there’s a design problem.  It’s ineffective and cumbersome, stagnant, comically bureaucratic and increasingly guided by interests that have run the reasonable self-interest of stronger partners out of it.

One of her solutions:

‘We must also overhaul the global financial institutions so that they address the problems of a 21st-century economy rather than those of one from the 1930s. That, in a nutshell, means finding ways to make globalization work for everyone.’

This line of thinking reminds me of the E.U, but on a broader scale:  great on paper and good work for the bureaucrats, but likely heading for failure.

It’s arguable that very little could be done in Syria, as Assad’s regime was becoming ever more brutal and paranoid, working against demographic trends and many of his people.  It’s also arguable that we’ve lost important leverage waiting for entities like the U.N. to declare…something.  Clearly, our eggs should not all be in this basket.


On the liberal internationalist view, Libya was a triumph:  a desirable outcome with minimalized and shared risk with Europe (France and Britain especially) and an appeal to other partners to secure our interests.  The U.S. committed itself and funded a large portion of the “kinetic military action” which allowed a long troublesome, brutal and deluded dictator funding terrorists to be disposed of as strategically as could be hoped for (it remains to be seen how Libya will play out).

Iraq, on the other hand, was generally a failure because the long troublesome, repressive dictator was disposed of by an aggressive use of military force, higher loss of American and Iraqi life, and a flaunting of rules that would have bound other interests and which resulted in a potential morally weakened for America abroad.  This has emboldened our enemies and undermined our credibility.

I assume this is still up for debate.


Democracy, as most interests in the West envision it, really doesn’t seem to be forthcoming throughout the Middle East (except for Israel, of course).

More broadly, there is still a pan-Arab movement of Islamic extremism that has declared holy war upon the West, is trying to drive the infidel out of Arabia, and is targeting us here at home.  Many Muslims don’t find it terribly compelling, but a few obviously do.  It thrives in lawless enclaves across the Muslim world and in a few cells in the West, funds itself through often illegal activities (and the sympathy and common cause of  other true believers and many Muslim states, like Iran in the case of Hizbollah), and finds converts among some teenaged and young Muslim men in Europe and America.  I’m glad America is pursuing Al Qaeda with our military, security and intelligence agencies and I don’t find the liberal internationalist order sufficient to do so.

Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly one of the most organized groups in the Levant, gaining greater political power for itself in the same old (but now new and different) landscape in the Middle East.  Most of its aims are not necessarily alligned with those of Western interests nor democracy.

Related On This Site:  Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea (for the Muslim immigrants in Britain especially): From ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’

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Thomas Sowell Via LewRockwell.Com: ‘Jobs Versus Net Jobs’

Full piece here.

‘When President Obama boasts of the number of jobs created during his administration, the numbers he cites may be correct, but he doesn’t count the other jobs that were lost during his administration. His critics cite the latter. Both can claim to be right because they are talking about different things’

Related On This Site:   Link To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader

The State causes all poverty…or just creates a camp of poor people, incentivized by others?  Are they confusing their own desire to help others with the actual help and personal sacrifice?  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’From Fora Via YouTube: ‘Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions’How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

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Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

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Repost: Now Not-So-New Book On Raymond Chandler Reviewed in the L.A. Times

When I went looking for a good hard-boiled detective novel, I found Chandler’s High Window.  Here are some quotations of his, if you’re interested.

A lot of writers end badly; and according to the review, Chandler was no exception, though he did give us observations like these:

“Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good-hearted and peaceful. It had the climate they yap about now. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America.”

Here is the link.   It’s been a long time since they just reviewed the book and not the author.

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Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’

Full piece here.

Postrel discusses the work of two Harvard economists and offers this:

‘As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.’

On this analysis, income inequality (a lack of income convergence) is due in part to land use regulation in places like New York, California and Boulder.  Real estate has always been costlier in such places, but since 1980 there perhaps has been a set of legal changes that have made these places prohibitively expensive for a certain kind of mobile labor.  Walls are being built in and around these cities, due to the interests of many in them.  This steers a person, less well-educated (Postrel uses the example of a waiter from Ohio) from L.A. to say, Phoenix, where there is more money and more opportunity than Ohio, but who couldn’t afford California or New York.

This can close the door to a certain kind of “equality” that comes with less economic meddling and fewer land use regulations (and that used to be a possibility in California, if I recall from my early days): plumbers living next to lawyers next to insurance salesman next to retired Navy.  Kids’ schools, sports leagues and activities, generally safer neighborhoods and a more suburban focus can be created in such an economic environment.

In fact, I share some of Postrel’s populist sentiment at the irony that some who claim “income-equality” in the abstract, or seek “diversity” through often burdensome laws and regulations are in fact rich and successful enough to do so.  Perhaps many are just keeping up with the slower, deeper currents of public sentiment that are leading to a more liberal political base in these areas.  But, what made these people rich and successful?  Likely,  it wasn’t the willingness to sacrifice their own hard work, time and money to abstract entities without their consent…and if you make these laws and these politics the norm, then successful people will just learn how to game the new system.

Are you convinced?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition: I should add that what makes, say New York and San Francisco, partially successful, are the museum-like quality world class or nearly world-class cities have:  the actual museums, tourist attractions and tourist dollars, the aesthetic appeal and the consistent operation of many different and important activities like immigration, trade, finance etc.   Manhattan isn’t a family draw, and never was (except for TGI Friday’s in Times Square, of course).

Related On This Site:  Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

You don’t get the progressive base without the restrictive laws…they are baby steps to paradise: Richard Epstein At Defining Ideas: ‘City Planners Run Amok’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution Journal: ‘Three Cheers for Income Inequality’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

Look out Omaha…people are coming your way?: …Joel Kotkin Via Youtube: ‘Illinois Is In A Competition’From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

What if you’re economy’s already depressed?  Don’t make a maze of laws and build stadiums and museums on the public dime…get new industry: From Reason: ‘Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey’…Reason also suggests that if such creative/entrepenurial spirit gets off the ground, it will have to get around the public sector in Detroit.  From Reason Via Youtube: ‘Is Harrisburg’s Nightmare America’s Future?’

Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?
Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India to address some of the corruption there, and it may involve much more state involvement here in America by extension.  Can you see life, liberty and property from here?:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis
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Fouad Ajami At The Hoover Institution: ‘Syria’s War Hits the House of Assad’

Full piece here.

‘It has to come to this in Damascus: Wednesday’s rebel bomb attack on a meeting of Bashar al-Assad’s top lieutenants, killing at least three. The war has come to the House of Assad itself. Syria’s dictatorship had rested on a dynasty, and the terror had to be visited on the dynasty. There could be no airtight security for the rulers.’

The Economist has more here.  This could be a lengthy process, and a primary concern is the potential this situation has to devolve into a protracted Civil War.  Lebanon sits next door.

Related On This Site:  Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Is Manaf Tlass’s Defection a Sign That Assad’s Regime Is Cracking?”  Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. MillFrom Foreign Affairs-’Former Syrian General Akil Hashem on the Uprising in Syria’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’

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