Monday, January 31, 2011

Ilya Somlin on Vinson's Decision

Voloch Conspiracy

January 31, 2011 8:01

Today’s Florida district court ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional is by far the best court opinion on this issue so far. Judge Roger Vinson provides a thorough and impressive analysis of the federal government’s arguments claiming that the mandate is authorized by the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and explains the flaws in each. He had already rejected the government’s claim that the mandate is constitutional because it is a tax in a previous ruling. So far, all three federal courts that have considered the tax argument have rejected it, instead ruling (in my view correctly) that the mandate is a penalty.

This is perhaps the most important of all the anti-mandate lawsuits because the plaintiffs include 26 state governments and the National Federation of Independent Business.

One of the best parts of today’s opinion is Judge Vinson’s critique of the federal government’s argument that the mandate is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the Clause gives it the power to regulate “economic decisions”:

The problem with this legal rationale, however, is it would essentially have unlimited application. There is quite literally no decision that, in the natural course of events, does not have an economic impact of some sort. The decisions of whether and when (or not) to buy a house, a car, a television, a dinner, or even a morning cup of coffee also have a financial impact that — when aggregated with similar economic decisions — affect the price of that particular product or service and have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. To be sure, it is not difficult to identify an economic decision that has a cumulatively substantial effect on interstate commerce; rather, the difficult task is to find a decision that does not....

The important distinction is that “economic decisions” are a much broader and far-reaching category than are “activities that substantially affect interstate commerce” [which Supreme Court precedent allows Congress to regulate]. While the latter necessarily encompasses the first, the reverse is not true. “Economic” cannot be equated to “commerce.” And “decisions” cannot be equated to “activities.” Every person throughout the course of his or her life makes hundreds or even thousands of life decisions that involve the same general sort of thought process that the defendants maintain is “economic activity.” There will be no stopping point if that should be deemed the equivalent of activity for Commerce Clause purposes.

Judge Vinson has a similarly compelling answer to the government’s claim that choosing not to purchase health insurance is an “economic activity” because everyone participates in the health care market at some point:

[T]here are lots of markets — especially if defined broadly enough — that people cannot “opt out” of. For example, everyone must participate in the food market. Instead of attempting to control wheat supply by regulating the acreage and amount of wheat a farmer could grow as in Wickard, under this logic, Congress could more directly raise too low wheat prices merely by increasing demand through mandating that every adult purchase and consume wheat bread daily, rationalized on the grounds that because everyone must participate in the market for food, non-consumers of wheat bread adversely affect prices in the wheat market. Or, as was discussed during oral argument, Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals, not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier, and are thus more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system. Similarly, because virtually no one can be divorced from the transportation market, Congress could require that everyone above a certain income threshold buy a General Motors automobile — now partially government-owned — because those who do not buy GM cars (or those who buy foreign cars) are adversely impacting commerce and a taxpayer-subsidized business....

As Vinson explains, both the “economic decisions” argument and the “health care is special” argument ultimately amount to giving Congress the power to mandate virtually anything, and therefore conflict with the text of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. I addressed both arguments in more detail here. Judge Vinson also notes that the scenarios he raises are not merely a “parade of horribles,” but have a realistic basis, a point that I discussed in this recent post.

Turning to the Necessary and Proper Clause, Judge Vinson concedes that the individual mandate is “necessary” under existing Supreme Court precedent, but argues that it isn’t “proper” because the government’s logic amounts to giving Congress virtually unlimited power. I think this is exactly right; Vinson’s analysis is actually very similar to my own in this post (which is not to even suggest that he got the idea there).

Vinson also notes that the mandate probably runs afoul of the five part test recently outlined by the Supreme Court in United States v. Comstock, though he ultimately does not base his ruling on this point. I advanced a similar interpretation of Comstock and its implications for the mandate case in this article (pp. 260–67). Overall, Judge Vinson’s analysis of the Necessary and Proper Clause is a big improvement on Judge Henry Hudson’s performance in the recent Virginia ruling striking down the mandate.

Unlike Judge Henry Hudson in the Virginia case, Judge Vinson ruled that the mandate is not “severable” from the rest of the health care bill, and therefore invalidated it in its entirety. I think this may be somewhat too sweeping. However, Vinson is on strong ground in ruling that the mandate cannot be severed from the bill’s provisions forcing insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions. As he emphasizes, the federal government itself has repeatedly stressed this point in the litigation.

Finally, Judge Vinson rejected the 26 states’ argument that the funding provisions of the bill are unconstitutionally “coercive.” I may have more to say on this issue in a later post.

As I have often noted in the past, this decision is just another step in an ongoing legal battle. Ultimately, the issue of the individual mandate will be resolved by the courts of appeals and probably by the Supreme Court. Still, Judge Vinson’s ruling is a victory for opponents of the mandate. It’s also extremely well-written, and thereby provides a potential road map for appellate judges who might be inclined to rule the same way.

The Unexamined Life Etc.

Thinkers in History

Jan 27th 2011 |

Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche. By James Miller. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 432 pages; $28. Buy from

THE unexamined life is not worth living, or so Socrates famously told the jury at his trial. He neglected to mention that the examined life is sometimes not all that wonderful either. In 11 biographical sketches of thinkers who tried to tread in Socrates’s footsteps, plus one on Socrates himself, James Miller explores what it means to follow the philosophical calling. Much trouble and uncertainty seems to be the answer, and some of the most famous philosophers turn out not to be all that admirable or convincing, he finds. So can philosophy inspire a way of life? That is one question raised by Mr Miller, who teaches politics and liberal studies at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Fortunately, Mr Miller does not press that question too hard. Any attempt to draw an all-encompassing moral from the lives he examines would have distorted the stories he has to tell. What we get instead is a vivid set of philosophical tales that are notable for their judicious use of sources, including rare early works. The result is a fresh treatment of subjects who are often served up stale. Even Immanuel Kant, whose writings were justly described by Heinrich Heine, a poet, as having “the grey dry style of a paper bag”, emerges as human.

If one wanted to compile a charge-sheet against the great philosophers, to show that they were unfit to lead their own lives, let alone inspire others, this book could provide some useful evidence. There are Plato’s disastrous dealings with Dionysius the Younger, the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse, and Seneca’s hypocritical fawning over Nero. We hear of Aristotle’s support for Alexander the Great’s cruel imperialism, which sits uneasily with the philosopher’s professed political ideas. Rousseau, who preached on education, abandoned his five children by his long-term mistress, and made pathetic excuses for doing so (he was too ill and poor to be a good father, and a foundlings’ home is not such a bad place to grow up, anyway).

St Augustine turned against the spirit of intellectual inquiry once he had found salvation, and his dogmatic invective laid the foundations for centuries of intellectual tyranny by the Catholic church. Montaigne was a master of the suggestive non sequitur and the self-contradiction. The thinking of one orator-mystic, Ralph Waldo Emerson, an admirer of Montaigne’s, was “untethered”, as Mr Miller puts it, from empirical evidence or logical argument. Kant’s conception of morality as a matter of rigid adherence to strict principles emerges as partly an intended remedy for his own hypochondria. Nietzsche confessed in 1880 that his existence was “a fearful burden”, though he was at least happier than before, because of progress in his work.

Feet of clay, indeed; but Mr Miller does not chide his dozen unduly. Most of them were, after all, aware of their shortcomings, and did not (except for Nietzsche, in some madder moments) present themselves as prophets or saints. At the end of his life, Rousseau acknowledged that it was not nearly so easy as he had assumed to follow the Delphic oracle’s injunction to “Know thyself.” He concluded ruefully that it was “arrogant and rash” to profess virtues that you cannot live up to, and retreated into indolent seclusion.

If Mr Miller had included the sunny and admirable David Hume and some other less troubled souls in his portraits, his gallery of philosophers could have been brighter overall.

But on balance, the summation in his epilogue is probably correct: philosophical self-examination is not a reliable source of happiness or political nous. Still, there are many philosophers, including Aristotle, who regarded the quest for understanding as an end in itself, not as a path to joy or success. After all, as most of those who have been bitten by the philosophy bug will know, philosophers philosophize mainly because they cannot help it.


There is a "biographic fallacy" in the above line of argument likenable to that in literary criticism, that works of art (or thought) are reducible to their authors. A depressed poet may write joyous, glorious poetry, and one is separable from the other. A depressed philospher may write a compelling argument for ecstacy and happiness or the way of balanced, contented living, and the texts are separable from the dispostion of the thinker.

Another mistake is to miconceive the Platonic argument. That argument is not assimilable to the stresses and strains of life; it rather posits the ultimate beauty and fulfillment of a contemplative life,of the search for Platonic truth in trying to get some purchase on what is just and what is the good. That is dimensions and miles apart from "personal problems" of one kind or another.

Good Overview of Egypt From a Right of Centre Pessimistic Perspective

Burning Buss

The mass uprising in Egypt that seems set to overthrow the Mubarak regime is the latest test of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda. The U.S. and Israel are hoping it works out better than the previous three.

By Lee Smith Jan 31, 2011 7:00 AM

Mohamed ElBaradei arrives at Cairo’s Tahrir Square to address a crowd of protesters last night.

Administrations are overtaken by events all the time. And so President Barack Obama may be forgiven for his strange press conference on Egypt last week, in which he didn’t seem to know whether to praise Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Washington’s longtime ally, or side with the masses whom the U.S. president has been courting since his 2009 Cairo speech [1]. And yet the fact remains that the Obama Administration has no strategy to deal with events still unfolding in Egypt, nor even a worldview on which to base one. His predecessor, for all his flaws, did have a strategy. What we’ve been watching on the streets of Egypt this past week is the fourth test of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda.

The Bush White House believed that the problem with the Arabic-speaking Middle East was in the nature of repressive Arab regimes: In this view, Sept. 11 was the product of a political culture that had been strangled by its rulers, allowing their people no form of political expression except extremism. Deposing these regimes would unleash the native political energies of Arab peoples, went the argument, who would turn their attention away from anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments to the thoughtful participatory governance of their own societies. Accordingly, promoting democracy in the region was not only good for the Arabs, but also in America’s national interest. The first test for this Freedom Agenda was Iraq, followed by Lebanon and then the Palestinian Authority. Egypt is the fourth test—and the most consequential yet, for Cairo is the linchpin of Washington’s Middle East strategy.

Egypt was once commonly referred to as leader of the Arab world—an honorific denoting Egypt’s leadership in the arts, intellectual life, and media, as well as its enormous population of 80 million. And unlike other Arab states—Syria, say, or Saudi Arabia—Egypt has a real history and identity dating back thousands of years. Primarily, however, “leader of the Arab world” referred to Cairo’s political status, specifically its role in the wars against Israel.

When Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s second president, was in office, all his political capital rested on the fact that Egypt, unlike U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Jordan, clamored for war with the Zionist entity. When Anwar Sadat, his successor, brought Egypt from the Soviet to the American side after the 1973 war, it represented a Cold War victory for Washington that paid huge strategic dividends. However, it is one of the paradoxes of U.S. Middle East policy that by signing a peace treaty with Jerusalem, Sadat took Cairo out of the front-line camp and thereby weakened the regional prestige of a key American ally. Of course that treaty also put Sadat in the crosshairs of the Islamists, who killed him at Cairo stadium in 1981, with Mubarak beside him on the reviewing stand.

That peace has not only been good for the United States, securing our hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also of course for Israel. It is that treaty with Cairo that allows Israel the relative luxury to worry primarily about a Persian adversary far from its borders and two terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The prospect of Egypt, with a large U.S.-trained and equipped army, air force, and navy, once again becoming “leader of the Arab world” is a nightmare for Israel’s leaders.

The U.S.-backed order in the Middle East is founded entirely on Cairo’s position as an ally—and on keeping the peace, as Mubarak has. If Egypt moves out of the American fold, it might well align itself with Iran. Mubarak has known well enough to fear the Islamic Republic—a street in Tehran is named after Sadat’s assassin. Or perhaps it would challenge the Iranians, in the way regional competition has worked since 1948—by seeing who can pose the greatest threat to Israel. Therefore, this fourth test of the freedom agenda could not be more important.

Unfortunately, after the first three runs, it’s hard to be optimistic this time. What we’ve seen so far is that the political energies unleashed by the Freedom Agenda are not democratic but tribal, sectarian, and violent. In Gaza, the Palestinian electorate voted for Hamas. In Lebanon, while the majority voted for the pro-democracy March 14 movement, Hezbollah still won power in government even as it embarked on a bloody campaign culminating last week in the party’s takeover of the state. After U.S. forces brought down Saddam Hussein, Iraqis turned on each other, fueled by more than a thousand years of a sectarian rage that was further aggravated by Saddam as Sunnis and Shiites shed blood at a clip typically associated with the grislier sectors of central Africa.

It is true that Egypt is not Iraq. And yet as many seem to have forgotten, only a month ago Islamist militants attacked [2] a church in Alexandria, killing 23 Coptic Christians. To be sure, many Muslims rallied to defend their Christian neighbors, and today there are Christians in the street alongside the Muslim majority, but anyone who thinks sectarian tensions are simply the fault of “extremists,” or the Mubarak regime’s inability to protect Christians, is missing the point: The execution of minorities strongly suggests that a society might not be ready for democracy.

The relevant minority here are the liberals and democrats, for they do indeed exist and Egypt is the historical capital of Arab liberalism, from the novelist Taha Hussein [3] to the journalist Farag Foda [4]. Today there are a number of bloggers, intellectuals, and journalists, like the playwright Ali Salem and Hala Mustafa, editor of the political journal Dimoqratiya (Democracy), who keep the liberal flame alive. The former wrote a book [5] about his trip to Israel and the latter met [6] with the Israeli ambassador, and both were punished for it and ostracized by their colleagues. This is an indication not only of their lack of popularity but also the temperament of Egyptian intellectual culture: illiberal and populist—in other words, undemocratic.

There is some truth to the idea that Mubarak has choked off his liberal opposition, leaving only the Muslim Brotherhood to challenge him, but arguably the Egyptian liberal movement came to an end with the 1926 publication of Taha Hussein’s work on pre-Islamic poetry, which dealt with the historical and literary foundations of Islam. Under pressure from the religious authorities and death threats from Islamists, Hussein removed the passages deemed offensive, and the precedent was set: Men with guns make the rules, which liberals must abide by or be killed. Nonetheless, more than half a century later, Foda challenged the Islamists, and they reminded him how precarious liberalism is in Egypt by gunning [7] him down in a Cairo street in 1992.

The Islamists, represented now by the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, are one of only two political institutions that would survive Mubarak’s downfall; the other is the military. Indeed, Egypt has been run by military rulers more often than not—from the Muslim conqueror of Egypt Amr ibn al-‘As to the Albanian soldier Mohamed Ali, whose dynasty fell to Nasser’s Free Officers in a 1952 coup.

Mubarak’s son Gamal’s presidency would have represented something like a coup d’etat against the military, which is why they got him out and chief of military intelligence Omar Suleiman was named vice president, making him Mubarak’s official successor. The awful irony is that Gamal and his gang of young financiers and businessmen probably represented Egypt’s best chance to move away from military rule. At least this is what much of the Washington policy establishment believed, with the hope of getting Gamal to pick up the pace of political reform to match the country’s notable economic reform. If Mubarak goes down, the security forces, the military and the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, will fight each other, or cut a deal, or both.

Consider the other options. The United States wants national dialogue, which seems to include Mohamed ElBaradei. By virtue of his name recognition alone, the former IAEA head has been hailed by the Western press as one of the leaders of the democratic opposition. However, at the IAEA this so-called reformer distorted [8] his inspectors’ reports on Iran and effectively paved [9] the way for the Islamic Republic’s march toward a nuclear bomb. Now the Muslim Brotherhood has named [10] him as their interlocutor. In other words, ElBaradei is nothing other than a shill for Islamists.

There’s also Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) party, who finished third in the last presidential elections before he was jailed on trumped-up charges. Then there’s Saad Eddine Ibrahim, the Arab world’s most famous democratic-rights activist, who was also imprisoned by Mubarak and is now living abroad in the United States. During Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, Ibrahim came down on the side of the Lebanese militia. Ibrahim’s posture was hardly surprising given that his onetime jailer despised Hezbollah. But it is odd that a democratic advocate should applaud war with Israel, a country with whom Cairo has had a peace treaty for more than 30 years.

Maybe this should be one of the tests for Egypt’s democrats in the streets: Where do you stand on Israel? If they are really democrats, or just pragmatists, the young among them protesting for higher pay would answer that warmer relations with an advanced, European-style economy—like, say, Israel’s—would provide jobs for the millions of Egypt’s unemployed. Of course that is not the answer you’re going to get from the young men now filling the streets of Cairo. Or forget about Israel and ask them instead about Hezbollah. Do they support the Islamic resistance? Of course they do, because Egypt’s most famous democrat Saad Eddine Ibrahim supports Hezbollah, the outfit that has turned the remnants of Lebanese democracy on its head while killing its opponents.

No doubt there are real liberals and democrats in Egypt, and some may even be in the streets today, but they are not going to come out on top. In part that is because the United States is not going to help them. Indeed, Washington showed how seriously it takes Arab liberals and democrats two weeks ago when it watched silently from the sidelines as Hezbollah toppled Saad Hariri’s government. Plenty of Arabs hoping for a democratic Lebanon died over the last five years since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and it is important to note that the million-plus Lebanese who went to the streets on March 14, 2005 demonstrated peacefully, unlike the Egyptians, and all the destruction and violence was caused by Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies.

That the United States will not come to the aid of its liberal allies, or strengthen the moderate Muslims against the extremists, is one reason why the Freedom Agenda is not going to work, at least not right now. The underlying reason then is Arab political culture, where real democrats and genuine liberals do not stand a chance against the men with guns.

Article printed from Tablet Magazine:

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] speech:

[2] attacked:

[3] Taha Hussein:

[4] Farag Foda:

[5] book:

[6] met:

[7] gunning:

[8] distorted:

[9] paved:

[10] named:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thomas Sowell on Victor Davis Hanson on Third World America

January 30, 2011//Real Clear Politics

Mascots of the Self-Congratulatory Elites

Dr. Victor Davis Hanson's quietly chilling article, "Two Californias," in National Review Online, ought to be read by every American who is concerned about where this country is headed. California is leading the way, but what is happening in California is happening elsewhere-- and is a slow poison that is being largely ignored.

Professor Hanson grew up on a farm in California's predominantly agricultural Central Valley. Now, as he tours that area, many years later, he finds a world as foreign to the world he knew as it is from the rest of California today-- and very different from the rest of America, either past or present.

In Hanson's own words: "Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards."

This is a Third World culture, transplanted from Mexico, and living largely outside the scope of American law, state or federal.

Ironically, this is happening in a state notorious for its pervasive and intrusive regulation of the minute details of people's lives, homes, and businesses. But not out in the Third World enclaves in the Central Valley, where garbage is strewn with impunity and unlicensed swarms of peddlers come and go, selling for cash and with no sales tax.

While waiting in line at two supermarkets, Victor Davis Hanson realized in both places that he was the only one in line who was not paying with the plastic cards issued by welfare authorities to replace the old food stamps. He noted that these people living on the taxpayers were driving late-model cars and had iPhones, BlackBerries and other parts of what he calls "the technological veneer of the middle class."

Sadly-- and, in the long run, tragically-- this is not unique to California, or to illegal immigrants from Mexico, or even to the United States. It is a pattern to which the Western world has been slowly but steadily succumbing.

In France, for example, there are enclaves of Third World Muslims, living by their own rules and festering with resentments of the society that is content to let them vegetate on handouts from the welfare state.

The black ghettos of America, and especially their housing projects, are other enclaves of people largely abandoned to their own lawless and violent lives, their children warehoused in schools where they are allowed to run wild, with education being more or less optional.

What is going on? These and other groups, here and abroad, are treated as mascots of the self-congratulatory elites.

These elites are able to indulge themselves in non-judgmental permissiveness toward those selected as mascots, while cracking down with heavy-handed, nanny-state control on others.

The effect of all this on the mascots themselves is not a big concern of the elites. Mascots symbolize something for others. The actual fate of the mascots themselves seldom matters much to their supposed benefactors.

So long as the elites have control of the public purse, they can subsidize self-destructive behavior on the part of the mascots. And so long as the elites can send their own children to private schools, they needn't worry about what happens to the children of the mascots in the public schools.

Other people who cannot afford to send their children to private schools can simply be called "racists" for objecting to what the indulgence of the mascots is doing to the public schools or what the violence of the mascots is doing to other children trapped in the same schools with them.

A hundred years ago, groups who are now indulged as mascots were targets and scapegoats of Progressive era elites, treated like dirt and targeted for eradication in the name of "eugenics."

There are no permanent mascots. As fashions change, the mascots of today can become the scapegoats and targets of tomorrow. But who thinks ahead any more?


There is some truth here despite the absurdity of the idea of "mascots."

Realism: Argument For Prudence and For a Mubarak Led Transition

Beware Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Leslie Gelb//Daily Beast// January 30/11

As Washington reviews its policy toward Cairo this weekend, officials should think hard about fostering a Mubarak-led transition rather than one led by protesters. Plus, full coverage of the uprising in Egypt.

Difficult as it may be, let's try for an honest and realistic discussion of Egypt. Of course, the Obama administration, most Americans, most Egyptians, and I myself would prefer a democratic government in Cairo instead of President Mubarak's corrupt and repressive establishment.

That's not the issue.

The real issue is this: If Mubarak tumbles and if Washington uses its influence—and yes, it does have influence at approximately $3 billion in annual total aid—to push him out, what kind of government will follow his? Will it be even less democratic and more repressive? And what will be the implications for U.S. security in the region?

So, let's stop prancing around and proclaiming our devotion to peace, "universal rights" and people power. Instead, let's step back and look hard at what we know and don't know about this popular explosion in the bosom of one of America's most vital allies—and what the United States can and can't do about it.

The devil we know is President Mubarak. In the history of Mideast bad guys, he's far from the worst. Remember Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomenei, President Ahmadinejad, President Assad of Syria, and the many and varied leaders of Muslim terrorist groups? No sensible American would excuse Mubarak's corrupt regime—a bureaucracy that would make Kafka blush, a nasty police force, and a repressive political system. Very bad, indeed. On the plus side, he's led Egypt's economy to 6 to 7 percent real growth in past years and has conducted a foreign policy highly supportive of U.S. interests.

Most seriously, he failed to institute gradual political and economic reforms. Consequently, his nation is in flames. U.S. administrations haven't been successful in the past when they tried to push Mubarak in this direction. But it stands to reason that he might now be more amenable to reforms and transitions as long as he is not humiliated.

Now, what about the devils we know less—like the protesters? Of course, there's a slew of journalists, pundits, policy experts and professors who say these aren't devils at all, just "the people": democrats, lawyers, and college-educated and moderate women. No doubt, many of the protesters fit that description. But the dutiful press has interviewed only, say, a few hundred of these good souls. Perhaps many are not so democratic. Perhaps many are Egyptian Tea Partiers who want every Egyptian to have Islamic guns like the Founding Pharaohs. Or perhaps many are just furious and poor and unknowledgeable. My guess is no one really knows a great deal about the protesters.

It would be delusory to take the MB's democratic protestations at face value. Look at who their friends are—like Hamas.

As for most of the other "devils," they are pretty well known. One leadership candidate, of course, is Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. chief nuclear inspector and a good man. But he has almost no constituency inside Egypt, where he's spent little time in recent years. The people aren't going to give him power, and he probably wouldn't know what to do with it anyway. But he could be part of a future government in an ideal world.

The other "devil," now being proclaimed as misunderstood Islamic democrats, is the Muslim Brotherhood, and they should give us great pause. Baloney and wishful thinking aside, the MB would be calamitous for U.S. security. What's more, their current defenders don't really argue that point, as much as they seem to dismiss it as not important or something we can live with. The MB supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers, would be uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal, and opposes the Egyptian-Israeli agreement of 1979, widely regarded as the foundation of peace in the Mideast. Above all, the MB would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide. That is a very big deal.

As for the MB's domestic democratic credentials, let me show some restraint here. To begin with, no one really has any sound idea of how they might rule; they haven't gotten close enough to power to fully judge. But they'd be bad for non-orthodox Islamic women.

And while MB leaders profess support for democracy and free speech, my mother's response still holds: "They would say that, wouldn't they?" What I see is that they've quieted their usual inflammatory rhetoric in return for Mubarak not banning them. It would be delusory to take the MB's democratic protestations at face value. Look at who their friends are—like Hamas.
The real danger is that our experts, pundits and professors will talk the Arab and American worlds into believing we can all trust the MB. And that's dangerous because, outside of the government, the MB is the only organized political force, the only group capable of taking power. And if they do gain control, it's going to be almost impossible for the people to take it back. Just look at Iran.

For the record, I am not saying that Arabs or Muslims are incapable of democracy. I am most certainly saying that Arabs, Muslims, or anyone else would find it almost impossible to establish a stable democracy out of chaos and years of corruption and injustice.

The Egyptian Army is another power alternative. And it's possible they could provide a bridge to a future civilian democratic government in Cairo. All we know here is that they've kept their noses out of politics and are thought to be generally loyal to Mubarak. The United States could help persuade the parties—if asked to play that role by the military, Mubarak officials, and "the people."

Now, a final word about America's power in this situation. We haven't got any power to shape events. But that does not mean we are without influence. We have influence by virtue of the billions in aid we provide annually, by dint of years of positive contacts with the Egyptian government and business people, and the like.

This means something. If the Obama administration leans to the protesters, that would embolden the protesters and demoralize Mubarak supporters. And mind you, those Americans screaming to support "the people" should understand that no matter how much President Obama sides with "the people," few of them will thank him or America for it. And our soothsayers should also understand that when our other Arab friends watch us help remove Mubarak from power by not backing him, they'll believe that they'll be next on the list if they run into trouble. U.S. power would crumble in the region.

In these circumstances, the least problematic of U.S. policies are as follows:

1. Call on all sides to restore order and stability—with as much restraint on government force as possible. Little or nothing can get done if the killings mount. Under present circumstances, Mubarak won't compromise, and if he did, "the people" would only demand more. And everything would fly out of control again. The Army is best positioned to do what's necessary here, including using minimum necessary force.

2. Shut up publicly as much as possible and use American influence privately to guide Mubarak toward a power transition "he could be proud of." He can't stay in office for long, but he can go in a way that befits a strong ally and allows for a legacy he can be proud of. (And by the way, the White House should also stop threatening publicly to cut off aid to his government. Make such points in private.)

3. Bring in Egyptian voices and others respected by them to speak truth to the people. Tell them it will take years to fix Egypt's mountain of problems. Urge them to say that the start would be a coalition government with Mubarak as president for as short a period as possible and no more than a year, followed by elections supervised by the United Nations.

After a daylong meeting on Saturday, the White House decided to lean in this direction—i.e., away from the protesters and toward Mubarak. But according to officials, Obama will not be saying so explicitly.

Our foremost fear should be an abrupt change of power or chaos that will benefit only extremists. Our foremost worry should be self-delusion.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Makes sense to me.

Egypt and Iran: Some Balanced Comparisons

A Note of Warning and Encouragement for Egyptians

From an Iranian writer who lived through the 1979 Revolution.

Abbas Milani/January 30, 2011/TNR

After days of unrest, after declaring martial law in some of the country’s main cities, the authoritarian leader gave a much anticipated television speech. His tone was repentant. He promised change and reform. The people wanted democracy and he promised to bend to their wishes.

For a long time, the United States had been advising him to open his political system—but had been seen publicly as his chief supporter. The U.S. president had given lofty and elegant speeches defending democracy and human rights, assuring the people of the Middle East that the United States supported their democratic demands. But both the leader and his American supporters were caught off-guard by the size of the demonstrations. American officials began trying to walk a dangerous tight-rope: offering support for the beleaguered leader but also establishing ties and credibility with the opposition.

When the leader tried to use the force of his military to calm the situation, the United States issued ambiguous statements, indicating support for the leader’s desire to establish law and order on the one hand while at the same time insisting that the march of democracy must continue, and that the use of force could not be a solution to the country’s problems. Benefiting from the subsequent chaos, radical Islamists, posing as democrats, used the chance to seize power and deracinate the democratic movement in favor of tradition and theocracy.

The country I am speaking of is not Egypt in 2011 but Iran in 1979. The leader is the Shah, not Hosni Mubarak. Yet, as this history makes clear, the parallels between then and now are numerous. And they offer some key lessons for Americans and Egyptians alike.

For U.S. policymakers, the Iranian Revolution illustrates the perils of vacillating between defending an old regime and establishing ties with new democrats. President Obama must use all of his persuasive power to demand that Hosni Mubarak immediately declare that he will not seek reelection. The Egyptian dictator must be persuaded to appoint a caretaker government that will handle the daily affairs of the state, headed by a moderate member of the opposition like Mohammed ElBaradei. This might be the last chance to arrange an orderly transition to democracy, one wherein anti-democratic forces in any guise—religious, military, secular, or theocratic—cannot derail the democratic process.

For Egyptians, the history of the Iranian Revolution should serve as a warning. In 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini hid his true intentions—namely the creation of a despotic rule of the clerics—behind the mantle of democracy. More than once he promised that not a single cleric would hold a position of power in the future government. But once in power, he created the current clerical despotism. And when, in June 2009, three million people took to the streets of Tehran to protest decades of oppression, they were brutally suppressed.

With this history in mind, Egyptian democrats must not be fooled by the radical Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. If and when Mubarak falls, they simply cannot allow the most radical and brutal forces to win in the ensuing chaos. If these forces are allowed to claim power using the rhetoric of democracy, Egyptians will find themselves decades from now needing another uprising, which is precisely the current situation of the Iranian people.

The propaganda machine for the clerical regime in Tehran has been gloating about the similarities between the events of Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran and developments in Egypt now. It shamelessly claims that today’s uprising in Egypt is but an aftershock of the revolution in Iran. The Egyptian people must prove them wrong.

And not just for the sake of Egypt. For over a century, Egypt, like Iran, has been a bellwether state for the entire region. The arrival of freedom to Egypt would therefore put the Iranian mullahs on the defensive. Far from a repeat of 1979, the Egyptian uprising might begin to seem like a close cousin of 2009—a true democratic revolt. This would give confidence to democrats across the Middle East. It would suggest that the tectonic plates in the region really are shifting away from despotism and dogma, toward democracy and reason. Inshallah!

Abbas Milani is a contributing editor for The New Republic and the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project. His latest book is The Shah.

Paul Berman On a Book of Essays by Irving Krstol and On His Trajectory

Irving Kristol’s Brute Reason

Selected Essays, 1942-2009
By Irving Kristol
Edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Foreword by William Kristol.
390 pp. Basic Books. $29.95.

NYT/January 23, 2011

Irving Kristol, who died in 2009, is sometimes called the “godfather” or even “father” of neoconservatism, and the patriarchal honorific, like a well-worn hat, sits comfortably atop “The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009.” The book is strictly a family enterprise. It has been lovingly edited by Kristol’s widow, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, and carries a prefatory funeral eulogy by their sorrowful son, the Republican journalist William Kristol.

Even the selection of essays reflects a uniquely familial degree of intimacy. Himmelfarb recounts in her introduction that while “rummaging among old files” after her husband’s death, she discovered tattered copies of a short-lived and wholly forgotten little magazine called Enquiry: A Journal of Independent Radical Thought.

Her husband and some of his young friends founded the magazine in 1942, the year of her marriage, and they kept it afloat for eight issues, until the young friends and Kristol himself disappeared into the Army. Himmelfarb has reproduced the cover of Vol. 1, No. 1 — austere, elegant, partly sans-serif in the 1940s style, 10 cents a copy — and the sight of the magazine does conjure an era.

Kristol in 1942 was just two years out of New York’s City College, working as a machinist in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and he still bore the marks of his student Trotskyism. Russian revolutionaries in the time of the czars used to adopt noms de guerre to outwit the police, and at City College in the 1930s, earnest young Trotskyists did the same. Irving Kristol renamed himself “William Ferry” (which, if I may add a detail, was an undergraduate in-joke aimed at one of American Trotskyism’s adult leaders, who, not being a college man himself, was unable to pronounce correctly the word “periphery”). And sure enough, at the foot of Enquiry’s inaugural cover, you can see the name “William Ferry” listed as the author of a piece on W. H. Auden.

Himmelfarb has reprinted the essay. It is bristly with words like “hypostasizing” — a commentary by a wisp of a lad who is trying in vain to appear as solid and august as Lionel Trilling, the literary critic. Still, the essay makes good reading, and this is precisely because young Kristol, in his boyish impressionability, was alive to the intellectual tremors of his own moment, which were huge.

Teenage Trotskyism, back in the ’30s, had rested on a series of firm beliefs and alarming realities. The student rebels noticed that at home in America, capitalism had pretty much collapsed, which made free-market conservatism or any other kind of conservatism out of the question. Europe had absolutely collapsed. Communism and the Soviet Union advertised themselves as the answer to everything. The young Trotskyists knew too much about Stalin to believe any such thing. Trotskyism’s big idea was to hold out for a better sort of revolutionary left, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky himself.

This did not seem altogether impossible, for a while. Then the Spanish Civil War turned out badly. The Spanish left went down to defeat. In 1940 Trotsky was assassinated. And revolutionary leftism retreated from the zones of plausibility to the zone of mere speculation.

Kristol’s essays in Enquiry magazine in the 1940s show that even so, he went on clinging to the speculative option, for a time. The philosopher Sidney Hook tried to persuade America’s antiwar intellectuals to come out in favor of American participation in World War II, which meant giving up on ultra-left-wing recriminations and fantasies.

Young Kristol, replying in one of the Enquiry essays reprinted here, instructed Hook that America was a force for imperialism and racism, engaged in “a completely reactionary crusade” against Japan. But Kristol himself seems to have recognized how ridiculous his sloganeering sounded.

Mostly in those early essays he showed a sophisticated comprehension of his own predicament, which was hopelessly complicated. Every single one of the grand certainties of the 1930s had disintegrated, which meant that for his own little circle of friends, a time of doubt had arrived. Unfortunately the ’40s were also, as Hook explained, a time for war — therefore no time to retreat into private rumination.

Kristol understood this. “The crisis in conscience is deep and enduring and any renewal of heart will have to accept it as a fellow-traveler,” wrote “William Ferry” in his essay on Auden, sounding very mature indeed. “On the other hand, to elevate doubt into a political program is distinctly impracticable.”

To be filled with gloomy doubt, and to go limping forward, even so, in search of practical solutions, perhaps even harboring some last shrunken hope for a better world, like a man cupping a match — this was the animating inspiration of Kristol’s generation of intellectuals in their postcollege years. They cultivated a spirit of ambivalence and modesty. They were alert to subtleties and nuances of life and the soul of a sort that might be addressed by literature, or even by a religious-minded literature, but not normally by politics.

Saul Bellow, five years older than Kristol, expressed the mood in “Dangling Man,” which describes a disillusioned young leftist in circumstances rather like Kristol’s, except in Chicago instead of Brooklyn. Bellow’s narrator says,

“This would probably be a condemned age. But . . . it might be a mistake to think of it in that way.”

Kristol’s City College mates, Irving Howe and Daniel Bell, spent the 1950s writing books in the shadow of that same idea, discouraged but averse to despair — Howe’s “Politics and the Novel”(on the corrosive effects of radical political movements on their own members, among other topics, as shown by Dostoyevsky and Hawthorne and other novelists), and Bell’s “Marxian Socialism in the United States”and “The End of Ideology” (on Marxism’s failure to take the measure of the modern world), not to mention nearly everything else those men went on to write.

The essays by Kristol from the 1940s and ’50s in this new, posthumous collection make me suppose that he, too, could have written a book like theirs, if he had set his mind to it. He took a philosophical interest in the mendacities and profundities of political rhetoric, and he took a historical interest in the American past, and it is easy to imagine that if he had allowed those interests to fertilize each other, his own 1940s inspiration might have blossomed eventually into something sturdier and more ambitious than a scattered set of slender magazine commentaries.

He did give book writing a try, but his patience gave out after three months. Then he decided, as he recounts in still another of the essays here, that his own talents pointed to editing and magazine writing. He and Bell founded another little magazine, The Public Interest, in 1965, which was designed to bring something of the 1940s skepticism, in a social science version, to questions of public policy in the United States. And the magazine prospered. Kristol was in good form.

He wrote a pretty shrewd analysis of student leftism in that same year called “What’s Bugging the Students?” from the standpoint of his own, by then middle-age generation.

Something happened to Kristol, though, or so it seems to me. Bell and Howe and some other people from that generation never did give up on their 1940s ambivalences — even if the student rebellions of the ’60s were aimed directly at them, which could not have been a pleasant experience.

In Himmelfarb’s interpretation, Kristol, too, faithfully clung to his earliest inspirations. “The Neoconservative Persuasion” persuades me otherwise. Kristol, to my eyes, looks a little like Norman Mailer, another 1940s personality who, in the course of the ’60s, decided to shuck off his old thoughtfulness in favor of something new — though of course Mailer, the hipster, defected to the counterculture, and Kristol, the square, took up the anti-counterculture.

Anti-counterculturalism relieved him of the burdens of uncertainty. “The Quality of Doubt” was the subtitle of his 1942 Auden essay. But the Irving Kristol who began to emerge in the 1970s exuded the quality of dogmatism, which he labeled “conservative.” Himmelfarb, in her introduction, cites with approval a Partisan Review commentary, included in the book, in which Kristol laid out several of his newly “conservative” dogmas.

He wrote:

“I have reached certain conclusions: that Jane Austen is a greater novelist than Proust or Joyce; that Raphael is a greater painter than Picasso; that T. S. Eliot’s later, Christian poetry is much superior to his earlier; that C. S. Lewis is a finer literary and cultural critic than Edmund Wilson; that Aristotle is more worthy of careful study than Marx; that we have more to learn from Tocqueville than from Max Weber; that Adam Smith makes a lot more economic sense than any economist since; that the Founders had a better understanding of democracy than any political scientists since; that . . . well, enough.”

Or more than enough.

List making is fun at parties. But Kristol in that passage lays out, with a peremptory air, an orthodoxy, sometimes on reasonable grounds (not even Karl Marx would dispute that Aristotle outranks Marx), sometimes on questionable grounds (suppose you wanted to read about the events of Marx’s lifetime — what good would Aristotle do you, then?), but always emphatically.

And, in this new spirit, he plunged into his magnum opus, which, instead of a book, was the constructing of something called “neoconservatism.”

This was intended to be a new kind of political inspiration, different from the old-fashioned Main Street, balance-the-budget, isolationist conservatism of the past, and different from the right-wing radicalism of people who used to read books like “The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil.” Readers who want to unravel the mystery of Kristol’s new idea will naturally turn to the title essay of the book, “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” from 2003, in which he summarizes his principles.

These turn out to be, in his presentation: a cheerful zest for economic growth; a comfortable acceptance of the large modern state, inherited from Franklin Roosevelt; a worried fear of moral and cultural decline; and no particular doctrine on foreign affairs, apart from a conviction that America’s power and prosperity require an active role in world events. (Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed.

They will ask, where are the Judeo-Satanic hidden goals? — and will go thumbing through Kristol’s book in vain.)

The book contains almost 50 essays, though, and apart from the handful of writings from the 1940s, and another handful, mostly admirable, from his phase as a cold war liberal and incipient political philosopher in the ’50s, the greatest number of those essays, if you put them together, add up to an extended tirade against American liberalism, which I think should figure as still another of neoconservatism’s principles — the largest and most energetic principle of all, judging by the evidence here.

The tirade rested on two main inspirations, neither of which can be dismissed out of hand. Kristol repeatedly argued that American liberalism, in its domestic programs, has relied on a parched and narrow vision of human nature, which attributes too much importance to material conditions and not enough to moral and religious considerations.

His argument drew on the old 1940s instinct to look to literature and even to religion for insights — to think about the soul, and not just about dollars and social structures. Thinking about some nonmaterial factors led, in the pages of The Public Interest, to shrewd criticisms of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and various faddish social reform projects of the big foundations.

Then again, the habit of adverting to spiritual questions and the soul allowed Kristol, as the years advanced, to speak ever more warmly, though not always convincingly, about evangelical Christian movements as a preferable alternative to government-sponsored social reform.

Still, the largest of his inspirations was an insistent nostalgia for the America of his own youth — even if, in the title essay, he explicitly repudiated anything of the sort. But who in the world of sophisticated thinkers does not repudiate nostalgia?

And who does not end up yearning, even so, for various Golden Ages of yore? Kristol’s yearnings were relentless, though. In his picture of American life, the virtues of long ago invariably seem more virtuous than the virtues of the present, and even the vices of the past turn out to be roguishly preferable to vices of more recent times.

America as a whole used to be more public spirited. In New York City, “street crime was practically unheard of.” Religious sermons used to be more challenging; trade unions less selfish; schools, untroubled. “In general, the political handling of controversial religious and moral issues in the United States prior to World War II was a triumph of reasoned experience over abstract dogmatism” — a sentence from an essay provocatively called “On the Political Stupidity of the Jews” (whose stupidity consists, it would seem, of failing to agree with Kristol that life in America was better back in the days when anti-Semitism was still an acceptable ­prejudice).

On the side of vice, Las Vegas used to be more attractively seedy than it later became. And the arts have steadily declined, morally speaking, ever since the 19th century. (The superiority of T. S. Eliot’s later poetry to his earlier poetry appears to be an anomaly.) “The feminization of social policy” has undermined the previously superior, “masculine” welfare state. The decline of Greek and Latin instruction seems to him catastrophic: “Future historians may yet decide that one of the crucial events of our century, perhaps decisive for its cultural and political destiny, was the gradual dissolution and abandonment of the study of the classics as the core of the school curriculum.”

The passion that he brought to these arguments seems to have left him, at times, a little unhinged, such that, like a desperate man fending off a mob, he ends up hurling everything in sight at the hated liberals. In an essay called, slightly paranoically, “ ‘Human Rights’: The Hidden Agenda,” from 1986-87, he presents the human rights movement as a cryptofriend of Communism, dedicated to weakening America — from which you would never guess that, in 1989, the human rights movement’s closest allies in Eastern Europe would end up leading the pro-­American revolutions that overthrew Communism.

Still another essay deplores “the secular, social democratic” notion of the welfare state in the 20th century, which, upon being put into effect, strikes him as potentially “the saddest of political tragedies in our tragic century” — though he adds, by way of nuance (as if troubled by the absurdity of what he had just written), “not the bloodiest, of course, but merely the saddest.”

There is sometimes a charm in Kristol’s prose, once he had gotten past his pompous Lionel Trilling period — a wry, man-of-the-people modesty, nicely joined with a genuine talent for summarizing ideas. Then again, he tried to capitalize on his Everyman sonority by claiming to speak on behalf of “the majority of Americans” or even “the overwhelming majority of Americans,” and sometimes “the American people” altogether, which, to my mind, undercuts the charm. In the course of an otherwise intelligent essay about Communism and McCarthyism as long ago as 1952, he wrote: “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-­Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing.”

The remark is one of Kristol’s most famous, if only because his enemies have been quoting it back at him for almost 60 years. The habit of invoking the American people served him well, even so. Some of the more talented leaders of the Republican Party eventually cocked an ear in his direction, in search of oratorical and political and programmatic possibilities. And the alliance was formed.

Himmelfarb has thoughtfully filled “The Neoconservative Persuasion” with pieces that, with one exception, have not appeared in previous collections. The subtitle, “Selected Essays,” might lead readers to suppose that here must surely be Kristol’s Greatest Hits — the best and most popular of his essays. But Kristol himself gathered together his Greatest Hits in an anthology in 1995 called “Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea.”

The new book ought to be regarded, instead, as a Volume 2. It is faithful to his ideas and their evolution. And it offers an opportunity to evaluate his abilities as an essayist — his achievements as a thinker and writer within the little world known as the “New York intellectuals.” The achievements do not seem to me large. Kristol was not a Trilling, a Hook, a Howe or a Bell. For that matter, he never produced anything as substantial as his wife’s scholarly meditations on English history.

But it is true that unlike any of those other talented people, Kristol, with his tirades and simplicities, helped found a political movement. And under the name of “neoconservatism,” his movement invigorated the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and, for better and for worse, wreaked enormous changes on America and the world.

Paul Berman is the author, most recently, of “The Flight of the Intellectuals.”