Saturday, May 06, 2006
Friday, May 05, 2006
I don't keep abreast of currents in modern thought, so if you, dear reader, care to inform me and others about Sowell or other relevant thinkers, please feel free to do so.
The Superiority of Systemic Rationality
According to Sowell, knowledge consists largely of the unarticulated experiences and rationality of the many as embedded in customs, traditions, and systemic processes such as the market, family, language, and law. Knowledge is a multiplicity of social experiences distilled over generations in cultural processes.
Sowell argues that systemic rationality is superior to individual intentional rationality. Even the most outstanding individuals are very limited – man lacks the moral and intellectual pre-requisites for deliberate comprehensive planning. The inherent constraints of human beings are sufficiently severe to preclude dependence on individual articulated rationality. Sowell is highly skeptical about the capacity of elites to master complexity and to choose on behalf of others. Not only are the elite and the ordinary person close in capability and morality, there are no uniquely correct answers that would justify transferring decision-making authority to elite surrogate decision makers. There are no solutions only trade-offs with respect to problems such as crime, poverty, and irresponsibility. As a result, the preferred decision-making mechanism is systemic processes that convey the experiences and revealed preferences of the many. The historic systemic wisdom expressed inarticulately in the culture of the many is more likely to be correct than the special insight of the few. The degree of social rationality does not depend on the degree of individual rationality. The relevant comparison is between that total direct knowledge brought to bear through social processes versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.
Sowell puts his hopes for social order in sturdy institutions – he does not look for unsupported benevolence for society to progress or for solutions to social problems. To the extent that he envisions social changes he thinks in terms of trade-offs rather than solutions. Trade-offs must be incremental rather than categorical if limited resources are to produce optimal results in any social system as a whole. Results depend on the kinds of social processes at work and the incentives, constraints, and modes of interaction generated by such processes. Incentives may be positive or negative (rewards or penalties) and may be structured so there are gradations corresponding to different kinds of results.
Systemic causation in the form of legal traditions, family ties, social customs, price changes, etc., creates an unintended order which arises as a consequence of individual interactions directed toward various and conflicting ends. These social processes are to be judged by their ability to extract the most social benefit from man's limited potentialities at the lowest cost. The world is a system of innumerable and reciprocal interactions constrained within the confines of natural and human limitations – individual problems cannot be solved one by one without creating or adding to problems in other areas.
Sowell takes evils for granted as inherent in human nature and seeks to discover contrivances by which they can be contained. He seeks the special causes of peace, wealth, and a law-abiding order rather than the causes of war, poverty, and crime. Since war is a rational activity engaged in by most nations whenever they have a prospect of gaining anything by it, the goal should be to raise the costs of war to potential aggressors through the threat of force (i.e., by military preparedness and military alliances). Since war originates in human nature, peace (not war) requires explanation and specific provisions to produce it. In addition, with respect to Third World countries, we need to explain the causes of prosperity and development (not the causes of the natural condition of poverty) through responsiveness to systemic economic incentives. Likewise, counterincentives such as moral training, social pressure, and punishment must be created and maintained in order to prevent or deter crime since incentives to commit crimes are commonplace.
A man has insufficient personal knowledge to rely on reason alone when making decisions. Rational decision-making has costs in terms of time and other resources – the cost of a decision is the cost of the process of deciding. Sowell explains that rational principles themselves suggest a limit to how much rational calculation to engage in. Trade-offs apply to the decision-making mechanism itself. For example, the sorting and labeling of people, activities, and things involves a trade-off of costs and benefits – the more finely tuned the sorting, the greater the benefits and the costs. Beyond some point, sorting categories finer would not be worth the additional cost for the particular decision-making purpose. Also, culture offers a way of economizing on deliberate decision-making by providing a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, values, preferences, traditions, and customs (whose authentication has been historical and consensual) as low cost inputs into the decision-making process as long as there is freedom for the individual to choose whether prospective incremental improvements in the particular decision are worth the additional cost of more rational calculation. These and other social arrangements such as firms, legal traditions, family ties, churches, politics, ideology, voluntary associations, the expert, etc., can be viewed as devices for economizing on knowledge.
Informal relationships such as personal ties within families and communities are able to acquire much knowledge at lower cost than formal organizations, generally able to apply it in more individualized fashion, and are less likely to adopt previously made decisions as precedents. Informal social processes can adjust the time, scope, and specialness of treatment of the pertinent characteristics of each individual and each episode. Social processes which rely on emotional ties and social penalties such as guilt, fear, shame, or stigma, facilitate mutual accommodation without the use of force and avoid the inefficiencies of force as a social mechanism. Sowell explains that informal relationships or decision-making processes are generally preferable but are not categorically superior to more formal relationships or processes. There must be some discernible benefits peculiar to particular more structured relationships and precedental decisions that can be shown to be greater than the benefits of the corresponding informal decision processes. The apportionment of decision-making between informal and formal processes involves a trade-off of flexibility for security.
Freedom and Other Process Characteristics
One of the most important trade-offs is between the amount of freedom and the amount of other characteristics desired in a society such as material goods, scientific progress, or military power. For Sowell, freedom is a process characteristic referring to a social relationship among people – exemption from the arbitrary power of others but not release from the restrictions of circumstances.
Power is exerted to the extent that someone's pre-existing set of options is reduced – it is not an exercise of power to offer a quid pro quo that adds to his existing options. Sowell explains that using political power to deal with economic processes reduces freedom. He argues that efforts to produce social benefits must focus on general processes and on power restrictions, meaning restricting the ability of some to reduce the options of others. The most that man can do for freedom through social processes is to establish widely known rules which limit how much power is granted to one person over another and limit the specific conditions under which the power holder is authorized to exercise it.
According to Sowell, rights are rigidities and boundaries that limit the exercise of government power and carve out areas within which individual discretion is free to shape decisions without being second guessed by political or legal authorities. Rights involve the legal ability of people to carry out certain processes without regard to the desirability of the particular results, as judged by others. Although rights belong to individuals, they originate, take their meaning, and find their limits in the needs of social processes. Political and legal institutions protect the rigidities people want in some areas of their life such as exemption from force or fraud as exemplified in laws on murder, kidnapping, property ownership, etc. The social benefits of property rights are that they present an economic process with greater efficiency, a social process with less strife, and a political process with more diffused power and influence. When general rights (such as those listed above) involve virtually universal desires, incorporating them into law eliminates the transaction cost of pointlessly litigating anew. In addition, peace of mind and a sense of independence and dignity are benefits from operating under known rules applicable to all, rather than being personally assessed and controlled by other individuals. Political and legal systems should be limited to areas in which they have a relative advantage as decision making processes (such as reliability).
According to Sowell, rights can also mean legal entitlements regardless of their moral merits. In this sense, rights are simply factual claims about the availability of state power to back up individual claims. Social trade-offs are involved in the creation of rights which includes a loss of flexibility – something that is incrementally preferable at a given point becomes categorically imposed at all points by the force at the disposal of the state.
For Sowell, equality is a process characteristic – a social process which ensures equal treatment represents equality whether or not the actual results are equal. Equality is the equalization of processes. As long as the process itself judges everyone by the same criteria, there is equality of opportunity. There would be a major conflict between allowing freedom of individual action and prescribing equality of social results.
The argument is not that it is literally impossible to reduce or eliminate specific instances of inequality, but that the very processes created to do so generate other inequalities including inequalities of power caused by expanding the role of the state. Equal results may be attainable only by causing processes to operate very unequally toward different individuals or groups. Attempts to equalize economic power lead to greater and more dangerous inequality in political power. Social results such as differences in income are not deemed sufficiently important to override the process goals of freedom of civil and economic action.
Justice means adherence to agreed upon rules the violation of which deranges the expectations of others and adversely changes their future conduct as they lose confidence in the general reliability of existing and future rules and agreements. Justice derives its importance from the need to preserve society through the provision of general principles. Sowell explains that men will suffer more by a breakdown of order than by some injustices. What is involved is a trade-off between individual justice and the social benefits of certainty. Judicial activism would derange the whole process. A better verdict may be reached in a specific case but at the cost of damaging the consistency and predictability of the law. There cannot be a law-abiding society if no one knows in advance what laws they are to obey but must wait for judges to create ex post facto legal rulings based on evolving standards rather than known rules. The losses of poorer judicial decisions are offset against the prospective guidance of known rules leading to fewer criminal law violations or needs for civil litigation. General stability of expectations and standards are more important than the particular benefits of wisdom and virtue. A judge should therefore apply the rules even if in the specific instance the known consequences will appear to be undesirable.
Law exists to preserve society. It follows that criminal justice is concerning with deterring crime, not with finely adjusting punishments to the individual. Sowell explains that law represents the evolved and codified experience of all men who have ever lived – it is the experience of the many, rather than the wisdom of the few.
Sowell contends that the best processes should be used and protected because the attempt to produce the best results directly is beyond human capacity. It is our bounded rationality that makes general rules of social processes necessary. However, adopting a systemic view does not entirely exclude the individual factor.
For Sowell, individualism means leaving the individual free to choose among systemically generated opportunities, rewards, and penalties. Each individual's best contribution to society is to adhere to the special duties of his institutional role. What is morally central is fidelity to duty in one's role in life. In carrying out defined roles the individual is relying on the experiential capital and unarticulated historical experience of the ages. For example, a businessman should promote stockholders' interest rather than attempt to improve society and a judge should carry out the law, not try to change it. Specialization is highly desirable. There is a superiority of experts within a narrow slice of understanding. Practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique talents, resources, and information. What is denied is that expertise confers a general superiority which should supersede more widely dispersed types of knowledge.
1. This article represents an introduction to Thomas Sowell's systematic vision by presenting his essential ideas in a logical, accessible manner. This is done by rewording and rearranging the ideas found in Sowell's most relevant works including: Knowledge and Decisions (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1980), A Conflict of Visions (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1987), and The Vision of the Anointed (New York: Basic Books, 1995). Although this brief article can hardly do justice to Sowell's work which is powerful, clear, and nuanced, it can provide a background for readers who wish to study Sowell's work in greater depth and detail. >>
I enjoyed this article immensely. If there are others you would like to pass on, please leave names and titles in the comments section below.
Where the effects of oft genocidal philobarbarism reign unchecked, in Palestine, for example, the critic of philobarbarism is dismissed as a Rightwing religious bigot. By whom? Oh, let's identify the Presbyterian Church of the USA. Creating conditions that lead to genocide, whether from misplaced and polluted emotionalism or from sheer and murderous cynicism, the result is the same. And so, roughly, is the right treatment to correct this path. Simple ignorance or sophisticated cynicism, the result is the same in that the dead pile up and more arrive daily. The pursuit of sentimentality prevents any end to it till sentimentality itself is destroyed in practice.
Sentimentality is of degrees. One might think of it at its least in the form of a pre-printed Hallmark Greeting Birthday Card: "You are so wonderful that you are special." It's demeaning to all involved, and yet it has its place for those too timid or stupid to write their own timid stupidities on a piece of paper. It does keep the economy revolving at no dear harm.
Let's turn to an example from technology for something a bit more realistic if somewhat creepier:
"Medical schools have gone out of their ways in the past decade to foster a respectful attitude toward gross anatomy lab cadavers. From what I've heard it would be quite difficult, in good conscience, to attend one of these workshops and then proceed to stick a cigarette in your cadaver's mouth or jump rope with it's intestines.... Many of the students gave their cadavers names, 'Not like Beef Jerky. Real names,' said one student." Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. (pp. 38-39.)
While Roach's book is very funny there is not a thing humorous about sentimentality. Allowing one form of collective dishonesty to run rampant is to allow the opening for all others till the collective is rotten inside and out and intellectual honesty is an unknown quality, one that when it might show an occasional appearance is hated and driven out with mad passion. Look at any reasonable critique of the plight of the Gaza Bedouin to prove this point. Or, in the case below, let us turn to the masturbatory antics of a teen-age girl rapt by philobarbarism in the self-created illusion of non-people, Canadian native Indians. It is unfair perhaps to single out one hysterical and sexually dysfunctional teenage girl to make a point but hers is perfect in its lack of sophistication. Below is pure philobarbarism without even a patina of rational sense.
Ottawa Core said...
[A]s to your thoughtful considerations to alleviate the problems encountered by our hosts (the original people of Canada): a. the current approach, read your history again, is one of absolute bloody annihilation and lustful plunder. Letting the Europeans onto this rock, South and North America is fraught with genocidal glee. Each and every encounter our government (our civilized culture's manner of acting for the greatest good) towards an absolutely foreign entity generated more and more hatred, distrust, and abhorrence. We cannot be the nice guy now or anytime in the future. We are murderers and thieves. A piece of paper, representing a treaty from your brutal master allowing you a speck of land you once wandered freely for thousands of years is foolish and comical if it didn't have so much power to kill behind the native's point of view of our absolute domination over their entire lives. How else could your lives be played out knowing anything you do under this 24/7 rule of law (more self serving paper to state the right to murder and rape more of your people steal more of your land) will land you in trouble. Play along. Wait for the messiah.
The "Indian" race are, from what I have experienced and read, one of the greatest, most enduring, most learned of god's creatures. They have a special place. We all know it. It is their land, to steward as they wish. We must learn from their honour and courage to withstand the greatest warring tribe known to man: The white race.
Our only hope is to get down on our hands and knees and beg for forgiveness from our brothers and sisters of the red race. The healing will come. Not because we deserve forgiveness but due to a better race's power to overcome any and all we can do.
The generous among us will argue that this critter will someday mature and find something better to emote about. I, conversely, assume that she will likely find employment with the Foreign Affairs Dept. in Ottawa. Therein lays the problem we face so directly and immediately today in the Modern West. The sophisticated philobarbarist is in charge of our foreign affairs relations. And everything else. The collective masturbatory phantasy grows till most are involved in it-- to the embarrassment of those who see it for what it is. It is dishonest, it is revolting to be dragged into it, and it ain't never gonna be the real thing. Yet the phantasy prevails because too many feel that "it feels right." Our public discourse and the results therefrom are at best sterile. I argue that our vitiated and phantastically ugly social discourse is evil and murderous in effect.
"Manners are minor morals which facilitate the relations of men, chiefly through words. When those verbal relations are deliberately staged, for no other purpose than pleasure, men find themselves engaged in an intellectual exercise that is one of the delights of life. Manners, therefore, are not solely a clue to the deeper moral assumptions of an age, they are also a strong or weak guardian of Intellect at its most exposed.
The reader will have noticed that I did not speak of sociable conversation as the exchange, but as the sifting of opinion. [....]
[T]rue conversation sifts opinion, that is, tries to develop tenable positions by alternate statements, objections, modifications, examples, arguments, distinctioins, expressed with the aid of rhetorical arts-- irony, exaggeration, and the rest...." (pp.60-61.)
When we abandon true reason for feel-good sentimentality then we are left without sentiment. When we falsify our expressions we falsify our relations to others. when we accept and perhaps applaud such tripe as "The 'Indian' race are, from what I have experienced and read, one of the greatest, most enduring, most learned of god's creatures." then we dehumanise each and every Indian on Earth and turn them, real and living individuals, into pornographic images meant for no one and nothing other than ourselves at play. If I merely found this sentimenatalisation of people to be personally repulsive I'd perhaps write about it anyway, being a Right wing religious bigot; Unfortuneately, the philobarbarist sentimentalisng of "Others" leads straight to genocide. To dehumanise "races" as too glorious to real we destroy our relationships with them and make them dependent on our phantasitic desires for more our our own feel-good, regardless of the lives they lose, no matter the lives they take.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
It's nearly 35 years ago that I first encountered the work of Revel. I'll leave it to the review below to explain why he is improtant to us and why we must carry on in his place. You, dear reader, must take up where Revel has left us.
Jean-François Revel: liberty's champion
4 - 5 - 2006
France's foremost political thinker was also her most misunderstood, says Henri Astier.
Jean-François Revel, who died on Sunday 30 April at the age of 82, was not just the grand old man of French political literature; he was a leading exponent of freedom in the tradition of Raymond Aron, Alexis de Tocqueville and Baron Montesquieu.
Revel, initially a philosopher, made his name in 1957 with a critique of the intellectual fashions of the time, Pourquoi les Philosophes? (Why Philosophers?). The book contended that philosophy, having spawned a host of disciplines – mathematics, physics, biology, history and the social sciences, as well as the scientific method itself – was itself no longer a creative force. Revel’s argument that since the late 18th century, philosophy had ceased to be responsible for intellectual breakthroughs provoked the disgust of both the Sorbonne establishment and the newfangled Nietzschean-Heideggerian school.
In the 1960s Revel continued to contribute to the history of ideas, with a book on Proust and a history of western philosophy. He ventured into politics at the end of the decade with his first international bestseller, Without Marx or Jesus (1970). The book, written after an eye-opening encounter with a United States in the midst of a cultural revolution, argued that today’s true progressive force was not Marxist collectivism but US-style individualism. "The 20th-century revolution will take place in the United States", Revel wrote. "It can only unfold there, and it has started to do so. It will spread to the rest of the world only if it succeeds in North America."
Revel continued to define himself as a socialist throughout the next decade, but his defence of freedom and human rights as absolutes brought him head-to-head with the emerging Marxist left. In The Totalitarian Temptation (1976) and How Democracies Perish (1983), Revel noted that western capitalism, which carried with it an unprecedented degree of wealth and freedom, was rejected by "progressives" as odious, while communism, which produced only misery and tyranny, was regarded as attractive.
The communist danger, as he saw it, was as much moral as military. Democrats, especially on the left, no longer believed in their own values, and even adopted the mental reflexes of totalitarianism (character assassination, doublethink, wilful disregard for facts, and propaganda). Revel deplored what he regarded as an intellectual surrender, and concluded that the west was hopeless at exploiting its own strengths. Democracies, he feared, were bent more on rushing to their own enemy's rescue than on self-preservation: in the end the law of political evolution might lead to the "survival of the least fit".
Liberalism vs communism
Revel's anti-communism, coupled with his robust polemical style, led many to regard him as a conservative. The influential London journal the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), in its review of How Democracies Perish, linked Revel to the Nouvelle droite, as France's intellectual far-right was known at the time. Such judgments were and are based on a deep intellectual misunderstanding that is grounded on the idea – long promoted by the Soviet Union and its admirers – that only a fascist could oppose communism.
Furthermore, Revel's dire warnings in the 1980s led after the cold war to a charge that stuck to the end of his life: that he was wrong about the supposed invincibility of communism and the vulnerability of the west. But the "Revel-was-wrong-about-the-strength-of-communism" virus is proving so prolific that I have to inject more antibodies into the meme pool.
Revel never argued that communism could not be vanquished. He said it was irreversible only insofar as it could not be reformed. Ever since Without Marx or Jesus he had always argued that the Soviet Union was an unmitigated disaster. As he wrote in The Totalitarian Temptation: "The only way to improve communism is to remove it."
How could Revel, the arch-defender of liberty, have regarded freedom as doomed? To imagine so is to miss the crucial distinction between warning and prophesying; pointing out the mortality of democracy, after all, is not the same as predicting its certain death.
The purpose of How Democracies Perish was to urge the west to stand up for its own values. The book sought to show that communist totalitarianism was beyond redemption and should not be placated, and that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics owed its continued survival to its repressive apparatus and the complacent help of democracies.
In Democracy Against Itself (1992) Revel lambasts the idea – fashionable at the time – that communism had always been headed for the dustbin of history and that alarm had been misplaced: "It is a little bit as if someone said: 'You can see there was no reason to be worried in 1805 about Napoleon because in 1815 he was in St Helena.' The whole point is that he ended up there as a result of actions by leaders and peoples, not because in 1805 Napoleon was not dangerous or was bound to go out."
It is particularly disconcerting to hear Revel being accused of false prophecy by those who, for fear of losing their progressive credentials, waited until the fall of the Berlin wall to criticise communism in a burst of (as he put it) "retrospective iconoclasm". Revel clinched the point: "’An anti-communist is a dog’, Sartre said. But there are two kinds of dogs: there are those who bark when the dangerous enemy is standing tall, and those who do it when he is down."
To the very end, Revel remained true to the doctrine that gives his whole work strength and coherence: classical liberalism, i.e. a belief in individual rights and markets underpinned by the rule of law.
It was not him, but his fellow socialists who changed. Until around 1970, the phrase "anti-communist left" did not sound like an oxymoron. No one accused Albert Camus or John F Kennedy of being reactionaries. In the US, the trade-union movement and the Democratic Party were dominated by "cold-war liberals". So was France's mainstream left. "The communists belong neither to the right nor the left, but to the east", said Socialist prime minister Guy Mollet in the 1950s. Anti-communism was most virulent in the libertarian left. In 1968 student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit famously poured scorn on crapules staliniennes (Stalinian scum).
Then the mood on the political and intellectual left shifted throughout the western world. I have not studied the resurgence of Marxism in detail, but I suspect it originated in the United States. The anti-war movement – originally a libertarian one – led to questioning of the cold war mentality and ultimately sympathy with the enemy, or at least a feeling that a deal could be reached with it.
I have not tested this hypothesis – it is entirely possible that the switch began in Europe. Be it as it may, on both sides of the Atlantic a feeling arose among leftwing political and intellectual elites that communists were no longer beyond the pale and could be brought into the democratic fold. In France, this led in 1971 to an electoral alliance between a rejuvenated Socialist Party under François Mitterrand and a strongly pro-Moscow French Communist Party (PCF). The deal, in essence, was: you embrace our democratic politics, we embrace your collectivist economics.
Revel saw this alliance as unnatural. He felt communism was no more compatible with democracy than wholesale nationalisations, and urged socialists not to compromise their liberal roots. He became, in short, irrelevant to the left, and as a result was treated as a reactionary renegade.
Revel was always uncomfortable with the conservative label that was attached to him from the late 1970s. Many of the libertarian values he had always championed had indeed migrated to the intellectual right. But he was never close to the Gaullists, whom he knew to be worshippers of the state. Revel’s natural political home was the shrinking space in the centre, where France’s liberal misfits from both the right and the left tend to converge.
As editor of the newsweekly L’Express between 1978 and 1981 he resisted efforts by the new owner, Franco-British magnate James Goldsmith, to extend unwavering support to President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Revel fought hard to keep leftwingers on his staff, and quit when one of them, deputy editor Olivier Todd, was sacked for an anti-Giscardian offence.
The French Orwell
Revel never founded a school – an early dalliance with the Gurdjieff crowd inoculated him against the guru pose. But he did spawn disciples, and these had nothing to do with the fascists of the Nouvelle droite (who were just as anti-American and illiberal as the Marxoid left.) The movement he inspired was the anti-totalitarian left that emerged in the late 1970s, and is still a major intellectual force in France. His – now orphaned – spiritual children are the likes of Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alain Finkielkraut, Pascal Bruckner, and André Glucksmann.
The 20th-century thinker Revel was closest to was George Orwell – who also blamed his contemporaries for ignoring the mortality of democracy and for siding with its Nazi and communist enemies (I have explored the kinship between the two writers in an earlier article).
Revel’s most Orwellian work – and perhaps his most profound – was The Flight from Truth (1988; one may find the French title more telling: La Connaissance inutile). The book dissects with clinical precision the flexibility of the human mind, its ability to sift information to suit our prejudices:
"The tragedy of our societies is not that we lack the data we need to make informed choices, but that we choose to ignore them. It is true that technology and science are thriving, and we have learned to think rationally on specific projects, like building planes or setting up unit-trust funds. But outside our speciality, we are as prone to superstition and illogical thinking as Neolithic men."
Revel, who has researched the subject thoroughly, traces a catalogue of fallacies peddled from America to Zimbabwe by "opinion makers" who are in fact slaves to humanity’s primeval preference for mental comfort over knowledge. The main point of Flight from Truth, however, is not that humans are unredeemable liars. On the contrary, just like Orwell, Revel exhorts us to make use of our capacity to take in reality and see what is in front of our noses. "This is important to democratic civilisation, because freedom thrives as much on truth and honesty as tyranny does on lying and cheating."
French commentators often portrayed Revel as a misanthrope, but that was never the way imagined him. I delighted in his pamphleteering style, often laughing out loud, and pictured him like the jolly narrator of Joseph Fielding's Tom Jones – a benevolent, liberal host inviting others to share in his intellectual and gastronomical feats.
I was an admirer, not a friend, of Revel's but I did meet him half-a-dozen times and he was as I had imagined. The first occasion was fourteen years ago. I had sent him the review of Democracy Against Itself I had written for the TLS, and he had liked it enough to invite me to lunch. As I walked into a restaurant in Montpartnasse I felt I was entering hallowed ground. "I have come to see Monsieur Revel", I said shyly, and was taken to the best table where my host was chatting with the patron. He gave me a big smile, as if he had been as much looking forward to the meeting as I had.
Revel the man was remarkably similar to the writer: he spoke with the same breezy erudition, common sense and vividness that imbued his books. In October 1992, I put it to him that most reviewers seemed to have missed the point of his latest book. He said:
"I noticed that very early on, after Pourquoi les philosophes. People accused me of putting forward arguments I had never held. They were only looking at the few pages in which I mentioned French academics – while my point was much broader than that! The pattern would be repeated with my other books: they were extremely popular, people from all over the world wrote to encourage me, but journalists and reviewers rounded on me for the wrong reasons."
Another example was a 1984 piece on How Democracies Perish in the TLS, which described Revel as a far-right figure and said he was attacking the pacifist movement of the time. "That was just not true. The big rallies against the deployment of Euromissiles took place in 1983, well after I had handed in the manuscript. It was not a study of pacifism. You see, if you write a book on fly-fishing and people say that your fox-hunting manual is not good, you are entitled to feel surprised."
Although Revel was largely misunderstood by the intelligentsia, his books were indeed huge successes. He was arguably the most powerful and influential of all 20th-century anti-totalitarian writers. Liberty has lost an irreplaceable champion. http://www.opendemocracy.net/people/revel_3505.jsp
You, dear reader, are to take up where our lost friend has left us. Be honest, write, carry on.
My email is email@example.com
Ibn, our recent "atheist" commentator, asks if I scorn his mother because she's Muslim. After some wasted effort explaining that I scorn all Muslims who pracitice and/or preach Islam I gave it up. If Ibn's mother wants to be a Muslim, it ain't my business. She can do in the privacy of her husband's house any damned thing she cares to, short of mutilating her daughters and such. Yeah, and such. OK, I think the following story is humorous. Shame on me. May the Saudi royal family withold my stipends for a while longer. That'll teach me. Ouch. It hurts already. Double ouch!
Wife 'beheads husband' in Karachi
Officers said Majeeda Khatoon killed her husband while he was asleep and cut him up, helped by two male relatives.
The dismembered parts were then dumped in a drain in the Gulshan-e-Hadeed area on the city's outskirts.Police said the woman, arrested last week, had confessed to the crime. Islam permits men to take up to four wives. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
We were all out for the count last week for our Blue Revolution meeting. We'll be back this Tursday from 7-9:00 pm at the Vancouver Public Library in the atrium. We wear blue scarves so you'll know who we are. There's just no stopping us. Join us. We're winning.
Hmm, not likely. But the New York Sun is getting there.
Islam is the mentally retarded version of Nazi-ism. There's only so such lying the media could get away with till even they couldn't stand to lie any more. There are only so many Indonesian school girls beheaded, so many Turkish girls shot to death in Germany, so many Arab girls stabbed, gang-raped, burned to death in France, so many people murdered in the name of canonical Islam and with no end in sight but Islamic triumph that even the MSM is sick of the lying.
Muslims have shown themselves as they are since Mohammed began his campaign of rape, robbery, child molesting and murder in 625 A.D. Nothing has changed in Islam. It is still a poligion for thieves, rapists, and murderers. But now it's met the real world of men. It's time to scape away the garbage that is Islam and let the people under it grow into Human beings.
Yes, even the mainstream media is getting it. The lies are finishing up daily. The truth is out and people, not Muslims and Leftists, of course, but all other people are admitting that Islam is a garbage poligion, a creepy and primitive Nazi-like fascism. Time's up for the garbage.
Three Myths About Islam
By EDWARD N. LUTTWAK
May 3, 2006
Many people know many things about Islam and its history. Unfortunately, much of what they know happens to be untrue . The great Jewish Orientalists of the 19th century, such as Gustav Weil and Ignaz Goldziher, can be blamed for myth no. 1: that Islam is especially tolerant of other religions . Their scholarship was immense but they were too eager to praise Islam to remain objective.
Christians and Jews ("Peoples of the Book") are exempted from the death-or-conversion choice imposed on pagans (the Zoroastrians of Iran were later added to the list), but under all known schools of Muslim law, Christians and Jews are only allowed to survive as dhimmis, of protected subjects, under a long list of deliberately humiliating restrictions, obligations, and prohibitions. Some are obsolete - they had to pay a head tax, they were not allowed to ride horses as opposed to humble donkeys, and many more - but others remain in force.
In Egypt, for example, there are at least 10 million Christians, but under the constitution, only a Muslim can be president - and there are similar provisions in other Muslim republics. In Saudi Arabia - where no one can be elected president, since the entire state and all its oil are claimed as private property by the ruling family - there are millions of Christians, but they are not allowed to have a single church, and it is a criminal offense to hold a prayer service, however informal, anywhere else. In all Muslim lands, the penalty for assisting a Muslim to convert was and is death for all concerned - no small matter for believing Christians whose highest duty is to save other souls by conversion.
Nevertheless, sections on Islam in American college texts are full of fantasies about Islamic tolerance, often featuring a mythic Andalusia where all was wonderfully multicultural until the wicked Christians arrived. Absurdly, some of those same texts celebrate, as yet another example of tolerance, the welcome that the fleeing Maimonides received in Fatimid Egypt: He had fled from Andalusia, of course, then the scene of one of Islam's recurrent outbursts of murderous fanaticism; we are living through another.
It is perfectly true that until quite recently, Christians were even more intolerant than Muslims, exempting only Jews from the prohibition of all other religions, and persecuting even the Jews at times. But Muslims are only slightly less culpable when compared to the greater part of humanity: serenely indifferent Hindus and Jains, agnostic Confucians, aesthetic Shinto devotees, cheerfully pluralist Buddhists, and more.
Myth no. 2 is that Muslim extremists are not attacking us, but only counterattacking, so that if non-Muslims would only stop provoking them, all would be well. It is perfectly true that in recent decades Muslims of one kind or another have suffered decisive defeats in the Indian subcontinent, in Iraq, Israel, and Timor-Leste, among other places. Westerners easily empathize with people under attack, so many in the West readily accept the claim that Muslim violence is just a defensive reaction. That is Osama bin Laden's version, too, when addressing non-Muslims: He talks about the sufferings of the Muslims of Chechnya, Palestine (a Muslim land for him, whose Christians and Jews are irrelevant), Kashmir, Andalusia, and Timor-Leste.
But when Mr. bin Laden talks to his fellow Muslims, he says something else entirely: "I was ordered to fight [non-Muslims] until they say that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet." That is a trifle pretentious in echoing the exact words that Muhammad himself supposedly declaimed, but it is certainly orthodox Islam: Muslims must convert non-Muslims by force, if necessary, or otherwise kill them, unless they are exempted Christians or Jews. That is why Islam has been on the attack from its birth in the seventh century. Muhammad started fighting to force conversions and his followers continued fighting in all directions, successfully spreading Islam by force from Arabia to the wider Middle East, and across Asia.
The only reason the continuity of Muslim aggression is news to some is because until recently almost all Muslim countries were under European colonial rule or subjected to European protectorates. Under Christian rule, Muslims could hardly continue to attack. With de-colonialization, the violence resumed. It has now reached virtually all places where Muslims are in contact with non-Muslims, so that there are almost daily reports of outrages from Nigeria, Sudan, and Egypt in Africa; from Iraq (Christians are fleeing the country), Israel, and Lebanon in the Middle East; from India, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Timor-Leste, by the way, happens to be mostly Christian, but because it was liberated from the domination of Muslim-ruled Indonesia, it is now on the list of Islamic grievances under the Muslim doctrine that any land once ruled by Muslims belongs to Islam forever, even if the population is mostly non-Muslim. That is the doctrine cited by Hamas to claim the whole of Israel, and which other fundamentalists do not hesitate to apply to southern Spain, southeast Europe, and much of southern Ukraine and southeast Russia, among other places.
But Muslims certainly cannot be faulted for Myth no. 3: that Islam is a religion of peace. That myth is strictly the creation of Western liberals and especially American educational administrators, librarians, and academics determined to invent their own peaceful Islam, in which even Jihad is always or at least mostly an entirely nonviolent spiritual struggle.
That reflects the very American belief that all religions are equally good, when in the harsh reality of history they are not even equally bad. How many Buddhist attacks upon Muslims were recorded around the world in retaliation for the destruction of the colossal Buddhist rock carvings at Bamyan in Afghanistan? Zero, in spite of the fact that the destruction was not the spontaneous misdeed of a few hotheads but rather an organized attack with artillery, formally authorized by Muslim clerics of the vast Deobandi movement (headquartered in secular India, where it enjoys tax-exempt status). What would happen to Buddhists in Muslim lands if a comparable mosque - if any such exists - were deliberately destroyed by the formal order of assembled Buddhist priests? One could go down the list of other religions to construct an infinity of examples showing that they are not all the same when it comes to violence, but it is hardly necessary to expose the fraud perpetrated in many texts on Islam now being taught in American schools and universities.
None of the three myths can survive the light of competent scholarship, and the author of "Islamic Imperialism: A History" (Yale University Press, 288 pages, $30), Efraim Karsh, of King's College, London, is much more than merely competent. He starts at the beginning, with the missionary preaching of Muhammad in the seventh century, and almost reaches the present. In just 234 pages of text, Mr. Karsh recounts and analyzes the different forms of Islamic imperialism, starting with the first Muslim conquests of the Arabs, which were astonishingly successful because of an extraordinary coincidence: They attacked out of the desert just when the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian empires had fought each other to exhaustion in the last, longest, and by far most destructive of their many wars. Muhammad's promise of victory was thus validated in a way that evidently seemed miraculous to his followers.
The Arab ascendancy lasted more than two centuries, but then it was the Turkic converts to Islam who became the warriors, and then inevitably the rulers. This process started with the appearance of Turkic raiders on the Christian borderlands of the Byzan tine Empire, and with the Turkic palace guards of Arab potentates, and culminated in the Ottoman Empire, which conquered Constantinople in 1453 and survived largely intact for more than 400 years.
Mr. Karsh does not explore all the many and varied Muslim polities of Asia, Africa, and Europe (Spain, Sicily, the Crimea): some brilliantly successful and tolerant also (up to a point), such as the Mughal empire at its best; some murderously intolerant, such as the Mughal empire at its worst, but all of them necessarily imperialist. Mr. Karsh is not a Leninist who falls for the canard that imperialism is merely aggravated capitalism, and he is not a political primitive for whom the word is a species of wickedness, so his account is far from hostile. Yes, there was loot to be had when attacking the infidel successfully, but down the centuries the motivation was primarily, or largely, or at least significantly idealistic.
Believing Muslims, like Christians, believe that only their faith (or rather their own version of it) can provide salvation from an eternity of suffering after death. It follows that it is wicked for a Muslim (or Christian) not to do his best to convert as many as possible, which can best be done under a Muslim rule, as the Muslims rightly believe (there are very few converts in non-Muslim lands). Muslim imperialism is therefore a religious duty, motivated by an altruistic love of humanity.
Even a suicide bomber who kills only innocent babies can rightly claim that insofar as he contributes to the ultimate victory of Islam, he will ultimately save many more babies from eternal suffering, giving them paradise instead, complete with virginal black-eyed beauties, if they are males. It is enough to make one nostalgic for the imperialist freebooters of the West, down to King Leopold I of Belgium: They only wanted loot, not to force salvation on their victims.
Mr. Luttwak is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Is Islam a primitive fascism? Yes, and obviously yes to those who have a clear definition of it from at least a reading of this blog. Islam is not a sophisticated poligion like Nazi-ism. Islam is a primitive form of fascism. It hardly deserves a title of any kind, getting one only because the triumphant West, in a spate of soon-ending sentimentality and philobarbarism has to date, with the calendar pages blowing away like leaves, not seen fit to liberate the masses of the slaves of Allah from their primitive mental slavery by main force. That we haven't so far is a shame for us. One can only hope and then work for correction. No one's mother deserves the evils of whimmitude and attendant evils of Islam. Garbage removal time.
Below are two recent comments from "Ibn." He asks if I feel scorn toward his Muslimah mother. Obviously I do if I feel scorn toward all Muslims by virtue of them practicing Islam or professing it. This, as Muslims are beginning to realise, is becoming more and more often the case in the greater world, that being dar al Harb, the world Islam and all good Muslims are required to fight against till all are conquered, killed, or dhimmified. If one were to say to me, "You claim to hate all Nazi. My mother is a Nazi. Do you hate my mother?" then I would be forced by the logic of the universe to say "Of course." Muslims, by the bye, do not feel obligated to follow the logic of the universe as the rest of us, poor and unsubmissive kafirs that we are, must do. Happy are we who know that Muslims do not accept the laws of nature because there are no laws of nature, there being only the laws of Allah, and if one thinks of nature as a force in and of itself, then one commits shirk. Yes, I scorn your mother as a fascist by virtue of her being a Muslim. I scorn all fascists. And why do I do that? Because all who profess fascism are fascists, and fascism, a posterior means they are criminals. There are no good Nazis in the universe of Men. In the realm of the Muslim world we discuss phantasy and Islam and evil that knows no bounds. Yes, I scorn your mother not knowing how deeply committed to fascist Islam she might be. A fascist, habibi, is a fascist, even if she's your mother.
I had run into your long commentary on another blog titled "http://en.france-ethos.com/
In it, you had said "In fact, I have little but scorn for Muslims,"
I take it you mean all Muslims by the statement, irregardless of their political, moral, or ethical persuasions.
My mother happens to identify herself as a Muslim. Given your statement, I would like to inquire as to why you "scorn" my mother.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm sorry. I don't understand your answer. Would you be kind enough to rephrase? ...
My question is simple: My mother, is a Muslim. Do you scorn her, even though you have never met her, by virtue of her faith?
If the answer is in the affirmative, my next question was going to be:
"How can you judge my mother, if you have never met her, by virtue of her faith? What does knowing her faith tell you about her character, and ethical persuasion?"
I didn't want to ask the second question too soon though. Rather confirm the first.
Am I one of a mere few islamophobic Rightwing religious bigots who complains when Muslims murder at random? Am I like ibn laden? Am I as bad as they are? I might in my own way be every bit as bad as the average Muslim. So what? But regardless of who or what I might be in the face of killers, I am one of a growing group of people who refuse to tolerate the fascism that is Islam. Yes, even the Catholic Church is finding that the Muslim community, the ummah, is psychotic and out of control to the point they are a threat to Humanity that must be crushed out of existence, though they, unlike my lovely self, won't quite go so far openly as yet. Below we will see just how far they do go, which might come as a surprise to some of our more fair minded friends.
What the Islamic Riots Reveal (Part 1 of 2) 5/3/2006
Interview With Father Mitch Pacwa BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, MAY 3, 2006 (Zenit) -
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa is a theologian, Middle East scholar and co-contributor to the "Islam and Christianity" DVD series.
The radical groups may represent only about 15% of Muslims but it is an extremely active part, while the great majority are generally unwilling or afraid to stand up to the radicals, because the radicals will kill them as being infidels. That is how bad it is gotten in many parts of the Muslim world. So it is a very risky situation.
Father Pacwa: The vast majority of Muslims do keep themselves away from the religious parties. But, the majority of that majority, while unwilling to fight in jihad, will protect those who do , and that is something that is very important to understand.
While it is only 15% of the population that is radicalized in Islam, you have the majority of the rest who are very willing to hide them, protect them, feed them, and even if they wouldn't actively join them, they would take care of them . This seems to be the study of Tony Blankley in his book the "The West's Last Chance." This is something that is very difficult.
For one, Islam is not prone to democracy or secularism. There is no such idea of a secular society within Islam. Everyone has to be in some way related to the religious reality and that is part of the understanding of God. So, the majority of Muslims will still not be able to fit into a secular society around them in Europe.
Also, they will have pressure put on them either to convert to radical Islam or to support them, which will be another tension. And that is why a number of the mullahs and the imams in the West and Europe say that Muslims may not vote -- the elections are not Islamic, so no Muslim should vote. They are getting some pressure not to participate.
Also they are encouraged not to marry non-Muslims, except for girls, who are encouraged to become Muslim along with the children. But they typically will send their children to their country of origin to marry Muslim girls .
So this is something that indicates how little moderate Muslims fit in to the non-Muslim world, and this is going to be a situation that is going to continue. And I think it is typical of Muslims that their commitment to Islam is stronger than their commitment to their local government.
Islamic fascism is running out of apologists. Ibn feigns pained feelings in asking if I scorn his mother, thinking perhaps to gain some cheap sympathy from the galleries. Sorry to point out, mate, that you're game is up. You lose. Islam is a primitive fascism, not even a sophisticated nightmare like Nazi-ism. Islam is a 7th century Arabian Peninsula tribal code for savages made into a poligion. It's a worn out rug. It won't even cover a patch of sand any longer, and those who cling to the rotten threads of it are destined to blow away like dust. Yup, your mother.
If the poll numbers dip, Bush starts bombing. (7+ / 0-)
Just wait for the run-up to the 2006 "election", if the Bushite scum perceive that they might actually lose the house, they'll start bombing Iran just to get a boost in the polls. Bad for the US and the world? Of course, that didn't stop the Iraq Invasion, no reason to expect it will stop the Iran bombing. September or October sounds about right, "you don't roll out a new product in the summer".
Will bombing Iran be bad for the world economy? Sure, but the Bushite scum are heavily invested in weapons manufacturers, their stocks will soar as the world goes to hell. Not a problem for the Bushite scum, they are sycophantic slime who only care about themselves.
by MD patriot on Wed Mar 15, 2006 at 11:03:14 AM PDT
Tweety said, isn't there a danger people will (2+ / 0-)
think he's insane? (Duh, certifiable.) But get this, Buchanan and Dana Milbanks (WaPo) were amazed that Tweety even had that thought. This country is so freakin nuts. 70% of Americans are pissed at Bush over this war, so he is going to go bomb Iran - start another war?? so he can make Americans happy? "they'll rally" Buchanan said. Jesus christ, please wake me up from this night mare.
what good are nukes if you don't ever usem ?
personally i think that if we use nukes we are sooooo F*cked. But that's what they intend to do. Bolton is SCUM
Rumsfeld is SCUM
Cheney is SCUM
Condy Rice is SCUM Bush is SCUM
Feith, Wolfowitz, Perl, and all the rest are......
they will nuke Iran if our own armed forces don't stand up to them. and that is a slim hope.They don't even care about what might come next. It certainly didn't bother them in Iraq.
But....Hope aint gone yet
Great use of exclamation points, this Bolton truly epitomizes the worst sort of Bushite scum sycophant. Imagine someone so bad that they can't even get past the Bushite-scum filled senate, especially when you consider the number of Bush-loving DINOs like Lieberman, Bolton is really bad.
Bolton is a LIAR.
Bush is a LIAR.
Rice is a LIAR.
Shooter is a LIAR.
Cat-Killer is a LIAR.
That is a prerequisite for joining the Bushite scum team- facile lying.
AIPAC has handed out the marching orders to Congress, and both sides of the aisle are doing their best to set things up so Bush can attack Iran.
The elephant in the room, is the same one that few would discuss (and those that did were attacked with the old canard "anti-Semite") in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. That elephant, is I-S-R-A-E-L. In concert with Big Oil and the MIC (military-industrial complex), the neocons are sticking with their original PNAC developed (in 1998) plan, and the Dems are as guilty as the Repugs for doing their bidding.
Here's just the latest example of some of what these "Israel Firsters" are up to (it would be nice if they devoted as much attention to this nation's business, as they did to Israel's): [....]
Bolton is simply another neocon in the mold of Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, and all the rest, and he dishonors this nation by being allowed to continue to serve as our representative to the U.N. But frankly, the powers and money behind this latest gambit (an Iran attack), is so overwhelming, and the people supporting it so entrenched, I see no way of stopping it ..... just like with Iraq.
Now, having said all of that, and as Juan Cole pointed out in a recent article, Iran is a good ten years from having the bomb, so why the hurry? Because Bush needs the protection of being a "war president", the oil boys want to call Iran their own, and Israel and their supporters are demanding we march, ...NOW!
I turned on the TeeVee yesterday, and on the news channels all the media bimbos were hyperventilating over the "threat" posed by Iran. Slick graphics showed an image of Iran followed by a radioactive symbol, and headlines urged viewers to worry about what we should do about the nuclear threat.
It is essentially a closed case in our media: Iran has nukes and they're going to use them against us if we let them build any. They're madmen. Their ruler is a madman, and he's a tyrant as well. They're out to GET US!
The media have scared the shit out of Americans by fabricating a story from nothing, absolutely nothing, and Americans are too stupid to see through the bullshit storm. The idea that Iran is a threat to our military might is quite ludicrous, laughable even, except that this threat will be used to whip up the masses into a war frenzy.
Make no mistake, we will conquer Iran. Maybe not in time for the '06 elections, but definitely before the '08 presidential election. Bush could probably go in now, but my guess is that he's waiting for another terrorist attack to "get through" to a blue state city before hitting Iran. Without enough troops, Bush may just try bombing the shit out of Iran, killing as many innocent brown people as possible.
"Birds...scream at the top of their lungs every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth...but sadly we don't speak bird." ~Kurt Cobain, Journals
by Subterranean on Wed Mar 15, 2006 at 10:38:06 PM PDT
I wonder if God created the Moon so these folks would have a place to live someday if the rest of us put our minds to providing transportation for them.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
By Herbert London
May 2, 2006Only two of the world's religions believe they will come to dominate global allegiance: Christianity and Islam. The Crusades lasted so long and were so bloody because these religions were at odds for what each considered worldwide dominance.
With this as a backdrop, it is worth asking why there were so many riots and chaos across the globe over cartoons that caricatured Prophet Muhammad and every real or perceived slight against Islam. After all, in the "Divine Comedy," Dante meets Muhammad suffering in the fires of hell. The Cathedral of Bologna has shown frescoes of Muhammad in an unfavorable light for centuries.
Why then the extreme reaction to seemingly innocuous events?
In my judgment, Islamic clerics have decided "the final solution," the triumph of Islam over Christendom is near. Here is the contemporary Crusades fought on a new stage. There will be many battles fought over trifling issues, an insult or perceived incident, that triggers riots.
Why now? A belief is circulating in the Islamic world that a secular West no longer has the will to resist Islamic jihad. In fact, the compromises and willingness to accommodate Islamic factions in European societies are recognized as signs of weakness. The more open and liberal the society, the more likely it is a target for jihad. It is not coincidental that Denmark now faces daily riots or the Netherlands was where a filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered on the streets.
For Islamists the moment for a triumphalist campaign has arrived, a moment not unlike the jihad Muhammad launched against the three Jewish tribes in Arabia in the seventh century.
That the West considers this Islamic fanaticism a form of acting out over deplorable conditions faced by Muslims within their borders also plays to Islam's strength. Believing there must be a rational explanation for seemingly irrational behavior, Western leaders bend over backward to make accommodations. Rarely do leaders conclude the violence is fomented by religious zealotry no liberal concessions can mitigate.
The riots are aimed at breaking Western will. They are a tactic to test the fortitude of the West, to see if there is any religious devotion that can withstand the onslaught. If one considers the feeble response from European capitals, you would have to believe Islamic clerics are right.
Rather than treat the riots as a frontal attack on Christianity, most leaders describe the incidents as aberrational, a function of high unemployment rates or poor housing conditions. Blinded by their liberalism, they cannot appreciate the nature of the assault.
I have heard European analysts say that the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be taken literally. But as I see it that is precisely what we should be doing. His call for martyrdom is in fact a plea for Armageddon. What he says is precisely what the mullahs believe.
With Europe now in disarray on the policy front, with Hamas installed in the Palestinian territory, with Iran on the brink of nuclear weapons acquisition, the signs for the final solution are emerging.
Though the West chooses to deny this clash of civilizations, it is here and all the economic concessions will not make it go away. In fact, any concession is perceived as a reward for violence.
There is a civilizational fatwa metastasizing around the globe in mosques from Hamburg to Tehran, from Nablus to Malmo and from the streets of Copenhagen to the streets of Islamabad. For Muslims, jihad is in the air and the more it manifests itself in orchestrated street theater, the more it will show the weakness of Christianity.
This is fast becoming the test of our age; the challenge to our civilization is now well into Act 1 of a three-act play. How it unfolds remains to be seen. But if the West cannot marshall the spiritual strength to resist, these contemporary Crusades will assuredly end in disaster.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001) and maintains a Web site, www.herblondon.org.
There will be those who don't know Laocoon from a hole in the ocean.
According to ancient authors, Laocoon was a Trojan priest of Poseidon (note, however, that some sources claim that he was instead one of Apollo's priests). In mythology, Laocoon was the brother of the hero Anchises and son of Capys. One of our best sources for the story of Laocoon is found in Virgil's Aeneid. In this epic tale, the Roman poet Virgil describes the dramatic scene in which the Trojans discover an enormous Wooden Horse standing outside the city of Troy. The prescient priest Laocoon warns against bringing the gigantic Horse into Troy in a famous speech:
Men of Troy, what madness has come over you?
Can you believe the enemy truly gone?
A gift from the Danaans, and no ruse?
Is that Ulysses' way, as you have known him?
Achaeans must be hiding in this timber,
Or it was built to butt against our walls,
Peer over them into our houses, pelt
The city from the sky. Some crookedness
Is in this thing. Have no faith in the horse!
Whatever it is, even when Greeks bring gifts
I fear them, gifts and all.'"
(Virgil, The Aeneid, Book II, 59-70)
Immediately after saying these words, Virgil has Laocoon hurl his spear into the flank of the Wooden Horse. However, this gesture was to come back to haunt Laocoon. For soon after this incident, while the priest is sacrificing to his god Poseidon, a pair of giant sea serpents emerge from the sea and envelope both Laocoon and his two sons (this tragic scene is immortalized in the aforementioned Hellenistic statue - see the gallery page below for details and an image). The Trojans interpret this grotesque punishment as a sign that Laocoon offended the gods - either Athena or Poseidon in particular - for attacking the Wooden Horse. In the end, the Horse in brought into Troy, which is a fatal mistake and seals the city's doom.