God’s Gift to Mankind

Wretchard comments:

Although Ignatieff plainly wants to see freedom spread, one of the sources of his unease is the role of God, or something like it, in the missionary endeavor. How much better it would be, he seems to ask, if any claims to universality or transcendence could be kept out it.

A commentator notes that Ignatieff’s Canadian background may lead him to misunderstand American history and the vision of the early Americans. Central was an assumption about the universality of human nature and a desire for freedom; it underlies the arguments, concessions, and finally agreements that made up our early laws and built our early identity. Most believed in a Providential order and liberty – however varied their sectarian allegiances (and doubts). (Of course, this misunderstanding is not unknown in American classrooms.)

The Belmont Club comments are extensive and often thoughtful. Ignatieff clearly understands that Americans are idealistic about ends he respects. He recognizes (if not perhaps understands) the power these old ideas still have for Americans:

As it turned out, the American electorate seemed to know only too well how high the price was in Iraq, and it still chose the gambler over the realist. In 2004, the Jefferson dream won decisively over American prudence.

Does he think people take great risks for paltry ends? And prudence prompts some of us (impetuous & perhaps border types) to think of Chamberlain and Vichy. He may consider this criticism but we are less likely to take it that way.

12 thoughts on “God’s Gift to Mankind”

  1. I agree with Ignatieff on most things, but his purpose in using the word “Gambler” is to deprecate, not analyse. He has stooped to parroting the “What’s-the-matter-with-Kansas?” slur of the “reality-based” Left.

    It should be pointed out that the Left relies on “faith,” too; faith in “multilateralism” (whatever that is), faith in the U.N., faith in big government, faith in whatever Dan Rather reports.

    Whether transcendence comes from governmental or divine intervention, both sides are praying to their own “God.”

  2. He doesn’t blink at evil and generally keeps his sense of proportion. I, too, respect him. I don’t respect the uses to which some people put his observations – though I assume they would find my assumptions misguided. The problem is that I didn’t download his piece from the Times, I’m trusting Wretchard which generally seems to me a reasonable thing to do.

  3. Ignatieff writes:

    “Even in the medium term, becoming a democracy does not immunize a society from terrorism. Just look at democratic Spain, menaced by Basque terrorism.”

    Clearly he does not understand terrorism. Terrorism is only effective against a democratic state. Authoritarian states do not suffer much from internal terrorism. Instead, they export it in an attempt to relieve internal pressures. Democratic states may be the targets of terrorist, either native or foreign, but they do not export terrorist to attack others. That is why the promotion of democracy is a pragmatic, realpolitik national security goal for America. Ignatieff is clueless.

    Like most foreigners, I don’t think Ignatieff truly appreciates the degree to which ideology defines Americans. He is surprised that Bush’s rhetoric resonates with Americans because he does not understand that we are Americans only because of what we believe. Nothing else ties us together. In the rest of the Western world, all political ideologies are only a gloss atop the ethnic tribalism that is the true definer of their countries. The concept that a people can define themselves by ideology is a wholly foreign concept to most Europeans.

    Americans devotion to the ideal of universal democracy and liberty are not some modern rationalization for the use American power but are in fact core beliefs that Americans have held since our days as powerless colonialist stuck out on the rim of the civilized world. Long before we obtained the power to do anything about spreading democracy to the rest of the world, we believed we could serve as an example.

    Bush is not doing any extraordinary for an American politician. In every generation, the most successful American politicians are those that evoke American idealism. It takes no marketing magic to convinces Americans that fight for universal freedom is just and met. A politician just has to stand up and say, “As Americans, this is who we are, this is what we do,” and everybody believes it.

  4. Thanks, Shannon.

    Certainly you are right about terrorism. And I agree with you that a sensible reading of the earlist of Americans (e.g., Winthrop, certainly Adams, etc.) provides a straight line to Bush’s speeches.

    Your argument is that this is how we define ourselves. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with that. The problem is if someone like Ignatieff who teaches here doesn’t get it, then how do our kids & immigrants “get it” from a school system that often quite clearly doesn’t.

    Of course, it shouldn’t take much exposure to believe that being prudent in defense of liberty is not a good thing.

  5. Ginny,

    I wouldn’t worry about recent immigrants not “getting it” from the formal education systems because (1) immigrants appreciate America’s virtues more than native born and (2) native Americans do not learn these concepts via formal education but through cultural osmosis. Immigrants get them the same way.

    A big part of the problem is that these ideas so saturate the American psyche that we pay them no more attention than we do breathing. This leads to profound miscommunications. The word “Patriotism” for example has a radically different meaning in America than in Europe. In Europe, patriotism is a statement of ethnic tribalism. In America, it is a statement of commitment to ideology. An American is patriotic only if they accept and defend certain ideas of democracy and liberty, not because they will fight for a particular ethnic group or patch of ground.

    It think many foreigners, even those who may live and work in America never quite make the transition to full Americansim because they keep interpreting everything through the lenses of European experience and culture. Immigrants however, make a conceptual break with the old world and rather rapidly absorb the American ideals on an unconscious level.

  6. Doesn’t every school child in every nation take a moment every school day to pledge allegiance to their flag and to the republic for which it stands with liberty and justice for all?

    That is why some people are still sore about having Bible readings taken out of that ritual. It was an error.

  7. –Just look at democratic Spain, menaced by Basque terrorism.”–

    And Ireland, Germany, Italy and Greece. And it seems Greece is about to heat up again.

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  9. I wouldn’t worry about recent immigrants not “getting it” from the formal education systems because (1) immigrants appreciate America’s virtues more than native born and (2) native Americans do not learn these concepts via formal education but through cultural osmosis. Immigrants get them the same way.

    Shannon, I wish I could be as optimistic as you are. I lived a true melting-pot culture when I was a teenager studying in the US (1960); the situation was already very different when I emigrated in 1979, I have lived in and out of immigrant communities ever since and I have only seen it get worse. American culture back then was strong and full of self-confidence; not any more, as we all know. I strongly doubt that the current and perhaps unprecedented waves of immigrants can overcome multiculturalism when “cultural osmosis” points the other, easier way. For a sample you don’t have to read Hanson’s Mexifornia; just go to Doral in West Miami: bilingual education that teaches neither language, no traffic laws, no police enforcement, little dumping grounds here and there when you go jogging, etc. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t see the “power of the idea” working its magic anywere anymore and this has to have consequences that we perhaps don’t want to see or think about. I’m sorry to say it, but I believe that both you and Michael Barone are wrong.

  10. Actually, I was thinking of another kind of disconnet. The first generation immigrants I’ve known from my business and teaching and among my daughter’s friends are often enthusiastic about some of these values – and sometimes in unlikely ways. The guy from Iran in Houston said he didn’t want to go back permanently; he liked the kind of order that existed in a society where people would stop at a red light even in the night on a city street. People observed the practical laws so that chaos didn’t reign in their daily lives here. A certain chaos in the marketplace of ideas is more readily accepted if you aren’t spending your time worrying about which car is going to stop at that intersection.

    But academics who have theoretically changed their allegiances but keep telling us how much better it is back home – how much better things are done in the countries from which they escaped – I see that all the time.

    And of course some of those helpful souls who want to help immigrants are the very helpful souls who think the melting pot is a bad idea.

    Between the responses to this & the ones on hiring and firing, I can see that academic life is, as I’d often felt writing and reading here, an Alice in Wonderland World.

    I do think the people who write on and comment on Chicagoboyz are much wiser about history, human nature, and “felicity” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternate realities around even the most red state of campuses. One of my colleagues was complaining that a government teacher on our little campus was preaching the gospel of Marx and he spent all his history class “unlearning” his students. Those visions of egalitarianism are assumptions at dinner conversations. A hundred million dead and they are still spinning this crap. What will it take?

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