8 thoughts on “Various”

  1. Great quote from that blog:

    “I am a civilizational patriot. This is why I don’t waste much time crying over the demise of primitive cultures in contact with modernity, and why my sympathies lie with Israel rather than Palestine. If the US, rather than the USSR, had fallen to impotence in the Cold War, I would now be backing the Soviets against the Islamists, because the Soviets shared fundamental worldviews with us that, although twisted by a corrupt system, could have been reformed. I do not see the same humanity with which I can find a common ground in the medieval Salafists.”

  2. I like that blog too, but I have trouble with the quoted passage.

    It presumes that the “medieval salafists” are the predominant or at least representative members of their civilization. I don’t think this is true. They remain a small minority within Islamic civilization, even within the most dysfunctional part of that civilization. Also, Russia is Byzantine-derived and Orthodox, not really the same civilization as the Latin West, but more a sister civilization. Samuel Huntington got this important distinction right in his Clash of Civilizations.

    I think it is more accurate to say that the worst elements in the Islamic world are causing a lot of trouble for a lot of us, including their fellow Muslims. They are the enemy. For now, we are not in a full-blown civilizational struggle, and we should try to keep it that way. Though, if it should come to that, we will win.

  3. Five to ten years is often quoted as the period of time it will take for Iran to acquire nuclear capability. Scientists generally use error bars when they make such estimates. In this case, the error bars are very large, and the estimate, though it may be based on the best intelligence available, should be treated with extreme skepticism.

    In the first place, if Iran or any other country has the necessary fissile material, U235 or Pu239, it has the bomb. U235 gun-assembled bombs are trivial, and plutonium implosion weapons are well within the capabilities of a country like Iran. For that matter, Iran could simply give two subcritical chunks of fissile material to its terrorist proxies, and have one of them drop one piece on top of another in the middle of some major city. That would certainly produce enough of a radioactive mess to case severe economic dislocation. The “Hiroshima fallacy,” the notion that nuclear weapons require at least the level of sophistication of those used at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, must be rejected. If terrorists assembled their two sub-critical chunks with a strong spring, or a small explosive charge, they could release a great deal more radiation, and, eventually, significant explosive yield. In a word, enough fissile material to go critical, at the very least, would be the mother of all dirty bombs. It wouldn’t take a lot of technological smarts to make it much worse than that.

    There are several other ways for Iran to get the necessary fissile material. It could simply make a CANDU reactor using unenriched natural uranium, run it for awhile, and extract the plutonium. Enough would be available for a bomb in months, not years. The 5 to 10 year estimate is subject to drastic and rapid change.

    The issue is not how long it will take Iran to get the bomb, but what to do about it if it does. That issue has no easy solution. However, we have to face the facts. As more nations acquire nuclear weapons, the chances that they will not eventually be used become vanishingly small. Even now it is just a matter of time. We have been lulled to sleep by the long grace period we have had since Hiroshima. We have forgotten or refuse to think about just how destructive these weapons are.

    I personally think that first use of nuclear weapons should be made taboo for any reason. Any nation that chooses first use should face immediate nuclear attack by the rest of the world. Any nation that acquires nuclear weapons beyond those that already face the capability should face immediate attack, regardless of what seems “fair.” The situation is that serious. Other than that, we can just sit back and await the inevitable.

  4. Thanks for the link, Jonathan. I wondered who had tripled my site traffic.

    Lex, I think I wasn’t clear enough about what I meant by civilizational patriot. It was not in the sense of civilization vs. civilization, but rather civilization vs. barbarism. Thanks for the comments, though, they are making me clarify some inchoate assumptions I’d had in mind when I wrote the piece.

    Whether or not you accept Russians as belonging to our civilization, they are civilized to a high degree. I was thinking about H. Beam Piper’s statement in “Space Viking” that all society rests on a barbarian base. With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I always keep in mind what a sinkhole Palestine was before the Jews moved in en masse. Would the living standard for Palestinians be close to what it is now if they had retained control? No way. “Jewish civilization” is and was much more advanced than that of the Palestinians, so the Jews were pretty much predestined to make much more out of the resources of Israel, and their activities materially benefit both parties (in developing water sources, for example), despite the resentment caused by Jewish political domination. In a similar vein, the conflict between the largely civilized Europeans and the fairly barbaric New World tribes on our own continent is another where the less civilized got the short end of the stick in the short run, but not in the long run. Native Americans’ lives today are better than the disease-ridden subsistence-level existence led by their forebears. Not that they don’t have problems, but drop anyone living in any of today’s modern Indian cultures into the tribal existence of pre-Colombian America, and all but the most foolhardy (and of those, only the ones blessed with good dental genes) would prefer that life after a couple of years of living it.

    You’re reading a bit too much into the piece by saying that it presumes that Salifists are the predominant force in Islamic civilization, such as it exists today: but by virtue of their willingness to use force, and the unwillingness of other Muslims to use force against them, they are a minority to be reckoned with. I think you might be discounting the tacit approval of a large chunk of the Islamic world for terrorist acts against the West, even if those people would not ever commit an overt act themselves, when you posit the minority of the Salafists. Mao didn’t have that many active fighters relative to the population, either.

    You raise another interesting point. I think I might do a post on the debate about whether Russia belongs to Western Civilization, as well. Let’s just say that it’s complicated, but I disagree with you. It reminds me a lot of the debate in Linguistics over the distinction between a language and a dialect. Orthodox and Catholic Europe are civilizational dialects, in my opinion, not separate languages. The distinction is very subjective though: I’d lump the Slavs and Greeks in with us, however, I don’t see Japan as being part of the broader Chinese civilization. But your mileage may vary.

  5. Civilization v. Barbarism is one thing which civilization among several civilizations is another thing. Orthodox/Byzantine civilization may be a dialect rather than a different language. We are speaking metaphorically. But to speak concretely, the Russians unlike the West inherited a notion of political and religious authority which were unitary. Totally unlike the West in the most fundamental way. The State had access to the core of the persons moral and spiritual life. The Church was an arm of political power. This makes the Russians very different. Also, the Russians inherited a unitary and autocratic form of political rule. There was nothing like the contractarian element of Western feudalism, nothing like the proto-representative institutions of the West, virtually nothing like the free chartered cities and burroughs of the West. The tiny handful of exceptions like Novgorod were snuffed out — which proves the point. In short, they never had political or economic freedom or the rule of law, and no separation between Church and State.

    Do the Russians and their slavic cousins constitute a distinct civilization? I think so, but whatever you call it, there are important differences between them and the West. On the continuum between civilization and barbarism, where are the Russians? In terms of technical competence, they are in many ways a very advanced civilization. In terms of “barbaric” behavior however they have shown themselves all too willing to use their technological skill to behave with extreme brutality. So, in the sense of “civilized” as a moral quality, the Russians have a spotty record.

    All that said, if I had to choose between the Russian man in the street or the Muslim extremists we are facing — give me Ivan any day.

  6. Lex, I do feel that we are talking about a normal distribution, if you will, in terms of Western Civ., with the Anglosphere on the right tail and those who use the Cyrillic alphabet on the left. The West had a long period of time where the Church controlled or was controlled by, the sate, it’s just that it took a different path out of the Dark Ages than the East – but the Boyars weilded a lot of autonomous feudal power before Peter I broke them.

    How do you fit in the Germans, who in many ways are as authoritarian as the Slavs? The two are different: I’d say the German authoritarian streak comes from a sense of order, whereas the Slavic one comes from a sense of anarchy, but in other ways the Slavic streak is also a remnant of the Tartar Yoke, and is the imprint of an Eastern civilization on a Western one.

    Another example I’m thinking of is that of Sparta and Anthens – Sparta was as authoritarian a state as they come, yet it belonged to the same Greek civilization that gave some fundamental democratic principles to the West, so I’m not sure the authoritarian / non-authoritarian distinction is a hard divding line between East and West.

  7. John, the topic is too big to handle adequately here.

    A few things. We will have to agree to disagree about whether Russia is a different civilization from the Latin West. As the heir to Byzantium, it has fundamentally different roots. Being placed on the Eurasian plain and open to invasion on all sides and at all times, its entire history has been a violent fluction between garrison state, warfare on its own soil, subjugation or sometimes anarchy. It has essentially always been under arbitrary rule.

    We will also have to agree to disagree about the degree of state/church control. There is simply no analog in the West to the absolute state control of religion. The existence of a Church with a pope and a contested domain of authority pertaining to the moral and spiritual life of the people was the most important factor in the development of freedom (among other things) in the West and Russia did not have it.

    The Germans and the rest of the West are different from the Anglosphere because of the death of medieval constititionalism in the early modern period. This was facilitated by the reintroduction of Roman-derived law, starting at the University of Bologna in the middle ages. The English, then the Anglosphere, never had this break with the past. So notions of limited power, representative government and contractarian political arrangements — which were universal in the West in the middle ages — died out everywhere but England.

    Do please read this excellent article by Prof. Hellie of the University of Chicago. I took his Russian Civ course 1983-84, and most of what I know about Russia I learned in that class.

    One quote:

    The individual is not something one thinks of in the context of modern Russian history. On the East European plain itself he always has been an object either to be milked and driven or fed more calories and given more living space. Nevertheless, the individual is a category that we in the West think of, as have a few Russians, so we might discuss him. For the individual, there seem to have been about half a dozen options: passive submission, flight or emigration, insanity or suicide, open rebellion, and cooption.

    A grim picture, and sadly accurate. The Russian people have suffered more than most, for all of their history, including now.

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