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  • Archive for February, 2007

    The big lie or many small lies

    Posted by Helen on 12th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Here is an interesting question for all our readers? Who burnt down the Reichstag in 1933? Can you recall the name of Marinus van der Lubbe, the somewhat crazed Dutchman, who actually set it on fire? And even if you can, do you not think that there was somebody behind it all? After all, it could not be just a lone lunatic, could it?

    It would be interesting to know how many of those who read the above paragraph nodded and said: “Of course, Hitler ordered and manipulated van der Lubbe (assuming you can recall the name) and then used the fire to get rid of the opposition and to blame the Communists.”

    I am willing to bet that nobody said: “Oh yes, it was the Communists and they managed to get away with it because Dimitrov’s trial (assuming you can recall that name) was unsuccessful. Hitler merely took advantage of the event.”

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between good and bad propaganda.

    The truth is that van der Lubbe did act on his own. This has been investigated and proved by a number of historians. No evidence has been found of anybody else’s involvement. Further, Hitler did take advantage of the fire to do what he had always planned to do and destroy the remnants of German democratic parliament and ban the Communist Party of which the Nazis were oddly afraid. All of that is true.

    Now we come to the battle of the propagandists. Everyone, but everyone, quotes Dr Göbbels’s comment about the big lie and compares every would-be spin doctor with him. But who actually believed Göbbels? A large proportion of the German people for a time and some supporters in other countries who wanted to believe him.

    As opposed to that, millions of people across the world repeat certain “truths” for which there is “full agreement” without once realizing that it is propaganda first started by that genius of spin doctoring and promoter of the Comintern, Willi Münzenberg, without even knowing his name or comparing any tuppenny-ha’penny press officer to him. Now that is propaganda. Sheer genius. Achieved by a long list of small and medium-sized lies.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Germany, History, Middle East | 8 Comments »

    Thoughts on Blogging in the Guise of Suggestions to Prof. Macfarlane

    Posted by Lexington Green on 11th February 2007 (All posts by )

    I notice that Prof. Macfarlane has several “experiments” with new media. I was going to send him my thoughts, but decided I’d post them here instead.

    Two of his experiments are blogs. One called How the World Works is a restatement of parts of his book Letters to Lily, which is a book written in the form of letters to his teenage granddaughter. The other is entitled Hammer of Evil. In his words, It imagines what two medieval Inquisitors who wrote the very influential anti-witchcraft manual, ‘The Hammer of Evil’ (Malleus Maleficarum), might advise the current leaders who are pursuing what they proclaim to be a ‘war on terror’.” The first of these is interesting enough, but I have already read the book. The second one I do not care for since I do not believe the people waging the war against terrorism in the UK or the USA are deluded men fighting imaginary enemies like the witch-hunters of the Middle Ages apparently were. On that subject Prof. Macfarlane, for all his brilliance, loses me entirely.

    But, without regard to the substance of these two blogs, I think the good professor is missing some key elements of what makes a blog “work”. Of course, at its most basic level, a blog is like a scrolling piece of paper with posts on it. It can be about anything or random things or nothing or just photos. It is a blank slate.

    However, as the term has come to be used a blog usually has certain characteristics. The main one, in my view, is that its writer or writers are conducting a conversation. The blog is part of a dialogue with the larger world.

    A blog, in its essence, as the term has come to be understood and employed, is an extended and ongoing conversation.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging | 6 Comments »

    Pluripotent Cells – Pluripotent Debate

    Posted by Ginny on 11th February 2007 (All posts by )

    My husband has been getting after me since Christmas to read Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. He was right: Stark’s argument makes sense of much in early American lit. (I’m only half way through.)

    He argues Christianity encouraged reason, glorified reason – because its believers had a powerful vision of life as purposeful and science as a study, undertaken with humility, of the grand mysteries of nature. Because they assumed it was done with purpose, they comforted themselves that their approach, too, was purposeful: the best way to glorify God was to study not only his word but the harmony & beauty of his creation. Science – then – was honored because it sought a logical, rational, exploration of what is. Some – indeed many, as Stark observes – religious beliefs are antithetical to science, but Christianity is not.

    The self-righteous assumption of “reason” versus “irrational faith” is often a little irritating, but Stark would say it is also quite wrong. Many sneered that Bush’s position on stem cells was irrational – “faith-based.” This always bothered me. I didn’t share his assumptions, so I didn’t get very worked up about it. But I could see where it was coming from. And, given his assumptions – debatable but not stupid ones – his was a quite logical position. So, while this isn’t my cause, I was pleasantly surprised by this link to a report by Michael Fumento (thanks to Instapundit):

    Yet it’s been virtually a state secret that for over five years researchers, beginning with a team headed by physician Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute, have been reporting numerous types of adult stem cells (she used those from marrow) that in the lab could form mature cells from three germ layers. Experiments around the world have clearly shown that adult stem cells from one germ layer can be converted into those of another in a living human, such as those that have turned adipose tissue stem cells from the mesoderm germ layer into neuronal cells from the ectoderm among others but these are all germ layer. (It also produced bone; cartilage; skeletal; cardiac muscle; and blood cells – mesodermal.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics, Science | 8 Comments »

    Wooden Horses

    Posted by John Jay on 10th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Liberty benefits from asking practical questions. When someone wants to save the world, or at least a piece of it, a free man or woman ought to ask just how that goal is going to be achieved. That is often as important as the goal itself. Everywhere I look, I see colored ribbons symbolizing something that should be eliminated from modern life. What never gets discussed is the amount of acceptable bad behavior or acceptable cost or acceptable loss, and the balance of the level of enforcement or investment required to eliminate a behavior, disease or what-have-you, versus the amount of fungible resources or freedom lost per incremental advance for the social cause. The people in the cause often say things such as “one life lost is one too many”. Really? Every activity has a risk / benefit calculation. We know that more people die in highway accidents at higher speeds than at lower ones, but the speed limit is 65 in most states (still too low in my opinion). If we were really serious about eliminating highway deaths, we’d drop the speed limit to 20 mph and make all our cars out of PVC and Styrofoam. But the level of highway death at 65 mph is acceptable to pretty much the majority of people*.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Libertarianism | 11 Comments »

    Alan Macfarlane on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

    Posted by Lexington Green on 8th February 2007 (All posts by )

    A nice short summary touching on the main points about what does and does not provide a sufficient basis for a modern civilization.

    And here he is on Venice and the riddle of modern wealth and liberty.

    If you go to this page you will find that Macfarlane has put an enormous number of videos onto You Tube. I have only scratched the surface, but this is clearly a treasure trove of good material.

    Those of you who prefer text to video can find an enormous amount of interesting material on his web page.

    Prof. Macfarlane writes in convincing fashion about many of the issues which we have been discussing on this blog: the rise of the modern world, the role of technology in social change, the centrality of liberty to the rise of the West, the key role of England and the English-speaking countries in the modern world (though he does not use the word Anglosphere), the critical role of civil society and free association, the cultural and social and legal foundations of modernity.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, History, Video | 16 Comments »

    Economic Man vs. Primary Loyalties ?

    Posted by Zenpundit on 6th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Recently, in the excellent Ikle review comment thread, James McCormick, had some very insightful (and erudite) remarks:

    RE: “deep cultural” and “economic meta-” perspectives.

    The two may seem very different however the Anglosphere discussion has often focused on the economic impacts of social behaviour. It’s not random chance that we still quote an 18th century lowland Scot (Adam Smith) on so many economic issues. Nor that he was first out of the gate. Nor that his good buddy Hume and inspiration Locke provided so much of the foundation for political science. And economic historians like Joel Mokyr and the duo that described the economic and social impact of Newton’s Principia specifically addressed why the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions (or in Mokyr’s view, an “Industrial Englightenment”) were so dependent on the unique social structure of England, and Scotland. Indeed, the work of Crosby on the momentous intellectual and economic changes of northern Italy directly sets the stage for trading republics in Holland and England. When we turn to economic historians like David Landes, or naval historians like N.A.M. Rodger, they help us put our finger directly on the nexus of culture and economics (or political “evolution”). Jim Bennett’s point is that the Anglosphere nation-state is manufactured out of non-zero sum deals — Burkean communities and Lockean contracts. The social habits to do this (and to slowly transform their political partners into thinking it a very good approach) run very deep. And take a long time to acquire. And surely deserve some reference when prognosticating on how America should deal with a turbulent and dangerous world.

    The bone I pick with Iklé and Barnett is that many of their assumptions about political and economic structure (which underpin their geopolitical hypothesizing) depend on a one-size-fits-all model of development that is supported by neither cultural historians nor economists. In fact, they bear no resemblance to any America, current or past (cf. David Hackett-Fisher’s “Albion’s Seed” and Samuel Huntington’s “Who are We?”). When I, as a Canadian, read geopolitical recommendations that require large numbers of Americans of a kind I’ve never met (after 40 years of living, studying, and working amongst them) — my first question is always “how many suns in the sky over *your* planet?” Both authors have something very important to offer. And both suffer from end-state “think-tanqueray.” IMHO. Fortunately, as with so much else, near-term history is going to be dictated by the politically possible rather than the academically plausible.

    Let me address McCormick’s second point first.

    Setting aside Ikle for the moment, Thomas Barnett or any other thinker who attempts to put an intellectual template on a global system is required to engage in simplification of complexity. It is, as James correctly states, a ” one-size-fits-all” model and not the underlying reality in all its’ nuances and interconnections. At best, a valid model identifies common operating principles and provides a rough predictive capability, considering those principles acting in isolation. As reality is messy, policy makers being guided by any model need to exercise some degree of common sense. Pakistan is not India, much less Indiana, and while markets may exist in all three, the wise statesman makes wide allowances for local variation. The variations however, still have a common touchstone.

    In his the first point, McCormick expounds on the symbiotic relationship between economics and social behavior in the historical development of the Anglosphere. That fusion is correct but the cultivation or endurance of particularist identities, what 4GW theorists refer to as “primary loyalties” provide points of friction with the collective maximizing behavior of Economic Man. The Western experience with nationalism and the erection of the Westphalian system after the Thirty Year’s War blunts the reemergence of primary loyalties here. Few Germans today think of themselves first as Prussians or Saxons or Protestants but the same cannot be said of Iraqis or Congolese where tribe, clan and sect affiliations resonate. David Ronfeldt, the influential defense intellectual at RAND, refers to tribalism as ” the first and forever form” underlying society.

    Western or Anglospheric societies overcame tribalism (broadly understood) with secularization driven both by politics and economics, over a considerable period of time. Economic Man, rational man, slowly gained the upper hand over the atavistic warrior. Defusing psychological anxieties over identity, moving society beyond subsistence level to a point where risk-taking could be more safely entertained, helped transition Europeans into the abstract mental framework of the nation-state citizen, rather than that of a subject of a provincial nobleman. Outside of the West, some states like Singapore have made that same cognitive jump in the very brief period of de-colonization but most have not. That doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t.

    In short, I think the caveats raised by James are significant and should be incorporated into any application of Barnett’s ideas. I’m not sure however, that Dr. Barnett would disagree as he is offering a grand strategy or a “blueprint for action” rather than attempting to supervise the every move of the construction crew.

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, International Affairs, National Security, Society, War and Peace | 24 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th February 2007 (All posts by )

    One Western-trained Chinese economist said: “We just don’t know how to do capital markets. The only countries that get the message — proper financial risk accounting, etc — are the ones that were formerly in the British Empire. Anglo-Saxons seem to have something the rest of the world just hasn’t got.”


    Asked about reserve diversification, a senior Chinese official told a leading Western banker that China took the long view: “In half a century from now, there will still be the dollar and there will still be China.” What this remark drily acknowledged was a truth overlooked by the “decline of American power” school. Viewed from one angle, the US is the world’s biggest debtor. Looked at from another, however, it has taken over the business of managing the world’s savings.

    Taking note of Asian Achilles’ heel (Financial Times)

    Posted in Anglosphere, China, Markets and Trading | 5 Comments »

    Orwell on the Dangers of Extrapolation

    Posted by David Foster on 5th February 2007 (All posts by )

    In reviewing the work of James Burnham (best known for The Managerial Revolution), George Orwell says:

    Power worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Predictions | 5 Comments »

    Robert Conquest Interview

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Thanks to Robert Schwartz for a heads-up about Christopher Hitchens’s report on his recent visit with Robert Conquest. Note the Anglosphere kicker.

    UPDATE: Helen has already blogged about Conquest and her post is well worth reading.

    Posted in Anglosphere, History, Leftism | 1 Comment »

    Superbowl XLI

    Posted by Lexington Green on 4th February 2007 (All posts by )

    I just left a house full of embittered Bears fan.

    The Colts were favored. We all knew that. We were ready for the outcome.

    It is not so much the fact that it happened, as the way it happened.

    If they’ve got you on skills, you have to outmatch them on animal spirits, bloody-mindedness — and you have to not make a lot of mistakes.

    But no.

    And Manning only got grass and dirt on his helmet once … .

    Congratulations to my Hoosier pals.

    Chicago’s record cold temperatures are the headline on Drudge, which is metaphorically appropriate.

    Posted in Diversions | 3 Comments »

    Iklé — Annihilation From Within

    Posted by James McCormick on 3rd February 2007 (All posts by )

    Iklé, Fred C., Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, Columbia Univ. Press, 2006. 142pp.

    [cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings]

    Recently, Jay Manifold posted a review of this book which included an insightful summary and an extended discussion of the impact that science and technology will have on the survival of the nation-state.

    A brief synopsis of this book:

    1. The separation between the values of science and the values of political and religious systems is stark, and ever-widening. One deals in uncertainty and constant revision, the other with certainty and idealized end-points.
    2. The lethality and portability of “weapons of mass destruction” has increased since WW2. Dual-use (peaceful/military) of nuclear technology has spread the knowledge necessary to create a variety of nuclear and radiological weapons.
    3. New forms of weaponry, including direct chemical control of human minds, are under development.
    4. Modern nations are now extremely vulnerable to decapitation strikes — removing much of their administrative infrastructure — by non-state actors.
    5. For many of America’s enemies, throwing the nation into chaos is reward enough. For others, however, it is merely the first step in a political agenda of national control.
    6. A nation with a missing or damaged national government would be extremely vulnerable to a domestic coup, and we have examples in the 20th century in Germany and the Soviet Union.
    7. It is time that the government respond to these issues with (1) better nuclear detection methods, (2) improved assurance of continuity of the US government, (3) mobilization laws to establish law & order, (4) better control over territorial sovereignty, and (5) a clearer sense of the importance of national unity in the face of such threats.
    8. In the event of a “clandestine mass destruction attack,” four principles of restoration must be applied: (1) the legal and constitutional foundation must be reconstituted (and revitalized), (2) a way back to nuclear non-use must be found, (3) a refocus on the global economy must be supported, and (4) the spiritual dimension of restoration must avoid aggravating violent religious conflict.

    In contrast with Jay Manifold, I’d like to take a cultural approach to Iklé’s long essay. I found myself struck both by Iklé’s valuable insights (which will be familiar to anyone following discussion of Fourth Generation Warfare), and his bizarrely academic attitude to American culture and politics (when assessed from the perspective of Anglosphere exceptionalism).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes | 33 Comments »

    Perhaps the Most Bizarre Comparison of the Year (So Far)

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd February 2007 (All posts by )

    The American is an interesting new business magazine, edited by James K Glassman. In the February issue, there’s an article by John Makin on China’s new Tibetan railway. The article starts with the following comparison: In 2005, Americans spent about $10 billion on women’s intimate apparel. During the period 2001-2006, China spent $4 billion building the 710-mile rail line from Golmud to Lhasa. From this comparison, Makin draws the conclusion that the contrast:

    …highlights the difference today between the richest country in the world and the country that is gaining wealth at the fastest pace. One is consuming, the other investing.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance | 15 Comments »

    Index of Economic Freedom: An Anglosphere Sweep …

    Posted by Lexington Green on 2nd February 2007 (All posts by )

    … as usual.

    We are so used to grumbling about how it should be, or how we wish it was, or how it could be if only “they” would get with the program (pick your “they”), or how it once was (probably a romanticized version of the past) that we can forget that a lot of what is going on these days is awfully darned good. Yeah, there is room for improvement, but I am glad to be here, today, now.

    (Via Instapundit.)

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Liberties, Economics & Finance | 6 Comments »

    That’s What America Is Made Up Of, Choice

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd February 2007 (All posts by )

    Snook, home of a great SPJST Hall and chicken-fried bacon; in such a spot, we are not surprised, perhaps, at the host’s argument for natural law and libertarian politics.

    Posted in Entrepreneurship, Video | 8 Comments »

    Do we really owe it all to the geography of the Norwegian fjords?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 2nd February 2007 (All posts by )

    What are the deepest roots of Anglosphere exceptionalism? Some of the most commonly attributed sources are wrong: Protestantism, for example. England was exceptional long before Protestantism. Alan Macfarlane, from an anthropological perspective, has taken the story back into the Middle Ages. His predecessor F.W. Maitland, from a legal perspective, took it back a little farther. The Victorians and Edwardians (Stubbs, Maitland, Acton) agreed that the English retained from their Saxon ancestors something of the “liberty loving” ways of their Teutonic forebears, as depicted by Tacitus almost two thousand years ago. This type of thinking fell into disfavor in the 20th Century. But I think the Victorians were on the money.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, History | 27 Comments »

    DVD Player Speakers Bleg

    Posted by Lexington Green on 1st February 2007 (All posts by )

    I’ve got this little portable DVD player. It works fine but the sound even all the way up is too quiet. I am an electronics illiterate. It is a Polaroid PDM-1058. Does anyone know whether I can run some external speakers out the earphone jack? And if so what kind would be good to get?

    Posted in Announcements | 2 Comments »