Sunday, May 23, 2004

Old World Love of Status Lives Strong
By Alexander Marriott 23 May 2004

Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe has married former TV anchorwoman Letizia Ortiz, in the country’s first royal wedding in nearly a century. This occurred to the delight of thousands of onlookers who braved heavy rains, as well as representatives of the Royal Families of the world, including the Prince of Wales. Also in attendance were such international luminaries as former South African President Nelson Mandela. What does this all mean this sobbing and celebrating at the marriage of a cute couple, who will one day be the King and Queen of Spain? It means that the Old World, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called it “Old Europe,” is still fascinated by the non-producing and non-meritorious thing the historian Isabel Paterson called the “society of status.”

It is somewhat humorous that anti-American aficionados like Mandela and Prince Charles are awestruck by wealth and status held by non-producers like monarchs and bureaucrats and yet they condemn the businessman who produces a value and then trades it for another value, i.e. money. The monarch is given wealth by another monarch who was given it by another and so on, but the origin of this wealth was and is inevitably tied to a time when the King or Queen collected the wealth of their subjects by force because, in the words of the infamous autocrat Louis XIV, they were the state. This is what Mandela looks up to, not to those who produce things and allow poor countries and people, of which Africa abounds, to have a chance to improve their lot. Instead the ideal is a person who lives rich and luxuriously because they are fortunate enough to be related to some long dead series of despots.

But it is America, a country that embraces (or is perceived to embrace) the businessman and the idea of the businessman, that is the problem in the world today. The rejection of the status society, for one of contract and individual rights, was embodied in the American Revolution and the founding documents of the United States. Americans didn’t substitute one aristocracy for another as was done in France, or one apartheid for another as was done in South Africa, they instead threw off the old world ideal of status and replaced it with contract, which laid the groundwork to getting rid of another vestige of the old world status society, slavery.

We don’t have social betters in American because people happened to be born into particular castes, though some people have tried to create such a system around certain entities like the Kennedy family. Anyone can become wealthy if they are willing to work hard for it in a society of contracts. In a status society people work merely to be the favor granters or favor receivers. The favors used to be granted by monarchs who were the state, but into the modern world the favors are granted by the state, which people are told is themselves. Instead of creating a value and then trading it for other values as in a society of contract, the purveyors of status grant titles and posts by which they can dispense money which has been taken from the lowly scum who bother to engage in that unmitigated evil known as trade.

It is a sad testament to the state of the world when, at the height of human achievement, people come to celebrate a marriage, not of a friend or someone they know, but a Prince just because he is a Prince. It is a sign of the decline that has taken hold of the world when, instead of relishing the fall of societies of status, we lament it and look fondly upon the vestiges that remain and wish that we too can be Kings.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Going to War in Iraq
By Alexander Marriott 17 May 2004

Chemical weapons are now being used in rigged explosives in Iraq, and oddly, people are now jumping for joy that the weapons of mass destruction existed. Somehow, this justifies the war’s occurrence. Why are people still looking for justification?

The fact that Saddam Hussein helped Abu Al-Zarqawi after his leg was blown off in Afghanistan doesn’t constitute cause for war? Does it matter that he is now rising through the ranks of Al Qaeda through his “insurgency” in Iraq and through personally committing barbaric acts like the beheading of American civilian Nick Berg?

The fact that Saddam had Chinese engineers and technicians running all over the country to network his air defenses so that one day his missile firings at U.S. and British jets would score a hit didn’t constitute a legitimate reason to use force?

Because of the Bush administration’s irrational desire to get the United Nations to approve our actions we appealed to the only concern the United Nations had in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction. All the intelligence agencies of the western world agreed that Saddam had WMDs, but they western countries didn’t agree on the appropriate action to take given that fact (even though such a state of affairs represented a clear violation of the Gulf War ceasefire agreement, as did the missile firings at our jets).

Our position was that we had to invade to prevent terrorists from using chemical weapons against us, not unlike they are trying to do in Iraq right now. Our “allies” like France and Germany, who had been bribed into submission preferred to continue the graft of United Nations inspections, which led to such great achievements like the prevention of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula and the quashing of Iranian nuclear ambitions. The fact is, the only successful nuclear disarmament occurred because the country disarming (South Africa) sincerely and wholeheartedly wanted to get rid of its nuclear weapons. Unless we put the IAEA in charge of North Korea and Iran we can have nothing approaching certainty about what the hell is happening without spies. Of course that would mean going to war and then the IAEA would be entirely redundant.

Instead of being glad that weapons were found we should be apprehensive that we weren’t the ones to find them. We should be apprehensive that the terrorists have been able to murder the president of the Iraqi Governing Council without getting caught. We should be apprehensive that Iran is clearly attempting to ruin American efforts and is, in all likelihood, helping Osama bin Laden elude capture. And even if they are not, Iran is, and has been, the foremost sponsor of terrorism since the Islamic revolution there in 1979. Our days of delay in dealing with these problems are not buying us any security.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Philosophy Doesn’t Matter
Alexander Marriott 6 May 2004

From President Bush to Ted Kennedy we hear the same refrain about Islamic terrorists; “These people have hijacked a peaceful religion. Islamic militants are a few radicals who do not represent Islam.” We are expected to believe that it is not the philosophy, the fundamental ideas and beliefs these people hold, that matters; it is merely a few misguided radicals. If we were not talking about religions, which the vast majority of people subscribe to, would this line of reasoning be valid or acceptable?

During the Cold War, could people have accepted the proposition that those in charge of the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, et al, were just a few misguided radicals who had hijacked a great belief system? Certainly those sympathetic to Communism would have bought this up immediately, and those people are still around. Whenever you hear, “Communism is good in theory, but doesn’t work in reality,” you are in the presence of such a person.

Another example would be to say that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were radicals who did not represent Fascism. Or that Torquemada was a radical who did not represent Catholicism. The general idea is obvious with all of these examples. Those who claim that these people are “radicals distorting the true meaning of philosophy X,” are apologists for murderers, thugs, thieves, and butchers.

Of course, “Philosophy X” is religion in general, Islam in particular. To condemn Islam outright would be, not to contradict Christianity, but to contradict cultural relativism and religious “sensitivity.” The whole idea of other religions like Judaism and Christianity is contrary to Islam and were all of the adherents of the two former religions operating purely from their avowed beliefs, they would not hesitate to condemn all Muslims, as well as all Christians or all Jews. They cannot all be chosen or saved or enlightened people.

But the reason we do not see the launch of a new crusade is the same reason the West is not stuck in the pathetic level of development that plagues the Middle East. The West underwent a transformation that resulted in the rejection, mostly implicit, of the core ethics of religion, at least temporarily. The Renaissance, when the classical works of Greece and Rome reinvigorated Europe and the Enlightenment, when the philosophers of Europe built upon and improved the political philosophy of the Greco-Roman tradition and invented science as a disciplined body of knowledge. It was the rejection of Judeo-Christian ethics, of altruism, that propelled the West forward. Of course, explicitly many still proclaimed the superiority of altruism, but, beneath the lip service, the barriers to rational self-interest were dismantled and concern for secular affairs predominated. This never occurred in the Middle East. The closest that region came was at the turn of the last millennium.

But altruism in the West struck back under thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacques Rousseau and political philosophies like Communism, socialism, and environmentalism. More obviously it came back in religious revivalism and the Great Awakenings during the nineteenth century. Both the religious and secular altruism have converged in modern politics, particularly over this issue of claiming that Islamic terrorists are distorting a “peaceful” religion. Bush is religious, but does not condemn Islam because of secular notions of relativity and multiculturalism. His religion, by itself, would cause Bush to condemn Muslims as their clerics condemn Jews and the West. But the secular incarnation of altruism, born of the language of the enlightenment to combat it, directs Bush to respect all altruism and altruistic belief systems and to discard the warlike implications of religions.

Operating under these two influences Bush cannot rationally condemn an opposing philosophy, mainly because, if he sat down to consciously compare his own beliefs and theirs, he would discover many similarities. But Bush cannot escape the fact that he’s in a country that represents the greatest achievement of political thought in human history, and when it is attacked he responds because he is at least certain that his country is good, even though his definition of good is equal to altruism.

However, the inability of all politicians to properly identify the philosophy of America’s enemies, for whatever reason, is highly dangerous. It is what was directly responsible for the nonchalant attitudes of American leaders towards terrorists for fifty years. Given that Bush is considered to be the arch-hawk on the political scene, it does not bode well should he lose the upcoming election to a man who is not even certain we are at war.