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January 24, 2004

Faster, Please

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.


Porphyrogenitus has commentary on a Spectator article which discusses the political backlash of the Iraq war on Tony Blair. While I agree with Porphyrogenitus that we in the US need to be very aware of this, there are two points that I'd like to take up that he did not.

1. The Spectator is anti-Blair, in much the same way as the New York Times is anti-Bush. Any policy backed by Blair can be assured of a thrashing in The Spectator. We do need to take these arguments seriously, and rebut them, so as to prevent them from becoming the evaluative lens through which the war is seen (thus hampering the wider war). On the other hand, we need to treat these arguments on the basis of where they are coming from. Had Maggie Thatcher been in charge and undertaken identical actions, I suspect The Spectator would have been effusive in praising her.

2. This is an argument for going faster in the wider war. We need to ensure that our opponents, the anti-war folks (and, let's face it, the anti-Enlightenment and pro-Islamist folks as well, who far outnumber the true anti-war folks), are kept off balance as much as our enemies. The reason for this is simple: we can be defeated from without only if we are defeated from within. In a sense, this has always been true. Abraham Lincoln, in his "Lyceum Address" of January, 1838, said:

This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

And there is a significant threat from within. It is the same threat that cost us the Viet Nam War: the combination of self-satisfied hubris on the part of pro-Enlightenment individualists and aggressive determination on the part of collectivists.

There are at least three ways to address this internal danger, and all must be followed:

1. The argument in favor of individualism must be continually made, on the basis of principle; and this principle must be the basis of our foreign and domestic policies, even at the cost of early electoral reverses. Protection of human rights, for example, is a fundamentally individualist notion, yet it has been hijacked by collectivists as a tool to beat down governments they oppose (such as the US and Israel) for trivial or imagined offenses, while being ignored when true offenses are committed by third-world or collectivist governments.

Without making individualism the focus of our policies, the collectivists can claim high moral ground without having to face the low moral consequences of their positions. Massive increases in the reach and power of government - always at the expense of individuals - must be fought down. This includes collectivized health care, extending the funding of the NEA, and other such "nanny state" provisions.

If this is not done on the basis of principle, loudly and consistently argued, it makes conservatives look mean. If we argue the principle of keeping power from those who would use it against us, we'll have a much better chance of convincing people of the reasons why it is necessary to prevent collectivist expansions of power in the first place.

At the same time, there are valid complaints that must be addressed. For example, we should not argue that Social Security be scrapped because it is ineffective, until we can fix the underlying problem Social Security is supposed to solve. If not for Social Security, how do we prevent the elderly from becoming impoverished? We must not focus on dismantling bad programs, but on replacing them with good programs, or eliminating the need for the bad programs. In some cases, we must simply declare victory and move on. In others, we must solve a problem and convince the undecideds that our solution is better than the collectivist solution imposed since the 1930s. It should go without saying that, in order to convince people of that, our solutions must actually be better than what they replace.

2. We must take the argument to mass culture. The primary methods of spreading the collectivist memes are through music, movies, books and the like. News media (which most bloggers and political geeks pay attention to) is pretty irrelevant in comparison: most people don't pay attention.

We need to create and disseminate works of fiction, both books and movies, which triumphantly proclaim individualist themes. This is not too difficult to figure out how to do, since it was the primary cultural ingredient prior to the late 1960s. We need to make movies about people whose individual actions cause good things to come about, and write books about freedom, and sing songs about how we are being controlled and manipulated and bought off with our own money.

We need to elevate and publically honor the virtues of achievement, politeness, respect, thrift, hard work, personal responsibility and the like.

3. We must keep our opponents and enemies on the defensive by controlling the agenda and pace. In terms of the war, this means that we must move on from fight to fight in a steady pace - at least one battle per year. The post-Afghanistan arguments had just begun to get heated when we started to go after Iraq. Now that the post-Iraq arguments are in full force, we need to invalidate them by going after al Qaeda in Pakistan, or after Hezbollah in Lebanon, or after Syria, or after Iran.

The argument needs to be on the grounds of individual freedom, liberty and safety. Legalistic arguments need to be shunted aside. Going to the UN on Iraq was a trap for the West not just because of the irrelevance of the UN, but also because it forced us to emphasise the least compelling arguments in favor of action.

We need to be in action again by the Autumn of 2004 (I'd prefer by the Spring of this year), or we will slowly began to lose traction to the counsels of fear and timidity, which are always more seductive than calls to duty and sacrifice.

This is true with the war, but not just with the war. A good example is the exploration and settlement of space. I applaud President Bush's attempts to refocus NASA, but I worry about the direction. As with the first President Bush, every possible program will be loaded on as somehow a part of the grand ideal of getting to the Moon and Mars. This is, in fact, how the space station survived to become the boondoggle it has. The combined cost will kill the program eventually. Either it will be starved of needed funding, or the funding will be distributed among worthless (in terms of the end goal) programs.

A much better solution would be to cut and run on the ISS; ground the shuttles permanently; and offer the money saved as prizes for getting to the Moon, getting to Mars, developing suborbital and orbital launchers and manned spacecraft, and the like. Force NASA back into the research role it's good at, and eliminate the regulatory burdens hampering private space initiatives. Force NASA to share its data and facilities with private individuals and companies, on reasonable terms.

This would not only be cheaper than a government effort, it would be more effective.

In each of these areas, political argument, cultural environment, and demonstrative action, the pro-Enlightenment West could significantly advance culture and civilization. Far better to aim for glory and miss, than to listen to the counsels of the craven and timid.


I'm thinking along the exact same lines, especially with regard to #2. The kinds of stories we tell about ourselves and the world we live within, whether in fiction, non-fiction, movies or whatever disseminates interpretive frameworks and exemplary models. You are absolutely right that we need to tell stories about individuals acting on their own initiative who improve society, solve problems, defend and expand liberty, and strive for the pinnacles of human potential in the arts, literature, science, technology and invention, the military, music, business, etc. The internet and weblogs in particular are providing a great service in this regard. But we need to also be making documentary and feature films; writing fiction, essays, literary journalism, history and finding other ways to promote what I believe is the greatest achievement of human civilization: the worldview that is conceived in liberty and dedicated to defending individuals from the depredations of power and the dangerous fantasies of collectivists.

Posted by: phil on February 1, 2004 08:38 AM
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Posted by jeff at January 24, 2004 12:00 AM

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