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“The Central Liberal Truth”


The Iraqi elections were remarkable, as the Washington Post editorialized today:

Iraq’s first postwar election four years ago was mostly a procedural victory: Iraqis sent a message to the world by turning out en masse despite intimidation from al-Qaeda and the pervasive threat of violence. Last weekend’s vote, which occurred during one of the calmest periods Iraq has experienced since the U.S. invasion, was a political triumph. Though results are still preliminary, they show that voters strongly rewarded Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his forceful action against extremist militias and his secular nationalist agenda — and punished religious parties perceived as too sectarian or too close to Iran.

This all had me thinking about this book by Lawrence Harrison, The Central Liberal Truth. It’s a study of how cultures can (with great difficulty) change and it takes its title and guiding spirit from the famous statement by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” During much of the Iraq war debate, the Bush administration and conservatives forgot the conservative truth and liberals–in their commitment to a heedless defeatism–forgot the liberal truth. In its travails and now its nascent turn-around, Iraq has demonstrated the importance of both truths.


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