Dear Reader (and the dead men of Dunharrow and the Images of Ikonn – bonus nerd points if you got both references without googling),
I told myself I wouldn’t even write this G-File this week because I’m in the bunker trying to get close to finishing this book. My womenfolk are out of town and I’m ensconced in Goldberg HQ with two dogs and two cats, a naked Indian looking for Jim Morrison, the ghost of Christmas past, and someone who looks eerily similar to that blond actor who isn’t Jude Law from A Beautiful Mind.
Oh, and yesterday, Snuffleupagus walked right into the middle of my living room, dropped a steaming loaf of what appeared to be a mixture of felt, hay and peanut shells and then kept walking away.
“What’s that you say?”
Yes, that’s right, my secret friend, I said two dogs and two cats. The first dog is of course Cosmo the Wonderdog, Scourge of Squirrels, Bane of Toy Breeds, Champion of the Five Realms of Pork Products, Rembrandt of the Urine Post-it Note, Vizier of Postal Employee Discipline . . . okay, okay, I won’t read his full title.
And then there is Buckley, Cousin of Cosmo, Noble Beast of Up-the-Block. Buckley is a fine and sweet dog. He has been Cosmo’s trusted companion for lo these last seven years, ever since my sister-in-law acquired him from a shelter. He is a big, athletic fellow who could easily vanquish Cosmo in a fight if he so desired. But he’s a lover not a fighter and lacks the mental toughness to impose his will on anyone. Cosmo bullies him a bit – precisely because he can.
And there’s the cat thing, but we should move on.
As I understand it, the Mexican government is very mad at us for three things. We act as if cheddar cheese were a staple of Mexican cuisine. We flooded their country with guns as part of an experiment that apparently no one followed through on. And we executed a reprehensible Mexican national for raping and murdering a teenage girl. Apparently we have a treaty that allowed him to consult with his embassy. Woops.
As for this gun business, I have sympathy for Mexico’s anger. Every day, Fast and Furious is shaping up to be one of the most idiotic and infuriating government foul-ups in recent memory – and that is some stiff competition. And the stupidity had bloody consequences. So yeah, the Mexicans have every right to be ticked off. As for the execution of a guy who raped and murdered a teenage girl? Meh. If I was calling the shots in Mexico, I’d tell those guys with the whistles to pipe down and I’ll pour my own shots. I’d also just let this one slide. It’s just a bad look to get haughty on principle about a guy who raped and murdered a teenage girl (mutilating her body with bites and a stick before bashing her head in with a rock). As for the cheddar thing, well, how do you say “cheddah makes it beddah” in Spanish?
And speaking of bad looks, I do wish Mexico would stop pounding its spoon on its high chair about these outrageous assaults on “Mexican sovereignty.” Again, they should be pissed about the guns on the merits. But it is difficult to take the whining about sovereignty too seriously from a country that, as a matter of policy, encourages massive illegal emigration to our country and calls us racist and inhumane when we do anything to stop it. Indeed, Mexico’s official position is that if we adopted the same immigration policies they use to police illegal entrants from their southern border, we would be committing an outrage.
Heck, I’m considered an immigration softy around NR, but even I think sovereignty and respect should be a two way street, amigo.
What Doesn’t Benda Breaks
Maybe it’s the topic of Mexican hypocrisy and sovereignty that made me think about it. Or maybe it’s because I’m a conservative who believes there’s nothing new under the sun, or maybe because my next book is turning into more of a sequel to Liberal Fascism than I had imagined. Or maybe it’s because Not Jude Law keeps saying, “Why don’t you write a G-File about Julien Benda?” But I keep thinking of Julien Benda.
Who was Julien Benda? He was a French intellectual whose fame has been reduced to a tiny scrap of historical territory: the phrase “The Treason of the Clerks,” or as it’s often said in America, “The Treason of the Intellectuals.” That translation doesn’t quite capture completely what Benda was getting at. The French title of the book that spawned the phrase is La Trahison des Clercs, and the “clercs” refers not just to a small band of eggheads, but to the whole class of learned and scholarly people across society who have made the life of the mind a vocation.
Benda was a complicated guy and by no means a conservative in an easily recognizable sense, but when I was working on LF, I found the Trahison des Clercs to be a revelation. (Alas, Benda’s name appears but once in the final edit of the book.) No writer better captures the spirit of “Nietzschean pragmatism” that ensorcelled – that’s right, I used the word “ensorcelled” again – the “thinking classes” on both sides of the Atlantic.
According to Benda, until the 19th century, intellectuals were at least rhetorically loyal to universal ideals. “Humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.”
Such contradictions are no longer honored, Benda lamented. The intellectuals have forsaken their obligation to side with Socrates and instead salute those who poisoned him. Intellectuals have become slaves to particular populist passions – German nationalism, the Proletariat, what today we might call identity politics – and have turned their backs on universal truths and values.
Now, for me the really interesting discussion here is how this relates to the modern Left’s obsession with hypocrisy. It was once considered better to live up to your ideal standards inconsistently, than to consistently live down to your lack of them. The logical upshot of liberalism’s hatred of hypocrisy is that it is better for the liar to champion lying, the glutton to advocate gluttony, the adulterer to celebrate adultery, than for someone to preach the right thing if he himself occasionally does the wrong thing. Better to let your failings define you and be happy about it, than to let your ideals define you but then fall short of them, for that opens you up to the charge of hypocrisy (or inauthenticity, or denial, or whatever).
But I’ve written tons on that elsewhere. So let’s stick with nation-states. Benda notes that kings used to be governed by interests and honor, and they were the sole arbiters of both. A king, in other words, could disregard the will of the people because the will of the people has no formal place in a king’s decision-making. This contrasts with modern dictators whose sole claim to legitimacy is their status as the living embodiment of the people’s will and the interests of the Volksgemeinschaft. The modern conception of the dictator is one who is an enemy of the people. But the simple fact is that dictators tend to be very popular for most of their time in power, because dictators claim to be the servants of the people and the conduit of national honor, and go a long way in trying to prove it. In other words, the people deserve no small share of the blame for their dictators. “The modern citizen,” Benda writes, “claims to feel for himself what is demanded by the national honor, and he is ready to rise up against his leaders if they have a different conception of it.”
So if the king cared little about the people’s sense of honor, what he did care greatly about was his own. In particular he cared about the prospects for his soul. It’s easy these days to watch The Tudors on Showtime or reruns of Braveheart on TNT and think that kings didn’t care about such matters. But they did. That’s why Henry begged for forgiveness in the snows of Canossa. Some of these monarchs actually took the idea that they were God’s stewards seriously, and they relied upon the clercs to explain what that meant and illuminate the path for them.
“Formerly,” Benda writes, “leaders of States practiced realism, but did not honor it. . . . With them morality was violated but moral notions remained intact; and that is why, in spite of all their violence, they did not disturb civilization.”
Now, I do not yearn for a return to absolute monarchy and I don’t think America has turned out to fulfill Benda’s dire prophecies (he called World War II way ahead of everybody else, by the way). But there’s still something to be learned from all of this.
When I listen to foreign-policy debates these days, I hear a cacophony of competing claims. We’re told that it is outrageous to pursue anything other than our vital national interests. But if you actually propose pursuing our vital national interests in a robust way – say, à la Donald Trump seizing the oil of Iraq (and let’s throw in Libya too) – the answer from the realists is that that would be crazy because it would destroy our image around the world and be immoral. Um, okay (and I basically agree). But “image around the world” is a cheap way of saying our “reputation” or simply our “honor.” And as for the immorality of it, I thought realists didn’t think morality and foreign policy mixed.
If I say that Israel is an ally and a democracy and therefore both our honor and our ideals demand that we stand with her, I get eye-rolling from realists and a lot of verbiage about how we can’t afford to alienate all of the Arabs and Muslims, particularly the oil-rich kleptocracies (for some reason that line from Meatballs, “Look at all those steaming weenies,” kept coming into my head when I wrote that sentence). Then-candidate Obama said that it would be worth sparking genocide in Iraq to get our troops out of there, such was the power of the realist case for accepting defeat.
But when Quadaffhi starts killing his own people, Obama insists that our ideals and, in effect, our honor demand that we stop him. When Bashar Assad starts doing the same thing, our honor and ideals are apparently on a bus to Atlantic City and realism is left manning the office.
This confusion – which in different ways plagued Bush as well — seems to stem from the fact that it is now considered dishonorable to speak of national honor yet unrealistic to act on realism. We must take the high road when it comes to our vital interests and we must take the low road of realism when it comes to our national honor.
In short, things are a mess (“Starting with this G-File” — The Couch).
And Now, Toilets!
A reader sent me this email from the Center for Program Integrity at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
From: [name] (CMS/CPI)
Sent: Friday, July 01, 2011 5:15 PM
Subject: some important information on the restroom facilities
When 7210 Ambassador Road was being built for CPI, a lot of thought went into the technology that would be used for our daily operations – from the most simple to the most complex CPI function. In addition, it was a goal to try to make this building as energy and water efficient as possible. No minor detail escaped from the planning process.
Many of you may not know, but this requirement was also considered when selecting the restroom solution that would be installed at 7210.
Now that we’ve settled into our new location, we wanted to make you aware of how the Sloan ECOS Dual-Flush Flushometer is an innovative approach to restroom solutions. This restroom solution using solar power and sensor technology to save energy and water. The solar-powered dual-flush technology is built into the sensor and will automatically flush the proper amount of water based on the time spent in the stall. However, it can also be overridden by using the buttons illustrated below. In those instances when the automatic flush is not sufficient, please be sure to the override buttons to trigger a second flush. This will ensure it is ready for the next user. Thanks for your cooperation.
At least Nero fiddled when Rome burned. Fiddles can have a pleasant sound.
Various & Sundry
I’m scheduled to be on Special Report tonight. Friday lightning round, baby!
I’ll be speaking at the National Conservative Student Conference next month. Details here.
Did you know that 23 percent of all goods and services produced since 1 AD were made this decade? Well: Boom.
When I’m done with the book, this will be my new career.