23 May 2011

A Prayer

That real freedom of thought and worship may come soon to the people of mainland China.

And not just freedom of enterprise.

A Cry for Rain

The ardent notes of what I'm told was either a cardinal or a robin (and variously interpreted as either a mating-call or - and I love this one - a cry for rain) came "pleading" through the church windows just this morning. And right in the middle of Mass.

"Lord defend us!" I can imagine some (genuinely!) pious soul intoning. "You see how, even here, Satan uses even the tiny things of the world to impinge upon the sacred things You've given us."

On the other hand, might not that little bird's have been a voice from a certain other corner of "the world?" A realm of which Satan knows little, and understands less? A realm in which - unlike certain places in the human heart - he's always had the most devilish time securing even the tiniest foothold?

17 May 2011

Tory (as opposed to Whig) Interventionism

History waits for no one. And neither, apparently, do the good people of Syria. Talk about sweet reversals. About the Great Destabilizer at last suffering some serious instability. (Though God help us all when/if it starts to boil over.) Anyhow - and regardless of how it ends up - there's a certain delicious irony in the fact that it's happening at all. Really, it's enough of a novelty to leave even us Yanks perplexed, and short-winded.

Not that it should, necessarily. America has always prided itself on the ease and enthusiasm with which it embraces the new. At least our OSAC (Officially Sponsored American Culture) always has. Nor am I suggesting that that pride is unjustified, or that our love of novelty has always been ill-judged. Personally I can't imagine a time in our history when there's been more urgent need to embrace the new. Indeed, I find today's America to be about as ripe as it shall ever be for a new tradition in foreign policy. A foreign policy not merely revolutionary - we've had quite enough of that already - but really new. I mean one that is conservative, in the broadest, deepest, and probably oldest sense of the word. Much older than the legacies of Barry Goldwater, or even Robert A Taft. And drawn from places at once more ancient and more permanent than either Ohio or Arizona. Places like Jerusalem, and Athens. Perhaps even occasionally Rome and Constantinople. And lastly, a foreign policy that is - some might even say - more genuinely nationalistic than anything we've ever known. I don't much care for the latter phrase, as I've indicated elsewhere. But I think I have an idea of what they might mean.

But in order for you to understand more clearly what I'm getting at, I need to ask you to exercise (as I always do) a little imagination.

Imagine a United States that understands - understands willingly and gratefully - a certain corollary of what is for Christians an indisputable fact. For it is a fact that America has absolutely no power within itself to be the earth's salt (which is the job of Christians everywhere). But that doesn't mean America has either the right or the duty to appoint itself to be the earth's solvent. Or even to be its own solvent. Today, indeed, we Americans may lack even the power to form among ourselves a more perfect union. But that doesn't mean we have the duty to enforce among ourselves a more thorough separation.

Let me see if I can explain a bit further. It is a fact that you can't compel widely disparate human individuals to recognize and value each other's common humanity - and hence each other's common need for salvation (and that quite regardless of how contemptibly idle you are, or how commendably industrious I happen to be). But that doesn't mean you're morally obliged to do the opposite: to create those conditions under which recognition of that commonality becomes increasingly difficult, if not all but humanly impossible. Those precise conditions are, in fact, what creates the breeding-grounds of sin, which in itself is nothing to mess with. Indeed, it is precisely this failure or refusal - on my part or yours - to acknowledge our common humanity that makes it easiest for us to sin in really big ways (to give each other the royal shaft, so to speak): this strange sense I have that, however lowly I may be relative to the God, why, I'm practically a god myself compared to you. And the fact that you or I can never be God does not give either of us the right to play Satan, whether as despot or as tempter. It is no more right to encourage a system that brings out the aggressive worst in each of us - a system of rigid class based on wealth, intelligence, productivity or accomplishment - than it is to acquiesce in a system that's always brought forth our passive human worst - a system of rigid caste based on race, birth, parentage or connections. And there are times, I believe, when encouraging a hierarchy of merit can be every bit as dangerous to a place's military preparedness - to its people's capacity to defend and care for and even cultivate themselves - as accepting a hierarchy of birth can be to that place's civilian productivity.

My point is there are times when we Yanks need to ignore, or set aside, those caste barriers that are apparently so conducive to a robust global economy, and yet potentially so inimical to both national and global security. Times when even a people as proudly individualistic, and as upwardly aspiring, as Americans need to close ranks with those beneath them. And even to regard their supposed inferiors, in the words of Scrooge's immortal nephew Fred, more nearly "as fellow-passengers to the grave, and not as a race of creatures bound on other journeys." Times, in short, when Americans of every description have both a right and a need to act together as a nation, in addition to doing what they already do so well: acting separately and oppositely, as cross-sections of transnational economic, professional, religious and ideological interests.

And to me that means again - and today more than ever - that America needs a new tradition of foreign policy. One that is both patriotic - in the sense of loving unashamedly both the American place, and the American people, for no other reason than because they belong to us - and interventionist, not because the rest of the world also belongs to us, but because other countries have a no less compelling need to belong to themselves. That is, we need to become more interventionist, not nearly as much by interfering in other countries' internal affairs (though that may sometimes be necessary), as by interfering in certain things we're already doing in those countries' internal affairs. Things we're doing, in an effort to make certain countries "more like us," that are based on the rather bizarre assumption that these countries are already like us. Things we've done, like more or less extortionately liberalizing the economies of Egypt and Russia, while making almost no effort to foster in those countries what are surely the institutional foundations of any decent capitalism: rule of law, property rights, a fraternal sense of being one nation, and - last but never least - representative democracy. Finally, things we've been doing that, without anyone in the least intending them to,* are making all sorts of countries an instability and a danger, perhaps even a tinderbox. And not just to themselves or to their immediate neighbors, but sometimes even to us.

* Most of the time we're only trying to make a humble profit, by engaging with like-minded individuals everywhere irrespective of their national origins (I mean they're all Americans at heart, aren't they?).

Above all, I believe we Americans need to be more patiently and delicately interventionist, not so much because of our already keen sense of moral exceptionality - our sense of superiority and immunity to the problems afflicting "lesser" countries and peoples - as because of an even sharper sense of our moral responsibility. Because after all, no mess that a country finds itself in is ever entirely its own fault. At least not in the extremely interdependent world America has succeeded in networking. In a few cases it may even be a fault in which Americans have had a considerable share. And letting a country stew in "its own" juices - particularly when not a few of the ingredients suggest US as well as local chefs - is no insurance that the pot won't boil over.

08 May 2011

An Expired Pretext?

I don’t think I’m one who’s normally enthusiastic about killing, even when it comes to be brutally necessary (as it often does). But if ever there was a time when we needed to be grateful for a dead villain rather than a live martyr, it is surely now. Osama dead is worth far more to the peace and sanity of the world – and to the dis-enchantment of jihadism – than he’d ever have been alive in even the securest of confinements. This way, not only is the Myth of Invincibility laid to rest, but we’re spared the spectacle of a pseudo-messiah going joyfully to his crucifixion. Better his twisted little world should end with a military whimper than a civilian bang.

On the other hand, we may have foreclosed – and this is a far more serious matter – the possibility of his repentance. Heaven forbid anyone (least of all me) should be flippant about that. And yet I have been told - again and again - of the amazing things the Maker can accomplish in what seems to us the merest hair’s-breadth of seconds. And why not? If God can pour the fullness of His Deity into a fully human vessel, why can't He stretch a millisecond to encompass the remorse equalling half-a-lifetime? What is time to the Time Lord? But if I’m being, again, a royal ass, I sincerely welcome your correction. Or chastisement, as the need may be.

What astounds me is how much earth-time it took us – almost ten years. I just can’t believe we weren’t smart enough to pull it off much sooner. Especially considering how whipsaw and rapid-fire smarter we've been getting – year by year, month by month, day by day – in just about every other field of human endeavor. Including all our ingenious ways of making our economies overperform – and with repeated injections of what was evidently little more than hot air. And then how we made them survive perhaps the worst single period of underperformance since the Great Depression. What’s a manhunt compared to miracles of that scale? Although, in my quieter moments, it does make me pause to wonder what even our keenest analytical and technical intelligence is worth – or even how well it works, period – minus the input of that strange, slow, almost animally patient thing we used to call wisdom.

Anyhow, regardless of whether or how far we “let bin Laden escape” in late 2001, I’m sad that I can’t be happier at the death of a most influentially evil man. On the one hand (if my sense of history serves me), we Yanks were by no means the wisest - or the most patient - good guys ever to confront a nearly absolute political evil. But we were certainly both clever and fast enough to have finished that guy off sooner. Assuming, of course, we really wanted to.

And I suppose from another standpoint, what was the hurry? There’s no telling for what length of time he may have been worth more to us living than dead. Just long enough, perhaps, for the jihadist infection to incubate, and spread, and mutate into new, more manageable (and yet more resilient) strains? It takes for time for just the right threat - the right pretext - to take root, and flourish, and acquire the right aura and atmosphere of Total Emergency. And if that's your aim - to orchestrate the right problem in order to create the right solution - then here, surely, is where even the smartest unwise guys can afford to be patient. Especially when you figure you've got an entire global culture of surveillance and information-gathering to revolutionize.

I may be as wrong as any fool who’s ever ventured an opinion on the subject. But there’s something in the circumstances of the Unspeakable One’s departure – or the buildup preceding it? – that suggests to me more than a hint of a certain fictionally popular sentiment. A thought, found not infrequently in the minds, if not the mouths, of certain movie and other storybook villains:

“When he ceases to be of use to us, we’ll kill him.”