Thursday, July 19, 2007

It is this type of mentality that we are indebted to the Church for not subscribing to ...

Is basically my take on Mark's meditation on a very good book review of The Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds. Mark basically holds that Western civilization is essentially unsalvageable:
It would be nice if the human race were all Jeffersonian Yeoman Farmers who simply wanted to brew beer, play rock and roll, and talk about liberty through technology. However, if even a small percentage of us are, say, inclined to use technology to destroy the World Trade Center, technology makes it easier and easier and easier for small numbers of us to do just that. What Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini could not have done with all the marshalled power of three mighty nation-states, a small handful of men were able to do six years ago because a vast technological endowment had empowered these soi-disant "Davids" to slay "Goliath".

Indeed, it is probably not a very hard thing to imagine that virtually every terrorist and nutjob will, in his own self-description, regard himself as a brave David standing up to the Goliath of [insert pet radical cause here: animal rights/American imperialism/the Zionist Menace/Rain Forest Destruction, English Cooking etc.] In every case, technology will allow a smaller and smaller group that perceives itself as outnumbered and outgunned to inflict greater and greater violence on more and more vast numbers of innocent people--and pat itself on the back for its courage and cunning in outwitting the Giant.

So far as I can see, the principal option the Giant has is to stop being Goliath and start being Leviathan: a process we have already begun. That process will also involve heavy investment in technology, as well as the sacrifice of rights for safety. We seem to be very ready to make those sacrifices, given our eagerness comfort with allowing the Executive the power to detain anybody he likes, for as long as he likes, and subject them to whatever torture he likes. And if we do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?

There is much that is true here despite Mark's clear eagerness to connect his critique of libertarianism with his hatred of the administration, but the choice is not one between anarcho-libertarianism and the police state of the Stasi. If he were not so blinded by his hatred of the Bush administration and actually read what Reilly has written on other topics, he might better understand that one of Reilly's problems with American conservatism is that the "small l" libertarian assumptions among conservatives go too far and actually inhibit us:
Steyn has given us a fiery polemical introduction to the crisis of the first quarter of the 21st century. However, we recognize the limitations of his analysis when we come to statements like, “The free world’s citizenry could use more non-state actors.” Consider his view of the moral of September 11, 2001:

“What worked that day was municipal government, small government, core government -- fireman the NYPD cops, rescue workers. What flopped -- big-time, as the vice president would say -- was the federal government, the FBI, CIA, INS, FAA, and all the other hotshot, money-no-object, fancypants acronyms.”

Stirring words, but counterfactual. In reality, on 911 the World Trade Center’s security service killed many of the people in the buildings by urging them to return to their offices after the attack was underway. The radios of the various emergency services were not able to communicate with each other. The fireman died needlessly by charging into burning buildings that local fire experts had declared indestructible. The epitome of effective local government, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was almost killed because the city’s emergency command center was located in the World Trade Center complex, despite the fact everyone knew the complex was the most likely target for a terrorist attack. The federal government did not cover itself with glory on that day, either, but at least the feds managed to close down and then restart the airline system within the space of a few hours.

Toward the end of the book, Steyn remarks, “You can’t win a war of civilizational confidence with a population of nanny-state junkies.” But the fact is that is how the world wars were fought and won, either by states that had extensive social-welfare systems, or that promised such systems to their citizens as part of the reward of victory.

It is certainly the case that the nanny state of the postwar developed world, with its therapeutic model of governance and its subsidy of victimhood, is a degenerate and unsustainable type of polity. But consider what it degenerated from: the war-and-welfare state of the era of the Great Wars that lasted from 1861 to 1945. The same powers of economic and political mobilization that allowed those wars to be fought permitted, indeed required, the domestic mobilization of education and public health and industry that allowed the governments of that explosive era to function effectively as military actors. Those governments commanded the most effective states that ever existed, and the mark of the societies they governed was precisely that, during the long lifetime from Lincoln to Churchill, the fortunes of the state and of the citizen increasingly merged. For a while, for just a few years, the mechanisms were in place to drive society in the service of urgent public policy.

The nanny state is a declension from that height of state fitness, and so is the libertarian state. In the face of an existential crisis, Churchill promised his people that their lives would be drenched in blood, sweat, and tears until victory was won. In the face of a comparable threat to civilization, George Bush made some fine public restatements of America’s now traditional Wilsonianism, but otherwise told the American people to support the tourist industry by visiting America’s beauty spots; while cutting taxes in the middle of two major wars, he reminded the taxpayers, “It’s your money.” Even if you accept the president’s economic model, surely it is obvious that such policies have no power to mobilize. The philosophy behind them diverts attention from the core functions of government, as the embrace of an open-borders policy by the Republican establishment illustrates. The small government that Steyn urges might be able to win conventional wars, but it would be unable otherwise to affect events. Increasingly, its irrelevance to the real problems, many of which Steyn has identified, would lose it the loyalty of its citizens. Thus we see that the libertarian state undermines patriotism quite as effectively as the European Union. They are parallel manifestations of the same phenomenon.

He makes this point again in his review of An Army of Davids:
The merits of the books thesis are another matter, however. There are, no doubt, ways in which the author’s technological optimism is justified, and free-marketeers are quite right when they insist that an economic system is essentially a system of information exchange. Nonetheless, I could not help but reflect by the time I finished the book that, in some ways, this is a remarkably crippling ideology. To put it briefly: an army of Davids is not an army, but the ideal of an army of Davids makes it difficult to recruit a real army and could make it impossible to finance its supply.

... Well, because in some ways the post-urban world that Instapundit describes lives at the end of a supply and manufacturing system that is quite as huge and infrastructure-intensive as the one that supports the International Space Station he so rightly despises. For instance, the Internet is not a free-standing device. It is one use of systems of cables and power plants and, still, really big computers. It takes a lot of manpower and crudely physical stuff to keep that the components of that system in repair and unstolen. For that matter, it takes a lot of lawyers to keep it legal. Instapundit sometimes makes disparaging comparisons of the train to the automobile: the train is a high-cost early industrial relic that limits choice, while the automobile is a relatively cheap network component that facilitates choice. In reality, though there are arguments to be made about the kind of transportation best suited to each locality, the automobile system is not the light-infrastructure option. It is a good bet that no previous civilization has invested as high a percentage of its capital in its ground transportation: petroleum, refineries, factories, armies, and not least the roads themselves, which have to dominate every city and which have to go everywhere else to make the system useful. That last is, actually, an important point about networks in general: they tend toward self-similarity. In this context, it means that cars tend to eat their destinations.

These are far more articulate thoughts on the costs and benefits of libertarian ideology than Mark has ever written. One need not agree with all of it to acknowledge that Reilly makes a number of interesting points, I think. Mark's dualistic view of politics (as I said, he projects much of what he purports to despise) forces him to believe that there is no choice between libertarian anarchy and Leviathan. He basically regards the whole of political life, at least in the United States, as a doomed affair and hence is not only unable to make sensible arguments or commentary about public policy but frequently appears on the verge of declaring those who are involved in such things (sans his paleocon bretheren) to be complicit in intrinsic evil. Given that Pope Benedict valiantly refuses to give up on public life in Europe, I see no reason why we should not follow his example when it comes to America.

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