An Instructive Earthquake
Yesterday’s East Coast earthquake was instructive. The last regional quake of a similar magnitude also took place in Virginia in the year before a presidential election. The earlier quake took place on May 31, 1887. The following year, an incumbent democratic president was evicted after a single term by a republican (the former Civil War General, Benjamin Harrison). But Harrison’s presidency was ended in the next election when the ousted democrat, Grover Cleveland, returned to power.
Most astute political observers are now persuaded that, absent a political miracle, Mr. Obama will be replaced by a republican in the coming 2012 election. The interesting question is whether that president will, like Mr. Harrison, also be a one-term president, to be replaced by the very man he defeated (or a clone thereof).
That outcome depends on whether and when the voting public realizes just how serious the current crisis really is and, inter alia, whether and when the current crop of conservatives can catch the new wave. This will require something that has not yet happened within the beltway – philosophical introspection. Our founders did that before there was a beltway. It is a lost art.
In my July article, The Great American Surge, (linked below) I introduced a new governing philosophy, styled, Renaissance Conservatism (with a complementary form of liberalism). This is not the conservatism of our grandparents, and certainly not the liberalism inside the DC elites.
Why pay attention to philosophy in a time of crisis? Why pay attention to philosophy at all?
Political exigency governs the months. Ideologies govern the years. But philosophies govern the decades and centuries by establishing filters that ultimately govern our hours and days. Nothing worth a damn takes place without good philosophy and reliable facts.
We are witnessing the worldwide collapse of a finance system that was built on the ashes of authoritarian bureaucratic socialism; this is a case of bad philosophy generating bad policy, leading to disaster. It was to be a brave new economic order that would weld the social justice project of the left with the wealth creation project of the right. The welding material was supposed to be Keynes-inspired monetary and fiscal legerdemain. The magic trick was the now discredited notion that the government manipulation of currency can always create wealth.
Over several decades, a self-defeating political feedback loop was established by short sighted politicians who financed economically dependent political constituencies using unsustainable currency growth. They relied on faux wealth fueled by deficit spending and the massive, ever-growing sovereign debt load, a debt that was always supposed to be repaid out of the next bubble…and never was….
Meanwhile the private commercial wealth-creation processes, the golden geese, were bled in two ways, one visible, one less so: visibly, by direct taxation and punitive regulation, less visibly by hollowing out the financial system, bubble after bubble, until the investment process became paralyzed. The golden geese responded in the same way that all vampire victims do: They became sick, anemic, and non-responsive to stimulus.
Of course, the actual economic situation is more complicated than in this simple sketch – I and others have addressed the economic issues is other articles at length. But the takeaway point holds: Conservatives are about to be given the helm of a sinking boat headed off course into rough waters. Only a creative surge will prevent the ship from capsizing and only leadership imbued with a realistic but resolutely optimistic sense of purpose and direction can survive the voyage. We need a seemingly subtle, but actually revolutionary paradigm change. Enter the Renaissance Conservatives, a category that includes you, if you find the case persuasive.
Meantime, our enemies smell blood in the water and encircle us. Irresponsible voices are using the fiscal crisis to gut national defense. Others are egging us on into untenable commitments. The four page article linked below amplifies the longer one, by addressing the question: What would a Renaissance Conservative foreign and military policy look like?
In the Context of Renaissance Conservative Thought & Theory
Supplement to “The American Creative Surge”, July 2011 Version
Link – http://www.jaygaskill.com/ACS2011.htm
A Free Nation among the Nations
Renaissance Conservatism holds that the overriding concern of all free nations, prominent among them the United States of America – the leading model, should be the mutual support, promotion and protection of creative civilization, in its manifold forms. Such an ambitious project requires more of us in the current international environment than passive attention. After all, we are foremost among those rare free, stable, creative countries, all of which find themselves hampered, assailed or attacked by authoritarian bureaucracies, kleptocracies and various, quasi or predominantly socialist economic states. Much of the world – not excluding many free countries – hovers on the cusp of economic and political collapse. With all our flaws, America is freedom’s best, real-world hope.
The focus on life-affirming creativity (in the broadband sense that folds in exploration, artistic and technological innovation, and incorporates the necessary conditions of stable freedom) is the 21st century’s answer to the 20th century’s failed authoritarian socialist model. Creativity in the expanded sense just described is as essential to the survival of civilization as the capacity for fruitful adaptation is to any biological system. Productive nodes of creativity tend to surface in protected zones of comparative freedom and security. Inovative creative accomplishments flourish among small cells of highly creative individuals. Authoritarian bureaucracies attempt to capture and control these nodes, inevitably smothering them and destroying their value.
Creativity is a bottom-up phenomenon. Authoritarian bureaucracies are its systemic enemy. Nation states historically have provided protected cells in which creativity has been allowed to flourish (examples abound from Renaissance Florence to Silicon Valley). Recognizing their value, modern authoritarian regimes often try to appropriate, bleed or control all of the creative communities within their reach. The suppression of creativity inevitably results. It is instructive that whenever a truly authoritarian regime takes power anywhere in the world, its creative communities seek to relocate themselves by moving to other, freer states.
In the current international environment and for the foreseeable future, efforts to enforce a sort of general homogeneity among the nations, withering away the protective benefits of national boundaries, all in the service of dangerously vague notions of cooperation, are deeply counterproductive. The abolition of the nation state will not serve the larger goal of promoting the life-enhancing human creative enterprise
My use of the term cell in the context of nation states and their creative communities was intended. In any multicellular organism, the integrity of the cell walls is essential to the survival of the organism. The capacity of individual nations to enjoy differential success or failure is essential to human survival. To be sure, we need nation states to cooperate peacefully, when possible, but we really need states and their creative communities to protect themselves separately. Consider that in the utopian world order wherein all national boundaries will be absent, all human communities will become equally vulnerable to economic, political, cultural and biological pathogens.
It follows that the sovereign nation state remains the fundamental player in all international relations, starting with the USA. But as a sovereign free country, the United States must deal with all the players. But we need acknowledge as fully legitimate only those freedom-respecting states that follow the pattern of consensual government, under law, that protects the core set of liberties essential for a creative civilization. Our participation in robust treaty arrangements between and among such free states is appropriate when that is in our national interest and otherwise prudent. But it necessarily follows that no essential part of US sovereignty is ever to be surrendered to any presently constituted international agency or institution. US membership in the United Nations (a primitive, Third World dominated construct), is necessarily provisional, reserving not only our plenary right to withdraw at a moment’s notice, but a bright line demarcation of US sovereignty such that no incursion by the UN, its agencies (including the International Criminal Court) in derogation of US sovereignty or the rights thereby guaranteed to its citizens will be accepted as even nominally legitimate, and no such incursion can be ever be tolerated on a practical level.
So…history has made us a beacon of freedom in an imperfect and unstable world. The world will not go away. The world will not leave us alone. And our foreign policy cannot be conducted without teeth. This was true at the time of our nation’s founding; it was true when we were attacked at the onset of World War II; it was true during the Cold War; it was true when we were attacked on 9-11-01. It is true now. We are not the world’s police force, but without the military capacity to occasionally stand up as the biggest cop on the block when our interests require it, we will become the world’s biggest failed experiment in sustained freedom.
The most serious mistake we can ever make would be to assume that our nukes make us safe. Our second most serious mistake would be to assume that we can do without nukes as long a single such weapon exists in the world within reach of an enemy of freedom. The overarching goal of our foreign and national security policy is not to achieve a peaceful world – though we welcome the intervals of real peace as providence allows. Nor is it a world in which everyone lives together in the drear harmony of the defeated, dispirited and uniformly oppressed. No, the goal of our policy is to bring about a world that is safe for the exercise of life-affirming creative freedom; and pending the arrival of that day, to provide and expand the safe havens of freedom wherever and whenever we can, starting with in own backyard.
The ABC’s of Military Intervention
[A] Bulls Eye Analysis
Every military intervention, short of a self-defense emergency and the category of clandestine, short-term special operations, gets a careful convergence analysis: Three sets of policy norms must agree before wars are undertaken.
The large circle: This circle hold only those military undertakings that protect and further US national interests in concrete, real-world terms, i.e., access to resources, protection of vital allies (vital in the same real-world sense) and threat abatement to the US proper and our core allies.
The included circle: Our military undertakings must be consistent with the Moral Law (see the author’s article, Thugology 101 at – http://www.jaygaskill.com/THUGOLOGY101.htm), to wit – (1) that set of clear moral restraints, including no enslavement, no theft, no unnecessary damage to innocent civilians and no genocide; and (2) the set of moral imperatives appropriate to any robust creative civilization, especially the duty to oppose evil (especially as it threatens creative life-affirming freedoms in the world), to promote and protect all safe nodes of creative civilization whenever and whenever otherwise consistent with this analytic model.
The Bulls Eye: US wars must be prudent and practical as opposed to those disastrous grandiose gestures of history (thinking of Woodrow Wilson’s grossly oversold, “War to end all wars”). All such undertakings present unintended consequences, and the attendant risks need to be minimized. So the final included circle contains a set of hard-nosed constraints, including the commonsense prudential concerns, among them undertaking the necessary pre-intervention mobilization, a wise management of popular expectations, carefully avoiding ineffectual gestures, and above all a realistic capability assessment – guarding against the misallocation of limited resources and minimizing the risk of self-defeating blowback. Note that urgent self-defense of the homeland is an exigent variant in which these considerations are condensed much as EMT’s condense fine medical judgments in the field.
Only when all three circles clearly overlap should any serious military intervention be undertaken by the USA. As noted, the task of direct self-defense against any urgent significant existential threat to the USA is an exercise in triage, the first step of which is to muster the most robust and effective response possible in order to buy time for mobilization and the following steps.
[B] Plenary US Sovereignty
Ultimate strategic control of any military intervention must unambiguously rest with the USA as a truly independent sovereign power. Cooperation with allies, as in the WWII tradition, is a permissible model. But yielding any meaningful operational and strategic control of US armed forces to a foreign institution is the anti-model. The Korean War was a problematic hybrid, taken at a time when the UN was essentially a US puppet, but the necessary compromises presented constraints on US action and complications in military decision making that foreshadowed the disastrous mismanagement of the Vietnam War.
[C] The Credibility and Honor Imperative
Real world wars always present changed circumstances that sometimes can lead to the premature end of any military intervention. Three principles must govern any such withdrawal:
- Retain the credibility of United States armed force, avoiding the appearance (or reality) that our military can be driven from the field by intimidated politicians, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Recall the maxim that winning an unwise war is still preferred to losing one. And note how these concerns affect the prudential layer of analysis undertaken before initiating military involvement. And also note that the delayed “end game” of an unduly protracted military conflict may require levels of force that were rejected at the outset as morally or practically unavailable. President Truman’s necessary use of nuclear weapons in WWII is instructive here.
Retain ally credibility, i.e. – never forsake those who risked their lives in our common cause.
Preserve military honor, as in the US Marine ethos – until they are home, no warrior is left behind and as in the suffer no final defeat spirit of Douglas (I will be back) MacArthur, and Winston (blood, sweat & tears) Churchill, whose weaponized rhetoric steeled an entire generation to endure the long course to – victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Jay B Gaskill is a California Attorney. His website, The Policy Think Site (www.jaygaskill.com), links to his profile, articles, books and blogs.