Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Truepeer - Flenser

Flenser, speaking of Derbyshire, would you agree with this "racialist" take on constitutions? If so, would it be possible to have a polite discussion to flesh out the pros and cons?

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/003968.html

57 Comments:

At 8:23 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

I don't know if anyone wants to address the Auster article or his anti-neocon "racialism", or get into the question of what kind of constitution the US should be encouraging in Iraq. Certain comments from Roger Simon's blog, which led Rick to set up this post, suggested to me that there might be an appetite for a discussion of how quickly cultures and peoples can change. So, just to see if anyone wants to pick up on any of this, I'll pose a few questions and thoughts for lack of any more focussed comment I want to make.

Might we address the question of how quickly a culture like Iraq's can change when its basic demography does not change much? No doubt a culture rooted in a landscape changes much more slowly than the individual emigrant.

If people from all over the world have immigrated and adapted themselves to the American constitution, is that any kind of reason to put faith in the possibility that republican, representative, democratic governments can be fostered by the US in places with no republican traditions? On the other hand, how much longer can tyrannical or self-isolating societies survive on this earth, survive either themselves or those leading, often nuclear-armed nations, who might no longer tolerate the kinds of violent outflows (e.g. terrorism) that are inevitable to tyrannical and closed societies, given their internal scapegoating dynamics?

Might we address the question of how quickly a culture can change without destroying itself? More precisely, how much can our own self-critical or resentful qualities erode our inherited western culture and still find new and productive ways of representing who we are, while moving forward with faith in either our tradition or present systems?

Finally, shall we get into the question of race? I am not a believer that much about our cultures can be explained in terms of our genetic inheritance. It is not implausible to me that certain historically isolated groups, say Ashkenazic Jews, might have demonstrated a statistical propensity for certain traits such as intelligence, traits selected for due to environmental pressures over a number of generations. But, ultimately, it seems meaningless to me to speak of intelligence without reference to the cultural matrix that makes intelligence possible because necessary as a means of succeeding in the culture. Some cultures are surely more likely to survive into the future than others, not simply because of the numbers of people belonging to them but because a rich culture - how would we define this? - will breed more achievements than one whose means of human self-understanding, e.g. its religion, are less well developed. I do not take all cultures to be equal in respect to their capacity for anthropological knowledge.

Thus to the degree that the idea of race remains meaningful - and it applies to the whole of humanity only metaphorically because it does indeed remain meaningful, not least to those who criticize its sociobiological uses - we need to explore what it is that best explains the real differences in the world and the problems that many peoples and cultures have in coming to terms with the modern world, problems that have been witnessed not least among those peoples who led the way into a modernity of liberalized markets with exchanges and forms of knowledge increasingly removed from any particular context. One problem for the "conservative" is that it looks to him like the "liberal" leaders in his culture have so often been heretics, full of anxieties, doubts, and self-destructive behaviours. But in addressing this, is the conservative not simply in search of the means for people to retain faith in themselves and their culture so as to become more productive and hence a yet greater force for change? Is the so called "neocon", a conservative force? Or is the only real conservative someone who thinks we can go back to lost traditions?

Is it time for western countries to again do more in the way of picking and choosing their immigrants? Are certain groups, perhaps because of religion, less likely to integrate into western countries and more likely to breed resentful violence that cannot be risked in an age of WMD? This would seem likely if it is indeed the case that western culture must be primarily understood in terms of its Judeo-Christian heritage. And yet Christian and secular missionaries are succeeding all over the earth. What kind of "conversion" should we wish to see in immigrants, so that they may play by the democratic, political rules of the game both in the west and in the now global marketplace more generally, and what differences should they maintain in order for our collective human culture to grow in strength through its ability to differentiate itself in more numerous ways? Is our ability to differentiate ourselves not essential to the deferral of all forms of conflict?

 
At 8:30 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

This is the link to the comments at Roger L. Simon's that prompted this post.

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

truepeers,

I'm going to do a little research before replying. English Common Law constitutions exist in a variety of places with a variety of races and cultures. The new Iraqi constitution appears to be a meld of a bit of the Common Law plus the French style common to the old Iraqi constitution (also common to Syria and Turkey, I believe). I want to look a bit more before actually trying to say more. I'll probalby have to dig up Montesqieu's 'The Spirit of the Law' again, too. There is more of him than Locke in the US constitution and he made some rather harsh comments concerning racial and cultural differences and suitability to various forms of governance.

A domani.

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger flenser said...

Regrettably, but not surprisingly, the thread at Rogers place has started to deteriorate. I guess it’s surprising it held up so long, considering the topic.

Truepeers

I’ll work on a proper response, but I have a question also.

My initial post in the thread was;

"Those who are in favor of a “global culture” in principle are often fans of ethnic particularization in practice. In a truly global, homogenized world Japan will be indistinguishable from Los Angles or New York or Des Moines. Yama and Roger and Charlie are all clearly fans of a distinctly Japanese culture, which only has meaningful existence alongside other distinct cultures. It’s interesting that Roger is visiting what sounds like the Japanese equivalent of a Wild West theme park in the US.
There exists a distinctly ethnic Japanese identity and a distinctly Jewish ethnic identity as well. In a “global” world in which ethnic particularism is deemed reactionary and dangerous, how can the continued existence of such concepts be defended, and should they be defended?"

Do you see your question regarding Auster as being different than the question I posed above?

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

Take a look at a portion of this piece previewed a bit by Steve Sailer and comin out this week in Commentary.

In reply to the first question; "How quickly can a culture like Iraq's change when its basic demography does not change much?" I would reply, potentially, very quickly. Ataturk transformed Turkey in a relatively brief period. The Ottoman system was rotten but it had the weight of centuries of custom to give it legitimacy whithin Turkey.

Ataturk was no champion of democracy but the changes effected during his 15 years as head of government pulled Turkey toward the West so decisively that it has remained Western oriented since his death in '38. The basic means used to make the changes were decrees backed by brute force but he did extend the decrees into areas - specifically education - that ensured the promulgation of Western ideas to the extent that they became accepted.

Wrt Iraq, I remain uncertain as to the degree of change necessary to counter the rise of Islamofacism.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Flenser, as I understand both your question and Auster’s concerns (some of which I may share, but I would not articulate them in his “racialist” terminology, which, as I read him, he himself is only ambivalently wedded to, i.e he says it is alright to defend common "white" values by using other ethnic, national, or religious, terminology), the question most broadly is this: what are the differences among ethnic, racial, religious, and national identities (how do we use these terms, and how should we use them), and what aspects of which can or should be preserved by a self-consciously conservative politics?

But on another, more strategic, level, the question is this: in defending important cultural values that we have variously inherited from the past, is it, tactically, in our best conservative interests to accentuate their genealogies - or to explain, with all the historiographical difficulties involved, what was culturally necessary for the world in which we now live to have come into being - or should we just defend our values (which, genealogically, have particular ethnic, national, or religious origins) in an abstract and universalizing language, so that all can share in them without concern that they do not share them as equally as those with ancestral ties to the groups in which these values first began to be articulated?

A third question, and this may be more directly addressing yours, Flenser, is to what degree are arbitrary (perhaps even irrational) markers of a particular group identity necessary and good. I tend to see rituals and markers of group status to be essential at the national or state level because they are unavoidably a part of any politics I can imagine. But, in consumer society and global economic exchange, as I previously argued, such markers of difference can be traded and used by all, and this is generally a good thing I think. In the long run, I would maintain that the maintenance of national differences is essential to the political health of the global community. Utopian one-world thinking is a sure recipe for our losing our inability to order ourselves and defer conflicts. Utopian thinking breeds violence more readily than cautious nationalism. But in believing in the inevitability of national differences I would admit that ethnic particularism is something that can be readily eroded. I don't want to say it should - ultimately, I think it is up to the people who still have ethnic identities how much to give up in order to do what they must to fit into a national polity. Ethnicity, as I would define it, is culture whose meaning is dependent on an involved relationship to a particular landscape and its people. National identities can transcend national borders, so that there can be, e.g., anglophiles and francophiles who have never been to England or France. But there is much about ethnicity in France that you will only really understand if you are born and live there among the people. It is what is different in each region of France, and different in a way that no literary culture with national ambitions has well articulated.

Anyway, the point I want to make is that I'm not sure there is a distinctively "ethnic Japanese identity" - there is a Japanese national identity and a country, Japan, with an array of ethnic particularisms. Similarly, I don't think of Jewishness as an ethnic identity. Rather it is a national one - a nation being defined by its secular high culture and/or its universal religion (a universal religion is defined by its ability to articulate human truths that are universal, and not just self-referential and dependent on arbitrary sacrificial knowledge of local deities, rituals, shrines, etc.)

There are certainly Jewish ethnic identities - e.g. East European Jews have their EE ethnic identities. But while I don't expect Jewish identity to fade away in the US, it seems to be the case that Yiddishness, for example, will (sad to say). That's the difference between national and ethnic, and as a general rule I am much more interested in defending national identities than ethnic ones, not simply because I think it is more realistic and necessary, but because I really don't have much in the way of any ethnic identity myself. I am largely a product of national cultures, as I understand them.

It is going to take me a while to better articulate all this, but I'll leave it here for now. In the meantime, if anyone doesn’t like my question, by all means jump in and shape the direction of this discussion otherwise.

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Rick, there seems to be a problem with your link.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Re, Turkey, the fascinating question of course is how deep do Ataturk's nation-making policies go? Is there still a possibility for them to be overwhelmed by some kind of Islamicism. Can Islamicism and nationalism go hand in hand? In other words, is the desire for an Umma or caliphate simply antithetical to any vision of a world composed of nation states?

 
At 1:38 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Truepeers

A request for clarification. You say the following;


“Ethnicity, as I would define it, is culture whose meaning is dependent on an involved relationship to a particular landscape and its people.”

“I'm not sure there is a distinctively "ethnic Japanese identity" - there is a Japanese national identity and a country, Japan, with an array of ethnic particularisms.”

The above two statements appear contradictory to me. Maybe my understanding of Japan is inaccurate, but I believed that it was extremely homogeneous. According to the CIA fact book, it is 99% ethnically Japanese. When you say that Japan has an array of ethnic particularisms, what are you referring to?

 
At 3:19 PM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

Sailer link

Works in preview - let's see.

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

I was referring, for example, to that comment of Yama's that he can travel a short distance in Japan and find people who speak the language in noticeably quite different ways, or Roger's comment on regional distinctiveness in cuisine. But there is really a conceptual problem here, because once there exists a national culture to which all have to belong on some level (they are schooled in it, go into national bureaucracies, armies, etc.), then the ethnic or regional identities become compromised and reduced in scope and scale. (Yet local differences may remain important.)

Furthermore, when people immigrate to places like North America, we tend to see people from all corners of Japan as similar and so we accord them the same "ethnicity". But, ultimately, this is just a label of social scientists and its relationship to reality is paradoxical as are all labels - the label is always somewhat arbitrary in its conceptualization or origin even as it is used successfully to point to (less fully capture) some widely acknowledged realities.

Historically, people came to America as ethnics and only became nationals here. For example, Calabrians who came in the nineteenth century became Italians (and Americans) in America, not in Italy where nation building had only really gotten started in the late nineteenth century and is still in some ways incomplete.

I really don't know a lot about Japan. But I imagine if you looked in the CIA handbook you would also find them saying something like 95% of Chinese are ethnic Han. But China is a country with great regional differences howevermuch most people may see themselves as descending from a common Han ancestry (not that Chinese are focussed on questions of their fundamental, i.e. pre-China, pre-imperial origins). Today's generation of Chinese are much better at communicating with each other across regions and sharing in something of a common national identity, but they are still more "ethnic" than national in various ways. I have witnessed conversations between northern and southern Chinese, in which English was the lingua franca, having a great deal of difficulty understanding each other's particular beliefs and practices and in defining what Chinese culture is in comparision with the west.

Ethnic and national are categories that are readily confused. But if we think historically, it is a little easier to appreciate a difference. Historically, tribes simply defined themselves as the people living in a place. Each people had their local gods, rituals, sacred sites, and arbitrary distinctions of how to behave and do things, practices that were socially significant but not explicable in terms of any universalizing reason. Maybe one tribe would fry their rice, while the one in the next valley never did. They would not be able to explain the basis for this difference other than in terms of their myths and rituals, i.e. they would not be able to explain, from outside of their myth, the basis for the myth's emergence. Typically, national identity emerges when people commit to universalizing religions and high cultures and begin to incorporate various regional myths in a larger vision that allows them to step outside of their myths and explain them with some larger, universal human reason. For example, many native American intellectuals today do this with their tribal myths, so perhaps it is more accurate to say they belong to nations than to tribes, though of course people will always quibble with such labels because both identities today intertwine to some degree.

The names of most tribes self- defined in the past as simply the people and practices belonging to a specific place, are no longer remembered. Over the long term, survival for one's culture or identity has meant incorporating it within some larger national unit whose high culture transcends and erodes to some extent the particulars of place. In the original example of nationhood, the Jews have survived without any territory because of their universalizing religion. Those who once saw the Hebrews as just another tribe(s) in their neighborhood are now long forgotten. All cultures are not equal; those that can access more powerful truths about the nature of humanity have a higher survival rate. Thus, at a certain point of historical development, the local ritual order makes a deal with a new national leadership, in order to survive, creating a nation of many - to use my terminology - "ethnicities" that are no longer fully independent and self-governing realities, but are still relevant to defining people and ordering relationships.

 
At 5:56 PM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

Truepeers,

Now you are touching on what I was referring to as the 'glue' that allowed assimilation to take place more easily in America than other places.

The opening statement of the Declaration;

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.."
can be understood as an apologia written by a group of traitors whose fate was certain - unless they succeeded. They were subjects in revolt against a King - and Kings occupied a postion ordained by God according to rather common theological teaching of the time. In order to justify their treason they reached back a bit further to make a theological connection to the Law of Nature as determined by Nature's creator - God. They then proceed to identify certain principles - unalienable rights - as 'endowments' - gifts by the Creator. The identification is preceded by the sophistry that "these truths are self-evident" when they are nothing of the kind.

As a Christian I understand this to be a theological statement asserting Genesis 3 as trumping Romans 12 - and as providing the "moral" basis for the treason. Secondarily, a Jew might well recognize the Gen 3 "endowment" of the "unalienable rights" and have no theological basis for rejecting the argument.

I think part of the question that you are asking is; "Can a Muslim accept the theological premises enshrined in the Declaration?". If they cannot, assimilation will be problematical.

Does the phrase "God given right" have any theological meaning within Islam?

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Rick, I don't really know enough about Islam to judge whether they would have a theological problem with the Declaration, though i assume that anything that would seem to clash with the Koran would indeed be a problem. I was thinking more generally about the problems of adapting to the role that the sacred plays in consumer society and in free market capitalism. The most remarkable thing to my mind about Islam is that despite the recent fortunes ni some countries thanks to oil, they have been able to do so little with their wealth in terms of expanding their economies. There seems to be in Islam a serious problem with adapting to capitalism. It is of course easier for those individuals who are living in largely non-Islamic countries, and it seems to become progressively more difficult the more Muslims there are about. I won't explore this farther now because I am using someone else's computer. I had what smelled like an electrical fire with mine this afternoon, so I don't know when i will be up and operational again to continue this conversati

 
At 9:28 PM, Blogger flenser said...

truepeers

Some good stuff there, much of which I agree with. But as I think we might have expected, definition of terms is going to be a point of contention.

Let me offer some definitions as an opening bid.

culture - The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population.

ethnic - Of or relating to sizable groups of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage.

nation - A relatively large group of people organized under a single, usually independent government; a country. 2. The government of a sovereign state. 3. A people who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language; a nationality:

There are standard dictionary usage, and they are also very imprecise and allow lots of room for interpretation. If you have better definitions I'd be happy to use those.

I guess it is also worth noting at this point that Japan, its people and culture are useful subjects of discussion partly because they allow some emotional distance from what are otherwise very sensitive topics for some people.


The terms above are admittedly imprecise, and we can all read into them what we chose. But I'm against the notion that Japan be judged as home to multiple ethnicities, without a stronger supporting argument. I've been doing some reading on the web to try to shake my preconceptions, but everything I find confirms my initial opinion that they have a very ethnically homogeneous society. If regional differences in diet, dialect, and clothing styles are considered as evidence, then sure, you can come to a different conclusion. But by that standard, the rest of the world are mutts and mongrels. It makes no sense to even speak of English or Irish or French or Jewish ethnicity if that is the standard. I have been to Boston and met people there whose accent I had a good deal of trouble with. And as for strange diet - they have this dish called "clam chowder". Still, I'm reluctant to describe them as being a separate ethnic group.

I'm more in line with the view that an ethnic group is one with a shared racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage. That shrinks the number of ethnic groups in the world to to more manageable numbers, perhaps a few thousand.


I agree that ethnic groups are usually in a one-to-one or many-to-one relationship with a nation, which I think you said in different terms. And I think you make a good point that shared identity is something people feel most strongly when confronted by the existence of some "other", especially if it is a hostile "other".

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger Knucklehead said...

Truepeers, et al:

I have not had an opportunity (and probably won't) to catch up on where the thread went at Roger's Place or, for that matter, here.

But being behind the times never stopped me from commenting on anything.

First, I don't find the "racialist" case about constitutions convincing. It requires defining "race" far too narrowly. In the US case, our constitution was built up principals that were both culturally ancient (several hundred years) and ideas that were quite radical and had only been in public/political play for a portion of a century (British and Scottish Enlightment ideas were by no means "old" in 1787) and far from universally accepted either among the "race" or the political classes of the day.

As for how quickly a culture or society can change, that depends on the nature of the change, the need for it, the desire for it, the opportunity for it, and probably a whole host of qualifiers I haven't even imagined.

In addition to "velocity", social/cultural change has something one can loosely describe as "direction" and probably several vectors that directionally distinct. The more closely aligned the various directional vectors are, and the weaker the forces yanking in the opposite directions, the higher the velocity, it seems to me, the change can achieve.

Keep in mind our own constitutional journey. Originally we didn't even manage to erradicate chattel slavery. It took nearly a century to reach that point.

Women's sufferage? Nearly a century and a half.

Doing away with rule by monarchy and establishing political institutions to keep it away? That took barely a decade or two.

For countries like Iraq we need to recognize that we aren't looking for one, or two, or even a dozen changes. We're looking for scores, perhaps hundreds of changes. Some may move quickly, others will barely budge within our lifetimes.

 
At 7:53 AM, Blogger Knucklehead said...

Great discussion. I fear circumstances will not allow me to catch up, but Rick's comment re: the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

...can be understood as an apologia written by a group of traitors whose fate was certain - unless they succeeded. They were subjects in revolt against a King - and Kings occupied a postion ordained by God according to rather common theological teaching of the time. In order to justify their treason they reached back a bit further to make a theological connection to the Law of Nature as determined by Nature's creator - God. They then proceed to identify certain principles - unalienable rights - as 'endowments' - gifts by the Creator. The identification is preceded by the sophistry that "these truths are self-evident" when they are nothing of the kind.

makes (as, always, more eloquently) the point I was re: alignment of directional vectors for change. There was very good "alignment" in the direction of getting rid of monarchical rule.

The Founding Fathers, and those who joined the revolution they started, fully understood "we must all hang together or we shall all hang seperately". Once embarked upon that particular portion of the journey there was no turning back and, consequently, the only strong force pulling in the opposite direction was British troops. Therefore that particular portion of the changes wrought over our 230 years of national existence happened relatively quickly.

Others of the changes had far deeper resistance both internally and externally. Those things took longer and, some would claim with good justification, are still struggling forward.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Knucklehead, I think you have caught up perfectly. But let me first reply to Flenser.

Flenser, I must defer to the dictionary, though please note that it remains for me a problem that the dictionary practically equates ethnic with national, as indeed most people do today. We no longer say Galician, but Ukrainian, Cornish but English, Sichuanren but Chinese. So why does our language need two words, ethnic and national? One for the sociologists and one for the political scientists?

you write: I'm more in line with the view that an ethnic group is one with a shared racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage. That shrinks the number of ethnic groups in the world to to more manageable numbers, perhaps a few thousand

-i would say, yes, an ethnic group is defined (and defines itself) along racial and linguistic lines. But a shared national or religious heritage? That is much more problematic because we have multiethnic countries and religions. We would have to identify a particular kind of religious or "national" experience to consider it a defining characteristic of the ethnic group. And then we would simply be going in circles because this particular kind would be the ethnic kind...

And if you want to say in cases like the Japanese, that they are all ethnic Japanese because they share, rather exclusively, in a common national and religious tradition, why not say simply that they are today all members of the Japanese nation, though in the past their ancestors were more ethnically diverse (given the relative isolation of premodern times) than today?

I once skimmed a book by an anthropologist who was trying to define ethnicity, and if I recall correctly, it was a catalogue of its many historical uses and forms and it simply ended by saying "and this is what ethnicity means today or is today but tomorrow who knows if it will be a useful category." A word is just a word, connected to reality yes, but not in any transparent manner. The word is ultimately a trace of the event or scene in which it first emerged and on which it is subsequently used, and to which we should refer if we want to take the name game further. In other words, the best analysis is historical: we should pay attention to how the word is used in a place and time and not look for universal definitions, because human society is dynamic and what is always the same is relatively little. As long as we pay attention to how the writer is using a word, we don't need to come to strict agreement on its use, though a writer should defer as much as possible to common usage in his own place and time, and maybe I sin a little here.

Anyway, I would not say that Japan is made up of many ethnic groups. What I said is a little more defensible, that it is home to many ethnic particularisms. This is an awkward phrase to be sure, so why not just say that all the local peculiarities of Japan are all just Japanese, just like Boston peculiarities are American? My point is not to say that we must draw a hard and fast line between what we label ethnic or national, but that it is best to think historically; if we want to explain something we do it best by explaining it in terms of its origins, and not simply according to current uses (e.g. the USA is best defined by the constitution before turning to the present scene). What I imagine to be local or regional in Japan reflects the fact that Japan has a much longer history as an agrarian and peasant-dominated world (in which the polity was imperial, not national) than the US, so we are comparing apples and oranges when comparing what is "ethnic" in US and Japan. What is distinctively regional in Japan may in some cases be due to modern inventions of local "traditions"; but I imagine much of it is to be explained by the emergence of cultural patterns in a time before there was much in the way of an integrating national culture. Thus, while the Japanese today may claim all within their borders for Japan and Japaneseness, there remains a sense in which it is useful to understand cultural phenomena in terms of their historical emergence in a pre-national environment. That's why I like to distinguish ethnic from national. (But as I said, I don't know much about Japan, and I may really be making a bad assumption about how the inevitable differences were understood in premodern Japan.)

I suppose this habit of thought developed when I was a student reading histories and theories on the emergence of nationalism and nation states, which are, in most countries, a rather recent phenomenon. One of the big questions raised was how did a world (once largely ruled by multiracial or multiethnic agrarian empires, with relatively freer tribes on the borders - e.g. Japan) of many thousands of ethnicities evolve into a world of a couple of hundred nation states? What ethnic groups succeed in becoming or being an important part of nations, and why do most fail? Why do some achieve nations (with a universalizing high culture) and nationalism but not states? These seem to me good questions, and those who wish to pose them will be inclined to define ethnic and national as different cateogries even as they know that today people use them almost interchangeably.

Anyway, the point of all this is to anticipate the question of whether it is possible simply to live, and live well, in the rather abstract collective of nationhood, or whether people are inevitably drawn to more primitive markers of "race" or "ethnicity", and whether these need to be defended alongside nationhood. Should the USA or individual Americans have a job of protecting a particular American cultural inheritance and not only a legal, political, or constitutional inheritance (is the latter conceivable without the former)? And I will try to turn to this question when I next have a moment.

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Regarding Islam and capitalism, I think we're painting with too broad a brush in claiming that the two are somehow incompatible. Muslim Arabs were an important link in the trade route between China and Europe in the Middle Ages.

Some parts of the Muslim world appear to be doing all right. You have to wade thriugh a fair amount of attitude from the author, but the underlying story is interesting all the same.

This is my first link here, so I may need a couple of attempts to get it working.

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Knucklehead said...

Truepeers,

the point of all this is to anticipate the question of whether it is possible simply to live, and live well, in the rather abstract collective of nationhood, or whether people are inevitably drawn to more primitive markers of "race" or "ethnicity", and whether these need to be defended alongside nationhood.

It seems clear that people, taken as a whole, can and do live quite adequately, even quite well, within the realms of "nationhood" and are not inevitably drawn to together by race or ethnicity.

I only need look around me for a few moments to accept that as a matter of fact. While "race" is surely a stronger coagulant than "ethnicity", both clearly provide some affinity yet neither is strong enough to overcome the larger granularity affinities represented by "nationhood" - provided the "nationhood" represents something desirable.

Ethnicity, whatever it is should it even be definable, while not a weak unifying force is clearly weaker than race. In a multi-ethnic society such as ours where people are exposed to one another and consistently presented with common ground upon which to build a melded, molded, forged, and extruded new "culture" or, perhaps, ethnicity, all but the trappings of the formerly binding ethnicities will fade and mingle into something recognizable but quite different.

Even race, it seems to me, while significantly stronger than ethnicity, eventually fades as a primary source of affinity among people. This may require ten or twelve generations rather than three or four, but the result will largely be the same - something mingled and melded and ultimately molded, forged, and extruded into something that bears similarities to what once was but is different enough to be something new.

To what degree race and/or ethnicity are, or should be, defended alongside the more widely encompassing "nationhood" is a matter still unfolding and somewhat individual. The multi-cultis would, apparently, like to dissipate and eventually erradicate the notion of "nationhood" in favor of racial and ethnic affinities. But for all their temporary successes they are doomed to failure.

Perhaps nationhood is an interim or transitional situation that serves a useful civilizational purpose while the more "primitive" coagulants such as race, ethnicity, or "tribe" break down. The lines on the maps - and even the linguistic collections - that define nations have never been entirely stable and there's no reason to believe they will be throughout some distant future.

The question, I suppose, is more a case of what cost we are willing to bear to defend and perpetuate that which we come from.

Should the USA or individual Americans have a job of protecting a particular American cultural inheritance and not only a legal, political, or constitutional inheritance (is the latter conceivable without the former)?

I believe we do and that is, I suppose, one of the few things that pegs me as a conservative. I believe we've developed a useful and beneficial method for social organization and political management that is worth defending and passing along. I do not feel the same regarding my race or ethnicity.

(I feel I should note, even though I doubt I need to, that I in the case of "race" and "ethnicity" I am not speaking of existential threat but, rather, of defense against fading over time. Were there some existential threat to "white folk" or "Scotts-English-German folk" I imagine that I would feel some duty to stand against the threat.)

 
At 2:31 PM, Blogger Knucklehead said...

Flenser,

I admit that I only scanned the article. It mentions "markets" (in the sense, if I scanned correctly) of stock markets which clearly suggests some form of capitalism. But until that point, and beyond, the little birdie that always reads along with me was all but shouting, "A fabulous building boom does not automagically equate with capitalism."

Then I ran into the author's anarchy schtick and, well, if anarchy isn't the single stupidest thing otherwise intelligent people have ever cooked up, I don't know what is. Once I hit that point I couldn't proceed with the scan - the little birdie was raising far too noisy a ruckus.

 
At 2:47 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Rick, truepeers, others.

There are some interesting contradictions with regard to the issue of the Iraqi constitution and the "racialist" basis of the US Constitution. Lets change that terminology, by the way. I believe that Auster's argument is best summed up as saying that the laws of a given country are manifestations of the culture of that countries people. I don't read him as saying there is one law for black people, one law for whites, another for Asians, etc. (I admit I don't know much about him.)

From that beginning, he, and Derbyshire, conclude that Iraq cannot have a Western style liberal-democratic state, because the basis for it does not exist in their culture.

Stated in this way, I agree with the proposition. I don't think Iraq is at all likely to resemble Belgium any time in the foreseeable future. I do think that Derbyshire has made a case in the past that culture is a very mutable thing. And I expect Auster agrees with him on that. Specifically, they both regard Western and American culture as things which are in grave danger of being damaged of destroyed. Again, I concur.

However, they both feel that Iraqi culture is impervious to change, for some reason I don't understand. I disagree with them there. Human beings are all mimics, and we all copy what those around us are doing. There is a good argument to be made that some (not all) of the problems in the Arab/Muslim world are due to their adaption of some of the worst ideas that the West has produced - socialism, communism, fascism, etc. Even religious extremism is not unique to Islam. So I see no reason that the Middle East cannot adapt other, more useful, Western ideas.

I imagine you have read Zakaria's "The Future of Freedom", which assumes the existence of a certain threshold level of economic prosperity beyond which states tend to evolve in the direction of more freedom. Iraq would be a good candidate for "liberal democracy" if his theory is correct. It is true that the form that a liberal democracy in Iraq might take could seem strange to us. I expect that none of us would see that as a bad thing.

If I am reading Rick and truepeers correctly, you are taking a somewhat confusing position, that Iraqi culture will preclude them from adapting the more useful of Western ideas, but also denying that Western ideas are based on a distinct cultural frame of reference.


(Howdy, Knuck)

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Knuck

As I said, the messenger is suspect. I try not to discount everything that libertarians say though. If one of them says that the UAE has a pro-business climate, well, thats the kind of issue I'm more apt to listen to them on. By comparision with the sterotypical Arab state, the mere existence of a stock market, let alone one which is doing well, seems noteworthy.

Lets not get bogged down in the notion that commerce is something impossible for these people. It was once common wisdom that the Japanese could only make cheap knockoffs of Western goods.

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

I'm having a bit of a problem with the definition of ethnicity.

I would prefer "those sharing common praxis derived from a common ethos" rather than nationality or race. The boundary then becomes the ethos, which may be a bit easier to distinguish.

Back a bit later.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger flenser said...

truepeers asks-

"Should the USA or individual Americans have a job of protecting a particular American cultural inheritance and not only a legal, political, or constitutional inheritance (is the latter conceivable without the former)?"

Yes to the former, no to the latter. That is what makes us "conservatives", after all. But establishing the linkage between culture and constitution is where the fun part of the discussion starts.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger Knucklehead said...

Auster's argument is best summed up as saying that the laws of a given country are manifestations of the culture of that countries people. I don't read him as saying there is one law for black people, one law for whites, another for Asians, etc. (I admit I don't know much about him.)

If you've summed up Auster's argument correctly, an my scan suggests you have done a reasonable job of that, I have to disagree to a degree.

Surely there is some foundation for any constitution or set of laws (we need to remember that constitutions rarely reflect anything approaching the full body of a nation's laws - they are typically just a framework) within a country's, or people's, underlying culture. But it seems equally clear that constitutions formed to frame out the basis for laws are equally, perhaps moreso, intended to throw off or overcome some portion of the underlying culture.

Some portion of the constitutions extant for the remnants of the British empire (England's "unwritten" one, and Canada's as examples) may have been constructed primarily to more fully codify the existing culture. But this is, at least from my reading of history, not true of the US constitution. I suspect it is even more untrue of the German and Japanese constitutions which were petty much imposed upon them.

I suspect (but have no time to check) that a study of India and its constitution might be a very interesting case study of a constitution constructed to both fit and break aspects of an existing culture.

From that beginning, he, and Derbyshire, conclude that Iraq cannot have a Western style liberal-democratic state, because the basis for it does not exist in their culture.

While I certainly don't know anywhere near enough about Iraqi "culture" to say this is incorrect, my reading of history suggests it is far too simplistic a notion. It strikes me as looking for an excuse to bail out of a difficult situation. What specifically, renders Iraqis immune to the idea of a rule of law framed from a constitution? Constitutions and "rule of law" are, by and large, western notions but clearly the notion has been adapted to non-western cultures/nations.

I think you stated that you don't understand this case (and I sure don't), so consider the above rhetorical questions. I fail to see why, given opportunity and significant levels of desireablity (which will certainly take time to demonstrate), Iraqis or any other culture is immune to the lures of increasing levels of personal freedom codified and protected by laws. I don't believe for one minute that people - Iraqis or otherwise - want to live under the arbitrary whims of thuggish strongmen. They may be accustomed to that, and the loss of whatever degree of certainty or stability it provides may seem painful, but if shown an alternative and some benefits, people will leave that behind be they religious fanatics in 18th century MA, 19th century Utah, 20th century India or Japan or Germany, or 21st century Iraq.

Pissing and moaning today does not render acceptance tomorrow impossible culturally or otherwise.

I imagine you have read Zakaria's "The Future of Freedom", which assumes the existence of a certain threshold level of economic prosperity beyond which states tend to evolve in the direction of more freedom. Iraq would be a good candidate for "liberal democracy" if his theory is correct. It is true that the form that a liberal democracy in Iraq might take could seem strange to us. I expect that none of us would see that as a bad thing.

Personally I don't give a rat's patoot whether or not an Iraqi version of a "liberal, constitutional democracy" seems strange to me.

The reason I want them to have some form of "liberal, constitional democracy" that makes sense to them is pretty straightforward. The thing that democracies, whatever form they take, do best is muddle through the marshalling of the state's resources toward those things that the people want.

If an Iraqi form of democracy can be made to work then Iraq's considerable resources - even if little more than petroleum at this point - will slowly but surely be consumed toward the goal of giving the people what they want. I'm willing to bet the farm that what they will want will NOT be "death to the great Satan" or such nonsense. What they will want will be basic safety and services and a chance to prosper and keep their wives and children reasonably pacified and under control ;)

 
At 2:51 AM, Blogger truepeers said...

There are many interesting comments to respond to. The hour is late and so I will only be able to begin to respond to them implicitly. What I want to do now is explain why I had Auster on my mind in the first place, and anticipate how I want to develop my response, to him and to the other ideas that have been raised here, sometime tomorrow.

I linked to the Auster comments as I have been reading him for a while now; he is one of the more intelligent (though he has his blind spots) critics of the "neocon" position, neocon being a rough indicator of how I tend to locate my own thinking. What is interesting about Auster is that he sees the need to argue that our higher ideals cannot be full and proper guides to our political positions, that there must be a distinction between religious and political consciousness. (A Christian, however hard he tries, cannot fully follow Christ in this world, but must make some concessions to worldly realties... while on the other hand, Auster's stereotypical neocon who idealizes worldly exchange supposedly ignores the transcendent basis of culture and thus makes an inverse kind of mistake about human nature and the intractability of our religious differences.)

The tendency to assimilate religious and political consciousness, not least among those who think they don't have relgious ideas, is the recipe for what Auster sees to be the unrealistic idealisms of both the left and the neocons. He has a point.

And this is why Auster talks up ideas of race consciousness. He does not mean that we should be racist in any punitive way, that we should wish to deny others basic human rights. But he does think it inevitable and right that we favor our own to some extent. This means favoring the people who share our culture, a sharing that for him (and this is what I want to explore) has inevitably some "racial" component. The fact is that today, whatever may be the case tomorrow, the traditional American culture Auster wishes to defend is still largely a white culture. That's not an argument to deny this culture to nonwhite Americans, nor to criticize this culture as exclusive (all cultures have their historical boundaries as well as their global interactions and exchanges); rather, it is just to acknowledge that one should sometimes act in ways that will defend one's cultural values, and their demographic position, values which in this instance belong to a popular culture that has long thought of itself as white, a label whose popularity is no doubt due in good part to the mixing (and eroded distinctiveness) of many European ethnicities in America, and thus a label that only the more reactionary and righteous will write off as exemplary of social Darwinian racism.

Nonetheless, do we need to acknowledge the historical reality of whiteness, or should we turn away from the label? As a white person, I suppose, with an intimate relationship with a nonwhite woman, the very idea of whiteness, and indeed race and interracial, makes me uncomfortable. But should it? This is what Auster forces me to ask.

For Auster, the non-utopian reality that one must favor one's own, however homo or heterogeneous one's own happen to be, entails what is his core political position in this world as it is today: the need to limit immigration into the US to a level that does not make it impossible to assimilate newcomers to American norms. He is particularly opposed to Muslim immigration because he thinks devotion to the Koran is simply incompatible with American values rooted in Judeo-Christian and secular traditions.

As I say, since I am sympathetic to the neocon position, being someone more optimistic than Auster on issues such as immigration and our ability to integrate newcomers into a workable and indeed necessary national-cum-global marketplace, I would like to develop a counter-argument to his position, respecting him as a worthy spokesman of what he calls the traditionalist conservative position, and finding his voice more interesting to debate than the stale victimary rhetorics of the liberal left establishment.

To this end, I will attempt to integrate Auster's idea (I think he gets it ultimately from Eric Voegelin) that we need to distinguish religious and political consciousness; our universalizing ideals and hopes cannot impose too much on the practical reality that we must make real choices that inevitably distinguish those we favor. Since we have to make such choices, it would seem we should spend time considering what or whom we should favor. I want to integrate this idea with a defense of neocon positions on Iraq, globalization and a somewhat less race conscious approach to cultural conservatism.

To this end, I want to pick up on, or work against, one of Auster's articles, "What is European America" which I link here.

I am particularly interested in one of the comments by Bill Carpenter, whom I know from the Generative Anthropology listserv where he is a most brilliant commenter. Bill seems to be trying to moderate Auster's rhetoric with its focus on whiteness. In moderating Auster he provides, to my mind, an even stronger position for me to work from/against, which I hopefully will start to do tomorrow. For now, I will just reproduce Bill's 2003 comment, and draw your attention to his argument about our need to forge particular attachments as an alternative to the overly-resentful or unworldly approaches to reality that lead us into gnostic heresies:

Mr. Auster's analysis of liberalism as requiring a Buddhistic absence of attachment is related to Voegelin's analysis of modern political theories as based in gnostic heresy. The heretical view at the base of the non-attachment principle is the view that the creation was totally corrupted by the fall of man, and that any engagement in the material world, the social world, the historical world, is damnable. Sometimes such a tendency is referred to as angelism, especially when it takes forms such as extreme pacifism. (The Jainist daughter in Philip Roth's best novel, American Pastoral, is a fine portrait of the Leftist as angelist.)

As Mr. Auster suggests, the rejection of race as a meaningful or "interesting" category appears to be tainted by the wish for non-attachment. But race is obviously real. It should be considered part of the creation. Does that give individuals, perhaps through their political leaders, an obligation to preserve the races? That is a highly unpopular theory, but most countries are allowed to preserve their cultural and racial character by restricting immigration as they see fit. That is all I would argue for. However, at the popular level, most people marry within their own race. I believe most people socialize primarily within their own race, and look for mates among their own race. They understand that doing so will better preserve the continuity between past and future generations. We need to teach that this is normal and acceptable behavior, not nasty and racist.

I share Mr. Sutherland's reluctance to recover European American culture by referring it to its polyglot roots. The Common American Civilization is colonial and British in origin, with Massachusetts and Virginia as its two poles. Everyone who has come after has entered into, sometimes with immense enthusiasm, a British colonial, then a distinctly American civilization, characterized by high valuations on Christianity, rule of law, self-government, industry, enterprise, self-reliance, patriotism, civic responsibility, family responsibility, and a liberty that furthers each of those values within a self-sustaining order.

Immigrants historically have joined in the unfolding of this civilization, not its demolition. I think as a practical matter we would achieve more promoting the rebirth of the Common American Civilization, not the rebirth of White American Civilization, though the CAC is white and British and Christian in origin.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Rick Ballard said...

Here is Murray's Commentary piece.

I'm still digesting Auster's piece, Knuck's comments, and Truepeers comments. I'm trying to frame my thoughts (such as they are) on the differences in ethos and praxis between followers of Islam of Turk, Syrian, Egyptian and Arabic ethnicity. It may be simpler to use an Arab/non-Arab dichotomy and simpler still to use a Bedouin/non-Bedouin split.

Those differences are hinge points concerning the potential success of Western style constitutions.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger flenser said...

I think its best if we avoid getting into discussions of political thinkers, which would be never ending. We can assume the participants here are all familiar with major players in history.

Having said that, I'd like to offer this PDF article by Roger Nisbet, an important but little known conservative thinker. His views would probably be considered "paleo-conservative" today. He wrote extensively on the question of the relationship between the individual, the intermediary group, and the state. Since I can see myself borrowing a lot from Nisbet, it might be best if others checked him out.

A commenter in the initial thread at Rogers expressed the view that the world was best seen as being made up of six billion individuals. Remarkably, I thought, nobody challenged him on that.


A quick question for truepeers, which you can ignore if you feel it is provocative or off topic. I've suggested here that the essence of the conservative cast of mind is the desire to keep alive the lessons learned from our forefathers and pass them on to our posterity. By this definition, Jews are arguably among the worlds more conservative people. Yet, Jewish involvement in the political process in most times and places has been overwhelmingly on the side of various forms of radicalism, and has been hostile to conservatism generally. Do you agree, and what do you think accounts for this?

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Flenser, I think a lot of Jews consider it a relgious imperative for the people of the Exodus not to desire to hold power but to serve some greater human thirst for freedom. Of course it is then easy enough to get confused over the competing human imperatives of equality and freedom, but that's something that all people inevitably confuse.

But having said that, a more serious comment would have to tackle the problem of secularization. I think it is fair to say that the more secular the Jew the more inclined to left wing politics. It's not a hard and fast rule, just a tendency that needs to be explained. Conservatism in Jews, as you note, has largely been to do with maintaining the integrity of one's own ethical community of Jews. It has not been concerned with conservatism as a movement for politcal power in the wider society, except perhaps occasionaly in situations like the late Austro-Humgarian empire where the choice, as many Jews rightly saw it, was either to side - usually in the guise of socialism - with the many new nationalisms seeking dissolution of the old empire, or to side with the officially "liberal", but pratically conservative, emperor as a buttress against the inevitable antisemitism of the new nationalisms and socialisms.

Eventually, of course, Jews get their own nation, Israel, and there are arguably today just as many conservatives as liberals in the nation reflecting the tension between the universal religious/secular idea and the particular ethical conception of God's chosen people.

The link between secularism and leftism is shared with (post)Christians. It is the desire to build a universal society to overcome human divisions. Only historical experience has shown us the problems with such a desire. And it is easy enough to imagine why many Jews from the eighteenth century were attracted to it. If they were going to leave their ghettos, with what other cultural supports could they find their way in the larger world? With limited options for joing clubs, etc., Freemasonry and socialism were perhaps the two most accessible and popular routes for Jews seeking a broader membership in society. Those routes were much easier, obviously, than conversion to Christianity and they provided people a means to participate in larger commercial or bureaucratic networks. To be a successful bourgeois in the 19th or 20th century (especially outside of the anglophone world) it was almost necessary to become a liberal. Romanticism led most people, Jew and Christian, in the direction of anti-market politics as a paradoxical form of adaptation to the demands of market society. Whether as aristocrat or socialist, one opposed the bourgeois market that one would eventually enter, as a way of first getting to know and master the ways of the marketplace. The rebellious son who eventually sells his charismatic opposition to the market within the marketplace - can I interest you in a Ferrari, Flenser? - is what we need to be able to explain. And in time the radical youth becomes the more cautious parent with property and bills to pay.

With liberal market society, only a few Jews with specialized trades could have remained insular and survived in the new global market economy that was largely the invention of Christianity. Jews either had to remain ghetto people or grasp at the promise of liberal society, as offered by either the liberal emperor or the socialist international. Conservative nationalism, outside of Zionism, was not really an option for any Jews until the post-WWII period. A figure like Disraeli is much the exception that proves the rule. Today conservative nationalism is possible for Jews in countries like the US and Canada and for that we should all be grateful.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger flenser said...

truepeers

I think that is a pretty good assessment of the dynamic at work. It leads to the follow on question - can two or more culturally conservative groups coexist within a single border? Or must each see the other as incompatible with their own continued existence?

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

But if we do not need to change our politics, talking about group differences obligates all of us to renew our commitment to the ideal of equality that Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Steven Pinker put that ideal in today’s language in The Blank Slate, writing that “Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”

What confuses these debates, Rick, is that the people involved on both sides actually have no way of explaining where our moral or ethical intutition of a fundamental human equality comes from in the first place. It is clearly not inherent to the animal pecking order, so where did it come from, did it just fall to earth as star dust?

As a follower of Generative Anthropology, I would argue that we need to reflect on how the ethic of equality inheres in the use of language. Our social functioning as linguistic beings depends on our equal sharing in the signs we use to communicate what is communally sacred (and later, what is merely significant to the secular world). At the origin of human symbolic language, there must have been a new kind of equalitarian community that broke with the animal pecking order by ordering the protohumans equally around a sacred sign (in the beginning was indeed the word) and the nascent sense of a divine being who appeared to subsist as guarantor of the sacred or eternal values across time.

And if this is correct, if our idea of equality is inherent in the very nature of human culture, well then genetic differences take a back seat since there are obviously limits to which we can ethically recognize claims to differences in things like intelligence between groups. To create any basis for justifying existing differenes between groups - however much these may be empirically measurable - will remain a scandal to the cultural mperative of equality. If an imperative of the culture by which we order ourselves and keep from killing each other, is that we all share equally in the signs of language, then we cannot justify any inequality in our attitudes toward people (say at the job office door) simply because of some statistical correlation between intelligence and group membership.

Murray seems to recognize this. Says we must treat everyone as an individual, not according to their group membership, even as he accentuates the reality of group differences. What kind of paradoxical game is this?

And even if we say, let's just judge every individual as an individual and insist on equality of opportunity, if not equality of outcome, we will retain the problem that groups of people marked as less successful, less equal, less able to accord equal opportunities to their children, will emerge from our free competitions and will remain as such a scandal to our inherent sense of human equality.

THis is why even as market society becomes more free and efficient in the exchange of differences, the calls to recognize victims of the system do not cease.

Market efficiency creates lefist bureaucracy even as it fights against it. Perhaps only by recognizing this hard and paradoxical reality can we come to terms with the need to be realistic about the state and what it should be doing. In other words, we may need to recognize, to some degree, the legitimacy of those hard-to-like leftist elistists who appoint themselves the arbiters of the victimary claims of their less fortunate clients, if only as a way to be clearer about when such victimary claims are indeed legitimate and to be addressed with the least fanfare, and least cost, and thus not allow ouselves an endless inflation in victimary politics and centralized state solutions.

One wonders if Murray envisions a world in which we increasingly see humanity as just six billion individuals who should not be judged according to the nonetheless observable differences among groups? What are the implications for his ideas of race and group membership when it comes to the politics of culture? It seems to me that if we are to recognize different racial or ethnic groups (and why shouldn't people have the right to identify themselves accordingly) it must be in accord with the fundamental imperative of human equality. The ensuing paradoxical politics may make us hypocrites in Murray's eye, or maybe they will remind us of a more fundamental truth of culture: we must ever increase the freedom of people to exchange their differences in the marketplace, even in political markets where affirmative actions are bought and sold, valued and devalued. This is because at the origin of humanity we are all equal in our exchange of the sacred sign/thing and we are only human as long as this sacred equality in exchange continues. A free exchange always implies a difference that is traded and an equality that is the formal basis for exchange. We cannot escape this paradox.

 
At 4:16 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

I think that is a pretty good assessment of the dynamic at work. It leads to the follow on question - can two or more culturally conservative groups coexist within a single border? Or must each see the other as incompatible with their own continued existence?

-on first thought, I don't see why two cannot coexist as long as they agree on certain common rules and laws; in other words they both must respect the need to conserve the basis of the state. So, e.g., Jews in the US should respect the CHristian (as well as Jewish, as in Judeo-Christian) basis of the founding culture. It is obviously harder for conservatives from a very different culture to integrate into the US. Were you thinking about Islam?

In fact, if the conservatives are into things like female circumcision and the violent oppression of women, and are not willing to make some compromises in their view of what traditions need to be conserved, perhaps conflict is inevitable in the long run unless they remain a small group that can be mostly ignored.

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger flenser said...

truepeers

Then I think you are in agreement with me, and I believe with Auster, that every country is based on a distinct cultural legacy and that changing its ethnic/cultural makeup is dangerous at best, sucidal at worst.

The only thing that remains to be argued over is who is to be excluded and on what basis. Correct?

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

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At 6:32 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Yes, I think that people who refuse to integrate at a certain level and who take this as reason to be offended by the larger and pre-existing society need to be excluded. The thing is, not all Muslims are like that. And the question remains how much can and will Islam change (because surely it must if it is to survive), or how likely will westernized Muslims leave the faith? That complicates any talk of excluding Muslims, more than other immigrant groups, all of which have some problems in integrating. But I agree, a nation must have the right to limit numbers of immigrants and exclude those whom it comes to think cannot be peacefully integrated. But I am not convinved that America does not remain a powerful integration machine though it is surely going through some weak moments of late.

Where I think I differ with Auster is in the degree to which he thinks Muslim integration is hopeless or unnecessary. It is clearly going to be difficult, but in small numbers it is not a big problem. It is when you get large numbers of poorly integrated people that there is a problem... and it only takes a few to do major terrorist damage.

So why take the risk? The essential problem with Auster's argument is that it assumes it is possible to isolate ourselves globally from the Muslim world and thus protect ourselves from violent outbursts. Easier if we are not dependent on their oil, but in any case this strikes me as much more unrealisitic in the historical long run than neocon calls to integrate the whole world into a single global economy (not society), defended by a growing consensus on democratization and nonviolent interaction among states.

To some degree I think we must further integrate even the most resentful anti-American and anti- free market cultures into the global economy. And that inevitably entails some amount of migrants who can act as middlemen between advanced and less advanced countries, and as models of modernized living. So I see it is a bit of a poker and numbers game, while recognizing the obvious risks involved. But there are big risks in a world of nuclear proliferation, any way you cut it.

To address these, first of all, there has to be some immigration but zero tolerance and harsh penalties for anyone preaching or performing violence. There needs to be much less tolerance for victimary rhetorics on the part of the Arab and Muslim world and the dependence of the western left on inflating and trading in these rhetorics needs to be stopped. The left's de facto support for the terrorists, its desire to see the US lose the current war is an outrage beyond words. The real problem may be at home. If western culture were healthier there would be fewer problems with immigration.

Beyond that, we have to see how the usual resentments of youth can be recycled into the system and eventually turned to productive ends. Isolation would prove more deadly over the long run, I believe.

 
At 11:44 AM, Blogger flenser said...

truepeers

"..in any case this strikes me as much more unrealisitic in the historical long run than neocon calls to integrate the whole world into a single global economy (not society), defended by a growing consensus on democratization and nonviolent interaction among states."

The problem with a global economy, or global "common market", is that it leads to ever increasing political and social integration as well. The European Common Market is one example, NAFTA and CAFTA are another. In both cases national borders have been obliterated in all but name. The trend is for the formation of transnational “super-states”.

From the point of view of a market, people are simply another commodity, ideally seen as interchangeable and undifferentiated. This is what gives rise to the conception of the world as being made up of six billion individuals, mentioned in the thread above.

Once that proposition is accepted, then the desire to preserve a distinct ethnic culture seems archaic and reactionary and racist. That is exactly the criticism that Auster and those like him face.

Judging from your laudatory comments on Jewishness upthread, I expect that you would reject the collectivist/individualist view of the world. Is that true? If so, then you are, like it or not, on the same side as people like Auster, and on the same side as all people who seek to preserve their own ethnic group and cultural inheritance, in their own way.

I'll try to explore later why, in practice, individual ethnic groups tend to side with the Levellers, in opposition to each other.


P.S. I had the idea that you were Canadian. Is that correct?

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

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At 7:14 PM, Blogger truepeers said...

Sorry that was an ungainly (ungamely?) peace of writing, the post I've just re-read above. But I won't delete it, since maybe it says something you want to respond to. Rick, Knuck, Flenser, et. al, just let me know how/if we can get this conversation on track again.

 
At 1:45 AM, Blogger truepeers said...

Flenser, I've just finished reading the NIsbet article you linked. THere is much to discuss there regarding the nature of our associations, much to qualify what I wrote earlier about our attachments. And there is much to consider in regard to what we are doing in the blogosphere: we obviously have a desire for new kinds of attachment beyond consumer society, a desire to pull down the overly centralized monoliths of our media, economic, and governing institutions and to discover our personhood through a renewed engagement with civic concerns. So how can we move from the inchoate desire to reinvigorate our civic engagement, via the virtual reality of the blogosphere, and the motivating focus of a global war, and move towards more realistic forms of association? Or are we stuck with this kind of virtual reality, and the struggle to transcend it through influencing a wider public opinion, given the inevitability of the isolation of must of us from real institutional power?

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger flenser said...

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At 6:41 PM, Blogger flenser said...

The typical modern, cosmopolitan, educated American, and Westerner, has no strong attachment to country or to culture. As such, they often live the life of the dilettante, trying out this "lifestyle" and then that one. In their own minds at least, such people can see themselves as fitting easily into any culture, if they wish to. I think they are wrong in that supposition, but that is how they think. I believe it is inevitable that such people will imagine that everyone in the world is like them, and that apart from a handful of sociopaths and psychopaths, anyone in the world can go anywhere in the world and fit in. Specifically, they will think that most people in the world can easily become American, as long as they profess faith in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

The contrary position is that to be a Westerner, and specifically an American, is to see oneself as being the inheritor of thousands of years of tradition and heritage, with a distinct way of looking at the world which is quite different that that of a Muslim Arab or an Indian Hindu.

I acknowledge that there will be "outliers" in any population, people who can easily move between different cultures and adapt themselves to the new environment. The Derbyshire link I gave above provides an example. But viewed in the aggregate, which is how a state must view people, it is pointless at best and dangerous at worst to pretend that significant numbers of people from a different culture can be integrated without changing the composition of the existing culture.

I meet large numbers of immigrants from around the world in NYC, as well as children of immigrants. It is possible that they have merely absorbed the attitude of liberal New Yorkers, but the majority of them are rather contemptuous of America and Americans. I would say that both pro and anti-Americans think this is a great country, which has given them opportunities they could not have back home. They react to that in very different ways.

Interestingly, I would say that the most pro-American immigrants I see are the illegal Mexicans and Central Americans. That may be an attempt at protective coloration of course. Or it may be reflective of their being from a more closely similar cultural background than the Pakistanis, Chinese, and Indians.

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Given that the Nisbet article is long, and repetitive, I should probably excerpt some important passages.




We may regard the people as simply a numerical aggregate of individuals regarded for political and administrative purposes as discrete and socially separated, an aggregate given form and meaning only by the nature of the State and its laws. Or, alternatively, we may regard the people as indistinguishable from a culture, its members as inseparable from the families, unions, churches, professions, and traditions that actually compose a culture.

The differences between the two ways of considering the people is vast, and it is decisive in any political theory of democracy.
The “will of the people” is one thing, substantively, when it is conceived in purely political terms as arising from a vast aggregate of socially separated, politically integrated individuals. It is something very different when it is conceived in terms of the social unities and cultural traditions in which political, like all other, judgments are actually formed and reinforced.



To find the essence of freedom in the fact of the ultimate political sovereignty of the people, in the existence of mass electorates,
in the individual’s constitutionally guaranteed
participation every two or four years in the election of his public servants, is tempting in the modern world. For it is supported by the premise, so alluring to the reformer and the disinherited alike, that political power, however great and farreaching it may be, if it is but continuously and sensitively in touch with mass wish and acquiescence, ceases to be power in the ordinary sense. It becomes collective self-determination, collective freedom. Power becomes, in this view, marvelously neutralized and immaterialized.



The recent history of Western Europe should remind us that a sense of the past, even more than a hope of the future, is the basis of the will to resist; and a sense of the past presupposes cultural continuities within associations which have deep moral appeal.

Only in their social interdependences are men given to resist the tyranny that always threatens to arise out of any political government, democratic or other. Where the individual stands alone in the face of the State he is helpless. “Despotism,” wrote Tocqueville, “is never more secure of continuance than when it can keep men asunder; and all its influence is commonly exerted for that purpose.”



Modern philosophies of freedom have tended to emphasize, as we have seen, either the individual’s release from power of every kind—generally, through an appeal to natural rights—or the individual’s participation in some single structure of authority like the General Will, which replaces all other structures.

The old laissez faire failed because it was based on erroneous premises regarding human behavior. As a theory it failed because it mistook for ineradicable characteristics of individuals qualities that were in fact inseparable from social groups. As a policy it failed because its atomistic propositions were inevitably unavailing against the reality of enlarging masses of insecure individuals. Far from proving a check upon the growth of the omnicompetent State, the old laissez faire actually accelerated this growth. Its indifference to every form of community and association left the State as the sole area of reform and security.

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger flenser said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 3:03 AM, Blogger truepeers said...

Here’s my favorite passage from the Nesbitt chapter:


It has surely become evident by this time that the
most successful and allegiance-evoking business enterprises and
cultural associations in modern life are those that regard themselves
as associations of groups, not of raw individuals. To recognize
the existence of informal social relationships, to keep
central purposes constantly alive in these small groups, and to
work toward the increased spontaneity and autonomy of these
groups is, I believe, the cardinal responsibility of the great private
association.
Only thus will the large formal associations remain important
agencies of order and freedom in democracy. Only thus will
they succeed in arresting and banishing the augmenting processes
of insecurity and moral isolation which now paralyze
individual wills and strike at the roots of stable culture.

There is a vast difference between the type of planning—
whether in the large State, industry, or the school—that seeks
to enmesh the individual in a custodial network of detailed
rules for his security and society’s stability, and the type of planning
that is concerned with the creation of a political and economic
context within which the spontaneous associations of
men are the primary sources of freedom and order. The latter
type of planning is compatible with competition, diversity,
rivalry, and the normative conflicts that are necessary to cultural
creativity. The former type is not.



Nesbittt’s emphasis on the conditions necessary for the flourishing of personhood is welcome. Personhood, as opposed to individualism, is a concept that enters western culture with Christianity, though Nesbitt does not dwell on its religious roots. This may be indicative of the political problem. There needs to be some way as we move forward to reconcile our Judeo-Christian past with that intellectually significant part of contemporary society that clings to worn out varieties of liberalism out of a basic distrust or even hatred of religion. Whether you are a believer, or not, in order to have a strong sense of your culture you need to understand the anthropology that stands behind it, and central to this is understanding how the idea of god, however imagined, provides a guarantee for shared cultural representations. When we get the idea of going beyond good and evil, we get lost.

This is why I think it is so important that we make available an understanding of the anthropological truths inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in strictly secular, anthropological terms. A concept like personhood, which everyone uses, usually in ignorance of its origins, would be an example of how we can illuminate the importance of religious ideas for secular society, and provide a greater connection for people to their past.

Flenser, I agree with much you have to say about the limits of liberalism and cosmopolitanism, the latter being a concept that, originally, was roughly equated with the Jew who, one might suggest, can be a cosmopolitan because this state of being is not originally rooted in dilettantish superficiality, but in Judaism and its principles for endlessly awaiting the unfigurable Messiah. When would-be cosmopolitans forget the Jewish principles behind the idea, they become the kind of wandering relativists you note.

Personhood, a concept derived from persona, the mask of the actor, and the leap of faith that the actor must take in order to perform in the footsteps of his role model, is a Christian concept that one might imagine to be at some odds with notions of the cosmopolitan man of many potential faces. The Christian makes a commitment, above all, to one model of personhood, Jesus, while the cosmopolitan embraces the many worldly figures who might provide some insight into the nature of the unfigurable god who has created us in his image.

Nesbitt seems to put greatest emphasis on the need to find personhood in the institutions of local governance, the professions, and civil society. And clearly he is right to accent the importance of our developing many forms of professional distinction as a means of allowing people access to the local arenas in which they can develop the relationships and experiences that tie them to cultural traditions and the possibilities for meaningful personhood. But in doing so, he omits any discussion of the further possibilities of consumer society, with its products as signs, to provide each individual with means partially to construct his own persona. If we value consumer society – that is to say if we don’t simply give ourselves over to it and get lost in the waves – but learn to use it in productive ways, we perhaps need be less pessimistic than Nesbitt about the possibilities for enriching personhood.

But, as I say, I don’t think we can take a serious step forward culturally until we reconcile the believer and the skeptic, the two halves of our culture riven by the Enlightenment. Whatever the tools by which we are to govern and define ourselves as persons, we need first to have a serious and culturally rich repertoire of ideas about the nature and possibilities of personhood.

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger flenser said...

Hi truepeers

This discussion has been on the backburner for me for a while, but I hope to come back to it soon.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger whitney19mckenna said...

Just passing by your blog and though you'd like this website.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Johnny Canuck said...

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Your post about Truepeer - Flenser was a good read compared to a lot of the other stuff that's out there! Keep up the good work, I will definitely swing by again soon.

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger Johnny Canuck said...

I definitely don't have all the answers, but I know that as long as people keep sharing ideas like this, the truth will eventually reveal itself and maybe it can make a difference somewhere.

I think this blog rocks! Keep up the good work, I've bookmarked it and will definitely swing by again soon.

Feel free to pay a visit to my investor immigration to canada site. It might not be your "cup of tea", but it covers investor immigration to canada related topics.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Johnny Canuck said...

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Your post about Truepeer - Flenser sure got my attention - I'll spread the word about it to my friends. Sure you won't mind a few more eyeballs on your work from the four corners of the earth? :-) Thanks for a great read!

 
At 2:06 AM, Blogger Nick Roberts said...

Great blog! You've got a real knack for writing Rick Ballard, keep on rockin! I will definitely be checking in here again soon.

Your post about Truepeer - Flenser sure got my attention - I'll spread the word about it to my friends. Sure you won't mind a few more eyeballs on your work from the four corners of the earth? :-) Thanks for a great read!

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Nick Roberts said...

I definitely don't have all the answers, but I know that as long as people keep sharing ideas like this, the truth will eventually reveal itself and maybe it can make a difference somewhere.

I think this blog rocks! Keep up the good work, I've bookmarked it and will definitely swing by again soon.

Feel free to pay a visit to my investor immigration to canada site. It might not be your "cup of tea", but it covers investor immigration to canada related topics.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger The Immigrant said...

Great blog! You've got a real knack for writing Rick Ballard, keep on rockin! I will definitely be checking in here again soon.

Your post about Truepeer - Flenser sure got my attention - I'll spread the word about it to my friends. Sure you won't mind a few more eyeballs on your work from the four corners of the earth? :-) Thanks for a great read!

 
At 2:12 PM, Blogger The Immigrant said...

Great blog! You've got a real knack for writing Rick Ballard, keep on rockin! I will definitely be checking in here again soon.

Your post about Truepeer - Flenser sure got my attention - I'll spread the word about it to my friends. Sure you won't mind a few more eyeballs on your work from the four corners of the earth? :-) Thanks for a great read!

 
At 3:51 AM, Blogger Nick Roberts said...

Hi Rick Ballard, like many other people, I'm scouring the internet in search of detailed info on investor immigration to canada. There seems to be a lot of info out there on the process and which lawyer to use, but I can't seem to find much info about which part of Canada is best and whether there are actually job prospects for new immigrants in Canada that take your qualifications into consideration. Anyway, I did manage to find one useful site about investor immigration to canada that seems to shed some light on the topic, but I still need more info. I thought that maybe your post about Truepeer - Flenser would be useful and although it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, it did give me some new insights. Thanks for a great read.

 
At 4:31 AM, Blogger The Immigrant said...

I definitely don't have all the answers Rick Ballard, but I know that as long as people keep sharing ideas like this, the truth will eventually reveal itself and hopefully make the world a better place to live in. I've been looking for investor immigration to canada info and news - yeah I know I should probably get a life, but there's just something about investor immigration to canada that gets me thinking of better times.

Your post about Truepeer - Flenser was a good read compared to a lot of the other stuff that's out there! Keep up the good work, I will definitely swing by again soon.

 
At 6:05 PM, Blogger The Immigrant said...

Great blog! You've got a real knack for writing Rick Ballard, keep on rockin! I will definitely be checking in here again soon.

Your post about Truepeer - Flenser sure got my attention - I'll spread the word about it to my friends. Sure you won't mind a few more eyeballs on your work from the four corners of the earth? :-) Thanks for a great read!

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Nick Roberts said...

Now you've got me thinking Rick Ballard. I really enjoyed your post about "Truepeer - Flenser , I found your blog while searching for new immigration rule for canada news. I'll definitely pop around more often, keep us posted if you happen to dig up any more new immigration rule for canada stuff.

 

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