What’s happening to the world wide web 0

We stand on the opposite side of the Great Political Divide (freedom v socialism) from Britain’s Guardian newspaper. But it covers the news better, and provides more useful information, than most of its competitors.

We quote from an extract it has taken from a book titled, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.

The story of yesterday’s post was about the US government controlling our uses of the internet. Today’s story is about international controls on this last zone of freedom; and how a country could build a virtual wall round itself to cut itself off from the global internet  – and then enforce extreme censorship within its own “walled garden”.

Each state will attempt to regulate the internet, and shape it in its own image. The majority of the world’s internet users encounter some form of censorship – also known by the euphemism “filtering” – but what that actually looks like depends on a country’s policies and its technological infrastructure. …

In some countries, there are several entry points for internet connectivity, and a handful of private telecommunications companies control them (with some regulation). In others, there is only one entry point, a nationalised internet service provider (ISP), through which all traffic flows. Filtering is relatively easy in the latter case, and more difficult in the former.

When technologists began to notice states regulating and projecting influence online, some warned against a “Balkanisation of the internet”, whereby national filtering and other restrictions would transform what was once the global internet into a connected series of nation-state networks. The web would fracture and fragment, and soon there would be a “Russian internet” and an “American internet” and so on, all coexisting and sometimes overlapping but, in important ways, separate. Information would largely flow within countries but not across them, due to filtering, language or even just user preference. The process would at first be barely perceptible to users, but it would fossilise over time and ultimately remake the internet.

It’s very likely that some version of the above scenario will occur, but the degree to which it does will greatly be determined by what happens in the next decade with newly connected states – which path they choose, whom they emulate and work together with.

The first stage of the process, aggressive and distinctive filtering, is under way. China is the world’s most active and enthusiastic filterer of information. Entire platforms that are hugely popular elsewhere in the world – Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter – are blocked by the Chinese government.

On the Chinese internet, you would be unable to find information about politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square protests, embarrassing information about the Chinese political leadership, the Tibetan rights movement and the Dalai Lama, or content related to human rights, political reform or sovereignty issues. …

China’s leadership doesn’t hesitate to defend its policies. In a white paper released in 2010, the government calls the internet “a crystallisation of human wisdom” but states that China’s “laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains contents subverting state power, undermining national unity or infringing upon national honour and interests.”

The next stage for many states will be collective editing, states forming communities of interest to edit the web together, based on shared values or geopolitics.

For “edit” read “censor”. States’ governments will decide what values it shares with other states’ governments.

For larger states, collaborations will legitimise their filtering efforts and deflect some unwanted attention (the “look, others are doing it too” excuse). For smaller states, alliances along these lines will be a low-cost way to curry favour with bigger players and gain technical skills that they might lack at home.

Collective editing may start with basic cultural agreements and shared antipathies among states, such as what religious minorities they dislike, how they view other parts of the world or what their cultural perspective is  …

Larger states are less likely to band together than smaller ones – they already have the technical capabilities – so it will be a fleet of smaller states, pooling their resources, that will find this method useful. If some member countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of former Soviet states, became fed up with Moscow’s insistence on standardising the Russian language across the region, they could join together to censor all Russian-language content from their national internets and thus limit their citizens’ exposure to Russia.

Ideology and religious morals are likely to be the strongest drivers of these collaborations. Imagine if a group of deeply conservative Sunni-majority countries – say, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and Mauritania – formed an online alliance and decided to build a “Sunni web”. While technically this Sunni web would still be part of the larger internet, it would become the main source of information, news, history and activity for citizens living in these countries.

For years, the development and spread of the internet was highly determined by its English-only language standard, but the continued implementation of internationalised domain names (IDN), which allow people to use and access domain names written in non-Roman alphabet characters, is changing this. The creation of a Sunni web – indeed, all nationalised internets – becomes more likely if its users can access a version of the internet in their own language and script.

Within the Sunni web, the internet could be sharia-complicit: e-commerce and e-banking would look different, since no one would be allowed to charge interest; religious police might monitor online speech, working together with domestic law enforcement to report violations; websites with gay or lesbian content would be uniformly blocked; women’s movements online might somehow be curtailed; and ethnic and religious minority groups might find themselves closely monitored, restricted or even excluded. …

There will be some instances where autocratic and democratic nations edit the web together. Such a collaboration will typically happen when a weaker democracy is in a neighbourhood of stronger autocratic states that coerce it to make the same geopolitical compromises online that it makes in the physical world.

For example, Mongolia is a young democracy with an open internet, sandwiched between Russia and China – two large countries with their own unique and restrictive internet policies. … Seeking to please its neighbours [and so] preserve its own physical and virtual sovereignty, Mongolia might find it necessary to abide by a Chinese or Russian mandate and filter internet content associated with hot-button issues.

What started as the world wide web will begin to look more like the world itself, full of internal divisions and divergent interests.

And full of tyranny.

Some form of visa requirement will emerge on the internet. … Citizen engagement, international business operations and investigative reporting will all be seriously affected. …

Under conditions like these, the world will see its first Internet asylum seeker. A dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet. … Virtual asylum will not work, however, if the ultimate escalation occurs: the creation of an alternative domain name system (DNS), or even aggressive and ubiquitous tampering with it to advance state interests.

Today, the internet as we know it uses the DNS to match computers and devices to relevant data sources, translating IP addresses (numbers) into readable names, with .edu, .com, .net suffixes, and vice versa. No government has yet achieved an alternative system, but if one succeeded in doing so, it would effectively unplug its population from the global internet and instead offer only a closed, national intranet. In technical terms, this would entail creating a censored gateway between a given country and the rest of the world, so that a human proxy could facilitate external data transmissions when absolutely necessary – for matters involving state resources, for instance.

It’s the most extreme version of what technologists call a walled garden. On the internet, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls a user’s access to information and services online. … For the full effect of disconnection, the government would also instruct the routers to fail to advertise the IP addresses of websites – unlike DNS names, IP addresses are immutably tied to the sites themselves – which would have the effect of putting those websites on a very distant island, utterly unreachable. Whatever content existed on this national network would circulate only internally, trapped like a cluster of bubbles in a computer screen saver, and any attempts to reach users on this network from the outside would meet a hard stop. With the flip of a switch, an entire country would simply disappear from the internet.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. It was first reported in 2011 that the Iranian government’s plan to build a “halal internet” was under way, and the regime’s December 2012 launch of Mehr, its own version of YouTube with “government-approved videos”, demonstrated that it was serious about the project. Details of the plan remained hazy but, according to Iranian government officials, in the first phase the national “clean” internet would exist in tandem with the global internet for Iranians (heavily censored as it is), then it would come to replace the global internet altogether. The government and affiliated institutions would provide the content for the national intranet, either gathering it from the global web and scrubbing it, or creating it manually. All activity on the network would be closely monitored. Iran’s head of economic affairs told the country’s state-run news agency that they hoped their halal internet would come to replace the web in other Muslim countries, too – at least those with Farsi speakers. Pakistan has pledged to build something similar. …

How exactly the state intends to proceed with this project is unclear both technically and politically. How would it avoid enraging the sizable chunk of its population that has access to the internet? Some believe it would be impossible to fully disconnect Iran from the global internet because of its broad economic reliance on external connections. Others speculate that, if it wasn’t able to build an alternative root system, Iran could pioneer a dual-internet model that other repressive states would want to follow. Whichever route Iran chooses, if it is successful in this endeavour, its halal internet would surpass the “great firewall of China” as the single most extreme version of information censorship in history. It would change the internet as we know it.

As the Guardian puts it (not necessarily implying disapproval): the net is closing in.

The last zone of freedom closing? 6

To “save” us from “corporations” that cannot be trusted not to interfere with our Internet uses, the power-grabbing, control fanatics of the Obama government are ready to come to our rescue.

Only, how much less do we trust government – any government, but especially this one – to safeguard our freedom?

This is from the Heritage Foundation:

The policy the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] is trying to enact is known as “net neutrality,” an unfortunately vague code word for government regulation of the Internet. Supporters of net neutrality will tell you the regulation is necessary to keep the Internet “free and open” and to prevent corporations from “throttling” network speeds, making it faster to download some things, slower to download others. And, in this doomsday, apocalyptic, dystopian future, only the FCC can save the day with more and more government regulations. …

The  reality is much different. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who opposes the net neutrality policy, explains that the policy isn’t needed, and regulation by the FCC can lead to even greater problems, such as rival Internet providers attacking each other in hopes of getting them regulated:

Everybody wants an open Internet that enhances freedom, but that’s what we have today. We already have enough consumer protection laws on the books to cure many of the hypothesized fears (that some see). The goal should be to make the market more competitive.

All we are going to do with this FCC decision is clog up the courts and increase billable hours for lawyers; litigation will supplant innovation. …

The net result [of net neutrality]— a slower and more congested Internet, and more frustration for users. Even worse, investment in expanding the Internet will be chilled, as FCC control of network management makes investment less inviting. The amounts at stake aren’t trivial, with tens of billions invested each year in Internet expansion. ,,,

The FCC doesn’t even have the legal authority to enact these regulations. Like any federal agency, the FCC can only issue regulations if Congress delegates it the power to do so. Though the FCC has the power to regulate telecommunications, it hasn’t been granted the power to regulate the Internet. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC’s attempt to regulate the Internet was outside the scope of its authority. That didn’t stop the FCC, though. It went ahead and issued new regulations anyhow.

That regulatory overreach is unfortunately all too common in the Obama administration. From the FTC [Federal trade Commission] to the FCC, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to HHS [Department of Health and Human Services], an alphabet soup of agencies are issuing a spiderweb of regulations touching all corners of American life. The food we eat, the cars we drive, and now the Internet we surf are all subject to regulations by unelected bureaucrats.

The Internet is one of the Obama administrative state’s next targets.

Congress, thankfully, has taken note – this time. But Americans must take note, too, and heed their president’s promise. What he can’t do by law, he will do by regulation. And once enacted under the cover of night, such regulations are not easy to untangle.

Congress saving us? Not according to Julie Borowski, writing at FreedomWorks:

Two pieces of dangerous legislation are currently being debated in Congress that could forever change the Internet: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). The proponents of these harmful bills claim that it is necessary to stop online piracy, the illegal sale and/or distribution of copyrighted and trademarked products on the Internet.

Regardless of how well-intentioned the pieces of legislation may be or one’s perspective on intellectual property laws, SOPA and the Protect IP Act would severely cripple free speech and stifle innovation online.

The Internet is a prime example of what Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek called spontaneous order. One single institution does not control the Internet. This is primarily what makes the Internet so great. Billions of individuals all over the world are free to spread unrestricted information on the Internet. I actually became a libertarian largely because I was exposed to ideas that I never heard before on the free Internet. Can you imagine how terrible the Internet would be if it was centrally planned by the government? A centralized institution cannot possibly know or satisfy the unique wants of billions of individuals across the globe.

Despite the lack of centralized control, the Internet exhibits a high degree of order. As the Taoist Chuang-tzu said, “good order results spontaneously when things are let alone”. Self-policing has worked to a certain degree to keep harmful content off the Internet. As it currently stands, there are no government mandates requiring search engines to remove information. Many websites already voluntarily remove information deemed inappropriate. For instance, Google routinely screens out child pornography from its search results. Facebook and Twitter encourages users to flag malicious content that violates their terms of service. While self-regulation may not be perfect, it is much preferable to government regulation.

The House version SOPA and Senate version PIPA would grant the federal government unprecedented control over the Internet. Both bills would give the federal government the power to shut down literally millions of websites. SOPA, the most dangerous version of the two, contains vague language permitting the government to shut down any website that is found to “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement. Senior Fellow at New America Foundation Rebecca MacKinnon writes in the New York Times,

The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. The House version goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright – a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification. …

SOPA and PIPA threatens our free speech. These bills forcibly require search engines and other third parties to remove links to rogue websites. This is a clear violation of our constitutional right to free speech as well as a burdensome regulation that will destroy jobs. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and all search engines would likely have to hire countless new employees to ensure that no copyright infringing content is posted to prevent their websites from getting shut down by the government.

Social networking sites would surely prefer to spend money on growing their websites rather than complying with costly government rules. David Carr of the New York Times even writes that the bills would “probably not” stop online piracy. He further states that, “even if it made some progress toward reining in rogue sites, the collateral damage would be significant”. These proposed online piracy laws would have disastrous economic consequences while failing to fix the problems that they were supposedly intended to solve.

SOPA and PIPA would undermine the free flow of information on the Internet. This could be a dangerous slippery slope in which the federal government seeks more and more control over the Internet. The Egyptian and Chinese governments have actually shut down citizen access to the Internet over the past few years. Every authoritarian government ultimately desires to have complete control of information and communication technologies.

Twenty-seven Republican lawmakers who strongly opposed net neutrality are strangely cosponsors of SOPA in the House or PIPA in the Senate.

Yet, the proposed online piracy laws are equally as bad or perhaps even worse than net neutrality. SOPA and PIPA would disrupt the growth of technology and infringe on free speech. Any individual interested in preserving the freedom of the Internet should not support either version of this dangerous bill.

And this is from Canada Free Press, by Dr. Brad Lyles, commenting on the Obama administration’s proposals that will put an end to Internet freedom. He too does not agree that “Congress has taken note” and will save us “this time”:

This week one of two Republican FCC Commissioners leaked the new “Net Neutrality” Commandments that will become policy/law by March. At the same time the FEC [Federal Election Commission] is mulling increased regulation of the Internet to prevent “politicking” in that medium. The new information about the inevitable FCC and FEC rulings is demoralizing, deflating. It seems the deathblow to those few freedoms remaining to us. It is difficult to find hope. Government appropriation of the Internet is the last domino falling.

He is very pessimistic – even more than we often are:

All this occurs despite the majority of Americans self-identifying as Conservatives or as adherents to core Conservative principles. Despite our superior numbers we Conservatives nonetheless march toward a battle of total annihilation. It seems we are to be undone completely.

We are beyond the tipping point. Liberalism’s relentless brinksmanship and incrementalism, paired with its successful use of the “doubling effect” bring us now to the exponential growth phase of the Leviathan. Every day assaults us with news of more defeats, more freedoms lost. And every defeat is exponential in its effect, each one a hole in the dike portending our obliteration.

It is remarkable we have survived so long. Perhaps this fact alone rekindles hope.

Can one President save us? Not bloody likely. Could a Ronald Reagan save us? Not likely either. It’s almost as if we’re beyond saving, that we’ve finally arrived at the point where neither words nor actions matter … Like ill-fated protagonists in a Greek Tragedy, [we’re] doomed no matter what we do.

Our foes marshal larger forces each day, committing more and more atrocities each day. How can we be saved after we are already dead? How can we save our Country after it has already been destroyed?

A libertarian view of the state we’re in 2

John Stossel, in his plain-speaking, clear-headed way, deplores Obama’s failed economic policies:

President Obama sure is consistent. His State of the Union address sounded like his other speeches: What I’ve done is great! America is in a much better position. We’ve created a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs. More oil is produced at home. I cut deficits in half!

Give me a break. The deficit is lower now not because of any prudence on Obama’s part but merely because the $800 billion stimulus spending blowout didn’t continue. All the president does is increase spending: free community college, free Obamaphones, free birth control, etc. Yes, our annual deficit is lower, but it’s still $488 billion! Our $18 trillion national debt increases by $3 million every minute!

Yes, more oil is produced at home, but that’s in spite of the administration. Oil production is down on public land.

Yes, the manufacturing sector added jobs, but that’s mostly because of cheaper natural gas created by fracking, which Obama’s cronies opposed. Also, America is finally recovering from recession. Obama’s policies probably slowed that recovery.

Does the President delude himself when he takes credit for oil production, lower deficits, etc.? Or does he mislead on purpose? I don’t know.

More recently he bragged, “I created the lowest unemployment rate in years.” He created it? He must know it’s “low” only compared to the 10 percent reached during the recession — and because millions have simply given up looking for work. This recovery is the slowest in 70 years.

Then he goes on to propose a very different speech from the one Obama gave last night:

If Obama gave the State of the Union address I’d like to hear, he’d say this:

I heard you, voters, in November when you took control of the Senate away from my party. I get it. I overreached. I was arrogant. I imposed Obamacare on a nation that was deeply divided about it. I ruled through executive orders instead of legislation. I threw money at “green” nonsense.

We’ve cut a bit out there, because at that point he pulled out the biggest bone of contention we have with libertarians like John Stossel: defense. He wants less spent on it – as Obama does – and  we want more spent on it. 

But on: 

I’ve been in government for years now. I know how badly it works. The last thing I should try to do is make it bigger. In fact, with Republicans now in control of Congress, it’s time I worked with them to shrink government. If we shrink it, we might even dig our way out of the debt hole we’re in. Heck, if we just slow the growth of government to 2 percent a year, we’d be in better shape.

But I didn’t even try to accomplish that. I pretended taxing the rich would solve our financial problems. But there aren’t enough rich people to tax.

That’s not what’s wrong with the idea. What’s wrong is the idea of redistribution itself. The right argument is against any form of redistribution by a central agency.

But on again:

I got drunk on the idea of promising voters “free” stuff such as low down-payment mortgages and guaranteed paid family leave. I told them that all good things come from government. That’s nonsense.

We should put an end to all bailouts. Businesses that screw up should accept the consequences, just like ordinary people who spend recklessly. Main Street should never again be forced to rescue Wall Street.

Instead of expanding government control of health care, we should phase it out. That includes Medicare. I know Medicare is popular, but it is unsustainable. Let current retirees receive their benefits as promised, but younger people should pay for their own health care.

People criticize the economic distortion created by welfare, but Medicare and Social Security are almost as bad. Both redistribute money away from the young and struggling toward those of us who have had decades to invest and save up.

To make these challenges a little easier to deal with, let’s make America richer by abolishing most regulations. They strangle opportunity.

The more I think about it, the more Congress and I could transform America for the better just by getting out of America’s way. The state of our union will be truly strong if the state – by which I mean government – is strictly limited.

That we would applaud.

Against God and Socialism (repeat) 15

This article in praise of Capitalism was first posted in 2011. We reproduce it now because our recent post Communism is secular Christianity (January 14, 2015) reminded us of it

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It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all. …

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

Liberty versus equality 2

We extracted these paragraphs from an article we liked in the Washington Post by Professor Jonathan Turley, who, though reputed to be a liberal, does actually seem to have a taste for liberty:

The greatest threat to liberty in France has come not from the terrorists who committed such horrific acts this past week but from the French themselves, who have been leading the Western world in a crackdown on free speech.

Indeed, if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo, they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation. These laws have been used to harass the satirical newspaper and threaten its staff for years.

Speech has been conditioned on being used “responsibly” in France, suggesting that it is more of privilege than a right for those who hold controversial views.

In 2006, after Charlie Hebdo reprinted controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that first appeared in a Danish newspaper, French President Jacques Chirac condemned the publication and warned against such “obvious provocations”.

“Anything that can hurt the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided,” he said. “Freedom of expression should be exercised in a spirit of responsibility”.

The Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organizations sued the newspaper for insulting Muslims — a crime that carries a fine of up to 22,500 euros or six months’ imprisonment. French courts ultimately ruled in Charlie Hebdo’s favor. But France’s appetite for speech control has only grown since then. …

Charbonnier [one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists] died, as he pledged, standing up rather than yielding. The question is how many of those rallying in the Place de la Republique are truly willing to stand with him. They need only to look more closely at those three statues. In the name of equality and fraternity, liberty has been curtailed in France. The terrible truth is that it takes only a single gunman to kill a journalist, but it takes a nation to kill a right.

While we agree with what Professor Turley’s point, we would put it a little differently. We always prefer to speak of freedom rather than of rights: as in “I am free to ….” rather than “I have a right to …”, because ideally we are free to do anything that a law does not proscribe, and ideally all laws protect freedom.

This is a good place for us to declare another of our long-held convictions. That it is impossible to have both liberty and equality. (Fraternity is a superfluous sentimentality that we’ll simply overlook.)

This seems to us so obvious that we can only wonder why everyone, even the French, can’t see it.

Equality – other than in the eyes of the law – can only be created and maintained by force, so there goes liberty. Leave people free and they will not match each other in accomplishment or anything else.

Where the people are free they are not equal, and where they are equal they are not free.

The Left wants equality. We want liberty.

Two views of capitalism 4

At Townhall, John C. Goodman presents and discusses two views of capitalism as expounded by Professor Johnathan Haidt.

The two views are summed up by these videos, made by Professor Haidt.

Capitalism as Exploitation

Capitalism as Liberation

John Goodman comments:

Now I would argue that one of these views of capitalism is factually incorrect. It’s not just a matter of “political and moral values” [as Haidt asserts]. In fact, in a video presentation of his theory, Haidt shows a chart mapping per capita income throughout all of human history. The chart shows (and this should be well known to all economists) that up until the last few hundred years the average human lived on about a dollar a day – in modern terms. At times and places, they might have enjoyed two dollars a day. If they were really, really lucky they might have hit three dollars a day. But that was it.

In other words, for 100,000 years our ancestors lived at the subsistence level. And then [with the advent of the Industrial Revolution – ed] we got capitalism. By that I mean not just free exchange, but also the institutions of capitalism, including enforceable property rights …

In all its guises the exploitation theory has one central message: the reason why some people are poor is because other people are rich. Here is Paul Krugman explaining why middle income families don’t have higher incomes. …

Soaring incomes at the top were achieved, in large part, by squeezing those below: by cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions, and diverting a rising share of national resources to financial wheeling and dealing. Perhaps more important still, the wealthy exert a vastly disproportionate effect on policy. And elite priorities — obsessive concern with budget deficits, with the supposed need to slash social programs — have done a lot to deepen the valley of despond.

Really? J K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) is the richest woman in the world. Did she get rich by “cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions,” etc.? I thought she got rich by writing books. How about Oprah? Has she “slashed” any benefits lately? What about Bill Gates and Warren Buffett? When is the last time they were out there encouraging scabs to cross a picket line?

Krugman’s point about political influence is almost as silly as his view of the economy. Earth to Krugman: the real base of the Democratic Party (the party of the left) has become the ultra-wealthy. And their political goals are harmful to the middle class, but not in the way that Krugman imagines. …

The problem for Democrats is that the party is increasingly ruled by the “new oligarchs”  … [who]  are basically anti-job creation and anti-economic growth – which they see … as a threat to their life style. This puts them squarely at odds with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party. …

The Democratic Party is [now] the party of the poor and the rich. It’s the middle class that is bolting and voting Republican. And what do the rich want from Democrats? Contra Krugman, they’re not demanding smaller deficits or smaller social programs or even lower taxes. What they want – in addition to looney environmentalism – is for government to protect their life style.

Once the plutocrats settle in a community they become fiercely anti-development and shape their communities in ways that price the middle class out of the housing market. As a result, wherever wealthy liberals tend to congregate, housing is more expensive …

Limousine liberals are a threat to the average worker. But not because they are wage-suppressing, union-busting, exploiters. It’s because their anti-capitalist goals are at odds with the aspirations of ordinary Americans.

It seems to be the case that most – probably all – of the successful entrepreneurs who live in Silicon Valley vote Democratic. Having achieved their own riches in the freedom of opportunity for the individual that the capitalist system gave them, they vote for socialism and the removal of individual freedom that it ensures, so others cannot do what they did.

Islam must be destroyed – by words and laughter 11

The weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo laughed at all religions. It mocked religion as such, mercilessly. It dared to mock the nastiest religion of them all, Islam, defying its vengefulness. It was doing a great job for civilization.

Because of the killing of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo yesterday in Paris, we repeat part of our post, Religion and the crippling of the mind – an existential threat (January 2, 2013):

Human survival depends on progress, and progress depends on the criticism of ideas.

Religions are the most dangerous sets of ideas because they are the most dogmatic. Dogma chains and cripples the mind. It denies knowledge and prevents discovery and innovation. The only possible form of argument between opposing dogmas is violence. Religions must be questioned.

Any idea that requires a law to protect it from criticism is ipso facto a bad idea.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation [formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference], the United Nations, and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are actively engaged in trying to silence criticism of Islam. If their campaign succeeds it will greatly advance Islam’s jihad, its war to impose universal Islamic rule.

The victory of Islam would put humanity under a death sentence.  

And this is also a good time to repeat an even earlier post, The need to knock Islam (September 3, 2011):

The greatness of the West began with doubting. The idea that every belief, every assumption, should be critically examined started the might of Europe. When those old Greek thinkers who founded our civilization learnt and taught that no one has a monopoly of truth or ever will have, they launched the intellectual adventure that has carried the human race – not without a long interval in the doldrums – literally to the skies.

Socrates taught the utility of suspicion. He is reputed to have said, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.” He was not, however, the first to use doubt for discovery. Thales of Miletos, who was born 155 years before Socrates, dared to doubt that religion’s explanatory tales about how the world came to be as it is were to be trusted, and he began exploring natural phenomena in a way that we recognize as scientific. He is often called the Father of Science. With him and his contemporary, Anaximander, who argued with him by advancing alternative ideas, came the notion – for the first time as far as we know – that reason could fathom and describe how the universe worked.

Science is one of the main achievements of the West, but it is not the only product of constructive doubt that made for its greatness. Doubt as a habit of mind or tradition of thinking meant that new, foreign, even counter-intuitive ideas were not dismissed. Europe, before and after it stagnated in the doldrums of the long Catholic Christian night (and even to some extent during those dark centuries), was hospitable to ideas wherever they came from.

Totally opposed to this intellectual openness were the churches with their dogma. Those who claim that the achievements of our civilization are to be credited to Christianity (or in the currently fashionable phrase to “the Judeo-Christian tradition”) have a hard case to make. It was the rediscovery of the Greek legacy in the Renaissance in the teeth of Christian dogmatism, and the new freedom from religious persecution exploited by the philosophers of the Enlightenment that re-launched the West on its intellectual progress, to become the world’s nursery of innovation and its chief factory of ideas.

Our civilization cannot survive without this openness. Critical examination is the breath that keeps it alive. But it is in danger of suffocation. It is more threatened now than it has been for the last four hundred years by dogmatisms: Marxism, environmentalism, religion – above all Islam which absolutely forbids criticism.

The Founding Fathers of the United States perfectly understood the necessity for an open market of ideas. Every citizen of the republic, they laid down, must be free to declare his beliefs, to argue his case, to speak his mind, to examine ideas as publicly as he chose without fear of being silenced.

Islam is now the major threat to the West. Its ideas are the very opposite of those on which the USA was founded. It is an ideology of intolerance and cruelty. It forbids the free expression of thought. By its very nature, even if it were not now on a mission of world conquest (which it is), it is the enemy of the West.

The best way to defeat it is by criticizing it, constantly and persistently, in speech and writing, on the big screen and the small screen, in the schools and academies, in all the media of information and comment, in national and international assemblies.

If the weapon of words is forbidden, the only alternative will be guns. 

Why we matter 2

Here’s one of the most important reasons why The Atheist Conservative needs to exist. Why what we have to say is important. Why we must make ourselves heard.

From Fox News comes this story of an atheist of the left. In everything except his atheism, he couldn’t be more wrong.

If you sign up for Denver college professor Charles Angeletti’s American Civilization class, be forewarned that you’re going to have to recite his invective-filled “New Pledge” – and according to some of his students, also be ready to swallow a big helping of his politics.

Angeletti, who teaches at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has students learn an anti-American spoof of the Pledge of Allegiance that denounces the U.S. as a Republican-controlled bastion of injustice, all while spewing his own far-left brand of politics, according to current and former students.

The professor hands out this “pledge” on a flier to his students and demands that they repeat it.

I pledge allegiance to and wrap myself in the flag of the United States Against Anything Un-American. And to the Republicans for which it stands, two nations, under Jesus, rich against poor, with curtailed liberty and justice for all except blacks, homosexuals, women who want abortions, Communists, welfare queens, treehuggers, feminazis, illegal immigrants, children of illegal immigrants, and you, if you don’t watch your step.

The anti-U.S. recitation, first reported by higher education blog Campus Reform, was a satirical pledge aimed at getting students to question their nation’s leadership, Angeletti said. The self-proclaimed atheist and socialist told the site that he has been distributing the pledge in his classes for nearly 20 years as part of his lesson plan.

“We’re very racist, we’re very repressive, we’re very Christian oriented, we don’t tolerate other kinds of thinking in this country,” Angeletti told Campus Reform. “I could go on and on – and do, in my classes, for hours about things that we need to do to make this a better country.”

Could anything be further from the truth?

Consider that a majority of voters twice elected a black man (though he was completely unqualified for high office) to the presidency, many of them just to prove they were not racist. But see how America has again become over race-conscious as a result. President Obama and his attorney-general Eric Holder  are race-hustlers, working with others of their kidney; most prominently Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Malik Zulu Shabazz (head of the New Black Panther Party). Racism is now mostly expressed by black politicians, black trade union bosses,  black politicians  and “community organizers”.

The  voices calling loudly for repression in the US are those of politically-correct lefties.

We too dislike Christianity, and we exist to prove that one can be conservative, a defender of the Constitution, a free marketeer, an advocate for states’ rights, and a patriot without believing in the supernatural, or bible literalism, or creationism, or that “Jesus” is a god or a part of a god, or in that rump of a godthing they call “intelligent design”. Our existence alone disproves his caricature of conservative thought.

And equally that one can be an atheist without being – yes – “Communists, welfare queens, treehuggers, feminazis”;  or politically-correct progressives, Alinskyite community organizers, whitewashers of Islam, collectivists, redistributionists and America-hating racists.  

As for “not tolerating other kinds of thinking”, the US is the one country in the world which really does protect freedom of speech. The Left of course would change that if it could.

Academia is dominated by lefties like this professor, and – what is more and worse – his comrades are at present occupying the commanding heights of power.

 A student from Angeletti’s class told Campus Reform that the flier was handed out to the entire class and all students were required to recite it.

“This was an attempt to propagandize an entire classroom of young adults,” Steven Farr, a freshman majoring in meteorology, told the blog site.

Officials at Metropolitan State University of Denver did not immediately return requests for comment. The 24,000-student school has the second-highest undergraduate enrollment in the state and has several notable Division II sports programs. It also bills itself as a top choice for active-duty military and veterans to pursue higher education, and has several notable Division II sports programs.

We wonder what the active-duty soldiers and the vets think of Professor Charles Angeletti’s ravings.

Ah! – Fox tells us:

“This is typical elite, progressive, post-modernist garbage,” said Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “I hope and believe that vets in his class will challenge this professor. We have seen this time and time again. Lessons like this stack the deck against veterans and basically tell them, you fought for nothing,” Hegseth added. “You fought for a lie.”

 

(Hat-tip to our Facebook reader and commenter, Joe Compton. He rightly believes that to counter the lies of ill-informed, malicious, anti-America atheists like this, is why The Atheist Conservative exists.)

End of the last best hope? 10

Today we dare to go further than we ventured a few days ago when we wrote about the systematic weakening of America by its elected leader. (The taking down of America, December 1, 2014.)

We declare that Obama and his gang, and the greater part of the political party that put him in power, and the international Left, in alliance with Islam, are deliberately destroying America. That is to say, destroying America as the embodiment in a free republic of the idea of liberty under the rule of law. And are close to succeeding.

It is dumbfounding, gobsmacking, how blatant they are about it. How large their plan is writ across their term in power. How openly they do their dirty deeds. They hardly take any pains to disguise their ugly intentions. And yet how the people of America and the world beyond it have managed not to notice, or fully comprehend, what is happening!

David Solway, writing at PJ Media, assembles the evidence that the general public seems unable or unwilling to see, and ponders the horrible work in progress towards the destruction of America.

In [his book] Marked for Death, Geert Wilders argues that Islam has marked not only him but ultimately every freedom-loving individual and so-called “Islamophobe” for death because of the supremacist nature of its doctrines. What outrages Wilders, in addition to the Islamic threat and the demographic inroads the religion of war is carving into the European urban landscape, is the scandalous complicity of Europe’s governing elites, leading to the eventual subversion of the continent.  Although Wilders does not address American vulnerability in any detailed way, what must surely strike a disinterested observer is the equal complicity with which the commander in chief of the United States is pursuing a program of American decline. On the domestic, economic, military, and foreign policy fronts, Obama is energetically and probably irretrievably weakening the country he has sworn to defend, with surprisingly little concerted opposition, or even awareness, from many politicians or from the still-infatuated members of his constituency.

We think the infatuated members of his constituency, or most of them, are aware – and applaud him for it. They want what he wants.

To start with Islam, it is mind-boggling to observe an American president vigorously facilitating the Islamic imperial agenda in a number of different but equally effective ways. He could not do better — or worse — if he were a transplanted Qatari sheikh. One notes the infamous Cairo address with its bloat of lies and factoids. The UN speeches, such as “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” The elevation of Muslim Brotherhood operatives into sensitive posts in his administration. Islamic outreach through official institutions such as NASA, once designed for space exploration, now, apparently, for Muslim apologetics. Iftar dinners at the White House. Congratulatory letters to mosques and his designation of terror attacks as “workplace violence”, “man-caused disasters” and “traffic incidents”. His concessionary engaging in a secret correspondence with Iran’s anti-American and anti-Semitic Ayatollah Khamenei. The withdrawing of troops from Iraq, thus opening the way for the establishment of the Islamic State. The purging of FBI training manuals of all reference to jihad. And the interviews in which Obama claims that the U.S. is “one of the biggest Muslim nations”. (In actuality, professing Muslims count for 1.5% of the American people, in comparison, for example, to Muslims amounting to 13% of India’s census.)

But it doesn’t stop there. Obama is not only manifestly pro-Islam; he is demonstrably anti-American. His policies across the board are all of a piece. Domestically, his economic projects have been calamitous. Obama has pied-pipered the nation to the brink of fiscal ruin … His racial interventions have set race relations back a generation or more — most recently his urging the Ferguson rioters to “stay on course“.  His attack on the Constitution is systematically undermining the republican nature of the US. Former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey cites the president for violating the Constitution 24 times with regard to Obamacare alone. …

Obama’s refusal to secure the permeable southwestern border is an open invitation to a veritable invasion of illegals and jihadists. His executive order to issue a temporary reprieve on the grounds of prosecutorial discretion, to delay deportation, and to provide work permits for millions of illegals is certain to create dismay, resentment and confrontation on a national scale … His mishandling of the Ebola crisis is only another example of anti-colonial politicking, placing American citizens at risk by allowing flights from infected West African countries into the U.S. The list goes on.

In terms of foreign policy, all of Obama’s actions seem dedicated to weakening American strength and resolve in a hostile world. His innumerable blunders — if that is what they are — whether the result of incompetence or, more likely, intention, …

Intention – we see no reason seriously to doubt it.

… have been scrupulously and abundantly documented in scores of books and hundreds of articles. (As an audience member at a recent Freedom Center symposium joked, Obama is “the most competent president we’ve ever had” — most competent, that is, as a malevolent and destructive force whose blunders are not accidents.) It might almost seem as if Obama’s “crimes and misdemeanors” are acquiring encyclopedic dimensions. Here we need only mention his clear bias against international allies, in particular Israel, his funding of the terrorist organization Hamas, his inability or unwillingness to deal effectively with ISIS, which he notoriously regarded as a jayvee outfit, and, most worrisomely, his pampering of the Iranian mullocracy in its determined march toward nuclear status.

His campaign against the American military is perhaps the most telling if under-the-radar sign of his animus toward his own country. His aim to reduce the military to pre-WWII levels and his sacking of ranking military personnel are especially troubling instances of a malign agenda. As retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, an original member of Delta Force and currently executive vice president of the Family Research Council, has argued, “our military is being devastated at the same time that all of our enemies, all of our potential adversaries are ramping up.” It is time, he insists on Twitter, that “top military MUST stand up to President + reckless policies.” It is hard to understand how a powerful military establishment could allow itself to be serially gutted, unless it is helmed by hand-picked Obama supporters.

For there is no evident, top-brass pushback against a president who has signaled to the enemy a timetable for withdrawal; who has shackled his forces in Afghanistan with so-called “rules of engagement,” putting their lives in jeopardy; whose concept of military propriety is a latte salute and whose concept of diplomatic propriety is chewing gum in the face of a prestigious welcoming delegation of a formidable power. This is a president under whose watch veterans were neglected and abused; who has exchanged an alleged deserter for five mid-to-high tier Taliban terrorists; and who has blithely abandoned servicemen under fire or held in captivity. The American armed forces find themselves in a position analogous to the Turkish military, once the guarantor of the country’s Kemalist experiment, now decimated under the authoritarian stewardship of Obama’s good friend, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose example Obama appears to be emulating.

As a result of Erdogan’s actions, a secular Muslim state has been transformed into an Islamic theopolitical nightmare. What the future augurs for America under Obama’s cataclysmic leadership is equally distressing.

Equally? While we agree with Solway’s argument, and value the useful list of proofs that he has gathered, at this point we murmur a respectful correction: What happens to America is immeasurably more important than what happens to Turkey.

And is he too pessimistic in this next passage? Is America “no longer the world’s only superpower” – or even not a superpower at all any more?

In the conclusion of his seminal book, Geert Wilders warned that the Islamic incursion into the body politic and social matrix of the U.S. is well underway; in the course of time, the nation will have lost itself in the Wilderness. But the gradual emirization of the U.S. is merely one among a host of premonitory indices. The nation’s spirit appears increasingly stagnant. It is drowning in a Noah’s flood of debt, it is coming apart at the racial seams, it is riven by a red/blue ideological conflict that appears unbridgeable, it is no longer the world’s only superpower — indeed, it is moot whether it is still a superpower, and it is considered either a hindrance or an irrelevance on the global proscenium. It is debatable whether the rot has gone too deep to be scoured, or if the recent change in party representation in Congress or a future Republican presidency would amount to anything more than a temporary hiatus. … The rot is not only political but has eaten deep into the culture as well, with growing levels of violence, welfare dependence, historical ignorance and general cynicism. In any event, once a nation has forfeited its pre-eminence, history shows it unlikely to reclaim its former position of authority and grandeur.

Finally he gives more reasons to be pessimistic, and they are all cogent:

Many have pointed out, as has Dinesh D’Souza to persuasive effect in America: Imagine a World without Her, that Obama’s main endeavor is to promote national enfeeblement, an enterprise which the American left, via its political, media, intellectual and academic elites, has been advancing for the last fifty years. When the fundraiser-in-chief is pastured out to the golf course or the United Nations and should the Democrats be returned to power, someone else will replace him to carry on his work. Certainly, should Alinsky-friendly Hillary Clinton or populist fraud and gentrified socialist Elizabeth Warren succeed to the presidency, one could write an early finis to the great American adventure in republican governance.

The question remains partially open. Can the country slip out from under the withering curse laid upon it by a runaway president, his subversive administration and the radically corrupt Democratic Party? Can the Augean Stables of a decaying political, intellectual and media culture be cleansed and fumigated? Can the Republicans connect with their staunchly conservative base to eventually form a credible, unified and revitalized governing party?

In the meantime, with the help of his compliant accomplices, Obama has, both as effect and cause, probably done more damage to American interests, security and patriotic fervor than any single president before him. Indeed, he has done more than any of his predecessors to ensure that America as we once knew her is marked for death.

Beyond hope? Not quite:

One can only hope against hope that the American spirit is still at least subliminally resilient.

The taking down of America 11

President Obama believes that America is arrogant.* If his foreign policy can be explained by anything, it would be his intention to bring America down a peg or ten. Looked at like that, the disasters we see happening in many parts of the world are testimony not to  Obama’s failure, but to his success.

Not that President Obama can have any objection to arrogance as such. He is an arrogant man. He just doesn’t want America to be proud of its superiority. He hates the very idea that it is superior. But while he would not even acknowledge its political-moral superiority as a republic constituted for liberty, he cannot deny that it is economically and militarily stronger than any other country. So he’s been working to change that for the last six years.

The whole world is the worse for his efforts.

This is from Front Page, by Bruce Thornton:

The 6 years of Barack Obama’s foreign policy have seen American influence and power decline across the globe. Traditional rivals like China and Russia are emboldened and on the march in the South China Sea and Ukraine. Iran, branded as the world’s deadliest state sponsor of terrorism, is arrogantly negotiating its way to a nuclear bomb. Bloody autocrats and jihadist gangs in the Middle East scorn our president’s threats and behead our citizens. Countries in which Americans have shed their blood in service to our interests and ideals are in the process of being abandoned to our enemies. And allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia are bullied or ignored. All over the world, a vacuum of power has been created by a foreign policy sacrificed to domestic partisan advantage, and characterized by criminal incompetence.

Incompetence is what it looks like. But if failure is the aim, then either the incompetence is only an appearance, or it is a means to the end.

How we have arrived at this point, the dangers to our security and interests if we don’t change course, and what must be done to recover our international prestige and effectiveness are the themes of Bret Stephens’ America in Retreat. The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. …

A clear sign of American retreat is the precipitous decline in military spending. “In the name of budgetary savings,” Stephens writes, “the Army is returning to its June 1940 size,” and “the Navy put fewer ships at sea at any time since 1916.” The Air Force is scheduled to retire 25,000 airmen and mothball 550 planes. Our nuclear forces are being cut to meet the terms of the 2010 New Start Treaty with Russia, even as its nuclear arsenal has been increasing. Meanwhile Obama … issues empty threats, blustering diktats, and sheer lies that convince world leaders he is a “self-infatuated weakling”.

Unfortunately, 52% of the American people agree that the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally”,  and 65% want to “reduce overseas military commitments”, including a majority of Republicans. This broad consensus that America should retreat from global affairs reflects our age’s bipartisan isolationism, the centerpiece of Stephens’ analysis. This national mood is not a sign of decline, according to Stephens, who documents the enormous advantages America still enjoys globally, from its superiority in research and entrepreneurial vigor, to its healthy demographics and spirit of innovation. But it does bespeak a dangerous withdrawal from the policies that created the postwar Pax Americana – even though this global order policed by the U.S. defeated the murderous, nuclear-armed ideology of Soviet communism, and made possible the astonishing economic expansion that has lifted millions from poverty all over the world. …

For Stephens, isolationism has not been the only danger to American foreign policy success. What he calls “the overdose of ideals”, specifically the “freedom agenda” of the sort George W. Bush tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, has misdirected our efforts and squandered our resources in the pursuit of impossible goals. The success of the Cold War and the subsequent spread of democracy and free-market economies suggested that the world could be not just protected from an evil ideology, but “redeemed” by actively fostering liberal democracy even in countries and regions lacking the necessary network of social mores and political virtues upon which genuine liberal democracy rests. But in attempting to redeem the world, Stephens notes, policy makers “neglected a more prosaic responsibility: to police it”.

The failures to create stability, let alone true democracy, in Iraq and Afghanistan have enabled what Stephens calls the “retreat doctrine”, one to be found in both political parties. Barack Obama is the master of this species of foreign policy, incoherently combining idealistic democracy-promoting rhetoric with actions that further withdraw the U.S. from its responsibility to ensure global order. Under the guise of “nation-building at home,” and in service to traditional leftist doubt about America’s goodness, Obama has retreated in the face of aggression, and encouraged cuts in military spending in order to fund an ever-expanding entitlement state.

But also, equally, in order to make America weaker.

Meanwhile, “Republicans are busy writing their own retreat doctrine in the name of small government, civil liberties, fiscal restraint, ‘realism’,  a creeping sense of Obama-induced national decline, and a deep pessimism about America’s ability to make itself, much less the rest of the world, better.”

The “retreat doctrine” is dangerous because global disorder is a constant contingency. The remainder of Stephens’ book approaches this topic first from the perspective of theory and history, and then from today’s practice. History teaches us that all the substitutes for a liberal dominant global power have failed to prevent the descent into conflict and mass violence. The ideas of a balance of power, collective security, or the presumed peaceful dividend and “harmony of interests” created by global trade did not prevent World War I or its even more devastating sequel. Nor are they any more useful in our own times.

As for today, Stephens identifies several challenges to a global order fragilely held together by the commitment to liberal democracy, open economies, and the free circulation of ideas and trade. The “revisionists” attack this model from various perspectives. Iran sees it as a fomenter of godlessness and hedonism, Russia is moved to oppose it by “revanchism and resentment”,  and China believes that it “is a recipe for bankruptcy and laziness”,  lacking a “sense of purpose, organization, and direction”.  All three see evidence for their various critiques in the failure of the U.S. to exercise its massive power in the face of challenges, and in the willingness of American elites to revel in guilt and self-doubt. These perceptions of national decline invite rivals and enemies to behave as if the U.S. is in fact declining.

The other international players that could worsen disorder are “freelancers” and “free radicals”.  The former include those countries like Israel or Japan who, convinced that America will not act in its own or its allies’ interests, will understandably take action that necessarily entails unforeseen disastrous consequences. Much more dangerous are the “free radicals”, the jihadist gangs rampaging across 3 continents, and the nuclear proliferators like Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, whose collaboration with each other and rogue regimes like Venezuela endangers the world through provoking even further proliferation on the part of rivals, or by handing off nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations. And then there are “free radicals” like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who have undermined global order by publicizing the necessarily covert tools, practices, and institutions that undergird and protect it.

Finally, there are the structural weaknesses of the globalized economy and its continuing decline in growth, which may create “breaks” in national economic systems that “will be profoundly disruptive, potentially violent, and inherently unpredictable”. Add America’s retreat from world affairs and reductions in military spending, and in the “nearer term”, Stephens warns, “terrorists, insurgents, pirates, hackers, ‘whistleblowers’,  arms smugglers, and second-rate powers armed with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles will be able to hold the United States inexpensively at risk”,  provoking further American retreat from world affairs and the inevitable increased aggression by our enemies and rivals.

 So what can be done? In his conclusion Stephens applies to foreign affairs the “broken windows” tactics of urban policing that caused rates of violent crimes to plummet over the last few decades. Thus “the immediate goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to arrest the continued slide into a broken-windows world of international disorder”.

This foreign policy would require increasing U.S. military spending to 5% of GDP, with a focus on increasing numbers of troops, planes, and ships rather than on overly sophisticated and expensive new weapons. It would mean stationing U.S. forces near global hotspots to serve as a deterrent and rapid-reaction force to snuff out incipient crises. It would require reciprocity from allies in military spending, who for too long have taken for granted the American defense umbrella. It would focus attention on regions and threats that really matter, particularly the borderlands of free states, in order to protect global good citizens from predators. It means acting quickly and decisively when conflict does arise, rather than wasting time in useless debates and diplomatic gabfests. Finally, it would require that Americans accept that their unprecedented global economic, cultural, and military power confers on us both vulnerability to those who envy and hate us, and responsibility for the global order on which our own security and interests depend.

No matter how understandable our traditional aversion to military and political entanglements abroad, history has made us the global policeman, one committed to human rights, accountability, and political freedom. If we abdicate that position, there is no country powerful, or worthy enough, to take our place.

We agree with that.

And Thornton tantalizes us with this:

Stephens ends with an imagined “scenario” of how a serious global disruption could occur, one grounded in current trends and thus frighteningly believable.

When we’ve found out what that scenario is, which is to say when we’ve read the book, we’ll return to this important subject.

 

*  “In his first nine months in office, President Obama has issued apologies and criticisms of America in speeches in France, England, Turkey, and Cairo; at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City. He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, and for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, and for feeding anti-Muslim sentiments; for committing torture, for dragging our feet on global warming and for selectively promoting democracy.” – Mitt Romney, quoted by PolitiFact.com

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