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Comments by Seth Halpern

On “The obligatory “problem with the problem with the Palin problem” post

@CKM: I dunno, she still makes me smile the way Reagan did but no other major politician in my lifetime. For me that's a tribute to her charm but also to her substance. That doesn't mean she's a good bet for 2012 but I don't view her problems as incurable. Of course I'm not privy to her thoughts. I don't know how her family is doing or whether she's serious about acquiring the kind of professional staff Republican presidential hopefuls have traditionally relied on. On the other hand she's been in a monogamous relationship for thirty years and has five children. She's not dizzy about the important stuff in life, which is certainly more than I could ever say for myself. Give her time to collect herself, and meanwhile take a break from her yourself. You sound like you could use it.

On “Faith-Based Politics In Place Of A Winning Program

Well the presidents who did the most to expand the welfare state before Obama were all white people - white Protestants in fact (FDR, LBJ, Dubya) - and they didn't just do it to coddle minorities. So maybe old white people need to get their own act together before preaching to everybody else.

On “On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

@CKM: Not sure Standard Oil & kin were so much worse in their way than, say, the modern US media, or their behavior more a suitable moral pretext for large or aggressive government.


@CKM: I never read the book so I didn't know it made such extreme inferences. But a good post by you of course.
Small point (well, bigger for Mexicans): You didn't mean to imply that we never invaded/occupied parts of Mexico during the WW administration, did you? I don't know what it means to say he "opposed" intervention seeing as he was the CiC.
As you know, my own unease with "classic" P-ism stems less from its historical actuality (though that was certainly not above criticism) than from its inherent potentiality , which again is less a reason to condemn or defame it with 20-20 hindsight than to cast about for ways - even if they only amount to thought experiments - in which it might have been kept from metastasizing. I still have a problem with any notion of progress divorced from process, for example.

On “Paul Ryan on Real Progressivism

Authenticity wars are usually tedious at best. Intellectuals and ideologues are always fighting them. Besides, in this case such a quarrel necessarily ignore the question why ur-Progressivism morphed into its alleged opposite. I suspect that any movement that mobilizes the public en masse to circumvent the conventional machinery of representative government is bound to render the latter vulnerable to other arbitrary encroachments - say, to bureaucratic self-aggrandizement. The old form atrophies from disuse while newer, supposedly more efficient and advanced ones compete over its former prerogatives. Once you hold "progress" to be your objective, how do you sanctify procedures? The answer is you don't. You are already on the slippery slope.

On “It wasn’t a very good year: 1938 – Hitler’s Gamble by Giles Macdonogh

I'm not convinced that our relative success in containing the Soviet Union - a nation exhausted after it did most of the heavy lifting against Hitler itself , and whose leaders were grateful to die in bed - shows that the world is safer under our wing . We didn't prevent the Cultural Revolution, or the Killing Fields, or the Rwanda genocide. I suppose you could argue that things would have been even worse without us, but that is informed supposition. Conversely, say we had attacked the Red Army in 1946? Would we have saved the planet from two generations of Communist tyranny or shattered our own domestic consensus and precipitated another isolationist sulk?
And suppose we had stiffened the Anglo-French spine in 1938, leaving a tenuous equilibrium abroad. Would we - could we - have embarked on a worldwide mission with the other Great Powers still calling most of the shots? Even the most civilized Germans chafed under Versailles, Japan controlled large chunks of China, Russia was ever paranoid. Again, the assurance that a bloodbath would not have erupted is just that. Moreover, we were in no mood to reorder things then precisely because we had not yet suffered or witnessed the frightful carnage that engendered such resolve - or more accurately that would overcome our revulsion at the round of 1914-18.

Well, enough of channeling Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul and Grumpy. Gotta go check the crawl space.

On “How little you know: The Deniable Darwin by David Berlinski

@CKM: On reflection, and under the influence of my new anxiety medication, I tend to think that people on average are more naturally competitive and even progressive (in the sense of believing that competition yields technical improvement though not necessarily virtue) than various leadership castes and classes have cared to admit or indulge. So, for example, politicians (and intellectuals even more so) are notoriously self-aggrandizing even as they impose their altruistic schemes on the rest of us. The trick is finding a way to channel both instincts productively. I think democratic limited government offers the best environment for permitting the kind of experimentation conducive to a satisfactory working arrangement. In such an environment people's natural affinities can manifest themselves and attain an equilibrium with the least possible need for overt indoctrination, capitalist or otherwise. Maintaining the balance of government is the key in my view. But as I say, that could be the Bupropion talking.


@CKM: You think we had to be brainwashed as children to find virtue in competition? I relished being number one or close to it in classes and in extracurricular activities ( at least until I developed more than a touch of depression). But it never occurred to me to vote Republican until I noticed that most of the people I disliked were Democrats. I bet if I'd grown up in Texas I'd be a flaming liberal.


@Rex: I am not a Social Darwinist, nor do I imagine many Darwin skeptics are, but I'm pretty sure Alcee Hastings is, along with his friends.

On “The Real Progressives

Reconciling mass democracy with the rule of experts isn't easy, but it may have been easier for those influenced by Wilhelmine Germany, as many Americans during the Progressive Era were. The motto on the old Reichstag was I believe, "To the German People," ie democracy as a gift to the governed. Popular assembly was perceived by the Kaisers and their ministers and generals as a sounding board and a safety valve, not the sovereign or source of legitimacy, which, if anything, derived from idealist theory or perhaps traditional monarchical rationales.
Americans of course feel ill at ease with such transparent elitism but a halfway house might be the notion of an educable citizenry freely relinquishing their prerogatives to experts. Thus, maximum freedom enables a kind of Jeffersonian meritocracy, where the natural aristocrats are sifted from the rabble and freely vested with stewardship over the latter.

Kind of like Klondike gold nuggets.

On “A journey to delicious and beyond…

@CKM: I meant nice kitty cat Mittens on delightful journey through enchanted forest home of hungry Arctic predator/razor-toothed fish.


First Romney ad!

On “The Real Progressives

The robber barons have not gone undefended. They rationalized production or resource exploitation in valuable ways, paid highly competitive wages, established foundations and built libraries. I wonder how many people know that the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics were both favorite charities of the Rockefellers. There's irony for you.
If women's suffrage - the largest virtually unqualified extension of mass democracy in American history - wasn't progressive I don't know what was. But women voters were credited at the time with handing the presidency to ... Warren Harding - and denying the vice presidency to FDR, who, accordingly, contracted polio and had to wait for the Great Depression to make his presence felt. But I'm getting too religious.


It's hard for me to give up my notion that progressivism is a kind of Caesarism for intellectuals, so the idea that it could be inherently small-government conservative sticks in my craw. Caesarism of course isn't always or simply fascistic - Rome had a pretty good bureaucracy for a while and Robert Moses gave us Jones Beach. As for Palin, I think it's fair to discern in her some progressive tics but I wouldn't torture myself to validate them. She might slice away a good deal of pork with that knife of hers as well as inspire a more self-reliant bent in the populace but I wouldn't count on a fad for powdered whigs.


@Zoltan: I'll stipulate in advance that it's a warm bath of sudsy sensations. But based on the examples you gave, not one I'd care to take regularly. Whereas I can watch "Casablanca" - a thoroughly sentimental movie redeemed primarily by the astonishing number of wonderfully written and acted small and bit parts in it, probably an all-time record - over and over. Once every couple of months anyway. "Dances," &c. not so much after the spell wears off, ie within 24 hours. But you (and Colin) could well be right about "Avatar" being good PR for the American Way of Life. It probably beats even Shock and Awe for impressing the natives.


CKM, I have to hand it to you laddie, you have passion. I doubt "Avatar" will ever warm my cockles like, say, 1939's "Four Feathers," but you've given me added grounds for curiosity.

Hey Rex, I thought you said you LIKED Palin.

On “If At First You Don’t Succeed… – WORLD WAR ONE – a Short History by Norman Stone

The horrors that followed should not obscure the fact that Imperial Germany was an aggressively expansionist power which would have to be contained (and preferably dismantled) sooner or later to insure the stability of Europe. We can argue whether it was worth the cost, or handled sanely even if it was, but I think the persistent notion that WWI was nothing more than a singularly tasteless joke does a disservice, no doubt inadvertent, to its Allied practitioners, who tend to be stereotyped as mad social Darwinists or their hapless lab rats and guinea pigs. .

After all, the American Civil War may have been criminally negligent overkill too, and most white Southerners just wanted to be left alone.


My mother's distant cousins convinced themselves they were "real" Wallensteins, which was undoubtedly a fantasy, so it's just as well that the most talented of them ended up writing for and about Hollywood. But that's my personal link to the Thirty Years' War.
The difference between Old Spain and America, of course, is that the commercial classes were never considered authentically Spanish by the popular majority whereas they remain quintessentially American. On that I continue to base some optimism.

On “A Unique Take on Obama's Dual Crisis

Can we be so sure that an attack on Iran would be commitment free? The neocon premise that Iran is in fact a prison house of ethnicities abutting not only each other but a covetous Russian quasi-empire as well as various Sunni Muslim entities implies that even a successful bombing plus regime change would leave us with a basket of obligations toward a basket case of a region.

I wonder if even John Bolton, much as I sympathize with him, has thought this through.

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