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Comments by CK MacLeod

On “One Cancer Under God: On Defending Woodrow Wilson

@ narciso:
There was no "categorical assertion," narc. Discussed in the LF review. @ Ken:
You're right that the argument is Burkean - and appropriately so considering that Wilson, like his nemesis Jonah Goldberg, was a devotee of Burke. However, I would never make the attempt, following Burke, to perform a one-to-one transfer of issues and definitions from Britain ca. 1793 to America ca. 2010 (or 1912). That would be a very un-Burkean operation, in my estimation.


@ Rex Caruthers:
I'll bank the compliments, and plead the impossibility of imagining the course of the last century minus all of the major and minor events that defined the last century.


@ Rex Caruthers:
No, I wouldn't say that Cooper has written the definitive book on TWW. I'm not qualified, by far, to make such an assessment.

I've ordered the book, and will hold you responsible if I don't like it, or it hurts my tender feelings on my super all-time hero Woodrow Wilson (l) .

Regardless of Cooper or Fleming, I remain extremely skeptical of "your imperfect war, my perfect alternative" fantasies about what might have been. We just don't know what we don't know. Maybe a European continent dominated by imperial Germany would have evolved into an earthly paradise. Or maybe the triumphant Reich would have augmented its dominance with early acquisition of nuclear weapons and a will to use them. It would certainly violate one of the closely held tenets of American grand strategy, but, then, maybe we would have been happier as Germany's vassal for 1,000 years.

Could be a fun alternative history anyway - but not a strong political argument.


@ Rex Caruthers:
Maybe you need to argue with this bloke.

The reviewers seem to take exception to Fleming's "over-the-top" "contempt" for Wilson. Cooper is concerned with the whole of Wilson's life, but is quite frank about Wilson's failings in relation to the peace negotiations and the League fight, and suggests that his inflexibility and inconsistency may have stemmed from exhaustion and from early symptoms of his breakdown (Wilson had suffered from symptoms in earlier years, including partial paralysis, that a modern doctor would have recognized). Possibly related to too much Southern cooking: The later conflagrations of the 20th Century may come down to greasy fritters and fried chicken.


@ narciso:
The scandals that afflicted Harding's administration were a tad more extensive than "some flawed associates." The Washington Conference was a highly Wilsonian enterprise. In fact, naval limitations - and the threat to out-build the Brits if they didn't agree to them - was a feature of Wilson's peace positioning.

As for Mellon's boom-steerage, can't say I know anything about it.


narciso wrote:

we had anything close to a critique from the right

There certainly ought to be a valid "critique from the right" of Wilson - perhaps as undertaken by the people Goldberg refers to as the "Claremonsters," for instance - but historical name-calling and alternately petty (Will) or bizarrely hyped (Beck et al) denunciations don't qualify as a critique.


@ narciso:
Considering that Harding exited office died in office under a cloud of scandal, and is remembered for very little else other than the sentence "racial amalgamation there cannot be," attempts at demolition amount to breaking a straw man. And all sympathy to W., but WW1 was, by the numbers, around 1000 times or so a bigger deal than the Conflict Formerly Known as the War on Terror. But like I said, the attempt to "demolish" a consequential American presidency is a game for leftists to play, not for would-be conservatives.


@ Rex Caruthers:
It's a 600-page biography, so of course he touches upon those issues - though probably not in the way you would like, since hardly anyone, except maybe the bloke you mention, discusses those issue in the way you would like.

As discussed peripherally in the LF review, the US was already "involved" in WW1 whether it chose to declare war or not. Cooper takes the view that US intervention, which Wilson resisted up to the last moment, combined with Wilson's peace policy, probably saved 100s of thousands of lives, and may have prevented a German victory at even greater immediate cost. Given the long-term results, it all becomes extremely speculative. Wilson's vision for the League was specifically about preventing another war - which he, like others, viewed as virtually inevitable without major, coordinated effort. His opponents opted instead to see no evil, dance away the succeeding decade, and inflate an equity bubble. Sound familiar?

Whether or not we had entered WW1 earlier, as many urged, or had somehow stayed out - which would have required Wilson to go up against a near national consensus - the US was becoming the indispensable nation, with complex cultural and commercial ties to Europe and the world. Unless you imagine a return to Jeffersonian agrarian republicanism, arguing about whether Wilson was too hot, too cold, or just right on the war seems irrelevant by now, and not of greater lasting importance than, say, the New Freedom legislation, or the choice of Wilson's vision over TR's "New Nationalism" or Taft's untimely and highly qualified conservatism (in addition to being TR's former protege, Taft was also an inveterate peacenik-internationalist, a charter member with Wilson of the American Peace Society and a leading proponent of a "League to Enforce Peace").

On “Light posting… some soundings…

@ bob:
You dont' have to apologize for Penrose to me - I dig him. He was the first person I read who ever made me feel as though I understood quantum mechanics. It was SHADOWS OF THE MIND, a really enjoyable book, by the way, especially for science fiction fans.

We were discussing Penrose briefly a few months ago, with our occasional visitor strangelet. My view is that he might have an insight into the most irreducible and fundamental mechanics of thinking (mentation?), but that the mechanics wouldn't be quite the same thing as the formation and enunciation of thoughts and concepts. For that I'm still partial to a society of mind/hyper-accelerated evolution model, though I'm still thinking through for myself (by some mysterious process) how the possible deficiencies in Darwinian natural selection might affect my picture of it.

As for conservative views, one approach would be to drop a level down, and think of the mind as a free market economy, exploiting "market" signals and spontaneous order. There would be an appeal to more traditional conservative views about society that would work here, too. As I think about it - and the society of mind - I'm wondering if there is any general statement about politics that one couldn't equally apply to the functioning of the mind. Will reflect on it as I got about my affairs.


@ bob:
Count me as a skeptic of the notion that neuroscience can solve the fundamental questions of consciousness from within neuroscience. It can only ever describe organic mechanisms for the production or reception of ideas and things. The idea as idea and thing as thing are beyond its purview, because neuroscience itself is an idea about things. It would need to exceed itself, and at that moment cease being neuroscience, to grasp its own concept, and the paradox would apply just as much to the perhaps broader idea of "cognitive science," which can teach us lots of things, but runs up against the limits of language and philosophy and philosophy of language and the languages of philosophy, and so can't ever quite tell us us what cognitive science is.

This problem is well-known, of course, including by you, clearly. I do wonder why and how free will exactly matters to neuroscientists, and whether any of their investigations take us very far beyond the "cognitive science" of the great and disagreeable philosophers who've been practicing the science without a license since forever.

Odd how these exchanges are tracing over material, including the original "immanentize the eschaton" essay, which I just happened to grab this last week.


@ narciso:
A little bit of static there, but I get the point, and I agree that Obamist neo-progressivism is a lot more Spirit of '76 than Spirit of '87 in the sense of the above discussion - or would be if it was coherent. More later.


@ Rex Caruthers:
Not sure the Russian dream is done. As for us, I think it's questionable whether the U.S. would survive the death of the idea of the U.S., in any recognizable form.


Rex Caruthers wrote:

If we are going to salvage our empire,or our nation,(we have to choose which)we have to do that with our Reason and Intelligence, not some fantasy of Predestination,Divine Right or Manifest Destiny.

I'd say we need to do it, and re-do it, with our acts, not our abstractions - immanentize the ol' eschaton. As for being "special" or "exceptional," the proof is also ever only immanent. We know ourselves by our works, the reach that exceeds whatever intellectual grasp. The "fantasies" you deride were also dreams of Reason and Intelligence. You can declare them monstrous, but any such declaration, reified, is just another monster being born.

On “How Now Brown Dow?

@ Rex Caruthers:
I think the Sun was exaggerating a bit there. As far as I know, Palin's never gone beyond referring to monetary policy very peripherally - as part of a scattershot attack on the Ps that B.

On “Soon to be lapping up on a shore near you…

@ narciso:
No objective assessment possible, since we don't know what would have happened without the Fed. Additionally, the things we spend most of the time discussing in relation to the Fed are only a small part of the purposes it was meant to serve. It's like saying, "the army screwed up in Iraq in 2003-6 so we might as well get rid of the entire Defense Department."

What's clear is that the century during which the Fed existed also happens to be the century that the U.S. rose to international economic, political, and military pre-eminence, while tripling its population, increasing life expectancy by 20 years, etc., etc., so... on balance not so bad.


@ Rex Caruthers:
It's interesting that Roubini brings up the Federal Reserve. As you will be aware, the Federal Reserve system was structured to serve two related purposes - to make capital available to those (especially farmers) who felt gravely disadvantaged by a system tilted to the needs, interests, and customs of the great financiers (mainly manufacturing-oriented, East Coast, urban); and to help secure the total financial and political system from the kinds of panics (and depressions) that were a regular feature of American history to that point, and whose effects were exacerbated under the conditions of industrial capitalism. Along with the income tax and elements of Wilson's "New Freedom," the Federal Reserves was supposed to help the nation-state stand on its own two feet and serve the interests of the whole people (collectively and as individuals or associations) rather than remain dependent on and subservient to the likes of JP Morgan and other immensely rich individuals.

Similar intentions or justifications have been behind every major and minor innovation, act of omission, and compromise along the lines that Rex detests: LBJ couldn't conceive of policy in the richest and most powerful country on the planet being held hostage to runs on Gold by pesky foreigners who were dubious of his and the nation's far-sighted magnificence. Nixon and every president after him up to and including Obama and likely including the next one as well have similarly rejected "conventional" economic restraints of this type: There's something heroic, or maybe Promethean, about the gesture, which on some level may connect with recognizably "modern" or "progressive" notions about everything else. We're fulfilling the Underground Man's prophecy, having "contrived to be born somehow from an idea."

What I'm suggesting, Rex, is that this fulcrum of your "obsession" may run very deep - much deeper than the gold standard per se - which may be why it's so intractable.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ After Seven:
1. Pew Numbers:

No reason simply to assume that closing the overall generic ballot gap in the broad population will have greatly affected the numbers among scientists - even if you don't rely on the excuses commonly offered previously that scientists are overly influenced by a combination of groupthink and self-interest.

We'll just have to wait and see whether conservative self-identification among scientists has greatly increased. Maybe it's even doubled! To... 16%... (From minuscule to merely desperately small...)

2. Left more "closed" than the right - could well be. I acknowledged as much from the top. Why should that be an excuse for the anti-intellectualism and extreme closed-mindedness exhibited by Levin and other popular hard right conservatives? If the perception that conservatives are closed-minded on some topics is false, though somewhat prevalent, then one way, among others, to dispense with it is to subject closed-minded offerings to criticism.

Conservatives want to think of themselves as more open-minded and non-ideological in their thinking and beliefs than liberals. That sets a higher burden before them. Merely acting on a blinkered assumption of open-mindedness isn't enough.

3. You continue to want to recruit Dr. Curry to the right. Until Dr. Curry herself has made the avowals and confessions, you do her a service, or perhaps a disservice, but the conclusion remains premature. You have no idea whether, say, Dr. Curry voted for Barack Obama and would do so again. That she criticizes and may have broken with a nominally non-partisan outfit that you associate with the left is not a greatly significant political fact, unless you believe that there are not and cannot be intellectually, morally, and financially corrupt institutions and individuals of the right.

Unfortunately, in the trenches, including this trench, I see plentiful evidence of closed minds on the right - especially those individuals who persist in the entirely un-conservative framing of a scientific question so that one set of answers must qualify as conservative, the others as liberal. That's a position worthy of Joseph Stalin, not William F Buckley.

4. You again speculate that an external event - now passage of HCR - might greatly alter the Pew Poll results. For all we know, HCR may have driven a large section of merely rather liberal scientists into the hard liberal or ultra- liberal camps. We just don't know and can't know until we do know.

The breakdown of the AAAS membership is irrelevant to the Pew Poll, which was designed to asses political affinities of scientists, not AAAS' broad membership. Specifically:

Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

I don't see why you would want to exclude student members of the AAAS, on the other hand, in whatever numbers they made up the sample, in an effort to assess attitudes among scientists. They are presumably grad students, possibly including some undergraduates in the sciences, not kindergartners.

Your C argument runs up its own posterior: That AAAS does liberal things offers anecdotal evidence for the proposition that AAAS is as liberal as the poll indicates. You wouldn't expect an 8% conservative organization to be purchasing state rooms on the National Review cruise.

Your D argument is more self-serving speculation. You're asking me to take your "hypotheses" about what a theoretically better poll might show against the bona fides of Pew Research. In other words, on this topic as well as others, when a respected organization produces data you don't like, they're "garbage." Their data and methodology are open for all to see and to make of what anyone will. Their results happen to conform to anecdotal evidence and to other polling regarding the state of political opinion and affinities in the scientific community. Your speculation, on the other hand, merely conforms to your wishful thinking. Excuse me, but I'll take Pew over "After Seven" for now, without assuming that Pew is the end of the discussion or immune from criticism.

As for Murray's graph, it illustrates a certain peculiar trend that Mr. Murray, among others, found impressive. No one attached the one-sidedness to the results that you do. Not only am I "open to the possibility that there are thousands, perhaps even millions... of open-minded conservatives," I presume as much, and use Manzi as an example of the species. The Murray graph appears to reflect a trend, it doesn't portray a monolith.

As for whether conservatives "intentionally and reflexively deride science and intellectuals," am I to assume that you do not consider Mark Levin a conservative? Going back for a very long time, many conservatives have been complained about scientism. In the wake of the (A)GW debates, the claim that science has been corrupted has become common, and is thrown around in such a way that, if I were a scientist, I might well find offensive. The misuse and abuse of scientific proceedings occurs on both sides.

5. You claim that conservatives all follow the part of the Manzi suggestion that you find intelligible, and then you proceed to contradict it in your further explication, importing every manner of "I hate liberals" into what is a narrow discussion: Should conservatives, on the question of GW, be advocating for one "side" of the scientific question, or should they be advocating a conservative approach to the scientific question in its political dimensions?

6. The statement of mine that you quote describes "some" conservatives. You go on to concede that three of the most popular conservatives in the country (supported, incidentally, by legions of ditto-ing followers) might justify my description, and yet choose to take offense on behalf of others unnamed.

The reason that I offer no proof of some monolithic conservative anti-scientific closed-mindedness is that I made no claim of a monolithic conservative anti-scientific closed-mindedness.

Seeking offense by exaggerating the statements of others is, however, a good example of one mechanism that often supports "epistemic closure" on the part of some conservatives (as well as some liberals).

7. The main point as to the politicization of science is discussed above. Some scientific matters have clearly become political to some conservatives. Just check this comment thread or, even better, the comment thread over at HotAir, for clear evidence that some conservatives are appalled even at the suggestion that GW-related issues should be assessed without pre-judgment.

8. We have no way of determining objectively what the divergence of the Murray stratum from the rest of the population means. Maybe the other trend lines would be even more pronounced in conservatives' favor if the Intellectual Uppers weren't fighting against them. Maybe the other trend lines help drive the Intellectual Uppers further away. There are lots of possibilities.

Even if there was no important political or practical problem or risk involved - I think there might be, as outlined in the top post - I take it as a given that it would be better for the intellectuals themselves (and their students and acolytes) as well as for larger society if they were more open to conservative ideas and insights, if they were exploring and extending conservative approaches in culture, politics, administration, and so on, if they were contributing financially and personally to conservative causes or at worst relatively neutral. We might have a richer and more dynamic culture - a good in itself - and better science and intellectual work, too.

Maybe, for example, the elite media (intellectual uppers par excellence), if less skewed ideologically, would do a better job of exposing supposedly moderate and open-minded presidential candidates for the ideological leftist they are, rather than participating in a sham, thus better enabling a right-trending populace to make a properly informed decision.

On “Soon to be lapping up on a shore near you…

@ Rex Caruthers:
Actually, that kind of thing frequently makes it to the GB show, along with some simplistic non-explanation, maybe a reference to the Weimar Republic, and "things are going to get really bad, America - we'll get through it if we emulate the Founders with Faith, Hope, and Charity..."


Obtusosity is in the eye of the beholder, that's true, and annoying, too.

Many people declared that new drilling methods made old fears obsolete, and that the environmentalists were exaggerating the dangers. You still hear that even up to the present moment - fingers crossed that those who suspect the spill has been hyped turn out to be right.

Either way, I still think it's clear that conservatives, mainly in order to please the base, have gone overboard on their denialism, just as people like Arnold and a few have gone overboard in the other direction.

I don't think it's clear, by the way, that we learned a few months ago that "at least a great deal of the AGW science was rigged rather than settled." We learned that aspects of the alarmist case appear to have been rigged. Not quite the same thing.


Don't know Spencer. Lindzen is a believer, just skeptical about conclusions and proposals. You think Lindzen hasn't considered "heat islands"? Not sure about Lomborg. The other fact issues etc. we are not going to solve here, so why bring them up? I agree with you about more pressing issues, but why should you care about my opinion? Conservatives shouldn't be pushing a "side," they should be pushing for a more trustworthy process and a more conservative way of dealing with its results.


Let me put it this way: Was all of that pre-Climategate "consensus isn't scientific"/"there is no consensus" stuff from the right honestly meant, or was it just a tactic adopted during a period of relative political weakness? So now you're going to expect people to believe that it's "case closed" the other way? People who are several thousand times more expert on the subject than I am don't agree with you. Why should I - or anyone - believe you over them? And more to the point of this post, how does it serve conservatives to adopt that attitude - that way of speaking about things that the speaker cannot know?


@ narciso:
Narc, that's the statement of an ideologue. You must be intelligent enough to realize that even if everything they ever did at East Anglia was fraudulent, it wouldn't prove anything except that everything at East Anglia was fraudulent. Regardless of what you believe, you're not in a position to make that assertion persuasively. You're just saying "my team is red hot" and hoping for an echo.


@ Sully:
But that's obtuse. If conservatives or liberals associate themselves with a realistic rather than propagandistic depiction of the choices before us, then they have nothing to fear from the headlines: The range of reasonably predictable ones - which include the possibility of occasional catastrophic incidents - will have been taken into account. Instead, we have a situation in which conservatives are increasingly associated not with the kind of realism you describe, but with denial. Radical anti-regulatory ideology also seems to prevent them even from considering an enhanced role for government oversight. What this also means is that, as Newsom, Krugman, and others area already pointing to, is that the next time Climate Change comes up they'll be able to say, yeah, you're also the guys who told us that offshore drilling was safe and clean.

It's still not clear to me whether this incident will change the terms of some future debate substantially. A lot hinges on how much damage is done and how it's viewed. I think Ken's attitude would do more harm than good if adopted widely, but it probably won't be.

Still, even if $4/gal gas starts building up the drill-baby-drill sentiment again, it will be somewhere from a little to a lot harder than it would have been otherwise to win on the issue, and the side making the argument that it's not worth it considering the minimal impact on total price and supply will have a little more credibility.


There is no sensible credible strategy on the environment that is “secure” against all conceivable headlines. . .

Your reading suggests that I was thinking a political strategy could protect you against the actual event. That would obviously be absurd.

If you're running around saying, or strongly implying, that offshore drilling is environmentally non-threatening and conservationists should just get over themselves, then you're asking for trouble. For instance, one of the most often repeated arguments for drilling was that "our" practices are so much safer than the practices used in the Persian Gulf or Africa, so a "real" environmentalist would want us to be going it instead. This is a phony argument anyway - since demand for oil means that all of the same drilling would be going on anyway - but the implication was that we (the advanced West) had everything handled and that only the "enviro-nitwits" were worried about oil spills.

If cons had instead made some of the arguments ahead of time that drill-baby-drillers are now making retrospectively - drilling close in is actually safer, etc. - then they at least would have some credibility if worse comes to worst. There may have been someone conservative somewhere who, before the incident, said, "I support drilling everywhere even though I know that it will require enhanced regulation and safety measures to avoid catastrophic spills," but I sure never heard that from anyone. Instead, it was always "de-regulate, set industry free, everything's cool, drill baby drill, our team is red hot."


bob wrote:

The professed conservative strategy that it is better to just wait out a problem, is similar to just waiting out a bacterial infection.

The problem is not the existence of regulations, but rather their inappropriate use. What constitutes inappropriate here is harder and messier to figure out than the case of antibiotics to be sure. But life is hard and messy.

"Life is hard and messy" ought to be the beginning of the authentic "conservative" position. The strategy you describe as being "professed" would be easier to dismiss as a leftist caricature if many on the ideological/libertarian right didn't willingly play into it - free markets as Christian Science - and that the base finds easy to settle on when the headlines seem to be on its side, as when oil was at $150/barrel.

But the left has its naivetes and phony easy answers, as well. If wishing made things so, then "drill, baby, drill" and "all of the above" would be enough said for the right, and "green jobs" would be enough said for the left. The latter is arguably even more fanciful than the former.

Much of the modern impetus to regulate derived originally from the desire to replace what used to be called "judge-made law" (not to mention anarchic violence so familiar from Western movies) with statutory authority on a vast range of resource, development, workplace, and consumer issues. For those who think that present-day society is overly litigious as well as overly regulated, it might be worth considering what the secondary effects of massive de-regulation in a complex industrial/post-industrial society might be.


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