Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 18, 2007

Freedom Stagnation?

Freedom House has just released Freedom in the World 2007, the latest installment of its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, covering the year 2006. These annual studies are the most essential resource we have for gauging the state of world politics. This year’s gloss is that the global progress of freedom has reached a plateau over the past decade. The new report calls this a potential “freedom stagnation.”

This was seized on by the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung, a reporter long noted for letting her leftish ideological slip show. Assigned to report on the release of the survey, she spun the story as a rebuke to President Bush. DeYoung’s lead? “If ‘freedom is on the march,’ as President Bush often says, it reversed course or at least took a break last year, according to the administration’s favored arbiter of political rights and civil liberties.”

Note the snideness of the last phrase. Although Freedom House’s key officers are Democrats, the survey is “the administration’s favor[ite]” for the simple reason that it is the only comprehensive assessment of its kind. If you want to get a reading on the overall state of freedom in the world, there is simply nowhere else to go. As for DeYoung’s claim that the trajectory of freedom has “reversed course,” this is sheer concoction. The report says nothing of the kind. It does speak of a plateau stretching back over the past nine years, i.e., a plateau starting three years before Bush took office.

DeYoung is in such a rush to score debater’s points against Bush that she apparently didn’t stop to acquire even cursory familiarity with the data. “Iraq,” she writes tellingly, “garnered a worst possible rating of 6 (on a scale of 1 to 6).” As anyone who has ever glanced at the survey knows, its scale is 1 to 7, in which 7 is the worst. Iraq’s 6 was certainly a poor score, but there were seventeen other states that rated 6.5 or 7.

I’ll report on the real highlights of the 2007 survey in this space tomorrow.

Freedom House has just released Freedom in the World 2007, the latest installment of its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, covering the year 2006. These annual studies are the most essential resource we have for gauging the state of world politics. This year’s gloss is that the global progress of freedom has reached a plateau over the past decade. The new report calls this a potential “freedom stagnation.”

This was seized on by the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung, a reporter long noted for letting her leftish ideological slip show. Assigned to report on the release of the survey, she spun the story as a rebuke to President Bush. DeYoung’s lead? “If ‘freedom is on the march,’ as President Bush often says, it reversed course or at least took a break last year, according to the administration’s favored arbiter of political rights and civil liberties.”

Note the snideness of the last phrase. Although Freedom House’s key officers are Democrats, the survey is “the administration’s favor[ite]” for the simple reason that it is the only comprehensive assessment of its kind. If you want to get a reading on the overall state of freedom in the world, there is simply nowhere else to go. As for DeYoung’s claim that the trajectory of freedom has “reversed course,” this is sheer concoction. The report says nothing of the kind. It does speak of a plateau stretching back over the past nine years, i.e., a plateau starting three years before Bush took office.

DeYoung is in such a rush to score debater’s points against Bush that she apparently didn’t stop to acquire even cursory familiarity with the data. “Iraq,” she writes tellingly, “garnered a worst possible rating of 6 (on a scale of 1 to 6).” As anyone who has ever glanced at the survey knows, its scale is 1 to 7, in which 7 is the worst. Iraq’s 6 was certainly a poor score, but there were seventeen other states that rated 6.5 or 7.

I’ll report on the real highlights of the 2007 survey in this space tomorrow.

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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Gross Misconduct

The battle over Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic (1875) has ended happily. Last November, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold the painting for $68 million—the highest price ever paid for an American work of art—to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the newly established Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Founded by Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress, the Crystal Bridges Museum is being built in Bentonville, Arkansas.) In deference to local sensibilities, however, Jefferson offered the work to Philadelphia institutions if they could match the purchase price within 45 days. In a cliffhanger of the sort not common in the art world, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, working together, just made the December 26 deadline, having raised about half of the purchase price and borrowing the rest.

Today recognized as the summit of American realism, The Gross Clinic was once viewed as indecent. In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition rejected it as too brutal for public display, and it was relegated to the U.S. Army Hospital exhibition. Its subject is indeed brutal: Samuel D. Gross, Jefferson University’s brilliant surgeon, removes a diseased bone from a young eye and pauses dramatically in mid-action, bloody scalpel in hand. As his assembled students observe with forensic detachment, the boy’s mother cringes beside Gross, in palpable torment. Here is the most forceful depiction imaginable of the intellectual culture of Philadelphia, whose tradition of artistic and scientific empiricism reaches back to its Quaker foundation. For this reason alone, it is deeply satisfying that the painting remain in its native city.

Still, nagging questions remain. One is the involvement of the National Gallery, which might be expected to defend the cause of American art as a whole, and not to act as a predatory corporation, aggrandizing itself at the cost of the cultural patrimony of another city. Another is the increasing tendency of private institutions to sell their cultural assets, declaring them, on the basis of narrowly formulated mission statements, to be “outside the scope of our central mission.” Such was the case two years ago when the New York Public Library sold Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849), the iconic Hudson River School landscape, to the Crystal Bridges Museum. And finally, there is the Philadelphia Art Museum itself, which has eloquently defended the idea that the physical location of a work of art has much to do with its aesthetic force and social significance; it is striking that this is the same museum that has worked so assiduously to pry the collection of the Barnes Foundation from the building and site that have given it its meaning for three quarters of a century.

Such are the lingering qualms, but they should not prevent one from marveling at The Gross Clinic, now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until March 4.

The battle over Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic (1875) has ended happily. Last November, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold the painting for $68 million—the highest price ever paid for an American work of art—to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the newly established Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Founded by Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress, the Crystal Bridges Museum is being built in Bentonville, Arkansas.) In deference to local sensibilities, however, Jefferson offered the work to Philadelphia institutions if they could match the purchase price within 45 days. In a cliffhanger of the sort not common in the art world, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, working together, just made the December 26 deadline, having raised about half of the purchase price and borrowing the rest.

Today recognized as the summit of American realism, The Gross Clinic was once viewed as indecent. In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition rejected it as too brutal for public display, and it was relegated to the U.S. Army Hospital exhibition. Its subject is indeed brutal: Samuel D. Gross, Jefferson University’s brilliant surgeon, removes a diseased bone from a young eye and pauses dramatically in mid-action, bloody scalpel in hand. As his assembled students observe with forensic detachment, the boy’s mother cringes beside Gross, in palpable torment. Here is the most forceful depiction imaginable of the intellectual culture of Philadelphia, whose tradition of artistic and scientific empiricism reaches back to its Quaker foundation. For this reason alone, it is deeply satisfying that the painting remain in its native city.

Still, nagging questions remain. One is the involvement of the National Gallery, which might be expected to defend the cause of American art as a whole, and not to act as a predatory corporation, aggrandizing itself at the cost of the cultural patrimony of another city. Another is the increasing tendency of private institutions to sell their cultural assets, declaring them, on the basis of narrowly formulated mission statements, to be “outside the scope of our central mission.” Such was the case two years ago when the New York Public Library sold Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849), the iconic Hudson River School landscape, to the Crystal Bridges Museum. And finally, there is the Philadelphia Art Museum itself, which has eloquently defended the idea that the physical location of a work of art has much to do with its aesthetic force and social significance; it is striking that this is the same museum that has worked so assiduously to pry the collection of the Barnes Foundation from the building and site that have given it its meaning for three quarters of a century.

Such are the lingering qualms, but they should not prevent one from marveling at The Gross Clinic, now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until March 4.

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A Great Step Back for Feminism?

Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent criticism of Condoleezza Rice—that the Secretary of State, as a single woman, would not pay a “personal price” for the President’s proposal to send yet more American sons and daughters to war in Iraq—has been denounced by White House spokesman Tony Snow as “a great step back for feminism.” Rice herself endorsed this view in her reply to Boxer: “Gee, I thought that single women had come further than that.”

Senator Boxer’s criticism is unfair and indeed spiteful, but not, as Snow and Rice claim, anti-feminist. What Boxer was really getting at, it seems to me, was not just Rice’s position as a childless and unmarried woman. It was what she saw as Rice’s lack of solidarity with her sex. A true feminist (so runs the subtext) would not have supported this proposal, because women do not approve of war in general, and foreign wars in particular. The feminist view is that women always pay the price for male violence, which can only ever be justified in self-defense, and even then must never be encouraged or glorified.

This view underlies, I would argue, the dissatisfaction and even hostility with which ideological feminists have usually treated women who are elected to public office. They hated Margaret Thatcher for precisely the reason that many men admired her: because she was at once feminine and manly. The “Iron Lady”—a nickname conferred upon her by one of her male counterparts—was loathed by feminists who assumed that any female prime minister would share their repugnance for the masculine virtues. When Mrs. Thatcher did the opposite, they saw her as a traitor. Many of them, apparently, see Condoleezza Rice in the same light.

In what Harvey Mansfield’s cunningly counter-cultural book Manliness calls “the gender-neutral society,” there is no place for these masculine virtues, and hence no place either for women who value them. Condoleezza Rice deserves to be defended not merely as a woman who has chosen to remain single, but also as a woman who expects men to be prepared to die for their country. Without such women, men are unlikely to make that sacrifice.

 

Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent criticism of Condoleezza Rice—that the Secretary of State, as a single woman, would not pay a “personal price” for the President’s proposal to send yet more American sons and daughters to war in Iraq—has been denounced by White House spokesman Tony Snow as “a great step back for feminism.” Rice herself endorsed this view in her reply to Boxer: “Gee, I thought that single women had come further than that.”

Senator Boxer’s criticism is unfair and indeed spiteful, but not, as Snow and Rice claim, anti-feminist. What Boxer was really getting at, it seems to me, was not just Rice’s position as a childless and unmarried woman. It was what she saw as Rice’s lack of solidarity with her sex. A true feminist (so runs the subtext) would not have supported this proposal, because women do not approve of war in general, and foreign wars in particular. The feminist view is that women always pay the price for male violence, which can only ever be justified in self-defense, and even then must never be encouraged or glorified.

This view underlies, I would argue, the dissatisfaction and even hostility with which ideological feminists have usually treated women who are elected to public office. They hated Margaret Thatcher for precisely the reason that many men admired her: because she was at once feminine and manly. The “Iron Lady”—a nickname conferred upon her by one of her male counterparts—was loathed by feminists who assumed that any female prime minister would share their repugnance for the masculine virtues. When Mrs. Thatcher did the opposite, they saw her as a traitor. Many of them, apparently, see Condoleezza Rice in the same light.

In what Harvey Mansfield’s cunningly counter-cultural book Manliness calls “the gender-neutral society,” there is no place for these masculine virtues, and hence no place either for women who value them. Condoleezza Rice deserves to be defended not merely as a woman who has chosen to remain single, but also as a woman who expects men to be prepared to die for their country. Without such women, men are unlikely to make that sacrifice.

 

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