Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 24, 2007

An Interview with Terry Teachout

Terry Teachout discusses his essay in the October issue of Commentary “Beyond the Musical Avant Garde”, Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle, the Japanese lithographer Toko Shinoda, and more.

Terry Teachout discusses his essay in the October issue of Commentary “Beyond the Musical Avant Garde”, Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle, the Japanese lithographer Toko Shinoda, and more.

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Thompson’s Bright Idea

Yesterday in Florida, Fred Thompson announced his immigration reform plan. The plan is in some ways fairly run-of-the-mill in this Republican primary season: Thompson opposes amnesty, wants tougher enforcement of existing laws, calls for cracking down on employers, and wants to tighten the rules governing legal immigration without reducing the number of legal immigrants. But Thompson’s approach does stand out in a few ways, and also highlights a potential Republican advantage on immigration that the Democrats have yet to notice.

More than most other Republicans this year, Thompson has addressed the state of legal immigration in his plan, as well as the quandary of contending with the millions of immigrants now here illegally. He calls, for instance, for the narrowing of family immigration categories, by permitting new Americans to obtain immigration status only for their spouses and minor children—not, as is currently the case, for siblings, parents, and adult children. This would cut down dramatically on so-called “chain immigration,” which accounts for an enormous portion of legal immigrants to America, and distorts the aims of our immigration system. (I discussed this problem at some length, and called for the same kind of reform, in the May issue of COMMENTARY.)

Thompson also calls for an end to the utterly senseless visa lottery program, and for a greater preference for labor-based immigration—both of which make good sense (and which I also discussed in that same essay).

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Yesterday in Florida, Fred Thompson announced his immigration reform plan. The plan is in some ways fairly run-of-the-mill in this Republican primary season: Thompson opposes amnesty, wants tougher enforcement of existing laws, calls for cracking down on employers, and wants to tighten the rules governing legal immigration without reducing the number of legal immigrants. But Thompson’s approach does stand out in a few ways, and also highlights a potential Republican advantage on immigration that the Democrats have yet to notice.

More than most other Republicans this year, Thompson has addressed the state of legal immigration in his plan, as well as the quandary of contending with the millions of immigrants now here illegally. He calls, for instance, for the narrowing of family immigration categories, by permitting new Americans to obtain immigration status only for their spouses and minor children—not, as is currently the case, for siblings, parents, and adult children. This would cut down dramatically on so-called “chain immigration,” which accounts for an enormous portion of legal immigrants to America, and distorts the aims of our immigration system. (I discussed this problem at some length, and called for the same kind of reform, in the May issue of COMMENTARY.)

Thompson also calls for an end to the utterly senseless visa lottery program, and for a greater preference for labor-based immigration—both of which make good sense (and which I also discussed in that same essay).

Other than John McCain, who is identified with a far more liberal approach to immigration policy, most of Thompson’s opponents would find little to disagree with in the plan, and a number of them have proposed very similar steps. But the Democrats, on the other hand, are all quite some distance away on this issue.

For the past several years, immigration has been a painful subject for Republicans: President Bush has advocated an approach that leans toward amnesty, which the conservative base of the party opposes with a passion. Democrats have enjoyed the show, and suffered little on immigration. But voters, according to most recent polls on the subject, are actually closer to the Republican base than to the President and the Democrats on immigration. In the build-up to next year’s election, as Bush’s view becomes less of a problem for Republicans and their candidates’ more conservative approach becomes the new standard, Democrats may find themselves suddenly on the losing end of a very hot election year issue, and unprepared for the consequences.

Republicans will need to work overtime to avoid giving the impression that their objection to illegal immigration is grounded in opposition to all immigration, or worse, in hostility to Hispanics. But if Republicans can make this clear, and find a conservative balance on immigration—focused on controlling the border, reforming the legal immigration regime, and welcoming immigrants that play by the rules—the issue could well be a profound and unexpected source of strength in key states next November.

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Bin Laden’s All-Out War

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

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The Legacy of Arthur Rubinstein

Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

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Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

That Juilliard should have wound up with anything at all may be ascribed at least in part to Rubinstein’s amazing luck and talent for survival. Rather than feeling bitter that the majority of his collection probably never will be restituted, Rubinstein himself would doubtless have rejoiced at his family’s beneficence to Juilliard. The quintessential glass-half-full personality, Rubinstein sometimes put off some listeners with his strenuously expressed “love of life” credo (the delightful 1969 French documentary Arthur Rubinstein: L’Amour de la vie is long overdue for DVD transfer).

The French author Roland Barthes dismissed Rubinstein’s hearty sense of psychological well-being, preferring an overtly neurotic pianist like Glenn Gould, although Gould himself worshiped Arthur Rubinstein. I well recall attending Rubinstein’s Carnegie Hall farewell recital in 1976 (70 years after his New York debut in 1906) when, after a full program and three encores, in the final piece—Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53—descending octaves were played with such force that the balcony floor shook, as the 89-year-old pianist’s aureole of white hair glowed brightly.

A recently available DVD from Deutsche Grammophon filmed in 1975 captures Rubinstein near that time, playing concertos by Grieg, Saint-Saëns, and Chopin with verve and panache. The magnificent complete Sony/BMG Rubinstein edition on CD fortunately still is available, including live concerts with music by his friend Villa-Lobos as well as music from Spain; France; and even Norway. These lasting delights remind us of the international range of this performer, whose musical legacy triumphs over the injustices he suffered during the Nazi regime.

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Syria’s Useful Israeli Idiots

The Syrian state-run propaganda organ Cham Press published a fake story about Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Jumblatt’s supposed plan to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the United States last weekend to coordinate a regime-change in Syria. No Western media organization I know of took this non-story seriously. Israeli media, though, scooped it right up. Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Infolive TV published their own articles about the imaginary meeting between Jumblatt and Barak. None had a source for their story other than the Syrian government’s website.

It goes without saying that Israeli journalists aren’t in cahoots with the Baath Party regime in Damascus. Many Israeli reporters and editors, however, are frankly clueless about Lebanese and Syrian politics.

First of all, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to speak to an Israeli citizen no matter where in the world their meeting takes place. Even quietly waving hello to an Israeli on the border is treason.

A significant portion of the Lebanese people sided with Israel during the first Lebanon War in 1982, including Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel before he was assassinated. The South Lebanese Army was Israel’s proxy militia in what is now Hizballah-controlled territory, until then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli occupation forces from their “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. The draconian law is in place precisely to prevent such sympathizers from working with Israelis against Lebanese.

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The Syrian state-run propaganda organ Cham Press published a fake story about Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Jumblatt’s supposed plan to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the United States last weekend to coordinate a regime-change in Syria. No Western media organization I know of took this non-story seriously. Israeli media, though, scooped it right up. Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Infolive TV published their own articles about the imaginary meeting between Jumblatt and Barak. None had a source for their story other than the Syrian government’s website.

It goes without saying that Israeli journalists aren’t in cahoots with the Baath Party regime in Damascus. Many Israeli reporters and editors, however, are frankly clueless about Lebanese and Syrian politics.

First of all, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to speak to an Israeli citizen no matter where in the world their meeting takes place. Even quietly waving hello to an Israeli on the border is treason.

A significant portion of the Lebanese people sided with Israel during the first Lebanon War in 1982, including Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel before he was assassinated. The South Lebanese Army was Israel’s proxy militia in what is now Hizballah-controlled territory, until then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli occupation forces from their “security belt” in South Lebanon in 2000. The draconian law is in place precisely to prevent such sympathizers from working with Israelis against Lebanese.

The law is absurd from the West’s point of view, and from the point of view of many Lebanese, too. Lebanon is “the least anti-Israel Arab country in the world,” as Lebanese political consultant and analyst Eli Khoury told me last year. But Lebanon, despite its moderation outside the Hizballah camp, is still under the shadow of the Syrian-Iranian axis, and remains threatened with de facto re-annexation. The reactionary law is still on the books, and even a leader as prominent as Walid Jumblatt dare not break it.

Jumblatt traveled to Washington this past weekend to give a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which you can read here. After Cham Press published its fabricated story, his office phoned the institute to make sure the Israeli Defense Minister would not be attending. He needed to be sure the two could not even run into each other by accident and make Syria’s bogus assertion look true.

Israeli journalists who “reported” this non-story should have noticed that they published a claim that Jumblatt and Barak will meet in the United States after the meeting was supposed to have already happened. Cham Press said the meeting would take place on Sunday, and Israeli media placed the alleged meeting in the future tense the following Monday.

Re-reporting Syrian lies in the Israeli press makes Cham Press look almost legitimate, its lies almost plausible. This should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t. The Damascus regime knows what it is doing and has been using gullible foreign journalists to its advantage for a while now.

“Regime flacks fed New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh outrageous propaganda about how the United States supposedly supported the Fatah al-Islam terrorists in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp in Lebanon,” said Tony Badran, a Lebanese research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Then they quoted his New Yorker story to get themselves diplomatically off the hook for their own support of those terrorists in the camp.”

And here we go again. Cham Press now says Israel’s Omedia reported that Jumblatt met with Barak and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington. Cham Press no longer quotes only itself; it quotes Israeli websites as backup. But the only reason Israeli media reported any of this in the first place is the initial false story appearing in Cham Press. Syrian media is still just quoting itself—only now it does so through Israel.

Jumblatt is near or at the top of Syria’s hit list. No Lebanese leader opposes Syrian terrorism and attempts at overlordship in Lebanon as staunchly as he. His pro-Western “March 14” bloc in parliament is already accused of being a “Zionist hand” by Hizballah and the Syrians. He was the second person Syrian ruler Bashar Assad threatened by name shortly before former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others were assassinated by a truck bomb in downtown Beirut. (“I will break Lebanon over your head and Walid Jumblatt’s,” Assad said to Hariri.) As Tony Badran pointed out to me, the Syrian regime has a habit of planting false stories about Lebanese leaders just before dispatching them with car bombs. The idea of Jumblatt meeting with Barak may seem innocent in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but it marks him for death in Lebanon and in Syria.

Syria is at war with both Israel and Lebanon. Journalists who wish to write about a conspiracy between Israel and Lebanon to destroy the regime in Syria need a better source for that story than the manipulative and murderous Syrian state.

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The Plame Game

Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game is out, complete with lots of blacked-out spots thanks to CIA concerns about the publication of classified information. Thus, in describing how she tended to her twins while holding down her job as an undercover operative, she has passages like this:

It felt a little like feeding a baby bird. Switching between breast and syringe feedings when they took only a few ounces each time and capturing each detail in a notebook soon took its toll. I was exhausted. XXXXXX XXX XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. Every baby book out there recommends that the mother sleep when the baby sleeps.

She sketches quite a bit of nature, too, but Turgenev she is not.

It was the best time: early evening, the furnace blast from the summer day over, the jasmine just opening to perfume the air, and sunset still streaking the sky pink and orange.

She is candid about many things, including the “relevant life experience” that made her suitable for work as a CIA operative recruiting agents and would-be terrorists:

As a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister at Penn State, I had lived through the frenzied “rush” weeks, and once I’d been accepted by the sorority, I attended many a crowded party where fitting in and exchanging easy banter with others was key to social success. Now, I smiled to myself, envisioning the room as nothing more than another fraternity/sorority party, I dove in, trying to find my target.

This kind of thing, and there is a great deal of it in the book, does not exactly make her come across as a Mata Hari.

She discusses at length the famously controversial sixteen words in President Bush’s State of the Union Address: “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which prompted her husband, Joseph Wilson, to write an op-ed denouncing the Bush administration for cooking intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while building the case for war. But she is either being evasive about how these sixteen words ended up in the President’s speech, or her explanation has been removed by the CIA censors. It does not matter; responsibility for the blunder has already been unequivocally accepted by George Tenet, the CIA’s then-director.

To her credit, Plame is honest in sketching the broader picture of how the U.S. came to believe that Iraq was vigorously pursuing WMD’s. Although she does point to what she regards as pressure from the White House on the agency to adjust its intelligence to fit policy—principally by means of visits to CIA headquarters by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby to engage in direct talks with analysts—she sticks with the evidence that is by now solidly established, namely, that Langley itself must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame:

The crime and the colossal failure of the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—was that . . .deep disagreements [about Iraqi WMD programs] were relegated to footnotes in tiny type at the bottom of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The NIE was hastily ordered by Congress in October 2002 (just prior to the vote to authorize use of force against Iraq) and pulled together by the CIA in an unprecedented few weeks. Even more damning is the intellectual sloppiness of a document known as the “President’s Summary,” which distills the NIE down to one page. . . The CIA failed to demonstrate convincingly to the administration that there was a serious and sustained debate over this issue [the aluminum tubes thought erroneously to be for nuclear purposes].

I haven’t yet finished reading this heavily padded (even as it is heavily redacted) book, but so far, given how much it reveals about the peculiar and dysfunctional culture of the CIA, it is more engaging than I expected.

Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game is out, complete with lots of blacked-out spots thanks to CIA concerns about the publication of classified information. Thus, in describing how she tended to her twins while holding down her job as an undercover operative, she has passages like this:

It felt a little like feeding a baby bird. Switching between breast and syringe feedings when they took only a few ounces each time and capturing each detail in a notebook soon took its toll. I was exhausted. XXXXXX XXX XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. Every baby book out there recommends that the mother sleep when the baby sleeps.

She sketches quite a bit of nature, too, but Turgenev she is not.

It was the best time: early evening, the furnace blast from the summer day over, the jasmine just opening to perfume the air, and sunset still streaking the sky pink and orange.

She is candid about many things, including the “relevant life experience” that made her suitable for work as a CIA operative recruiting agents and would-be terrorists:

As a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister at Penn State, I had lived through the frenzied “rush” weeks, and once I’d been accepted by the sorority, I attended many a crowded party where fitting in and exchanging easy banter with others was key to social success. Now, I smiled to myself, envisioning the room as nothing more than another fraternity/sorority party, I dove in, trying to find my target.

This kind of thing, and there is a great deal of it in the book, does not exactly make her come across as a Mata Hari.

She discusses at length the famously controversial sixteen words in President Bush’s State of the Union Address: “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which prompted her husband, Joseph Wilson, to write an op-ed denouncing the Bush administration for cooking intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while building the case for war. But she is either being evasive about how these sixteen words ended up in the President’s speech, or her explanation has been removed by the CIA censors. It does not matter; responsibility for the blunder has already been unequivocally accepted by George Tenet, the CIA’s then-director.

To her credit, Plame is honest in sketching the broader picture of how the U.S. came to believe that Iraq was vigorously pursuing WMD’s. Although she does point to what she regards as pressure from the White House on the agency to adjust its intelligence to fit policy—principally by means of visits to CIA headquarters by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby to engage in direct talks with analysts—she sticks with the evidence that is by now solidly established, namely, that Langley itself must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame:

The crime and the colossal failure of the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—was that . . .deep disagreements [about Iraqi WMD programs] were relegated to footnotes in tiny type at the bottom of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The NIE was hastily ordered by Congress in October 2002 (just prior to the vote to authorize use of force against Iraq) and pulled together by the CIA in an unprecedented few weeks. Even more damning is the intellectual sloppiness of a document known as the “President’s Summary,” which distills the NIE down to one page. . . The CIA failed to demonstrate convincingly to the administration that there was a serious and sustained debate over this issue [the aluminum tubes thought erroneously to be for nuclear purposes].

I haven’t yet finished reading this heavily padded (even as it is heavily redacted) book, but so far, given how much it reveals about the peculiar and dysfunctional culture of the CIA, it is more engaging than I expected.

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Book Review: God and Gold

In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

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In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

The Anglo-Saxon societies surmounted this challenge because of their dynamic religious faith, which provided both a spiritual compass and assurance in the middle of rapid social and economic change and which, as a result of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1689, limited the ability of the monarchy to raise money without the consent of Parliament. The result was that British and American state power left room for both faith in God and the use of human reason, striking a balance between the two. This balancing continues today: the “cultural and political rebalancing the United States is currently witnessing,” writes Mead, is “part of the process by which American society adjust[s] to the rapid pace of change.”

In his book, Mead channels both Adam Smith’s understanding of the role of faith in the making of Anglo-Saxon society, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s convictions that democratic, open, and liberal institutions could not exist unless rooted in a society of believers. The failure of the declared enemies of the Anglo-Saxon order—Mead calls them Waspophobes—to understand the strengths of this order derives precisely from their focus on materialism, and on their failure to arrive at de Tocqueville’s realization that British and American society have, in their faith and their broader civil society, a cultural and intellectual life that is far from simply materialist. (Contemporary liberalism, I would say, suffers in a more mild way from the same deficiency.) Mead’s work, taken as a whole, offers a compelling vision of the roots of American power that is liberal in the truest sense of the word: that is, a study in the importance of human freedom and responsibility.

It is regrettable, therefore, that having run so well, Mead stumbles at the last gate. Throughout his book, Mead’s view is very much the view from 30,000 feet: events like the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, or the Suez Crisis fly by in paragraphs, or even in phrases. The emphasis throughout is on the essential unity of Anglo-Saxon culture, and on the grand strategy that resulted from it. There is much to be said for this vision, unpopular though it will be in some quarters, but by limiting himself to it, Mead misses the essential contribution of Britain and, especially, the United States to the modern world order. It is one thing to claim that the United States was influenced profoundly by British culture and faith. But while there may be an Anglo-Saxon culture, or even an Anglo-Saxon grand strategy, there is no Anglo-Saxon state: 1776 saw to that. The Anglo-Saxons did not invent the state or the diplomatic institutions by which states relate to one another. Nor, as Mead notes, is the Anglo-Saxon form of the state dominant in the world today: the French or Soviet models have a far better claim to that title. The uniqueness of Anglo-Saxon grand strategy is that it emphasized resisting empires and establishing rules of secession and state legitimacy; it was only within the nation-state order that the liberal values with which Britain and the United States identified could be defended.

In this context, the final chapters of Mead’s work are truly perplexing. Indeed, they are so out of tune that they raise the suspicion that Mead included them solely to cover himself on the Left. For, after three hundred pages of praise for the Anglo-Saxon order, he about-faces to argue that the mission of the United States now is to carry out a “diplomacy of civilizations” to assuage the grievances of the Islamic world, grievances that began with the Crusades. The United States now must turn to remedying the “centuries of inequality and oppression” by assuring that Muslims have “due recognition” for their “just and legitimate aspirations”—which Mead recognizes may not be compatible with the existing framework of the liberal maritime order.

Coming at the close of a book dedicated to sympathetic explanation of that order, this is a remarkable claim. It is only proper to note that Mead proposes to make the United States responsible for the resolution of grievances that arose long before it came into existence. Burdening the United States with the responsibility for Arab grievances is bad enough, but to view “the Arab world” as a unified entity is to make the same fundamental error that Mead makes when he writes of the Anglo-Saxons: it is to assume political unity where there are merely cultural commonalities. More concretely, it is to agree with the Islamists that the fall of the Caliphate was an immense tragedy.

Through his advocacy of the “diplomacy of civilizations,” Mead turns his back on the nation-state system and on the international organizations that Britain and the United States have, above all other nations, been responsible for creating. Mead, in fact, places the burden of satisfying the Muslim peoples entirely on the United States. He argues that “pious Muslims of unimpeachable orthodoxy, conspicuous virtue, conservative principles, and great passion for their faith,” not liberal reformers, must bring the Muslim peoples into a dynamic, capitalist, and liberal world.

To make things worse, Mead’s precise policy recommendations for the United States are conspicuous by their absence. His “diplomacy of civilizations” revolves, in the end, around listening more closely to the grievances of the Muslim world. Mead cites the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as this philosophy’s guiding light. Niebuhr’s role in Mead’s work, as it was in Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), is to serve as a tough-minded but sensitive liberal who was fully aware of the reality of original sin, and, hence, of the need for the United States to be more understanding of its enemies and more aware of its own potential for evil. From all points of view, this is a most implausible picture. Developing a sympathetic understanding of declared enemies of the system is entirely foreign to Anglo-Saxon grand strategy and its values. Elizabeth I, Pitt the Younger, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Reagan had no time for this approach. Neither, in fact, did Niebuhr. His role in history was, in the era of Hitler and Stalin, to tell American liberals to get in the game, to remind them that a relentless focus on their own capacity for evil was demoralizing and destructive, and that there really were worse things in the world than the United States.

Niebuhr is indeed the philosopher that we, and the democratic world, need today. Mead’s work illustrates why. By casting his lot with the Muslim conservatives and accepting their right to set the international agenda of grievances, and by abandoning the Muslim liberals and reformers whom Niebuhr would have celebrated, Mead undermines, rather than reinforces, the order he wisely, if only partially, explains. A true history of the Anglo-Saxon contribution to the making of the modern world would emphasize not only religion and capitalism, but also the transformation of the world of empires into the international state system. Mead’s failure to find this third leg of the triad leads him into historical errors and contemporary fallacies that reveal the pervasive weakness in our understanding of the system that we ourselves have been the leading force in creating. But, by restoring religion to the story, he has already done a very great deal to correct the prevailing vision.

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