Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Berkowitz

Political Moderation and the Conservative Disposition

Peter Berkowitz has written an outstanding book, Constitutional Conservatism, whose central aim is to “recover the constitutional connection between liberty, self-government, and political moderation.”

In discussing political moderation, Berkowitz does not mean lack of principle or expedience. Rather, what he has in mind is a conservative disposition that accommodates and balances competing principles. “The Constitution weaves political moderation well understood into the very structure of self-government,” he says. Berkowitz writes that constitutional conservatism “stresses that balancing worthy but conflicting political principles depends on cultivating the spirit of political moderation institutionalized by the Constitution.” It understands that liberty is sometimes in tension with tradition. It places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments. And the Constitution, Berkowitz points out, promotes a spirit of balance, weaves together diverse human elements and political principles, and is itself a complex institutional arrangement that was the result of extraordinary political compromises.

This might all seem quite obvious, except that there is a current of opinion within conservatism that believes political moderation is a vice, a safe harbor for the unprincipled. That is what makes Berkowitz’s reclamation project an important one.

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Peter Berkowitz has written an outstanding book, Constitutional Conservatism, whose central aim is to “recover the constitutional connection between liberty, self-government, and political moderation.”

In discussing political moderation, Berkowitz does not mean lack of principle or expedience. Rather, what he has in mind is a conservative disposition that accommodates and balances competing principles. “The Constitution weaves political moderation well understood into the very structure of self-government,” he says. Berkowitz writes that constitutional conservatism “stresses that balancing worthy but conflicting political principles depends on cultivating the spirit of political moderation institutionalized by the Constitution.” It understands that liberty is sometimes in tension with tradition. It places a premium on prudence and takes into account shifting circumstances and public sentiments. And the Constitution, Berkowitz points out, promotes a spirit of balance, weaves together diverse human elements and political principles, and is itself a complex institutional arrangement that was the result of extraordinary political compromises.

This might all seem quite obvious, except that there is a current of opinion within conservatism that believes political moderation is a vice, a safe harbor for the unprincipled. That is what makes Berkowitz’s reclamation project an important one.

An oddity in our time is that some on the right who very nearly deify the founders and the Constitution fail to understand what Berkowitz calls “the unceasing need in the politics of a free society to adjust and readjust, balance and rebalance, calibrate and recalibrate… The Federalist reinforces the lesson of moderation inscribed in the Constitution it expounds and defends.”

There have always been those in politics who are animated by the auto-da-fe. They thrive on relentless confrontation and want to (in the words of Ronald Reagan) go over the cliff with all flags flying. To be sure, such individuals can be a source of energy in a political party. They can also serve the purpose of stiffening spines when that is needed. And they may even be on the correct side of many public policy issues.

Yet it strikes me that in a deep sense, they do not possess a conservative disposition or even a particularly conservative outlook on the world. Rather, they have reinterpreted conservatism in order to fit their own temperament, which seems to be in a near-constant state of agitation, ever alert to identify and excommunicate from the ranks those they perceive as apostates. One day it is Chris Christie; the next day it is Bob McDonnell, or Jeb Bush, or Mitch Daniels, or Eric Cantor, or Lindsay Graham, or Mitch McConnell, or someone somewhere who has gone crosswise of those who view themselves as prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

There is a different conservative disposition to which we can look, one which was embodied in Michael Oakeshott, one of the most respected intellectual spokesmen for British conservatism in the latter half of the 20th century. In her 1975 essay on Oakeshott (which is reprinted here), the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb said the key word describing the conservative disposition was “enjoyment.” Unlike the rationalist, who is “always lusting after something that is not,” the conservative tends to find delight in the gifts and blessings we have. Conservatives do not grow angry when the world refuses to conform to their ideals, nor do they see the present only as, in Oakeshott’s phrase, “a residue of inoppportunities.” He did not view the human situation as dark or dreary. 

At the end of her essay, Himmelfarb writes about the Oakeshott she knew, “with whom conversation, even controversy, was a sheer delight.” She continues:

He did not avoid disagreement; there was nothing wimpish about him. But he confronted it with such good nature and good humor that he always won the argument (he would never, of course, have called it that) by default, so to speak. It is not often that the person and the philosopher are so totally congruent. The “conservative disposition” – the disposition to enjoy what is rather than pining for what might be, to appreciate the givens and the goods of life without wanting to subject them to social or political validation – that is a perfect description of his own temperament… Oakeshott’s conservatism, like his temperament, is something of a rarity these days. 

It is still a rarity these days – rarer at least than it should be. Because while passion in politics is a fine, even admirable, thing, so too is winsomeness, a certain generosity of spirit, and even a touch of grace. 

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Peter Berkowitz’s Essay

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

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Dogma and the New Progressives

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

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Five Greatest Conservative Books

Jonathan Rauch has done us all a great service by interviewing (as part of the fivebooks.com series) 10 individuals on what they consider to be the five most important conservative books. The full list can be found here. So can Jon’s interview with my former White House colleague, Karl Rove. Karl’s selection includes the Federalist Papers, Democracy in America, Conscience of a Conservative, Capitalism and Freedom, and the Theory of Moral Sentiments. The conversation with Karl is excellent; indeed, the other interviews (with Mitch Daniels, Yuval Levin, Peter Berkowitz, David Frum, and others) are also illuminating and engaging.

Interestingly, and quite surprisingly to me, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France did not make the list (though Yuval, an outstanding scholar on Burke, did list Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs).

Jonathan Rauch has done us all a great service by interviewing (as part of the fivebooks.com series) 10 individuals on what they consider to be the five most important conservative books. The full list can be found here. So can Jon’s interview with my former White House colleague, Karl Rove. Karl’s selection includes the Federalist Papers, Democracy in America, Conscience of a Conservative, Capitalism and Freedom, and the Theory of Moral Sentiments. The conversation with Karl is excellent; indeed, the other interviews (with Mitch Daniels, Yuval Levin, Peter Berkowitz, David Frum, and others) are also illuminating and engaging.

Interestingly, and quite surprisingly to me, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France did not make the list (though Yuval, an outstanding scholar on Burke, did list Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs).

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

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RE: Going Far Beyond Goldstone

David Gerstman (Soccer Dad) e-mailed yesterday to suggest that Jeane J. Kirkpatrick’s 1989 COMMENTARY essay “How the PLO Was Legitimized” demonstrates that the use of diplomacy as another means of waging war against Israel extends back three decades. It began as a technique used by the Soviet Union to assist its clients, and it has been co-opted by the Islamists.

Kirkpatrick’s essay describes how the UN was effectively transformed from a body intended to eliminate violence in international relations to one that effectively licenses it in the name of Orwellian terms like “colonialism,” “imperialism,” and “racism.” The current effort to delegitimize a UN member in connection with its self-defense against double war crimes (firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians to avoid an effective response) is part of a broader pattern that Kirkpatrick described. Her essay is worth (re)reading in connection with Peter Berkowitz’s current article.

David Gerstman (Soccer Dad) e-mailed yesterday to suggest that Jeane J. Kirkpatrick’s 1989 COMMENTARY essay “How the PLO Was Legitimized” demonstrates that the use of diplomacy as another means of waging war against Israel extends back three decades. It began as a technique used by the Soviet Union to assist its clients, and it has been co-opted by the Islamists.

Kirkpatrick’s essay describes how the UN was effectively transformed from a body intended to eliminate violence in international relations to one that effectively licenses it in the name of Orwellian terms like “colonialism,” “imperialism,” and “racism.” The current effort to delegitimize a UN member in connection with its self-defense against double war crimes (firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians to avoid an effective response) is part of a broader pattern that Kirkpatrick described. Her essay is worth (re)reading in connection with Peter Berkowitz’s current article.

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Going Far Beyond Goldstone

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

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Partners in the Conservative Revival

Both Bill Kristol and Peter Berkowitz have taken up the issue of conservative reform and the respective tasks of wonkish conservative innovators and the grassroots Tea Party movement. The mainstream media like to portray the two groups — the reformers and the Tea Partiers — in opposition in a party civil war (as if Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin were in competition for the soul of the GOP). But as Kristol and Berkowitz explain, the two aspects of the revived conservative movement are compatible, and each is essential in its own realm.

Kristol reminds us that the Tea Party movement has helped to unnerve and beat back the liberal statists, but that is the beginning and not the end of a conservative resurgence:

We already have a Middle American populist reaction against the government schemes of pointy-headed intellectuals. Barack Obama got the highest percentage of the votes of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964; Republicans look to be on track this year to replicate their 47-seat House pick-up in 1966.

What comes next? That’s up to us—especially to us conservatives. We’re not doomed to repeat the pretty miserable political, social, and economic performance of 1967-80. …

Can conservatives develop a program, an agenda, and a governing vision that would, in the words of Federalist 39, vindicate “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government”?

And Berkowitz provides a helpful review of the history of conservative reform, pointing toward those whose task it will be to provide an alternative to Obamaism:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan are among those officeholders in the process of recovering reform as a conservative virtue. In November, Meg Whitman, the new Republican nominee in California, and Brian Sandoval, the new Republican nominee for governor in Nevada, stand a good chance to join their ranks.

Today’s conservative reformers appreciate that within its limited sphere government should be excellent. Promoting individual responsibility, self-reliance and opportunity requires targeted action, beginning with health-care reform that really controls costs by eliminating barriers on insurance companies operating across state lines and limiting malpractice damages; public-sector reform that reins in unions by reducing benefits and expanding accountability; and education reform that through school-choice programs gives parents, particularly in low income and minority communities, greater control over their children’s education.

None of this is to underestimate or denigrate the intellectual underpinnings of the Tea Party movement. Despite the media indictment (Racists! Know-nothings!), it is perhaps the most wonkish popular uprising we’ve had in the past century. It is the CATO  Institute’s dream mass movement — based on self-reliance, limited government, sound money, fiscal discipline, and market economics. Many of the protesters like to carry copies of the Constitution. For every inflammatory hand-painted sign that CNN films, there are dozens quoting James Madison, challenging the “bailout nation,” and contesting the constitutionality of an individual health-care insurance mandate. It’s certainly a step up from “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” But it is not a methodology for governing nor an agenda for what would follow Obamaism. You don’t write legislation in mass gatherings seeking to discredit and upend those in power. And it’s unrealistic and misguided to expect a mass movement to decimate a political agenda, defeat liberal one-party rule, defend itself against incessant media attacks — and come up with a health-care alternative, a scheme for entitlement reform, and proposals to tame the debt. (The latter is the work of Ryan, Daniels, Christie, et. al.)

The media narrative that the conservative movement is riven with conflict is, as is so much else the media spew, a distortion intended to bolster the spirits of the left and paint the right in the most disagreeable light possible. We actually have witnessed a rather effective division of labor on the right, with reformers and Tea Partiers collaborating on common goals. They share a mutual desire to put a stake through the heart of the statist agenda of one-party Democratic rule and to find a better alternative. The first task is well under way; the latter is just beginning.

Both Bill Kristol and Peter Berkowitz have taken up the issue of conservative reform and the respective tasks of wonkish conservative innovators and the grassroots Tea Party movement. The mainstream media like to portray the two groups — the reformers and the Tea Partiers — in opposition in a party civil war (as if Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin were in competition for the soul of the GOP). But as Kristol and Berkowitz explain, the two aspects of the revived conservative movement are compatible, and each is essential in its own realm.

Kristol reminds us that the Tea Party movement has helped to unnerve and beat back the liberal statists, but that is the beginning and not the end of a conservative resurgence:

We already have a Middle American populist reaction against the government schemes of pointy-headed intellectuals. Barack Obama got the highest percentage of the votes of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964; Republicans look to be on track this year to replicate their 47-seat House pick-up in 1966.

What comes next? That’s up to us—especially to us conservatives. We’re not doomed to repeat the pretty miserable political, social, and economic performance of 1967-80. …

Can conservatives develop a program, an agenda, and a governing vision that would, in the words of Federalist 39, vindicate “that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government”?

And Berkowitz provides a helpful review of the history of conservative reform, pointing toward those whose task it will be to provide an alternative to Obamaism:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan are among those officeholders in the process of recovering reform as a conservative virtue. In November, Meg Whitman, the new Republican nominee in California, and Brian Sandoval, the new Republican nominee for governor in Nevada, stand a good chance to join their ranks.

Today’s conservative reformers appreciate that within its limited sphere government should be excellent. Promoting individual responsibility, self-reliance and opportunity requires targeted action, beginning with health-care reform that really controls costs by eliminating barriers on insurance companies operating across state lines and limiting malpractice damages; public-sector reform that reins in unions by reducing benefits and expanding accountability; and education reform that through school-choice programs gives parents, particularly in low income and minority communities, greater control over their children’s education.

None of this is to underestimate or denigrate the intellectual underpinnings of the Tea Party movement. Despite the media indictment (Racists! Know-nothings!), it is perhaps the most wonkish popular uprising we’ve had in the past century. It is the CATO  Institute’s dream mass movement — based on self-reliance, limited government, sound money, fiscal discipline, and market economics. Many of the protesters like to carry copies of the Constitution. For every inflammatory hand-painted sign that CNN films, there are dozens quoting James Madison, challenging the “bailout nation,” and contesting the constitutionality of an individual health-care insurance mandate. It’s certainly a step up from “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” But it is not a methodology for governing nor an agenda for what would follow Obamaism. You don’t write legislation in mass gatherings seeking to discredit and upend those in power. And it’s unrealistic and misguided to expect a mass movement to decimate a political agenda, defeat liberal one-party rule, defend itself against incessant media attacks — and come up with a health-care alternative, a scheme for entitlement reform, and proposals to tame the debt. (The latter is the work of Ryan, Daniels, Christie, et. al.)

The media narrative that the conservative movement is riven with conflict is, as is so much else the media spew, a distortion intended to bolster the spirits of the left and paint the right in the most disagreeable light possible. We actually have witnessed a rather effective division of labor on the right, with reformers and Tea Partiers collaborating on common goals. They share a mutual desire to put a stake through the heart of the statist agenda of one-party Democratic rule and to find a better alternative. The first task is well under way; the latter is just beginning.

Read Less




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