Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Schwarzenegger Speaks of Freedom's Power and Price

Schwarzenegger Speaks of Freedom's Power and Price
"No matter in what labor camp they slave..they hear our call, they see our light and they feel the pull of freedom."

Arnold Schwarzenegger's immigrant roots lended validity and real power to his superbly delivered speech. It is always those who have felt the boot of oppression that rally to the cause of freedom. America once felt the boot of King George, the birth of our nation was out of oppression. It is sad to see that many Americans have lost that sense of the value and price of freedom that the first Americans felt -- the sense of freedom's value that has been renewed by successive wars against tyrants and evil men. It is truly amazing that so many Americans continue to take their freedom for granted and refuse to sacrifice for the cause of liberty in the world even after the horrible events of September 11th. They forget that nothing short of eternal vigilance can secure our liberty, peace, and prosperity.

Those who have lived under oppressive regimes know better. My mother-in-law was born in Malaysia in an American missionary hospital. She recalls the oppression of non-muslims by the muslim Malaysian government, she remembers the punishment of political dissidents, the lack of freedom to criticize the government, the unwarranted, indefinite arrests and summary prosecutions. She says that her entire generation had nothing but the greatest respect for America, gratitude for the aid and hospitals provided by Americans, for American protection from the spread of communism, and for the ideal that America represented. And now she supports the war and President Bush, understanding the awesome transformative power of freedom just as she understands the cost of securing it.

Even I have witnessed tyranny. When living in China, more than once did I see a truck of armed soldiers drive up to a restaurant or a barber shop or a home, grab a man inside, throw him in the truck, and drive off. These men were not formally charged, had no lawyer, were not tried -- rather, they were subject to 'administrative detention' for however many years the government chose to detain them.

Schwarzenegger said, "America remains the great idea that inspires the world." For the women formerly under the Taliban, for the people of Iraq, for the dissidents in Iran, for the democratic reformers in China, and for the starving masses in North Korea, we must never waiver in our defense of freedom, we must never show the slightest weakness in our fight against tyranny and dogmatic ideology.

UPDATE: Ratings for Schwarzenegger's speech are very high -- so high that more people may have viewed his speech than John Kerry's acceptance speech!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Protesters Cheapen Our Soldiers' Sacrifice

As the Republican convention opens and protesters take the streets, it strikes me how very selfish and myopic these extreme-left wing radicals are. There is a certain disconcerting irony to it, if not hypocrisy, that those protesters themselves either intentionally ignore in order that their consciences might not be troubled, or rather are too unintelligent to grasp. They have a right to march, to protest, they have the freedom to voice their opinions, to lambast our President, to compare him to Adolf Hitler and call him the anti-Christ. They have that right, and yet they are completely and totally unwilling to make any sacrifice to extend that right to others in other societies who do not enjoy it. And they would have us deny others who are less selfish than they to choose such a sacrifice, being uncomfortable with the idea of people who take real action for their beliefs. They prefer to sacrifice nothing but their time and bear no burden but the weight of the ridiculous symbols and signs they carry above their heads. They carry flag-draped mock coffins through New York's streets to protest our casualties in the war, unwilling to recognize their righteous sacrifice, unwilling to acknowledge that those men and women who have died undertook the risk of battle and were willing, on the whole, to die for their nation's security and for the values our nation shares and holds dear. They died believing in freedom, believing that democracy and liberty have the power to tap into the aspirations all humans share, that such such power might transform a troubled part of the world from a cruel, brutish place into a place of opportunity and hope. Those soldiers' noble selflessness stands in stark contrast to the protesters in New York -- protesters who use those honorable soldiers' sacrfices for their selfish purpose, to exaggerate the cost of the war, to confuse the American public, denigrating the inherent goodness of our values by making this war political. The protesters dishonor our fighting men and women by refusing to acknowledge the value of dying for a righteous cause, of fighting intolerance and hatred, of standing up for one's beliefs by pledging one's life and fortune. They praise cowardice, they call for a myopic turning inward, a return to the false confidence and strength that plagued us for eight years under Bill Clinton. But evil is real, whether they like it or not, and it must be fought, we must praise those of us who choose to stand up and fight it, and celebrate the glory of those who give their lives defending us from it.

McCain: We Must Love Our Freedom

John McCain hit it out of the park, capturing precisely why this election is so crucial -- we understand, as McCain said, that "what our enemies seek to destroy is beyond their reach, it cannot be taken from us, it can only be surrendurred. ... We have to love [our freedom] as much as the heroic Americans who defend us at the risk of the cost of their lives." I remember standing five blocks from the United States Capitol on September 11, looking up at the sky filled with smoke, knowing that the Pentagon, less than a quarter mile from my apartment in Virginia, had been savagely attacked. I remember thinking that everything had changed, that the complacency and happy ignorance of our lives up to that point was gone forever. I remember praying for our country and for our President. But that smoke lingering in the air for days over the Potomac cleared, and the Pentagon is now fully repaired. We will win this fight unless we forget that day, unless we forget that there never was, in the words of John McCain, a choice "between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war." As long as we remember the absolute goodness of our cause and the reality of those who hate us for it, we will win this fight. We will win it because our cause now is the same cause that has motivated our nation since its inception, the same cause that has lead us to victory so many times before: liberty and justice for all -- for Americans, and now for Iraqis and Afghanis as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

McCain-Feingold: The End of Political Free Speech and the Erosion of the Rule of Law

Of all of the types of speech implicated by the first amendment, political speech has always been deemed the most important. Our right to criticize the government, to call into question the policies, actions, and even character of our leaders, incumbent candidates, and political challengers ought to be the most cherished part of the freedoms that the first amendment attempts to protect. Even if Madison’s initial opposition to the bill of rights had been successful, freedom of political speech would still be implicit in the structures of our government as laid out in the constitution, structures that, in the absence of free speech, could not properly function.

But now the warning of Justice Scalia in his McConnell dissent has been proven all too true: in our zealousness to achieve equality and fairness on playing field of politics, we have dealt serious blows to that most critical institution, our freedom to criticize our government. We have allowed those in office, those who have the most vested, parochial interest in regulating the course of our political discourse, to shape and limit it. And, as Scalia also points out, now that the Court has announced that preventing circumvention of campaign finance laws is a valid justification for promulgating new, more restrictive campaign finance laws, no logical principle remains to prevent Congress from regulating political free speech into total oblivion.

That government may not mute or muffle the voice of one so as to allow another to be heard has always been a primary principle of the first amendment. Liberty is the end, not equality. Liberty, a substantive value respecting the dignity and autonomy of man, as opposed to equality, a mere measurement or comparison that cannot justify anything without reference to some other value, has always been the core of first amendment jurisprudence. Just as it would be ludicrous to put irons on the athlete born naturally quick in order to foster equality, just as it would be ridiculous to limit the speeches of those born eloquent, it is equally abhorrent when the government attempts to limit the amount of money an individual may spend on communicating his political message such that others with less resources may be heard.

But this is where we are. Money is not speech, said the Supreme Court in McConnell, and therefore it may be regulated. But, as Justice Scalia pointed out, how is saying that money is not speech any different from saying that paper is not speech, and then passing an act that all paper must bear a stamp indicating that tax has been payed? How is saying that money is not speech any different from saying that book binding and publishing is not speech, and then regulating who may and may not bind and publish books? There is no difference.

The idiotic complexity of our campaign finance law, born of the reality that we cannot remove money from politics without stifling political speech entirely but attempting to do just that anyway, is so monstrous that we are at the point where no citizen can truly know if the expenditures he makes to voice his opinion are legal or not. Reference to the law is no help without the aid of a team of expensive attorneys. And so a system of laws so incoherent and dense as to at least temporarily befuddle even the most astute lawyer has become a political tool, a weapon wielded only by those with huge resources, to force the political discourse in the direction the person with the best lawyers and advisers hopes to move it. Aristotle had a name for such a regime: Not democracy, but oligarchy.

An oligarchy of the lawyers and the wealthy, of the Kerrys and the Edwardses, of the sophists. When citizens were free to spend their money on expressing their opinions, to pool it as they see fit in the forms they so desired, we were virtually guaranteed that there would be wealthy contributors on all sides of every issue -- if there were not, perhaps that said something about the argument being made. Thus, a certain natural equality was born of that liberty of political expression. Now, I am hard pressed even to tell my mother whether she may distribute a leaflet to churchgoers mentioning a candidate for federal office with impunity, and to the extent I can, it is only because I am trained in the law already. Now, John Kerry can make wild claims that the President is violating campaign finance laws, and the average citizen has no way of checking the veracity of Kerry’s assertion -- the campaign finance laws might as well be written in ancient Etruscan. And Kerry depends on that forced ignorance of the law to garner support and demonize the President.

The rule of law, that eminent principle which we so cherish because it secures for us our liberty, is undermined when the demos cannot understand the law. Freedom is in name only when the laws that govern us are unknowable to us. When that unknowable law is one governing our political speech, our very system is in jeopardy. We might as well be living under the hand of a dictator that punishes political speech by his will -- the difference between that and being punished for violating a law the average person has no means of understanding is frighteningly small.

We must reverse course, we must not be fooled into thinking that fairness and equality in political speech can justify putting irons on the eloquent and wealthy. If we do not, we may end up fighting for liberty and freedom abroad even as we let it slip away at home.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Dialogue: The Good, Part I

A Dialogue: The Good, Part I
A person challenged me the other day as to whether or not good and evil actually exist. This person explained that he was a moral skeptic and cultural relativist. What follows is a loose adaptation of our conversation -- I'll call this fellow Relativius ("R"), and I'll be Marius ("M"):

R: You write much assuming that there is such a thing as good and such a thing as evil, and that we can tell them apart. Without that assumption, your arguments fail. I don't think we can be so sure. What is good to me may not be good to you and what is right in one cultural context may not be in another. Granted, there are things that are repugnant to most humans, but that might just be some sort of survival instinct kicking in, a feeling that were that behavior universalized, the practice would threaten all of mankind including the one having the feeling.

M: Would you at least agree that good and evil, if they exist in an absolute sense, are related?

R: Yes, they would seem to be.

M: So the good is the opposite of evil and vice versa.

R: I suppose, if they exist at all that is.

M: And evil is an absence of good.

R: Yes.

M: Now, if we are assuming that they actually exist then we are saying that one of them, at least, has actual substance such that the other can be defined as the lack of the first, and that lacking or that taking away is also a definite kind of existence.

R: Yes, certainly -- that is obvious.

M: So which would most likely be the one with real substance, assuming it actually exists?

R: It is difficult to say, but I would like to say the Good.

M: Indeed, so would any reasonable person. Your inclination to say so is indicative of a fact about the reality of the Good. But I digress. We are working now with assumptions, trying to figure out where the substance must be if Good and evil do indeed actually exist. What kinds things strike you as 'Good' according to your instincts?

R: Well, things I suppose such as fair laws, happy relationships and the like.

M: OK, how about beauty? The beauty of a cherry tree blossoming in spring? How about a mother giving birth to healthy children?

R: Yes, those strike most people as good, but then again, that's all relative.

M: Yes, but at least for now, from our perspectives, these things strike us as partaking in some measure of the Good, if there is such a thing.

R: Yes.

M: Would you say that these things, trees blossoming, relationships developing, mothers birthing, and governments promulgating fair laws are acts of creation?

R: Yes, I suppose if you mean as opposed to acts that destroy.

M: Exactly. Evil does not create, does it?

R: It can I think -- look at Adolf Hitler. He was on his way to 'creating' a Third Reich and 'room to live' for his arian race. If anything is evil, that would be, if there is such a thing as evil, right? And I'm not admitting there is, but it seems like that evil was an evil of 'creating'.

M: But to get to the desired end point, he created nothing but tools employed in destroying lives, destroying relationships, and destroying entire communities. He created nothing, but rather destroyed to implement his twisted vision of a new society.

R: Well, that is true beyond a doubt.

M: So the Good is found in acts of creation, like the forming of relationships, or the birth of a child, while it would seem evil is found in acts of destruction or of preventing those acts of creation.

R: It would seem, again assuming that good and evil even exist, which I still do not think is the case.

M: Very well, but as the Good is found in acts of creation, it must be the one with substance, correct?

R: It would seem so.

M: And evil is a lack or a destruction of that which is good.

R: Yes.

M: Evil must then be linked to chaos and loneliness, and, ultimately, nothingness.

R: Why?

M: What does one who plots destruction of things that are good have in mind when he does it?

R: I suppose he must think of some end he desires above those things he is destroying.

M: And what would be the ultimate evil end?

R: Destroying everything, I suppose.

M: And once everything is destroyed, the evildoer would be utterly alone, having even destroyed those who may have assisted him in the earlier phases of destruction.

R: I suppose.

M: There can be no point to that, as he has cut himself off from all possible forms of the Good -- he cannot even exercise power, as there is nothing to exercise it over. It is chaotic, meaningless destuction that he has engaged in, and he is absolutely alone onceit is over.

R: Yes.

M: What then? The final act of destruction, the only person he can exercise power over is himself, and having finished that final act, nothing would remain.

R: Indeed. So ultimate evil is linked to the opposite of creation -- it is absolute nothingness.

M: And the good is the one of the two, therefore, with substance -- it is creation.

R: It would seem.

M: So which then must precede? Things in general, and by that I mean being itself, or the Good? Evil cannot precede because it exists as an absence of Good.

R: Well, didn't we just say they are the same thing?

M: Yes, and no. Acts of creation take a measure of the Good, if the Good has actual existence. That is why we can call a certain act good or not. If it creates, if it is not of chaos but of order, then it partakes of the Good.

R: Well, then I guess Good must come first.

M: Yes. Were that not the case, we could not call the very first act good or bad.

R: Yes.

M: And the Good then cannot have been created, but preexists creation.

R: OK, so I'll concede that if Good and Evil actually exist, then the Good must be the one that has actual substance, evil does not, and the Good must precede being.

M: Yes -- the Good is like light, and evil is the shadow cast when something acts to block the light.

R: Yes, yes, but we still haven't said anything about whether good or evil do exist or not. I still maintain they do not. But the day is getting late -- perhaps we can continue another time.

M: Certainly.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Book Review: A Liberal's Search for a New International Order

As we enter a new phase of international politics, one in which states cannot be assumed to have equal moral authority, in which sovereignty is decentralizing and changing, in which the stakes are raised because of proliferation, old institutions such as the United Nations have become outmoded, and a new framework for international law is required. As conservatives launch upon an overtly moral, aggressive, and power-politically astute framework centering on ‘coalitions of the willing’ as a basis for a new, precedent-driven international law, liberals struggle to find a place in our unstable world for their utopian ideals (witness John Kerry’s total lack of a coherent foreign policy). Anne Marie Slaughter’s A New World Order is a liberal’s attempt to describe precisely that -- an emerging, different kind of society of states along with a new and different idea of sovereignty. It is a book emblematic of liberals’ search for a new take on international law and politics. Having finished reading it, and it being thoroughly timely, I thought I might write a review.

At the core of Slaughter’s analysis iss the concept of the transgovernmental network -- collections of legislators, judges, or regulators performing the same role in each of their respective domestic polities collaborating together and sharing information. It is her hope that this diffuse institution will replace the more formal international institutions such as the U.N. that have proven their inefficacy, much to the chagrin of liberals. Slaughter’s ‘networks’ can have very positive effects from a practical standpoint. A ‘network’ can be, however, one of any of a large number of very different looking entities, with different purposes, sizes, forms, and styles. Some achieve their goals efficiently, others fail. Slaughter’s analysis brings a lot of deserved attention to this new phenomenon of governance, but her attempt to piece together an entire ‘new world order’ from this theoretically lower-level tool of governance leaves a lot to be desired.

Slaughter does highlight important things that networks already do and highlights possibilities for increasing their utility in the future. She divides networks generally into three types: enforcement, information, and harmonization. Networks of enforcement seek to efficiently enforce domestic rules where their targets are spilling over national borders. Information networks share their experience, best practices, and other information, allowing for collaboration and the development of useful dialogue between network members and efficient practices in their respective countries. Harmonization networks seek to harmonize rules and regulations, again with efficiency as a goal. Slaughter highlights several examples, including that of the Basle committee, which has harmonized capital adequacy standards in its member countries. Networks of regulators such as these, Slaughter points out, are not ‘organizations’ in the traditional sense. They are not created by treaty, and do not have traditional legal standing. Rather, through agreement amongst the regulator-members themselves, such networks act via ‘soft power,’ adopting informal agreements and setting standards amongst themselves. When the regulators return home, they use their domestic ‘hard power’ to enact that which they agreed on, thereby translating the ‘soft’ will of the network into ‘hard’ law. Such networks can thus promote regulatory efficiency and harmonization of practices and standards, ‘under the radar’ of the traditional framework of the state.

Slaughter has clearly highlighted an important phenomenon which is creating real change in the way states are governed and in the international system. She makes a mistake, however, when she moves from highlighting and evaluating these important developments to envisioning them as the core of a new international system of governance. Any theory which attempts to describe and advocate an emerging world order must do a number of important things if it is to be successful. First, any discussion of the international order must attempt to understand the nature of states individually. This means assessing states’ purposes and ends, their bases for legitimacy, their claims to power, and their areas of sovereign competence. Only by first investigating these things can one hope to envision how these entities might interact and create law amongst themselves.

Slaughter does not explicitly discuss any of these things. Her starting point seems to be a vision of the state as it has existed in the twentieth century. From there, she claims that there will be a ‘disaggregation’ of sovereignty as various transgovernmental networks become empowered to do things over which the sovereign state previously had monopoly control. She seems to assume that the ends of states and the society of states in general will continue to be those things that the nation-states of the twentieth century have pursued, the only change being that those ends will be more efficiently pursued via networks.

Slaughter does lay out an ideological conception of a ‘just world order,’ the realization of which she claims networks will help bring about. Her ‘just world order’, however, is a purely normative, specific set of Western liberal values, entirely disconnected from her discussion of the nature of the world order. Her set of ‘ends’ for the world order, most of which is widely accepted by the West as inherently good, includes respect for the dignity of the human person, liberty, and democracy. It also includes things like vigorous environmental protection and social justice. How can she posit such a set of values and advocate an entire world order of structures to aid in those values’ promotion without discussing the universal claim to truth and the good of this set of values, and its relationship to the nature of the individual states that make up the world order? She cannot and still maintain a coherent theory. Instead, she assumes the inherent choiceworthiness of her values without actually advocating them directly, and then sets out describing the world and its structures around them (a typical liberal move, one which attempts to obfuscate any kind of value judgment). Because of this move, her vision takes on a utopian character and she loses the sense of reality present in her purely descriptive discussions of networks.

Slaughter’s willingness to gloss over important distinctions and theoretical concepts in order to get more quickly to her overarching vision is apparent in her descriptions of the utility of networks. For example, in her description of regulatory harmonization networks, such as the Basle committee, she recognizes that there is tension between such harmonization and domestic authority structures that normally might control banking policy. Harmonization occurs by the network’s use of soft power, and domestic authorities are frustrated by this seeming intrusion on domestic sovereignty. This, to Slaughter, is evidence of a trend. She advocates the disaggregation of sovereignty, and envisions that in the future such networks will be given actual sovereignty. Their role will be more formal and recognized as legitimate by the community of states. This is a typical example of her (and liberals’) leap from description to utopian, value-laden vision. One could argue that the criticisms made by domestic political authorities are misplaced -- they are not so much criticizing the existence of networks as they are the model of the administrative state that allows such networks to develop. If a transgovernmental network can develop and harmonize capital adequacy standards like the Basle committee has, there has been a large delegation of power -- perhaps too large, and in the U.S. context, perhaps unconstitutionally legislative. Such a network can only exist where individual states have chosen to delegate very large amounts of power to regulators, and have selected similar policy goals. The individual sovereign states create the possibility of the network, and to the extent they feel they have given up too much, are likely to take away that possibility.

The trend Slaughter sees towards networks is thus only present in those few areas where powerful governments have already chosen to delegate large amounts authority to lower level bureaucrats and have adopted similar policy goals to begin with. When looked at this way, the trend does not seem so large and inevitable. Rather, to the extent networks are useful tools to achieve the preexisting goals of the individual member states, networks will be actively pursued and utilized. Groups of powerful states may even see networks as a way of spreading their own values and practices in their own national interest. They might utilize them, with carrot and stick, to encourage other states to behave in ways beneficial to the group. However, to the extent states see networks as aggrandizing themselves and moving away from the values and policy goals of the member states, they will be actively fought, and the discretion that allows the networks to translate their soft power into hard power will be removed. As soon as a network is no longer a useful tool for the state, it will be abandoned. Networks cannot, therefore, form the basis for a world order -- they are tools of the creatures of the world order.

While Slaughter is to be applauded for drawing attention to and analyzing transgovernmental networks, her grandiose and theoretically unsound description of an emerging world order based on them borders on dangerous. Slaughter nearly completely ignores the negative side of networks. She does pay lip service to common criticisms, such as their lack of democratic accountability and their tendency to be technocratic, and the difficulty the publics they serve may have in seeing them. In her solutions to these problems she merely restates her case for healthy networks -- that they be open, that they should have websites, that they work within existing political structures. She does not address the core of these concerns -- that networks, in their very efficiency and efficacy, are dangerous. Just as Slaughter neglects to discuss the nature of the state and the nature of states’ legitimacy, she neglects to discuss the attributes of human nature that create the need for states and governments in the first place. She fails to describe how networks can govern -- how they can deal with the inherent human qualities that governments are designed to either counterbalance or enhance. She, like many liberals, seems to assume that governments are created merely to solve peoples’ problems in an efficient matter. This is why she is so ready to replace talk of ‘government’ with ‘governance,’ which seems to merely be a loose, problem-solving, efficiency-based vision of regulation. Networks, she argues, can be very efficient and will solve many problems. Even though she recognizes that our government in particular is designed to be inefficient, she does not go further and address the core of such concerns even as she advocates the disaggregation of sovereignty and the empowerment of networks. She does not address the costs of networks’ efficient problem-solving, costs that may be difficult to see because they are not immediate.

It is an axiom of human nature that persons in positions of power will try to aggrandize their position’s power vis-à-vis the system of which they form a part. Networks, if they are empowered as Slaughter suggests, will provide fertile soil for such corruption. Individual members of networks, Slaughter notes, can use networks to improve their own position in their domestic governments. As networks do not have democratic input and are relatively technocratic, they provide cover for such aggrandizing movements of power. Members might eventually be able to combine significant amounts of legislative and executive power, the perfect prescription for tyranny. Such networks would destabilize political governments, create new, undemocratic and unchecked centers of power quite unconnected with any particular community’s shared values, thereby disrupting one of the primary purposes of states: to promote the shared morality and of a community, and its particular vision of the common good. Slaughter, in that she does not even suggest any theory concerning the nature of states and the purposes of government, cannot adequately respond to such criticisms. Although such fears may seem vague and unfounded, entire systems of government have been designed to combat them. A survey of history would confirm those fears, but history is also notably lacking from Slaughter’s account.

In the end, Slaughter’s work is a liberal's idealistic attempt to replace the outdated post-World War II international system with a system that is less violent and less morality-driven than that which the current battle-of-ideas-meets-WMDs is forging for us. As is typical, her attempt disregards the reality of our imperfect human condition. Luckily, the visionary, normative portions of her work are not nearly persuasive enough to be dangerous, although it is a small step in a dangerous direction. An analysis of how networks function best might bring about more efficient government problem-solving in a much more limited, controlled way than Slaughter envisions. The discussion, however, should be centered on how networks can be used as tools of governance within existing political frameworks, understanding their limited purposes and their potential for abuse. It should not stray into dangerous, utopian visions of a new world order. It cannot be liberals’ new archetype for a new international legal system, no matter how good their intentions for it are.