Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

Site Meter This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Does anyone else think this list of predictions for 2005 is a little thin and timid?

Things missing:

- No one dared to predict where the markets (bond or stock, domestic or international) are going. My bet: stocks up in the 1st quarter, then down the rest of the year; bonds flat the first quarter, then strongly down as short rates hike higher and higher in response to continued dollar weakness.

- No one called a scientific or technological breakthrough of any kind. Here's a prediction: if scientists attempting tissue regeneration in monkeys using embryoinic monkey stem-cells show any results whatsoever, they'll get major media play. I don't know the state of that research, though, so I don't know if 2005 is the year it'll happen. But surely something interesting will happen in 2005 in nanotech, or genetics, or psychopharmacology, or artificial intelligence, or nuclear fusion, or fundamental physics, or something. Won't it? No one wants to predict what?

- No one predicted anything significant with respect to arts or culture, and only one writer (Derbyshire) dared make an Oscar prediction (The Passion, Best Director, and it ain't gonna happen - though the film will probably be nominated for one or more of the big categories, I don't think it'll win anything big). So: Best Picture nominees: The Passion, Sideways, The Incredibles, Kinsey and Vera Drake. Winner: Sideways. The movie got perfect press and people are ready to honor Payne. Best Director usually tracks Best Picture pretty closely, but I bet Richard Linklater gets a nomination for Before Sunset because he's so sweet. He won't win the Oscar, though. Maybe they give the Oscar to Gibson for directing The Passion, but I bet not. Best Actor: I don't know who gets nominated. Could be Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland, Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda, Paul Giamatti for Sideways, Liev Schrieber for The Manchurian Candidate, or Liam Neeson for Kinsey, but it won't be all of them because the winner will be Jamie Fox wins for Ray. Best Actress: again, nominees could be Julie Delpy for Before Sunset, Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine, Hillary Swank for Million Dollar Baby, Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake, or Catalina Moreno for Maria Full of Grace, but I'd bet Laura Linney for Kinsey. Best Documentary of course goes to Fahrenheit 9/11; the interesting question is whether it gets nominated for Best Picture. I think it has a real shot. Best Foreign Film: I bet Maria Full of Grace beats House of Flying Daggers, Motorcycle Diaries and A Very Long Engagement. But why are you listening to me? To the first approximation, I've seen NONE of these movies. In other news: 2005 is an odd number so the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to someone reasonable this year, probably Philip Roth or Salman Rushdie.

- Every prediction with respect to legislation is negative: laws either won't be passed or will fail in their intended objective. No tax reform, no social security reform, no action on illegal immigration, and intelligence reform will fail. That's the consensus. The only success Bush is predicted to have in Congress is in confirmation of at least one Supreme Court justice. The Bush Administration has been extraordinarily eager to pass laws, and passed almost the entirety of their legislative program (in one form or another) for the 1st term; the only things that failed entirely were Social Security reform and the energy bill. Will he really get nothing he campaigned on legislatively this time around? Even after gaining seats in the House and Senate?

- Only one writer predicted who will be Chief Justice (K. J. Lopez voting for Ted Olson), but several assumed two nominations. Who's the other guy? And who's he (or she) replacing? My bets: Thomas for Chief Justice, to replace Rehnquist as Chief; Michael McConnell (this is wishful thinking on my part, probably), to fill the empty spot on the Court; and Emilio Garza to replace the next Justice to retire - and I'm betting that Justice is O'Connor, who is getting tired and is probably only sticking around to see if she gets to be Chief. Bush won't have a big fight on his hands until a hands-down liberal like Stevens either dies or retires, because that would actually shift the balance of the Court.

- Everyone is willing to predict what will happen in Iraq; some are willing to predict what will happen in Israel and the Palestinian territories (though no one is willing to say: Sharon will withdraw from Gaza, which I predict he will, no matter what the Palestinians are doing); Derbyshire and Stuttaford are willing to predict that Iran will get the bomb (no one contradicts them); and everyone seems to think they have a basis for predicting whether or not Osama bin Laden will be captured. That's it for foreign policy (Derb does say that "something" will happen "somewhere" else). Will Taiwan declare independence? (I predict: no.) Will Musharraf live another year? (I predict: yes.) Will there be the big news from Latin America in 2005? (I predict: a kind of alliance between Brazil and Venezuela that further isolates pro-American countries like Colombia and should - but won't - serve as a wake-up call to Americans to start paying attention to the region again.) Will there be serious unrest in Saudi Arabia? (I predict: no, just the same occasional bombings we've seen so far. But give it another couple of years.) Will there be civil war in Ukraine? (I predict: either there will be civil war in Ukraine or we will see a significant rise in ultra-nationalist sentiment in Russia as the new Ukrainian government pulls hard away from Russia in favor of the West. Most probably the latter.)

- No one is willing to predict the unpredictable. I don't mean something truly unpredictable, like the tsunami or 9-11. I mean the event that was in retrospect predictable but in detail unpredictable. For example: the Massachusetts Supreme Court turned a simmering question into a dominating one by ruling that marriage in Massachusetts needed to be redefined in a unisex manner to square with the state's constitution. What will the equivalent event be in 2005? What could be the potential shockers of 2005? Here are some possibilities: (1) A European party explicitly calling for the repatriation of immigrant non-citizens wins a plurality in the Parliament of a major state, causing an EU-wide crisis; (2) Muslims and "fundamentalist" Mormons join forces to bring suit in Canada for the recognition of polygamous marriages on the grounds of freedom of religion; (3) Tony Blair announces the next step in his reform of the British Constitution is the disestablishment of the Church of England, igniting fierce debate about whether this would in fact be good or bad for said church; (4) Sharon orders the withdrawal of all settlements from Gaza, and a handful from Judea and Samaria, triggering multiple, coordinated acts of serious Jewish terrorism against the Israeli government, and major right-wing Jewish organizations abroad, like the Zionist Organization of America, split over how to respond to these events.

There. The gauntlet is thrown down.

3 follow-ups to the last post:

First: thanks to Ross Douthat, Steven Menashi, Ramesh Ponnuru, John Derbyshire and Paul Cella for linking. An embarrassment of kindness and of riches.

Second: I wanted to clarify one thing about the whole "Western Civilization" thing, in case it wasn't clear. I was not primarily making a point about "us" but about "them." Western Civilization is, in its ambitions and self-conception, universal. But the fact that we see it that way doesn't mean that they - whoever they may be - see it that way. And that's something we have to factor in when we think about how we approach them. The Polish opponents of their Communist regime wanted to re-join a West that they felt fully part of. The Russians who supported Yeltsin were, in many cases, Westernizers - people who wanted to join a West they did not yet feel fully part of. From what I gather (and I'm no expert) the current Iranian regime is deeply unpopular - but the opponents of the regime do not, in general, want to join, much less re-join, the West. They may indeed want to end Iran's conflict with the West, but that's not the same thing. That difference between Iran and Poland should have an impact on how we approach Iran, and should caution us in drawing simple analogies between the Cold War end-game and our situation vis-a-vis Iran.

Third: another factor that distinguishes Poland from Iran: Poland's Communist dictatorship was widely (and correctly) seen as having been imposed from without (and by a historic enemy and oppressor: Russia). Ditto for all the other Communist regimes of Europe. By contrast, the Communist regimes of Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba were the product of domestic revolutions. I note that all the European Communist regimes are no more, that Russia saw a revolution by Westernizers that is now in the process of unravelling under Putin (and when we contemplate the alternatives to him that might realistically come to power, they are less congenial to the West, not more so), while the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban Communist dictatorships endure. They may fall yet, or they may evolve (as China's regime has been) into non-Communist (and probably more successful if still dictatorial) regimes. But they have so far proved vastly stronger than the optimists, in the immediate post-1989 glow, anticipated. So with Iran, whose revolutionary regime, while deeply unpopular, is also authentically a product of the Iranian people rather than a foreign imposition. This, too, should bear on our approach to them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The Douthat-Ledeen contretemps continues!

I think Douthat is by far getting the better of the exchange, but I should be clear what that means. Ledeen argues by trotting out general principles that it seems peevish to disagree with. And, indeed, I don't disagree with them. John Quincy Adams said that America, while the "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all" is "the champion and vindicator only of her own." I turned that famous phrase around in the conclusion to the convention acceptance speech I wrote (in a fit of presumption) for President Bush back in August, as follows: "America is the custodian only of our own freedom. But we are, and we must be, the friend of freedom everywhere." So I'm on-board with America's mission in the world and so forth.

But that is not the end of the argument, and Ledeen seems to think it is. Russia had a democratic revolution - an inspiring one remarkably free of bloodshed. A bit more than a decade later, she seems to be descending back into tyranny. India has been a democracy since independence, a vibrant and important one, and one that, arguably, refutes the contention of some that poor countries cannot be successful democracies. But India has also fought a series of wars with neighboring Pakistan as well as a war with China, and was the first third-world country to become a nuclear power. And those wars were not fought because of some inevitable conflict between freedom and tyranny; they were fought over territory and national interest. (For that matter, France and Prussia were both arguably fairly democratic and certainly highly developed when they fought their wars in 1870 and 1914-1918.)

Democracies can vote for belligerent politics. The Palestinian Arabs recently had fairly free elections, and 40% of the vote went to Hamas. Now, the Iranians, if allowed to vote freely, are very unlikely to vote for Islamist parties. But who's to say they won't vote for Persian ultra-nationalism? Who's to say the great challenge of the years 2015-2025 won't be a Turkish-Iranian rivalry for influence across Central Asia - a region previously dominated by Russia (which is now in catastrophic decline) and whose peoples are mostly either of Persian or Turkic origin? Again: I'm not making an argument why democracy in Iran would be bad; I'm making an argument why democracy in Iran is not a cure-all.

I'll also note that in addition to India, France and Israel are two democracies that became nuclear powers because they felt that nuclearization was in the national interest. And Iranian opponents of the regime have not attacked the nuclear question; if anything, they have supported the idea of a nuclear Iran. I quote Franklin Foer in his piece on neocon dissention over Iran:
[E]ven longtime opponents of the regime have defended Tehran's atomic
ambitions. Ardeshir Zahedi, who served as a foreign minister under the Shah,
argued earlier this year in The Wall Street Journal that there's nothing
inherently wrong with an Iranian bomb: "A peaceful Iran with no ambitions to
export an ideology or seek regional hegemony would be no more threatening than
Britain, which also has a nuclear arsenal." And some longtime advocates of
republican government in Iran have gone so far as to applaud the mullahs for
protecting the country's sovereign right to develop a nuclear program.

This is what Ledeen doesn't want to engage with: the fact that while a democratic Iran would be better than what we're facing right now, there's no reason to believe that a democratic Iran would necessarily be an American ally or that it would cease to pursue nuclear weapons. Democracy in Iran would be a good thing. But it would not solve all our problems - and pursuing that aim might have trade-offs with other policies that might be more urgent. That is a legitimate argument and must be addressed.

As for Douthat's remark about the Iranians not being "our people" - I think Douthat's follow-up is a bit disingenuous, but I also think he was right the first time. Douthat did not just mean that America is fundamentally responsible for the welfare of its own citizens, not for people in other countries. He does believe that, I'm sure, but that wasn't what he meant by the statement that the Iranians are not "our people." Rather, he meant some combination of the following two things: (1) Iran's national interests may conflict in important ways with America's, so we shouldn't assume that even a post-revolutionary Iran will be all buddy-buddy with us; and (2) Iran is not part of Western civilization, and so it is not unreasonable to assume that a primary motivation behind the Orange Revolution in Ukraine - the desire to join (or re-join) the West - may not really be operative in Iran.

Both of these objections to the Ledeen program strike me as salient. Iran's rivals in the region include Pakistan (a nuclear power), Russia (a nuclear power), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel (a nuclear power) and Turkey. While American embrace has done a good job of moderating and smothering the rivalries between Greece and Turkey, or between South Korea and Japan, embracing the entire Middle East is another order altogether.

And the business about not being part of the West is important as well. Japan is a very special case (Turkey is another) of a non-Western country that actively embraced the ambition to join the West. Russia has announced that ambition several times, and has always fallen back. Maybe this time it will make it; maybe not. I'm hopeful, but no longer optimistic. Turkey is still something of an open question as well, though I remain quite optimistic, and more so rather than less so because of the emergence of the AKP. And Japan, remember, is the only country to have suffered an attack with atomic weapons, and the United States the only country to have conquered Japan, so there are profound reasons for its exceptionalism entirely apart from any unique characteristics of Japanese civilization.

I asked this question of Daniel Pipes once, and didn't get an adequate answer. In the Cold War, our opponents, to a considerable extent, wanted to become like us, and this was an important factor in the end-game of that conflict. Reagan's line, remember, was "tear down this wall" - let Europe be whole again. The people who rose up in Gdansk and Berlin and Budapest and Prague were rising up to declare that they were part of Europe and the West; to a considerable extent, Boris Yeltsin and his supporters were declaring the same thing, and Victor Yuschenko and his supporters are certainly declaring the same thing. In our current war, we face peoples who do not, fundamentally, want to be like us. They may want to learn from us, accommodate us, teach us, surpass us, convert us or destroy us. But they do not, generally, want to become us. The Kurds of Iraq, some of our best friends in the region, do not want to order their society along American - or Western - lines. That is an enormous difference from the Cold War, where the bulk of the people of Hungary and East Germany and Poland and Latvia who thought about such things - and certainly the bulk of those who actively opposed the Communist regimes - basically wanted to become just like the people of France and West Germany and Britain and Belgium (or an idealized notion of what those people were like, or had been like once, or what-have-you), and order their societies similarly. That difference implies a necessary change of strategy.

Again, I want to stress, I'm not talking about fundamental principles here. I don't think only Western peoples can "do" democracy. I don't think Western Civilization lacks universal aspirations or is not universally applicable. Many non-Greeks became Hellenists and many non-Romans became citizens - and many non-Western countries have, and hopefully more will, become liberal democracies. But first principles are not enough to know about reality. And the reality is: Iran is not part of the West; most Iranians don't want to become Western; and this probably means that the analogy to Ukraine has problems.

I think Ledeen is probably right that a democratic Iran would not harbor al Qaeda and would probably drop support for Hezbollah and become more neutral in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Iranians would not like Israel, but they also don't like Arabs. I think he's wrong in assuming the country would abandon its nuclear program or that it would necessarily seek an alliance with the United States.

But the biggest problem with the whole debate is that it's focused on only one aspect of Douthat's critique - the question of what a post-revolutionary Iran would be like. The much more important aspect of the critique is: how do we get there? There are very good questions about how weak the regime really is and whether the kinds of measures proposed by Ledeen would do anything substantial to bring about his desired outcome. Douthat is not the only one raising these questions. Ledeen is not really answering them - and he's consistent in not answering them. That should not inspire confidence in anything Ledeen says on the subject.

It is very disappointing to me that so many in the NRO camp prefer boosterism to sober analysis. It should not be necessary for everyone who writes on the subject to, over and over again, assure everyone that they believe in democracy and the brotherhood of man, that they are not racists, that they believe in the power of freedom to change the world, etc., etc. before they are allowed to raise any objection to either tactics or strategy in our war. I'm going to propose a syllogism: any course of action that follows directly from first principles is almost certainly wrong. We need facts, and we need to hear serious responses to critiques rather than a re-statement of said first principles as if that settled everything.

Something I did not know: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, whose primary mission is to help needy Jewish communities abroad, also provides assistance to non-Jewish communities in times of natural disaster and the like. They've set up a special fund to raise money for communities that have been hit by the tsunami. Information is here. I note as well that a donor to the International Rescue Committee, which I noted below is a charity I've supported for a long time, and which will surely be one of the biggest players in responding to the crisis, will be doubling all donations to the IRC up to $1000 per donation made through their website before the end of the calendar year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
How does Ross Douthat.

By which I mean: how does a self-professed "theocon" and skeptic of the war to Make the Middle East Safe for Democracy get picked by Andrew Sullivan, scourge of theocrats and best-buddy of Trotsky-fan Christopher Hitchens, to write for his blog while Sullivan is on vacation?

He's a breath of fresh air. And I have to give Sullivan enormous credit for giving such prominent exposure to someone who, frankly, I imagine he doesn't agree with all that much. Maybe Sullivan should go back to being an editor, instead of writing the same column over and over again? He did very interesting things at TNR back when he was editor there. And his guest-bloggers are doing a marvelous job sprucing up what had become a rather tired space.

So: what about it, Sullivan. You've pioneered blogging as a legitimate form of journalism. Now take it to the next level: discover, by experiment, the value and role of an editor in blog-space.

Monday, December 27, 2004
Eveyone seems to be making lists of the best movies of the year. Hey: I've got a 2 year-old at home, and I'm not very organized about getting babysitters. I saw four movies in the theaters this year: Sideways, Before Sunset, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi, the last at a mini Israeli Film Festival at my synagogue so it barely counts as a night out (well, we did need to get a babysitter, so I guess it counts). I saw more movies than that on airplanes, most of them mediocre releases from this year or last (examples, probably not exhaustive: Anchorman, Big Fish, Dodgeball, House of Sand and Fog, Mystic River, School of Rock).

But you know the nice thing about Netflix? It keeps track of what you rented, so you know what you watched! This is a big help for someone with very little memory, like me. And, as we have a 2 year-old at home, we seem to have rented a rather lot of movies. Here's the list, with my one-word reviews:

American Splendor - excellent

Back to School - classic
Breakfast at Tiffany's - okay
Caddyshack - classic
The Conversation - classic
Down By Law - pretentious
Drugstore Cowboy - decent
Dumbo - classic
Earth Girls are Easy - cute
The Funeral - interesting
Gigi - creepy
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - excellent
Groundhog Day - excellent
Harvey - okay
Henry V (Olivier) - good
The Hustler - classic
The In-Laws - classic
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Sutherland) - good
The Iron Giant - disappointing
I've Heard the Mermaids Singing - dreadful
Jules and Jim - interesting
Kind Hearts and Coronets - disappointing
Lolita (Mason) - good
M - classic
McCabe and Mrs. Miller - excellent
Mikado: Stratford - excellent
The Misfits - good
Mister Roberts - good
Paths of Glory - classic
Pirates of Penzance: Stratford Production - good
Red River - classic
Reversal of Fortune - riveting
Rhinoceros - bad
Romeo & Juliet (Zeffirelli) - good
The Ruling Class - freaky
Singin' In the Rain - perfect
Stir Crazy - excellent
Sunset Boulevard - interesting
Tampopo - classic
Touch of Evil - classic
Uptown Saturday Night - good
Watership Down - good
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - classic
Young Frankenstein - disappointing

That's about a movie a week. That's probably too many movies. I need to read more.

Hey, thanks for the link, Steve!

Steve Sailer posts on "colonialism's surprisingly weak impact" in response to an interesting article in Legal Affairs. The article asserts that the legal inheritance of different countries has a lot to do with their subsequent relative success or failure, and starts by comparing two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, both Southeast Asian Muslim societies, but one a former British colony and the other a former Dutch colony. Malaysia, formerly British, has economically outperformed Indonesia, formerly Dutch. This the article attributes to their different legal inheritance: Malaysia's legal system is based on the British common law approach, while Indonesia's is based on the French civil law approach.

Sailer replies:

C'mon, the main reason Malaysia is better off than Indonesia is because about a quarter of Malaysia's population are Chinese, who, according to Malaysia's former President Mahathir Mohamad, are smarter and harder working than the indigenous "bumiputras." Mahathir set up a clever system of affirmative action for the majority that keeps them from rioting against the Chinese while not burdening the more productive group so much that they all leave Malaysia. In contrast, as Amy Chua pointed out in World on Fire, Indonesia is only 3% Chinese, and the ruling Suharto family climbed in bed with the Chinese businessmen, so that when the Suhartos were overthrown in 1998, the Chinese were attacked in populist pogroms, many fled to Chinese-run Singapore, and the new "democratic" government nationalized $58 billion worth of Chinese-owned businesses, with the usual disastrous results for the economy.

Good point. I will point out that the second paragraph of the Legal Affairs article reads as follows:

Economists might explain these divergent paths by pointing to the countries' different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in the close-knit community of Chinese immigrants who are the most powerful force in Malaysia's business community. Historians might point out that Malaysia's struggle
for independence was much less bloody than Indonesia's.
(Emphasis added, of course.)

I'm not trying to twit Sailer; I think he does have a very good point. You don't have to get on some kind of genetic-determinist hobby-horse to recognize that group interactions and relative competitiveness are, well, really important if you want to understand the world. Sailer gets in trouble for pointing this out all the time, and God bless him for it because somebody has to. And at least Sailer, while possessed of a number of politically incorrect opinions, is unequivocally not a "bigot" or a "hater" as anyone who's read his series on how to help the "left half" of the bell curve can attest. (That series can be found here, here, here, here and here.) Not to digress too much into a defense of Steve Sailer (though he probably deserves such a digression; maybe I'll write something more lengthy at another time), the suggestions he comes up with are a mix of right-wing, left-wing and no-wing ideas, and the only thing that they have in common is that they are certainly sincere in their aim to improve the well-being of those American citizens who most need their well-being improved. But because he's a rational empiricist, and follows the facts where he thinks they lead, he gets regularly pilloried in the mainstream press (whenever they notice he exists, that is).

In any event, to return to the main point: I wonder how the LLSV folks would account for the similarity in outcome between Taiwan and Singapore: both Chinese, both formerly colonies of more developed powers, both highly developed today and with almost identical GDPs per capita. But Singapore has a British pedigree and Taiwan a Japanese one. (Ironically, of course, Singapore is the one that's a dictatorship, while Taiwan is a democracy.) There's obviously some real value to not being ruled by Mainland China, but it doesn't seem to matter half as much who does the colonizing.

Or compare Malaysia and Thailand. They have roughly similar GDPs per capita (Thailand is a little behind). But Thailand was never colonized at all. (Thailand, by the way, is about 14% ethnic Chinese, not so wildly different from Malaysia's 24%.) Thailand's legal system is described in the CIA factbook as "based on civil law system, with influences of common law" so maybe that "influence" is decisive. (Taiwan's system is based on civil law, while Singapore's is based on common law.)

Or, heck, compare Britain and France. Britain has a per-capita GDP of $27,700 on a purchasing power parity basis. France has a per-capita GDP of $27,600. And you'd think legal differences related to the treatment of shareholders and so forth would count for more in an advanced, finance-based economy than in a developing economy.

I took a look, finally, at Africa. Looking at the various African countries by former colonial power and GDP per capita, there's no obvious connection between the latter two factors. You can find pairings that look like they support the Legal Affairs contention and pairings that look like they refute it.

Ghana ($2,200 gdp/cap, fmr British) is doing better now than Togo ($1,500), Benin ($1,100) or the Ivory Coast ($1,400) (all fmr French). But Nigeria ($900) and Sierra Leone ($500) (both fmr British) are doing substantially worse than Cameroon ($1,800) and Guinea ($2,100) (both fmr French). And Senegal ($1,600) (fmr French) and the Gambia ($1,700) (fmr British) look pretty much identical. Algeria ($6,000, fmr French) and Egypt ($4,000, fmr British) each have Arab populations, lots of sand and some oil. But Algeria is doing better economically in spite of the fact that it's been more politically unstable of late, and the fact that Egypt has the canal and massive American support. The bottom four basket cases on the list, in economic terms - Tanzania ($600), Malawi ($600), Sierra Leone ($500) and Somalia ($500) - were all at least partly colonized by Britain.

Britain's most successful former colonies in sub-saharan Africa in terms of current GDP per capita are South Africa ($10,700), Botswana ($9,000) and Namibia ($7,200), plus Swaziland ($4,900) and Lesotho ($3,000), which were never precisely colonies. South Africa dominates the economy of the region, and it is only 75% black African. Namibia is 87% black African and Botswana's stats are not usefully broken out (they count white in the category "other" and I don't know what else is in that category; "other" is 7% of the country). So it's plausible to attribute the outperformance of this entire region to South African exceptionalism, which is surely related to the exceptional racial heritage of the country. (And no, I'm not saying black populations can't be economically successful; I'm just pointing out that South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Namibia and Botswana had a substantial First World population plonked down in the middle of a Third World population for a long period of time, which would surely be expected to affect their economies overall.) Of the next batch - Ghana ($2,200), Zimbabwe ($1,900), Gambia ($1,700) and Uganda ($1,400) - none has a non-African population above 2%.

Meanwhile, the most successful French former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa (I'm leaving off the Arab- and Berber-dominated colonies of North Africa because they have very different histories and populations) are Gabon ($5,500), Guinea ($2,100), Cameroon ($1,800), Senegal ($1,600) and Togo ($1,500). Gabon is 1% French, but 11% "other Africans and Europeans" and it has a tiny population, so maybe it's an outlier and we should discount it. The next four countries have non-African populations of well under 2% - smaller, on average, than the four British successes. And their average GDPs are pretty similar to the four British successes.

Here's a table for easier comparison:

Country.....................Colonial Power........Non-African-%.......Total-Population........GDP per Capita

Do you see a pattern here? I don't. It looks to me like the French legal heritage works about as well as the British if you compare otherwise similar countries.

Now, all that said, the LLSV guys do have some kind of a point. Corruption is an enormous barrier to development; maybe the British legal system is one of the more effective in terms of combatting corruption. And, similarly and not unrelatedly, a bad property rights regime where many people (particularly poorer people) don't have good title to their property is another big barrier to development. This is the factor that Hernando de Soto has made his own personal hobby horse. But these things aren't either-or. And it's pretty obvious that a British legal heritage means precious little if the guy who comes to power after independence decides to nationalize everything and burn down the estates of the blood-sucking landlords.

Here's a trickier post-colonial development question. Sailer concludes that colonialism had a pretty superficial impact when all's said and done. But its impact clearly went deeper in some places than in others. Might that - the intensity of the colonial experience - correlate with economic development?

Again, let's look at Africa with the ends lopped off - take out North Africa and South Africa/Namibia/Botswana as culturally and economically distinct, and look at the rest of the continent. It's pretty clear that the countries that are economically best off now are to the west of the ones that are worst off. Up at the top of the charts are Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea, Angola, Mauritania Cameroon, the Gambia, Senegal, Togo and the Ivory Coast, all with coasts on the west side of Africa. The only interior or east-coast states with comparable GDPs per capita are Zimbabwe (which I would argue is a special case, like Botswana), Sudan (which is half Arab) and Uganda. At the bottom of the charts, meanwhile, are interior or west-coast states like Somalia, Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi, both Congos, Comoros, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Niger, Madagascar, Zambia, Mali, Kenya and the Central African Republic. The only west-coast states with comparable GDPs per capita are Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia (ironically, all countries with common-law legal systems, two of them former British colonies).

I suspect that what's at work here is the intensity of the colonial experience. The countries on the west African coast were more intimately involved economically with the colonial metropole, and so got more developed. That in turn is probably in part a matter of simple geography. But geographic positioning for easy trade isn't enough; look at Tanzania, which you'd think would benefit more from their position on the Indian Ocean than they have if geography was all there was to it.

And there may even be an aspect to this geographic correlation that cuts the opposite way from the LLSV thesis. After the Indian Mutiny, the British shifted their colonial approach from direct to indirect rule - the latter meaning: rule through the local elites. And the latter system is the one that got implemented in Africa and the Middle East. So it's not inconceivable that French West Africa got a more intensive imperial administration than did many of Britain's African colonies, and that this fact is positively correlated with post-independence performance. But this is not really my area of expertise, I'll admit. What's clear is that the LLSV thesis is by no means some kind of "magic bullet" explanation for relative underperformance among developing countries. The data is all over the map.

Of course, as soon as you start talking about charitable giving, you raise - in specific cases but also in general - the problem of unintended consequences.

With investing, the objective is narrow: to make money. Fundamentally, you don't care about externalities because they are, well, external; you are trying to maximize the value of your investment.

But with charitable giving, the objective is to do good. So you have to take account of these externalities.

Sometimes they are very large. The International Rescue Committe does terribly important work. Millions of people around the world depend on them for their very lives. But: it is no less true that the existence of the IRC shapes geopolitical realities, and it is very hard to know in what way. It is entirely possible that there are wars that would have been shorter and more decisive were it not for the intervention of international humanitarians, and that while the bad guys might have won fewer people might have died. That's obviously not the case when you're talking about a natural disaster such as has just struck so many countries bordering the Indian Ocean, and the IRC does help out with natural disasters as well as man-made ones. But with those man-made disasters, unlike the natural ones, there's a feedback loop, where people learn from the presence of humanitarians and may take advantage of them.

In a case like this one, I think the question to ask is whether the organization in question is aware of as tries to counter the most egregious advantage-taking. For example: it's well-known that Hutu militias from Rwanda have operated in the refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and from these positions keep alive one of the world's bloodiest ethnic conflicts. Do the organizations running the camps realize this danger, and are they taking steps to try to prevent their camps from being used as "safe-houses" for warring factions? The IRC, according to their own materials, is alive to these problems. (At the other extreme is the UN, where there have been on the one hand allegations of rape and sex-trafficking by staffers, and on the other hand there is substantial evidence of active collaboration between UN staff and terrorist groups in Palestinian camps.) But even if they are alive to and try to prevent these problems, I'm sure their record isn't perfect. And that's something we all just have to live with to the extent that we can't correct it.

Or take something much smaller scale. The Stratford Festival's endowment is supposed to support, among other things, their experimental stage and their conservatory. Well and good. But how will these two eminently worthy projects distort the operation of the Festival as a whole? Will the existence of the experimental stage mean that the main stage takes fewer risks? Will the existence of the conservatory create an obligation to push graduates into roles they aren't really ready for (this is, after all, part of why they want to come to the conservatory: to have a chance to play Stratford)? Along with Shakespeare, other classic theater and some contemporary Canadian works, the Festival now regularly programs two major musicals from what I suppose you'd call the American Musical Canon - last year they put on Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes. About 50% of their revenue from ticket sales comes from the musicals, as I understand it. It is a very, very good thing that they have this cash cow. But it also inevitably affects the decisionmaking by the management of the Festival as to what they will program and what will get the lion's share of the financial resources.

Again, on balance I think the benefits outweigh the costs by a wide margin in each of these cases. But that doesn't mean that there are no costs to be cognizant of.

Or let's look at Hillel. I had a meeting recently with one of the people whose job it is to meet with people like me (i.e., with donors) to fill me in on their plans for taking the "next step" in terms of their mission. What's the next step? Well, according to my interlocutor, Jewish students on campus fall into three categories: there's about 20% for whom Jewish identity (religious or cultural) is already important to them. Hillel is doing a good job of reaching these students, providing them with a home and helping them to deepen their involvement. Then there's about 30% who are either entirely aware that they have a Jewish background, or for whom it is insignificant, or who are aware of their Jewish background but actively hostile to it. These students are not people Hillel is really focusing on trying to reach. Finally, there's about 50% who are aware they are Jewish but who are relatively lacking in knowledge or connection. These are the students Hillel is not reaching in large numbers now. And a major effort of the new leadership is focused on trying to reach this very large contingent of students.

Right now, the basic approach is the "smorgasbord" method: provide a lot of different "entry points" for students coming from very different perspectives. So: you provide space for a kosher kitchen, an Orthodox minyan, and so forth. You bring lecturers on topics related to Jewish history, culture and religion to campus. And you host a Passover seder, Friday-night dinners, etc. But you also bring contemporary Jewish musicians to campus, particularly those working in a contemporary idiom but with a Jewish cultural point of reference; you sponsor programs related to "social justice" to connect to the many left-liberal Jewish students for whom that kind of activity is what Judaism means to them; you send students to Israel on the Birthright program; you sponsor Jewish theater, Jewish dance, Jewish film; and so forth. One of the most effective programs for connecting Jewish students with the Jewish people and Jewish concerns is the Birthright Israel program. But also very effective, Hillel has found, is bringing Israelis - particularly young Israelis just out of the army - to campuses in America to talk to American Jewish students about what life is like there. That kind of personal connection is a whole lot more effective than a propaganda or guilt session.

Okay, so this is the direction the organization is going. So there are two objections to Hillel I can anticipate from my readers, which I will attempt to answer. The first: am I not promoting multi-culturalism, a Jewish identity at the expense of an American identity, by supporting an organization that tries to give Jews a stronger Jewish identity at a formative point in their adult lives?

To which I answer: yes, and no. I see nothing wrong with promoting a particularist identity, whether religious or cultural or otherwise, if it is grounded in something positive and constructive. An identity which consists entirely of resentment is not a very good identity. But an identity grounded in a strong cultural and religious tradition is a wonderful thing that enriches America as well as the individual in question.

Randolphe Bourne, in his essay on "transnational" America (his early 20th-century term for what we would now call multicultural America) considered the many immigrants from Europe and worried what would happen to their moral character if they should lose their own traditions but gain no new ones. He worried that they would fall prey to a newly-emergent popular culture whose values, moral and aesthetic, were shallow, and which would turn them into an undifferentiated mass of great power by virtue of its sheer size, but very dangerous for being culturally unmoored. Bourne therefore encouraged immigrants to retain their traditional cultures even as they learned how to be Americans. I think Bourne had a point. And I think that point has force when applied to an elite group like Jewish college students as much as it does when applied to the just-off-the-boat huddled masses of America's early 20th-century slums. I think it's a good thing when Chinese kids go to Chinese school, when Greek kids go to Greek school, and when Jewish kids go to Hebrew school. And I see no contradiction between this kind of activity and assimilating fully to American life.

But it is also crucial to distinguish between private efforts to keep up a tradition and a culture and public efforts to do so. I'm strongly against the latter, basically because I think this turns a minority culture into a political program, and thereby damages the minority culture, and because it institutionalizes the separation of Americans into groups, and thereby damages America. This kind of public act is wrong to a much lesser degree but for a similar reason that legally-enforced segregation is wrong. So while I applaud parents who try to ensure their children learn the language of their ancestors, I'm very strongly opposed to bi-lingual education, on both educational and national grounds.

Having said all that, though, that doesn't mean my hypothetical objector has no point at all. Of course encouraging a particularistic identity - of any sort - trades off against the development of a broader communal one. That's just something to be cognizant of, though.

The other objection I anticipate is that the "smorgasbord" approach to outreach inherently demeans the tradition by putting central matters like prayer and Torah study on an apparent equal level with periphera and ephemera like Jewish rap music. To which I also say: yes and no. Different organizations will, of necessity, be more stringent in their heirarchies. A synagogue that suggested that a Jewish film series is "just as good" as attending services on Shabbat morning is a synagogue with dire mission confusion. But by the same token, a klezmer-revival organization is going to be focused on the music, and should be. Hillel is not a synagogue. I asked this question of my interlocutor from Hillel in this fashion: don't you get complaints from Orthodox supporters when you sponsor, say, a Jewish gay and lesbian group? And don't you get complaints from feminist supporters when you, say, provide space for a traditional Orthodox congregation which segregates men and women at prayer? And he answered: not really. Which is, in my view, encouraging.

Encouraging, but with this caveats: that "diversity" and "tolerance" are not made a kind of quasi-religion that prevents people with differing views from expressing those views, and that the very different groups of students brought together under Hillel's umbrella really are encouraged to interact, rather than treat each other with indifference disguised as tolerance. That's a hard thing to achieve, but it's imporant - indeed, it's a vital part of Hillel's mission.

I think the right way to approach the ethics of philanthropy in general is thusly:

- Your obligations move out from yourself in concentric circles. You should be sure you've done your duty by your community, your church or synagogue, and so forth before taking on other burdens.

- Teach a man to fish. The old saw really is true, and you can feel a lot more satisfaction, a lot more of a sense of accomplishment, if you actually help solve problems instead of just treating them.
- Focus on "ends in view." Look enough steps ahead on the chess board and it becomes impossible to know what the impact of your actions will be. So don't sweat that. Support things that you believe in for their own sake and you're already starting off on the right foot.

- But be sure the organizations you support are cognizant of negative externalities they may create. This is their full-time job. If they are thinking about these questions, that's a very good sign.

- Be reality-based. Okay: say you're worried about hate crimes being committed against underage girls by tobacco companies on the internet. Before you give money to Stop Hate Crimes Against Underage Girls By Tobacco Companies On the Internet, try to find out whether the problem actually exists. It would be a real shame if it didn't.

- Measure success. Do the organizations you support have clear objectives? Can they tell if they are meeting those objectives? Do those metrics make sense? The best organizations talk in these terms. And, of course, you should not be supporting an organization that is spending all its money on fund-raising, or doesn't release proper financial records, or is otherwise less than above-board in its operations.

- Donate time as well as money. I'm actually really bad at this apart from my synagogue, and even there I'm not one of the most active members of the congregation. But I can say that you get a lot more satisfaction, and a lot better understanding, if you get involved personally with an organization instead of just writing a check.

- Balance breadth and depth. There are so many worthy causes out there, but you can't possibly get deeply involved in more than a handful of organizations. So don't. Feel free to make smaller donations to a large number of groups, but be sure to pick a handful that you really care about and really want to get involved in, and make larger donations to these.

- Give of love, not of guilt. A colleague was once involved in raising money to build a community center in his town. Now, he lived in a rather wealthy suburb, and the community center was going to be really state-of-the-art. And he was expected, of course, to make a major donation. In any event, he told me that he felt guilty about giving so much money to a building that was going to be used by his family and their wealthy neighbors, when there are so many needy people in the world. So I told him what I'm saying here: give of love, not of guilt. You want to give a nice gift to your community? Mazel-tov! They and you should enjoy it in good health. You want to do something about world hunger? Mazel-tov again; research the different organizations that work on this problem, find one you believe in, and give generously. If you give out of guilt, or if you don't give out of guilt, you'll be resentful, and that doesn't do anyone any good. So give of love.

- And therefore, set your own priorities. You know what your obligations are and what your interests are. So, based on that, you can set your philanthropic priorities. The fact that you read a cover story saying overpopulation is the most important problem facing the world today does not mean that you have to reorient your giving to focus on charities devoted to population control. You're only one person. You'll be more effective at changing the world if you care about what you're doing to change it.

Anyway, that's the way I see it.

It's that time of year again: the end of it. Last chance to make donations to charity that count for this tax year.

I wrote a long piece a couple of years ago detailing several charities that I've been supportive of. Here's a recap, organized by category, with some additional thoughts and mention of other worthy organizations. As always, I'm very interested in hearing from readers about charities they support, as well as hearing anything negative (or positive) about the charities I list below.


Domestically, I give to a number of organizations with a social welfare orientation. I've tried to support local organizations like the food pantry, meals-on-wheels - that sort of thing. I also give regularly to Mazon, which is a kind of Jewish United Way: they give to mainstream groups addressing various social welfare needs, but because the money comes from Mazon the recipient organizations can presume that the donors are Jewish, which is nice positive publicity for the tribe. I'm sure there are "advocacy" groups that Mazon funds that I don't love, but what can you do? Nothing is perfect.

Recently I learned about and began to support the Doe fund, an innovative charity that employs individuals who are homeless or have come out of prison, helps them develop the discipline and skills to stay at work, and thereby get them back on the road to a healthy, productive existence. I also support the local Habitat for Humanity. In the area of education, I've been supportive of Student Sponsor Partners, though I haven't as yet volunteered to partner up with one of their supported students. This year, I added a number of charities from Noemie Emery's helpful list of organizations that support our servicemen and veterans. And I also learned, through the company I work for (an important client is on the board of the charity), about Shake-a-Leg, which runs a variety of sports and rehabilitation programs for disabled youngsters.

I'm not sure where it properly belongs on this "thematic" list, but I've been a big fan and supporter for a few years of the Manhattan Institute. I'll list it here because a primary reason I'm a supporter is in recognition of their importance in changing New York City's approach to crime and welfare, changes that have revolutionized life in the city. They cover a lot of other ground, though. If you want to get an idea of how much ground, take a look at their website, or subscribe to their publication, City Journal. They are the only organization I know of devoted specifically to urban issues from a more conservative perspective.


My giving to organizations focused on social welfare in poor countries is dominated by two organizations: the International Rescue Committee and Technoserve. The IRC has expanded enormously in the last two decades, in response to a massive increase in the problem of refugees and displaced persons. They have a huge and important operation in Afghanistan, of course, but they also have massive operations across Africa and elsewhere in Asia and in Europe, and they also run resettlement programs across the Western world. The work they have to do only expands with time. Two specific good things about the organization: they are notable for the percentage of the money they raise that goes to field activities, and they make a great effort to employ locals to the maximum extent possible.

Technoserve, meanwhile, besides having the stupidest name of any charity I've ever heard of, is a classic "teach a man to fish" kind of organization. They help rural communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia improve the productivity of their agriculture and find markets for their produce. This kind of effort is absolutely essential if we're ever going to address the enormous problem of rural poverty in the 3rd world. That poverty is the driver both of mass migration to the already overcrowded and politically unstable 3rd world cities and of mass migration to America and Europe.

I also support the slave-freeing efforts of iAbolish, and the good work of the International Medical Corps.


I have to admit, scientific and medical charities have not been my primary focus. I support the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, the nation's premier research hospital for respiratory diseases, which have been a growing problem worldwide. I've given to North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital where there is a fund in memory of my wife's brother, who was a pulminologist there, and to charities involved with pancreatic cancer, which runs in my wife's family. I also support Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which I discuss below under Jewish-oriented charities.

Hey, I support my High School alma mater, the Bronx High School of Science. Does that count?


The two primary charities I support related to the physical environment are the Nature Conservancy and the Prospect Park Alliance. The Nature Conservancy owns or helps manage huge amounts of land in this country, and consults abroad in numerous countries to replicate what they've done here through similar local groups in each country. They are an old-fashioned conservation group, and they do wonderful work. They had a bit of bad press not long ago because they were entering into trades with their trustees that resulted in a tax writeoff for the trustees associated with a conservation easement for their land. But I'm convinced that these transactions were above-board and entirely within the mission of the organization. It would be a shame if people shied away from this excellent charity because of concerns about these easement transactions.

The Prospect Park Alliance, meanwhile, is the local group responsible for reviving the only major park in Brooklyn. I live right by the park, and use it all the time, and I'm thrilled to be able to contribute to further improvement and maintenance of this beautiful space. The story of how local people saved this park that the city had largely abandoned, and how they continue to make ever larger and more expensive improvements, is a wonderful and inspiring one, the perfect illustration that the spirit of community voluntarism that De Tocqueville so admired in America is alive and well.


We support many of the museums of Brooklyn and Manhattan through memberships. We're also supporters of Brooklyn Information and Culture (BRIC), which sponsors Celebrate Brooklyn, a summer series of concerts and performances which is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. But the overwhelming bulk of our giving in the area of culture is to the Stratford Festival, which I've written about many times in this space. Stratford recently launched a campaign to build their endowment, the For All Time campaign. The endowment supports a number of crucial efforts by Stratford that extend beyond their main stages: the conservatory which teaches classical techniques to new actors; a program for training theater artisans; the Studio Theater, Stratford's new "experimental" stage; new play development; Stratford's educational efforts, including a Shakespeare "camp" and a program for high-school teachers; and various capital-improvements to the facilities. Our family's annual trip to Stratford is something we look forward to all year, and it gives you a wonderful feeling to feel that you're helping keep an institution you value so much alive.

I'm not sure it belongs in this spot, but I also give to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, who are doing what they can to uphold real academic excellence and accountability to donors, and to fight the forces of mediocrity, self-dealing and political correctness.


Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is one of the most effective Jewish outreach organizations out there. I support both the national organization and the Hillel at my alma mater. Hillel is reaching American Jews at a crucial point in their lives. College is the time when people self-consciously forge an identity. While people can change greatly after college (I did), for many people this is when they settle into patterns that impact the rest of their lives. It's also, not incidentally, when many people find their spouses.

And Hillel is a particularly important organization to support now, I think, because of the increased prominence of anti-Israel activism on campus. Jewish students who are already supportive of Israel need a place where they can coalesce, and students who don't know anything about the conflict need to hear from an organization that will present a viewpoint more sympathetic to Israel. Hillel embraces under its umbrella groups that take a more right-wing and a more left-wing approach to the situation in Israel, everything from Likud-oriented groups to Peace Now; if I had to guess, the balance is tilted leftward rather than rightward. But all of these groups will comprehend the situation as it impacts Israelis and Jews, which many of the anti-Israel groups now active on campus do not.

The UJA is, of course, the granddaddy of Jewish communal organizations, and of course I support it. In a more modest way, I've supported communal organizations like the Global Jewish Relief Network and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, and cultural organizations like the Center for Jewish History. I've also been supportive of Jewish outreach organizations not specifically focused on college students, such as the National Jewish Outreach Program. And of course I'm very supportive of my own synagogue. I also give to MEMRI, which provides the invaluable service of translating material from the Arabic language press into English, and disseminating it. MEMRI has been accused of selectivity in its choice of material. Fine: if MEMRI encourages others to search the Arabic press for material they are missing and disseminate that, that's all to the good. I'm not supporting MEMRI primarily because they have a political agenda (and they do) but because they are doing a huge amount of good simply by shining a light in an area of paramount interest to America as well as to Israel and to Jews worldwide.

Finally, within Israel probably the largest share of my support goes to the Masorti movement, the counterpart to the Conservative movement in America and (to a much lesser extent) elsewhere internationally. Masorti congregations and educational institutions in Israel, unlike Orthodox ones, are not provided with government funding, and precisely because the government funds synagogues and schools in Israel, Israelis do not see it as part of their job to do so privately. I think this is a pretty lousy model for how a religious establishment can work (and I do think a religious establishment can work, and is necessary for Israel). I do not agree with everything about Masorti - I don't think the changes they want to make in the religious establishment are entirely correct; I don't think they should always and reflexively ally themselves with Reform; and I think their leadership is far too left-wing on political, economic and security matters for my taste, and considers that stance too important to their mission in Israel, whereas in fact it should be relatively peripheral. But I agree with much of their religious stance (that's why I'm a Conservative Jew myself), and I strongly believe that they have something to offer the many Israelis who are in need of a spiritual home but who are alienated from Orthodoxy.

On the other hand, I've also supported Orthodox institutions that I think are doing important work. Two that stand out are the Ohr Torah family of educational institutions, located in Efrat, which is on the other side of the Green Line but within the "consensus" areas that everyone expects to be integrated into Israel after a separation from the Palestinians, and Nishmat, based in Jerusalem. Ohr Torah was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and is one of the premier centers of rabbinical training for Modern Orthodox rabbis. Riskin is a very imporant modern leader among the Orthodox, a true heir to the vision of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (though he himself would never claim to be anything close to either as a scholar). I think he's trended too far in the direction of Kookite religious Zionism for my taste, but post-separation one of the tasks of the religious Zionist camp will be to reconstruct their understanding of the religious significance of the state in light of the fact that settlement of the whole Land is not a realistic option today. And I think Riskin is one of very few leaders in that camp capable of leading that effort.

Nishmat, meanwhile, is doing absolutely crucial work providing to Orthodox women the equivalent of the kind of education that a modern yeshivah provides to candidates for the rabbinate. Nishmat is also active in pushing - within a strictly observant context - to address women's concerns and make more room for women to play a role in the halachic process. This is very important work for the Orthodox community, but also for the Jewish world as a whole.

I support Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is trying to help develop this relatively depressed part of the country. Ben-Gurion is associated with the left wing of the Israeli political spectrum, but I'm not sure I understand why development of the south of the country should be considered a left-wing project, other than that Ben-Gurion himself opposed the settlement plans for the territories acquired in 1967, and favored instead a focus on developing areas within the Green Line. In any event, I think their efforts are important.

I've also been supportive of organizations like Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross; Selah: The Israel Crisis Management Center, which aids immigrant victims of terror and other trauma; Sha'are Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem; Ezer Mizion, an Israeli social-welfare organzation; and other Israeli charities.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
I'm in the middle of reading Marjorie Garber's new book, Shakespeare After All. I was not anticipating I'd enjoy it, largely because what she's known for as an academic is stuff I'm not terribly interested in. (Here's a rundown of some her previous publications: Quotation Marks; Sex and Real Estate; Dog Love; Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life; Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety.)

But, after wading through the first through chapters without gleaning any special insight, I found the book starting to hit its stride, and myself starting to learn something. The book is organized as a series of essays on each of Shakespeare's plays, presented in what Garber believes (since no one knows for sure) is the order of their composition (with a couple of exceptions that she notes as such). The earlier chapters were, I thought, a bit pedantic and harped too incessantly on Garber's favored themes. (How many times do I have to hear that the female roles in Shakespeare's day were played by men, and that Shakespeare played off this fact in many of his plots? How many times do I have to hear that when characters talk about playing a role, there is a double meaning inasmuch as the characters are, of course, played themselves by actors?) But when we start to get to the meatier plays, the book improves dramatically. I've just finished the essays on A Merchant of Venice and Henry IV part 1 - two of my favorite plays in the canon - and it's apparent that, with such rich texts to work with, Garber has too much substantive to say to harp on tired themes. So I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

On a totally separate point, one thing Robert Novak doesn't mention about Bill Kristol's attack on Rumsfeld is that Kristol has never been on-board with Rumsfeld. Any regular reader of The Weekly Standard can confirm that Kristol has been calling for a larger military since before Rumsfeld was nominated; that he expressed skepticism before 9-11 that we could "skip a generation" in military hardware or that we could make do with a lighter and more mobile small force that relied on precision technology and air-power rather than investing in a larger force of Army grunts and Marines capable of doing occupation duty.

I will also note that Kristol, unlike many neocons, never was an enthusiast of Ahmad Chalabi and always thought we needed a larger military specifically to go into Iraq.

So it isn't fair to say that Kristol is trying to pin the blame on Rumsfeld because the war they both favored turned out poorly. Rather, Kristol had concerns pre-war which he aired, and since in his view reality has confirmed his pre-war concerns he's mad as hell and wants to make it clear whom he blames for not taking his concerns into account.

All that said, that doesn't mean Kristol is either right about Iraq or right about his overall strategy. Kristol thought, if I recall correctly, that we needed about 30,000 to 50,000 more troops in Iraq initially to overwhelm the enemy and prevent the emergence of the insurgency that we currently face. By contrast, General Shinseki and others who calculated the required Iraq force by comparing it to Kossovo and Bosnia, and assuming we needed comparable ratios of troops to locals to enforce peace and order, came up with a figure of more like 200,000 to 250,000 more troops than we actually deployed. The latter figures were derided by neocons as figures designed to make an invasion impossible. Can they still say that with a straight face? And if they can't, do they realize the implications of the larger figures for the realism of their overall strategy?

As for Kristol's overall strategy, his general approach to foreign affairs is premised on the notion that a Pax Americana is necessary to avoid a return either to a balance-of-power world such as (in some views) led to World War I or a spreading and dangerous chaos that will increasingly result in direct American deaths and will profoundly threaten our interests in more indirect ways. His camp has made the analogy to the position of Britain from 1815 to 1914, able to enforce, from its preeminent military position, a relative peace and a liberal economic order on the world. That's the role he and others want America to play today.

This analysis misses a bunch of things:
  • Britain managed to enforce the Pax Brittanica with a truly negligible standing army; rather, it was naval superiority that enabled Britain to police the lanes of commerce, which is what preserved a liberal economic order (more or less).
  • The "peace" that reigned between the Great Powers from 1815 to 1914 included rather significant war-like episodes like the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War. Moreover, Britain was not able either to prevent the rise of Germany (or Russia) nor to accommodate itself to their rise, hence the crashing of this beloved 19th century order in World War I.
  • Whether the British Empire was a good thing or a bad thing, we should at least be able to agree that some of the conditions that made it possible then no longer obtain. For example, Britain was a massive exporter of people and capital, with a high birth rate and declining death rate, while much of the conquered lands were, whether populous or relatively sparse, static in terms of economic and population growth. Relative to the rest of the world, British population and European population generally were at their peak during the 19th century. The opposite is true today, when Western population growth rates are negative, Western countries are significant importers of people (and, in America's case, capital), and population growth rates in much of the world still strongly positive even where declining (and they are not declining in the Muslim world or in Africa).
In sum, it's not at all clear that the analogy between Britain in the 19th century and America today is any good.

Finally, the major part of the world that Britain was able to bequeath liberal and democratic norms that appear to have survived reasonably well is the Indian subcontinent, and specifically the Hindu-dominated part of that region. Chinese and Southeast Asian colonial territories seem to have absorbed some of these norms as well; no one would call Singapore a liberal democracy, and Malaysia isn't one either, but they are both relatively civilized and successful political systems and far less oppressive than what obtains in much of the world. They did not do nearly as good a job implanting these norms in the former Ottoman territories or in Africa. Whether that speaks to the relative distance these societies had to travel versus the Asian ones, or the relative depth and duration of the British presence, or other factors, it cannot be denied that the analogy does not bode well for the notion of an easy exercise in nation-building in Iraq.

Rumsfeld never had any use for nation-building. And his ideas about the shape of our fighting force are rationally oriented around the response to the major military challenges we are likely to face in the most important potential theater of conflict in the future: Asia. If we want to deal with North Korea, deter or help repel a Chinese attack on Taiwan, protect the sea lanes of Indonesia, and so forth, Rumsfeld's program is a good one. It also proved capable of an extraordinarily swift and comprehensive victory over a fairly large and typically inept third world army such as Saddam fielded.

Rumsfeld can legitimately be criticized for doing neither of the following: (a) telling the President that his political objectives for the Iraq War are unrealistic; (b) incorporating the President's willingness to undertake occupation duty into his thinking about the force structure. But it's not clear to me that the President's strategy was the same as Kristol's. Rather, the President appears to have accepted the advice of those who did buy into the Chalabi story, and believed that we would not need a lengthy occupation or face significant guerilla warfare. So to that extent, the critics of Kristol who have faulted him for attacking Rumsfeld rather than the President - or folks like Wolfowitz who advised both Rumsfeld and the President - have a point.

Here are the facts the pro-war camp - in particular the neocons - need to reckon with:
  • The political planning was more badly thought out than the military planning. Rumsfeld won his war. But the political aftermath was never planned in a unified manner between the different departments, and went through several iterations and rebrandings as the initial strategies began to fail. And, of course, the reliance on Ahmad Chalabi's INC proved disastrous. Whose fault is that?
  • The implicit assumption behind the "we need more troops" mantra is that there was no good political strategy, and therefore we needed to overwhelm the country in the manner that we did in peacekeeping operations such as Kossovo. It was that assumption that was the basis of General Shinseki's estimate that we'd need 300,000 to 400,000 troops to deal with post-war occupation duty. At those numbers, the Iraq War would have taken our entire military, and was therefore totally unrealistic absent a massive increase in our military. So: is that what you favored? When did you favor it? When should we have added 1,000,000 men to the U.S. military - and when did you anticipate this would be necessary? If we're going to play this game, let's play it with real numbers.
  • War is an unpredictable thing, and so is politics. Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration are criticized for having disbanded the Iraqi army (or for doing so ham-handedly), for allowing looting in the immediate aftermath of the war, for not developing a more productive relationship with Sistani earlier on, for not crushing the insurgency in Fallujah when it first broke out, and so forth. All of these are tactical mistakes. Many things that were anticipated to go wrong during the war - destruction of the oil infrastructure, mass refugee migrations, use of chemical weapons against our troops or against civilians, etc. - did not happen, due to whatever combination of luck and good planning on our part. Given that things have manifestly gone pear-shaped in Iraq, and given that the specific tactical mistakes we made were hard to predict in advance, and that some number of tactical mistakes are inevitable, doesn't that suggest that the most Wilsonian rationales for the war - bring democracy to Iraq, transform the region, etc. - were inherently problematic? If achieving our war aims required everything to go right, and some things were inevitably going to go wrong, then something is wrong about our war aims, no?
I think Bill Kristol is being relatively consistent with his statements before the war, so saying he has "turned against" Rumsfeld is not really fair. But I'm not convinced that what has happened in Iraq vindicates Kristol's pre-war statements.

Apropos of the last post, here's an interesting article in Comment about the New York Intellectuals (i.e., Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer and all of that crowd).

I've been thinking for the last few days about John Derbyshire's piece about public intellectuals, and how we don't really have many anymore.

He obviously has a point. Derb compares the current crop of American public intellectuals to Britain's 1930s crop; my own point of reference would probably have been the American public intellectuals of the 1950s, folks like Erich Fromm, Hannah Arendt, Lionel Trilling, F. A. Hayek, Bruno Bettelheim. It is indeed hard to think of many people with those kinds of profiles today - people whom anyone educated had to be familiar with, who were treating serious subjects and making a real contribution to human understanding, but who also spoke to a large audience and shaped the larger culture of their day.

But I note some other facts about this list (which I came up with fairly quickly, without consulting sources): all but one (Trilling) were refugees from Nazi Germany who came to America as adults, and all but one (Hayek) were Jewish. Two other notable facts: the towering presence of Freud as the key intellectual precursor in the work of all the Jews on the list, and the fact that the work of most of these individuals no longer seems as important as it did at the time. I do not think these facts are unrelated; of all the intellectual revolutionaries of the 19th century, only Marx has fallen farther in general esteem than Freud.

It seems likely, then, that our apparent relative lack of public intellectuals speaks more to the differences between our intellectual culture today and that of 1950 than it does to the quality of our thinking. That is to say: the place of the intellectual in today's culture, at least in America, is not what it was in 1950.

Of course, to some extent intellectuals never had the kind of place in American culture that they have had in some foreign cultures. Take Russia. Has there ever been the equivalent in America to a Leo Tolstoy or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? I don't think so. We've had great novelists - Melville and Twain preeminently - who can sit comfortably on the same shelf with the great Russians (and frankly, Solzhenitsyn is not a great man because of a preeminence as a novelist), but even when their greatest works (as Melville's and Twain's do) fulfill the promise of the "Great American Novel" of singing the soul of the country, their authors do not occupy a similarly central place in the life of the nation. Neither Melville nor Twain was ever treated as the conscience of the nation, as its living prophet, in the way that Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn have been in Russia. And Russia is not unique; there is no contemporary American equivalent to the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, or to the Mexican poet Octavio Paz, or to the Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe, or to the Israeli novelist Amos Oz. You can point to 20th century American authors who approximate or try to approximate this kind of position of speaking to and/or for the nation - Robert Frost, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Walker Percy, heck let's throw in Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey and Philip Roth and Tom Pynchon and Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal and David Foster Wallace if it makes you happy - but it's somehow not the same. Things work different here, at least of the time, at least when we're not importing a notion of the intellectual's role in society from abroad.

But still, he has a point. And it's not hard to point to things that have changed about America that make it even harder to be a public intellectual than it was in the past. We live in an increasingly fragmented culture, which makes it hard to speak to the culture as a whole. So Antonin Scalia (mentioned by several of his readers as a name he missed) is certainly a public intellectual, but he's not even engaged with by most of those on the other side of the aisle. And even novelists who write as if they are speaking to the nation about things that it should know about itself - writers like Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace and Tom Wolfe - wind up speaking to the stylistically-sympathetic more than anything else.

Relatedly, the demise of the liberal establishment means that there is no one standing for the cultural center in American life. Back when William F. Buckley was founding National Review, there was a confident liberal establishment in charge of the country and controlling the commanding heights of culture. And that liberal establishment, the heir to the Progressives of the early 20th century, embraced their position as leaders and teachers to the American people. And the great public intellectuals of mid-century interacted with that establishment, either in support of it or (as with, for example, Hayek, or Buckley, or the people Buckley gathered around him) against it. Today, there is no establishment. Conservatives are themselves intellectually fragmented, and do not control the cultural centers. The left-liberals who control those centers do not confidently embrace a mission of promulgating and advancing civilization, and politically those cultural centers are not engaged in any serious way with the centers of power. And so, logically, they are less intellectually powerful.

There's also been a change in academia, particularly the humanities, which have become hyper-professionalized and specialized. I think this is a trend which has crested and is in the process of being reversed, however; I note that we're seeing a spate of books coming out that are very old-fashioned - biographies of the Founding Fathers, criticism of Shakespeare - addressed to the common reader but written by individuals of considerable learning. There's something of an impetus to reengage, but such reengagement will take a long time, and runs against structural and ideological impediments.

I haven't even mentioned multi-culturalism, which obviously makes it more difficult to talk about a national intellectual culture.

Finally, we no longer live in an age of systems, and this is probably a good thing. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, the West went through a mania for systems that could explain life and reality in all their complexity, and reduce them to comprehensible rules. In the sciences we still, frequently, are system-builders, but in the humanities we are much less so. It is hard to imagine that a Marx, or a Freud, even if he lived among us today would get the same traction; we just don't think human history or the human mind *can* be reduced like that. That means we are relying less on intellectuals to explain the world to us. And again, that's probably good, on balance. And I don't think that trend is unrelated to something Derbyshire does point to: the fact that his own list of public intellectuals tilts rightward, while that of 1930s Britain tilts left. The left is, by nature, more inclined towards a systematic understanding of reality, and that kind of thinking empowers intellectuals. So it makes sense that if thinking in terms of systems is out of vogue, and leftism waning, that intellectuals will also be less prominent in public life. Doesn't Paul Johnson himself say that intellectuals should, for the good of the commonwealth, be kept as far from power as possible? Well, that's what's happened in America, and as a consequence quite interesting thinkers have only a tiny fraction of the cultural influence they might have had in an earlier age.

All that said, and having acknowledged that Derbyshire has a point, I'm going to quibble with the details.

It seems to me that, to be a public intellectual, you need to be doing the following:
  • Making a genuine intellectual contribution - i.e., there has to be something original and important about what you are doing;
  • Communicating with a large, nonsectarian audience - i.e., your work can’t be of interest or known only to academics nor, on the other hand, only to, say, Mormons, or lesbians (or Mormon lesbians);
  • Generating a response and moving the debate - i.e., your arguments can't just sit there in splendid isolation, even if they are admired there by many, but have to generate a substantive intellectual response, become part of what the intellectual conversation is about.
So: do the folks on Derbyshire's list pass the test? Some do, and some don't.

I certainly agree that scientists like E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker belong on the list. I don't know if Jared Diamond is quite at their level; I also don't know whether it makes sense to put someone like Daniel Dennett on a list that already includes Steven Pinker, but I'd be inclined to do so since he's a philosopher by training rather than a scientist. You could probably add a handful of other scientists in the same cluster of disciplines - evolutionary biology, psychology, psychometry, neuroscience, cognitive science, computer science, philosophy of mind - that Derbyshire rightly thinks are the most fertile intellectual fields these days.

I also certainly agree that Milton Friedman belongs on the list. He's the heir to F. A. Hayek and fully the equal in terms of influence in the last 35 years to Keynes's influence in the prior 35.

The rest of the list is tougher to puzzle out.

William F. Buckley was the crucial figure in the revival of American conservatism. But was he an important thinker in his own right? And was he communicating with a large, non-sectarian audience? I'm not sure. He brought together a hugely important collection of conservative intellectuals as well as political practitioners. But I'm not sure he's an important intellectual in his own right.

I'm also concerned that letting him in means opening the door to too many others. Irving Kristol? Norman Podhoretz? Some of Derbyshire's readers mailed in suggestions like Victor Davis Hanson and George Will. This is setting the bar too low. And just think of the folks on the other side you'd have to let in. The liberal lions like Arthur Schlessinger are almost entirely absent from the list. Is it fair to exclude them but include Buckley? It's not clear to me why.

Noam Chomsky presents a similar problem. His work on linguistics is too specialized (and also too suspect - Chomsky looks likely to be the Bettelheim of this day, about to be thoroughly debunked) to be crucial to his making the cut. Rather, he is the king of the anarchists, nominated for his political writing. But his political writing is, not to put too fine a point on it, drivel. He is certainly not communicating with a large, non-sectarian audience. And I strongly question whether he's making a genuine intellectual contribution. Moreover, if we let him in, why not Susan Sontag, who has better claim to being an intellectual? Why not Alice Walker, who's been at least as influential? Why not Cornel West, who is more widely respected?

I want to be clear: I'm not objecting to Chomsky because he's a leftist. I object to him because I think his thought is empty. He is not in the same category as a Marx or Lenin; he is to them as the Baader-Meinhof Gang is to a serious terrorist group like the PLO or al-Qaeda.

Ronald Dworkin presents a different problem: the question of whether his work is generating a response and moving the debate. Who debates "Dworkinism"? Who even knows what it is? How has he shaped the way we understand the law? Dworkin has always seemed to me a puzzling contradiction. On the one hand, he has constructed elaborate metaphors that seem, to me, to do a real service in terms of a poetic understanding of what the law actually is. His idea of the law as a "chain novel" where every decision writes another page or chapter, and the objective is thereby to construct a coherent narrative, is very pregnant and appealing. But it's not obvious to me that it leads to any substantive conclusions about how to judge. All he's done is, correctly, identify one aspect of good judging as aesthetic in nature, just as it is in mathematics, another field where you wouldn't think, at first, that the aesthetic matters.

On the other hand, Dworkin spends much of his energy in highly unpersuasive attempts to deduce Justice Brennan's juriprudential record from Dworkin's own, highly abstract and not very concrete notions of how the law works. I know why he's doing this. But that doesn't mean it's intellectually interesting or persuasive.

I can easily name four thinkers operating in the area of legal and moral philosophy who, I think, deserve the palm above Dworkin; one of them is recently deceased, but I mention him because his stature is so enormous and because he continued to make a contribution to intellectual life right up until the end.

The four thinkers are James Q. Wilson, Richard Posner, Peter Singer and (the recently deceased) John Rawls.

James Q. Wilson has been the principal figure in shaping a revolution in how we think about criminal law and public order generally. He's been at it for so long that much of what he taught has now become a commonplace. That's the sign of a successful public intellectual. That his ideas were largely a matter of common sense writ large does not detract from their stature.

Richard Posner is one of the most interesting and prolific legal and moral thinkers today, in addition to being a working Federal judge. I don't generally much like his thinking, either in style or content, but that doesn't change the fact that he's enormously interesting and influential. He's not only the leader of an entire school of law - Law and Economics - that has profoundly affected how judges do their jobs and how they decide cases, but he's applied the insights of that school to a host of philosophical and political questions that extend well beyond the province of the law. He's a major intellectual, as numerous of Derbyshire's correspondents pointed out.

Peter Singer, while quite thoroughly odious, is one of the most important and influential thinkers today. He's certainly a lot more important than Noam Chomsky. Singer is working in an area of decisive importance - bioethics and medical ethics - and has written several challenging, not to say terrifying books on the subject. He both represents a dominant trend in the field and has been instrumental in shaping that trend. I find his thinking vulgarly utilitarian and unpersuasive, but we should not underestimate the degree to which it dominates our world today.

John Rawls, meanwhile, although ineligible because of his recent death, was a giant of 20th century moral philosophy. He is, in fact, the man who almost single-handedly rescued moral philosophy from oblivion, and who has done more than any other thinker to try to set our liberal political order on firm philosophical foundations. I think the foundations of his thought are rather shaky - Peter Berkowitz has made quite telling arguments to undermine them - but I cannot deny that no one has very good ideas about how to shore them up. Questions central to our current dilemmas as a civilization - such as the relation between a liberal political order and revealed religion - are also the central dilemmas posed by his thinking.

I'd consider adding Allan Bloom if he were still alive (I only mentioned Rawls because he towers over just about everyone in the field, and died so recently) and I would consider mentioning Robert Bork or Antonin Scalia, except that both Bork and Scalia are talking mainly to the converted. If I mention them, I should put Larry Tribe on the list, and a host of other legal thinkers and practitioners who are interesting and influential, but are not similarly shaping how we think about the law in a fundamental way.

Continuing down Derbyshire's list . . .

Freeman Dyson is clearly an important figure in the history of physics and a man who captured the popular imagination. Is he a public intellectual, though? On what grounds? He certainly doesn't seem as important as any of the "human scientists" Derbyshire mentions. We don't need affirmative action for physicists.

Francis Fukuyama raises yet another question: is he a lightweight? I know he came up with this notion of the "end of history" but does he have anything else to recommend him? I'm not sure he's making a genuine intellectual contribution, as opposed to making topical arguments that people then toss about. Here's a good way of putting my question: if Francis Fukuyama makes the cut, shouldn't Peter Drucker make the cut even more clearly?

Samuel Huntington, on the other hand, seems to me to be operating at another level of seriousness. Twice in recent years he's put out unexpected arguments that challenged the reigning "paradigm" in important ways and presaged largely unexpected developments in the real world. And this comes at the end of a long and important career thinking about political and international order. He definitely makes the cut.

Charles Murray I would similarly say clearly makes the cut . . . except that he has been declared all-but anathema by almost everyone. His most recent book strikes me as a highly quixotic enterprise, and was almost universally dismissed. (People paid a lot more respectful attention to Paul Johnson's book about art, I note.) We'll need to see whether his work on The Bell Curve is treated as foundational by a rising generation of scholars and scientists, or whether it vanishes beneath the waves. It's hard to be a public intellectual when virtually everyone refuses to read your stuff.

Thomas Sowell is a clearly public intellectual, but I'm not sure he's first rank because I'm not sure anyone but other conservatives pays attention to what he says. I'm not familiar with his original contributions in his area of expertise - economics. I'm just not sure, in the end, whether he's an important original thinker or whether he's one of a number of conservative thinkers making similar arguments. Remember: we're trying to put together a top-ten list. I'm not sure that he makes the cut.

Finally, Gary Wills. I note that he has no Wikipedia entry. He's the only person on Derbyshire's list without one. Enough said.

Now, looking at the list of rejects, I have no strong objections to any, but I want to make a comment about the humanities - as opposed to the human sciences or philosophy - and the fact that they are entirely unrepresented in Derbyshire's list of ten major-league intellectuals.

People like Stanley Fish, Stephen Greenblatt and Carlo Ginzburg have profoundly shaped the way that we approach literature and history, and as such have shaped American intellectual life. But there's a degree of separation involved; these people are not writing, by and large, for an audience of educated citizens but for other scholars. So it's hard to know how to score them, but I don't think they should be entirely ignored. Nor do I think their work should be deplored; Harold Bloom likes to rant about the "school of resentment" and similary cranky historians like to complain that no one is studying great men, or military and diplomatic history, anymore; rather, everyone's interested in exhuming the lost "stories" and "perspectives" of the common, marginal or despised classes of people. But, as Gordon Wood points out in a recent review in TNR of John Ellis's Washington bio, the "pointillist" work that so many historians are doing these days will bear fruit in the future as it forms the background to a new generation interested in more sweeping narrative and analytical histories. In his words, "the advancement of professional historical scholarship usually transcends the motives of its participants." Similarly with literature, where a lot of time has been wasted reading trash and reading trashily, but some of the leaders of the gang that killed the author and exalted the critic - including Stanley Fish, Stephen Greenblatt and Marjorie Garber - are now engaged in re-engaging with the canon, and what they have to say about the works of Milton and Shakespeare is actually quite interesting. A new generation that is actually interested in reading books will be enriched by their critical perspectives on them. I hope so, anyway.

I don't, ultimately, regret that I live in a country where intellectuals are more marginal than they are in, say, much of Eastern Europe. I think that has something to do with the health of our politics and society relative to theirs. But I value intellectuals inasmuch as they can, in fact, use their intellects, and I value the intellect. And if it is harder to be a public intellectual today in America, that is all the more reason for those who value intellect to seek out those who can think, and interact with their thought. A public intellectual needs a public, after all, and that's us.