DARWIN, HUME, AND NIHILISM
Taking Darwin Seriously
New York: Basil Blackwell
303 pp., $24.95
By Larry Arnhart
The controversy surrounding the work of Charles Darwin is a moral and political debate as well as a scientific one. A year ago last December it was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States, which heard oral argument about a Louisiana law that requires the teaching of Creation science in any public school where Darwinian evolution is taught. One of the lawyers, arguing that this law was an unconstitutional establishment of religion, offered as evidence a quotation from the legislative testimony of one of the law's supporters, who had said:
I think if you teach children that they are evolved from apes, then they will start acting like apes. If we teach them possibly that they were created by almighty God, they will believe they are creatures of God and start acting like God's children.
Henry Morris, one of the leading proponents of Creation science, has warned:
Evolution is the root of atheism, of communism, Nazism, behaviorism, racism, economic imperialism, militarism, libertinism, anarchism, and all manner of anti-Christian systems of belief and practice.
He may have exaggerated the danger somewhat. But even Friedrich Nietzsche warned of the nihilistic consequences of Darwin's teaching as a doctrine that he considered "true but deadly."
The deadliness of Darwin's teaching seems evident, for example, in the way it apparently subverts the natural rights teaching of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson appeals to the "laws of nature and of nature's God." But Darwin seems to teach us that, by the laws of nature, we are just one life form among many, with no natural end or purpose except to survive and reproduce. Jefferson claims that human beings are naturally equal in that they are endowed with a special dignity that naturally entitles them to certain rights. The reasoning behind this thought, which could be found in the works of Aristotle, Cicero, and Locke, is that human beings are equal in their worth as human beings, who are set apart from and above all other animals by virtue of their rationality. But Darwin denies that human beings are different in kind from other animals. Thus Darwin seems to force us to confront the abysmal thought of nihilism: that there is no rationally discoverable standard in nature for giving moral weight to human life.
I would argue, however, that a proper interpretation of Darwinian biology still permits us to look to nature as a source of standards for human life. The tradition of natural right has always rested upon a biological foundation. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the natural law as the law nature has given to all animals. And Aristotle supports his conception of natural right with biological claims. I believe a comparison of Aristotle's biological writings with those of Darwin would suggest that Aristotle's biological understanding of natural right is still defensible even in the light of Darwin's advances. But Michael Ruse's Taking Darwin Seriously reminds us that many of Darwin's contemporary supporters would not agree with me.
Nevertheless, I think Ruse's book is one of the best ever written to help us think through the implications of Darwinism for political philosophy. (Among recent books, I would also recommend Leon Kass's Toward a More Natural Science, Hans Jonas's The Imperative of Responsibility, and H. Tristram Engelhardt's Foundations of Bioethics.) My disagreements with Ruse do not lessen my respect for his arguments, because for me they serve as instructive provocations.
Ruse's defense of Darwin is not as instructive as it might have been, however, if he had seen that to take Darwin seriously we must also take the Bible and Greek philosophy seriously. Prior to the modern era, Greek rationalism and biblical revelation were the two great sources for explaining the meaning of human existence. The founders of early modern science (such as Descartes and Bacon) sought a third alternative grounded in scientific methodology. Darwin seemed to fulfill that project by explaining the origin of all living beings through the scientific method without reliance on either philosophic speculation or biblical faith.
I would agree with Ruse's claim that Creation science is not genuine science. (The case for this conclusion has been argued well by Philip Kitcher in Abusing Science.) But Ruse is wrong to assume from this that the Book of Genesis poses no serious challenge to the Darwinian scientist. To be taught that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth is to face the incomprehensible mystery of the origin of things, and thus to recognize the limits of human reason. Modern science cannot remove that mystery by teaching that everything evolved from a universal starting point. If it is incomprehensible that God created everything out of nothing, it is no more comprehensible that nothing turned itself into everything.
It is surprising that Ruse casually dismisses the biblical understanding of things, but it is even more surprising that he ignores the tradition of Greek philosophy. In particular, one would have expected that a book on the philosophic implications of biology would give some attention to Aristotle, who remains perhaps the greatest philosophic biologist. Aristotle's biology manifests the teleological understanding of nature as purposeful, with human beings, as the only fully rational animals, being the highest embodiments of nature's purposes. That living beings act for the sake of ends, as if these ends were conceived in the mind of a cosmic artist, is for Aristotle a fact of observation. Yet it is a fact that he never tries to explain fully. The idea that nature had immanent causes analogous to those of a conscious artist remains mysterious. Equally mysterious, in Aristotle's account, is the capacity of the human mind to understand nature. If we believe anything at all, we must believe in the validity of rational thought as a grasping of reality. But rational thought, particularly at the level of intellectual intuition, cannot be fully explained, although it is itself the precondition for explaining anything at all.
So, despite their critical disagreements, the Bible and Aristotle agree that in pondering the fundamental mystery at the core of things, absolute knowledge is unattainable. The Socratic philosopher seeks for knowledge of his own ignorance. The pious believer seeks for faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." One speculates on the mystery. The other worships it.
Darwinian evolution does not necessarily supplant either the Bible or Aristotle. Darwin himself suggested that evolution arose from "the laws impressed on matter by the Creator." And he welcomed the argument of Asa Gray and Thomas Huxley that his theory of evolution vindicated the idea of natural teleology. Ruse, however, rejects, at least implicitly in this book, any such reconciliation of Darwinian evolution with Aristotelian teleology or biblical revelation. Instead of that, he tries to unite Darwinian biology and the philosophy of David Hume. But he cannot do that without falling into nihilism.
Nonetheless, I would consider much of what Ruse argues as a Darwinian confutation of Aristotle's biological understanding of human nature. For example, Ruse points to the human capacity for language to illustrate how our biological nature shapes our cultural conventions. The human vocal tract, unlike that of the apes, is specially adapted for speech. Although the vocal organs do not dictate any particular language, they do determine the basic patterns found in all languages. And since language is the fundamental tool of culture, we must conclude that the human capacity for culture is grounded in the biological nature of human beings. All of this sustains Aristotle's biological observations about the importance of language: human beings are by nature the only political animals because, although other animals have some ability to communicate, only human beings are capable of the articulate speech through which they reach a shared understanding of those moral concepts that constitute a political community.
Presumably Ruse would reject Aristotle's thinking insofar as he represents "traditional philosophy and theology." The traditional view of human beings, as Ruse explains it, is that although we are animals, we are special animals.
We have some special essence, which gives us a favoured place in this world and (perhaps) the next. This distinctive part of human nature is our rational faculty, or some such thing-that which enables us to see the truth about the world and about the proper courses of action binding upon us humans. (pp. 103-4)
But "if you take Darwin seriously," Ruse insists, you must reject this. "Any powers we have are no more than those brought through the crucible of the evolutionary struggle and consequent reproductive success." Ruse's position becomes self-contradictory, however. If taking Darwin seriously means recognizing the truth and worth of what Darwin teaches, then we cannot take him seriously if he teaches us that we have no power to see the truth or worth of anything.
According to Ruse, Darwinian biology, in both epistemology and ethics, supports the arguments of Hume-that is to say, it requires a denial of "metaphysical reality" and an affirmation of "common-sense reality," which means a denial of objectivity and an affirmation of subjectivity.
In epistemology, we normally think that the reality of common sense, the reality which we have truly had a role in creating (not choosing!) is the human-independent reality of the metaphysician. In ethics, we normally think the morality of common sense, the reality we have truly had a role in creating (not choosing!), is the human-independent morality of the objectivist. But they are not. (pp. 269-70)
Ruse maintains that the fundamental principles of human reasoning are innate in the human mind because they were favored by natural selection. Those primeval human ancestors who respected the law of the excluded middle, who avoided contradictions, and who knew how to count, were more likely to survive and reproduce than those who did not. Similarly, the innate sense of obligation that underlies morality could have evolved to promote biological ends. Those who felt they ought to help their relatives and neighbors, who felt that killing innocent people was wrong, and who thought no one should ever commit incest, enhanced their biological fitness.
But although both the rules of thought and the rules of morality have evolved as innate dispositions only because they serve biological ends, and not because they are objectively true or necessary, we must believe them to be objective; and thus we are unconscious of their biological origins. Rationality and morality as biological mechanisms work best for human beings when the mechanisms are concealed by the illusion of objectivity.
Ruse concedes, however, that although both reason and morality originated as biological adaptations, their cultural applications transcend their biological origins (pp. 149, 206, 223). Yet he never works out the implications of this for his general argument. If, at some point in cultural development, human thought and morality can transcend biology, does that mean that some human beings can escape the illusion of objectivity and decide rationally what is, in fact, true and right? Could they, for example, decide whether Darwin's theory of evolution is objectively true? Indeed, Ruse insists that we can know "beyond reasonable doubt" that Darwinian evolution is a fact (p. 4). If so, then we must wonder why he says so often that human beings can never know objective truth.
Ruse acknowledges the contradiction between metaphysical skepticism and Darwinian science. "I confess that the notion that there is not something solidly real to this world sounds somewhat ludicrous to a person whose basic thesis is that we all got here in an ongoing clash between rival organisms" (p. 187). To escape this paradox, he adopts Hume's common-sense realism, according to which, in Hume's words, we must affirm "that the operations of nature are independent of our thought and reasoning."
But far from resolving the contradiction, this only restates it. Nature either does or does not exist independently of our minds. We cannot believe both propositions simultaneously. Of course we can pretend to believe in metaphysical skepticism and then act on our common-sense belief in metaphysical realism, which was Hume's peculiar way of doing things. But then what's the point of pretending to believe what we do not believe? It's one of the oddest of the distinguishing features of modern thinkers beginning with Descartes: we show our profundity by feigning belief in preposterous ideas that could be seriously believed only by the insane.
Ruse speaks of himself as a philosophic "naturalist." The more appropriate label would be "idealist" or "solipsist." Like most professional philosophers today, he claims to believe the premise of the early modern philosophers (such as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume) that the mind knows directly only its own states-"ideas," "representations," or "impressions." Therefore, he must also pretend to believe that the order that we think we see in nature (such as causality) is in fact only the order in our minds. We mistakenly identify our subjective impressions with objective reality. It is an absurd vision, but Ruse endorses it (or, again, pretends to endorse it) in its Humean form (pp. 182-86). Ruse exposes himself to the same solipsistic idealism that plagued Hume. And like Hume he tries to cure himself by fleeing to the "world of common sense," that strange world in which people believe they can know something about reality. At this point Ruse's teaching becomes as incoherent as Hume's. He cannot enter the world of common sense as a skeptical alien. He cannot live in that world while still believing it's all an illusion.
To live in the world of common sense, to be a true "naturalist," one must recognize the Aristotelian distinction between that which is apprehended in the mind and that by which it is apprehended. Ideas are not the objects of apprehension; rather, ideas are that by which we apprehend objects. Ideas are the conceptual vehicles by which we reflect on things in the world. This simple thought supports the realism that is commonsensical because it is metaphysical.
One cannot be a metaphysical skeptic and a common-sense realist at the same time, for once one has affirmed metaphysical skepticism, one cannot speak about the natural reality of either the mind or morality. Hume's skepticism requires him to say that a mind is nothing but "a heap of impressions." Yet how could a heap of impressions have all the capacities and needs that Hume attributes to the mind? Why should these impressions be heaped in one way rather than another? When Hume speaks of the natural passions of the mind, he has to speak of it as Aristotle would-a substance with natural attributes-in contradiction to metaphysical skepticism.
Similarly, in his account of morality, Hume has to assume a universal human nature. At the beginning of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, he contends that moral distinctions depend upon "some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species." Here he cannot speak of human beings as random heap of impressions. Rather, he must speak of them as members of a natural species endowed with natural inclinations, which is to speak the language of Aristotelian (and common-sense) realism. After all, a consistent adherence to Humean skepticism would make it impossible to say anything about human nature. Humean beings would not be human beings at all.
Ruse is wrong, therefore, in linking Darwinian biology and Hume's philosophy. The Darwinian biologist must believe that human beings have a genetically distinct nature. To assume that they are only accidental heaps of impressions would be the most radical rejection of biological science. The problem is not peculiar to Hume's thinking. Metaphysical skepticism in any form must deny that there is any natural order to things, which denies the possibility not only of biology but of any science.
Metaphysical skepticism would also deny the reality of human nature as the foundation of morality. Insofar as morality is a biological adaptation, Ruse believes, we must regard it not as "something objective, in the sense of having an authority and existence of its own, independent of human beings," but rather as "subjective, being a function of human nature, and reducing ultimately to feelings and sentiments" (p. 252). Ruse is using the concept of subjectivity in a special sense. In speaking of the subjectivity of morality as being a part of human nature, he wants to take a middle way between "traditional objectivism" and "traditional subjectivism" (pp. 215-17). Morality has no objective reference to any reality that would be eternal and independent of human beings (such as God's law or Plato's ideas). But neither is morality subjective in the sense of being merely a matter of personal choice or arbitrary feelings. Morality rests on a sense of obligation binding on all human beings. "Killing Jews because they are Jews is absolutely, objectively wrong. Period" (p. 215).
Humans share a common moral understanding. This universality is guaranteed by the shared genetic background of every member of Homo sapiens. The differences between us are far outweighed by the similarities. We (virtually) all have hands, eyes, ears, noses, and the same ultimate awareness. That is part of being human. There is, therefore, absolutely nothing arbitrary about morality, considered from the human perspective. I, like you, have forty-six chromosomes. I, like you, have a shared moral sense. People who do not have forty-six chromosomes are considered abnormal, and (probably) sick. People who do not have our moral sense are considered abnormal, and (probably) sick. (p.255)
It would seem that Ruse would agree with Abraham Lincoln's argument that slavery is absolutely wrong and contrary to our natural moral sense, because it means that some human beings are treated as if they were not human. Our shared humanity as members of the same species is an objective fact that cannot be denied without absurdity.
Why then doesn't Ruse regard this grounding of morality in a universal human nature as sufficient to secure the objectivity of morality? His reasoning is that although human nature is not just a matter of personal whim, neither is it eternally fixed. Human beings arose from an evolutionary process in the past and could be altered in the future either by natural selection or by genetic engineering. Consequently, human nature is contingent. Although slavery contradicts human nature as we now know it, Ruse might say, we could have evolved so that, like some species of ants, some of us would have been genetically designed for slavery. And in the future, we might be able through biotechnology to alter our nature to produce a caste society based on genetic differences. Aldous Huxley foresaw this in his Brave New World.
We might now have visions of Nietzschean projects for genetic manipulation in the service of a transvaluation of all values. But Ruse hesitates. "Morality is a part of nature, and . . . an effective adaptation. Why should we forego morality any more than we should put out our eyes?" (p. 253). To which the Nietzschean nihilist might respond, If our eyes deceive us, why not put them out? Ruse has no good answer as long as he accepts Hume's metaphysical skepticism, which denies the very possibility of seeing anything as it truly is.
If Ruse were to embrace common-sense realism as metaphysical realism, we would have an answer for the nihilist. That we have eyes might be an accident of evolution. And someday there might be a universe without us or any other sighted beings to look upon it. But for now we have eyes, and even if now we see as through a glass darkly, we see something of what the world is like. Our sight may have originated as a tool for survival and reproduction, yet now it is more than that. To see is to understand, and to understand is for us desirable for its own sake. To see is not only to live but to live well, to live in a manner proper to our nature. To see whatever there is to see is to be fully awake and thus fully alive. And everywhere we look we see intelligible order. We all understand Darwin's amazement when he looked at the adaptation of parts in an orchid and declared: "I never saw anything so beautiful."
Since we live in and through our bodies, our sight as well as all of our vital capacities will decay and die. That is the way with all things that depend on body. But doesn't our looking with comprehension and wonder upon the world, our looking for the enduring patterns in all things, intimate some participation, even if momentary, in the eternal order? How else could we explain the intellectual passion of Darwin in his quest to look upon the principle governing all life-orchids as well as barnacles, frogs as well as men?
Ruse would say that although Darwin's brain was designed by natural selection only to promote his biological fitness, he was able to use it for scientific understanding as well. "We get the tools through organic evolution," Ruse explains. But "what we produce has a meaning of its own, transcending biology, as we push our tools of understanding to produce ever better pictures of the world" (p. 206). Does this imply that the mind (as the capacity for thought) is not simply identical to the brain (as the organic product of evolution)? Is the brain the necessary but not sufficient condition for the mind? Dare we suggest that to speak of human thought as "transcending biology" reminds some of us of the old-fashioned idea that human beings have souls?
In any case, it would be disastrous for the defenders of Darwin to accept Ruse's Humean interpretation of Darwinian biology. The popularity of Creation science depends not on the specious arguments for its scientific validity, but on the belief that Darwinism promotes a nihilistic assault on reason and morality. Ruse confirms that belief by insisting that to become a Darwinian one must deny that one can ever know objectively what is true or right. To put science in opposition to common sense provokes a natural (and sensible) animosity among common people, who lack the talent of clever people for believing nonsensical ideas. And insofar as science itself is ultimately a refinement of common sense, a scientific denial of common experience would be intellectual suicide. We cannot take Darwin seriously if we have no reason to take anything seriously.
TRUST NOT AND VERIFY
Soviet Strategic Deception
Brian D. Dailey and Patrick Parker, eds.
Indianapolis: D.C. Heath and Co.
560 pp., $49.00
By Thomas A. Firestone
Chernobyl may have been the best thing that ever happened to Soviet foreign policy, for it perpetrated the myth, so common in the West, that the Soviet Union has become plagued by incompetence so serious that it will destroy the regime. This myth has created a sense of complacency among Western leaders that is more dangerous than any new Soviet weapons system. While it would be an overstatement to say that Soviet Strategic Deception is the worst thing that ever happened to Soviet foreign policy, it should certainly go a long way toward restoring wariness among American policymakers.
This brilliant collection of essays represents the most thorough treatment to date of the role of deceptive tactics in Soviet foreign policy. Among its contributors are some of our leading Sovietologists and strategic thinkers: Robert Conquest, Uri Ra'anan, Richard Staar, John Lenczowski, Angelo Codevilla, and William Van Cleave. Among the topics they cover are Soviet strategic disinformation, the role of ideology in Soviet foreign policy, maskirovka and Soviet arms control violations, and chemical and biological warfare.
The book is divided into six distinct sections, each consisting of approximately four chapters. Part 1, entitled "Soviet Organizational Structure for Deception and Active Measures," explores the legacy of deception in Soviet foreign policy and focuses on the organizational and social conditions which enable the Soviets consistently to dupe Western peoples. John Lenczowski's essay makes the obvious yet often neglected point that Marxist-Leninist ideology is not dead in the Soviet Union and that it still exerts an important influence on Soviet foreign policy. Most important, Lenczowski argues in eloquent and forceful fashion, is the fact that this ideology justifies any act, however immoral or deceitful, so long as it furthers the aims of the communist regime. Our best defense in light of this boundlessness, Lenczowski counsels, is to be always on guard and prepared to "believe the unbelievable."
Arnold Beichman's explanation of the way in which Western democratic culture facilitates the success of Soviet active measures and, particularly, the service rendered to Soviet foreign policy by Western peace groups is informative and disturbing. In the chapters by John Dziak and Richards Heuer on the role of organizations in Soviet deception, discussions of "The Trust" and "WIN," phoney opposition movements set up by the KGB in the Soviet Union and Poland, respectively, are especially good.
Part II covers "Language, Ideology and Diplomacy." In "Ideology and Deception," Robert Conquest minces no words to show that communists, by their nature, are prone to lie and cheat. Also noteworthy is Uri Ra'anan's chapter on "Deception in the Political-Military Arena." Its discussion of the way in which Soviet propaganda exploits Western moral relativism and the role of ideology in legitimating the Soviet dictatorship are especially important.
The remaining four sections primarily contain case studies of Soviet deception in the areas of arms control, military planning, and strategic planning. These demonstrate that the Soviets have consistently misled Western policymakers by publishing false statistics regarding their weapons arsenals and articles which present their strategic doctrine as far more benign than it is.
The most disturbing examples of the former are provided by Steven Rosefielde in "Postwar Strategic Economic Deception." He reveals how seriously the CIA has erred in its estimates of Soviet defense spending due to publication of false statistics by Moscow. A table suggests that the CIA was off by approximately 30 billion rubles a year during the period 1960-1985. One can only shudder to think of the degree to which American defense spending was curtailed as a result.
Chapters by Brian Dailey and Richard Staar show clearly how American arms control policy has been sabotaged by deceptive Soviet military publications. Dailey focuses on the example of the ABM treaty to demonstrate that American negotiators were seriously misled by Soviet professions of desire for arms control. The result, of course, was the now notorious surrender by our government of its right and duty to protect its citizens from nuclear attack.
Staar makes the same point with specific regard to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The former ambassador to the MBFR negotiations narrates how deceptive Soviet military publications caused our "foreign policy elite" to think that the Soviet general staff had completely renounced its belief that nuclear war is winnable. (The extent to which this effort succeeded was shown by the shock and outrage which greeted Richard Pipes' "Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War" in the July 1977 issue of Commentary. More practically significant results of this successful deception included Robert McNamara's influential acceptance of the doctrine of MAD, the severe curtailment of the American nuclear program, and the widespread belief that it is useless to build civil defenses against nuclear attack. Needless to say, its effects are still being felt in the current debate over SDI.)
This painstakingly detailed volume is unnecessarily repetitious both within and among given sections. Nevertheless, Soviet Strategic Deception is a very important book-and, to repeat, the first of its kind. If it plants some seeds of skepticism among those scholars who base entire volumes on official Soviet publications, it will have been well worth the effort. If it causes policymakers to think twice before buying into any more disastrous arms control agreements, on the basis of what such scholars tell them, it will prove to be one of the most valuable books of the decade.
OLD THINKING FOR NEW SUCKERS
Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World
New York: Harper & Row
225 pp., $19.95
By Harry V. Jaffa
This offering by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon of some years back. Company big shots are sitting around the conference table, in the middle of which is a large box. On the box is emblazoned the word "NEW." A neophyte among those present asks, "But what's new about it?" To which he receives the reply, The NEW is what's new about it" As far as I can see, Gorbachev's new thinking and Gary Hart's new ideas stand about on the same level. The former involved stamping a NEW label on some old Marxist-Leninist garbage, and the suckers are lining up to buy it-with the President of the United States at the head of the queue! It is page after page of the emptiest, windiest-and most God-awfully repetitious-rhetoric, and resembles nothing so much as the text of one of those seven-hour speeches that the Soviet leadership gives to the Supreme Soviet, or at Party Congresses when they convene. I think I'd rather be tortured by the KGB, in the basement of the Lubyanka, than have to sit through one. If you live in that environment, you learn to sleep through the bulk of such speeches-with your eyes open, however-and to applaud on cue. But you also learn to become wide awake on a sudden when, by one or two words buried in the meaningless muck, hints are given of forthcoming changes in policy or personnel among the top brass.
In a recent newspaper article entitled "Useful Idiots: Then and Now," I reviewed the steady rhythm of the process of over sixty years-beginning with Lenin's New Economic Plan-whereby the U.S.S.R. recovers the economic strength lost to the ravages of communism by periods of detente (or peaceful coexistence, or whatever it is called in its latest reincarnation). When the sun shines, as in Aesop's fable, the West removes its overcoat-that is to say, it disarms itself, while lending the money and exporting the technology that prepares the U.S.S.R. for its next round of aggression.
Here are some passages-they might be taken almost at random-from Perestroika.
Some politicians and media, particularly in the United States, have been trying to present perestroika as a drive for "liberalization" caused by Western pressure. Of course, one cannot help paying tribute to Western propaganda officials, who have skillfully played a verbal game of democracy. But we will believe in the democratic nature of Western societies when their workers and office employees start electing the owners of factories and plants, bank presidents, etc., when their media put corporations, banks, and their bosses under a barrage of regular criticism and start discussing the real processes inherent in Western countries, rather than engage in an endless and useless argument with politicians. (pp. 127-8)
There is not a word in the above that might not have been paraphrased from Lenin or Stalin-or indeed from almost any issue of the Daily Worker or the New Masses published between 1932 and 1935. The "verbal game of democracy" reflects the old Marxist-Leninist conception of "bourgeois democracy" and what communists call the illusion of free speech. Gorbachev himself firmly rejects the idea that there is anything that might be regarded as "liberalization"-by Western standards-going on in the U.S.S.R. He is saying, in effect, that if Ronald Reagan and other "useful idiots" want to deceive themselves on this point, that is their affair.
Gorbachev sticks by the old Leninist canon, that real democracy begins only when "workers-start electing the owners of factories. . . ." He also sticks by the bare-faced Bolshevik lie about power emanating upwards from the workers, rather than being monopolized by the Party, in communist states. For Gorbachev-as for Lenin and Stalin-strengthening democracy only means strengthening the Communist Party. The "consent of the governed" is not required in any "bourgeois" sense-the sense involving freedom of speech, freedom of association, free elections with secret ballots, etc. What is denominated by the Party as "objectively necessary" is objectively consented to! Any speech which is judged not to contribute either to the revolutionary overthrow of their capitalist enemies, or to strengthening the Party, is called "useless argument." Throughout his book, Gorbachev is perfectly straightforward about this. Only the "New" is new.
Consider the sequel:
Some critics of our reforms say that painful phenomena in the course of perestroika are inevitable. They predict inflation, unemployment, enhanced social stratification, i.e., the things that the West is so "rich" in. Or they suggest that the Central Committee is strongly opposed among Party and government officials. Or they say our army is against restructuring and the KGB has not had its say yet. . . . But I must tell our opponents a few disheartening things: today members of the Politburo and the Central Committee are unanimous as they have never been before, and there is nothing that can make that unanimity waver. (Emphasis added.)
If we wanted to burlesque the Politburo and the Central Committee at work, I cannot imagine anything more amusing than a script delineating the progress of proletarian freedom, in which "useless argument" is replaced by unprecedented unanimity. That unanimity, by the way, was recently manifested, Soviet style, in the public disgrace of Boris Yeltsin, for his agreement with the policy of perestroika. Apparently he did not accent his agreement in the way unanimously approved, and so he was unanimously disgraced-and ritually denounced-by Gorbachev and by other members of the Central Committee. Finally, he was given Soviet- style freedom of speech-no "useless argument," only the freedom to confess! His public "confession"
resembled nothing so much as the Moscow trials of 1936, ordered by Stalin, presided over by Vishinsky, and immortalized by Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon.
The cynicism with which Gorbachev threw Yeltsin to the wolves called to mind the action of Cesare Borgia described by Machiavelli in the seventh chapter of The Prince. The Duke appointed a henchman to do his dirty work-and then "in order . . . to show that if any cruelty had been done, it had not come from him," he ordered the man's execution, and placed the mutilated body in a public square. The ferocity of that spectacle," said Machiavelli, "left the people at the same time satisfied and stupefied."
A superficial observer might think that, because Yeltsin was not executed (although he was hospitalized with a heart attack!), the regime has softened from its Stalinist (or Borgia) past. But the denunciation and confession prove that there is no more room today than ever before for independent opinion of any kind. In truth, the crushing of the individual-making him confess to an imaginary offense-is far more damaging to the cause of human freedom than killing him. A man can die with dignity as a martyr to the truth, but he cannot live with dignity when he must grovel before his accusers.
Yeltsin himself certainly does not deserve any great sympathy. As a "good" Bolshevik, he no doubt believes-as did Bukharin in 1936-that if the Party finds him guilty, then he is guilty, since for a dedicated Communist neither guilt nor innocence have any objective existence outside the will of the Party! The important thing for us to recognize-especially now that Ronald Reagan has ceased to recognize it-is that Soviet communism today represents the same source and cause of human degradation that it did in Stalin's heyday. That it is in some respects less brutal makes it in other respects more sinister. Consider:
Both in the army, in the State Security Committee, and in every government department, the Party wields the highest authority and has a decisive voice politically. The drive for perestroika has only consolidated the Party's position, adding a new dimension to its moral and political role in society and the state. (p. 128)
Gorbachev is quite frank in affirming that perestroika is directed from above. When the Central Committee and the Politburo say "Criticize," then everyone criticizes. Woe unto the man who fails to obey the command to criticize! But woe unto the man who steps outside the approved boundaries of what (and who) may be criticized. You can denounce drunkenness, laziness, inefficiency, theft, or falsification of records by workers or managers. But woe unto the ordinary man-in-the-street (not to mention a Boris Yeltsin) who discovers any of these vices among the members of the Central Committee, or of the Politburo! And woe unto the man who finds in communism itself the cause of the drunkenness, laziness, etc.
Few things are more certain than that a market economy is a necessary condition of economic efficiency in the modern world. And a market economy is one in which people are economically rewarded-or economically punished-by the market itself. Under communism, economic rewards and punishments, like all other rewards and punishments, are meted out by the Party-and by the bureaucracy under its control. The way to get rich in the U.S.S.R. is to rise in the Party. No one lives the high life of the top brass by successful entrepreneurship-by producing goods that the common people want! If they did, Party membership would instantly be devalued. Yet Gorbachev goes out of his way to insist that perestroika will only strengthen the Party.
What better proof can there be that perestroika is a fraud?
If the fate of Boris Yeltsin does not sufficiently reveal the essential Stalinism of Gorbachev's regime, we should consider the General Secretary's comments on Stalin's collectivization of Soviet agriculture.
If we are able to take a really truthful and scientific look at the circumstances of the time . . . if we do not close our eyes to the extreme backwardness of agricultural production, which had no hope of overcoming this backwardness if it remained small and fragmented . . . one simple conclusion is inescapable: collectivization was a great historic act, the most important social change since 1917. [It] . . . made it possible to introduce modern farming methods. It ensured productivity growth and an ultimate increase in output. . . . Yes, industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture was indispensable. (pp. 40-41. Emphasis added.)
In Churchill's memoirs, he relates a midnight conversation with Stalin in the latter's Kremlin apartment. The two men met alone for several hours waiting for their aides to prepare the draft of their communique of August 16, 1942. Churchill asked how the stresses of the war compared with those of the collectivization.
". . . the Collective farm policy was a terrible struggle," Stalin responded. "I thought you would have found it bad" said Churchill, "because you were not dealing with a few score thousands of aristocrats or big landowners, but with millions of small men." "Ten millions," Stalin replied. "It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary for Russia, if we were to avoid periodic famines, to plough the land with tractors. We must mechanize our agriculture. . . . We took the greatest trouble to explain it to the peasants. It was no use arguing with them. . ." "These were what you call Kulaks?" "Yes," Stalin replied. "It was all very bad and difficult-but necessary." "What happened?" Churchill asked. "Oh, well," said Stalin, "many of them agreed to come in with us . . . but the great bulk were very unpopular and were wiped out by their laborers." Then, "Not only have we vastly increased the food supply, but we have improved the quality of the grain beyond all measure. . . ." (The Second World War, Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 434-5.)
Notice the identity of Stalin's and Gorbachev's Big Lie: The collectivization of agriculture was not undertaken to increase agricultural production. The truth is that the despised Kulaks were highly productive. They were allowed by Lenin's New Economic Plan to own their farms, and to sell their produce on an open market. It was their profitable productivity that rescued the Bolshevik Revolution from the famine and inflation in the cities of the period of the Civil War. By 1930, however, Stalin saw that the very success of the Kulaks had called into question the necessity and desirability of communism. And so they had to be destroyed-at least ten million, as he admitted to Churchill. And so the scene of the greatest famine of modern history became the Ukraine-known before World War I as the breadbasket of Europe.
In recent years several books-most notably Robert Conquest's-have been published on the famine in the Ukraine in 1931 and 1932. This was as vicious a genocide as any in history, and resulted not from droughts or locusts or any natural disaster. It was caused entirely by Stalin's stripping of foodstuffs from the countryside. Its purpose was to destroy the Ukrainian Kulaks-by starving men, women, and children to death-and to break the spirit of Ukrainian nationalism. To say that this was done to increase food production is like saying-as some do-that the purpose of the gas chambers at Auschwitz was to disinfect, rather than to kill the Jews. (I have read articles, purportedly scholarly, maintaining just that!)
Is there any literate person in the Western world who does not know that the collectivized agriculture of the U.S.S.R. is a failure? That the U.S.S.R. remedies its annual shortfalls by purchasing grain in the West? Yet-to repeat-Gorbachev in Perestroika calls it "the most important social change since 1917."
Ronald Reagan says that Gorbachev no longer speaks of a world communist state as an objective of Soviet policy. In truth, a world communist state was never an objective of Marxism-Leninism. The declared objective has always been a world communist society. This may sound like a merely semantic distinction, but it is more than that. Understanding the distinction is necessary to understanding what the real objective of any Marxist-Leninist state must be.
According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the state-any state-is an organization for repression. The Soviet state exists because the dictatorship of the proletariat must at once guard against counterrevolution and promote revolution. It must do this because true communism-the final stage of history, and the "leap into freedom"-cannot begin until private property has been abolished everywhere in the world. As long as private property exists anywhere, there will be a bourgeois state somewhere. As long as there is a bourgeois state somewhere, the dictatorship of the proletariat must continue in order to stand guard against it. Only when communism is world-wide, and the class struggle is over, will the dictatorship of the proletariat-the final state-become unnecessary. That is when-according to the official and never-contradicted Marxist-Leninist doctrine-the state "withers away" and "the government of man is replaced by the administration of things."
If you ask how anyone can believe that he now knows this is possible, the Marxist-Leninist answer is that we know that history does not pose problems which man-in-history cannot solve. Our knowledge (they say) of the dialectical process teaches that this result is necessary and desirable. Only those living at the "end of history" will know-or need to know-how the results are actually to be implemented. But what the Marxist-Leninists declare to be "science" assures them that the replacement of the state by a purely voluntary association of free and equal individuals is the necessary and desirable outcome of history. They believe this as truly as any Christian or Jew or Moslem believes that God rules the world and that the destiny of the human soul is not in this world alone. Without this belief, they would cease to be Marxist-Leninists.
There is not a word in Perestroika renouncing this eschatology, which parallels, and is meant to replace, that of biblical religion. There is no reason whatever to believe-what Ronald Reagan apparently believes-that Soviet Communism is less dedicated today than at any time hitherto to world revolution. To predicate a foreign or defense policy upon such a delusion is to prepare us to follow the path of the Kulaks into oblivion.
CHRISTIANITY AND THE ECONOMIC ORDER
Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate over Capitalism
Ronald H. Nash
Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books
223 pp., $8.95
Christians for Freedom: Late Scholastic Economics
Alejandro A. Chafuen
San Francisco: Ignatius Press
207 pp., $12.95
By Kevin G. Long
The pursuit of happiness, regardless of how that goal is defined, presupposes a certain amount of wealth. The need for food, shelter, and clothing must be satisfied before serious attention can be given to the true, the good, or the beautiful. Thus, while economics may not be the highest science, and may even be regarded as a somewhat dismal one, it nevertheless demands the attention of serious men.
Unfortunately, the typical modern Christian can practically be defined as someone who cannot come to grips with economic reality. He is acutely aware of the disparity between the affluent nations of the West and the impoverished nations of the Third World. Yet without much thought about the causes for that disparity, he blithely assumes that world poverty would go away if everyone were less self-interested.
Concern for the poor and oppressed, of course, has been a hallmark of Christian practice ever since the Sermon on the Mount. What is peculiar about the "social gospel" of our own times is its almost total lack of historical and philosophical perspective. The modern Christian has accepted the maxim, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," as if it were from Scripture. "The poor you will always have with you," on the other hand, does not seem to ring a bell.
A dramatic example of this phenomenon was the decision of the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States to issue a detailed critique of the American economy. While the bishops' concern for the hungry, the homeless, and the unemployed was undoubtedly genuine, it was also pitifully naive. As Dinesh D'Souza reported in "The Bishops as Pawns" (Policy Review, Fall 1985), few of the bishops who signed the statement had even nodding acquaintance with marginal tax rates, Keynesian theory, or Say's Law.
As a consequence, modern Christianity has nothing politically constructive to say to serious men. This is especially tragic in the field of economics, which by definition stands in need of moral and spiritual direction. The economists can tell us what makes society more prosperous, but they cannot tell us what makes it more just. No matter how they are distributed, economic goods do not by themselves advance the common good.
The two volumes here under review seek, in rather different ways, to bridge the chasm between Christianity and economics. The first, by Ronald Nash, is intended as a primer on free-market economics for Bible-believing Protestants. According to Nash, many such Christians-even theological conservatives-are seduced into embracing the tenets of socialism because they vaguely resemble some passage from Scripture.
Nash's first task, therefore, is to wean the reader away from this superficial and dangerous approach to economic analysis: "Attempts to deduce any political or economic doctrine from the Bible should be viewed, initially at least, with skepticism. After all, the Bible is no more a textbook on economics than it is on astronomy or geology. There is no such thing as revealed economics" (p. 59).
The remainder of the book is a fairly straightforward exposition of "Austrian school" economic principles written for the uninitiated layman. Nash does pause here and there to resolve some apparent conflicts with Scriptural passages. Aside from that, his treatment of the subject differs little from countless other introductory texts.
The second volume, on the other hand, is a substantial contribution to the literature on economic theory. Like Nash, Alejandro Chafuen is a believing Christian who is also schooled in the economic theories of Bohm-Bawerk, von Mises, and Hayek. Unlike Nash, however, he does not regard modern economic thought as a thoroughly secular development to which Christians must reconcile themselves, but as the natural outgrowth of the more authentic Christian tradition that antedates modernity.
In his book, Chafuen addresses both Christians and non-Christians alike. He challenges all who believe that free-market economics contradicts Christian teachings and who opt for one over the other. "Many intellectuals," he notes, "have pulled away from Christianity in the belief that God's representatives on earth preach against reason and freedom." And it is not unusual to find men of the cloth who confirm their worst suspicions.
The standard wisdom on the subject is that free-market economics was a product of the Enlightenment with few, if any, antecedents before the Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Some historians recognize the contribution of Grotius and Pufendorf, but these two thinkers were Protestants and presumably out of touch with the Scholastic intellectual tradition which preceded them. Either way, the economic order ushered in by The Wealth of Nations is understood to represent a clean break with medieval Christianity.
In other words, traditional thought in both religion and politics was governed by a concept of the common good. The activity of individuals was ordered to the good of the larger community, either of the Church or of the State. The Reformation and the Enlightenment, each in its own sphere, reversed this order and set the good of the individual over the common good. In the historic struggle between liberty and authority, liberty has triumphed in the modern world.
According to Chafuen, this account is little more than a caricature of the truth. It assumes an almost complete absence of economic thought in the 500 years between St. Thomas Aquinas and Adam Smith. Yet as Chafuen demonstrates, one can trace a continuous development from the Summa Theologica to The Wealth of Nations through the writings of several generations of Late Scholastic economists, many of whom were associated with the great University of Salamanca in Spain:
The ideas that gave birth to what has been called the free society were not the result of spontaneous generation. Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, for example, bears the imprint of earlier writings, and these were influenced by still earlier writings. . . . It is easy to see the road leading from some Late Medieval thought to Classical Liberal ideas. . . . (p. 153)
Chafuen first points out that there are two aspects of St. Thomas' natural law teaching. The "normative" concerns the order which man imposes on his own actions. The "analytical" concerns the order which man discovers either in himself or in the world of nature. Insofar as economic activity is governed by the natural law, it can be studied under either of these aspects. Chafuen then shows how Scholastic writers of the 14th and 15th centuries-like Bernardino of Siena and Cardinal Cajetan-applied St. Thomas' analytical method to the increasingly complex questions of property, money, taxes, commerce, interest, and banking. This tradition was carried on in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Hispanic Scholastics at Salamanca who, in turn, had an enormous influence on Grotius, Pufendorf, and the Physiocrats.
Neither St. Thomas nor the Late Scholastics believed that the primacy of the common good contradicted individual liberty or required authoritarian regimes. In fact, the political teaching of the Salamanca school seems almost libertarian compared to the stereotype usually presented of pre-Enlightenment thought. For example, Juan de Mariana wrote:
Only after society had been constituted could men have thought of creating power. This fact in itself is sufficient to prove that rulers exist for the people's benefit and not vice versa. . . . This can be confirmed and verified by our personal cry for liberty, a liberty which was first diminished when one man took up the sceptre of law or exercised the force of his sword over others. (quoted on p. 63; emphasis added)
It is perhaps not surprising that the names of the great Hispanic Scholastics-Vitoria, Soto, Azpilcueta, Mercado, Medina, Molina, etc.-are virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. The two centuries in which they flourished happened to be a period of intense rivalry between Spain and England whose effects still linger today. Except for horror stories about the Inquisition, hardly anything is known about Spain's Golden Age.
While Chafuen successfully undermines the facile distinction between Scholastic and Enlightenment thought, he does not replace it with an equally facile account of their relationship. "The road by which ideas influence later thoughts and actions," he warns, "is not always straight and well marked." Thus, for anyone with a serious interest in politics, economics, religion, or history, Christians for Freedom is a healthy antidote to received opinion.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF GULLIVER'S GRAND STRATEGY
1999: Victory Without War
New York: Simon & Schuster
336 pp., $19.95
By Dennis Teti
At the outset let's admit that if this book had been published anonymously, there would be widespread demands that the unknown author run for president. In this election season of paltry pretenders, Nixon looms Gulliver-like above all claimants; he understands the conduct of foreign affairs perhaps as well as any president since Theodore Roosevelt. The Nixonian understanding is especially remarkable for prudence, sobriety, flexibility, and clarity of vision, as this book demonstrates.
But Richard Nixon refuses to be weighed in the scale of the lilliputian claimants and post-Watergate occupants of the chief executive office, so diminished since 1974. "In the past forty years, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of great leaders- Churchill, de Gaulle, Adenauer, de Gasperi, Yoshida, Mao Tse-tung, and Chou En-lai. Gorbachev is in that league. Only a heavyweight should get into the ring with him" (p. 27).
It is to Churchill in particular that Nixon looks for inspiration and comparison. Quotations from Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri, virtually bracket the book (pp. 19 and 321). Moreover, Nixon's design of "integrat[ing] the world's three rising power centers [viz., Western Europe, Japan, and the People's Republic of China] into a broad coalition to deter Soviet aggression and create a stronger world order" (p. 195) invokes Churchill's vision of a grand defensive alliance of European states, including Soviet Russia, for common protection against Nazi Germany's aggressive intentions (vid. esp. "The Choice for Europe," May 9, 1938). Nixon wants to be measured by the standard of great statesmanship. By analyzing this comprehensive book, we will see whether he measures up to that standard.
The former president has certainly concluded that the current president does not measure up. The international failures of the Reagan White House are a major, if subdued, theme of 1999, as the first quotation above suggests. Hoping to avoid shocking his primarily conservative readers, Nixon carefully scatters his criticisms. The depth of his critique comes to sight by reassembling his scattered observations.
The "super-hawks" of Reagan's first term naively tried to isolate the Soviet Union economically and risked a U.S.-Soviet war by refusing to negotiate. Reagan's "bellicose anti-Soviet speeches" frightened our European allies. The Soviet gas pipeline embargo of 1982 was a fiasco which damaged the Western alliance more than it injured the Soviet economy. Politics, not strategy, dictated Reagan's repeal of the grain embargo. The President elevated a mere "applause line" about eliminating all nuclear weapons to the level of presidential policy, and confused public opinion about the real aim of arms talks. Reagan was trapped into the quickie summit at Reykjavik which threatened Western security interests, shocked our Western allies, and almost disarmed America. He has oversold the Strategic Defense Initiative as a "perfect defense" and caused Congress to cut funding for an "unrealistic" goal. The Iran-Contra fiasco became a "debacle" because it was ineptly executed. Gorbachev turned the tables on the United States by unexpectedly accepting Reagan's "zero option" INF proposal, thereby scoring political points with the Europeans and furthering U.S. separation from our NATO allies. Reagan apparently never established a "back-channel" to the Soviet leaders despite the need for unofficial communications to avoid deadlock or conflict. The Reagan administration allowed arms reduction to dominate U.S.-Soviet negotiations without linking cuts to the issue of Soviet global aggression. President Reagan's inability to control his own staff resulted in administration officials encouraging euphoria after Gorbachev's visit to Washington in December 1987. Contrary to President Reagan's assertion, there is no evidence that Gorbachev has changed the U.S.S.R.'s traditional foreign policy goal of global dominance. Some in the administration have tried to "impose our views about abortion" on Red China, which faces overpopulation problems (pp. 44, 58-61, 69-71, 87, 89-90, 109, 168-169, 177, 179, 182, 190-191, 203, 208, 211, 217-218, and 258).
Most stinging of all is Nixon's skepticism concerning Reagan's claim to have restored America's pride, which deserves to be quoted at length:
[N]ational pride not tempered by adversity is sterile. National pride that lacks awareness of our international responsibilities is empty. National pride without the impulse to share that of which we are so proud is selfish. Too often what we have called a restoration of national pride has been no more than complacent, comfortable smugness. Real pride comes not from avoiding the fray but from being in the middle of it, fighting for our principles, our interests, and our friends.
It will take more than a few successful but relatively minor military missions like the invasion of Grenada and the raid on Libya to build lasting new confidence in the United States among Americans and our friends and allies abroad (p. 20).
These are not the only criticisms, and there is praise for some Reagan foreign initiatives as well, but this long bill of particulars adds up to a devastating indictment of our popular conservative president by his unpopular conservative predecessor. Unpopularity (the malicious would say envy) has proven to be Nixon's spur to honesty: he has nothing to lose by calling attention to the foolish and incoherent, supposedly anti-Soviet policy of the Reagan administration.
Nixon repeatedly expresses his preference for a less strident anti-Soviet rhetoric. He argues that Reagan's crusading language cannot be matched with deeds and is therefore misleading and dangerous. The Soviet Union has become so powerful in the last three decades that it can no longer be forced to comply with our wishes.
This is not to say that the "superpower" contest for supremacy will go on forever. A winner will emerge eventually. Nixon's opinion seems to be that the West cannot force the issue because the very meaning of "victory" has been transformed.
Victory in the First World War meant, as Calvin Coolidge once said, "getting the world forever rid of the German idea," but that objective included the disappearance of the defeated German empire as a political entity. Similarly, in World War Two, Churchill and Roosevelt fought to defeat National Socialism as an idea, and consequently the Nazi regime was obliterated. But with respect to the Soviet enemy:
We seek not victory over any other nation or people but the victory of the idea of freedom over the idea of totalitarian dictatorship. . . . We seek victory for the right of all people to be free from political repression. We seek victory over poverty and misery and disease wherever they exist in the world (p. 24; emphasis added).
The victory without war to come by 1999 is the result of prolonged ideological struggle. Nixon's explanation of victory is unpolitical and unpersuasive. Such a victory would be both easier and more difficult than the traditional kind. On the one hand, we need not fight a major war-although limited military actions must not be ruled out. On the other hand, we need to accomplish in eleven years what men of the past have barely dreamt of: the conquest of poverty, disease, even misery; and the defeat, not just of a particular dictatorial ruler or political regime, but of the very idea of totalitarianism. Even granting such a victory were possible, the West is nowhere near possessing the ideological equipment it would need to have confidence in the outcome.
But Nixon cannot intend his description to be taken literally. The West is militarily weak, as he will argue, and is not capable of regaining superiority. The West's strength, however, lies in its technological and scientific progress-progress supported by economic and political freedom that cannot be matched by the Soviet bloc. Nixon argues that the Soviets are regressing economically while the West pulls ahead. The goal of victory without war means that time is on the side of the free world, and that our ability to master the age-old problems of poverty, illness, and so on will become ever more clear and decisive. The Nixon strategy amounts to buying time, via arms negotiations, to forestall a Soviet first strike. Given enough time, the West can pull so far ahead economically that the communist world will have no choice but to give up its totalitarian dream.
The three policy pillars of this strategy are deterrence, competition, and negotiation, to each of which Nixon devotes a chapter. The necessary condition for victory is the establishment of "real peace," a need so critical that Nixon has written an entire book on the subject and returns to it again and again in 1999. The need for "real peace" is so crucial that the chapter which ostensibly treats the issue of military deterrence simply lays the foundation for his subsequent discussion of arms negotiations. Nixon never seriously considers that the purpose of military capability is to fight. He comes close to saying that the reason for having military power is to strengthen our bargaining position with Moscow-as if the whole Pentagon were a bargaining chip in the negotiations game.
One reason Nixon towers above every political player on the American stage today is that, unlike them, he clearly recognizes that the Soviet Union is an offensive power while the United States is defensive. Nixon cannot be accused of believing in simple-minded equivalence, knowing that a Soviet Union with nuclear superiority threatens war while U.S. nuclear superiority guarantees peace. But the United States allowed the Soviets to attain parity and then surpass us. "For the last two decades the Soviet Union has been racing [to build arms], and the United States has not left the starting line" (p. 71). As president for six of those twenty years, Nixon implies that he shares the blame.
Nixon believes that it is impossible for the United States to recover nuclear superiority but quite possible for the Soviet Union to achieve it. That the U.S. possesses the economic resources is not in question (p. 165). But we are at a disadvantage from weak political leadership and popular unwillingness to sacrifice (p. 69). The reader cannot help wondering whether his praise of democracy is merely for narrow rhetorical purposes (cf. pp. 101-2). If democracies are inherently weak in comparison to totalitarian dictatorships, we must ask whether Nixon's program of substituting negotiations for military superiority is the remedy which a great statesman would administer to overcome that weakness.
This is not to deny that Nixon's support for military strength is clear. He favors deploying more MX missiles. And while he scorns the idea that strategic defense weapons can create a perfect "space shield" for the entire population, he nevertheless advocates early construction of the ABM base at Grand Forks, North Dakota, as permitted by his ABM Treaty. He is also prepared to suspend that treaty if we determine that strategic defenses are needed for our national security and the Soviets will not renegotiate (p. 85).
The book's longest chapter consists of sixty pages on the subject of competition with Moscow. Nixon favors selective use of the Reagan doctrine of support for liberation movements within the Soviet empire. He argues-against all conventional opinion today-that the United States must have the will to use its own military power "surgically and selectively in crucial conflicts," and that we will be "routed" by the Soviets if we lack that will (p. 106). Like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Nixon distinguishes authoritarian from totalitarian regimes and calls for supporting the former when a democratic opposition is unavailable which, unfortunately, is frequently the case in Third World nations (pp. 126-27).
If American military forces were to intervene in Nicaragua, for example, Nixon is confident that they would "prevail, and prevail quickly" (p. 133). But he argues that the occupation period would exceed six years since no alternative government exists. If the Arias peace plan fails-events have moved quickly since the book was completed-Nixon recommends using American forces to "quarantine" the Sandinista government to block further shipments of Soviet and Cuban equipment, with the intention not of toppling the government but of preventing it from expanding beyond the national borders. Nixon also calls for "a new version of the Monroe Doctrine" to prohibit Latin American satellites of foreign governments from subverting other Western Hemisphere nations.
The most interesting proposal for competing with the Soviet Union lies in Eastern Europe. Nixon asserts that the communist rulers of nations within the Soviet orbit "have a desperate desire" to be accepted as legitimate and that this is their "central preoccupation." Gorbachev's glasnost will weaken Moscow's hold on these colonies and, unless real reform lakes place, Eastern Europe will inevitably experience a "political earthquake" before the end of this century.
That expectation leads our former president to offer an agenda which is troubling, to say no more. What we must work for is a "Finlandized" string of Eastern European countries aligned with neither the Soviet Union nor the United States. Therefore we cannot assist freedom fighters nor internal movements that would be openly hostile to Moscow. The West must remain militarily strong against the East bloc, yet we must seek to relax tensions with the Kremlin on the ground that this "undermines the rationale for communist governments" (p. 152; cf. p. 217). Trade and cultural exchanges with Eastern Europe should be increased. We must help reform-minded communist leaders with improved economic relations. Nixon cites examples of such "reformers"-Tito, Nagy, Gomulka, Hoxha, Ceaucescu, Dubcek, Gierek, Kadar-all of whom (except possibly the last), to the contrary, demonstrate the hopelessness of any possibility of genuine reform in communist governments. Every one of the nations governed by these "reformers" remains firmly within the Soviet orbit.
More troubling yet is Nixon's call to extend this agenda for reform to the Soviet Union itself, in an effort to encourage "decentralization of power" within that country. He proposes giving most-favored-nation trading status to the Soviets "as our relations improve" (p. 180). He asserts that reform in a totalitarian regime is possible: "While change comes at an excruciatingly slow pace, it does occur-and we must seek to affect the direction it takes" (p. 156). This assertion is given without proof, for indeed none could be adduced.
On the other hand, Nixon also supports the intensification of U.S. radio-and, soon, satellite television-broadcasts to the many national peoples inside the Soviet Union-not to stimulate revolt but to "encourage these peoples to press for their national rights" (p. 158).
It is difficult to see how these tactics can be pursued simultaneously. Either foreign broadcasts will generate demands for political change or they will not. If not, they have no significant value. If they do cause restlessness, tensions with the Kremlin will rise, leading to renewed internal repression all over the empire. Nixon seems to propose opposite strategies to affect the Soviet bloc, but such a foreign policy would lack coherence and effect.
Nixon is at his most self-assured in discussing negotiations with Moscow. "Detente" was the hallmark of the Nixon Presidency, and despite his claim that the expression is now meaningless (p. 62), his prescription remains focused on negotiation based or "a new live-and-let-live relationship with the Soviet Union" (p. 23). Because some conservatives have argued that negotiations with the Soviets are dangerous and that the "process" per se favors the enemy Nixon offers five reasons for continuing talks:
(1) It would be "irresponsible" for the "super powers" not to explore the means to avoid nuclear war.
(2) The American people will not support deterrence or competition without a complementary policy which tries to reduce the risk of nuclear war.
(3) The Western European peoples now fear nuclear warfare more than Soviet aggression, and the NATO alliance will collapse if they conclude that Gorbachev is more committed to peace than the United States.
(4) Shrewd diplomacy can yield positive gain for the West.
(5) The relaxation of tensions in itself helps to divide the Eastern bloc.
Nixon does not meet the following objections to his arguments:
Regarding point (1), the Soviet Union has no sense of "responsibility" to anyone or anything except its ultimate goal of worldwide communist imperium.
(2) Treaties reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons may increase rather than decrease the probability of nuclear conflict.
(3) If Nixon's argument is correct, the NATO alliance has lost its rationale in any case. A great American statesman might instead try to convince Europeans as well as Americans that the best way to assure peace is to be so well armed that the Soviets dare not initiate either nuclear or conventional war.
(4) With no electorate to answer to, the Soviet leadership will never initial any agreement which leaves them relatively weaker than before.
(5) Solzhenitsyn, Shcharansky, and other Soviet dissidents have argued that Moscow increases internal repression during thaws in U.S.-Soviet relations.
Nixon's chapter on negotiating with Moscow is filled with prudent advice and maxims which any president would do well to heed: use unofficial personal presidential representatives as well as official channels; talk secretly but announce agreements openly; link U.S. concessions to Soviet geopolitical restraint; don't try to "charm" Soviet leaders into improving state relations; don't attend sudden, unprepared summits; never negotiate against deadlines; don't make arms control the only subject of negotiation; regularize summit meetings on an annual basis to avoid the exaggerated expectations and implicit deadlines of unscheduled summits.
It is revealing that Nixon relegates to a brief paragraph what might be considered the key to all negotiations between enemies: "It is a geopolitical axiom that you cannot win more at the conference table than you can win on the battlefield" (p. 177). Reflection on this axiom should have led Nixon to put far greater emphasis on the need for increasing our military strength and far less on the futile vision of a "victory without war," via talks, at a time of growing relative U.S. weakness (cf. pp. 68 and 76: The Soviets have "overwhelming superiority" in conventional forces, and for twenty years the U.S. "has been slipping toward nuclear inferiority"). Nixon's own axiom undermines his implicit assumption that the West, which lacks military superiority, can hope to defeat the totalitarian idea-much less a well-armed totalitarian regime-with talks.
A trio of chapters follows on Western Europe, Japan, and Red China respectively. These "rising power centers" should be integrated into a coalition designed to deter Soviet aggression (p. 195). Since Western Europe, Japan, and the United States together produce two thirds of the world's economic wealth, their economic weight combined in "a single geopolitical strategy" would win the Cold War (p. 223). 1999 would be a more valuable book if this Churchillian proposal had been elaborated. Nixon's careful observations about these power centers gain perspective in the light of that strategy.
It must be said that Nixon is one of the strongest proponents of NATO today, when many conservatives are counseling American force reduction or withdrawal (p. 206). Nixon, unlike isolationists on the right and the left, never forgets that "Europe is still the major geopolitical target of the Kremlin" (p. 207). But Europe's morale has been "corroded" by nuclear fear, and the corrosion was worsened by the shock of President Reagan's "nuclear-free fantasy" proposed at Reykjavik.
Nixon takes this opportunity to denounce the "irresponsible" claim of some that nuclear deterrence is "immoral." When nuclear offensive weapons are needed to prevent aggression and avoid surrender, according to Nixon the morality of the goal justifies the use of "the best means practically available" (p. 211.)
It is essential for NATO to strengthen its conventional defenses and integrate its forces rather than relying too heavily on an increasingly uncertain U.S. nuclear deterrent Nixon also advises the Europeans, with their years of world historical experience, to expand their role in defending the West's common global interests, as the French have done to a limited extent. His strictures regarding NATO seem to be designed to increase the Europeans' pride and self-reliance, which can only benefit the cause of freedom.
Nixon frankly states a threat to U.S.-Japanese relations rarely acknowledged openly by political leaders: despite the mutual benefits of trade, many Americans still hold Japan accountable for Pearl Harbor, just as many Japanese resent the American nuclear bombardment and post-war occupation. These resentments, he fears, are being aggravated by "bitter economic disagreements" which threaten to damage the critical bilateral relationship. Nixon argues that Japan is not primarily responsible for the U.S. trade deficit. The Japanese can hardly be blamed for following the path of commercialization laid down by the American occupiers after the war and then "outcompeting" us in electronics.
As with the NATO nations, Nixon advises Japan to assume the responsibilities of the great power it is becoming, especially by developing its conventional military forces to defend itself against Soviet conventional capacities. Japan's non-nuclear military power should be sufficient "to make a Soviet invasion too costly to contemplate" (p. 232).
Nixon's 1980 book, The Real War, called Communist China "the awakening giant." Eight years later, the giant is fully "awakened." Surely Nixon's proudest achievement as President was the opening to mainland China, the very thought of which was off limits to every previous occupant of the White House. Ever since the 1960s, Nixon claims to have believed that the People's Republic of China and the United States had an overriding interest in deterring Soviet aggression. The central problem of this chapter is the effect of China's Marxist-Leninist principles on relations with the United States. Nixon repeatedly denies that "profound philosophic differences," ideology, or lack of shared ideals can be allowed to bar a relationship which should be increasingly close. Indeed we should become a "partner" in the development of that communist state. "Survival," Nixon told Hua Guofeng in 1976, must be the choice over "ideology." Hua agreed (pp. 244 and 246).
Both nations can prosper by economic trade and cooperation, and Red China can be helped to remain independent-"not necessarily pro-Western, but definitely not pro-Soviet" (p. 246). Throughout this chapter Nixon does not deny, but rather emphasizes, that the Chinese leaders do not intend to jettison their communist ideology. Deng Xiaoping wants neither democracy nor capitalism in China. Rather, he wants "a strong China" capable of becoming a "superpower" in the next century. Nixon seems to believe that if China's free-market economic reforms are successful in raising productivity, political reform will be forced as well. That assertion resembles his earlier claim that totalitarian dictatorship in the U.S.S.R. can be transformed.
These claims lack both empirical evidence and theoretical support; they depend ultimately on an internal conviction about, or faith in, the rational process of "history." An American statesman considering Nixon's counsel would have to ask himself whether the United States would be wise to become a partner in the strengthening of a potentially global power ideologically committed, as all Marxist-Leninist regimes must be, to the destruction of the principles of equality and liberty which give America its unique meaning. Even granting that the current "dedicated communist" Chinese leaders are friendly to the U.S., what rationale is there for supposing that the next generation will never return to the fold of their ideological Soviet soulmates, especially in the light of Gorbachev's newfound economic and political flexibility? We will have done worse than sell them the rope to hang us-we will have shown them how to make the rope and built for them their first rope factory!
Nixon is well aware that U.S. officials since Franklin Roosevelt's administration have been deluded by Stalin and his successors into believing that fundamental political reforms were taking place in the Soviet regime (ch. 2, especially pp. 29-30 and 44). Is it to be expected that the Marxist-Leninist successors to Mao, the disciple of Stalin, ruling a land with an ancient reputation for diplomatic cleverness, do not know how to delude the relentlessly optimistic American leaders?
Nixon seems to deny the great difference between a temporary wartime alliance like that against Hitler and a long term partnership of regimes holding hostile principles. He fails to see the true threat such a partnership poses to the commitment of a democratic people to the principles of freedom.
The last chapter of 1999 rises above the rest. The former nine chapters concern action we must take to meet the challenge of creating a "safer, more fret, and more prosperous" twenty-first century (p. 323). The final chapter is an instruction to America's political leaders on how to inspire Americans to want to meet that challenge. If 1999 is Nixon's most comprehensive statement of his "lifetime of study and on-the-job training in foreign policy" (p. 323), his last chapter represents his deepest reflections on the political principles which should animate a proper U.S. foreign policy. This chapter at once demonstrates his superiority to his lilliputian peers and the confusion and error in his ultimate views which prove to be responsible for his mistaken advice in treating with Marxist regimes.
The study of "our history" reveals what is special about America. Unlike many "superficial observers," Nixon understands that the Founders, who talked about "a new order of the ages," based their Constitution on a combination of ideas derived from Judeo-Christian, classical, and medieval principles as well as from John Locke. The framers were not Utopians; they drew their "idealism" and "pragmatism" from old ideas in order to produce "a new idea, superior to any one or to the sum of its parts." So far as this goes, Nixon's reading of the Founders accords with common sense and indeed can be verified by simply reviewing the thought and writings of that generation.
But Nixon says more. If the decisive question for every regime is its purpose or final end, then, according to our former president, the Founders accepted the position of the modern political philosophers that the end of the political order is liberation from fear- particularly fear of violent death. They applied in practice Spinoza's statement that "the last end of the state is . . . to set free each man from fear . . ." (although there are few if any mentions of Spinoza or his ally, Hobbes, in the Founder's writings). They were concerned to balance equality with liberty. The practical men who wrote our Constitution leavened their "conservatism" with "compassion"; they believed in "moral and spiritual values" and would have been "appalled" by the selfish materialism prevalent in capitalist countries today. But mightn't we ask whether the generation which described natural rights as "self-evident truths," about which reasonable and educated men could not disagree, would not be far more appalled to learn that American presidents degrade those truths at the heart of the American democratic experiment to the level of mere tastes, or value judgments?
In his depreciation of human virtues and political principles into "moral and spiritual values," Nixon draws the inevitable conclusion implied by the premises of modern thinkers such as Spinoza who made radical freedom the end of the political order. Moreover, since radical freedom is the final end of regimes based on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, Nixon has entangled the purposes of our regime with those of our communist enemies. In this light it is clear why he and Hua could sincerely agree on the choice of "survival" over "ideology."
"American idealism," Nixon believes, is the core of our foreign policy. The fact that Americans do not know how to act with "the cold cynicism of Old World Realpolitik is both a great strength and a great weakness. Perhaps Nixon's deepest insight-but one which does not, unfortunately, sustain the arguments of the book-is to recognize that our national interest can be served only "when we believe that what we do is right" (p. 306). He evidently considers it to be his task to move U.S. foreign policy closer to the Realpolitik of the Old World . . . presumably without the Old World's cynicism. On this showing, Realpolitik need not be inconsistent with moral principle. The United States has no choice but to remain committed "to be an active force for good in the world" in order to "keep faith with its founding principles" (p. 309). What, then, is that good to which we must be committed? Evidently it must be something other than affirmation of our "values."
1999 both opens and concludes with a nearly unqualified praise of progress in technology and science-especially in the fields of medicine, electronics, computerization, and space exploration. In step with the advance of science has come the almost universal triumph of the democratic idea. We face two resulting problems. First, the "mindless" opposition of the adversaries of technological progress must be overcome. Second, politics must be made to keep pace with material progress; otherwise we might find ourselves faced with "total destruction" by the instruments of progress. Remaking the political world, however, cannot mean imposing our "values" on other peoples. But Nixon claims to reject the "intellectually sterile doctrine of moral relativism" on the ground that "we deeply believe in our values" (p. 314). He seems to have confused the intensity of subjective conviction with the reasoned defense of moral truth.
Our philosophical ideas rest on "our faith." But communism is also "a faith," although a "false faith" or "antifaith" (pp. 316-317). According to Nixon, no final answer to "the search for meaning in life" can ever be found, either in "the classics" or "in religion." He is certain, however, that materialism can be ruled out.
These final reflections have more depth than we are likely to find among the politicians of our age, yet they fall far short of that Brobdingnagian statesman of the last generation and Nixon's model, Churchill. He, too, explored the question of technological and scientific progress, most extensively in a sequence of three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (1932). There we find Churchill predicting nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, guided missiles, bacteriological warfare, genetic engineering, and "electromagnetic waves" similar to lasers. But Churchill had more reservations about the benefits and dangers of technology than Nixon. While admitting that a reversal of the advance of modern science would be "the catastrophe of unimaginable horror," Churchill almost says that technological progress has been driven by the impulse to war.
Churchill thought that the developments in biological science clearly presented the possibility that Soviet Russia, undeterred by anything in communist philosophy, might try to breed entire human races of great physical power but stunted mental capacity whose single fixed idea would be "to obey the Communist State." The laws of Christian civilization, Churchill thought, would bar the West from attempting similar experiments.
Churchill's long forebodings on science and technology conclude, however, that progress will prove to be a blessing if-but only if-subordinated to the eternal human questions, the answers to which "bring comfort to [man's] soul." The questions he has in mind include "Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Whither are we going?" Although he expressed great concern over possible biological manipulation of the mind and body of man, Churchill insisted that human nature is constant-"more constant than ant nature," as he put it. The movements of history, accordingly, merely underline the fixity of the nature of man.
Nixon disparages nature as a standard for moral or political actions. His three mentions of words denoting "nature" turn on the same lesson: that "conflict" is natural to man. The condition of perfect peace is a human impossibility. Like Churchill's conclusion that "the story of the human race is War," Nixon's opinion about the naturalness of conflict is healthy and essential to prudent statesmanship; but that opinion does not exhaust the significance of nature for morality or politics-witness the Declaration of Independence. Nature, according to the founders of our country, is the source of men's equal rights and political power as well as the basis of conflict.
Nixon, unlike Churchill and America's founders, appeals to history for guidance, it is not insignificant that, near his conclusion, Nixon quotes two of the most important historicists, Engels (apparently attributing to him Marx's eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, at p. 292) and Nietzsche (on "the last man," at p. 318), and then feels compelled to disavow the former's "philosophy" and the latter's "nihilism." At times Nixon seems almost obsessed with the desire to "make history." The book may even be described as a long argument proving that "history" is on the side of America and our idea of freedom. History is an imperative, we might say, because it is the means of distancing mankind from the natural condition of conflict. Given his Hobbesian world view, it is no surprise that Nixon's highest concern is the negotiation of treaties-i.e., social contracts between nations naturally in conflict. Nixon shares with Hobbes and Locke the fundamental proposition that real or temporary peace is necessary and possible, whereas perfect or permanent peace is neither.
One could say that Nixon pushes his understanding of foreign affairs as far as prudence without theoretical insight will allow. Nixon's one great weakness is his lack of interest in the particular principles which root regimes, a shortcoming which keeps reappearing. He demonstrates little grasp, for instance, of the reasons the Japanese resist the American penetration of their way of life to depths beyond crass commercialism. He is mystified by the unending India-Pakistan hostility in the face of widespread poverty and Soviet regional expansionism, never so much as mentioning the profound religious conflict which caused the separation in the 1940s. His observations on the Arab-Israeli conflict suffer from the same narrowness. And while he appreciates the significance of Moslem fundamentalism for the Ayatollah Khomeini's "revolution . . . against modern, Western values," Nixon cannot adequately oppose that revolution since democracy, like Islam and communism, is also merely "a faith."
On the showing of this book, Nixon's lifetime project has been the separation of ideals or rhetoric, on the one hand, from hard interests, on the other. Ideals such as democracy or communism divide nations; hard interests such as peace unite them. This separation appears, in Nixon's project, as tough-minded realism. Nixon never ceases to heap scorn on soft-headed liberals and pacifists who would choose to surrender rather than fight to defend freedom. But by treating the principles of democracy as rhetoric or mere "values," Nixon himself has surrendered the surest ground on which to resist. For when the West, the Soviet Union, and Red China can all agree that, despite their differing "values," they have a common interest in keeping peace, then peace-and not freedom or democracy or capitalism-has unavoidably become the most important principle of the community's life, as the pacifists have always maintained. As night follows day, Nixon's tough-minded realism opens the door to the left's softheadedness.
Nixon gives an account of his speech to a joint Congressional session upon returning from his "highly successful summit meeting in 1972" in Moscow. He told the Congress that a process had begun which might lead to a "lasting peace." But he warned that the Soviet leaders remained committed to an "ideology" which is hostile to "some of America's basic values." With that warning, he tried to prevent peace euphoria, yet the Congress and the media succumbed: "My words proved to be inadequate" (p. 189).
Because of his determination to separate peace and prosperity from "values" and "ideology," or interests from principles, his words for all their prudence will remain inadequate to the West's struggle for victory, with or without war.
We would be foolish not to acknowledge Richard Nixon's grasp of the international issues of our day. But knowledge and wisdom are different qualities. It seems that Churchill was right to doubt that excellent statesmanship could survive the mass effects of modern life in the absence of deep reflection on the problem of human nature.
ALLAN BLOOM AND AMERICA
The Closing of the American Mind
New York: Simon and Schuster
392 pp., $7.95 (paper)
By Thomas G. West
Allan Bloom introduced me to the study of political philosophy in three fine courses at Cornell in the mid-1960s. For that I will always be grateful. Political philosophy has been decisive for my life, just as it is for Bloom's. Yet I am about to criticize Bloom's book. I do not wish to be ungrateful. I offer my criticism in the spirit of Bloom's teacher and mine, Leo Strauss, and in the spirit of those classical political philosophers whose writings Bloom and Strauss have pointed us to throughout their careers. I mean to practice what Bloom preached.
The Closing of the American Mind is a diagnosis of the intellectual ills of our day, and, if it is not a prescription, it contains at least some suggestions for a cure. The book is most sound, I will argue, in its description of current pathologies. It is partly sound, partly unsound in its account of their origin. It is least sound in its prescription for their healing.
Bloom begins by examining the students in our prestige universities, and he finds them deficient in moral formation, in their reading of serious books, in musical tastes, and above all in eros. They have no love in their souls, no longing for anything high or great. Their minds are empty, their, characters weak, and their bodies sated with rock and roll and easy sex. These students come equipped with a simple-minded relativism that is quick to close off all discussion with the tag, "Who's to say what's right and wrong?" Their relativism justifies an easygoing openness to everything, an openness which expresses their incapacity for being serious about anything. Their proclaimed openness, in fact, turns out to be a dogmatic closedness toward moral virtue no less than toward real thoughtfulness. They are "spiritually detumescent."
Toward the end of the book Bloom turns to their teachers, who are even worse than the students. They carry on the routine of education out of habit and as a job. When it came to the crunch during the so-called student unrest of the 1960s, they collapsed, because they believed in no principles that would justify resistance to barbarians. And so the left-wing thugs took over Cornell without opposition.
The cause of our current malaise, in Bloom's diagnosis, is modern philosophy, which has infected us in two ways-through politics and through 19th and 20th century continental European thought. As for politics, America was founded on modern principles of liberty and equality which we got from Hobbes and Locke. Liberty turned out to mean freedom from all self-restraint, and equality turned out to mean the destruction of all differences of rank and even of nature. Our Founders may have acted, or have pretended to act, "with a firm reliance on divine providence" (Declaration of Independence), but their natural-rights philosophy came from the atheists Hobbes and Locke. (Bloom hedges on whether the Founders were self-conscious atheists or merely the dupes of clever and lying philosophers.) Bloom characterizes the Lockean doctrine of the Founders in this way:
[In the state of nature man] is on his own. God neither looks after him nor punishes him. Nature's indifference to justice is a terrible bereavement for man. . . . [This state of nature doctrine] produced, among other wonders, the United States. (p. 163)
The practical result:
God was slowly executed here; it took two hundred years, but local theologians tell us He is now dead. (p. 230)
Similarly, the Founders may have thought they were establishing a political order based on reason-Bloom stresses our initial claim to being the first political order so grounded-but the regime of reason turned out to be the regime where reason discovers the virtue of unleashing the passions. At first reason legitimates only the modest passions of industriousness and money-making. But having abandoned its older claim to be the rightful master of the soul, reason eventually lost its authority and became impotent against demands for self-indulgence and mindless self-expression. The story of America, according to Bloom, is a tale of the practical working out of the degradation inherent in the logic of our founding principles:
This is a regime founded by philosophers and their students. . . . Our story is the majestic and triumphant march of the principles of freedom and equality, giving meaning to all that we have done or are doing. There are almost no accidents; everything that happens among us is a consequence of one or both of our principles. . . . [T]he problem of nature [is] always present but always repressed in the reconstruction of man demanded by freedom and equality. (p. 97)
Eventually, Bloom says, the infections occasioned by our political principles sapped the strength of religious faith and traditional morality. The relativism of today's students is, then, in Bloom's view, a perfect expression of the real soul of liberty, which from the start, in Hobbes's thought, meant that life had no intrinsic meaning. The anti-nature dogmas of women's liberation, which deny the obvious natural differences between men and women in the name of equality, are destroying the last remnants of the family, which had been the core of society through most of America's history. Likewise, the anti-nature dogmas of affirmative action-insisting that equal opportunity be suppressed until all categories of Americans come out exactly the same-deny the obvious natural differences among human beings in regard to ambition and intelligence.
Thus equality and liberty eventually produced self-satisfied relativism which sees no need to aspire to anything beyond itself-"spiritual detumescence." They also produced left-wing political movements which try to implement the "reconstruction of man demanded by freedom and equality" and which not only threaten but dominate important parts of our leading universities. Further, Hobbesian-Lockean liberty was also designed to liberate scientific technology in order to conquer nature and make life comfortable. The very idea of a conquest of nature implies disrespect for natural limits and has contributed to the decline of respect for nature's guidance in all areas of contemporary life.
The second cause of our problems today, Bloom tells us, is post-Lockean modern philosophy. The big names are Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, but their views have been popularized (and degraded) by such men as Marx, Freud, and Max Weber. Their ideas have worked their way into our universities and our speech, giving us "The Self," "Creativity," "Culture," and "Values" (four of Bloom's chapter titles). These continental writers, more radical than Hobbes and Locke, all strongly denounced "bourgeois society," i.e., democracy American-style. From them we have learned to think of ourselves as despicably low. Yet at the same time, we have vulgarized the grand conceptions especially of Rousseau and Nietzsche and fitted them into our own democratic prejudices. Thus every nursery-school child is encouraged to be "creative."
If I may elaborate on Bloom's analysis and follow out my own medical analogy, America's founding principles, taken from Hobbes and Locke, may be compared to the AIDS virus. The body into which AIDS insinuates itself may continue to appear healthy for many years before the symptoms reveal themselves. Thus, although our founding principles were atheistic and relativistic at bottom, the body politic continued to look healthy for about 180 years before the disease began to manifest itself openly.
The AIDS virus renders the body helpless before the attack of infectious diseases. It destroys the body's ability to distinguish good from evil viruses and opens it up to the penetration of evil. AIDS is the body's relativism, the self-destructive openness of the body's mind. Similarly, an AIDS-infected American mind loses its ability to tell the difference between healthful and harmful opinions. Salutary customs and traditions, such as moral self-restraint and the habits and attitudes necessary for sustaining family life, for seriousness of purpose, and ultimately for national survival, become indistinguishable from life-destroying doctrines and beliefs, such as the hostile teachings of 19th and 20th century German philosophy. The American mind, suffering from Hobbes-Locke induced AIDS-a liberty that has no respect for nature and natural limits-therefore not only fails to resist the destructive infection of Nietzsche-Heidegger, but with its false openness the American mind mindlessly welcomes the infection, thus bringing on what may be the terminal stage of the disease.1
Bloom also prescribes a cure for our malady. The cure is a Great Books education in the prestige universities, taught in the spirit of opening students' minds to the charms and challenge of "the philosophic experience." Of course Bloom is not so naive as to think that reading a few good old books will transform American political and intellectual life. He means that this sort of reading might help in restoring some sort of seriousness to education and therefore to life. Bloom readily acknowledges that this is a slender hope.
I myself cannot subscribe to Bloom's diagnosis of the problems of American education, although I do subscribe to the general features of his account of modern relativism and its dangers.
I can sum up my main objection in this way: Far from being the source of the problem, or an important source of it, America's founding principles are for us probably the only basis for its solution; far from being the equivalent of mental AIDS, our principles are our immune system. Bloom is of course right when he says that Hobbes's notion of liberty cannot distinguish itself from license. He is right that there can be no principled objection, on the basis of Hobbes's doctrine, to a government-sponsored effort to make men and women the same. Indeed, as is well known, there is in Hobbes's thought no principled objection to tyranny altogether, tyranny being nothing more than monarchy misliked, and monarchy being the form of government recommended by Leviathan. But the American Founders were not Hobbesians, however often Bloom and his students and friends may repeat the falsehood that they were.
The Founders had a low opinion of Hobbes. James Wilson, one of the two or three most important men at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, once summed up his assessment of Hobbes by asserting that Hobbes's "narrow and hideous" theories are "totally repugnant to all human sentiment, and all human experience." Wilson says this in the context of affirming Lockean ideas about the natural rights of man. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton, in "The Farmer Refuted," attributed Hobbes's principles to the Tory Samuel Seabury.
His [Hobbes's] opinion was, exactly, coincident with yours [Seabury's], relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he [man] was then perfectly free from the restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue, but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians, for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent superintending principle, who is the governor and will be the final judge of the universe.
. . . To grant that there is a supreme intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and still, to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appear to a common understanding, altogether irreconcilable.
Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensably, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.
This is what is called the law of nature. . . . Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind. . . . (Emphasis added.)
The key point is that Hamilton, as did the other Founders, integrated Lockean language into a moral framework they had inherited from classical and medieval political philosophy and from their manly Protestantism. Nature and nature's God were the ultimate source of duty and right.
Against Hamilton, Bloom asserts, without the slightest attempt to prove it, that for Americans rights precede duties as a matter of course. He implies that Hamilton is wrong about the state of nature, that the law of nature has no moral content, and that there is in America an abandonment from the start of any idea of duty or purpose in life beyond personal whims or commitments.
But in modern political regimes [such as America], where rights precede duties, freedom definitely has primacy over community, family, end even nature. (p. 113)
Bloom also says the Enlightenment views of Hobbes and Locke were meant to liberate men "from God's tutelage" (p. 163). Thus Bloom attributes to America, and America's Founders, a view that Hamilton went out of his way to denounce as typical of the immoral Tory position! Solzhenitsyn better understood our founding when he said, "In American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. ["All men are created equal."] That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, on the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.... We have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility." Bloom and I would agree that men today have forgotten God. But why accuse Hamilton, Washington, even Jefferson of things manifestly untrue? Consider Jefferson:
Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of Cod? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?
Washington, far from viewing the Enlightenment as a challenge to religion, saw religion as beneficial to true enlightenment!
The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than at any former period. . . . [A]bove all, the pure and benign light of revelation ha[s] had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a nation, and if their citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own.
Similarly, Bloom mistakes the Founders' view of human nature, attributing to them a break with the classic view of man as a combination of reason and passion:
In the past it was thought that man is a dual being, one part of him concerned with the common good, the other with private interests. To make politics work, man, it was thought, has to overcome the selfish part of himself, to tyrannize over the merely private, to be virtuous. Locke . . . taught that no part of man is naturally directed to the common good and that the old way was both excessively harsh and ineffective, that it went against the grain. They experimented with using private interest for public interest, putting natural freedom ahead of austere virtue. (p. 166-67)
On the contrary, the Founders always understood that "man is a dual being." The Federalist speaks of man throughout as both rational and passionate:
Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason without constraint.
It is true of course that the Founders paid dose attention to the problem of self-interest, and that they did everything they could to channel self-interest in the direction of the common good. (Plato, Aristotle, and all the classic writers on politics recommended similar devices linking self-interest to the common good, to "supply the defect of better motives.") But the Founders were far from indulging the Kantian delusion that a well-constructed constitution would work even for a nation of devils. This delusion is, to be sure, typical of those post-Rousseauan continental thinkers who abandoned human nature as the standard of political life. Hamilton once explicitly denounced it when he said, "It is always very dangerous to look to the vices of men for good."
The Founders were well aware of the need for public-spirited citizens. They anticipated with clarity the consequence of a loss of public virtue. They believed that a people accustomed to living however it pleased, who saw no higher purpose than, say, entertainment and having fun-a people incapable of self-government in the sense of controlling selfish passions and interests-would also be incapable of self-government in the sense of democracy, making public laws for themselves to live by. As Madison says in The Federalist:
Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities [men's capacity for virtue] in a higher degree than any other form.
But if a people ever becomes slavishly lacking in self-restraint, if their "spirit shall ever be so far debased," they "will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty."
The students described by Bloom in the first part of his book are indeed approaching the debased character which Madison feared. But it is not true that our Founders' principles and institutions sowed what we are now reaping. It can be shown, as I have done in "The Founders' View of Education," that they in fact did everything they could to form the character of the people to make them self-assertive, self-controlled republicans. For the moment I will merely mention John Adams' educational provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, the surprisingly strict laws regulating the public morals passed in those years by state legislatures, and the intention of the American Constitution to rectify "an almost universal prostration of morals" caused by irresponsible actions of the several state governments which had "undermined the foundations of property and credit."
I could go on quoting the Founders-an exercise that might be useful for readers of Bloom's book, since he rarely if ever quotes Americans on America, but limits himself to the pronouncements of foreigners such as Hobbes, Locke, and Tocqueville. (I almost included Saul Bellow.) Instead, I will mention the one fact that is the most convincing piece of evidence to me about the source of America's current difficulties. If you look at the history of those changes in American education of which Bloom so justly complains, you find that those changes were always introduced by men who knew they were at odds with the people and the politicians who were formed by the Founders' principles. Those intellectuals who have been promoting for many decades the relativistic, anti-natural, and leftist dogmas prevailing today all hated the principles of the founding, and most of them said so openly and loudly. Their work could go forward only after the Founders' view of natural right and natural law had been discredited.
The first sustained attack on the founding principles was launched in the South before the Civil War by slaveholders and their apologists who wanted to get rid of natural rights so they could be free to continue to tyrannize their slaves. During the progressivist era there was a sustained denunciation of the founding, especially of the Constitution, and Woodrow Wilson among others attacked the Founders' views and institutions because, based as they were on the idea of individual rights, they stood in the way of massive state control of private life. More recently we have been subjected to constant vilifications of religion and morality in American life-Bloom mentions that nothing is less controversial in the prestige universities than such attacks-and these attacks have consistently included attacks on the idea of natural law and natural right.
But Bloom argues that the barbaric attacks on America in the 1960s were really a product of America itself, the unintended culmination of a doomed enlightenment enterprise.
The content of this morality [viz., that of the '60s at Cornell) was derived simply from the leading notions of modern democratic thought, absolutized and radicalized. Equality, freedom, peace, cosmopolitanism were the goods, the only goods. . . . They were inherent in our regime, they constituted its horizon. (p. 326)
He makes this argument because he sees no principled distinction between liberty and equality as the Founders conceived them and liberty and equality as, say, Marx conceived them. In other words, since Bloom does not see the much more traditional character-and that means the rational character-of the Founders' view of liberty, he mistakes the source of the problem. Instead of debunking the founding (Bloom once rightly blamed a history teacher of his for this very thing), Bloom should be celebrating it as a fund of wisdom to be recovered for the sake of the very enterprise he wishes to foster. And instead of confusing the issue by speaking of Marxism as an extreme version of American egalitarianism, he should be vigorously denouncing Marxist hatred of political liberty, liberal education, and religion, the bulwarks of American constitutionalism.
Bloom's mistake about America proceeds, I believe, from two sources. First, he simply doesn't know much about America's origins. His own studies have been in the history of European political philosophy and European literature. And, not having studied America much himself, he has relied heavily, almost exclusively, on the facts that John Locke is America's philosopher, and that John Locke was a secret admirer and follower of Thomas Hobbes. But it is not possible to move from these facts to an account of America's founding that pays little or no attention to the actual writings and documents produced by the Founders themselves. For the question is, in what sense were the Founders Lockeans? Their writings show without doubt that the Founders' understanding of their own actions was entirely contrary to the deepest intention of the deeply radical Hobbes and Locke.
The history of modern political philosophy does have a logic of its own, as Leo Strauss has convincingly shown, which leads to increasingly radical statements culminating with Nietzsche in the denial of reason and philosophy itself. But intellectual history is not political history. As Charles Kesler once said, America is not just another chapter in the Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy.2
But there is a second reason for Bloom's mistake about America, and that stems from his own experience and taste. Bloom acknowledges that he never felt at home in the American midwest of his youth, that there was nothing for him in the concerns of his high school classmates (p. 244), nor in the piety of his orthodox grandfather (p. 60). But when he arrived at the University of Chicago, he says, and saw its pseudo-Gothic towers, "[he] somehow sensed that [he] had discovered [his] life" (p. 243). He implies that he knew he had discovered it before he ever met his master Leo Strauss there, and I can believe it. Bloom is describing himself as an uprooted intellectual for whom traditional religion and ''bourgeois society" mean nothing. For such a man, what incentive is there to study America with any sympathy? Far from being the land of the free and the home of the brave, the American Republic was for him a dreary desert from which he longed to escape. His oasis was the university, the Republic of Letters, and there he has stayed ever since. Of course he is very interested in America as it comes to sight through the students he teaches and the university that gives him his home. But everything outside the university, Bloom implies, is philistine, bourgeois, and contemptibly vulgar. Consider the snobbishness of this typical remark of his: "The importance of these [university] years for an American cannot be overestimated. They are civilization's only chance to get to him."
Is civilization only to be found in or through universities? Considering Bloom's own relentless indictment, one wonders whether civilization is to be found at all in the "best" universities (the only exception being an isolated, often embattled, teacher here or there). Why does Bloom not look to certain less prominent but more substantial colleges, where the trends he describes have sometimes been resisted more successfully than at the better-known institutions? Or, to put it more radically, why should we respect the modern university at all? If Bloom's story of its internal decay is true, as I am inclined to believe, it seems much more likely that, if civilization is to be preserved, it will be in spite of our universities, not because of them.
Tocqueville, an authority on America whom Bloom admires, would never have suggested that universities are our access to civilization (even in 1835, when they were so much sounder than today). Indeed, Tocqueville and Bloom differ profoundly in other ways as well. To exaggerate for clarity's sake: Tocqueville never stops celebrating the virtues of small-town life in America, with its strong Protestantism, its tight moralism, its close-knit families, and its human-scale democracy, while Bloom seems to value all this only as the source of strong prejudices the liberation from which will be all the more satisfying as Bloom midwifes it. Otherwise Bloom seems ready to chime in with the Rousseauan-Nietzschean condemnation of bourgeois life.
In this respect, without intending it, he is in agreement with, for example, the recent opponents of Judge Robert Bork, who (unlike Bloom) want to replace the America of equal opportunity and moral self-restraint with a society of forced egalitarianism. In such a society, liberty will be abolished in favor of a false conception of equality (it is already in the course of being abolished), and the kind of education which Bloom praises will disappear.
This leads to Bloom's prescription for a cure to our ills. It centers on the university. Bloom is firmly against the idea that the university should serve society. In this he opposes the Founders, particularly Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Jefferson's conception of university education was public-spirited. The main intent is "to form the statesmen, legislators, and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend." This is to be done by studies in "the principles and structure of government." "Political economy" is to be learned in order to promote public industry. Students are also to be enlightened with "mathematical and physical sciences, which advance the arts, and administer to the health, the subsistence, and comforts of human life." Finally, the university is to "develop their reasoning faculties" and "enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order." All of this is in order "to form them to habits of reflection and correct actions, rendering them examples of virtue to others, and of happiness within themselves."
Bloom's university, on the other hand, is to be explicitly devoted to cultivating the philosophic life, by pointing students away from their own countries and traditions. But in the current climate, which is already all too willing to question the value of American society and government, would this orientation not tend to ossify the prevailing prejudices? Nietzsche, one of Bloom's authorities on the current malaise, rightly points out the debilitating effect of the Great Books education in our world (in a passage I first read during a course I took with Bloom at Cornell in 1965): such an education, says Nietzsche, promotes accumulation of knowledge of other times and places, without providing a direction. "It is not a real education but a kind of knowledge about education, a complex of various thoughts and feelings about it, from which no decision about its direction can come." In healthier times, education in the best writings of the past is not for the sake of objective consideration, but "always has a reference to the end of life, and is under its absolute rule and direction" (Use and Disadvantage of History for Life, sec. 4). Bloom would agree, but he makes the end of life "philosophy," forgetting, it seems, the lesson of the philosophers that all human beings except philosophers need a moral and political orientation. Without that, a Bloomian education will produce not Socrateses but pale shadows of Socrates-intellectuals.3
Bloom is not indifferent to the needs of society. His final paragraph suggests that a return to the classics may also have a decisive effect on "the fate of freedom in the world." But Bloom would make the public mission of the university anti-social, or rather trans-social, any benefit to society being an accidental by-product, while Jefferson and I would make its public mission primarily political, allowing "the philosophic experience" to be cultivated without official sanction.
Is not Jefferson's university closer to what Nietzsche, Plato, and indeed anyone of common sense, would consider appropriate for the future leaders of society, not to mention future philosophers? His university would certainly accommodate the chance philosopher in one niche or other of the curriculum. But does it really make sense to attempt to go beyond this, to institutionalize an education to the philosophic life in a conventional academic structure? In the end it is who happens to be teaching and who happens to be learning that will make all the difference. Philosophers, like Caesars, can appear anywhere, and they can take care of themselves. The attempt to plan for them seems to me to betray a tendency on Bloom's part to equate, against the letter of his intention, the philosopher and the intellectual. Finally, is it really philistine to structure the university with a view to service to society, above all in attempting to educate future statesmen in the principles of republican government, but on a lesser scale training men and women to be useful to their society and to themselves? That is something that can be understood and done well by those who are far from the exalted heights of philosophy. As Rousseau, another of Bloom's authorities, reminds us, "He who will be a bad versifier or a subaltern geometer all his life would perhaps have become a great cloth maker."
The best and most accurate parts of The Closing of the American Mind are the beginning and end, those parts that deal directly with university life in modern America. That is what Bloom knows best because he has been immersed in it and has observed it closely since his youth. Bloom spends a lot of time with students and professors, and he has a gift for penetrating their facades and seeing what they are really like. The observations in these pages of the book, which are of course deliberately and delightfully exaggerated, reveal in the most memorable way the tendency of American young people and of university education. Particularly good are the sections on the debilitating effect of divorce on children and on their capacity to learn and love, on the sad consequences of affirmative action on black students, on the loveless love lives of so many students, and on the tremendous importance of rock and roll for young people and how it degrades their souls.
Here is where the book is strongest, and this is what seems to have made the book a best-seller. It is from these pages, at any rate, that the quotations in the reviews seem to come. However, this may not be as hopeful a sign as Bloom, according to an interview, seems to think. About ten years ago, a highly popular book, The Culture of Narcissism, was written by Christopher Lasch, reputedly a Marxist. I have heard that this was Jimmy Carter's favorite book. At any rate, Carter is said to have used it in preparing his famous "energy crisis" speech, which spoke of our national malaise. The point of the speech was to promote the creation of yet another federal bureaucracy, this one to administer the country's energy policy from Washington. Much of Lasch's description of America's ills bears a striking similarity to Bloom's, at least superficially. (I counted at least fifteen parallel observations.) Like Bloom, Lasch pounds away at the principle of individual liberty and blames a good deal of our malaise on that principle. Considering Lasch's leftist political orientation, however, one wonders how much of the praise of Bloom's book, particularly by the critics, who are almost all liberals, comes from those hostile to liberal democracy and constitutional government.
Someone might ask, why are you being so hard on a book that might do a lot of good, written by the man who happens to be the one who introduced you to the study of political philosophy? To compare small things to great, Aristotle set the example in his treatment of his former teacher Plato. Truth comes before friendship, though it need not destroy friendship. It seems to me that Bloom's low view of America, and the consequent turning away from any serious political concern in his conception of American education, vitiates the good effect of his book's sound parts.
Because he feels so much at home with intellectuals, Bloom overlooks politics. He is therefore unable to appreciate that the cause of sound education in this country is much more likely to be supported by "bourgeois" politicians than by sophisticated intellectuals. Bloom has contempt for those politicians. But it was not the Nixons of America who capitulated to the Cornell blacks in the 1960s. Certainly Nixon's response would have been quite different from that of Bloom's students, who expressed their sovereign contempt for those thugs by passing out xeroxed passages from Plato's Republic (p. 332). That impotent gesture did nothing to save Cornell from barbarism. But for Richard Nixon, one of the few public men willing to act against the tide in those mad years (and their madness is still with us), Bloom has only a sneer (p. 329).
1The idea that America was AIDS-ridden from the start was suggested by Judge Robert Bork: American constitutional law seems to be "pathologically lacking in immune defenses" against "the intellectual fevers of the general society." (Tradition and Morality in Constitutional Law [Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1984], quoted in Harry V. Jaffa, "Equality and the Founding," presented at the Conference on Equality and the Constitution, San Bernardino State University, April 1985.) Bork's position is even more radical than Bloom's; Bork believes that there is no theory at all inherent in our political institutions. But the result is the same: "our constitutional law [is] constantly catching cold" from the most radical intellectual opinions of the day. Bork then goes on, incoherently, to celebrate the fact that our Constitution has no theory of its own!
2Kesler is the author of the best review of Bloom's book published to date: See The American Spectator, August 1987, pp. 14-17. Several of the arguments in the present review are anticipated in Kesler's.
3Sanderson Schaub raised this point against Eva Brann's similar endorsement of the St. John's College curriculum in her Paradoxes of Education in a Republic: See Independent Journal of Philosophy, vol. 4, p. 177.
Changing Course: Civil Rights at the Crossroads
New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Press
160 pp., $21.95
For a young attorney, Clint Bolick has great political ambitions, namely to revive the civil rights revolution on libertarian and conservative terms. His project involves: first, a faithful summary of the history of civil rights in America, so that its meaning becomes dear; and second, proposals for a new civil rights strategy that would liberate blacks, along with other Americans, by guaranteeing economic liberty. Against the prevalent collectivist and race-conscious mentalities, Bolick contends that "the essence of civil rights is that every individual possesses the authority to control his or her own destiny."
Bolick, formerly a civil rights attorney in the Reagan administration, does enormous political service by establishing both a theory and practice for a libertarian, conservative civil rights agenda. The arguments contained in this short work become essential reading for anyone interested in civil rights, for they go to the heart of the issues fiercely debated today.
Bolick argues that the civil rights revolution of the 1960s succeeded in establishing legally the ideals of equal opportunity demanded by America's founding documents and natural rights political philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Paine, who inspired the Founders. America's history-not just black history-is the unfolding of the ideal of individual freedom for all Americans. Bolick succinctly describes freedom's friends and enemies. But he errs in praising the abolitionists, who were no friends of the Constitution, and he thereby denigrates their enemy, Abraham Lincoln. This major error follows from Bolick's Hayekian "negative concept" of freedom-that freedom consists in the lack of compulsion.
In Bolick's view, the civil rights movement, including the 1954 school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education, strove to establish a color-blind society. But, Bolick to the contrary, Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion in Brown did not decisively overturn the 1896 decision of Plessy v. Ferguson affirming the constitutionality of segregation. For Warren based his opinion on the swamp of social science, not the bedrock of natural rights. Thus later justices could write opinions defending governmental classification by race (such as the Bakke case, which Bolick subsequently overpraises, and Johnson v. Transportation Agency in 1987). Bolick correctly blames an acceptance of collectivism, the replacement of equality of opportunity with equality of result, and an increase in black race consciousness for the trend toward racial preference policies, but he exaggerates the shift in legal principle from the days of segregation.
Unfortunately, Bolick maintains, these legal advances have not yet produced concomitant economic or social benefits. In the second part of his book he blames recent education, welfare, and racial preference policies, for setting blacks back. He challenges civil rights leaders to consider an array of reforms, many of which are adopted from scholars such as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. Bolick would reenergize the civil rights movement by making economic liberty a principal tenet. Thus he adds a new dimension to diverse recommendations such as education vouchers, enterprise zones, and abolition of licensing and minimum wage laws. His perspective would reestablish civil rights as individual natural rights.
One would think that such a sensible program could gain support in the elected branches of governments. Yet Bolick apparently places greater faith in an activist judiciary, which would strike down as unconstitutional the barriers to black progress in laws restricting economic activity. Here his libertarianism (visible earlier as well as in his strictures against "victimless crimes," such as drug usage) makes conservatives part company from him. Like his fellow libertarians who hold to a negative concept of freedom and share with Karl Marx the notion that political power can be abolished, Bolick claims that "the judiciary is the only branch of government capable of safeguarding individual rights." Thus he underestimates the dangers of giving more power to the non-democratic branches and displays a Hobbesian skepticism about self-government. (It is interesting to note in this connection that he never mentions the 1965 Voting Rights Act.) But even this major disagreement can hardly diminish the gratitude friends of civil rights across the political spectrum ought to display for Bolick's work.
A BETTER GUIDE THAN "REASONABLENESS"
The Plessy Case: A Legal-Historical Interpretation
New York: Oxford University Press
269 pp., $29.95
Professor Lofgren's careful study of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 railway car segregation case, reflects the same scholarship that characterizes his essays in an earlier volume, Government by Consent. By noting how uncontroversial and ordinary the case had been until fifty years later, Dr. Lofgren is able to indicate its logic, and as well its great weakness. And thus, in the course of placing the Plessy case in the intellectual, legal, and political context of its time, he is able to illuminate the problem of government-mandated racial preferences in our time: To what extent, if at all, can government constitutionally classify and legislate by race?
Dr. Lofgren shows how the Supreme Court, in the Plessy majority opinion, adopted the "reasonableness" standard; the states could exercise their reserved "police powers" to justify segregation, constitutional requirements of "equal protection of the laws" notwithstanding. It was left to Justice John Marshall Harlan, in his famous "the Constitution is color-blind" dissent, to provide a superior basis for striking down segregation-the Thirteenth Amendment itself, which does more than merely abolish slavery, and the now moribund "privileges and immunities" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, both of which grant rights of national citizenship. Moreover, as Homer Plessy's lawyers argued, "the Declaration of Independence is . . . the all-embracing formula of personal rights on which our government is based. . . . [It] must always be taken into account in construing any expression of the sovereign will."
When, in the Brown case, Chief Justice Earl Warren claimed to overrule Plessy, he cited social science evidence rather than hearkening back to the tradition behind Harlan's Plessy dissent. Thus he accepted the thoroughly mutable "reasonableness" criterion of the Plessy majority. The great merit of Lofgren's book is to show, for once and for all, that the logic of the Plessy court remains alive, as exemplified by race-conscious remedies to real injustices based on race. Those who would debate such remedies today need to remind themselves of the place of the Declaration in our scheme of government.