Posted: January 29, 2007
On Pierre Manent
Daniel Mahoney's letter ("Doing Manent Justice," Fall 2003) protests the criticisms that William B. Allen had advanced against the French thinker Pierre Manent ("Making Citizens," Summer 2003). According to Mahoney, Manent is "a friend to the political nation." This claim is very hard to reconcile with the speech Manent gave at Harvard in the fall of 2002—the speech that Allen's article was criticizing.
Manent advised Americans to refrain from military action against Iraq. Instead, Manent urged "a resolute recovering of America's liberty of judgment in relation to Israel's policy." Dismissing arguments about Iraq's terrorist ties and weapons of mass destruction, Manent speculated that the Bush Administration was actually confronting Saddam Hussein's government "to help America break free" from the policy "bind" which the administration had brought on itself by "blindly acquiescing to...all the policies of the Israeli government."
Manent warned that Israel had "suffered" a "huge loss of legitimacy" in "these last two years"—that is, since the onset of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israeli civilians, which followed the Palestinian rejection of Israeli peace offers. Since Israel had been attacked and its efforts to defend itself had forfeited international sympathy, the United States should distance itself from Israeli policy.
Manent's prescription for Israel was that it should acquiesce—or be made to acquiesce—in the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. Israel must accept this policy, because international opinion demands it. And when it comes to the rights of "humanity," international opinion is "the strongest authority on earth."
Mahoney insists that Manent does not actually believe in this "authority," himself. If so, Manent must believe that it is simply clever policy to appease threatening forces, however extreme their demands and however despicable their means of pressing such demands. For Manent's predecessors in this outlook, it was clever policy to pressure Czechoslovakia into ceding territory to Germany in 1938. For many of Manent's predecessors, it was again simply clever policy for the French government to collaborate in Nazi racial policy after 1940. Manent speaks in an accent that is easy to recognize.
It may be true, as Mahoney says, that Pierre Manent endorses the concept of national sovereignty. But Manent's Harvard speech recognizes no connection between national sovereignty and national self-respect. That was part of Allen's point. Mahoney does not seem to get it.
Perhaps Manent is a "friend" to the "political nation" of France. I do not think Manent is a "friend to America," as Mahoney claims. A genuine "friend" would not urge America to lower itself to French depths of cleverness.
Jeremy A. Rabkin
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It goes without saying that Daniel Mahoney and Paul Seaton ("Doing Manent Justice," Fall 2003) each fundamentally misunderstands the argument I have offered in "Making Citizens," for each finds it necessary to respond to the argument not in explicit terms but in hints about "implied arguments." At no point did I write of Pierre Manent subscribing to a "cosmopolitan humanitarianism." And it is largely irrelevant that Manent may or may not have said elsewhere in his oeuvresomething other than what I quoted, as he would be the first to acknowledge.
Because the fact that I quoted from the Harvard address accurately and in context remains unchallenged in their letters, it must surely suffice that I now repeat what I did say, and indicate its relevance.
I first observed that Pierre Manent "voiced [suspicion]…that George Bush (and perhaps America altogether) wrongly insists upon distinctions of 'good and evil' in matters of foreign politics (and thus politics altogether)." This observation does not insist that Manent himself denies the existence of such distinctions; it rather says quite explicitly that he questioned the manner [wrongly] in which Bush articulated them. It may seem trivial to point out so evident a reading, but the objections reveal that it is not so.
I further quoted Manent that "the chief political good today is concord among the democratic states in a cooperative (multilateral) endeavor to manage potential world conflicts without recourse to war (conflict). This end, in turn, requires some degree of forgetfulness about parochial claims, perhaps most significantly those claims that distinguish one people from another and are most implicated in ideas of national citizenship and national sovereignty." It is apparent that this reading does not require Manent's "endorsement" of Boutros-Ghali's screed against sovereignty, even as it does indeed effectively "repeat" the substantive error in that screed—namely, a wish that some "forgetfulness" of sovereignty might prevail regarding present crises.
Perhaps, though, no observation disturbed my critics so much as that contained in the remark, quoting Manent, "America was becoming more and more 'national,' looking with suspicion, indeed with contempt, on any and all collective agreements, thus reneging ever so slightly on its Declaration of Independence by showing no decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Besides the fact that the quotation is exact, it must clearly appear to the least understanding that the thought that the Declaration requires American deference to the opinion of the "international community" woefully misreads the bearing of the Declaration. That document appeals to the opinions of mankind on the basis of reason, and not on the basis of a presumed moral authority in mere opinion. Moreover, the effect of its doing so is rather to distinguish than to assimilate its politics to the world standard then prevailing!
Now, the foregoing error certainly lies at the bottom of the mistaken argument I cited, namely, that "the paramount concern of American policy makers should be the defense of the free world, or the community of democratic peoples as a whole..." The failure to see the defense of America as the canonical defense of freedom constitutes the fundamental center of the dispute between Mahoney and Seaton, on the on hand, and me on the other. This "community of democratic peoples as a whole" is nothing less than a post-political imagined community, held safely beyond the reach of fundamental political judgments. This imagined community is one in which no mutual obligations of membership are acknowledged, for (as I put it) men on those terms are not "truly citizens and certainly not patriots. They are Hobbesian subjects, whose fate in world politics must depend upon either their own power or the opportunity to benefit as free-riders from some people whose course and principles are distinctly non-Hobbesian (defending itself without subjecting others)."
Perhaps the final vexing observation I made is that "the chief constitutional goal is that of self-government—a moral reality that is prior to and must shape the political reality as the fundamental condition of political legitimacy." For this is the fundamentally democratic claim that even Manent as long as 20 years ago had already identified as the "termination of all public life": "L'humanité démocratique ne serait peuplée que de promeneurs solitaires trés affairs." (Tocqueville et la nature de la démocratie, 1982, 103-106)
It is far from my purpose to discourage attention to Pierre Manent's work—work for which I have the very highest regard and to which I shall continue to introduce students. Nor should it be imagined that, because I have taken him to be the single most intelligent critic of the claim that democracy holds out the prospect of a public good, I therefore think him fundamentally in error regarding human nature and the characteristics of virtue. I can acknowledge his by now extensive and useful teachings, and yet still maintain, as I did in "Making Citizens," that "even when one is skeptical of the philosophical principles of natural rights, one still must confront the reality of modern sovereignty in the form of self-government as the irreducible human claim."
W. B. Allen
Michigan State University
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On Michael Lerner
In his otherwise well-written review of Hillary Rodham-Clinton's new book ("Hillary's Makeover," Fall 2003), Steven F. Hayward makes the point that Hillary's actual inspiration was "the radical Jewish thinker Michael Lerner." (Emphasis added.)
As I expected that Mr. Hayward found some relevance in the religion or ethnic origin of the people who inspired policies in the American political arena, I searched the rest of the article for similar information related to the other ideological sources discussed in the review. I found none. Now I am left wondering whether—in the mind of Mr. Hayward—the Jewishness of Michael Lerner has a relevance that deserves special emphasis as compared to the others, or whether Mr. Hayward let his own prejudices slip.
A. Ted Rosman
Buena Park, California
Steven Hayward replies:
A few readers have wondered whether my reference to the "Jewish radical thinker Michael Lerner" was somehow gratuitous, and therefore a priori suspect. I thought the term relevant in its theological rather than ethnic sense, becauseMr. Lerner thinks it is relevant: see his Tikkun magazine, where he connects his Jewish faith with radical duty. Had Hillary looked for inspiration to Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, I would have referred to him as "the radical Christian writer Jim Wallis," or if from John Courtney Murray, I would have said "the conservative Jesuit philosopher J.C. Murray," etc. Perhaps I should have said more by way of background about Lerner's theological radicalism to avoid any possible misimpression, but if Mr. Rosman thinks I am letting slip some kind of prejudice, wouldn't I have also made something out of Sid Blumenthal's religion? As Mr. Rosman himself notes, I did not.
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In "Republican Triumphs," (Summer 2003), Charles Kesler rightly takes President Bush to task for regarding liberty and democracy as synonyms, "…which they are not." Of course, they are inimical.
In that very same article, Kesler uses the various forms of the word "democracy" 12 times, none in a properly derogatory fashion. The entire Summer issue contains 110 non-disparaging uses of the various forms of the word democracy. In order to honor and preserve our Republic, a scathing essay on this enemy of liberty, democracy, will educate not only your readers but also your intellectual contributors who seem not to know what our Founders knew.
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Making Book on the 'Library of America'
I read with obvious interest Peter Wood's report ("Containing Multitudes," Fall 2003) of a conversation he had with me at a dinner gathering that preceded the literary wake of the Partisan Review. My version of that encounter differs from that of Wood's. I thought that we were in substantial agreement on a turn for the worse taken by the Library of Americain its choice of authors and anthologies. The Library, for all its varied excellences, we agreed, perpetuated the error that "diversity" confers a unique literary or aesthetic dimension on second-rate writing. How else to explain that Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Dawn Powell are among America's Pleiades, while Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (The Common Law), and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Army Life in a Black Regiment) are excluded. Nor has room been found for James Russell Lowell, Ernest Hemingway, John P. Marquand, or Edmund Wilson.
Wood, on the basis of an essay I composed on Gertrude Stein's method and influence in "Darwin's Audubon," wrote that the "Library of America presumably aims to compass the distance between sensibilities like mine and Weissmann's." That's no compass at all. I don't even differ that much from Wood in my overall estimate of Stein as a writer rather than as an experimental modernist. Nevertheless, in the U.S Open that the Library of America has become, I'd guess that Stein would still qualify for the tournament, take Hurston 6-0, 6-1 in the first round, and fall to a true experimentalist, John James Audubon, 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in the second. I'd also surmise that Peter Wood, whose work I admire, would agree on the number of sets played.
Gerald Weissmann, M.D.
New York, NY
Peter Wood replies:
I would be hard put to discover where exactly Dr. Weissmann and I disagree, and I'm grateful that he has cured my lingering chagrin. All this while I thought I had committed a faux paus at that Partisan Review nostalgia fest when I mentioned Gertrude Stein as one of Library of America's stars of seventh magnitude. As to handicapping the U.S. Open, I agree Hurston falls to Stein in straight sets, and Stein falls to Audubon like a stuffed cormorant.