Progressivism’s American-ness

Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

Related Post Roulette

111 Responses

  1. Ethan Gach says:

    Still mulling this follow-up over, but at first blush I’m wondering if the differences lean more toward incrementalism than proceduralism.

    Afterall, progressives will be the first to decry (or won’t they?) the unequal treatment various socio economic and race based groups recieve in the judicial process.

    Conservatism often seems to lead less to a strict emphasis on proceduralism (e.g. we must go through the proper channels and do this the proper way and not suspend our laws when they are inexpedient), than an emphasis on moving slower; more incrementally (e.g. we must let slavery die out slowly, no jumping ahead via fixes like affirmative action, etc.)Report

    • I’m pretty sure that this is a much more profitable thesis to explore—though I doubt very much that it would permit conservatives to write progressivism out of the American tradition. (e.g. Dewey’s attention to the American community’s political tradition is very much akin to Michael Oakeshott’s more conservative British traditionalism—cf. my dissertation.)

      BTW, I think that this is also why Mike’s piece on progressive conservatism is so helpful. Calls to mind Burke’s “little platoon,” etc.Report

  2. Mike Dwyer says:


    I’m still waiting on a definition of ‘progressives’. In three posts you haven’t actually explained the difference between progressives and liberals. That would be extremely helpful.Report

    • Lots of complaints along these lines. As I noted, these were posts about conservative rhetoric, not specifically about elucidating progressivism’s content. Cf. my frequently-self-linked essays for CAP on this:

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

        That’s a lot to take in Conor – so how about a quick bullet point? Would you say Progressive = liberal or is there more to it?

        I’m asking because I think that outside of a couple of people (Jonah Goldberg, for example) there isn’t a lot of evidence for suggesting that broad-group conservatives are slamming progressives specifically. They might be slaming liberals but as I mentioned in my post, those two groups are not exactly the same.Report

        • “The introduction of a novel term like “liberal fascism” obviously requires an explanation. Many critics will undoubtedly regard it as a crass oxymoron. Actually, however, I am not the first to use the term. That honor falls to H.G. Wells, one of the greatest influences on the progressive mind in the twentieth century (and, it turns out, the inspiration for Huxley’s Brave New World). Wells didn’t coin the phrase as an indictment, but as a badge of honor. Progressives must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis,” he told the Young Liberals at Oxford in a speech in July 1932.” — Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism” p.21

          “Before the war, fascism was widely viewed as a progressive social movement with many liberal and left-wing adherents in Europe and the United States.”—Jonah Goldberg, “Liberal Fascism”

          “Invade Ethiopia, ally yrself with a genocidal anti-Semite and a murderous Asian empire, and all of a sudden fascism has a bad name.”—TVD

          “Indeed, it is my argument that during World War I, America became a fascist country, albeit temporarily. The first appearance of modern totalitarianism in the Western world wasn’t in Italy or Germany but in the United States of America. How else would you describe a country where the world’s first modern propaganda ministry was established; political prisoners by the thousands were harassed, beaten, spied upon, and thrown in jail simply for expressing private opinions; the national leader accused foreigners or immigrants of injecting treasonous “poison into the American bloodstream;” newspapers and magazines were shut down for criticizing the government; nearly a hundred thousand government propaganda agents were sent out among the people to whip up support for the regime and its war; college professors imposed loyalty oaths on their colleagues; nearly a quarter-million goons were given legal authority to intimidate and beat “slackers” and dissenters; and leading artists and writers dedicated their crafts to proselytizing for the government?”—Goldberg, ibid.

          “Finally, since we must have a working definition of fascism, here is mine: Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the “problem” and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.”—ibid.

          “Ever since FDR’s presidency — when “liberalism” replaced “Progressivism” as the preferred label for center-left political ideas and activism — liberals have had trouble articulating what liberalism is, beyond the conviction that the federal government should use its power to do nice things whenever and wherever it can. “—ibid.

          “So yeah, “progressivism” is as American as apple pie, at least for the second half of our history. Hence the return to the Founders by progressivism’s detractors. And Mr. Lincoln sits squarely inbetween, claimed, and rightfully, by both sides.”—TVD

          “Last year polls showed that fully 51% of Republican primary voters believe that the president was born overseas. “—Conor P, Williams

          “Progressivism isn’t so much a coherent philosophy as a rhetorical strategy.”—TVDReport

    • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Oi! I’ll bite!
      Progressives is a deliberate step by your lefties. The word hearkens back to the Grange, to people gettin’ together to make sure stuff happened. Mostly at the local level, making sure what needed to happen did.

      Progressivism is your step between Marx and Louis the Sixteenth. The place that says compromise will save our asses. And that it’s worth payin’ the poor to be better off, even for the richest of us.

      Progressivism is not treatin’ the troops like they’re cannon fodder. It’s having a plan, and, more importantly, having goals that are more than merely financial. (’tain’t how I bet, when I invest, but that’s because America ain’t run by progressives).

      Progressivism takes a good deal from the “Show Me” State — got some math, got some ideas, let’s work together and get them done. Progressivism is a tad bit more flexible than liberal — set your goals, and find ways to get people there.

      Progressivism is MUCH more pro-science than your old-school liberals were. While keeping LBJ/Kennedy’s War against Poverty alive.

      Progressivism isn’t about taking away your guns (plenty of pro-gun screeds on kos). It’s about rural outreach, it’s about reminding folks that Democrats are here to REPRESENT, and we ain’t all liberals.

      It’s about the work to be done, and the things to be fixed, and the idea that we all need to be in the solution. And that solution ain’t always the government. It’s about free speech and free media, and transparency — and the internet. It’s about knowing the facts so you can act on them — and being willing to drop a solution if it isn’t working.

      The liberal thinks all he needs to do is sit in his cities being smug and complacent. The progressive says that farmers need the ivory tower types too.

      A progressive like Genl Clarke says that global warming is the greatest national security threat of our new century.

      Progressives are about making sure the really bad apples stay out of washington — on both sides of the aisle. That crazy man up in Idaho, or Wynn in Maryland. Get the crooks to go. And give people some options again.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

        and more….
        Progressivism is the left’s outreach to scientists, to professionals, to the creative class. It says, “hey, we’re the fun guys! come play on our team!” And it’s remaking the Dems in its image. Less hysteria, less anti-nuclear, less crazy anti-GMO (more anti monstersanto).

        More about welcoming hispanics, and more about making sure that blacks get a seat in the party (realize that a goodly number of conservaDems are black, ya?)Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:

        Sure wish Conor would put a similar statement together (hint,hint).Report

        • Again—I’ve written about progressivism’s content on many, many occasions. I’ve linked to those in many of my posts at the League. I linked to several of my essays along those lines earlier in the comments here. I write about this more than almost anything else. Here are some more examples from before my time at the League:

          So let’s cut the nonsense about progressivism being w/o content (except when it’s profoundly un-American). Let’s not pretend that I’m hiding the ball. Want to know what I think progressivism is? Go read some of the many posts I’ve written about what I think progressivism is.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

            Ahhh. those links were helpful. So you’re just using progressive interchangeably with liberal or Left. THAT finally answers my question (though it would have been easier if you had just given a one sentence reply instead of making us read a bunch of old blog posts.

            Easier version:

            Mike: “That’s a lot to take in Conor – so how about a quick bullet point? Would you say Progressive = liberal or is there more to it? ”

            Conor: “No, that pretty much hits the nail on the head.”

            Of course I disagree with the usage this way as I mentioned in my post. It completely disregards the tradition of Progressivism existing outside the American binary system of conservative/liberal. It’s that kind of muddying of the water that give people like Goldberg openings to slam Progressivism when he’s really just talking about a subset of liberals that maybe were or maybe were real Progressives.Report

            • I’m not using progressive interchangeably with liberal or left. Cf. my first two posts for the League.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

                Conor – from you Dissent piece on 09/07/10 (emphasis mine):

                “In other words, for the umpteenth time in the last two decades, the American Left doesn’t know what it stands for. As has become customary, progressives are waiting for their more organized opponents to define the debate, its terms, and their role in it.”

                “So what does American progressivism mean? Start with what it’s not. The Right has long claimed that the Left represents a radical departure from traditional American understandings of individualism, liberty, equality, and justice.”

                If that isn’t interchangeably it’s at the very least confusing.Report

            • e.g., from the posts I linked:

              The Left, broadly understood, consists of all of the following: 1) liberals who aim at a restoration of broad tolerance for lifestyle choices ranging from drugs to sex to art and more, 2) progressives who believe that it is our duty to build a fairer and better political community than the one we currently have, 3) a crowd of others who are defined by nothing so much as their inchoate frustration with the country’s general direction. There’s certainly some overlap between these groups’ various objectives, but it’s difficult to see it as anything more than incidental.


              American liberalism has always been concerned with protecting individuals from government, first and foremost. I’m happy to be corrected, but I’ve always gotten the impression that Freddie is as concerned with using government as a means to sustain individualism. It’s part of what I find so congenial about his writing. Insofar as he believes that government can intentionally and actively enhance community life, he’s stepping beyond liberalism. He’s sounding much more like a progressive.

              But Freddie need not despair. Progressivism is, to paraphrase Ms. O’Donnell, “nothing you’ve heard.” It’s much better.

              Why does he think that he isn’t a progressive? Two reasons: 1) if leftists re-appropriate that moniker, they’re capitulating to the 1990s conservatives that hung the welfare state’s failures as millstones around “liberalism’s” neck, and 2) “progressive” has different semantic implications than “liberal.” In other words, how we describe ourselves politically says volumes about both the content of our convictions (#2) and the intensity with which we defend them (#1).

              Frankly, I don’t get why it’s a capitulation to the Right to readopt an old leftist term—unless the content of American progressivism is really weak and delinquent in comparison with American liberalism. Fortunately, that’s Freddie’s second charge: the core claim is that “progressivism had some good and a lot of bad—in the comments he reveals that the latter consists of “eugenics” and “a general attitude that the way to improve the country was to avoid/remove/marginalize the ‘wrong sort.’”

              There’s much more in those posts (and the many others that I’ve written on this and not linked). Those are just a few quick hits as I scanned through the posts again. But look, I’m not going to do the reading for you. I’m not going to build you a laundry list out of all of the things that I’ve written.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

                Conor – you don’t need to build a laundry list because it shouldn’t require more than a paragraph to explain. I don’t follow why you just can’t spell it out simply right here or in one of these recent posts.Report

              • So “Progressive” is to “Liberal” what “Libertarian” is to “Conservative”?

                It’s the thing that’s never been properly implemented because reality keeps getting in the goddamn way? The thing that can never fail but can only be failed?Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              I see progressive as Left, but that might just be because your side hasn’t been yammering to haul it back to center.
              Doesn’t mean it’s not fiscally conservative, mind (if by fisc. con we mean “balance the damn budget sometime, dammit!!!!”).
              I don’t take progressive as merely “non revolutionary/reactionary”Report

  3. James Hanley says:

    I’d just like to note that I’m not really particularly interested in the debate–these types of questions just don’t grab me–but I think y’all are doing a bang up job, and really showing how a thoughtful and respectful dialogue can occur on the intertoobz. (I really should be taking notes.)Report

    • Add me to this group, in general. The one aspect of American progressivism that has always attracted me, and which doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention here (or perhaps I missed it), is its attitude towards big business. Namely, that government is the last protection of the individual against the depredations that big business is capable of. Contemporary conservatism seems to me to take the position that no such protection is necessary, which would make the original notion in this series of a “progressive conservative” something of an oxymoron.Report

      • Tim Kowal in reply to Michael Cain says:


        Conservatives certainly believe that unequal bargaining power is a problem in theory, it’s just that, as an empirical matter, they don’t tend to find it exists as much as Progressives do. I’d guess there are about as many false-negatives on the one side as there are false-positives on the other. But conservatives ought to be prepared to support, and not just begrudgingly, procedural mechanisms that correct that problem, such as unions when it comes to the private sector.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          Conservatives certainly believe that unequal bargaining power is a problem in theory

          I’m not a conservative, but it’s worth pointing out that I don’t agree that unequal bargaining power is a problem even theoretically. In fact, I think the whole concept is just an artifact of misconceptions about how supply and demand work.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            In fact, I’m not sure that even leftists actually care all that much about it in practice, except insofar as it acts as a justification for taking labor’s side in any dispute.

            Consider a situation where the worker has all the power. Say, for example, that a small record label is able to operate profitably solely because of one highly popular musician. The musician’s contract has just come up for renewal, and he could easily get a deal with just about any other label. The label will go out of business if it can’t get the musician to renew his contract. How many leftists would cite unequal bargaining power as a reason to place limits on the demands the musician can make?Report

            • BB, I recall some verdicts that threw out rapacious recording contracts b/c of unequal bargaining power. Girl’s blowing truck drivers for a plate of eggs and signs away every note she sings or writes @ a dollar a day for 100 years.

              I think it was in this one


              Hazel O’Connor—star and songwriter of a cool ’80s movie called “Breaking Glass.” No, she wasn’t turning tricks, but you get the gist.Report

            • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              If that was a real question, here’s a real answer:

              Liberals are concerned about institutional power (including, I might add, government). What has been their approach from the 20th century forward has been to introduce, and help organize, competing loci of power (e.g. Unions, bureaus, political organizations, etc.) that will help counter the most powerful and autocratic institutions that arise. They also promote rules (i.e. laws, regulations, and norms) to counter the tendency of powerful players to reshift circumstances to further favor themselves (e.g. anti-Trust, safety and business practice regulation, etc.)

              One of the problems here, as elsewhere, is that we are confronting a storybook notion of liberalism, based on the conservative assertion that the goal of liberalism is to increase government power. It is not.Report

              • +some number greater than zero.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                What has been their approach from the 20th century forward has been to introduce, and help organize, competing loci of power (e.g. Unions, bureaus, political organizations, etc.) that will help counter the most powerful and autocratic institutions that arise.

                But this just isn’t true. Government is by far the most powerful institution around, and the left is constantly trying to give it more power, supposedly in order to counter the power of far less powerful private organizations. But in reality the alleged abuses of power by private organizations are very often simply the laws of supply and demand working exactly as they’re supposed to. The left is seeking to concentrate even more power in the hands of what is already by far the most powerful entity there is, all to solve imaginary or wildly exaggerated problems.

                That the expansion of government power is not their ultimate goal matters little when it is in practice their modus operandi.Report

              • Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                It’s almost as though you didn’t read the comment.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Chris says:

                I read the comment, and then pointed out why it’s wrong. You don’t mitigate concentration of power by concentrating it further.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I mean, I see that Snarky said that leftists are concerned about institutional power. But the reality is that in practice they spend an awful lot of time building it up.Report

              • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                You have taken the perspective that “government” is a monolithic entity. If I wanted to be snarky, I could counter that “government” is much smaller than “business.”

                Treating “government” as a undifferentiated blob of power and corruption is, I think, an artifact of the conservative movement from the 60s til today, and not really a useful way of perceiving the world as it exists. The EPA is not OSHA, and the police are not the Social Security Administration.

                These entities are mostly pretty right-sized for the role they are asked to perform. But simply because they are public-sector entities does not make them maniacally powerful.

                I understand that we’re shouting across an ideological divide, here. But I would challenge you to understand liberalism–and the liberal outlook–a little better than the mustache-twirling power grabber that you seem to think of them as.Report

        • Tim Kowal in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          Point being, men are not angels—doesn’t matter if they’re in business or politics. Every institution needs checks and balances. A free market would have built in checks against unequal bargaining power. Allowing capital to collectivize promotes wealth-creation, but also centralizes power—and centralized power is a problem whether you’re talking about government or the private sector. We are not mindful of power centers. Progressives complaint about too much power in the private sector but ignore the fact that there is too much power in government, and vice versa conservatives.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          I would have started with unequal information. From an example similar to the beginning of the movement: the owner of the packing plant knows there is rat and cockroach in the sausage; absent inspection and/or testing, the consumer doesn’t. A more recent example that strikes closer to my current interests: the factory in China knows that the plastic in the visor in the fencing mask is substandard and that the markings on it are forged; as fencers individually and collectively lack the money to do the necessary destructive testing on a continuous random sample of the factory’s output, we don’t know; but when the visor fails, it’s the individual fencer’s life potentially on the line.Report

  4. CK MacLeod says:

    Here’s how the historian Gordon Wood, based on a reading of contemporaneous literature unrivaled in its breadth, summed up the meaning of the Founding in political and world history to the Founders themselves:

    The illimitable progress of mankind promised by the Enlightenment could at last be made coincident with the history of a single nation. For the Americans at least, and for others if they followed, the endless cycles of history could finally be broken.

    The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, page 614

    America is global progressivism up to the transformation of progress itself to new forms adequate to the world that progress has made, against the main alternative outcome of progress: extinction.Report

    • I agree w/this somewhat, CK, and the mega-credible Gordon Wood is always well-cited. I was recently reading the first written history of the United states, and it was by a fellow named Barrett, whose viewpoint was very much the belief in human progress.

      And of course, Jefferson traveled to France to help Lafayette write the Rights of Man! True story.

      Lafayette proceeded to persuade the Assembly to adopt the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,” a document he drafted in cooperation with Jefferson. Although Lafayette helped to secure a statement of fundamental rights, he lost all influence as the French Revolution entered its most radical phase (August 1792). Jefferson had warned Lafayette of zealous republicanism, and he suggested the British constitution rather than the American as a model for the French. Jefferson never wavered in his support for Lafayette, however. Jefferson commented that Lafayette’s chief fault was his “canine appetite for popularity,” but he also appreciated his “good sense,” “sound genius,” and “efficacious” manner; Jefferson added that Lafayette would rise above his desire for fame.[8] Upon Jefferson’s return to America and his acceptance of his new post as Secretary of State, he wrote to Lafayette, “Wherever I am, or ever shall be, I shall be sincere in my friendship to you and to your nation …. So far it seemed that your revolution had got along with a steady pace: meeting indeed occasional difficulties and dangers, but we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty, in a feather-bed.”[9]

      Yet no matter how useful Lafayette had been as a mediator for American interests in France, Lafayette was forced to flee for his life during Robespierre’s reign.

      Yeah, well, progressivism eats its own.

      And I’m not sure we have the whole story here about “progressivism” in the Founding. For one, the wisest thing in the whole deal is Madison’s separation of powers, which contemplates the worst in men, not the best.Report

      • The two sentences of Wood’s that I quoted were written specifically in view of the constitutional scheme as an “antidote” to the diseases of the classical republican polity, the Madisonian attempt to turn them to good purpose.

        Whether what the Founders-Framers succeeded in constituting was “America” or the other way around, is another question. To be clear, I think that America constituted or made the Founders, just as it made the Progressives, but is larger and more fundamental than either. As I argued on the initial thread on this subject, the spirit of innovation, expansion, world-improvement, etc., was virtually identical with the project of the colonization of the New World. The influence that you describe on the French Revolution – to which Europeans gave and sometimes still reflexively give principle historical position – tends to confirm America in its world-historical role. It is not in my view an accident that the spirit of Progress realizes itself as an explicitly political movement in America at virtually the precise moment of the completed settlement of the continent, and that the process also coincides with the material destruction of Eurocentric international order. In this framework, the Founding becomes a moment of incalculable significance – incalculable for us in part because its meaning still circumscribes us – but to understand this notion concretely and fully also requires one to break with any claim that the Declaration or the Constitution or the Founding/Framing period as a whole truly exhausts or could exhaust the meaning of “American.” It must be an excrescence of America or “American-ness” or Americanism, not its totality.Report

      • btw, TVD, thanks for the Jefferson-Lafayette reference – I find it very useful to be reminded of it in this connection.Report

  5. Brandon Berg says:

    Any progressive who’s recently been called out as an un-American socialist over the Bush tax cuts can attest to the fact that conservative invective on this point is almost always personal.

    As is left-wing invective on this point. For example, the FYIGM smear of which Jesse and his ilk are so fond.

    People of above-average intelligence often make the mistake of comparing themselves to average (or even worse, to below-average) people on the other side. This results in a skewed perspective.Report

    • Berg echoes Carlin: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      “People of above-average intelligence often make the mistake of comparing themselves to average (or even worse, to below-average) people on the other side. This results in a skewed perspective.”

      A bit defensive, don’t you think?

      I mean, I haven’t compared myself to you, and I don’t think any of the other commenters here have either.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Liberty60 says:

        I can’t tell whether you’re trying to insult me or just didn’t understand what I said.

        My point is that pretty much everyone here is well above average. If you take yourself as representative of your side and compare yourself to the average person on the other side, you’ll come away with the impression that your side is much smarter, more reasonable, etc. then the other side.

        But that’s not a fair comparison, because the average person on your side isn’t much to write home about, either.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Can we sit down and explore this topic?
      The left says “You’re Immoral! You’re Evil!” when it gets hysterical.
      The right says “You’re Unamerican!”

      I think there is a LOT we can pull from this, if you’re willing to listen.

      For one thing, the right is asserting an in-group/out-group relationship. The left is disapproving and perhaps even calling for shunning, but isn’t doing that in quite the same manner.

      I think it’s because the right thinks automatically more in in-group/out-group relationships. See the American Ancestry map of the US Census.Report

  6. MFarmer says:

    ““Something awful has happened to you. You’re not the man I thought you were.”

    “You’re a socialist and you don’t love America either???”

    “Poor slobs who only make $200,000 have a hard time making it in this country nowadays.”

    It’s obvious to me that conservatives are part of the American tradition—and I don’t think that their various policy victories are somehow sundering the exceptional thread tying us to the Founding and to each other. Most of my conservative buddies don’t feel the same, sorry to say.”

    These are some odd responses. They almost sound stilted, but I guess those ass-hat conservatives are stilted for sure.Report

  7. wardsmith says:

    If the Democrats didn’t keep doing stupid things at their conventions like placing American veterans in front of Russian ships, perhaps people wouldn’t think they were un-American.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to wardsmith says:

      For that matter, I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to say that leftists are in some sense anti-American. They want the US to be more like Western Europe and/or Scandinavia. They often speak derisively of Americans and compare them unfavorably to Europeans. For example, a Google search for “Americans are stupid” returns results skewing almost entirely to the left, if you throw out the pages not actually making that claim. A Google search for “embarrassed to be American” returns results skewing significantly to the left, even considering only results from the Obama years. In fact, all the conservative results but one seem to be different copies of one article.

      This is not a criticism of the left. Blind patriotism is no virtue, and if your own country deserves criticism, then there’s nothing wrong with giving it. And not all leftists say these things. But it strikes me as disingenuous to act as if there were simply no basis for the claim that leftists are less patriotic or more anti-American than conservatives.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        That’s an unreasonable conflation. The American Left has nothing in common with Western Europe. Furthermore, lumping all of Western Europe into the same capacious bag is silly. Which Americans are saying such things? Germans aren’t French aren’t Poles aren’t British aren’t Italians aren’t Greek. And let’s not even get into Arabs and Turks, they’re all over the political spectrum.

        Relying on a Google search — don’t you realise every Google search you do only refines what Google will show you, based on the links you’ve already clicked off searches you’ve done before? Google knows what you want to see. You’ve got an identity in their system. You hate leftists, you’ve said so many times, a good many of your Google searches have been made to prove that point: that’s what you’ll see if you go search again.

        For anyone else reading this, any further rhetorical efforts to prove a point with “Google results show” are not only fallacious, they reveal nothing but your own biases: by definition. Don’t do it. You only look stupid when you do.

        Look, if you want to read what’s being said about America overseas, I’ve been translating for WatchingAmerica for some years now on a volunteer basis. You will find the world’s view of America rather more nuanced than our view of the world.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

          That’s an unreasonable conflation.

          If we define “patriotism” as “the types of values and policies embraced by conservatives”, then … well …Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

            You see, Stillwater, the Conservative definition of patriotism is tautological. That anyone else might entertain notions about what this nation might be — that cannot be. The Conservatives are our Vestal Virgins, keeping alight the sacred flame. Everyone else is un-American because Patriotism is Conservative and Conservative is Patriotic.

            I am particularly amused, though the joke is wearing thin in the earnest repetitions, that Progressivism began with Conservative ideals. Once the Progressives actually won a few hard-fought battles for reform and good government and the rights of women to vote and all that jazz — here come the goddamn Conservatives, like the other animals in the Tale of the Little Red Hen, looking for a slice of bread though they did nothing to help and everything to oppose. Now butter won’t melt in their fucking mouths and they’ll look at us with a straight face to tell us those reforms were their ideas all along.

            I will go with Ambrose Bierce’s definitions:

            PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

            PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first. Report

        • MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

          “Furthermore, lumping all of Western Europe into the same capacious bag is silly. ”

          Paper, plastic or capacious?

          No wonder whatever search terms I use I get porno results.Report

      • The Founders, by the time they became the Framers, had also concluded that Americans were a bunch of greedy irrational brutes. That the’s holy virtue of the Madisonian system, supposedly, that it takes cognizance of human greedy irrational brutality and pits differently greedy irrational brutish factions against each other in such a way as to allow rare human excellence to rise to relative power. There’s therefore nothing more American than concluding that Americans are a bunch of venal greedy irrational brutes. Except for the fact that Americans have always been generally greedy irrational brutes – just like everyone else – you might say that the only truly un-American thing is to declare someone un-American on the basis of their personal defects or their disgust with their fellow Americans. Since it’s an irrationally stupid thing to say, however, it’s perfectly American.

        The United States was founded in revolution, a revolution conceived and advanced by an elite minority or vanguard. There is nothing more foundationally American than to disagree with how things are going and to seek changes in the law and society to improve matters. Most of the right is constantly going on with how defective aspects of American law and society are. It goes with the greedy irrational territory that they greedily and irrationally propose that its people on the left who have the biggest problems of America.Report

        • MFarmer in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          “The Founders, by the time they became the Framers, had also concluded that Americans were a bunch of greedy irrational brutes. ”

          This kind of reductionism is ignorant, although in certain circles I’m sure it’s hip.Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to MFarmer says:

            Since Americans, oddly enough, believe it or not, are also human beings, we can say that this “reductionism” has been real hip for around six or so thousand years, at least, though it became really super-hip around 2,012 years ago. Homo homini lupus.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          The Founders, by the time they became the Framers, had also concluded that Americans were a bunch of greedy irrational brutes.

          Americans specifically, or people in general?Report

          • People in general. There was some division of opinion as to whether Americans could be presumed somewhat more or less greedy-irrational-brutish overall and on particular questions, due to the peculiarities of their predicament. What seems indubitable is the optimism of 1776 and a republic of virtue had by 1787 given way to much greater pessimism about human nature.Report

      • The Left in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        “They often speak derisively of Americans and compare them unfavorably to Europeans. ”

        Sure you are not talking about Canadians?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to say that leftists are in some sense anti-American. They want the US to be more like Western Europe and/or Scandinavia. They often speak derisively of Americans and compare them unfavorably to Europeans.

        Let’s suppose this is correct, that leftists are anti-American because they desire policies which are more like European and Scandinavian countries. Isn’t the implication that being pro-American requires an a priori rejection of any policy if it’s already adopted by another country, independent from any consideration of that policy’s merits?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

          Isn’t the implication that being pro-American requires an a priori rejection of any policy if it’s already adopted by another country, independent from any consideration of that policy’s merits?

          I think it’s more that whether another country adopts a policy shouldn’t be used as a reason for the US to do it too. I’ll give an example that I even disagree with: The Death Penalty.

          One of the (many) arguments against the death penalty is some variant of “it’s so barbaric that the Western World has abandoned it, why, Europe doesn’t use it anymore!” In any given discussion about the death penalty, you can count on someone pointing this out. (“Only China kills more prisoners than we do! Is that the company we want to keep???”)

          I am not a death penalty fan. However. This argument can trigger a knee-jerk reaction in me where I’m arguing against it before I even realize I’m typing. If we are to oppose the death penalty, we should oppose it for reasons that may be identical to the reasons that Europe opposes it… but not because Europe opposes it.

          So too for every other policy you can think of.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

            That may be true, JB. I have to say that I can’t think of an argument made by a lefty which follows the lines you’re suggesting – that policy changes in the US are justified insofar as they accomplish the goal of making us more like Europe. That is, the goal of referencing a European country’s policies is to provide additional evidence in support of a particular US policy, one which it so happens certain European countries already embrace, and not to make the US more like Europe.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

              It’s appeared a couple of times in some high-level discussions on the Supreme Court, of all places: to what extent does international opinion have an impact upon either “cruel” or “unusual”.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                A quibble: I’d say that’s still not a case of adopting a policy with the goal of being more like Europe.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:


                We’re in an area at this point where someone in any given discussion is likely to mean *THIS* but, instead, they say *THAT* and, Katie bar the door. Now we’re arguing over whether we should pay attention to Europe’s opinion of the Death Penalty (or Europe’s ability to provide health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay for less money than we spend) when we’re trying to determine the Constitutionality of a law.

                For want of a quibble, the premise was lost…Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Now we’re arguing over whether we should pay attention to Europe’s opinion of the Death Penalty (or Europe’s ability to provide health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay for less money than we spend) when we’re trying to determine the Constitutionality of a law.

                But not out of a desire to “be more like Europe”, or a desire to “not offend our European friends”, or anything like that. We consider European definitions of “cruel and unusual punishment” in order to establish a legitimate legal grounding of practices on the international stage. The US is compelled by treaty to honor and obey international law. If international law construes US use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to violate prohibitions on “cruel and unusual punishment”, then there is a prima facie argument that domestic laws permitting it violate our international agreements.

                I mean, I’m way out of my depths here, but it seems to me the SC would be the final arbiter of resolving conflicts between domestic legal provisions and our legal obligations at the international level.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                The final domestic arbiter, that is.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think your understanding of “international law” is way off here, Mr. Water. On the specific issue – separately from questions about how “obligations” under int’l law actually work – you might be thinking of the UN Convention Against Torture, which didn’t concern capital punishment at all, but rather the infliction of “severe pain and suffering” for particular purposes.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yes, my understanding of international law is way off – like from out of left field, really.

                But I had something else in mind (even tho my comment had nothing to do with what JB was getting at). It’s that rendition, enhanced interrogation, etc are by definition (at least, when they were introduced) international – that is, not purely domestic – affairs, and marrying up our domestic law with both the international legal obligations we’ve agreed to via treaty (think NATO, for example as well as UN provisions) as well as our allies understanding of those provisions. My suggestion is on a domestic level, the final arbiter wrt resolving conflicts between purely domestic law (eg, the limits and coherence of “enemy combatant” status) and our commitments to international law via treaty would be SC.

                Of course, the presumption here is that the executive cannot decide these issues unilaterally.

                I’m sure there are lots of mistakes in this assessment, of course. But the substantive point being made in the comment you responded to is this: that the US cannot unilaterally decide what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment”. The views of other countries and other agreements are relevant here.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                I still don’t think you have the international law thing right. What international law is and requires is itself disputable, including whether in the final analysis it can be conceived of as overruling US law or any other sovereign state’s law, and, if so, how. In other words, for now, treaty obligations override statutes, but we could change our minds about that and then wait and see whether anyone was in a position to make us wrong. Or you could put things philosophically: Neither the US Government nor any other human entity has the power to decide once and for all time what “cruel and unusual punishment” is (and isn’t), but, for now, the USG alone is able to determine what it is for the USG.

                I think a firmer ground, or foundation, in this particular debate over American-ness can be found in a phrase of the Founders that the fetishists of the Declaration and Constitution somehow always seem to misplace before they get to the parts they like. In the DoI’s preamble, explicit justificatory reference is made to “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Though the phrase is universalist and possibly transhistorical, I don’t think that TJ was mostly concerned with the opinions of the Native tribes or the Trobriand Islanders. And he wasn’t just worried about other people’s feelings about us. Even before the Americans had formed the US of A, they were concerned with being taken into the community of nations. This aspiration had tremendous international-legal and practical significance, worthy of a separate discussion.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                but, for now, the USG alone is able to determine what it is for the USG.

                That’s the claim I’m disputing. In the absence of agreements and treaties, the USG could unilaterally determine what constitutes cruel and inhuman punishment. Revisable, of course.

                Given that we have made international agreements, the US cannot unilaterally determine the set of actions which constitute cruel and inhuman without violating our obligations under those treaties. That’s a legal problem, tho not necessarily a moral problem.

                So I think the conclusion still stands.

                I mean, I get the suggestion that none of the legal provisions which exist now are permanent – they can certainly be changed. I just don’t see how that fact is relevant wrt the claim that US law regarding our activities in other countries and non-US citizens is constrained by the international agreements we’re currently committed to.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Of course, there is a way to split the difference: that there are two codes of US law, one for international affairs and the other purely domestic. If so, then an apparent inconsistency could be reconciled by saying that provisions in the one are logically disconnected from provisions in the other.

                I don’t see that as tenable, since the provisions are adopted for specific reasons which would wouldn’t at that point be fully general.Report

              • FTR, the D of I is a natural law document per the “law of nations.” Grotius, Suarez.

                Much like our current constitutional crises, “international law” has become positive law, the letter more than the spirit, and a contract with the ether rather than between nations at that.

                Fortunately, the US is like, are you fishing kidding me?

                See also


              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                International law is no more able than domestic law to make a law that, merely by being a law, actually forces you to acknowledge your obligations to it. If I as an individual decide that the laws against speeding don’t apply to me, because I’m a great driver and have very important things to get done, then the law can be enforced against me. If the USG decides that the interpretations preferred by others are bad interpretations, and that its own interpretations are completely adequate, and that there’s nothing all that cruel or unusual about waterboarding or electrocution, in fact they’re fun and everyone should try them, then tough titty.

                Eventually this gets, actually, to the fundamental deficiency of legal idealism (and even theory of language). Is there a global “sovereign” capable of deciding on the factuality of a claim of adherence? Should there be? Can there be? The U.S. has on key questions declined to accept the rule of the International Criminal Court, for instance. Who’s gonna make us do so?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                “cruel and unusual” of course. {Too much football…}Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                Football is cruel and unusual. Stop watching it. It’s the law.Report

              • Is there a global “sovereign” capable of deciding on the factuality of a claim of adherence?

                Exactly, CK. Not even the Pope, let alone the Hague. But the larger problem is the interpretation of the law. Here in America, originalists and “living constitutionalists” can’t agree, and they’re all American.

                Once we get to international law as positive law, we dispense with the spirit of the laws, which back in the Founding days was “natural law.” The Declaration seeks to justify itself by “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” but that only “requires that they should declare the causes” of their revolution, not submit themselves to the international community’s approval for the revolution.

                The US is compelled by treaty to honor and obey international law.

                But treaties are contracts, and imply a mutuality. The problem is that some of these “treaties” have no real partner.

                I’m reading through this great 2006 speech, and lookee here, there’s the anti-Muslim movie of current controversy!

                “In November of 2002, the Council of Europe approved what was called “an additional protocol to the convention on cybercrime,” which would make it illegal to distribute anything online which “advocates, promotes or incites hatred.” A spokesman for the United States Department of Justice said – quite correctly – that this country could not be a party to such a treaty because of the First Amendment. If all of Europe thinks that such a provision does not unduly limit speech, should we reconsider? And I could go on.

                If there was any thought absolutely foreign to the founders of our country, surely it was the notion that we Americans should be governed the way that Europeans are – and nothing has changed. I dare say that few of us here would like our life or liberty subject to the disposition of French or Italian criminal justice, not because those systems are unjust, but because we think ours is better. What reason is there to believe that other dispositions of a foreign country are so obviously suitable to the morals and beliefs of our people that they can be judicially imposed through constitutional adjudication? And is it really an appropriate function of judges to say which are and which aren’t? I think not. Thank you.”


              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                Also “cruel and unusual” is Angl0-American talk. The typical UN language is “cruel, inhuman or degrading.” Incidentally, in my personal view – which also happens of course to be the absolutely correct view – the American penal system is vastly cruel, inhuman, and degrading, and the fact should prevent any American from presuming that just because something is American it must be good or better than the alternatives. I eagerly look forward to the day that the UN black helicopters arrive, and deliver us from ourselves on the matter, though I’m afraid the moral stain may be indelible.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                CK: Incidentally, in my personal view – which also happens of course to be the absolutely correct view

                Wait a minute. I thought I’d already cornered the “absolutely correct” market here at the LoOG. 🙂

                Re: you comment about a global enforcer above: that’s very interesting and I have no easy reply at hand. So I need to think about that some more, but unfortunately for this discussion, I have to go to my father-in-laws 75th birthday party. So it’ll have to wait.

                On the upside, once I get to the party I’ll settle down to watch some football, so I can give your comment a legitimate, college football inspired response.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                International “law” amounts to treaties, which is why we make the Senate ratify treaties in the USA. “United Nations” is a contradiction in terms: a nation is sovereign. It cannot unite with other nations without ceding some authority to the union government. It’s this aspect of union which distresses the American supremacists, also, unsurprisingly, always States’ Rights people. Such people can’t see any benefit to unions of states.

                Madison understood the pettiness of such folks. But the best he could do was create gridlock from it. Tom wants to introduce Scalia’s line of rhetoric condemning Lawrence v. Texas where other nations’ laws on toleration of homosexuality put in an appearance. I gather Justice Scalia is no more a fan of homosexual marriage than he is of abortion and for the same reasons: it doesn’t appear in the US Constitution.

                Scalia has condemned himself from his own mouth. Great Britain would go on to abolish slavery in 1807 (it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the significant date) and the USA would go on to fight a civil war over slavery in the 1860s — but then, it seems fair to note that if Scalia had been on Justice Taney’s court, he would have ruled the same way in the Dred Scott decision — there were no 13th or 14th or 15th Amendments.

                It’s all so much Originalist Bunk. Legal Talib-ism. Talib means scholar in Arabic. For all their scholarship and earnest wishes to liberate us from any doctrine of a Living Constitution, the Natural Law people want to roll back the clock to a time which never was. They’re the inverse of the Progressive. They’re the Regressives.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                CK: I’ve been puzzling over this comment for a bit now, trying to figure out a proper response. As I go thru it some more, tho, I’m not sure I understand it.

                It seems to me you’re making two claims here. The first is that the codification of laws coupled with an institution for enforcing those laws isn’t sufficient to compel acceptance of an obligation to comply with the law: International law is no more able than domestic law to make a law that, merely by being a law, actually forces you to acknowledge your obligations to it.

                The second claim is that international law fails to have a institution capable of enforcing adherence to those laws, or punishing violations of them.

                On both counts, the answer is of course: yes, you’re correct. Laws and enforcement mechanisms are not sufficient – logically nor causally – to compel an individual to accept an obligation to obey, and that’s true with or without an enforcing institution.

                My response – such as it is – is that that observation isn’t relevant to the point I’m making (I’ll get to that in a minute) tho it may be interesting wrt teasing out some distinctions regarding international law. Eg.: what is the purpose of an enforcer if the presence of an enforcer remains insufficient to compel a person to accept their obligations? I think the answer to that is that the purpose of an enforcer is to compel adherence to laws even if and especially when the individual fails to voluntarily accept their legal obligations and act consistently with them.

                But then you ask – or appear to ask – the following question: given that there is no enforcer at the international level, then, what compels a nation to honor their international commitments? In support of this, you say that even in the domestic case laws and enforcement aren’t sufficient to compel a person to accept his obligations.

                But I think the analogy is misplaced. At the international level, agreements are explicitly voluntarily entered into, and a nation enters into binding treaties with others on the presumption that they in fact accept the obligations incurred by doing so.

                So, going back to your comment, you say nothing compels one nation from abridging the treaty if at some later time that nation decides to do so. And that’s certainly true. But it should be clear that doing so violates the voluntarily entered into treaty in a way that a person breaking the speed limit on the highway doesn’t.

                And here’s where things got puzzling for me: the argument you presented as a justification for breaking that voluntary agreement is that a nation is, at the end of the day, the sole and final arbiter for determining what constitutes just laws for it.

                Perhaps. But only by (unilaterally) breaking previously entered into agreements that establish the rule of law amongst that nation’s diplomatic and trade partners. So my objection, to repeat it in the context of this comment, is that a nation cannot unilaterally alter it’s international commitments without violating treaties establishing bi-lateral and multilateral rules of law.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Re-reading it, that comment is all over the place. part of that is probably due a lack of understanding what you’re argument here is since it’s pretty obvious to me that unilaterally altering international commitments violates international treaties and whatnot.

                So I’m probably not understanding the point you’re making.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ahhh, I missed your point here. {I’m watching football, and as a result easily distracted.} I went in a different direction.

                Yeah, I see what you’re getting at. I don’t see how the premise is lost. Your premise was that lefties advocate for certain policies to achieve the goal of being more like Europe. The SC situation doesn’t support that premise.

                Earlier, I rejected that premise. I’ve just never seen a lefty argue that being more like Europe is the goal of their policy advocacy. I guess I’m still standing by that.Report

        • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

          Absolutely, and that goes double when one of our pure and perfect Americanisms has been sullied by depraved foreigners who’ve made use of it, and we, like mother birds, feel compelled to push it from the nest to die.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

          Isn’t the implication that being pro-American requires an a priori rejection of any policy if it’s already adopted by another country, independent from any consideration of that policy’s merits?

          It’s not like it’s just one or two things. On virtually every dimension on which the US differs from, say, Sweden, a leftist will say that Sweden is better, even morally superior.

          In what sense can someone said to be pro-American if he thinks that other countries are superior and holds a low opinion of Americans? Can you say that a Klansman is pro-black people, but just wishes they were a little whiter?Report

          • Can’t speak for leftists, but a rational individual would refrain from making such absurd and simplistic comparisons between two very different entities, though I understand that they are compulsory in some circles. Many on the left think that some adjustments in the direction of “conservatopia” would be great for the U.S. and its people. In what sense does seeking something that would be great for America make someone anti-American?Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              Well, there’s anti-Americanism in the sense of hating the American people. Call it strong anti-Americanism. But there’s also anti-Americanism in the sense of disliking the American system (as opposed to the Scandinavian system, say). Call it weak anti-Americanism. Many leftists subscribe to a form of weak anti-Americanism.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Absolute nonsense, larded with weasel words much as a terrine with lardons. The American System, eh? American system of what? Most of the laws which apply to us are state laws anyway. The very idea that there is an American System is just jingo bullshit and we both know it.

                “Many” Leftists, eh? Who’s recommending a Yurrapeon system for anything over here in the Land of the Free? We Lefties are working very hard to get STATE laws overturned so our fellow citizens, who just happen to be TEH GAYZ and LURZBIANS can get MARRIED. Where are the Conservatives on that issue? Against it, of korse. Boy howdy. The American System at work in the Land of the Free. Except the Freedom to Get Married and file a joint tax return. Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Barry Goldwater, 1964:

        Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.

        Sarah Palin. 2008:

        We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America

        But there’s nothing anti-American about disliking large numbers of your fellow countrymen, so long as they’re Easterners and urbanites rather than real Americans. Mad Magazine noted this many years ago:

        This man is a Super Patriot. He loves real Americans. He hates liberals, hippies, teenagers, gays, government workers, atheists, people on welfare, college professors, unions, politicians, the people who show that filth on TV, the people who watch that filth on TV, people who don’t look like real Americans, people who don’t sound like real Americans, and people who don’t think like real Americans.

        A Super Patriot is someone who loves his country while hating 90% of the people in it.Report

        • Nothing says “God Bless America” like a burning flag, Mike.

          As for Mad Magazine, it was a creature of its time and of the island of Manhattan. Its claim here about who is the “90%” of America is as preposterous as #Occupy’s claim to represent 99.

          That said, I think there is a valid claim made for the “Americanism of Progressivism” in all this grenade toss we’ve had lately, specifically for “Midwest” progressivism.

          Credit where it’s due, Senator Al Franken, who visited and entertained our troops on the front well before he ran for office. Sens. Russ Feingold, the late Paul Wellstone. Walter Mondale, Dick Gephardt. The Happy Warrior Hubert Humphrey.

          As for Northeastern liberalism, I’m not as much an admirer. California progressivism—and I’m an immigrant to California, I’m on the fence. From what NPR tells me, the California legislature was so corrupt that the Initiative [plebiscite] process was introduced to end-run the legislature.

          I fishing hate direct democracy, but if they hadn’t passed the infamous Proposition 13* before I got here, I’d have come, saw, been conquered, and left by now.

          • Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Yet another reason to hate Prop 13 (which I already did).Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            So, what percentage of your countrymen do you get to hate while loving your country?Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            A burning flag represents the freedom to burn that flag.Report

          • Liberty60 in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Pivoting off the Midwest Progressives comment, it should be noted that the Midwest farmers were the base of the Populists, and groups like the Grange proposed efforts such as:

            “Cooperative purchasing ventures as a means to obtain lower prices on farm equipment and supplies
            Pooling of savings as an alternative to dependence on corrupt banks, an early form of credit union
            Cooperative grain elevators to hold non-perishable crops until the optimal times to sell
            An abortive effort to manufacture farm equipment; this venture depleted the Granger organization’s funds and was instrumental in its decline.”

            America has always held individual achievement as a virtue, but has also held community and collective effort as a virtue as well; trying to turn one of these into the Real Authentic Americanism is a sham. The mechanisms of Progressivism such as Social Security, the Commerce Act, and so on are as American as apple pie.Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Liberty60 says:

              Community is voluntary cooperation, not coerced redistribution.

              As I pointed out at the tail end of another thread, there’s a certain element of cargo-cult thinking in the left-wing conception of community. In a community, people help each other out. So all we have to do is confiscate money from some people and give it to others, and then we’ll have community. Anyone who thinks this is a bad idea must be anti-communitarian.Report

  8. CK MacLeod says:

    TVD @

    You say:

    If there was any thought absolutely foreign to the founders of our country, surely it was the notion that we Americans should be governed the way that Europeans are – and nothing has changed.

    The first part is misstated, and the tense – “are” – is misleading in both parts. I think that you and I agree with Wood that at latest by 1787 the Founders had arrived at something innovative, indeed quite progressive, compared to anything on offer from the Euros. So, in that sense, it’s clear that they believed that Americans could, must, and should be governed differently from the way that Europeans were governed. Since that time, however, key elements of the American system of government have been exported or adopted worldwide, according to many of the Founders’ fondest hopes, and in key instances according to the efforts of later Americans. So in some respects the equation is reversible, and Europe and America are in fact governed if not in identical ways than at least according to many shared assumptions.

    In other respects, then even more than now, the Founders were desperate to be recognized as governing in a same enough way as to be recognized in international law as a sovereign power. Much of the course and outcome of the Revolution was determined by precisely this determination – to be recognized according to your Grotius-Suarez international law as “just enemy” to the British rather than as “rebel” (essentially “criminal”) allowing for exchange of ambassadors, fair treatment under the laws of war, and so on.

    In neither sense, then, is it justified to assume that either the Founders or any other rational American would reject an idea, law, or practice simply because it was European. They themselves – their languages, their religions, their philosophies, their assumptions – largely derived from Europe. I think what’s more true is that the Europeanness of America has been a basic question of American identity from before the Founding and, apparently, remains problematic up to the present day, inspiring widely variant and sometimes contradictory responses.Report

    • CK, that’s Justice Scalia, at the mention of whose name some readers cannot hold their water. ;-P Thus the obliqueness. Unsurprisingly, I agree with him—for my own reasons, but also for his excellent thumbnail of the history of American civil law. [But the gentle reader will notice Scalia’s rejection of natural law for positive law, so there!]

      His thesis is well-stated in this speech, which I’ll link to again. I originally saw it on C-SPAN in 2006 , it used to be transcribed at the now-vanished Ninoville website, and I have retrieved it for the edification of all via the Wayback Machine. It’s the best unfiltered representation of his thought I’ve come across.

      I do agree with you that the American Founding political theology is unique*; I do not agree it has traveled well. The difference between the American and French revolutions tells the story: on the surface they are cut of identical cloth–Jefferson in particular believed so–but John Adams, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and that “dirty little atheist**” Tom Paine hisself realized that something was very very wrong in France.


      *A combination of Salamancan scholasticism, Dutch calvinism, and the Scottish common Sense enlightenment. By contrast, the continental Enlightenment of the philosophes, say Voltaire and Rousseau, is scarce to be found on the american shores. See the exquisite Himmelfarb, G., Billy Kristol’s mom.

      **TR’s description. The irony is that Paine believed he was going to revolutionary France to save them from atheism!Report

      • TVD, when you say that the “American Founding political theology” has not “traveled well,” I understand what you’re getting at, but no revolutionary re-orientation or founding of “new modes and orders” can be expected to go easily – when has it ever? (“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Earth.”) It took 150 years to complete the bloody destruction of the Eurocentric order – a vast process that spanned the globe – and for the New Order of the Ages to take its place. It took the world 60 years to absorb the new situation, which involves a series of difficult, complex, and in some cases counterintuitive, contradictory, unpredictable, and unexpected processes. Furthermore, events of world-historical significance are never merely external events. They are always events of the observer’s own self-understanding as well, to whatever extent they are actually being understood and absorbed. The observer’s own intentions and preferences will be implicated at every step, even as the effort to guard against bias through the suspension of judgment is mistrusted by the politically engaged, rarely or never accepted on its own terms, and is instead reflexively attributed to the friend or the enemy.Report

  9. CK MacLeod says:

    BlaiseP @

    They’re the inverse of the Progressive. They’re the Regressives.

    Their predicament is rather worse or more unhappily self-contradictory than that, since they are seeking to protect or conserve a moment distinguished by its radical progressiveness, something that in your desire to break their idolatry of the Founders you sometimes, in my opinion, underrate. The constitutional conservatives seize upon a vector and insist on treating it as the final resultant, but it continually escapes their grasp and pulls them along anyway, and we get this ridiculously ironic spectacle of their constantly exposing their own un-Americanism of the spirit in their effort to declare others objectively un-American. It is perfectly in keeping with the paradoxes of the so-called American Idea that its self-appointed guardians would be its worst traitors, to the point that America may soon be compelled to reject it as a lethal threat, thus completing its realization.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I’m not sure I’m parsing the first sentence correctly. Am I underrating the Founders? Or am I underrating the predicament faced by those who overrate the Founders? I presume it’s the former, since I have of late been saying things to the effect that the Founders’ intentions are more clearly seen in the Constitution of 1789 and the Federalist/Anti-Federalist Papers than in the Declaration of Independence.Report

  10. CK MacLeod says:

    Stillwater @

    There are two sets of problems that get tangled up here. There are problems with theories of the law that apply in all contexts (what is law, and how does it work?), and there are problems of international law specifically. Any problem of law in general will apply to international law specifically, and certain problems of law in general are exposed more clearly in the discussion on international law. It may even turn out that all problems of international law are versions of problems of law in general that simply are easier to “paper over” in national or sub-national contexts.

    If all law – both as corpus of statutes and ordinances and so on, and as basis of actually functioning jurisprudence – rests in the final analysis on authority, essentially violence or threat of violence (negative consequences), but functions best when its fundamental premises (or ground norms) are simply accepted without question and can be taken as good in themselves, then we can say that we are much more habituated to obeying and believing in the law of our city, state, and nation than we are in unquestioningly accepting the dictates of some global political sovereign. If the US Congress adopted laws against gun ownership, citing a reading of the 2nd Amendment as applying only to militias, there might be blood. If the UN General Assembly passed such a law, there would first be laughter, followed by even greater lessening of interest in the US and other gun-totin national cultures from whatever the GA had to say on other subjects.

    International law has been built up and moved forward with consciousness of its limitations, but also with express ambitions to alter the above situation in key areas. Panicky propaganda notwithstanding, I don’t think we have much to worry about on gun control from the UN or any other world body anytime soon, but international human rights law really does embrace a world-historical alteration in the notion of sovereignty – or, as some put it, envisions and seeks to bring about a post-sovereign regime of law. In the U.S., where a national-level sense of popular sovereignty remains very strong, the idea is almost unimaginable, and it’s not entirely clear that it will even survive in Europe, where attachment to national sovereignty had faded enough to make the EU seem practicable, but which is showing signs of revival. Yet a global consciousness and the global aspect of human life won’t disappear just because we don’t yet appear ready for true global law overriding national self-consciousness and interest. Trying to say much on this subject leads rather inexorably to a prophetic rather than merely analytical discourse.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I’m definitely sympathetic to the argument that nations are politically autonomous entities that have a valid claim to accepting, rejecting or violating multilateral agreements. I’m also sympathetic to the more conservative argument you’re making here that domestic culture will to a great degree determine the acceptance of, or efficacy of, specific internationally imposed (?) provisions.

      Frankly, I think what you’ve written here is a good description of the state of play at a global level. Apart from the EU (and even then, as you say, nationalism may be on the rise there again) international relations is very much a “state of nature”: self-interest is the sole determiner of individual action and “might” tends to make “right” in all too many instances. But I also think it’s evidence that the trivial, naive, or question-begging understandings of the state of nature are incorrect: even when there is no sovereign t act as enforcer, rational self-interest compels individual (nations) to act in ways that would otherwise be considered “moral” or at least in mutually beneficial ways. (I’ll conveniently leave out a critique of the one nation which consistently fails to act in pro-social or otherwise moral ways on the international stage.) Militarism to achieve nationalistic goals is on the way out; mutually beneficial economic partnership is on the rise; and the stability of the rule of law established merely by multilateral treaties and trade agreements in the absence of a global enforcer becomes increasingly hard to deny.

      In short: it is increasingly evident that national self-interest is furthered by voluntarily abiding by international agreements, and is increasingly undermined by violating those agreements. Even the Iraq war presents evidence in support of this thesis, I should think. Something that I’m sure doesn’t go unnoticed by US planners.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

        Could be too optimistic, Mr. Water. It’s not difficult to imagine circumstances in which apparent progress toward de-militarization of conflicts reverses. Some have also speculated about an end of mass warfare typical of the period of the rise and consolidation of modern nation-states, but a return to older patterns of warmaking with new weaponry and new types of social organizations. Anyway, we don’t know how things will work in an emergent (or potentially emergent) multi-polar world order with globalized supply chains and communications; weapons of mass destruction; diverse major demographic, ecological, and economic pressures producing diverse winners and losers. Anyway, I’d recommend giving it a little time, a few centuries maybe, before you decide that war is over.Report