Friday, February 24, 2006

The sorcerer’s apprentice and shameless sycophants

I was hoping to share some of Lowith’s insights on Schmitt. Three factors have contributed to making for a slight detour. The most crucial was a comment left by a long-term reader Ali M in response to the last post.

And Mr. Limitedinc was also good enough to have drawn my attention a few days ago to an article, Jihad Unintended by Dimitri K. Simes , the president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest. I encourage you to read it carefully. The National Interest, of course, is the more serious version of the Weekly Standard.

Last but not least, our most renowned Choochoo man is at it again in his After Neoconservatism—having definitively seen the last stop of the-by-now infamous train of history on its predetermined sojourn which predictably ended up in Washington one too many times— trying to get us on board yet again for one last trip along the unknown tracks of some “Realistic Wilsonianism,” whatever that comes to mean.

Which all brought me back to re-reading Weber today:

"To take a stand, to be passionate--ira et studium--is the politician's element, and above all the element of the political leader. His conduct is subject to quite a different, indeed, exactly the opposite, principle of responsibility from that of the civil servant. The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction. This holds even if the order appears wrong to him and if, despite the civil servant's remonstrances, the authority insists on the order. Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces. The honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman, however, lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer. It is in the nature of officials of high moral standing to be poor politicians, and above all, in the political sense of the word, to be irresponsible politicians. In this sense, they are politicians of low moral standing, such as we unfortunately have had again and again in leading positions. This is what we have called Beamtenherrschaft [civil-service rule], and truly no spot soils the honor of our officialdom if we reveal what is politically wrong with the system from the standpoint of success. But let us return once more to the types of political figures….

Since the time of the constitutional state, and definitely since democracy has been established, the 'demagogue' has been the typical political leader in the Occident. The distasteful flavor of the word must not make us forget that not Cleon but Pericles was the first to bear the name of demagogue. In contrast to the offices of ancient democracy that were filled by lot, Pericles led the sovereign Ecclesia of the demos of Athens as a supreme strategist holding the only elective office or without holding any office at all. Modern demagoguery also makes use of oratory, even to a tremendous extent, if one considers the election speeches a modern candidate has to deliver. But the use of the printed word is more enduring. The political publicist, and above all the journalist, is nowadays the most important representative of the demagogic species….

One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion.

This means passion in the sense of matter-of-factness, of passionate devotion to a 'cause,' to the god or demon who is its overlord. It is not passion in the sense of that inner bearing which my late friend, Georg Simmel, used to designate as 'sterile excitation,' and which was peculiar especially to a certain type of Russian intellectual (by no means all of them!). It is an excitation that plays so great a part with our intellectuals in this carnival we decorate with the proud name of 'revolution.' It is a 'romanticism of the intellectually interesting,' running into emptiness devoid of all feeling of objective responsibility.

To be sure, mere passion, however genuinely felt, is not enough. It does not make a politician, unless passion as devotion to a 'cause' also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. 'Lack of distance' per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician. It is one of those qualities the breeding of which will condemn the progeny of our intellectuals to political incapacity. For the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul? Politics is made with the head, not with other parts of the body or soul. And yet devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone. However, that firm taming of the soul, which distinguishes the passionate politician and differentiates him from the 'sterilely excited' and mere political dilettante, is possible only through habituation to detachment in every sense of the word. The 'strength' of a political 'personality' means, in the first place, the possession of these qualities of passion, responsibility, and proportion.

Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one's self.

Vanity is a very widespread quality and perhaps nobody is entirely free from it. In academic and scholarly circles, vanity is a sort of occupational disease, but precisely with the scholar, vanity--however disagreeably it may express itself--is relatively harmless; in the sense that as a rule it does not disturb scientific enterprise. With the politician the case is quite different. He works with the striving for power as an unavoidable means. Therefore, 'power instinct,' as is usually said, belongs indeed to his normal qualities. The sin against the lofty spirit of his vocation, however, begins where this striving for power ceases to be objective and becomes purely personal self-intoxication, instead of exclusively entering the service of 'the cause.' For ultimately there are only two kinds of deadly sins in the field of politics: lack of objectivity and--often but not always identical with it--irresponsibility. Vanity, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible, strongly tempts the politician to commit one or both of these sins. This is more truly the case as the demagogue is compelled to count upon 'effect.' He therefore is constantly in danger of becoming an actor as well as taking lightly the responsibility for the outcome of his actions and of being concerned merely with the 'impression' he makes…

The mere 'power politician' may get strong effects, but actually his work leads nowhere and is senseless. (Among us, too, an ardently promoted cult seeks to glorify him.) In this, the critics of 'power politics' are absolutely right. From the sudden inner collapse of typical representatives of this mentality, we can see what inner weakness and impotence hides behind this boastful but entirely empty gesture."

Read Weber’s seminal lecture, Politics as Vocation. Whatever problems with/distance from Weber’s positions might characterize my own readings of him at the moment; he does express--far better than I ever could--my utter contempt for Fukuyama’s empty gesture.

And I urge you, Ali M, to take some of Weber’s more insightful musings more seriously irrespective of how you’ve chosen to define your politics at the moment.

And from Mr. Simes’ Jihad Unintended:

"Many realize that Al-Qaeda grew in part from the mujaheddin Washington armed and supported to drive out the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. But few are aware of the full impact of U.S. decisions at key points both before and after the Soviet intervention-decisions taken by several successive U.S. administrations-that unintentionally breathed life into this Frankenstein monster.

ACCORDING TO former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now one of the most acerbic critics of President Bush's handling of both Iraq and radical Islam, the Carter Administration authorized a covert CIA operation, notwithstanding an expectation that it would provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998, Brzezinski said that clandestine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began months before the Soviet invasion; in fact, he added, he wrote a note to President Carter predicting that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." As Brzezinski put it, "we didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." And even in hindsight, Brzezinski thought "that secret operation was an excellent idea", because "it had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap" and exploited "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War."

Of course, this is not what the Carter Administration told Congress or the American people at the time.

In view of Soviet expansionism elsewhere, the United States had little choice but to fight the invasion of Afghanistan once it occurred. But supporting resistance to a Soviet occupation is very different from intentionally "increasing the probability" of a Soviet invasion.

More recently, Brzezinski has acknowledged that one of his motives in entangling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was promoting the liberation of Central Europe by diverting Soviet attention from responding more forcefully to Solidarity's challenge. Yet, desirable as this end might have been, one may question whether it justified using means that would provoke an almost decade-long war in Afghanistan that both devastated the country and jump-started a global Islamic jihad against America.

As the world's only superpower, the United States can have a profound influence-deliberately and inadvertently-on the international system and many of its component parts. Yet America is not unlike the Sorcerer's Apprentice in its ability to set in motion forces so momentous that it may lack the power to stop or divert them. Because there is no sorcerer to rescue us from the unintended results of our actions, we have a special responsibility to consider our policies very carefully."

Isn’t it odd, how those most prone to lecturing others about responsibility are themselves most callously intransigent in their unwilling to take their own responsibility for much of anything seriously. They can’t be blamed exclusively for this, though, as most of us are the ones who let them get away with it most of the times.

The omnipresent, cowardly charges of “anti-Americanism” and “moral equivalency,” remains the most overused and worn out prophylactics of choice for many.

And as long as it does no escaping from our many false hopes or our myriad foolish fears.

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