Friday, May 13, 2005

A Rant on David Horowitz / Political Documentaries

I've just finished reading David Horowitz's Radical Son. Radical Son is an immensely satisfying read that documents his change from a committed Marxist to a classical liberal. This autobiography covers his political transformation from his days as a Marxist political activist in the 1960s, to his role in the New Left throughout the 1970s to 1984 when he cast his vote in favor of Ronald Reagan.
I wont borther to review the book, which has been done by plently of other people. Instead I'll present a few insights and criticisms:
Matt Welch writes that Horowitz has made "made grave errors of judgment in the past. And yet many apparently believe that the best way of paying penance is not to quietly look inward, but to noisily accuse most anyone on the chunk of spectrum they just vacated of being anti-American, objectively pro-whateverist, and worse". Yet another Reason writer notes that the book is "intensely personal. To a greater extent than any other ex-revolutionary narrative, Horowitz's book includes confession, introspection, and embarrassing detail". Nevertheless, I still agree with Welch's criticism that "if I had ever been a Trotskyite, I'd spend one hell of a long time dwelling privately on my own character defects and terrible judgment, instead of immediately joining some other troupe & screeching out the same old insults to an appreciative (and forgetful) new audience."
Another criticism I have of Horowitz is that his transformation into a conservative isn't a fully-fledged ideological transformation. This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens, another writer I admire. Horowitz writes that "despite Chistopher Hitchens’ fluid and interesting new politics, he seems to still share many of the social illusions of his progressive mentors" which he argues is manifested in his nostalgia for the Allende regime in Chile. You can also see it in his relucance to criticise certain figures of the Left, his belief in the power of Marxist philosophy (e.g. dialectical materalism) and his skepticism towards the power of free-markets to reduce and eliminate poverty. Yet Horowitz never considers that he may be guilty of the crime. Welch echos this as he "firmly believes that Trotskyites rarely change their warped mental and rhetorical habits". Horowitz believes that the best way of challenging the Left is "to speak in the voice of the New Left--outraged, aggressive, morally certain". That tactic may work for Ayn Rand - because she WAS right - but it won't work for someone who doesn't have a coherent & comprehensive philosophy. Indeed, as the Reason review notes, Horowitz is largely thought of as a man against the left, rather than a man for conservatism. Horowitz needs to remember that in order to fight against something one must fight FOR something. The battle is primarily intellectual (philosophical) not political. As Ayn Rand wrote "You cannot fight or change the consequences without fighting and changing the cause; nor can you attempt any practical implementation without knowing what you want to implement". A consequence of this is that he's prepared to accept a wide variety of 'conservatives'. Example: His hiring of Ann Coulter after she was fired from National Review. Horowitz does freedom little help by organising a vague and contradictory (he's an agonistic (i.e. atheist) and yet he aids religious right voices) movement that sells out fundamental principles (i.e. secularism) for the "sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail".

On another note, this Liberty Film Festival sounds cool, pity they don't have one here. This documentary 'Is It True What They Say About Ann?' seems mildy interesting if only because it might explain why Ann is so hysterical towards those who don't share her agenda. These two documentaries also look promising:
Gaza Strip
Control Room
Anyone seen either?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

John Bolton & The UN

In an earlier post, I argued John Bolton was the right candidate for the U.S ambassador to the U.N precisely because of his contempt for the global body. Like almost all Libertarians, I view the United Nations as a "criminal enterprise in which no moral nation should ever participate, let alone perpetuate. " Philosophically Bolton appears to be on our wavelength, as these statements indicate:
"[M]any Republicans in Congress--and perhaps a majority--not only do not care about losing the General Assembly vote but actually see it as a 'make my day' outcome. Indeed, once the vote is lost… this will simply provide further evidence to why nothing more should be paid to the UN system." The Washington Times, 1998
"Support for the International Criminal Court concept is based largely on emotional appeals to an abstract ideal of an international judicial system." Statement before the House International Relations Committee, 2000.
General Assembly Resolutions and international conference declarations, (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Agenda 21, and the Millennium Declaration) are “mind-numbing.” Policy Review. Bring Back the Laxalt Doctrine, 2000.

Ayn Rand summed up the philosophical case against United Nations when she wrote that "as an institution allegedly dedicated to peace, freedom, and human rights" it includes "Soviet Russia - the most brutal aggressor, the bloodiest dictatorship, the largest-scale mass-murderer and mass-enslaver in all history - among its charter members". She took this observation to its logical conclusion: "it is so grotesquely evil an affront to reason, morality and civilisation that no further discussion is necessary". However it is necessary to point out the consequences, which she did:
"The communist world has gained a moral sanction, a stamp of civilised respectability from the Western world - it has gained the West's assistance in deceiving its victims - it has gained the status and prestige of an equal partner, thus establishing the notion that the difference between human rights and mass slaughter is merely a difference of political opinion"
The communist world also gained from collobration as it could benefit from the free countries "material, financial, scientific, and intellectual resources; the free countries have nothing to gain from the communist countries. Therefore, the only form of common policy or compromise possible between two such parties is the policy of property owners who make piecemeal concessions to an armed thug in exhcnage for his promise not to rob them". (Take note North Korean appeasers)
Thus the case against the UN is a case against collaboration with evil. It is the case that you can't expect results from "a crime fighting committee whose board of directors includes the leading gangsters of the community". A more acceptable ideal than the UN would be a 'Community of Democracies'. This would be closer to what by 19th century liberals like Immanuel Kant (In Toward Perpetual Peace) advocated.

Foreign Policy has an exchange between two academics over John Bolton's nomination. It provides a good demonstration of the dogmatic mentality of pro-UN academics. The author, Morton H. Halperin, argues that "the core of what he [Bolton] believes totally repudiates the notion that the basic objective of U.S. policy should be to build international institutions and international law that, over time, make the United States and the world more secure. He believes that idea is fundamentally misguided. It’s a legitimate intellectual position, but a person holding that view cannot be an effective U.S. ambassador to the United Nations." As the other academic rightly argued, Bolton does not reject the basic objectives of U.S. policy but the way it has been carried out. The academic notes that "people who take international law seriously should take its substance seriously". I would also note that those who offer a powerful critique of the United Nations shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Labelling him as a "dangerous ideologue", "treaty killer", "undersecretary for chads" and the "anti-diplomat" will not suffice as criticism. Bolton's objections to the UN, whilst not going far enough, do address significant and fundamental issues. They ought to be dealt with.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Some Thoughts on NZ Defence

Aaron Bhatnagar has written an insightful post on New Zealand's defence and in particular, what he believes our military requirements should be. Most of you have probably heard the announcement that our Government is going to increase defence spending by 44%. While this is to appauled we ought to remember what else our government has done to New Zealands defence*. Robert Ayson, the Director of the Strategic and Defence studies at the Australian National University points out that "most of it is actually going in operational expenditure, so it's designed to support things like personnel numbers, infrastructure, stocks and reserves and depreciation" hence it does represent a policy shift but in fact a confirmation of their policy. It is Labour's policy that I would like to examine here.
I've recently been researching on the implications of ending our air combat capability (hence why I haven't posted in a while). I wish to make some observations in this area thus contributing to the debate over our defence requirements.
- New Zealand is modernizing the army at the expense of other areas such as air combat. This is because we are percieved to be in an 'exceptionally benign strategic environment'. It also because the most likely role for the NZDF is peacekeeping and other non-military operations. It is these two ideas that ought to be challenged.
- New Zealand and Australia have vastly different strategic perceptions. Hugh Wright notes that this explains the "differences that have emerged in their defence postures in the last two decades." Unlike Wright I am concerned about this. The way I see it, if Australia is threatened, then so are we. Any problems they have could easily spill over to us. This is an example of how things have changed:
“In February when ministers were asked about the previous presumption that Australia and New Zealand are a single strategic entity and an attack on Australia would be regarded by Wellington as an attack on New Zealand, they shuffled into phrases such as “we haven’t been approaching it from the point of view of attack”
- This difference in strategic outlook has resulted in New Zealand moving further away from Australia. Check out this briefing paper prepared by the Center for Strategic Studies which discusses the consequences of ending our air combat capability.
- It has also resulted in us moving away from the United States. Cheap military deals may be harder to come by now. Another consequence was explained by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick when he “conceded that this new litmus test [of expecting co-operation] would make it difficult for the U.S. to consider a free trade deal with New Zealand, a nation which had failed to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq, and has long refused to allow nuclear powered vessels into its waters”
- Finally I'd like to add that any strategic outlook ought to have undergone under major revisions since September 11th. For example, what is NZ meant to do if a plane is hijacked here and then flown into the Sky tower? New threats have emerged. We need to be prepared.

Btw, more information on NZ Defence can be found at the New Zealand International Review web site.

* Message to National supporters: As Ayson notes, there was "underinvestment in Defence, particularly over the period of the 1990s" when National was in power. The 'Peace Dividend' excuse won't hold. National was wrong to cut defence spending as much as it did as it set a precedent for low defence spending. National supporters ought to take responsibility for this.