Thucydides Update

Eugene Volokh responds to my nitpicking with characteristic good humor. He makes the slightly post-modern point that, whatever Thucydides intended by his words, they mean what they say, and are available for use for whatever purpose they serve.

Reader Willard Moore states what I take to be the conventional interpretation of the text:

My reading is that Thucydides was a great admirer of Pericles, and believed that Pericles’ war plans were intelligent and rational. The later Athenian leaders, whom Thucydides despised, may have overreached, but not Pericles. So I don’t think that we are meant to hear in the funeral oration any mockery of Pericles’ supposed hubris.

Iain Murray adds that the dating of composition contradicts my proposed reading; the section containing the Funeral Oration would have predated the disasters.

On the other hand, according to my teacher Harvey Mansfield, Leo Strauss’s chapter on Thucydides in The City and Man argues that the historian is less admiring of Pericles than shows on the surface of the text. And of course — this is Eugene’s point played backwards — the words of Pericles could seem ironic to us now, even if Thucydides didn’t intend them ironically. On balance, though, it would appear that I failed to “nicely weigh the perils” of classical scholarship.

On the substance of the issue, Eugene and I wind up agreeing that we ought to weigh the perils of war with the proper degree of nicety. Perhaps he and I differ on whether excess or defect of nicety is the more likely problem, and which is the greater threat to our well-being.

Playing The Race Card

You’ll be pleased to learn that GOPAC, headed by Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, has stopped running an ad claiming that Social Security is “reverse reparations” because blacks, being shorter-lived than whites on average, contribute more than they collect.

Here’s the text, courtesy of Tapped,(the blog offshoot of The American Prospect) via CalPundit. Tapped mentions what I’d forgotten, that GOPAC is Gingrich’s old slush fund.

Unidentified Woman: You’ve heard about reparations, you know, where whites compensate blacks for enslaving us. Well, guess what we’ve got now? Reverse reparations. Under Social Security today, blacks receive twenty one thousand dollars less in retirement benefits than whites of similar income and marital status. In the U.S. of A., white men live seven years longer than black men. One third of the brothers die before retirement and receive nothing. Almost half the married sisters lose their husbands before they rank Social Security spousal benefits. President George Bush proposed reforms that help our community in three ways. First, we get a higher minimum benefit. Second, our women get their fair share in their spouses Social Security. And, third, blacks get retirement accounts with real financial assets. So the next time some Democrat says he won’t touch Social Security, ask why he thinks blacks owe reparations to whites?

Apparently the maker of the ad was the one who did the “diversity” school-choice ad a couple of years ago. Here’s the AP story.

The ethics of this sort of racial appeal are too obvious to need comment. But can you imagine the brouhaha if some Democrat had called the repeal of the estate tax “racist” because blacks are much less likely than whites to die rich?

The analytics of the claim itself are trickier.

Social Security certainly does favor the long-lived, and the racial gap in longevity is very substantial, greater than would be predicted from the disparity in income. On the other hand, the Social Security formula favors lower-paid participants relative to higher-paid ones, and blacks on average are poorer than whites. I don’t know how it nets out. If any reader can enlighten me I’ll be glad to pass the information along.

[I’ve added a link to the Daily Kos, where I first found this. J. Bradford deLong double-stars it and, and the material is extensive, sober, and well-written. A good bookmark for partisan Democrats, of whom I’m proud to be one.]


Enlightenment, as requested, from Max Sawicky, who does this stuff for a living:

“The trick in re: life expectancy and SocSec is that conditional on reaching age 18, black-white life expectancies are much closer. Of course, you don’t pay payroll taxes until you work, generally not until you’re out of high school. A good part of the gap is due to infant mortality.

“The Urban Institute has research that blows the racial injustice premise out of the water — the truth is in the other direction. The redistributive component and Disability Insurance favor minorities.”

Further On Preventive War

Chris Bertram (Junius) has provided a detailed critique of my “one-free-bite” argument vis-a-vis preventive war with Iraq. Anyone who was at all persuaded by the original ought to review the response, much of which seems sound to me. In particular, Junius makes a good case that the proponents of initiating hostilities bear the burden of showing, at least a preponderance of evidence, and maybe something more than that, that their proposed course of action is the better one. That still strikes me as a different matter from the “burden of proof” in an evidentiary sense. The inference from Iraqi refusal of inspections to an Iraqi attempt to build a nuclear weapon wouldn’t pass muster in a courtroom, but I see no reason to wait until we find the smoking missle silo.

Junius accepts my Rhineland analogy, and replies that France would not have been justified, on facts then available, in intervening to prevent remilitarization. He argues that, since the French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 to enforce reparations payments was clearly a bad thing to do, kicking the German Army out of the Rhineland in 1936 would have been a bad thing to do.

I don’t see how that follows. Not paying reparations was not a threatening act; moving troops into a demilitarized zone was a threatening act, as is preparing weapons of mass destruction. I still maintain that a threatening act, in violation of a treaty made to end a previous conflict by the aggressor in that conflict, can justify a warlike response that would not be justified absent the treaty and the previous aggression.

Again, whether making such a response in the Iraqi case would be prudent is a different question.

“The Whole Earth is the Tomb of Famous Men”

My friend and colleague Eugene Volokh, who thinks we should go to war, quotes Thucydides: “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage.”

Here’s the full passage, in a different translation. It’s from the great Funeral Oration of Pericles:

For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. Make them your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war.

The language is magnificent; but the context made it deeply ironic then, and its use now in the pro-war cause is not less ironic. Pericles had just led the Athenians into the Peloponnesian war, and the speech, given after its first, victorious, year, is confident of victory, even somewhat boastful. Yet Thucydides’ readers knew that this was to be the high-water mark of Athenian greatness: what was to follow was defeat, conquest, and the imposition of a Quisling government. Later Athens was to regain its independence, but not its hegemony, and its permanently poisoned relationships with the other poleis were to lead, in the next century, to the conquest of all of Greece by the Macedonians under Philip and Alexander.

So when Pericles urges his hearers not to “weigh too nicely the perils of war,” we are meant to hear in the background Thucydides’ sardonic laughter. Pericles took his own advice (or perhaps Thucydides put into the mouth of Pericles words appropriate to his actions), and the result was catastrophe.

Going to war with Iraq may be the safest, smartest thing we could possibly do; reading the arguments made against it is almost enough to make me think so. What worries me is that I do not now see in power men and women who nicely weigh the perils of war. Rather, I think I see a truly Periclean hubris, albeit expressed in much less stirring language.

America is, in many ways, the new Athens. The parallels between the Peloponnesian war and the Cold War are almost eerie: a land-based, insular, impoverished, culturally conservative and backward land power against a wealthy, mercantile, culturally rich, heterogeneous, and innovative democracy. Only this time the good guys won.

Let’s not have it go to our heads. A calculating boldness a virtue; rashness is a vice. There are better uses for the whole earth than to make it our tomb.

… AND the horse he rode in on!

The New York Times quotes Jeb Bush on the disaster he just presided over:

Mr. Bush said Florida’s new system was still a significant improvement over the one in place in 2000. Of Ms. Reno’s troubles at her precinct Tuesday morning, Mr. Bush said: “What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting? I don’t know.”

More Good News:

This just in from CNN:

In Georgia, state Rep. Billy McKinney, the father of controversial U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, lost in the Democratic runoff to keep the state House seat he has held for three decades. His daughter was ousted in a Democratic primary three weeks ago by former state judge Denise Majette.

Somehow CNN is too polite to mention his anti-Semitic rant after his daughter lost, blaming it all on “the Jews. That’s J-E-W-S.”

You lose, Billy. That’s L-O-S-E.

McBride Will Beat Reno

No one else will call it, so I will: McBride beats Reno.

Right now, he’s up by just under 24,000 votes, or 1.8%, with only 4.5% left to count. About 13% of Miami-Dade is still out; Reno was ahead by 63,000 in the remainder of Miami-Dade, so a straight-line projection has her picking up 63,000 (13/87) = 9500 there. Palm Beach should give her another 4000 or so net, Broward another 1000. No reason to think she’ll have much of an edge among the absentees or provisional votes. So it looks like McBride, and by enough of a margin to avoid an automatic recount, unless those missing precincts in Miami went for Reno even more lopsidedly than the rest of the county.

UPDATE: Herald calls it for McBride. Bride’s lead down to 11,000, but with only 1% left to count. Lots of horror stories, including a precinct where votes were counted for 900% of those registered and another where only one vote was cast. Reno’s people making ugly noises.

Oh, and the anti-gay-rights initiative went down, though not by very much. Apparently much of the Cuban leadership was persuaded that this was a human rights issue. Of course the Castro regime has a pretty horrible record of persecuting gays.

The Left Doesn’t Hate America

Max Sawicky has what strikes me as a quite eloquent defense of “the left” against the charge of being somehow sympathetic with fundamentalist terrorism, or thinking that the US somehow “had it coming.”

On the other hand, Max’s blog also has an extended quote from Tom Hayden that would sound like self-parody if it didn’t sound so much like the real thing.

The litmus test for political bravery at present is whether one questions the framework of the war on terrorism. Progressives might still disagree about whether a U.S. military response against al-Qaida was justified, but all can agree that while seeking to demobilize al-Qaida is one thing, using September 11 as a pretext for an open-ended war leading to a new empire is, to say the least, a policy requiring debate. Even if one supports the right of U.S. self-defense against al-Qaida, there should be broad consensus on the need for congressional hearings and oversight. Patriotism should not mean the restoration of the imperial presidency.

Isn’t that “even if ” just too perfect? It will no doubt greatly relieve you to know that Hayden, from his lofty moral eminence, is willing to consider, just as a possiblity, that we had a right to take military action against the murderers of 3000 of our people. But sitting safely in Santa Monica, he can’t resist preening himself on the “political bravery” required to say exactly what all his friends want to hear.

Someone ought to construct a master list of People We’ve Heard Just About Enough Out Of, Thank You. Hayden and Ralph Nader, each of them responsible for tipping a close election the wrong way and neither of them repentant, would be two of my leading candidates.

Florida Election Fiasco

Wonder if there’s going to be any real outrage over the latest Florida election fiasco, as described here in the Miami Herald and here in the Washington Post? Gov. Jeb Bush, who’d already been helping Janet Reno by running ads against her opponent (who might actually give Jeb a run for his money), helped a little more by extending voting for two hours. (Wonder if he’ll do the same in November?)

Bush and his Secetary of State (the one who replaced Katherine Harris after she resigned — after the deadline embodied in laws she was supposed to be enforcing — to run for a safe House seat) expressed outrage at the foul-up, just as if the Governor and the chief elections official had no responsiblity for it at all. (The Post reports that the Secretary of State had been told of the developing disaster in Broward County the night before, and refused to act.) Hasn’t anyone in Florida ever heard of a dry run?

It’s worked out perfectly for Buth, too: probably close enough for a recount, which will keep the Democrats in disarray for another couple of weeks. Not much hope that Reno, who looks as if she’s going to finish just a little behind, will do the right thing. All I can hope is that Democratic voters will stay mad about this, rather than getting resigned to it.

And what happened to the voting reform bill, anyway? Last I heard the House Republicans had it tied up in conference.