Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Founded by Mark Kleiman (1951-2019)
Author: James Wimberley
James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu MendonÃ§a. The cat overlords are now three.
I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naÃ¯f questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia.
James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web
It’s pretty simple, actually: those opposed to making citizens out of illegal immigrants say that it is wrong to be rewarded for violating the law. That’s true, as a general matter. (In my view, it is vastly overstated: we don’t take away someone’s license for a parking ticket.) But in any event, why not say that those illegal immigrants who want to become citizens have to pay a particular penalty?
I’d love to see the right wing, which has condemned Limbaugh’s probation/plea agreement as unduly harsh, answer this: why suddenly is it a free ride for an illegal immigrant to do precisely what Limbaugh must do, even though the immigrant (unlike LImbaugh) has not actually committed a crime?
The closing group photo-op of an EU summit with Latin America in Vienna last Friday was hijacked by Ms. Evangelina Carrozo, the carnival queen of Gualeguaychú in Argentina. The minders didn’t realize she is also a Greenpeace activist. She wangled a press pass and paraded a sign protesting a planned pulp mill (nothing to do with the meeting) before the assembled stuffed shirts, having first removed her own.
It was only a stunt, but the photo illustrates how the European project has lost the fizz, libido, sex-appeal, chutzpah that Ms Carrozo radiates. Jean Monnet had them: in 1914, as a young man of 25, he talked his way into the office of the French Prime Minister, René Viviani, and presented him with a plan for financing the French war effort; in 1934, he got round the unavailability of divorce in Italy by marrying his young Italian partner Silvia in Moscow; in 1951, already 62, he bounced the French government he worked for into the European Coal and Steel Community by manoeuvres that surpassed Sir Humphrey Appleby. Contrast the minimal results wrapped in diplomatic waffle of the gatecrashed Vienna summit, plainly not worth the air fares.
Modern humans emerged in Africa about 100,000 years ago, skilled hunter-gatherers like their hominid predecessors. In the expansion phase, we spread over six continents, while our culture differentiated into around 10,000 language communities. About 10,000 years ago, roughly when humans were reaching Patagonia, women gatherers in the Fertile Crescent domesticated grasses into cereal crops, and male hunters tamed sheep and goats. This revolution triggered population growth, specialisation and social stratification, organised religion, science, writing, and states. The interaction of states by trade, cultural exchange, migration, warfare, genocide, empire and law drives the contraction phase of human history, with steadily decreasing cultural diversity. We are now in the final phase, nearing a global unity – of peace or self-destruction.
The domestication of grass is the central event of secular history.
Rupert Murdoch hosts a fundraiser for Senator Hillary Clinton. Of course it’s significant. Murdoch may be a ruthless bastard, and deserved his kitsch immortality as the mogul Elliott Carver, villain of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, but he’s as cool and focused as Warren Buffett. To defend his media empire from regulators dreaming of such unhelpful concepts as balance and competition, he needs to be right on major political shifts. That’s why he ditched the Tories for Tony Blair in 1997. This is a classic hedge. Bill O’Reilly’s days may be short. “Number 17, you have failed miserably!” (strokes Persian cat, presses concealed button)
Why is the Pope still called the Supreme Pontiff of pagan Rome?
Michael O’Hare’s post below on Chinese bishops points out that the Vatican’s conflict with the PRC over the appointment of bishops closely parallels its mediaeval run-ins with Henri II Plantagenêt and the Emperor Heinrich IV. I follow Norman Davies’ convention of naming rulers in their usual language, which in Henri’s case wasn’t English. It wasn’t in any case diplomatese for either of them; a letter of Heinrich’s to Pope Gregory VII ends: I, Henry, king by the grace of God, with all of my Bishops, say to you, come down, come down, and be damned throughout the ages.
Toynbee is unfashionable but he was surely right to argue that the importance of these controversies was that nobody won: kings and popes checked each other in a fruitful Madisonian tension that nurtured modern political concepts. The Papacy only secured its current exclusive control over the appointment of bishops with the disappearance of the Catholic monarchs in the last century, an absurd centralisation which has allowed John-Paul II’s policy of appointing far too many second-rate yes-men.
Which brings me to the question: why does the Pope retain the bizarre title of Supreme Pontiff , the chief priest of the pagan civic cults of Ancient Rome?
It’s the 80th birthday of the Duchess of Normandy, aka Queen Elizabeth II. I’ll spare you the treacly tributes – clear subtext: carry on till you drop to spare us Charles III. The real world has intruded through the unlikely personage of her tasteless, laddish grandson Prince Harry, who has just graduated from Sandhurst (the British West Point). Note this clever headline. Dixit Harry:
There’s no way I’m going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.
Harry is plainly not bright or self-controlled enough to fake this, and will know the names of Matty Hull, Karl Shearer, and Alexander Tweedie – soldiers of his regiment killed in Iraq. So give him credit for a touch of the right stuff.
Mearheimer & Walt rely on an impossible theory of the national interest
What is the mindset that could lead Mearsheimer and Walt to such a strange view of the political struggle? Jacob Levy spots the clue, tucked away in footnote 1 to the less-read academic version of the paper:
Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about.
Read this twice. The national interest to the authors is an objective fact, floating Platonically above the mire of politics. It only needs elucidation by impartial experts in international relations for the ordinary voter or congressman to grasp it. This strange view is I think the professional ideology of diplomats, who quote with approval Lord Palmerston:
Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.
Pam did not, I’m sure, reach this view by burning the midnight oil over Rousseau and Hegel. I think he simply learnt it from observing Canning, Talleyrand and Metternich, who inherited it from their predecessors under the ancien régime, going back to Richelieu, Oxenstierna, de Witt and beyond. For all of these statesmen, the guardian of the national interest was the king, not the people.
My thesis: the theory of the objective national interest is wrong in general, and specifically incompatible with democracy.
Mearsheimer & Walt don’t understand American politics
The row over the the notorious paper on the Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt rumbles on in the letters page of the London Review of Books – including a surprisingly temperate piece by Alan Dershowitz, making some amends for this earlier rant. Mearsheimer & Walt will reply in the next issue (4 May).
There’s a good post by Jacob Levy that makes the point that Mearsheimer and Walt have a naï¿½ve idea of American society amd the struggle between interest groups. How can two very bright guys like the authors succeed in brutally competitive top-rank universities, located in in hard-bitten cities like Chicago and Boston, without apparently learning how politics actually works?
Henry Kissinger (still keeping the faith of cynicism) tries to defend the Bush doctrine of preventive war with the “what if Hitler had been stopped” trope:
Had Churchill’s early warning been heeded, the Nazi plague could have been destroyed at relatively little cost. A decade later, tens of millions of dead paid the price for the quest for certainty.
If France and Britain had wanted to fight Hitler before they actually did, they would not have needed any dubious theory of pre-emption or prevention. They only needed to stick by their treaty commitments: just for starters, Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the 1924 and 1935 Czechoslovak treaties with France. Hitler’s ostentatious scrapping of the armaments restrictions in the Versailles Treaty, the Anschluss, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936 could have been casus belli [mistake in Latin grammar fixed] by themselves. He wasn’t some possible future threat to international security but a serial violator of it, practically from the word go.
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