Friday, March 08, 2013

Drones too convenient to keep overseas

2013-03-08 14:10:54
I shall leave it to others to argue the legal and constitutional questions surrounding drones, but they are not without practical application. For the past couple of years, Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, has had Predator drones patrolling the U.S. border. No, silly, not the southern border. The northern one. You gotta be able to prioritize, right? At Derby Line, Vt., the international frontier runs through the middle of the town library and its second-floor opera house. If memory serves, the stage and the best seats are in Canada, but the concession stand and the cheap seats are in America. Despite the zealots of Homeland Security's best efforts at afflicting residents of this cross-border community with ever more obstacles to daily life, I don't recall seeing any Predator drones hovering over Non-Fiction E-L. But, if there are, I'm sure they're entirely capable of identifying which delinquent borrower is a Quebecer and which a Vermonter before dispatching a Hellfire missile to vaporize him in front of the Large Print Romance shelves.
I'm a long, long way from Rand Paul's view of the world (I'm basically a 19th century imperialist a hundred years past sell-by date), but I'm far from sanguine about America's drone fever. For all its advantages to this administration – no awkward prisoners to be housed at Gitmo, no military casualties for the evening news – the unheard, unseen, unmanned drone raining down death from the skies confirms for those on the receiving end al-Qaida's critique of its enemies: as they see it, we have the best technology and the worst will; we choose aerial assassination and its attendant collateral damage because we are risk-averse, and so remote, antiseptic, long-distance, computer-programmed warfare is all that we can bear. Our technological strength betrays our psychological weakness.


And, in a certain sense, they're right: Afghanistan is winding down, at best, to join the long list of America's unwon wars, in which, 48 hours after departure, there will be no trace that we were ever there. The guys with drones are losing to the guys with fertilizer – because they mean it, and we don't. The drone thus has come to symbolize the central defect of America's "war on terror," which is that it's all means and no end: We're fighting the symptoms rather than the cause.
For a war without strategic purpose, a drone'll do. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen born in New Mexico, was whacked by a Predator not on a battlefield but after an apparently convivial lunch at a favorite Yemeni restaurant. Two weeks later, al-Awlaki's son Abdulrahman was dining on the terrace of another local eatery when the CIA served him the old Hellfire Special and he wound up splattered all over the patio. Abdulrahman was 16, and born in Denver. As I understand it, the Supreme Court has ruled that American minors, convicted of the most heinous crimes, cannot be executed. But you can gaily atomize them halfway round the planet. My brief experience of Yemeni restaurants was not a happy one but, granted that, I couldn't honestly say they met any recognized definition of a "battlefield."
Al-Awlaki Junior seems to have been your average anti-American teen. Al-Awlaki Senior was an al-Qaida ideologue and a supposed "spiritual mentor" to everyone from the 9/11 murderers to the Fort Hood killer and the thwarted Pantybomber. On the other hand, after September 11th, he was invited to lunch at the Pentagon, became the first imam to conduct a prayer service at the U.S. Congress, and was hailed by NPR as an exemplar of an American "Muslim leader who could help build bridges between Islam and the West." The precise point at which he changed from American bridge-builder to Yemeni restaurant takeout is hard to determine. His public utterances when he was being feted by the New York Times are far more benign than those of, say, Samira Ibrahim, who was scheduled to receive a "Woman of Courage" award from Michelle Obama and John Kerry on Friday until an unfortunate flap erupted over some ill-phrased Tweets from the courageous lass rejoicing on the anniversary of 9/11 that she loved to see "America burning." The same bureaucracy that booked Samira Ibrahim for an audience with the First Lady and Anwar al-Awlaki to host prayers at the Capitol now assures you that it's entirely capable of determining who needs to be zapped by a drone between the sea bass and the tiramisu at Ahmed's Bar and Grill. But it's precisely because the government is too craven to stray beyond technological warfare and take on its enemies ideologically that it winds up booking the First Lady to hand out awards to a Jew-loathing, Hitler-quoting, terrorist-supporting America-hater.
Insofar as it relieves Washington of the need to think strategically about the nature of the enemy, the drone is part of the problem. But its technology is too convenient a gift for government to forswear at home. America takes an ever-more expansive view of police power, and, while the notion of unmanned drones patrolling the heartland may seem absurd, lots of things that seemed absurd a mere 15 years ago are now a routine feature of life. Not so long ago, it would have seemed not just absurd but repugnant and un-American to suggest that the state ought to have the power to fondle the crotch of a 7-year old boy, without probable cause, before permitting him to board an airplane. Yet it happened, and became accepted and is unlikely ever to be reversed.
Americans now accept the right of minor bureaucrats to collect all kinds of information for vast computerized federal databases, from answers on gun ownership for centralized "medical records" to answers on "dwelling arrangements" for nationalized "education records." With paperwork comes regulation, and with regulation comes enforcement. We have advanced from the paramilitarization of the police to the paramilitarization of the Bureau of Form-Filling. Two years ago in this space, I noted that the Secretary of Education, who doesn't employ a single teacher, is the only education minister in the developed world with his own SWAT team: He used it to send 15 officers to kick down a door in Stockton, Calif., drag Kenneth Wright out on to the front lawn, and put him in handcuffs for six hours. Erroneously, as it turned out. But it was in connection with his estranged wife's suspected fraudulent student-loan application, so you can't be too careful. That the education bureaucracy of the Brokest Nation in History has its own SEAL Team Six is ridiculous and offensive. Yet the citizenry don't find it so: they accept it.
The federal government operates a Railroad Retirement Board to administer benefits to elderly Pullman porters: for some reason, the RRB likewise has its own armed agents ready to rappel down the walls of the Sunset Caboose retirement home. I see my old friend David Frum thinks concerns over drones are "far-fetched." If it's not "far-fetched" for the Education Secretary to have his own SWAT team, why would it be "far-fetched" for the Education Secretary to have his own drone fleet?
Do you remember the way it was before the "war on terror"? Back in the Nineties, everyone was worried about militias and survivalists, who lived in what were invariably described as "compounds," and not in the Kennedys-at-Hyannis sense. And, every so often, one of these compound-dwellers would find himself besieged by a great tide of federal alphabet soup, agents from the DEA, ATF, FBI and maybe even RRB. There was a guy named Randy Weaver, who lost his wife, son and dog to the guns of federal agents, was charged and acquitted in the murder of a deputy marshal and wound up getting a multimillion dollar settlement from the Department of Justice. Before he zipped his lips on grounds of self-incrimination, the man who wounded Weaver and killed his wife, an FBI agent named Lon Horiuchi, testified that he opened fire because he thought the Weavers were about to fire on a surveillance helicopter. When you consider the resources brought to bear against a nobody like Randy Weaver for no rational purpose, is it really so "far-fetched" to foresee the Department of Justice deploying drones to the Ruby Ridges and Wacos of the 2020s?
I mention in my book that government is increasingly comfortable with a view of society as a giant "Pan-opticon" – the radial prison devised by Jeremy Bentham in 1785, in which the authorities can see everyone and everything. In the Droneworld we have built for the "war on terror," we can't see the forest because we're busy tracking every spindly sapling. When the same philosophy is applied on the home front, it will not be pretty.
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Reagan's 'Evil Empire' Speech Turns 30


Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ Turns 30

 The speech sounds even better today.
Today, Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech turns 30 years old. It stands as one of the most memorable orations of the last three decades. It coined a phrase, a tag, a label — one that utterly fit. If the shoe fits, wear it. Well, this jackboot fit the Soviet ogre’s foot.
It was a searing speech, not merely because it was so provocative, which it was, or incendiary or controversial, which it also was, but because it was such an obvious truth that so desperately needed to be said by someone at the presidential level. Ronald Reagan cut through the clutter, and the moral equivalency and accommodation, and spoke loudly and boldly, with the uncompromising courage and confidence that was so uniquely Ronald Reagan.
Why did Reagan say what he said? Here’s his later explanation: “Although a lot of liberal pundits jumped on my speech … and said it showed I was a rhetorical hip-shooter who was recklessly and unconsciously provoking the Soviets into war, I made the ‘Evil Empire’ speech and others like it with malice aforethought.”
What malice aforethought?
The speech must be viewed from two crucial perspectives: 1) Reagan’s personal/spiritual motivation; and 2) his larger international/geo-strategic motivation. Both of these two contexts came together as part of a broader Reagan intention to try to undermine atheistic Soviet communism and peacefully win and end the Cold War.
On the first, Reagan’s chief motivation was laid bare in the speech itself. Reagan believed he had no choice (morally or spiritually) but to condemn the Soviet system because it was evil, and (as he said in the speech) both Scripture and Jesus Christ command Christians to oppose evil with all their might. He would be remiss in his Christian duty if he did notdenounce and oppose the Soviet Union.
And as a matter of plain, undeniable historical truth, the Soviet Union was in fact an Evil Empire. In addition to completely violating the full sweep of most basic civil liberties — freedom of press, speech, assembly, religion, conscience, travel, emigration, and property, to name just a few — the Soviet Union was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Its wider communist ideology killed over 100 million in the 20th century, double the combined dead of World War I and II.
The numbers are staggering. It is difficult to identify any ideology or belief system in history that has killed more people, let alone in such a narrow period. It boggles the mind to imagine how one ideology could cause so much pain and suffering. The massive levels of death alone would justify Reagan’s charge that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire, and that is before one even tries to comprehend (on the spiritual order) the vicious war on religion pursued by the USSR and its associated communist states. As to that, Soviet communists did indeed pursue, as Mikhail Gorbachev put it, a “war on religion.”
Given this, why wouldn’t Ronald Reagan — or anyone, for that matter — not see and judge such a state as inherently and endemically evil? Who could argue? And why, in Reagan’s view, should anyone hesitate to think so or even say so?
More than that, Reagan, though a humble man, saw himself as a voice for the voiceless in the Soviet empire, those he called the “captive peoples” held in the darkness of the “captive nations.” His was a public voice on behalf of the captives, with the potency of the presidential bully pulpit behind it.
Here again, only after the presidency, Reagan would explain: “For too long our leaders were unable to describe the Soviet Union as it actually was. The keepers of our foreign-policy knowledge … found it illiberal and provocative to be so honest. I’ve always believed, however, that it’s important to define differences, because there are choices and decisions to be made in life and history.” Few were willing to speak that truth to power, but Reagan was unafraid. He further explained: “The Soviet system over the years has purposely starved, murdered, and brutalized its own people. Millions were killed; it’s all right there in the history books. It put other citizens it disagreed with into psychiatric hospitals, sometimes drugging them into oblivion. Is the system that allowed this not evil? Then why shouldn’t we say so?”
To Reagan, this honesty was necessary for eliminating illusions. Reagan said such candor was needed to “philosophically and intellectually take on the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” “We were always too worried we would offend the Soviets if we struck at anything so basic,” he said. “Well, so what? Marxist-Leninist thought is an empty cupboard. Everyone knew it by the 1980s, but no one was saying it.”
And so, Reagan said it. On March 8, 1983, he told his audience of evangelicals: “Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness — pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
He urged those assembled to “beware the temptation of pride — the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
What Reagan said was exactly right, and sorely needed. But that’s not how liberals saw it. The left, naturally, went bonkers, accusing Reagan of all sorts of evil and pride and temptation — worst of all, of America-centrism. But it’s funny what the left doesn’t remember: Before Reagan pointed the finger at the USSR, he paused in the speech to point it inward at the faults and “moral evils” of his own country: “Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal,” said Reagan. “For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights…. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”
That’s easily the most forgotten line of the entire speech.
And just as American liberals went bonkers, so, of course, did the Soviet leadership, denouncing Reagan with every name in the Marxist book.
But perhaps the best reaction to Reagan’s speech was one not caught by any television camera or reporter. It emanated from the very pit of the Evil Empire, from inside its most enduring symbol: the gulag.
Natan Sharansky, a Jewish dissident, was an inmate of Permanent Labor Camp 35. His Soviet captors informed him of what this saber-rattling, dangerous president had dared to utter. Upon learning what Reagan said, Sharansky (after the guards left) jumped for joy inside his prison cell and tapped in Morse Code to his fellow gulag residents the good news that “someone had finally spoken the truth” about the USSR. “We dissidents were ecstatic,” said Sharansky. “Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”
Imagine the scene inside that prison. As one inmate after another tapped out the words “Evil Empire,” truth was finally piercing the dungeon’s dark silence, as the gulag itself at long last rang out and proclaimed its rightful name: Evil Empire! Evil Empire! Evil Empire! Evil Empire!...
Ronald Reagan had, in essence, enabled the Soviet gulag to finally call itself what it was. It couldn’t tell the world of itself and its malevolent source, but Ronald Reagan could and thus did.
Once the communist collapse came, Russian government officials were eager to freely speak about their erstwhile empire. And once they were free, they sang a different tune from the pages of Pravda in March 1983. Andrei Kozyrev, Boris Yeltsin’s foreign minister, in August 1991 was quick to explain that the USSR really had been an Evil Empire. It was a mistake to call it “the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” said Kozyrev. “It was, rather, [an] evil empire, as it was put.” Arkady Murashev, Moscow police chief, a leader of Democratic Russia, and another person close to Yeltsin, added: “[Reagan] called us the ‘Evil Empire.’ So why did you in the West laugh at him? It’s true!”
And, yes, it was true. Truth be told. The Soviet Union was indeed an Evil Empire. And one day in March 1983, three decades ago, an American president finally was willing to stand up and say so. With that message, and more, he helped take down that empire, win the Cold War, and change the world.
It was a testimony to the power of words, the power of courage, and the power of truth. Such noble rarity is worth remembering.

About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is author of the new book The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor. His other books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Brennan Signals 'Our Saudi Partners'

Return to the Article

March 7, 2013

By Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison

When President Obama met Saudi King Abdullah in London in 2009, the former bowed low before the latter.  No American president had ever so abased himself before one of the world's most oppressive rulers before.

Now, Mr. Obama has nominated John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Signals Intelligence, or sigint, is the science of interpreting signals sent by enemies of the United States.  With his Arabic-language skills, John Brennan ought to be good at interpreting signals.

He's very good at sending them.  When he spoke of Jerusalem -- his "most loved city in the world" -- he referred to it first by its Arabic nameal Quds.  Nobody refers to Jerusalem as al Quds unless he wants to send a signal: "I agree with you."

Every Arabic-speaking country denies the right of Israel to exist.  Every one yearns to see Jerusalem swept free of Jews and called al Quds.  When the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem (1949-1967), they banned all the Jews from living there and from visiting Jewish holy places there.  They even desecrated thousand-year-old graves in Jewish cemeteries there.

That's what is meant by al Quds.  When you say you love this city more than any other and give it its Arabic name, you are sending the most terrible message.  You are feeding into the Arab narrative that calls the establishment of the Jewish state Nakba -- the Day of Catastrophe.

John Brennan obviously rejects Winston Churchill's advice to Western statesmen: "Let the Jews have Jerusalem. It is they who made it famous."  Churchill was no enemy to Arabs.  Churchill even created Jordan as an Arab state and gave it a Hashemite ruling family.
But Churchill would not abase himself and the British people before these desert despots.  As President Obama has done to us as Americans.  As John Brennan is doing to us and to our allies in Israel.
John Brennan speaks of "our Saudi partners."  Partners in what?  Mr. Brennan won't speak of a global war on terror.  He rejects the use of jihadism to describe Muslim terrorists, since he regards jihad as a legitimate expression of a religion of peace and tolerance.

How tolerant is Saudi Arabia?  Mr. Brennan might consult our own U.S. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom:

Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. ... The [Saudi] legal system is based on the government's application of the Hanbali School of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and there is no separation between state and religion.

If the Saudis will not cooperate with us on basic human rights, like freedom of speech and religion, might they at least be "our partners" in fighting al-Qaeda, right?  After all, al-Qaeda says it wants to overthrow King Abdullah, the man to whom Mr. Obama shows obeisance.

The Report of the 9/11 Commission shows that the Saudis are not willing to help us even on this.  In 1998, Vice President Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia to seek then-Crown Prince Abdullah's help in questioning Madani al Tayyib.  Tayyib was a leading finance officer of al-Qaeda, held by the Saudis since 1997.  The official report on Gore's failed diplomatic mission ends with this line: "The United States never obtained this access."

Had we been able to "follow the money," we might have unraveled the al-Qaeda plot to attack the United States.  We may never know if by interrogating Tayyib we could have saved thousands of American lives and trillions of American dollars.

This much should be clear: the Saudis are not "our partners," as John Brennan says they are.  When American lives are at stake, the Saudis are no friends.

John Brennan came away from his CIA tour in Saudi Arabia in the late 1990s filled with nothing but goodwill and admiration for what he calls our Saudi partners.  Was he there when Al Gore begged for the Saudis' help?

Brennan's astonishing naivety alone should raise serious doubts about his serving as director of America's most sensitive intelligence agency.  Every American who cherishes liberty and security has a right to be alarmed at such a disastrous choice for DCIA -- and appalled by a president who could make it.

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows with the Family Research Council, in Washington, D.C.

Page Printed from: at March 07, 2013 - 07:47:53 PM CST

Book Review: 'C.S. Lewis, A Life' by Alister McGrath

Faithful Citizenship

C.S. Lewis, Human Being: A Review of Alister McGrath's "C. S. Lewis, A Life"

Rather than canonizing Lewis, McGrath's meticulously detailed book succeeds in humanizing him.

By Greg Garrett, February 28, 2013

I am not a C. S. Lewis groupie. Neither, for that matter, is Alister McGrath. It feels important to say so at the outset of my review of McGrath's magisterial biography, C. S. Lewis: A Life, for many writers on Lewis seem to be friends of The Great Man, or came to faith through him, or found Lewis an inspiration to the life of intellectual devotion they now live. Likewise, many readers of Lewis have strong feelings about the man because he has assumed a stature in their eyes comparable to sainthood: Oxford Christian, author of the Narnia books, defender of the faith, unlikely but unmistakable Evangelical icon.
I don't find the Narnia books particularly well written, and while I've read Lewis's books on faith, I gravitated toward the least guarded—his diary of grief, A Grief Observed—and to his writing on the Psalms. My acquaintance with Lewis actually came where I think McGrath seeks to situate him in this biography, "the least familiar to most of his admirers and critics," in his role as distinguished professor and scholar of English literature, and one of the first important early figures in the modern study of Medieval and Renaissance literature. (xi) In my Ph.D. work, I happened across Lewis'Preface to Paradise Lost and his book The Four Loves, both of which were written with grace and fluency, and both of them opened up the world of literature and the life of the mind a bit wider for me.
McGrath, himself a distinguished Oxford don and defender of the faith, himself an Irish-born Anglican, comes to Lewis with the intent of writing a literary biography, not of canonizing or appropriating him, and the book succeeds admirably on all these counts. Rather than canonizing Lewis, McGrath's meticulously detailed book succeeds in humanizing him, detailing the tensions in his family, and relating his friendships, his poverty and desire to support his "family" (Lewis had a long and "It's Complicated" relationship with the mother and sister of a fellow soldier killed in WWI), and his significant accomplishments. McGrath provides a convincing explanation for the dearth of writing about Lewis's war experience, despite the fact that he witnessed great death and destruction and was himself wounded in action seriously enough that he was sent from the battlefield to recuperate.
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes the "treaty with reality" he was forced to make in order to keep the war at a distance, and McGrath expands on that short reference to Lewis's wartime experience: "Lewis's mental map of reality had difficulty accommodating the trauma of the Great War. Like so many, he found the settled way of looking at the world, taken for granted by many in the Edwardian age, to have been shattered by the most brutal and devastating war yet known." (51) Part (McGrath suggests) of Lewis's well-documented search for truth and meaning, that search that ultimately led him to Christianity, emerges from the desire to make sense of his traumatic experience in ways that satisfied him spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Although Lewis does not write about the war, then, his experience in the war may in fact have been formative.
As the first biography to benefit from the publication of the collected letters of C. S. Lewis, A Life can give us more human details and explanations that any of the previous works. In fact, McGrath cites the letters more than any other source, for they, as he argues, force review and possible revision of some generally-accepted biographical truisms that no longer seem true with the letters at hand. (xiii-xiv) He revises, for example, the generally-accepted chronology of Lewis's coming to faith. The letters also expand our picture of his relationships. One of Lewis's great friends came out to him when they were both young men, and Lewis's response was charming and not the least bit priggish. Although he did not share that orientation, he wrote, "Congratulations old man. I am delighted that you have had the moral courage to form your own opinions." (72) Likewise we learn that Tolkien had entrusted the younger Lewis with a long poem he had been writing, their first such delicate dance, and that Lewis—thankfully for all of us—encouraged Tolkien to undertake more in one of their earliest letters: "I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight." (130)
I've always wondered why, exactly, some of my evangelical students and lots of other American evangelicals fall so hard for Lewis, since the actual C. S. Lewis, who came smoking, drinking, and carrying some fairly kinky early sexual predilections, was no moral avatar. But McGrath also excels in his explanation for the evolution of Lewis's literary and theological reputation: "Engaging both heart and mind, Lewis opened up the intellectual and imaginative depths of the Christian faith like nobody else." (369) For those who needed their heart, mind, and spirit engaged, Lewis provided a compelling Protestant model—and many American Christians have mistaken Lewis for an evangelical himself upon learning that he converted from atheism to Christianity.
C. S. Lewis: A Life did not convert me from atheism to Lewisism; I'm not sure that anything ever will. I personally take my faith a little funnier, and so I would suggest we canonize Anne Lamott. But I can say that I admired McGrath's book tremendously and feel that I've gained a new appreciation for Lewis the writer, Lewis the Christian apologist, and Lewis the scholar. The next time I'm engaged by students, parishioners, or Internet trolls with questions or wielding quotes, I'm going to be much better prepared.
And I find that, strangely enough, I'm excited about returning to the Preface on Paradise Lost.
After all, I have to teach Paradise Lost this fall after many years' layoff, and I've never yet found a guide to Milton any better than C. S. Lewis.
:::page break:::

Greg GarrettGreg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.
Garrett's column, "Faithful Citizenship," is published every Thursday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email orRSS.

Book Review: 'Is God Happy?' by Leszek Kolakowski

What Isn't to Be Done

Leszek Kolakowski devoted a lifetime to explaining why so many of his fellow intellectuals fell for murderous ideologies.

Leszek Kolakowski, who died in 2009, was an intellectual in the best sense of that word: a scholar of vast learning, a writer with a gift for the clear and felicitous expression of complex ideas, and a man who didn't overestimate his own importance. While he is usually labeled a philosopher, there is no philosophical system one could call "Kolakowskianism." He was more a historian of ideas than a philosopher in his own right; his greatest work, the three-volume "Main Currents of Marxism" (1978), is a demolition of a sham philosophy rather than the expression of a real one.
"Is God Happy?," a collection of essays selected by the author's daughter, Agnieszka Kolakowska, from his 60-year writing career, is an excellent introduction to Kolakowski's writing. It is a treasure for Kolakowski's admirers, too, with 10 of the essays appearing in English for the first time.
The collection begins with a grouping of nine essays examining the Western responses to Soviet communism. One of these, "What Is Socialism?" (1956), enjoyed a long notoriety within the Polish underground. It is a satirical enumeration of things that socialism wasn't supposed to be: "a state whose neighbors curse geography"; "a state that produces superb jet planes and lousy shoes"; "a state whose philosophers and writers always say the same things as the generals and ministers, but always after the latter have said them." The essay was posted for a brief time on a bulletin board at Warsaw University, where Kolakowski taught, before being taken down by government minders. Twelve years later its author was pushed out of Polish academic life altogether, freed to take positions in England and North America.
To those younger than 35, communism must seem like some ridiculous hoax. How could so many Western intellectuals have defended an ideology—and defended it into the late 1980s—that had never produced anything but economic devastation, cultural perversion and mass murder? And yet they did. In "Genocide and Ideology," from 1977, Kolakowski asked why Soviet communism attracted so many artists and intellectuals and Nazism so few. He pointed out that Nazism at least stated its aims straightforwardly: Nazis promoted Teutonic racial superiority and the conquest of Europe. Communism, on the other hand, "never preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom." All it took to gain the loyalty of influential writers and thinkers, in other words, was some heavy-handed rhetorical legerdemain.

Is God Happy?

By Leszek Kołakowski 
(Basic, 327 pages, $28.99)
The essays on communism and the left brim with arresting insights. In the 1983 essay "Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie," for instance, Kolakowski explained why a society can't survive by basing itself on disinformation. "Even in the best of conditions the massive process of forgery cannot be completed: it requires a large number of forgers who must understand the distinction between what is genuine and what is faked." A simple example is "an officer in a military office of cartography, who must have unfalsified maps at his disposal in order to falsify the maps. . . . The power of words over reality cannot be unlimited since, fortunately, reality imposes its own unalterable conditions." Kolakowski also recalled hearing a guide at the Hermitage in Leningrad dismiss the art of Matisse and Cézanne as bourgeois degeneracy in 1950. In 1957, he heard the same guide praise them as masters. The party's needs had changed, but the guide wasn't stupid—he knew the truth.
Kolakowski's reflections, though dazzling, don't inspire great optimism about humanity. From the beginning he seems to have rejected the idea of human perfectibility, and it isn't surprising to learn that, even as a communist in the 1950s, Kolakowski had a deep interest in religious questions. The middle third of "Is God Happy?" consists of seven essays covering theological subjects, including the problem of evil and the impossibility of separating the historical Jesus from Western culture and history.
"Erasmus and his God," published in Polish in 1965, captures the essence of Erasmus's doctrine far better than more specialized explanations. Erasmus, Kolakowski thought, tried to combine the "faith alone" approach of Luther and Calvin with Roman Catholicism's emphasis on works and moral virtue. But the strength of this approach is misleading, "for it tells Christians to behave as if everything depended on their own efforts while at the same time telling them that nothing does." Kolakowski saw this as "a particular instance of the difficulty inherent in any doctrine which views genuine human effort as the unique source of moral value while at the same time refusing to acknowledge any human contribution to the results of that effort."
Just as the theological essays avoid predictable lamentations over the West's abandonment of God (at one point Kolakowski almost welcomed secularization on the ground that it might free the church to be what it is rather than what it thinks the world wants it to be), so in the book's final section, a diverse collection of 11 essays, Kolakowski's writing constantly upends expectations. In one of the best of these, "Crime and Punishment," from 1991, he rejected the idea that punishment must always serve utilitarian purposes (rehabilitation, deterrence) and defended, on moral grounds, the concept of retribution.
I was puzzled at first why Ms. Kolakowska chose the short and curious essay "Is God Happy?" as the title of the book. In it, her father concluded that the concept of happiness can't apply to God and that, as long as pain and death are in the world, it can't apply to humans either. But on reflection the title makes sense. As a boy, Leszek Kolakowski saw Jews rounded up in Nazi-occupied Poland; as an adult he witnessed the dominance of a brutal and fraudulent ideology; and in middle age he saw many of his fellow intellectuals defend that ideology at every opportunity. In such a world, where is there room for happiness?
Mr. Swaim is the author of "Scottish Men of Letters and the New Public Sphere, 1802-1834."
A version of this article appeared February 27, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: What Isn't To Be Done.

C. Everett Koop and the religious right

It requires only modest exaggeration to say that C. Everett Koop, the distinguished surgeon general (and Dartmouth alumnus) who died on February 25, was responsible for the emergence of the religious right. As much as anyone else, Koop persuaded American evangelicals in the late 1970s that opposition to abortion was a matter worthy of their votes.
Although televangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell frequently asserted that it was the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 that galvanized politically conservative evangelicals into a voting bloc, that claim collapses in the face of historical scrutiny:
    • The Southern Baptist Convention called for the legalization of abortion at its gathering in St. Louis in 1971. It reaffirmed the resolution in 1974 and again in 1976.
    • The United Methodist Church passed a similar resolution in 1972. 
It was a different court decision, Green v. Connally, that prompted evangelical leaders to organize. That 1971 ruling by the District Court of the District of Columbia upheld the Internal Revenue Service in its opinion that any institution that retains racially discriminatory policies is not—by definition—a charitable organization and therefore is not entitled to tax-exempt status.
When the IRS rescinded the tax exemption of Bob Jones University on January 19, 1976, evangelical leaders howled in protest. Ignoring the crucial fact that tax exemption amounts to public subsidy, they insisted that the federal government was meddling in the affairs of religious organizations. With the encouragement of conservative activists like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie, these leaders of what became the religious right began to organize.
But the movement still needed an issue that would energize evangelicals at the grassroots. The 1978 elections persuaded Weyrich that abortion could be that issue. On the Sunday before the election, pro-lifers in Iowa and Minnesota leafleted church parking lots. Two days later, they defeated a popular incumbent Democratic senator in Iowa, and in Minnesota they captured the governorship and both Senate seats.
What Weyrich still lacked was a way to alert grassroots evangelicals to the scourge of abortion, and here is where C. Everett Koop figures into the story. Koop, a distinguished pediatric surgeon, had long opposed abortion, but in 1978 he teamed up with Francis A. Schaeffer, a goateed, knicker-wearing evangelical philosopher, to produce a film series called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? 
Schaeffer had long excoriated what he called “secular humanism” and warned that the legalization of abortion would soon lead to infanticide and euthanasia. Koop’s sterling reputation as a physician added credibility to the argument. As the film series toured American cities in 1979, the term “secular humanism” entered the political lexicon—and Falwell, Weyrich and other leaders of the religious right harvested popular anger over abortion. They adroitly mobilized politically conservative evangelicals into a potent voting bloc in time for the 1980 election.
The rest, as they say, is history. The religious right settled on Ronald Reagan as their champion and standard-bearer, despite the fact that as governor of California Reagan had signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the nation. They supported him instead of his evangelical opponent with a longer record of opposing abortion, incumbent Jimmy Carter. 
The religious right’s reward was the appointment of Koop as surgeon general of the United States. But Koop proved to be his own man:
    • He called attention to the burgeoning AIDS crisis, even though others in the Reagan administration preferred to ignore it.
    • He advocated for sex education and the use of condoms, which pitted him against other leaders of the religious right, especially Phyllis Schlafly. 
    • He quashed a specious, politically motivated report that asserted that women who had abortions suffered adverse psychological effects.
    • He called attention to the deleterious effects of both smoking and second-hand smoke in restaurants and bars and on airplanes.
All in all, a distinguished career: physician, public-health advocate and (wittingly or not) political organizer. Besides, not many surgeons general of the United States have a rock song written about them (Frank Zappa’s “Promiscuous”).
Our weekly feature Then and Now harnesses the expertise of American religious historians who care about the cities of God and the cities of humans. It's edited by Edward J. Blum.


By Ann Coulter
March 6, 2013

Republicans don't control the U.S. Senate and they don't have the presidency. Instead of wasting time and energy in doomed efforts to defeat President Obama's Cabinet nominees or sucking up to illegal aliens, why not focus on issues where Republicans can be off-the-charts popular while forcing Democrats into taking stupid positions?

After the slaughters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and Newtown, Conn., every sentient person knows we need to do something about institutionalizing the mentally ill and -- at the very least -- keeping guns out of their hands.

That happens to be impossible right now. Involuntary commitments even for the severely psychotic went the way of vagrancy laws. Although federal law technically requires background checks to include records of mental illness, the states and mental health industry refuse to provide that information.

Of course, the vast majority of mentally disturbed individuals are not dangerous. But looking at it from the other end, more than half of all mass murder is committed by the mentally ill. Gun ownership doesn't lead to random murder rampages; mental illness does.

And the good news for Republicans is: Democrats will only pretend to support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous psychotics, while working frantically to gut and undermine such measures. Liberals fear "stigmatizing" the mentally ill more than they fear another mass murder.

Instead of proposing serious reforms, the Democrats play politics by demonizing responsible gun owners and the Republicans who defend them.

The Democrats' gun proposals are like the joke about the drunk looking for his keys under the lamplight:

"Is that where you dropped them?"

"No, but the light's better here."

Preventing crazy people from buying guns is hard. The ACLU will sue and we'll be tied up in lawsuits for a decade, at which point a Democrat-appointed judge will rule that including records of paranoid delusions in FBI background checks is unconstitutional.

As former federal judge H. Lee Sarokin (a Clinton appointee) might say, "We should revoke their condition, not their gun permits."

The light's better over by the sane, responsible gun owners, who wouldn't hurt a fly -- unless it's a schizophrenic shooting up a shopping mall.

Since the deinstitutionalization movement got under way in the 1970s, the mentally ill remain mentally ill, but now instead of living in warm, safe institutions, they live out on the streets, in homeless shelters and in soup kitchens, or drift back to their helpless families, occasionally showing up in "gun-free zones" to commit mass murder.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, an ABC poll showed that while Americans remained dubious about the effect of more gun control laws, 83 percent supported requiring states to provide information on the mentally ill for gun background checks.

Since then, the mentally deranged have continued committing mass shootings. There is still no way to prevent them from buying guns.

At the risk of joining the Republicans' circular firing squad when we ought to be fighting Democrats, here's how I think Republicans should be looking at things:

-- Pushing amnesty for illegal aliens: 80 percent of Americans ferociously oppose you.

-- Pointlessly opposing Obama's Cabinet nominees: 99 percent of Americans need a constant supply of NoDoz just to listen.

-- Staking out an Amnesty International position on a president's hypothetical ability to use a drone against an "American citizen" (named Anwar al-Awlaki) about to launch a devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil: 70 percent of Americans are against you.

-- Opposing the Democrats' idiotic proposals on gun control: 60-70 percent of Americans support you, but the other 30 to 40 percent will hate you because they want to "Do Something."

-- Proposing the involuntary commitment of dangerous psychotics and implementing measures to prevent them from obtaining guns: 83 percent of Americans support you and will be furious at Democrats for trying to undercut such laws.

Liberals can't help themselves -- they're like Dr. Strangelove with the Nazi salute. The Democratic base will wail, "Who's to say who is crazy? Maybe we're the crazy ones!" and bleat about stigmatizing the mentally ill. Or, to quote Judge Sarokin, again: "[O]ne person's hay fever is another person's ambrosia."

Your choice, Republicans: Take positions that will make you extremely popular, reduce mass murder in America and simultaneously reveal the insanity of the Democratic Party, or keep prattling about topics of interest to no one. Take all the time you need. 2014 is a whole year away.