Take Up the Wrong Man’s Burden

by Henry on October 27, 2004

One for the Kipling enthusiasts over at the Volokhs (even if the author is a bit iffy on what ‘approbation’ means).

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And stay above the law—
No treaty or convention
Can stop America.
The moral approbation
Of others near and far
Denounce as soft on terror
And cowardice in war.

Via Maud Newton.



glory 10.27.04 at 2:30 am

heh, it’s like martin wolf today in verse :D

America will always do the right thing, once it has exhausted all the alternatives – Winston Churchill


Why then is an election that may not change quite as much as many suppose also historic? The answer is that it will decide the face the US presents to the world. As Anatol Lieven notes, the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 have fanned the embers of nationalism.* They have also turned the US into a democratic imperialist. The idea that the US should impose liberal democracy by force has appeal but is proving unworkable: every day makes it clearer that the Middle East is not post-1945 Germany.

This election will be the people’s assessment not only of the administration’s aspirations but also of their execution. Can the America that started a war on a false prospectus and perpetrated Guantánamo Bay and the humiliations at Abu Ghraib prison also be the admired leader of humanity? Can it exercise the benign influence its well-wishers desire?

No transformation is on offer, either within the US or in its international relations. But the re-election of George W. Bush would be significant, for all that. However small the margin might be, Americans would have ratified his path of militant exceptionalism. Rightly or wrongly, the rest of the world would view that outcome as America’s declaration of indifference.

* America Right or Wrong (HarperCollins/Oxford University Press)

oh and he also quotes clinton’s autobiography! which i think has to be some kind of first :D blockquoth the poster for those w/o the benefit of a sub:

In 1966, when I first visited the US, I was struck by the country’s harmony. The response to the civil rights movement showed that Americans remained divided over race, though most realised that demands for racial equality ought to be met. Beyond that, however, the conflicts over class and economic systems raging in Europe were absent. McCarthyism was history and neither the role of private enterprise nor Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal were debated.

Yet that harmony proved misleading. Divisions would soon erupt, under the pressures of the Vietnam war and the western social and sexual revolution of the 1960s. In his autobiography, former president Bill Clinton places the moment at the Democratic presidential convention of 1968, in the clashes between the supporters of Eugene McCarthy and the Chicago police.

“The kids and their supporters saw the mayor and the cops as authoritarian, ignorant, violent bigots. The mayor and his largely blue-collar ethnic police force saw the kids as foul-mouthed, immoral, unpatriotic, soft, upper-class kids who were too spoiled to respect authority, too selfish to appreciate what it takes to hold a society together, too cowardly to serve in Vietnam. . . . The fleeting fanaticism of the left had not yet played itself out, but it had already unleashed a radical reaction on the right, one that would prove more durable, more well financed, more institutionalised, more resourceful, more addicted to power and far more skilled in getting and keeping it.”

This split did, indeed, end the hegemony of Roosevelt’s Democratic party, which thereupon lost the support of the tough-minded Democrats we now know as “neoconservatives”, many blue-collar workers and the old South. In the process, it turned the Democrats into what has often been an ineffective rabble. It also transformed the Republicans from the traditionally isolationist party of big business, country club conservatives and midwestern farmers into the potent mixture of economic libertarians, nationalists, Christian fundamentalists and social authoritarianism we see today. These wounds, so visible in this election, will not soon heal.



steven landsburg 10.27.04 at 4:12 am

“If George Bush had chosen the racist David Duke as a running mate, I’d have voted against him, almost without regard to any other issue. Instead, John Kerry chose the xenophobe John Edwards as a running mate. I will therefore vote against John Kerry.

“Duke thinks it’s imperative to protect white jobs from black competition. Edwards thinks it’s imperative to protect American jobs from foreign competition. There’s not a dime’s worth of moral difference there. While Duke would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of skin color, Edwards would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of birthplace. Either way, bigotry is bigotry, and appeals to base instincts should always be repudiated.

“Bush’s reckless spending and disregard for the truth had me almost ready to vote for Kerry—until Kerry picked his running mate. When the real David Duke ran against a corrupt felon for governor of Lousiana, the bumper stickers read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” Well, I’m voting for the reckless spendthrift. It’s important again.”


Gary 10.27.04 at 4:35 am

Is that a quote from someplace?

Conflating racism with nativism or economic nationalism does seem rather small-minded, don’t you think?

I mean, I’m leary of protectionism just as much as the next “pareto-enlightened” person :/sarcasm, but hey! INDUBITABLY, Edwards also thinks it’s imperative to protect American lives from foreign adversaries. What a bigot!

Talk about your moral equivalency… Some people. *exasperated sigh* :0


Michael Kremer 10.27.04 at 1:16 pm

I think I understand what the author intends by the last four lines, but I don’t think “approbation” is the right word to convey his or her meaning. “Approbation” means “approval”. I can’t see how that fits into what I take to be the intended meaning.


Jack 10.27.04 at 1:50 pm

Steven Landsburg has a point in theory but in practice it makes less sense. He is voting for the President who brought us steel tarriffs and unilateral foreign policy. Against which he complains about an expression of concern for US workers losing their jobs (as opposed to industrial lobbies calling for policies that hurt everyone else).

They used ot call that kind of argument sophistry.


RS 10.27.04 at 3:27 pm



HP 10.27.04 at 11:02 pm

“Opprobrium” doesn’t scan as well, though, although the meaning’s better and is probably the word the author was shooting for.

“Indignation” scans and the meaning is close.


Henry 10.28.04 at 2:58 am

Given the WMB, it’s easy to be dismissive of Kipling and his poetry. Orwell’s essay makes me think that it is too easy: he was far more sympathetic toward Kipling, without buying into his politics, than you would have expected. It’s worth a read.


larry 10.28.04 at 3:39 am

Yeah, but “far” & “war” is a mad rhyme.


BadTux 10.28.04 at 7:18 pm

The *NERVE* of that guy John Edwards, thinking that the government that Americans elect should be for the benefit of, like, AMERICANS! What a traitor to America he is! Why, every single day, I just LOOOVE opening my wallet wide and paying over for the benefit of some people over in some foreign land who, like, aren’t even Americans. Forced charity at gunpoint is our PATRIOTIC DUTY!

– Badtux the Snarky Penguin

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