Liberty and Security, Then and Now

by Kieran Healy on September 8, 2006

By chance, I had just finished rereading a famous speech by Ronald Reagan when I heard the news that President Bush had confirmed the existence of secret CIA prisons. Yesterday, while looking over it again, I heard the “Judge Advocates General”: strongly resist the White House’s plan for military tribunals that would allow conviction based on secret evidence. When Reagan spoke in 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater, he presented TV viewers with a stark choice between those with the courage to make a principled stand for Freedom and Liberty, and those who would capitulate to the global threat of Communism for the sake of a quiet life. He didn’t pull any punches.

bq. Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy ‘accommodation.’ … We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing and immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters.’ … Admittedly there is risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face … When Nikita Khrushchev has told his people [that] we are retreating under the pressure of the cold war, and … our surrender will be voluntary because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he has heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead” … Where then is the road to peace? You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” There is a point beyond which they will not advance! … You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

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Chris Bertram’s Fiction Recommendations

by Harry on September 8, 2006

I’ve taken up both of Chris’s recent suggestions of non-genre fiction reading, and am glad of it. I suspect I liked On Beauty (a good deal in the UK) less than he did, but I still enjoyed it a good deal (like him I’ll avoid spoilers, and ask commenters to do the same, but warn potential readers that I don’t police comments very well). Discussion on his thread focused on Smith’s ear for dialogue. The book is set in a liberal arts college in or around Boston, but almost all the characters are displaced in some way, and part of what is going on is that most of the characters are putting on a face with most of their interlocutors. So whereas some of the dialogue does sound inauthentic, it reflects the in-authenticity of the characters in the situation. And I love some of the little details – a throwaway sentence about how hard the main male character (a British émigré) finds it to take American bills seriously is exactly right – after 20 years here I am still absurdly pleased to get hold of a 20 pound note, and in my head its worth way more than one of those absurd $50 bills. Two other things to add. First is that, like all campus novels, it makes university life and university politics sound so much more interesting than they really are. Maybe I’m oblivious to this, as well as everything else, but I just never get to hear about these great rivalries and affairs that people have with each other and with their students, or attend the meetings in which people are more than mildly irritated with each other. (This is a complaint about campus novels, not about university life, I hasten to add – I’d hate it if it were the way it is portrayed – or perhaps it is like that and I just wander around with my blinkers on). Second, although Chris says it is loosely based on Howard’s End, I was put constantly in mind of The History Man, whom Howard (the central character) resembles in more than name – and in ways that cannot be accidental. BTW if, like my colleague who has read every other academic novel around, you have somehow missed Bradbury, The History Man is peerless.

The Company You Keep (UK) is, as Chris says, brilliant, and I liked it more than On Beauty.

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Fraud Alert

by Scott McLemee on September 8, 2006

A group of prominent American historians is calling on ABC not to broadcast The Path to 9/11. (For a quick reminder of how propaganda-rific it is, see Mark Grimsley’s recent item at Cliopatria. It quotes an endorsement by Michael Medved and provides some pertinent links.)

The list of signatories starts with Arthur Schlesinger — who, whatever else you may think of him, is pretty much the guy to have out in front on this sort of complaint, for rhetorical appeal to the center (rhetorical construct thought “the center” may be).

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Upcoming seminar

by Henry Farrell on September 8, 2006

We’ll be doing a Crooked Timber seminar around the end of next month on Sheri Berman’s new book on the past and future of social democracy in Europe (now available from “Powells”: and Amazon). The book itself is highly recommended, and should make for a fun and interesting discussion.

Surprise resignation paradox

by John Q on September 8, 2006

Tony Blair’s announcement that he will resign within a year, but that he won’t say when, is one of those absurdities that seem to be inevitable in politics, a variant on the Galbraith score. There doesn’t seem to be any satisfactory way of handling this kind of situation, since most leaders want to be seen to be making their own choice to leave, but few are willing make that choice until most of their followers already want them to go.