Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for praise for Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism

I am flattered and delighted that Andrew Sullivan, over at his blog The Daily Dish, (unaccountably) listed my Weekly Standard essay from last week, Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism: The deeply dispririting Romney-Huckabee religion showdown, as his pick for best political essay of 2007.  It might well have been the last political essay of 2007 that Mr. Sullivan happened to read, but far be it from me ever turn down praise like that.   My thanks to Andrew Sullivan; I am honored.  (Let me also thank, once again, my editor at the Weekly Standard, Richard Starr, who both did a superb editing job and also gave me the space to say what I wanted to say.)

(Thanks Scott for pointing me to this.)

Thanks to Instapundit for linking to my Jack Goldsmith review in the TLS

My thanks to Glenn Reynolds here at Instapundit for linking to my review in the Times Literary Supplement (London) of Jack Goldsmith's superb The Terror Presidency.  (You can get directly to my Goldsmith review here.)

One of the things I listened to closely while writing that review was the Instapundit podcast interview with Jack Goldsmith, which I highly recommend and which you can reach at this link.

Glenn, thanks as ever! 

(And if any Instapundit readers come here after visiting the TLS, let me just say that I regard the TLS as the finest literary review in the world.  It covers a breathtaking range of subjects, its discussion of literature is unsurpassed anywhere, and if you are a student or, really, anyone looking to hone your own essay and prose style, read the TLS for models on how to write.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reactions to my Weekly Standard, Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism article

I've received a fair amount of email traffic reacting to my Weekly Standard piece (open link at the WS, a blog summary here, and a letter back to Michael Novak re his (mis)summary, here).  The emails have been very mixed, very divided - not a big surprise. 

Among the various blog reactions, I wanted to flag to readers' attention the blog Levantine Dreamhouse - Abu Kareem, in New York, writes a very interesting blog that I recommend quite apart from the discussion of the Mormons, Muslims, Multiculturalism piece.  It's both reasoned and witty.


What has surprised me among the reactions, however, is how many evangelicals were most offended not by things I said about Huckabee or even about evangelicals (I think some of them decided not to take public offense, but instead to wallow in silent martyrdom=quiet resentment), but instead by my having the chutzpah to cite not just to Isaiah 3, but to the corresponding verses in the Book of Mormon

My goodness.  The horror, the horror. 

Very, very telling.   

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and happy holidays and happy new year. 

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency - my TLS review now up

Jack Goldsmith's part memoir, part historical and legal analysis of the Bush administration's war on terror, The Terror Presidency, came out a number of months back.  It has of course been widely and positively reviewed, as befits a book that captures so extraordinarily well the dilemmas of governance and executive power in the difficult circumstances of terrorism and counterterrorism.  It is one of the few books about the Bush administration and one of the few insider books on the Bush administration that I can confidently predict will remain required reading for the long historical term. 

I am delighted to note that my own review, in the Times Literary Supplement of 19 December 2007, is now up online at the TLS, here

(Thanks to Scott Lahti for cluing me in, I had no idea it was actually out.)

An excerpt:


The grand irony, Goldsmith observes, is that although the Bush administration lawyers sought “to leave the presidency stronger than they found it”, in fact they “seem to have achieved the opposite”. The reason is simply that the American constitutional system really does have three branches of government. Although the judiciary in principle has little constitutional role to play in matters of war or foreign policy generally, the fact that the war on terror has been conceived by the administration as a global war – in which the whole world is the battleground, in which even American citizens on American soil could be named as enemy combatants and indefinitely detained solely on the say-so of the executive – ensures that the Supreme Court cannot be left aside.

The administration’s tunnel vision has thus left it blind to the fact that, by seeming to go it alone and refusing to go to Congress for such things as limits, but also authority, to hold detainees at Guantánamo, or specific rules on interrogation that confine, but also legally protect, interrogators, the administration has tied itself in marriage to a far more exigent spouse – the Court. The message of successive detainee cases from the Supreme Court – Hamdi and Hamdan, particularly – has not so far been that the constitution forbids much of what the executive proposes to do. After all, most of this pertains to non- citizens detained outside the United States; and until the Bush administration’s spectacularly overreaching legal theories blew up in its face, no one thought the constitution applied to them at all. The message is, rather, that the administration should seek Congressional assent for what it wants to do. The Court has signalled provisionally that it will accept at least some extraordinary rules in the war on terror – provided, however, that the political branches have together given those departures democratic legitimacy. The Court’s limits, following the just argued Boumediene case, to what the political branches might do even together are not yet firmly drawn.

But there is no going it alone in a system of divided constitutional powers. If not Congress, it will be the Court – or more exactly, as Benjamin Wittes has noted, the inconstant Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing vote – that endorses policy. In pursuing unfettered executive power to act alone, the administration has made Justice Kennedy its five-star general, its very own Douglas MacArthur in the war on terror. On the infrequent occasions when the administration has been forced by the Court to go to it for authority, it has been denied practically nothing. It has not so far mattered that the Bush administration is a lame duck, or whether Congress is in Republican or Democratic hands.

The administration seems not to have understood that what lives by executive discretion dies by executive discretion. If the Bush administration took counterterrorism as seriously as it took the abstraction of executive power, it would have thought ahead to its own departure from office. If it truly believed that its approach to counterterrorism was correct, then from the first day of its second term it would have engaged with Congress to create institutions to outlive any particular Presidency. It would have thought about the example of the Cold War and how a democracy deals with a genuine threat to a whole way of life. In retrospect, the democratic institutions of the Cold War did a remarkable job of balancing safety and liberty over decades; pure executive discretion cannot possibly promise the same. The administration having undertaken none of these things, US counterterrorism policy today flails without long-term strategic guidance or institutional stability.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Did Michael Novak actually read my Weekly Standard article?

19 November 2007

To the editor, National Review Online:

I ran across the following article by Michael Novak in the National Review, "Salt Lake Debate," December 17, 2007, taking a quick shot at the end at my Weekly Standard article this week, "Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism," available online here (and some additional discussion at my blog post, here).

Look, I grant that the article was very long and had a long list of targets.  I acknowledge that numbers of people - including intellectuals, professors, theologians, etc., had some trouble following the argument.  Inelegant?  Possibly. My fault for bad writing?  Maybe.   Emotional?  No doubt, for reasons I explain at length in the essay. 

Still, it is hard to believe that Mr. Novak actually read the article before penning the following paragraph about it:

In another vein, a writer in The Weekly Standard, a former Mormon, urged publicly testing candidates even about purely theological matters — transubstantiation, baptism by immersion, circumcision, and other particular practices or beliefs of various faiths — just to see how, by the criteria of Enlightenment and liberal correct reasoning, the candidate “reasoned” about such matters. This, I think, makes Enlightenment and liberal political philosophy a new orthodoxy. And that test would provide a very narrow gate into republican self-government. By that test, only a small part of the population of the United States might pass. Most Americans have a much larger definition of “reason” and the “reasonable” than that.

Does my article urge publicly testing candidates about purely theological matters as transubstantiation, baptism by immersion, circumcision, etc., just to see how by the criteria of the Enlightenment and liberal correct reasoning, the candidate "reasoned about such matters?  

I offer three basic rules of thumb for what it is okay to ask of a candidate for public office about his or her religious doctrines.  The first is that any question of religious doctrine must have something to do with public policy or governance.  Specifically, I say:

[A]re there principles that can help define what religious questions should be in-bounds and what should be out of bounds in a tolerant, liberal polity?

First, for something to be "in," [bounds for questions] there does have to be a connection to governance, politics, and the public sphere. This is the most traditional form of American religious toleration in politics. A Buddhist's belief in reincarnation ought to be neither here nor there; a Mormon's conception of the Savior likewise; and a Jew's refusal to regard Jesus as Lord likewise.

Well, I don't know, that sounds to me like it rules out questions of transubstantiation, baptism by immersion, etc.  How else would Mr. Novak take it?  Indeed, the article does specifically raise transubstantiation and the Virgin Birth.  What does the article say?

Just as it is not considered irrelevant to know if one believes that space aliens came to Roswell, New Mexico, or has views on Area 51--shades of Dennis Kucinich?--a candidate's views on the Virgin Birth or transubstantiation or creationism are likewise relevant to making an informed electoral choice as to a candidate's fundamental rationality.

True, that does sound like it subjects the Virgin Birth and transubstantiation to politically correct tests of reason.  It sounds indeed as though this would create a new orthodoxy of reason, as Mr. Novak suggests.  But suppose we actually look at the article and see to whom this view is attributed:

And note that on this matter, atheistic rationalists and religious overbelievers join hands to say, all-in. A Hitchens, after all, would say that the electorate deserves to know the full irrationality of a candidate, and that is best expressed in his or her religious beliefs, even apparently private ones. (He would say this, and has said it: "Phooey," writes Hitchens, "to the false reticence of the press and to the bogus sensitivities that underlie it.")

So, this new orthodoxy of reason is attributed to ... the atheist rationalist Christopher Hitchens but also religious zealots like Huckabee who would insist that all religious practice, including weird aspects of Mormon belief and ritual that have no connection to governance, should be considered in deciding for whom to vote.  Mr. Novak's plainly rejects that and, I would have thought pretty obviously, so do I.  I'm arguing against it.  It is stated pretty clearly in this paragraph.  I don't believe that Mr. Novak read it, or at least not closely enough to follow it.

Past this first principle - that the religious belief in question has to have some relevance to public governance in order to be up for question at all - I further add a second, still more limiting principle on questions about religious doctrines.  It is that even where a religious belief does conceivably have a connection to governance - such as abortion or opposition to the death penalty - questions put to a candidate should be framed in a way that focus on the issue of the candidate's private conscience and belief about such matters, and not on the religion as such, in order to avoid, as Romney correctly said, making the candidate a spokesperson for the corporate religion as such.  I praised Romney on that very point, and took it even further in defense of liberal toleration:

To be sure, there was something good and liberal in part of his answer, and we should start with that. Romney said--correctly as a matter of deep liberalism--that for him to give representations as to the content of his faith would make him a representative of that faith, rather than of the people, who are of many faiths. To do so would be to head down the path of communalism, a political space defined not by a religiously neutral public sphere but by a division accepted as reasonably legitimate consisting of groups--religious, ethnic, whatever--that have claims on behalf of their immutably identified members.

How Mr. Novak could get from that to an assertion of a new liberal orthodoxy is quite beyond me.  I simply doubt he read the article.  What is so hard about this?

Finally, I offer a third principle, for when it is appropriate to take account of religious doctrine of a candidate.  It is in a limited circumstance - important, but limited by the previous two principles.  If a candidate asserts, or gives sufficiently good reason by his or her actions to show, that a position is rooted not in religious belief as such, but in the authority of the church, and thus puts an officeholder squarely between two authorities and obligations - church and the polity - then it is legitimate to inquire into the content of doctrine. 

I offer an example that I say flatly is hypothetical and indeed "fantastical" - the Catholic bishops announcing that any Catholic politician voting for abortion funding will be excommunicated and is therefore in peril of his or her salvation.  In that case, a genuinely devout candidate is genuinely caught between two competing authorities, the obligation to God and the obligation to the commonwealth, if, for purposes of the hypothetical, that is the will of the populace and, for example, prior to the announcement of this new doctrine, the candidate had promised to support abortion funding (saying, eg, that this was not his or her private religious view, but following the clear will of the majority).  In that case, it seems to me perfectly liberal and consistent with toleration for citizens to inquire into the content of doctrine that might lead a candidate, or even an officeholder, to vote in a way that is loyal to one's soul and God, but not loyal necessarily to one's citizens who are not necessarily of the faith. 

Any reasonable reader - no, any reader - of my article would recognize that the intent of this essay is to offer straightforward principles of liberal toleration that Mr. Novak himself would broadly endorse.  It seems pretty obvious to me that he started reading, perhaps got annoyed at the length (but surely Mr. Novak is used to reading things longer than 1500 words?) or at the tone of the essay, landed on a particular paragraph without bothering to read to whom its view was attributed, decided that it was my view, and engaged in a little drive-by libel. 

I understand that some readers found this essay hard to follow.  I don't defend its elegance; I was quite annoyed when I wrote it, and decided to take on all targets.  If it was too scattershot or emotional for Mr. Novak's sensibilities, my regrets.  But I can hardly think that the views he attributed to the me or the article by Mr. Novak are correct on any reading.  They are exactly what they are - views attributed to my foils, in this case Hitchens in particular.  Thirty seconds more of reading would have shown Mr. Novak this. 

I don't defend the readability of the article.  If it confused Mr. Novak then I will grant it had its problems of readability.  I do think Mr. Novak, whether my fault or his, has quite misread it.  He is, with good reason, a widely respected commentator, and his views on what the article said will and, all things being equal, should carry weight with those who might read the article Would Mr. Novak care to withdraw or amend his reading of it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide: Book Announcement

More use of this blog for shameless self-promotion.  The Stanley Foundation of Muscatine, Iowa commissioned during this past year a series of essays on core foreign policy issues that will matter to a new administration, whether Democratic or Republican.  Each essay is co-authored by a centrist liberal/progressive and a centrist conservative, seeking common ground across the political divide.

The essays range across many things, from the legitimate use of American miltary force to the size and composition  of the US military, nation-building and democracy, the rise of China, and many other things.  The list of contributors is stellar, and include Ivo Daalder, Francis Fukuyama, Frederick Kagan, Michael O'Hanlon, Tod Lindberg, Derek Chollet, and many others. 

The essays also include one on detainee treatment at Guantanamo in the war on terror, by yours truly and Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First.  Ours is titled The Cost of Confusion: Resolving Ambiguities in Detainee Treatment.

The essays have now been issued as a book, Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide: Liberals and Conservatives Find Common Ground on 10 Key Global Challenges.  It is edited by Derek Chollet, Tod Lindberg, and David Shorr (who are also all contributors to the essays).  Routledge 2007, $17.00 or so.  Out just in time for the primary season - this short collection of essays is also a very useful short text for political science or related classes.  Available at Amazon, here.

Derek, Tod, Elisa, and I did a segment on the Diane Rehm show on NPR (WAMU) last Monday, December 10, 2007, discussing the book.  Here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Weekly Standard article, Mormons, Muslims, Multiculturalism

(I am indeed taking a break from blogging, but I do plan to use this blog as a way of making available things I am writing and publishing, as well as the occasional announcement of other things.)

I have a new piece in the Weekly Standard, December 24, 2007 issue, titled Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism: The Deeply Dispiriting Romney-Huckabee Religion Showdown.  You can find it at the Weekly Standard, open link, here.

(PS.  I respond to Michael Novak's blatant misreading of my article (it appears in a quick drive-by attack in a National Review article) in a letter to the editor posted to the blog here, including links to Novak's article.)

(PPS.  Looking at some comments and links people have put to Amazon and elsewhere - Kenneth Anderson is a pretty common name, so be aware that I am not the author of any books on Mormonism or religion or anything like that.  Also not the Kenneth Anderson who blogs at the Brad Blog or Bonehead Compendium.  I'm also not, alas, the wonderful author of the books on India, a descendent of that British general in WWII, the great African-American singer, the Harvard medical school professor, etc., etc.  (I'm also not the Kenneth Anderson convicted recently of child molestation in some public school in the midwest.  Amazing what you find when you google a common name like mine.)  Also, if I might make a suggestion - actually reading my article, although it is long, is a pretty good idea before thinking to comment.  You can get to it through the link to the Weekly Standard.)

The essay is very long - some 5-6,000 words, in fact - and I am very grateful to the Weekly Standard, and my editor Richard Starr in particular, for giving me such a sizable amount of space for this essay.  As will be evident, oh, two sentences into the piece, I was quite angry when I wrote it - angry that there really does appear to be 30% or so of this country that is prepared to vote against someone - not my candidate - solely on account of their religion.  Not aspects of that person's religion that have to do with public policy, but simply the religion itself and its most un-public policy, un-governance related aspects of it.  So I did not hesitate to lampoon the evangelicals who are displaying this season such remarkable religious bigotry.

That said, the fact that I can lampoon them, fairly nastily, and know that at most they will leave rude blog comments - rather than firebombing my house - is a credit to them.  It should not really be such a great credit to anyone, of course, that on account of angry or offensive speech, you forbear from killing them (wow! such restraint!), but these days I suppose you take what you can get.

The essay also sharply attacks Mitt Romney's Mormon speech - not on the usual liberal grounds that he left out the unbelievers, which I think it is true and wrong but not actually the greatest wrong of that speech - but instead on the grounds that he offers the country a sort of conservative multiculturalism, a conservative moral relativism, that puts his and everyone else's religion entirely beyond discussion.

That multiculturalism, while leaving Romney maximum ability to deflect questions of religion, is wrong because there are in fact important questions of religion that do need to be asked of candidates.  And many of them need to be asked if, and at some point in time - as I deeply hope, will in fact be one of these days - that there are Muslims in America who, again as I deeply hope, will think that they have as much reason to be president as any other person does.  Multiculturalism says that any questions about any of this are illegitimate, and that is both wrong and a practical disaster because it precludes the possibility of true integration and assimilation into the political culture.

Well, you can judge for yourself.  It does manage to attack evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims, and Christopher Hitchens, which is why it is so long.  I apologize to all those I left out as targets; perhaps next time.  It is available at the Weekly Standard, and I look forward to the debate that I hope will follow.

I don't actually write very much about Mormons and Mormonism.  However, I have written two review essays, both back in the 1990s, one for the Times Literary Supplement, here, and the other for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, here.  The links are to SSRN, and you can download the pdfs free from that site if you like.

Here is a bit of the Weekly Standard essay:


Now consider Mitt Romney’s speech and the answer he
gave to the matter of religious tests. Leave aside the whining
secularists who complain that Romney left no place
for unbelievers in the Republic. Correct and not of unconcern
by any means, but frankly far less important than the
question of multiculturalism; and anyway, one may trust
left secularists to look after their interests in such matters.
No, the much more important matter was that Romney
announced what might be called, appallingly, “conservative
multiculturalism”—indeed, a form of conservative
moral relativism. If the demand of the evangelicals was
all‑in, then his answer was all-out.

To be sure, there was something good and liberal in
part of his answer, and we should start with that. Romney
said—correctly as a matter of deep liberalism—that for
him to give representations as to the content of his faith
would make him a representative of that faith, rather than
of the people, who are of many faiths. To do so would be
to head down the path of communalism, a political space
defined not by a religiously neutral public sphere but by
a division accepted as reasonably legitimate consisting of
groups—religious, ethnic, whatever—that have claims on
behalf of their immutably identified members. This is, by
the way, the relatively humane (in historical perspective),
but altogether illiberal political order of the Ottoman
Empire. It is what many Muslims from those historical
lands appear to think would be the best and natural political
order in the lands to which they have emigrated—Canada,
for example (which anyway has its own powerfully
illiberal forces driving toward group-identity communalism),
and, increasingly, Britain. It is not—at least not so
far—the American way, and Romney was right firmly to
reject it.

But he did so, unfortunately, in a typically Romneylike
way, with a corrupt little wink-and-nod to his evangelical
inquisitors—oh, but don’t worry, “I believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” etc.;
just don’t ask me about Mormon underwear. It is corrupt
not because it is untrue, but because it aims to let him eat
his cake and have it, too. He rejected demands to explain
his faith, but did so while letting his interlocutors know
that he was really one of them. Too clever by half, in the
end, because they will not actually believe him, but this
is what comes of positions of moral conviction devised by
management consultants.

The “all-out” answer that Romney gave was the denial
that citizens might ever legitimately and ethically demand
to know the content of religious doctrines professed by a
candidate for public office. (“Each religion has its own
unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism
but rather a test of our tolerance.”) It is multiculturalist
because it essentially treats all private beliefs as immutable
and beyond reason, and because it says that to propose
to subject any of them to public scrutiny of reason is an act
of intolerance akin to racism. It is a position traditionally
asserted by the left on behalf of its identity-politics constituencies.
It is dismaying, to say the least, that Romney would
claim it for his own to deny the legitimacy of all questions.

It is, moreover, relativist in implication. Toleration is
not an assertion of relativism. It is, rather, the forbearance
from judging and acting on judgments in the public sphere
that one might well believe oneself entitled to make in private.
Toleration entails the suspension of public disbelief,
or at least political action thereupon, about matters that
one might nonetheless consider well within the realm of
private moral judgment. Relativism, by contrast, is denial
of grounds for judging at all. They could not be more different—
and, crucially, relativism removes the possibility
of toleration because it removes the possibility of reasoned

Romney’s “all-out” stance goes well beyond a plea for
liberal toleration to an assertion of genuine relativism and
the denial of the very possibility of moral judgment. And
all of this in the midst of a lecture on the decline of religion
in Europe. But of course it is not declining, it is rising
in the form of an Islam whose liberal commitments are in
doubt at best. Romney answered as a Mormon looking for
maximum room to maneuver, but seemingly without any
thought whatsoever to the institutional settlement implicitly
proposed, affecting not just Mormons and evangelicals,
but Catholics and Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus,
as well as the unbelievers and atheists he could not bring
himself to mention.

And then toward the end:

The firm demand of the state for conformity to neutral
standards is what—contrary to the claims of the multiculturalists—
provides the grounds of liberal toleration. There are many reasons, but the simplest is this: Taken together, the demands of religious groups for ever stronger and expansive special accommodations must eventually result in profound and antagonistic standoffs and conflicts.
Indeed, we have gone too far with special accommodations for religions that depart from neutral governance.


(Thanks to Ms. Althouse for the link, here.  And welcome Instapunditeers, and thanks Glenn!  Thanks also to Sandy Levinson for the link from Balkinization.  And to Andrew Sullivan for calling this essay, um, "ornerily brilliant."  Thanks also to Powerline, who correctly describe me as a Powerline reader, here.  Also Peter Leithart.  And Andrea Urseem at ReligionWriter.)