Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What Has Jerusalem To Do With Athens?

TIA Daily • November 28, 2006

What Has Jerusalem to Do with Athens?

Part 1: Pope Benedict XVI Turns Tertullian on His Head

by Robert Tracinski

Editor's Note: I have not yet completed my "What Went Right?" series, but in the meantime, the story below was so timely that I thought it important to start this new article today. Over the next week, I will post the second part of this new article, as well as the next installment of "What Went Right?"—RWT

Pope Benedict XVI arrived yesterday in Istanbul on a visit that crystallizes an important aspect of the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

Radical Islam is a rising force in quasi-secular Turkey, and the pope's visit has been met with mass protests by Turkish Muslims in response to comments the pope made earlier this year regarding Islam.

In a September 12 speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict quoted a dialogue written between 1394 and 1402 by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus. According to Benedict, Manuel's philosophical tract, written as a dialogue between the emperor and "a learned Persian,"ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an…. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point—itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself—which, in the context of the issue of faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue. ---In the seventh conversation…, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.

But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.

"God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.

The focus of Muslim outrage has been narrow and superficial: Benedict's quotation of Manuel's description of Islam as "evil and inhuman." But the speech itself is actually about faith, reason, and force, and it has wide implications for the nature of the clash between Islam and the West, for the relationship between religion and secularism within the West, and for judging the relative threats posed by Islamic and Christian fanaticism.

This speech is all the more important because Benedict is a more philosophical and readable pope than his predecessor. Popes always operate on a broad philosophical level, especially relative to Bible-thumping American Evangelicals, but in the speeches and papal encyclicals I have read, John Paul II never seemed fully comfortable with philosophical argument. His writings always vacillate between philosophical argument and quotations from scripture, as if John Paul II were vacillating between appeals to reason and appeals to Biblical authority.

Benedict, by contrast, is at home in the realm of philosophy, and with the exception of an overly scholarly vocabulary, he is capable of setting forth a clear and readable argument that is understandable to the non-believer.

The reason for this is revealed in the opening of Benedict's speech, as he recalls his experience as a theology professor at the University of Bonn in 1959. The faculty of the university, he writes, shared the ideal "that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason." Theology, then, is presented as being based on the same rationality as secular academic disciplines. In that spirit, Benedict also describes his tolerant reaction to an atheist colleague: "even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason…: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question."

This statement is the context in which Benedict introduces his comments on Islam. He introduces Islam's belief in spreading religion through the sword as a contrast to contemporary Christianity's dedication to defending the faith through reason and persuasion.
Much of Benedict's contrast between Christianity and Islam focuses on the theological issue of whether God is bound by reason (the Catholic view) or inscrutable to reason (the Muslim view). Remember earlier that he described Manuel's view that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature" as "the decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion." He then quotes a commentator on the text of Manuel's dialogue: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." If the Muslim god is not bound to obey the dictates of reason, then his followers are not required to respect reason in the minds of their fellow men.

But Benedict has larger goals for which this theological difference is merely a springboard. Those goals are revealed by his reference to Manuel's Christian religious views as being "shaped by Greek philosophy"—something of which Benedict approves. In fact, he makes the connection between Christianity and the Greek philosophical tradition the main subject of his speech.

Previous Catholic theologians and philosophers, from Thomas Aquinas on down, have argued that Christian religious faith and secular classical learning are compatible. Benedict goes a step further.

The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10)—this vision can be interpreted as a distillation of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry….

[D]espite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.

Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria—the Septuagint—is more than a simple…translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: not to act "with logos" [i.e., according to reason] is contrary to God's nature. [Emphasis added.]

What is really radical about Benedict's speech is not its references to Islam, but its attempt to argue that the classical Greek tradition of reason is an indispensable part of Christianity. The idea that Christianity did not spread to Greece "by chance" and that the Greek translation of the Old Testament is an "important step in the history of revelation," together with his later claim that the New Testament "bears the imprint of the Greek spirit"—all of this implies the absorption of the Greek tradition into the foundations of the Christian faith. In effect, Benedict is adopting the works of Plato and Aristotle as part of the revealed word of God.

Benedict spends much of the rest of his speech decrying the "dehellenization" of Christianity—that is, attempts to separate Christianity from the Greek influence.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity—a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. He argues against these various attempts, including the most recent one, "which is now in progress."

In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux.

See what I mean about an overly scholarly vocabulary? Translated into more familiar terms, Benedict is arguing against a kind of Christian Multiculturalism in which Greek-influenced Christianity is just a European variant on Christianity, with other regions free to adopt non-Western interpretations of the faith. I don't know much about the political power struggles within the Church, but I suspect that this theory is an attempt to legitimize African Christianity, which tends to be more mystical and emotionalist—that is to say, more un-Greek—than European Christianity.

Benedict has some tart words for this Christian Multiculturalism.

This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed…. [T]he fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself. [Emphasis added.]

The integration of Greek philosophy and Christianity, in Benedict's view, is the foundation both of Christianity and of Western Civilization in general.

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history—it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

In Benedict's view, the founding tradition of the West is not the Judeo-Christian tradition but rather the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman tradition—as one unified tradition.
This is an extraordinary claim, and one that departs from much of the history of the Church—and one that is, as the rest of Benedict's speech will demonstrate, philosophically untenable.

The early Church father Tertullian (c. 155–230 AD), despite being born into the late classical world, was contemptuous of secular classical learning, and once asked, rhetorically, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or the Academy with the Church?" (This is the same Tertullian who said, of the doctrine of the Trinity, "I believe it because it is absurd.") In his view, the philosophical tradition of Athens was irrelevant to and incompatible with the religious tradition of Jerusalem. Yet that is precisely the view that Benedict is turning on its head.

Thus, reversing Tertullian's question, we may ask of Benedict: what has Jerusalem to do with Athens?

This article will be continued in a future edition of TIA Daily.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What Went Right? Part IV: The Metaphysics of "Normal Life"

Thanksgiving Day Treat:
This series of articles by philosopher-journalist Robert Tracinski is continued from last Thursday's edition of TIA Daily.

The topic of this series of articles—the question posed in its title—is "what went right?" The paradox we need to unravel is the fact that explicit Objectivist ideas have obviously not swept the world—and yet civilization, far from collapsing, is expanding in many respects and in many areas of the world. For that to happen, something must be going right in the minds of an awful lot of people. So what is going right?

In the last part of this series, I gave part of my answer and concluded by calling for "a healthy respect for the thinking of the common man, and a grasp of the living institutions by which the mass of men in the developed world, and in rapidly developing areas of the world, actively sustain the civilization of the Enlightenment, even in the face of indifference or opposition from today's academic philosophers and professional intellectuals."

The "living institutions" I was referring to are the three cultural institutions that are most visibly spreading across the globe and directly reshaping the lives of billions of people—or rather, I should say that these institutions are the means by which billions of people are enabled and encouraged to reshape their own lives. Those institutions are: scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government.

In the previous installment of this series, I pointed out that, while philosophy can be viewed as providing a "foundation" for specialized fields, it is also true that specialized knowledge provides a foundation for philosophy: it provides the facts and lower-level integrations that are the inductive base for broad philosophical conclusions.

Similarly, one can look at the three institutions I have just mentioned and regard them as products of the philosophy and culture of the Enlightenment, which they certainly are. But observation of today's world indicates that these institutions are self-reinforcing and self-propagating. And I think the evidence suggests something more: that these institutions are not just a product of the influence of Enlightenment ideas across the world; they are the leading edge of that influence. The legacy of the Enlightenment is spreading, not because people are reading Aristotle, or because they are reading John Locke and Adam Smith or any other Enlightenment thinker and deciding to adopt his ideas (though that does happen, to some extent). Rather, the legacy of the Enlightenment is spreading because people are embracing and being transformed by the concrete institutions of the Enlightenment.

I've had a few people object to the earlier installments of this series by saying that, while the examples I have cited don't involve the influence of explicitly stated philosophical ideas, they do involve men's implicit philosophy. But that is precisely my point, and spelling out exactly how good ideas are grasped implicitly, in what form and by what process, is part of what I want to address in looking at the global influence of scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government.

My views on the importance of scientific and technological education were inspired in part by research I did a few years ago for lectures on the history of the British Empire, particularly in India. One of the most important facts about that history, and one that explains a great deal about what is happening today, is the educational system that the British created in India.

The British did not exactly set out to bring the Enlightenment to India. The system they created was designed primarily to serve a practical purpose: to create a class of English-speaking Indians capable of serving in the Indian Civil Service and administering the Empire. Thomas Macaulay, who encouraged the development of this educational system in the early 19th century, described its future graduates as "a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” In my lectures, here is how I described the effect:

Just as Europe had revived itself, intellectually and morally, in the Renaissance through the rediscovery of Aristotle, so a discovery of Aristotle was necessary for a transformation of Africa, India, China, and the rest of the non-Western world.

But you cannot start by taking people from an ignorant…state and just give them Aristotle right away. What is more realistic, and far more effective, is to induct them into the concrete methods and practices of Aristotelian thinking. What I mean is that you begin by teaching them mathematics, basic science, engineering; you have them study law, history, and Western literature; you induct them—literally, through an inductive process—in the concrete methods of Western thinking, so that they acquire the same base of knowledge and habitual method of thinking that is normally instilled in Westerners.

After all, most people in the West have never studied Aristotle directly. Many have never even heard of him. But an entire Western education is, or at least used to be, implicitly grounded in the Greek foundation and implicitly reflecting an Aristotelian method. Westerners acquire an Aristotelian outlook almost by osmosis. It is the intellectual atmosphere they breathe.

So if you were to try to import the Enlightenment into India, the first thing you would want to do—an ideal, most effective measure—would be to introduce a Western-style classical education, teaching science, mathematics, history, and Western literature. This is precisely what the British began to do in India in the mid-19th century.

By contrast, I observed that when the British came to Africa, they mainly set up religious schools run by missionaries for the purpose of teaching the Bible. India got Aristotelianism, while Africa got Christianity—and that explains some of the difference in their subsequent history and current state.

That people should learn a rational outlook on life through the details of a scientific and technological education, rather than directly from explicit philosophy, is normal and necessary, for the same reason that you begin a child's education with addition and multiplication instead of the Law of the Excluded Middle.

Both an individual and a culture have to learn a rational method and world view, not just from instruction in explicit philosophical tenets, but first from learning the specific methods and world view of the sciences, seeing the validity and power of that method in all of the myriad concretes it can explain to them and all of the concrete problems it allows them to solve. If people who have been trained in a scientific education then encounter the basic tenets of a pro-reason philosophy, they will regard them as practically self-evident. That is, although those principles are not all self-evident, they will feel as if they were, because the broad philosophic truths are implicit in so many of the truths that the individual has grasped in his studies of mathematics, geometry, physics, engineering, medicine, and so on.

This, incidentally, is what secular pro-science activists (of the type profiled in item #5 above) mean when they say science education is crucial to defending a secular world view. It is not the specifics of any particular science that are necessary; no one will become an atheist just because he has memorized Avagadro's number. What is needed is the implicit world view and method of thinking that science teaches, which emerges from all of those details.

This also explains an observation first made to me by Jack Wakeland and Shrikant Rangnekar (who is himself an example of this phenomenon): that the leading edge of Western influence around the world can always be seen among engineers. An engineering degree is the one form of advanced education that benefits from a kind of global gold standard, so that an engineering degree from the Indian Institutes of Technology is worth as much (if not more) than one from the Illinois Institute of Technology. (And even in Chicago's IIT, it should be noted, many of the students are from overseas.) And an engineering degree is the form of education that is most economically rewarding in developing nations, because it allows a graduate to connect to the extraordinary wealth and vitality of the global economy.

That is the mutually reinforcing link between scientific education and the second factor remaking today's world: global capitalism.

Wherever it goes—and to the extent that it is applied—global capitalism is not merely a practical or material force; it is a moral force. Capitalism does not have a moral impact by preaching any particular virtues; it is mute. It simply re-arranges the incentives that men face—lowering the resistance and massively increasing the reward for certain kinds of behavior. Hard work, ambition, innovation, independence are traits that would earn you resentment at best (in a socialist system) and a term in the gulag at worst (in a Communist dictatorship)—but under capitalism, suddenly these traits produce a shower of rewards.

And the more a society progresses morally, the greater the rewards. Once a society tastes capitalism, it is pulled into a virtuous cycle in which it is pushed to expand its understanding of and commitment to the morality of capitalism. I remember hearing a business reporter on the radio broadcasting from China, where he discussed the struggle to create mail-order businesses there. The problem, he explained, is the challenge of establishing the values of honesty and trust. In most areas of China, no buyer will pay for anything unless he receives the goods immediately, and no seller will hand over the goods unless he is paid immediately. Under those terms, the Western business model of making an order on a credit card, then having it mailed to you, is impossible. So the Chinese now have an enormous incentive to create a reliable system of credit and trust, with honest and objective enforcement of contract. They have an incentive to further entrench the value of honesty because of everything it will make possible to them economically.

If the main effect of scientific and technological education is to induct men into a rational method of thinking, the main effect of global capitalism is to induct them into rational egoism. And in both cases, I mean the word "induct" in an epistemological sense: capitalism encourages individualism inductively, by giving men the experience of being independent agents seeking self-interest through rational, productive effort.

I remember years ago talking with an Objectivist in Hong Kong who was trying to figure out how to explain the moral issue of collectivism versus individualism in an op-ed written for a local audience. I told him that this was the easiest job in the world—because his audience is one for whom collectivism versus individualism would not be an abstract difference. All he had to do, I told him, was to invoke the life stories of millions of people in Hong Kong. Hong Kong (and today, mainland China as well) is full of 50-year-old businessmen who lived through the horrors of Mao's Cultural Revolution when they were young, then either escaped to Hong Kong or were liberated by Deng's free-market reforms in the 1980s—and subsequently experienced the myriad blessings of life in a free (or relatively free) economy. (For examples, I recently linked to an excerpt from John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons, which tells the life stories of five of his classmates from a stint at a Chinese university in the early 1980s, just at the beginning of China's reforms.)

China is filled with men who have made a transition from living under totalitarian collectivism to living under a relatively high degree of individualism. As a consequence, they have also made a transition from wood huts and dusty village streets to skyscrapers and modern shopping malls.
This kind of example won't be a shock to regular readers of TIA Daily, because I link to them as often as I can. I found a recent example particularly poignant. A story on the economic reforms in Vietnam described a 28-year-old woman who works at a garment factory. "My parents were very poor," she explained to the reporter, then added with evident pride,

"But I will be able to give my son a good education," she said, describing a modest Prudential life insurance policy she bought for her 2-year-old son that includes a savings fund for educational expenses. "He will have more opportunities."

But the biggest example that sticks in my mind is "Bilgay." I began this series with the story of a 14-year-old Indian boy that Gurcharan Das met in a small rural village, who described how he was taking computer classes and wanted to become the owner of a software company, because he saw a man named "Bilgay" on the television.

Wherever Bill Gates goes in the developing world, he is treated as a hero. Just last week I linked to a story about the rise of Vietnam, which reported that "In a recent poll, Bill Gates was named as a hero by the Vietnamese. When he visited in April, young men wearing "I {heart} Bill Gates" T-shirts lined the streets and cheered."

In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman describes how "I was talking to a Chinese-American who works for Microsoft and has accompanied Bill Gates on Visits to China. He said Gates is recognized everywhere he goes in China. Young people there hang from the rafters and scalp tickets just to hear him speak. Same with Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo!" Friedman concludes, "In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears." (He then tartly adds, "In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears—and that is our problem.")

In every society in the world that is joining the system of global capitalism, Bill Gates stands as a symbol of ambition and success. Every young engineer or software programmer in the world looks to him as the measure of what it is possible to achieve in the world.

The historical evidence, especially in East Asian countries like Taiwan and South Korea, suggests that capitalism tends to lead to representative government. That should be no surprise. Historically, in the West, economic and political liberty were born at the same time and in the same place. Philosophically, it is clear why individuals who see themselves as independent thinkers engaged in the pursuit of happiness won't accept a political dictatorship.

I have noticed a tendency among Objectivists to minimize the importance of the spread of representative government, possibly because it is tempting, in all of the intellectual confusion about "democracy"—which is a package deal of collectivism and political liberty—to protest by dismissing representative government as mere "mob rule" in any society that is not already well advanced toward freedom. But I have argued that representative government is an institution that makes its own contribution to inducting men into a system of liberty. As I argued in "Three Elections" (TIA, Vol. 18, No. 12),

The deepest virtue of representative government is epistemological. Representative government is the political system that institutionalizes the subordination of government force to persuasion and rational debate. It is the only political system that mandates a voice for reason in the affairs of man.

The spread of representative government in recent decades—particularly since the fall of Communism—is as dramatic as the spread of global capitalism. Freedom House, an international organization that advocates "liberal democracy"—i.e., representative government and its supporting institutions, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association—provides a striking graph of the progress of political liberty across the world since 1972. The number of nations ranked as "free" keeps rising year after year, doubling from 1971 to 2005, while the number of nations ranked as "partly free" or "not free" keeps declining. (The year 1992 is a statistical aberration caused by the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, in which one unfree nation fragmented into a dozen unfree nations. For more on the criteria used by Freedom House, and for detailed country-by-country rankings, go here.)

It is from nations trying to make the transition to political liberty that I picked up my first clue about the cumulative effect of the cultural changes wrought by the institutions I have just described: scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government. This transformation does more than change the practical or material conditions under which men live. It expands their understanding of what kind of life is possible to them and what kind of world it is possible for them to live in.

In nations struggling for liberty, and especially for those struggling to acquire the last institution of a free society, representative government, I found this yearning expressed in an unexpected form: young people talk about their longing to live a "normal life." As I observed when I first noticed this phenomenon,

What seems to be contained in the phrase "a normal life" is not the details of what constitutes a free society, but rather a vision of what kind of life is possible to man when he lives in such a society: prosperity; a profusion of opportunities for education, for _expression, for advancement; a life free of physical fear.

The "normal life" we experience in America has not been "normal" as a statistical average of man's life, either throughout history or around the world today. So that makes the fact that it is now starting to be regarded as "normal" all the more extraordinary. "Normal," in this context, is not a statistical term. Neither is it a political or even a moral term—which is why those who use it do not understand its full moral and political meaning. "Normal," in this context, is a metaphysical estimate. It means: that which is possible to man in this world.

I then offered what I described then as a hypothesis, but which I am now willing to put more confidence in:

The existence of a free society in the United States for the past 200 years, and of essentially free societies in Western Europe and Japan for the past 50 years, has created a new global standard for what kind of life is metaphysically possible to man. The life of man in a free society has become—for millions around the world—what they long for as a "normal" way of living.

At the beginning of this installment, I suggested that the progress we see across the world today is evidence that something is going right in the minds of an awful lot of people, and the "metaphysics of 'normal life'" gives us a clue about what is going right.

While it is true that few men grapple with explicit philosophical ideas, all men grapple with broad philosophical issues on the implicit level. They all have to form implicit conclusions about the nature of the world and the nature of man, and an estimate of what is possible to man in this world. To say that they do so implicitly is not to say that they do so blindly or that they must borrow their conclusion from those who do think about these issues explicitly. Most men draw their implicit conclusions based on their own experience, on what the day-to-day pressures, incentives, joys, and sorrows of their lives show to them is possible.

So what happens when their day-to-day experience shows them that it is possible to understand the world and solve problems through the use of your mind; that it is possible to be an independent individual making decisions about how to control your own life, free from physical fear and intimidation; that the reward for hard work and ambition is an ever-increasing string of achievements and rewards?

And what if their culture's intellectual propagandists—those responsible for handing down to them their explicit philosophical convictions—tell them the opposite? The result will be what is reported from Vietnam: tired old Communist speeches blared over public loudspeakers to an audience of young people who are far more interested in catching a glimpse of Bill Gates.

And notice also that those who do not yet experience the benefits of Enlightenment institutions can now see those benefits clearly, obviously, almost on the perceptual level, in the contrast between the unfree societies in which they live and the free societies that they can see next door, or (thanks to advances in telecommunications) on the television or the Internet. Thus, for example, when a small band of dissidents in Europe's last totalitarian enclave, Belarus, made a brief stand against their repressive government, a 23-year-old protester who identified himself only as Kirill explained to a reporter why he was protesting against his government: "I have been to the United States and to England, and I have seen how people live there. I know what's going on in the world."

How many Kirills are there across the world, who have "seen how people live" under reason, individualism, and liberty, and who have concluded—without fully understanding the explicit philosophical meaning of what they see—that this is what they should expect as the "normal" state of man?

Kirill doesn't just know what's going on in the world—he is what is going on in the world.

That is why I have described these institutions as the living legacy of the Enlightenment. They are animated, preserved, and expanded, not just by the effort of minds long dead, but by the mind of any individual man in any nation who grasps their importance, attempts to understand what they mean and how to preserve them, and gives them his loyalty in action.

I think you can see now why I so quickly dismiss any claim that the dominant trend of today's world is toward religious fundamentalism and theocracy. If we look out at the world, the only force we can see that is rapidly spreading across the globe and radically transforming the lives of billions of people, as a long-term trend stretching over decades, is not any form of religion. Not even Islam, the most virulent of the world's religions, can match it. The real transformation of the world is a secular phenomenon. What is transforming the world is scientific and technological education, global capitalism, and representative government. What is transforming the world is the living legacy of the Enlightenment, and it is doing so one mind at a time, in the implicit conclusions of any man who discovers what is going on in the world and chooses to work for a normal life.

So far in this series, I have emphasized cultural forces other than the direct influence of explicit philosophical ideas. I have done so because I think these factors explain what is going right in today's world.

However, I have not yet attempted to re-integrate these new observations with the question of the role of explicit philosophical ideas. That is what I will attempt in the next installment of this series.

This series will be continued in a future edition of TIA Daily.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Philosopher Kings & Queens of Oceania Discuss "What Went Right?"

Some of my Comrades at the Ministry of Truth are having a very interesting secret discussion full of Thought Crime against Big Brother and INSOC -- Comrade Parsons, the lackey -- was not invited, so everyone feels free to speak their mind for a change ...Especially, the agents of Goldstein.

The most exciting thing I've read in a while. A salutary reminder that we must stay reality-grounded and not succumb to self-indulgent, morbid pessimism via a string of progressively detached deductions.

It's not surprising that Objectivists are having this kind of argument, given the mixed signals from Rand herself. On the one hand, compromise was never to be countenanced since only evil stood to gain from it; on the other, voting, for instance—the subject of the current controversy—was, legitimately, "choosing the lesser of two evils." Another gentle admonition that we're on our own and must each use our own judgement as conscientiously as we can.

This is very instructive from Tracinski and I look forward to its completion

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Note From Winston Smith

Before I post the next installment of my "What Went Right?" series, I wanted to post a few clarifications in response to questions and comments from TIA Daily readers.

First, I want to thank everyone who has sent a note expressing their agreement with the series, and also to those who have disagreed but found the series thought-provoking.
A few people seem to be under the impression that I have completed the series, partly because I did not say at first how many parts it would have. While I haven't yet finished writing the whole series, I can now say that it will have six parts, of which the most recent installment was only the third. So I can promise that some of the concerns I have heard so far are answered in the coming installments, particularly part five.

Second, I have differentiated my view from what I regard as the prevailing view among Objectivist intellectuals on the role of ideas in history, but I haven't been very precise in defining what I mean by this—whether I disagree with the theory as stated by Ayn Rand herself, or merely with a wrong interpretation of that theory.

Primarily, I have been trying to differentiate my theory from an implicit view that is common among Objectivist intellectuals, and which seems to be the source of a long series of overly pessimistic assessments of the world—which is the issue with which I began this series. So I can say with assurance that what I am opposing is a common interpretation of Ayn Rand's view of the role of ideas in history, but I think this interpretation has some basis in the writings of prominent advocates of Objectivism, such as Leonard Peikoff, and possibly also in a few comments on the subject by Ayn Rand.
So on the question of whether I disagree with Ayn Rand on this topic, the answer is: I'm still trying to figure that out for sure, and I am certain there will be many people who will offer their suggestions (friendly or otherwise) on this question. I certainly don't reject the essentials of Ayn Rand's philosophy—indeed, I am relying upon them in this series—nor do I mean to imply, for example, that she held that the content of specialized fields could be deduced from philosophy.

That leads me to say something about the status of my own theory. I have always held that Objectivism is Ayn Rand's philosophy and stands for her ideas, and that any new theory contributed by a subsequent thinker is his own. So I am not arguing that my view on the role of ideas in the world is the "real" Objectivist theory. To the extent that what I am saying is original, it is my theory, and the reader may judge for himself to what extent it is consistent with Ayn Rand's philosophy—and, most important, with the facts of reality.

Finally, the ideas presented in this series are ones I have been developing in private discussions for the past few years, but this is the first time I have discussed them in public, for what I hope will be a friendly audience. I am definitely interested in hearing feedback and constructive criticism from my blog's readers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Went Right? Part III

Part 3: Pajama Epistemology by Robert Tracinski
The evidence of the current state of the world tells us that every thinking man who does honest work in his own field is our ally and is helping to move civilization forward. The work of such men is not mere cultural "momentum" from a previous era, but an active addition to human knowledge and achievement. And whatever their philosophical errors, in their professional work these men are creating valid and important ideas that do change the course of events.

I do not mean to deny the crucial importance of fundamental philosophical ideas, but to suggest that the relationship between philosophical ideas and all other ideas, and the means by which ideas are propagated in a culture, is more complex than the standard Objectivist theory has recognized. We must look in more detail at the role of fundamental philosophical ideas, their relationship to the achievements of the special sciences, and their relationship to the other intellectual factors that we can see at work in the world today.

The first relevant fact to recognize is that achievements in the special sciences like economics, psychology, and biology, and in other specialized fields such as history, law, and even journalism—all of these are not mere "applications" of philosophy. That is, one cannot arrive at them simply by deducing them from one's philosophical knowledge. They require original observations and integrations derived directly from experience.

Any valid new observation or theory in a specialized field is based on an immersion in facts and observations, and on a whole range of lesser integrations and preliminary conclusions derived from those observations. Thus, there is a very important sense in which specialized knowledge is independent of philosophy. It is independent because it is based on and integrated directly from observation of reality. It is induced up from the facts, not deduced down from philosophical principles.

Philosophy does have an indispensable role to play. It provides a crucial context for valid work in specialized fields, a context that provides the specialist with guidance on his basic method and with basic principles about the nature of the world and the nature of man. But philosophy does not and cannot dictate the content of a specialized field. A specialist cannot produce knowledge within his own field simply by "reading off" results from the assumptions taught to him by philosophers.

Unfortunately, that has been an implication of the standard Objectivist interpretation of the role of ideas in history. Here, for example, is how Leonard Peikoff describes it in his epilogue to Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes…. The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines.

This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history, while the public intellectuals and the men in the specialized sciences are mere transmitters and translators of those ideas.

But a productive thinker must ultimately get his assumptions—both about method and about content—from reality, not just from the philosophers. The philosopher can give him a head start, by providing him with a broad integration of previously acquired knowledge. But this knowledge, to be useful, must be grounded in, validated by, and built upon by the specialist's own first-hand, inductive understanding of his field.

Thus, while it is valid to say that philosophy is the "foundation" for the specialized sciences, in the sense that philosophy explicitly analyzes and validates the wider assumptions about reason and human nature that the specialist employs, there is a crucial respect in which specialized knowledge is the foundation for philosophical principles.

The only way to properly understand and validate a philosophical principle is to understand how it is grounded in the facts of reality. Since philosophy deals in the widest abstractions, it is built upon narrower integrations and conclusions derived from the previous work of the special sciences. For example, before there can be a science of epistemology—the branch of philosophy that explains the means by which man acquires and validates his knowledge—men must have already acquired a significant store of valid knowledge in the fields of physics, biology, mathematics, astronomy, and so on. And more: they must have already begun to develop specific methods of systematic observation, experimentation, and inference.

Historically, it was only on the basis of the early achievements of science that men were even able to conceive of such a field as epistemology. It was only on the basis of the achievements of science that philosophers were able to distinguish reason as a method distinct from reliance on authority or claims of divine revelation, and it is only on the basis of the continued and unchallengeable achievements of science that it was possible to claim that reason is the only valid method of acquiring knowledge. And in today's context, it is only this kind of concrete, specialized knowledge that can breathe life into one's understanding of the abstract philosophical principles that are drawn from it.

It is worth noting that the first great pro-reason philosopher, Aristotle, was also his era's greatest biologist and an inheritor of several centuries of progress in Greek science. Or, in a modern context, consider where the defenders of reason would be without Newton and Darwin—men who provided natural, scientific explanations for the nature of the universe and the origin of man, two questions that had traditionally been the exclusive domain of religion.

Or consider the idea that knowledge is the source of economic production, so that economic freedom is a precondition of prosperity—a crucial principle of political philosophy, but one that could only have been grasped and validated by observing the achievements of businessmen and scientists during and after the Industrial Revolution, and by drawing on the explanations offered by the best economists.

All of these factors will be missed if we regard philosophers as the only source of knowledge, which is only propagated downward to the special sciences.

Yet that is the conventional Objectivist view. I ran into an example of this recently in an Objectivist discussion group, where I challenged the notion (which has been propagated for some years in Objectivist circles) that religious dogmatism is an unstoppable intellectual trend, since unlike Communism it cannot be discredited by its consequences in reality. I call this notion the "Brezhnev Doctrine for religion"—once you go religious, you never go back.

In response to my challenge, one of the participants replied that religion can never be refuted by its consequences in reality, because "the sheer misery of putting bad ideas into practice never changed anyone's mind. This is simply because ideas are fundamental…. Though the consequences of bad ideas should be a shock that says, 'check your premises,' philosophical ideas are not validated or refuted based on trying them out to see what happens."

Consider what the claim that "ideas are fundamental" means in this context, It means that each man starts with basic philosophical ideas as his starting point, and that further observation and experience is not capable of inducing him to reject or refine those ideas. This is an excellent description of the essence of a bad methodology.

My own favorite example of this bad methodology—the approach of starting with a certain pre-formed philosophical conclusion and applying it blindly to new events—is the 1816 novel Frankenstein. Most of us think of it as just another science fiction story or horror flick, but this novel is actually a fascinating window into an important cultural moment, a moment at which something went terribly wrong among the world's intellectual elite. The novel was written at the height of the Scientific Revolution and in the first years of the Industrial Revolution. Science and technology were about to transform human life, resulting in the most profound and sustained improvement of the human condition that man had ever known. Yet Mary Shelley and her circle of friends were immersed in the trend of "Gothic" literature, which was based on a fascination with the mysticism of the Middle Ages. And so, on the eve of a scientific-technological revolution that was about to improve human life, she instead wrote a story about how science and technology would create monsters that threatened to destroy mankind. It is a powerful example of an intellectual clinging to philosophical preconceptions, refusing to alter them in the light of new evidence provided by the world around her.

This is an excellent description of the kind of mentality that slows down and occasionally reverses human progress, and which explains what has gone wrong in human history. But this is not a description of a healthy methodology. It is not the methodology that moves the world forward, and we cannot explain what went right if we impute this methodology to every thinker in the world.

This is a methodological lesson that I have had to learn, not only from observation of the world, but from personal experience. I first chose to enter journalism as a profession—after studying to become an academic philosopher—when, as a college student, I was preparing a presentation on a political topic and realized that I could not think of any concrete, real-life examples to illustrate my claims. I realized that my study of philosophy was not grounded in concretes, and I went into journalism in order to stock my mind with the vast store of data necessary to draw genuine, first-hand, inductive conclusions about the world.

My blog is the culmination of that career path, involving as it does a commitment to immerse myself in the details of the daily news—and the damned news never stops, marching on relentlessly day by day, in all of its fascinating detail. I have not been able to determine whether history has moved with a heightened speed and intensity in recent years, or whether I am simply paying closer attention. Either way, writing my blog has taught me my most important lessons about the nature of an inductive epistemological method.

When I first started writing my blog, in order to explain to myself what I was attempting to do, I concocted an elaborate analogy between instant punditry and Italian fast food. In a show on the Food Network, I had seen celebrity chef Mario Batali explain why the "fast food" available at roadside stands in Italy is so much better than American fast food. The key, he said, is that it is really "slow food": its ingredients are salamis that have been cured for six months, cheeses that have been aged for two years, and so on. These high-quality, lovingly crafted ingredients are available to be sliced up and slapped on a griddle to produce an "instant" panini sandwich.

This, I thought to myself, is a good analogy for how to provide "instant commentary" on the daily news. You draw on the philosophical and specialized knowledge that you have gathered over the years, and you simply slice up these pre-made ingredients, slap them into an e-mail, and serve them up to your readers.

Boy, was I wrong. While it is certainly true that I rely constantly on my pre-existing knowledge of philosophy and of history, art, political science, and so on, to provide an indispensable context for understanding the day's events, I quickly found that I needed to do much more than just "apply" this existing knowledge. Instead, I found that each day's news brought something truly new. Every day brought something that was not encompassed by my pre-existing knowledge—a new integration that had to be made, not merely old integrations to be applied.

The result is that my blog took far more work than I originally expected, because I found it to be far more epistemologically demanding than anything I had done before. But at the same time, I found it to be far more intellectually rewarding.

By the end of the first year producing my blog, I had scrapped my analogy about Italian fast food and developed a new name for what I do. I call it "pajama epistemology."

The name is my homage to my colleagues in the daily news business, the scrappy "bloggers" who were dismissed by the mainstream media as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing"—until they ended Dan Rather's career, in the months before the 2004 election, by showing that they were more in contact with the news than their larger, older rivals. They were more in touch with the news because they were interested in learning from new facts, rather than forcing the news into a preconceived leftist story line. That is the attitude I wanted to capture.

That is also what I admire about our culture's "working intellectuals," the reporters, commentators, and amateur bloggers, most of whom have no academic or institutional sinecures but instead sing for their supper every day by reporting on and analyzing the day's events. You know who these people are, because I link to their articles every day. Theirs is a career path with one healthy epistemological consequence: the work of these intellectuals is relentlessly fact-driven. Every day brings new events whose causes and consequences they have to explain. They are driven both to provide the "big picture" and to show a mastery of factual details.

Pajama epistemology begins with the realization that the world is full of six billion people who get up every morning to think and act and do things—that at least some of those six billion people will think new thoughts and do unexpected things—and that the job of intellectuals is not just to condescendingly "guide" these individuals, but also to follow them. As I have discovered, it is a full time job just to keep up with the most important things that the world's six billion people are doing, and to draw the new integrations and new conclusions that they have made possible.

The attitude behind pajama epistemology is to ask: what can I learn by observing what these people have done and said today?

You will notice this process of integration in the repeated use of a particular title for one of my news items I comment on: "The Suicide Bomb Society," "The Great Contradiction of China," "The Fantasy World of the Realists," and so on. The title is repeated because a pattern of facts and arguments has been repeated, indicating a similarity between separate events, or a sequences of events that is falling into a pattern. Often, this repeated title will become the title of an article, and each article is an answer to a question that begins "What can I learn…?"

What can I learn from events in Kiev, Beirut, and Baghdad about the meaning of representative government? See my 2005 article "Three Elections." What can I learn, from comments made by rights activists in Kabul, Beijing, Beirut, and Minsk, about the global impact of the American example—and from that, about the process by which ideas move a culture? See "The Metaphysics of Normal Life." What can I learn, from an incident in which Muslims scream that the pope has "offended" their religion, about the relative immediacy of the threat of "dhimmitude" under a reign of Islamic terrorism, versus the threat of a Christian "theocracy" in the West? See my upcoming article, "What Has Jerusalem to Do with Athens?"

Most of all, pajama epistemology is a dedication to regarding knowledge—and particularly the kind of ideas that move that world—not as something that only comes from the top down, from the philosophers down to the common man, but also as something that comes from the bottom up, from detailed observation of events and from the integrations made by active minds in every field.

This also entails, in my view, a healthy respect for the thinking of the common man, and a grasp of the living institutions by which the mass of men in the developed world, and in rapidly developing areas of the world, actively sustain the civilization of the Enlightenment, even in the face of indifference or opposition from today's academic philosophers and professional intellectuals.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What Went Right?

TIA Daily • November 9, 2006

What Went Right?

Part 2: The Implosion of the Population Bomb by Robert Tracinski

This article is continued from Tuesday's edition of TIA Daily.
The most urgent question of our era is: what went right?
In this series of articles, I will put forward my own preliminary answers to this question, but the first step is simply to recognize that the question has to be asked, and that new evidence may require new answers and new theories about the role of ideas in history.

Let us begin with just one example of recent political and cultural progress.

A few weeks ago in TIA Daily, Jack Wakeland covered the reaction to the news that the 300 millionth American had been born, and he noted the general implosion of the "population bomb" hysteria. For the most part, the 300 millionth person was celebrated as a sign of our healthy growth as a nation, not as a sign of impending scarcity and privation, as the doomsayers of "overpopulation" have been warning for many decades.

Jack attributed this cultural change to the influence of the late economist Julian Simon, whose work on this subject was implicit in numerous articles and commentaries on the latest population milestone. Jack linked to one such article, but an even better example appeared a few days later in the Wall Street Journal arguing that "more people means more prosperity."

At bottom, the debate over population revolves around a single question: Are human beings a burden, or a resource?... [P]eople don't just consume things. They make them too. More bodies means more minds, more innovation, more dynamism, and more progress. The history of the world as America went from 100 million or 200 million to 300 million lends a lot more support to the humans-as-resource view than the humans-as-burden view.

This editorial nowhere mentions Julian Simon's name—but it relies entirely on his ideas. Such is often the fate of an intellectual who succeeds in injecting an important new idea into the culture.
The idea of people as a "resource" and especially of the mind as an economic resource is the central breakthrough of Simon's 1981 book The Ultimate Resource, whose thesis is accurately summed up in its review:

In the contest between resource scarcity and human ingenuity, Simon bets the farm on the ability of intelligent people to overcome their problems…. The key to progress is not state-run conservation programs, he says, but economic and political freedom. Only then can talented minds properly apply themselves to our earthly dilemmas.

This has proven to be an enormously influential idea, providing pro-free-market thinkers and economists a profound argument for liberty. Here, for example, is just one example of the employment of this idea, from an important November 2003 speech by President Bush:

[T]he prosperity and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by the extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity—and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations…. But…there are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity and private enterprise—the human qualities that make for strong and successful societies. Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources: the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom.

A nation's "greatest" resource is the creativity of its people, which is more important than any natural resource? Where do you suppose that idea came from? Obviously, President Bush has been influenced by the arguments of Julian Simon.

The most interesting thing, from the perspective of Objectivists, is that Julian Simon's argument is nearly identical to the central theme of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. What Simon demonstrated in economics and demographics, Ayn Rand identified in philosophical terms: that reason is man's means of survival and that man's mind is the source of all of his values, including all of his wealth.

I used to think of Julian Simon's work as the application to the special sciences of Ayn Rand's idea. But then I realized that it was not an "application." Simon did not start out with Ayn Rand's ideas and derive his theories from them. He induced his theory from his own observations and from his knowledge of his specialty. He started out as an economist who accepted the conventional wisdom about "overpopulation," until he began to realize that it was not actually supported by the data and by the science of economics. This process led him to a crucial moment at which he made his breakthrough. Here is how he describes the origin of his theory:

On a spring day about 1969 I visited the AID office in Washington to discuss a project intended to lower fertility in less-developed countries. I arrived early for my appointment, so I strolled outside in the warm sunshine. Below the building's plaza I noticed a sign that said "Iwo Jima Highway." I remembered reading about a eulogy delivered by a Jewish chaplain over the dead on the battlefield at Iwo Jima, saying something like, "How many who would have been a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein have we buried here?" And then I thought, Have I gone crazy? What business do I have trying to help arrange it that fewer human being will be born, each one of whom might be a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein…?

To my knowledge Simon was not significantly influenced by Ayn Rand, though I presume he must have known about her at some point in his career, especially since so many fans of her work were also fans of his. His integration and Ayn Rand's integration stand as companion ideas. Simon integrated knowledge he had discovered within his own field, and his integration goes beyond Ayn Rand's in one respect: the detail with which he is able to demonstrate the role of man's mind as a fount of wealth-creation. And Ayn Rand's integration goes beyond Simon's in another crucial respect: the scope on which she applies it. The mind as the source of all values is a principle that goes far beyond economics, and Ayn Rand is able to draw implications from it in art, morality, politics.

Julian Simon's achievement was important, but it is not the only example of an economist who has pushed forward the cause of human liberty by advancing the state of knowledge in his own field.

In August, I linked to a review of a book titled Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, which recounts a late 20th-century development in the science of economics, in which (according to this review), "knowledge" was recognized as one of the basic factors of economic production, and growth in knowledge was identified as the primary source of economic growth.

Thus instead of land, labor, and capital—the traditional inputs of economic theory—it was "people, ideas, and things" that mattered, driving technological change and entrepreneurial creativity…. More and more, economists came to see that it was knowledge that made the difference in modern societies—e.g., in software, drugs, industrial processes, biotechnology, and other parts of the economy where the upfront costs were large, the payoffs enormous, and the benefits widespread. Economists inevitably turned their attention to the institutions or invisible structures—constitutions, customs, property rights, cultural sentiments (like trust)—that help to generate knowledge and sustain its effects.

At the time I criticized the author of the review for naming several previous thinkers who had put forward the same ideas (he mentions Friedrich Hayek), without mentioning Ayn Rand, whom anyone on the right should be aware of. But it is also important to recognize that, as with Julian Simon's theory, the economic theory that ideas and knowledge are engines of production is more than just an "application" of the philosophical principle that reason is man's means of survival. Even if it was inspired by Ayn Rand, either directly or indirectly, such an economic theory would also have to be a first-hand inductive integration on the part of the economists who develop it, who would have to base the theory on the full range of data and observations available to them within their specialty.

And just as these ideas in economics are not and cannot be simply deduced or derived from philosophy, it is important to recognize that those ideas also have a real efficacy in human affairs, even when they are not accompanied by a wider and deeper philosophical explanation. They have a real efficacy, because they constitute real knowledge, a genuine integration built up from observation, and thus a real advance in the mind of anyone who accepts them.

As a demonstration of this fact, let us consider the career of an economist who was working on an even less theoretical level than the ones we have just described, but who had a far greater practical effect.

In his book India Unbound (which I will review in the next issue of TIA), Gurcharan Das describes an economic fad of the 1960s called "dependency theory," which argued that free trade was harmful to Third World economies. He then notes that "There was a mild, noncombative student of economics in Cambridge, England,…who argued for greater openness of trade and for a less controlled economy…. He went on to rebut the prevailing pessimistic view about the poor countries' export prospects by detailed empirical data." Later on, Das informs us that this same Cambridge-educated Indian economist became a civil servant in the bureaucracy of India's finance ministry and by 1991 "he had made a serious effort to understand the East Asian miracle. That is when he realized that India had to abandon many of its old and foolish policies."

In June of 1991, a new prime minister came to office in India vowing to deal swiftly with a massive fiscal crisis. He chose this economist as his Minister of Finance, and with the cooperation of the new Minister of Commerce, the three inaugurated a bold burst of reforms that eliminated the "license raj," a complex network of business licensing requirements that had been used to impose central government planning on the Indian economy. This "Golden Summer of 1991," as Das calls it, was the beginning of India's current economic rise.
The soft-spoken economist of this story is Manmohan Singh, who also happens to be the current prime minister of India.

For our purposes, the most important thing to note is that neither Manmohan Singh nor Julian Simon, nor any of the other pro-free-market economists involved here are Objectivists, nor is there any evidence that they were influenced by Objectivism in any significant way. In fact, many of them hold philosophical ideas that are not consistent with Objectivism and even antithetical to it in some respects.

And yet they are demonstrably helping to save the world.

This creates something of a paradox for the prevailing Objectivist view of the role of ideas in history. The Objectivist theory of history is that ideas move history, particularly fundamental philosophical ideas. Here is how Ayn Rand put it:

There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty—the power of ideas.

But this has been widely interpreted by Objectivists to mean that only fundamental philosophical ideas have efficacy, that they directly and necessarily render irrelevant all other knowledge in a man's mind, so that the wrong explicit convictions in epistemology, for example, render irrelevant good ideas in the special science of economics.

I see this quite frequently when it comes to judging the actions of a political leader or intellectual who has mixed philosophical premises, with some elements of bad ideas and some elements of good ideas. There is a certain temptation to declare that the bad ideas cancel out and make irrelevant the good ideas. The temptation is to take a man, for example, who holds a mixture of American individualism and Christian altruism, and to construct an argument to demonstrate that he is really a consistent altruist. He has to be an altruist, and the individualist elements must be mere window dressing, the argument goes, because the man must necessarily be consistent to his fundamental philosophical ideas.

As with an individual, so with a culture. This view tends to regard the universities as the only significant institution for disseminating ideas and thus for shaping the culture and therefore to project the state of the world based on the latest trends in academic philosophy—which is necessarily always a grim projection.

Given that the philosophy of Objectivism has not swept the university philosophy departments and that it demonstrably has not taken over the culture (although I believe it is growing, slowly but surely, in its influence), this view of the role of ideas in history is only capable of explaining the collapse of civilization. It is only capable of supporting a series of prognostications of imminent chaos and dictatorship, whether fascist or socialist or theocratic. The destination may change, but the direction is always the same: downward.

But this approach cannot explain the non-collapse of civilization. It cannot answer the question: what went right?

The examples we have just examined provide some clues to the answer to that question. We can say that at least part of what went right was the valid, honest, first-hand integrations made by men like Julian Simon and Manmohan Singh—men who did good intellectual work, not on the philosophical level, but within the specialized sciences.

The evidence of the current state of the world tells us that every thinking man who does honest work in his own field is our ally and is helping to move civilization forward. The work of such men is not mere cultural "momentum" from a previous era, but an active addition to human knowledge and achievement. And whatever their philosophical errors, in their professional work these men are creating valid and important ideas that do change the course of events.

I do not mean to deny the crucial importance of fundamental philosophical ideas, but to suggest that the relationship between philosophical ideas and all other ideas, and the means by which ideas are propagated in a culture, is more complex than the standard Objectivist theory has recognized. The conclusion I have come to today is just the beginning of an examination of the role of ideas in history. On Monday, I will continue that examination by looking in more detail at the role of fundamental philosophical ideas, their relationship to the achievements of the special sciences, and to the other intellectual factors that we can see at work in the world today.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Non-Collapse Of Civilization, Part One

Part 1: The Collapse of the Collapse of Civilization

In the calm between storms, I thought that it would be something of a relief to once again be able to argue about policies instead of people, and to step away from this immediate contest and look more broadly at the larger trends that set the context for today's events, and at the means by a which a culture changes over a longer term.
I have commented that the great story of the second half of the 20th century is the non-collapse of civilization.

In order to understand why the absence of a civilizational collapse is such a big story, it is important to remember the first half of the 20th century. During those years, civilization was collapsing. It was collapsing culturally, with such trends as the rise of incomprehensible, non-representational Modernist art, unintelligible Modernist literature, and the screeching dissonance of Modernist music—all of it a precipitous collapse from the high achievements of 19th-century art and literature. But most of all, it was a political and economic collapse, with two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the rise to power of two totalitarian movements, Fascism and Communism.

So it should be no surprise that writers and intellectuals of the era were pre-occupied with the threat of a general collapse into war, dictatorship, poverty, and mass death. You can see this reflected in such famous dystopian literature as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Wikipedia provides an extensive list of dystopian literature, and you will notice that Ayn Rand wrote two of the novels listed. Her 1937 novella Anthem projects life under a perfectly consistent collectivist society, while her 1957 masterwork Atlas Shrugged depicts the collapse of the American economy under a statist political system.

Depictions like this were not alarmist. They were a straightforward projection of the trend of current events, including, in Ayn Rand's case, her own experiences in Soviet Russia in the 1920s and her observations of the political atmosphere of the Great Depression in America in the 1930s.

For some decades into the second half of the 20th century, the same trend seemed to be continuing. In the 1960s, the rise of the New Left and the "counter-culture" rebellion against civilization, logically accompanied by race riots and violence on university campuses, confirmed a sense of cultural decay and collapse. Meanwhile, the Soviet dictatorship seemed to be on the offensive, expanding its influence into Africa, Latin American, and the Middle East, while America floundered in a period of malaise and retreat following the Vietnam War. An observer might still have been justified in fearing that America was following the same path as the Roman Empire before it—that our society was decaying from within and was about to be overrun by a new barbarian invasion.

This conclusion would have been reinforced, not just by an observation of historical trends, but by an examination of the basic cultural causes at work. All of the ideas that had made possible the rise of the West—reason, individualism, the subordination of government to individual rights—were under attack by the most prominent intellectuals of the era. If these intellectuals were the ones steering the culture and setting the direction for the future, then we were doomed.

Then something remarkable happened: civilization did not collapse.

From about 1980 to today—a period of a quarter century, too long to be a mere blip or historical detour—it was the enemies of civilization who collapsed. And more: civilization has not merely avoided a collapse. It has grown and expanded. It is thriving.

The evidence for this began to appear, in earnest, in the 1980s, as both Britain and America pulled back from their headlong plunge into socialism, adopted moderately more pro-free-market policies, and were rewarded with an enormous economic boom and unprecedented progress in the development of high technology.

In retrospect, however, we can observe that the trend had its beginnings even earlier, in the post-World War II establishment of representative governments and free-market economies in nations like West Germany and Japan; in the post-war trend toward free international trade; in the slow but steady spread of free markets and free societies across Southeast Asia, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea—all of the "Asian Tigers."

But it was in the 1990s that the trend became truly global and its full significance began to be noticed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, war has collapsed: the number of armed conflicts across the globe, and the number of people killed in them, has dramatically decreased.

The nations of Eastern Europe moved rapidly toward political freedom and have continued to move steadily toward relative economic freedom. The move toward political freedom culminated in the past few years with rebellions against corrupt semi-authoritarian systems in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, while the trend toward economic freedom reached a kind of high point recently when the former Soviet vassal state of Latvia was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as the fourth freest economy in the world, ranking well above the United States.

Over the past thirty years, Communism has undergone a slow-motion collapse in China. By a complex series of ideological evasions, the Communist Party gutted Marxism as a philosophical foundation for its political rule. I have been following this trend closely, and regular readers of TIA Daily are familiar with the details: China now has the four largest shopping malls in the world; the Chinese government recently awarded the "workers vanguard" medal to NBA star Yao Ming, along with a group of Chinese businessman; the Chinese leadership has been debating over a sweeping reform that would formally recognized property rights in Chinese law; and a growing number of courageous Chinese lawyers, judges, and intellectuals are beginning to argue for free speech, individual rights, and the rule of law.

And the trend keeps on going. The "Asian Tigers" were followed by the "Celtic Tiger," as Ireland liberalized its economy and experienced a prolonged period of rapid economic growth. The same thing has happened in Chile, the freest economy in South America.

The latest sensation—and it is a big one—is India, which is finally experiencing an Industrial Revolution, at the same time that its large population of engineers and computer programmers takes advantage of the information age. This is the result of a process of economic liberalization that began in the summer of 1991, when India responded to a fiscal crisis—and to the collapse of the Soviet Union—by sweeping aside much of the "license raj," a Byzantine system of business licensing laws that sought to impose centralized economic planning.

There is now a new culture beginning to rise in India, whose symbol in my mind is a young man described by pro-free-market columnist Gurcharan Das in his 2001 book India Unbound:

The commercial spirit is not limited to the cities. The smallest village has found it. On a visit to Pondicherry from Madras a few years ago, I stopped at a roadside village cafĂ© where fourteen-year-old Raju was hustling between the tables. He served us good south Indian coffee and vadas. Raju told us that this was his summer job and it paid $11.50 a month—enough to pay for computer lessons in the evenings in the neighboring village. For the next summer, his aunt in Madras has arranged a job for him in a computer company.

"What will you do when you grow up?" I asked. "I am going to run a software company," said Raju. He had decided this when "I saw it in TV, where this man Bilgay has a software company, and he is the richest man in the world."

By my count, somewhere on the order of three billion people—about half the world's population—are currently on a path toward political and economic liberty, and toward enjoying all of the things that liberty makes possible: a vibrant, innovative culture, a "First World" lifestyle of opulent wealth, and the benevolent sense that success and happiness are the hallmarks of a "normal life," so that a fourteen-year-old boy in rural India can reasonably believe it is possible for him to become the next Bill Gates.

In short, it is not just that civilization did not collapse. It is the vision of civilization as being on the verge of collapse that has collapsed—or at least, it ought to have collapsed.

The problem for Objectivists, unfortunately, is that our intellectuals, who ought to be in the best position to observe and explain this phenomenon, have generally not done a good job of recognizing the non-collapse of civilization. For the most part, they are still too busy worrying over the imminent collapse of civilization to notice, study, or explain the actual trends in the other direction.

For as long as I can remember, the typical final paragraph of any review of the state of the world by an Objectivist writer or speaker has gone something like this—which was aptly paraphrased in a recent note from a reader who had noticed the same pattern: "Western civilization as it exists today is doomed to destruction; I only hope I don't live to see its fall. Only then can a new future be built upon the philosophy of Objectivism." Over the years, the pattern has become so reinforced that I see it everywhere, in posts on Objectivist discussion groups, and in letters like the one I received recently from another reader, who lamented that Twenty-first century America is still riding on the historical momentum of the Enlightenment, which rested on a strong (though flawed)…foundation. What is the health of that foundation today?...

What happens to a society over time as its leading intellectuals and, in consequence, the general public, increasingly abandon reason and respect for reality? My answer, gleaned from the literature of Objectivism, is as follows. Faith and force inevitably fill the void that reality and reason should have occupied…. Faith and force, united together, become the ruling doctrine of the society (which then collapses altogether if or when it runs out of subservient producers to sustain it).

I grant you that there is room for debate as to how far down that path America has come. But I find the trend ominous, particularly so in other countries.

I have to admit that this approach has held sway in The Intellectual Activist as well, including some of my own past articles. For most of its history, the theme of my blog's political coverage has been to show how our leaders' failure to embrace the right ideas is leading to disaster. This coverage was true and valuable—but it did not tell the whole story, because too little coverage was spared for evidence of any trend that was not a disaster. As just one small example, while putting together the bound volume of my articles from 1979 through 1991, I noticed that the early issues provided extensive coverage of the crises of rising crime and runaway inflation. Subsequent issues devoted no coverage to the process by which inflation was brought under control and the crime wave was broken.

When it came to the most important event of the era, the Fall of Communism, I wrote an article that provided a worthwhile and largely correct analysis of the cause of Communism's collapse. But it ended with the admonition that "if you hear that Russia and her former satellites are struggling valiantly to become capitalist countries, don't believe it. Some of them are taking baby steps forward, but none has the desire (or knowledge) necessary to go even half the distance." There is some truth to this warning, when it is applied to Russia and a few of the former Soviet Republics. But it is flat wrong when applied to most of Russia's former satellites: Poland, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and so on.

To gauge the state of those societies, consider a recent article with the ominous title "Communist Retro Sweeps Eastern Europe." It turns out that this article describes, not a political movement, but rather a kind of middle-aged nostalgia among Eastern Europeans for the brand names and soft drinks of their youth—all of which are now produced for profit by private companies.

I don't blame Objectivist intellectuals for not seeing the signs of these more positive trends, because the impending collapse of civilization was the trend of the first half of the 20th century, and it is only in the past few decades that an opposite trend has clearly emerged. But it is important to begin to recognize that this new trend does exist, and to ask what makes it possible.

The current global spread of free markets, political freedom, and an industrial-technological civilization is too large a phenomenon to be explained as the mere "inertia" of a previous, better era. Indeed, the cultural "momentum" of the second half of the 20th century was the momentum of the era immediately preceding it, an era whose predominant direction was toward chaos and destruction. The story of the last fifty years has been the story of a reversal of cultural momentum.

I do not mean to imply that this trend is permanent and inevitable. I do not deny that there are ideological and political forces, such as the Muslim world's rebellion against civilization, that threaten to slow down and even reverse the recent progress that has been made in the world. But precisely for that reason, I think it is imperative for us to discover what is causing the good things that are happening in the world.

The most urgent question of our era is: what went right?

In the coming installments of this series of articles, I will put forward my own preliminary answers to this question, but the first step is simply to recognize that the question has to be asked, and that new evidence may require new answers and new theories about the role of ideas in history


Friday, November 03, 2006

Rush Limbaugh and President Bush Chat on November 1, 2006

November 1, 2006

RUSH: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Rush, how are you?
RUSH: Never better. It's a thrill to have you on the program today and many thanks for making time for us.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir, for giving me a chance to visit with you. RUSH: How are you doing?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm doing great. I really am. You know, when you've been doing this as long as I have you feed off the crowds and feed off the enthusiasm and you like a contest, and we're in a really important contest, and so I'm doing fine. It's kind of like a reminder of how I got here in the first place, and that is: go campaign hard and tell people what's on your mind. That's what I'm doing.
RUSH: Well, you have maintained optimism throughout. Many people, I guess -- in the opposition press, the opposition party -- are incredulous that you are optimistic about the outcome next Tuesday. Why is that? Why are you optimistic? What do you know that they don't?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I fully understand that here in Washington people are trying to proclaim the election over with, but I've had that experience before. That's what happened in 2004, and it's what happened in 2002. So one reason I'm optimistic is I trust the will of the people and not the national punditry. Secondly, I know that we're right on the issues -- and the issues, the two main issues, are low taxes and winning the war on terror and protecting the American people. So I believe if our candidates continue to talk about the strong economy, based upon low taxes, and an administration in a Congress that was willing to give professionals the tools necessary to protect them, we'll win this election.
RUSH: When you go out on the campaign trail or when you're in your private moments, do you think of the consequences of governing with a Democrat majority in either the House or the Senate when it comes to things like tax cuts and the war on terror?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I really don't think about the idea of having a Democrat-led House and Senate because I don't think it's going to happen. I do believe, though, that there's a big difference of opinion between the two parties. Every tax cut we passed, which has helped this economy grow, was opposed by the Democrat leadership. The people that would assume power are the very ones who oppose letting people keep more of their own money, and then when it came time to fighting this war on terror we had votes on whether or not we should be able to listen to al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda affiliate making a phone call to the United States and the overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted against that bill. Or when it came time to question detainees that we picked up on the battlefield, the overwhelming majority of House and Senate Democrats voted against that bill. So there's just a different mindset, Rush, a different attitude about how to protect the American people. My attitude is to give the professionals the tools, and to stay on the offense and fight the enemy wherever we find them and defeat them overseas so we don't have to face them here.
RUSH: Yeah, but you've got -- as you've just said, you've got -- a sizable majority of people, not majority, but sizable number of Democrats who are trying to stop you from even finding these people. Let me go through a list of things. The New York Times, some other national newspapers, have published classified secrets of the United States during wartime. Everything from blowing up the financial tracking program that you had, to trying to destroy the Patriot Act, to trying to destroy your Foreign Surveillance Act, the leakers haven't been identified or punished. The American people are outraged about this Mr. President, because they consider this... They remember 9/11, and they know that this is not just a mere episodic event in their lives and they want to know when these people, media and leakers, are going to be held accountable for this action that, to them, is an attempt to sabotage and undermine victory over this enemy.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I share the concerns of the people who wonder why there are leaks, which tells the enemy how we're conducting the war against them. Obviously as Commander-in-Chief, Rush, I'm deeply concerned about our secrets being made known. There's a Justice Department Task Force or Justice Department group that are in the process of gathering the information necessary to find whether or not they can find the leakers. But you talk about the fact that some people don't want to give us the tools necessary to fight the war. All that means is we gotta win on November 7th. Now, I recognize some people don't think we're in a war. I know we're in a war, and I know there's an enemy that still wants to strike us. As a matter of fact, I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to protect the American people -- and the idea that, you know, some in Congress don't agree with me, I accept. But they should not deny the tools necessary to this government to do our most important job, and that's the fundamental issue in this campaign. So when I say that, you asked why I'm optimistic, because when I spell it out to the people I'm in front of, they fully understand. People come up to me all the time and say "Thank you for protecting us." My answer in this campaign is, "I'm going to continue to protect you, but I need a Congress that understands the stakes."
RUSH: You riled the press corps at one of the press conferences at the White House when you intimated that their work in Iraq has sometimes advanced the cause of the enemy, and there's a recent example of this. CNN recently aired video that they got from terrorists. They reached out to these terrorists, and according to accounts, the way they got the tape from the terrorists was to promise the terrorists a "fair shake." This video showed terrorists taking pot shots, assassinating US soldiers in cold blood. What are your thoughts as the Commander-in-Chief when you see this and when you hear about this?
THE PRESIDENT: My thoughts are that we face an enemy that will kill innocent people. They murder to achieve their objectives, and they use propaganda in order to do two things. One: proclaim their might, and secondly to discourage us. Obviously the idea of their propaganda being displayed is something that bothers me in the sense that I don't want the American people to become discouraged. One: I want them to understand the stakes in this war; and, two, that we're going to win this war and not to be discouraged about the violence and the propaganda that they see. Obviously, some of the violence is not propaganda, but these tapes that they put out are all aimed at shaking our confidence. Osama Bin Laden himself has said that it's just a matter of time before the United States loses its will and retreats. Give me a second here, Rush, because I want to share something with you. I am deeply concerned about a country, the United States, leaving the Middle East. I am worried that rival forms of extremists will battle for power, obviously creating incredible damage if they do so; that they will topple modern governments, that they will be in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West. People say, "What do you mean by that?" I say, "If they control oil resources, then they pull oil off the market in order to run the price up, and they will do so unless we abandon Israel, for example, or unless we abandon allies. You couple that with a country that doesn't like us with a nuclear weapon and people will look back at this moment and say, 'What happened to those people in 2006?' and those are the stakes in this war we face." On the one hand we've got a plan to make sure we protect you from immediate attack, and on the other hand we've got a long-term strategy to deal with these threats, and part of that strategy is to stay on the offense. Part of the strategy is to help young democracies like Lebanon and Iraq be able to survive against the terrorists and the extremists who are trying to crush their hopes, and part of the democracy is for a freedom movement, which will help create the conditions so that the extremists become marginalized and unable to recruit. RUSH: Well, that is extremely visionary. One of the things, if I may make this personal, one of the many things I've admired about you is that you see down the road 20 or 30 years. You just illustrated that with your comment. What if down the road 20 years we look back to this time and with 20-20 hindsight realize we blew it. You're not, as far as it sounds to me, you're not going to let that happen. You're going to do whatever it takes to secure victory. THE PRESIDENT: I am and I fully understand the nature of this enemy. One: they're great propagandists, and two: they truly believe they can cause us to retreat by inflicting enough damage, and three: they're lethal. But I also understand they have no vision; they have no ideology. I mean, they have an ideology, they just can't convince people that their ideology makes sense, and I also understand that we're inflicting damage on them. That we're on the hunt, that we're bringing them to justice; that if you're al-Qaeda you know the United States of America is breathing down your neck, and we will continue to do so so long as I'm the president -- and Iraq is a tough fight. The recent debate here on Iraq, some say Iraq is a "distraction" from the war on terror. My answer to them is, listen to Osama Bin Laden who says: "Our objective is to defeat America, which will disgrace America, which embolden the terrorists," which will then enable them, them being al-Qaeda and extremists, to have safe haven just like they had in Afghanistan -- and we're not going to do let them do it. No matter how tough it gets, the United States of America must remain firm and resolved to protect a generation of young Americans, and that's precisely what I'm going to do as your president and that's precisely what I'm telling the people on the campaign trail.

RUSH: Mr. President, we hear a lot of things from troops in Iraq, both troops that are there and troops who have returned. To a man and woman, they are shocked, they say, when they get back here, turn on the news, and look at the reporting of how things are going. They think there are tremendous successes that have taken place in Iraq. Not just governmentally over there, but military successes that aren't being reported, and it frustrates them. I think they're a large voting block, they and their families, and as they come back and watch I think they're going to be active in this election as well.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say something about our troops, Rush. I am... I guess "amazed" is the proper word at how courageous our troops are, and I am amazed at the fact that they are so capable, and that they volunteer in the midst of this war to defend us, and these troops deserve all the support of the United States of America, and they understand as well as anybody that we are making progress in Iraq, and they know when their comrades are out there fighting that they're bringing enemies to justice. They see that firsthand. The enemy has got an advantage in that by killing innocent people it looks like they're winning, because it gets on our TV screens. We have taken a measured approach to talking about casualties, but I can assure your listeners: our troops are on the offense, and they're after an enemy. When they find the enemy and the enemy confronts, we win. They can't beat us on the battlefield. The only way we can lose this is if we leave, and our troops are -- the other thing people say, "Well, you know, it's a long slug and therefore it's going to be hard to maintain morale in the military." One: it is going to be a tough fight, but I will tell you something. The morale in our military is high because these young men and women understand the stakes. Reenlistment rates are very high and recruitment rates are strong, which all says to me we've got an amazing country when we've got people who put on the uniform say, "Put me in. I want to go fight for this country."
RUSH: Yeah, and then they turn around and get insulted routinely. John Kerry is not the first. He's just the latest, Mr. President. We don't really have to focus on him. You've spoken about Senator Kerry. He's now trying to laugh this off by saying he was talking about you, but clearly he has a Vietnam era mind-set, back when we had a draft, that if you didn't have a college deferment you got drafted -- and that's his thinking on who comprises military members, that they're basically uneducated boobs, but it's not just Senator Kerry. We've got Senator Durbin who has impugned interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. Throughout this war effort some Democrats have done their best to impugn the people who are volunteering, offering their lives in sacrifice to defend this country. They have questioned their motives. They've questioned their backgrounds and so forth -- and frankly, Mr. President, the American people are outraged by this because John Kerry is just the latest. This is not the first.
THE PRESIDENT: Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words, and our troops deserve the full support of people in government. People here may not agree with my decision. I understand that. But what I don't understand is any diminution of their sacrifice. We've got incredible people in our military, and they deserve full praise and full support of this government. Secondly, what they deserve is a plan for victory, and we have a plan for victory. Our victory, as you know, is really to help the Iraqis win, to help the 12 million people, to help Iraq realize the dreams of 12 million people who voted. To help the political process and help the security process and help the economic process and we're doing just that. It's not easy work, because there's an enemy that still tries to derail the process. They're trying to foment sectarian violence, and on the other hand it's necessary work. My problem with many of the Democrat voices in Washington is they have no plan for victory. This is an essential part of the war on terror, and I believe responsible leaders must come up with a plan for victory in order to achieve peace, and yet the only plan I hear is, one: let's get out of Iraq before the job is done -- which would be a disaster for a future generation of Americans. Getting out of Iraq, Rush, all that would do is embolden an enemy and dash the hopes of millions who count on the United States to help them secure freedom, and getting out of Iraq would make the country less secure. One of the interesting things about this war that is different from previous wars, is in previous wars you could leave the battlefield and the enemy would stay close to the battlefield. In this war, if you leave the battle, the enemy follows us home to America -- and that's one of the lessons of September the 11th, and that's one of the reasons why we will win in Iraq. I repeat: the only reason we could lose in Iraq is if we leave, and, therefore, we've got kids sacrificing in Iraq, and when they hear politicians say, "Get out before the job is done," that's discouraging to them, and it's discouraging to the Iraqis, and it's encouraging to the enemy. That's why my voice is so loud in saying to our troops: "What you're doing is noble and important and you're going to win and history will look back and thank you for your sacrifices."
RUSH: Before we go -- I know time is dwindling -- I must ask you about North Korea, because I find this fascinating.
RUSH: Your critics have been demanding bilateral talks, just the United States and North Koreans. You've been telling them we did that and it didn't work, and you've been insisting that we have six party or multi-lateral talks to deal with the North Korean nuclear problem. North Korea sets off their so-called nuclear test and now, all of a sudden, after you maintaining the six party talks as being key to solving the issue, it's North Korea who appears to have blinked and you have been proven correct in your assessment of how to play this thing. It's a stunning development that has been greeted with silence, Mr. President. It really has. You stared them down. The United States did. Let me not make this personal. The United States stared them down. You stuck to your guns, as you do on everything, and the way you think is best to be handled is going to happen.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that, yes, the news that North Korea wanted to come back to the six party talks is very positive. I want your listeners to understand this, that I made the calculation having watched what happened during the last attempt to have bilateral relations with North Korea, that if it didn't work then, it's not going to work now. The second part of my calculation was: It's better to have more than one voice saying to the North Koreans, "There's a better way forward than you attempting to have a nuclear weapon," and some of those voices are the voices of the Chinese, for example, or the Japanese and the South Koreans and Russians, obviously, and it's that combination of voice saying loud and clear to Kim Jong Il that there's a better way. It will make it more likely we can solve this issue peacefully and diplomatically and now the task is, when the North Koreans come back to the table, is to make it clear that our intention is to help them move forward so long as they give up their weapons in a verifiable way. Our objective is to rid the Korean Peninsula of any nuclear weapons threat. It was good news. The announcement of Monday was good news and we will pursue the opportunities ahead of us. But the key is to make sure that the North Koreans, when they sit at the table, look around and see more than just the United States. That they see other parties who can either help them succeed or cause them to become isolated.
RUSH: Does this mark any kind of a shift, dramatic or otherwise, in our relationship with China?
THE PRESIDENT: Our relationship with China is a very complex relationship, and it's an important relationship. Obviously we have an economic relationship, and we're trying to put that relationship in a position where our Americans can realize that trade is not only free but it's fair. One great opportunity for China, Rush, is to encourage China to develop a society in which there are savers. In other words, a society in which there's a pension plan. Let me rephrase that: a society in which there's consumer because now there's a society of too many savers. The reason they're saving so much money is because there's not a pension plan or a legitimate healthcare system. The people horde the money they have in anticipating there's going to be a bad day. If we can encourage China to be a country of consumers, you can imagine what it would mean for US producers and manufacturers to have access to that market. An interesting statistic is India, for example, has 350 million people in their middle class. That is a significant opportunity for US firms to sell into those markets, which means better US jobs. So one, there's an economic relationship. Secondly, there's the security relationship. How do we work together to make sure the Far East is secure and peaceful? And obviously the issue we're now dealing with is North Korea, and it's in both our interests that the Korean Peninsula be nuclear weapons-free, and the Chinese understand it's in their interest. So we found common interest here to be able to work together, and the more we're able to work together, the more likely it is that a future president will be able to maintain the peace. One really important issue in the Far East is -- for your listeners to understand -- how important it is for there to be a United States presence in the Far East. We serve as a way to make sure that there's stability, and stability in the Far East obviously is essential for the United States in the long-term, and therefore that's why we'll have a presence there and should have a presence there for the long-term. RUSH: Mr. President, we have to let you go, but before I do so I have to share something with you. When I announced yesterday when the schedule was firmed up that I'd be talking to you today, I got tremendous -- I would say inundated -- with e-mails from people asking me to tell you that they're praying for you.
RUSH: So I wanted to pass that on.
THE PRESIDENT: My answer to those who say they're praying for me is, one: thank you; two: I'm grateful, and three: It matters a lot, and it's a remarkable country where people from all walks of life and all faiths pray for me and Laura and has made a significant difference in my life and I'm grateful.
RUSH: Mr. President, thank you for your time, and all the best. I look forward to the next time we speak.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir. Thank you.
RUSH: President George W. Bush. We'll be back in just a moment.