Did Jeff Flake think Robert Mugabe was a T.S. Eliot fan too?

Charles Johnson uncovers the masters thesis of Sen. Jeff Flake, the main GOP supporter of rapprochement with Cuba. It, uh, doesn’t speak well of his judgment:

The entire premise of Flake’s thesis, “Zimbabwe: Rhetoric vs. Reality,” (below) is that Mugabe really isn’t a Socialist and is “on the side of the West.”

“After a visit to the country with exposure to the amount of private enterprise and limited government interference in the economy, as well as recognizing the viable existence of a second party, one would clearly see that Zimbabwe is more on the side of the West,” Flake wrote.

Flake doubted that Mugabe really was a socialist. “What is the reason for Mugabe’s continuing lip service to socialism? Perhaps Mugabe never believed in following the socialist path at all,” he wrote. “Mugabe may have come to the conclusion that the socialist model of development is bankrupt in the African context.”
Flake continued arguing that “despite the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, Zimbabwe has not moved towards a high degree of socialism under Mugabe.”

Now, let’s give Sen. Flake the benefit of the doubt; his thesis was exceptionally ill-timed. It was turned in in 1987, the year Zimbabwe’s decline began to accelerate as Mugabe assumed new powers, and major collectivization schemes had yet to take place. But still, we would rightly take a dim view of a masters thesis from 1935 just before the Nuremberg Laws saying Hitler displayed a “gulf between rhetoric and reality” (Flake’s words).

Really wanting socialist revolutionaries to be on your side is different from really wanting national socialists to be on your side. Wyndham Lewis is pretty much forgotten, but in 2008, we see columns in the New York Times about how, despite the lack of evidence, Mugabe was a secret T.S. Eliot fan (h/t Moldbug).

Those parts of the West that didn’t quite support left-wing anti-colonial movements were deeply invested in the notion that the transition to majority rule in Africa would be painless and orderly. The United Church of Christ was firmly in the former camp, however, and had a long history with Mugabe’s regime. That was fine when he was a revolutionary socialist, but less fine when he started oppressing gays. One of the presidents of ZANU, Ndabaningi Sithole, was a UCC minister. He gave an interview in 1995 saying the revolution was kindled by, of all people, Swedes:

Tor Sellström: There was an early involvement by the Nordic countries in the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. How can you explain that? Did it start with the missions?

Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, to begin with it was an involvement by the missions. Sweden had a very big mission in this country at Mnene. Incidentally, my first child was born at that mission. When the struggle started, somehow the good-hearted people at Mnene sympathized with the African nationalist cause and we were able to send some of our fellows to Sweden. My own son, for instance, got into a family there. They looked after him. My daughter also got there through a Swedish family. But it is not only my family that benefited from being kept by Swedish families during the struggle, but other families as well. They benefited a great deal.

Flake is a Mormon, though, and we usually expect more sober assessments from them.

Conservatives for secular morality and cultural relativism

Not cool, Austin Petersen:

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This is from his public page. What’s a little Catholic bashing to establish your Cool Atheist bona-fides? It’s apparently news to Judge Napolitano’s former producer that the Holy Father isn’t quite on board with the liberal paradigm. I wonder if he’s told his former boss he’s a member of the “cult of Christ.”

Let’s reassure him by noting that there are some liberal Catholics trying to sanctify Charlie Hebdo, and claim that Western Civilization depends on the protection and dissemination of publications like it:

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an assault on Christendom. Magazines that publish sophomoric cartoons mocking religion are, paradoxically, part of the Body of Christ – if perhaps its lower intestine.

We also have conservatives like the neocon Herodotus Victor Davis Hanson engaging in a little moral relativism, which should cheer an atheist like Petersen:

Unfortunately, when we look to prominent defenders of the Western faith in free speech, we find too often offenders.

Start with Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League. He recently made a series of silly statements about the terrorist attack in Paris. The gist was that the slain Charlie Hebdo staffers were nearly as much to blame for their deaths as were their killers, given their gratuitous blasphemy against the Islamic religion.

Does Donohue believe that satirists who poke fun at Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism — and there are many, including the editors of Charlie Hebdo — are in similar mortal danger worldwide? Would Donohue wish such crass artists and writers to be?

These are both examples of the disturbing tendency after the Paris attacks of shutting down anyone who’s observed a cause and effect relationship between the cartoons and the murders. Indeed, against anyone who has dared to point out that words and pictures have consequences. Should the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have been murdered in the name of Islam for drawing stuff? No, of course not. But they were. Can we handle that?

What people like Pope Francis, Pat Buchanan, and Bill Donohue, in descending order of erudition and kindness, have pointed out is that disrespect for religion has bloody consequences. A defining feature of the revolution in France, which established the secular order under which Charlie Hebdo has been allowed to flourish, was the massacre of priests, for example.

Now, not even Donohue wants to go back to those bad old days of “theocracy.” He’s quite clear that he doesn’t support blasphemy laws; apparently he’ll make a big stink if you even ask him to. But if he did, who cares? Are we going to pretend Bill Donohue really has the ability to tip elections, enact massive speech-curtailing laws, call pogroms, or whatever it is that makes him haunt these people’s nightmares?

On the other hand, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, European self-abasement, whatever you want to call it, is not irrelevant. It’s directly related to France’s problems. Which is why it strikes me as cowardly and unreflective that conservatives and libertarians are jumping to the defense of a naked, value-free public square that has been useful for nothing so much as prioritizing Islam at the expense of Christianity. (more…)

An open letter to a budding terrorist

Dear Budding Terrorist,

Greetings. You don’t know me, although perhaps you might be inclined to think that you do, but I thought that I might do something different and break the ice. I understand how unsettling it is for an infidel or mindless sheep or collateral damage or whatever to make the first move, but relationships in violence don’t seem any more or less complicated than relationships in love. And seeing as how we’re basically going to be getting off on the wrong foot no matter how we carry ourselves, I hope you will permit my indulgence.

First I want to offer my most heartfelt congratulations. I mean that sincerely. You’ve found something to believe in; you’ve found something far larger than yourself, and to which you have submitted your whole being in order to be defined by it so totally that it almost obliterates everything you were up until that point. That is not an easy thing to do, I imagine; to wholly dedicate yourself to this or that creed, however abstract on its face, however diluted or manipulated by cleverer but still lesser minds. This is more than I can say for most people I know and love, and I am very close to respecting you far more than I do them. Speaking for myself, living in a fog of unbelief has proven satisfactory and securing in only the most superficial sense, like going into a vast wilderness with nothing but a sharpened tree branch.

That you found something, a proverbial light penetrating an otherwise total darkness, in other words, is great. I am happy for you. You want something better than what you have, and moreover you want it spread as far and wide as possible so that, I presume, it gives others the feeling that it gave you. It’s on this point that I’d like to offer some advice.

In setting about with persuading people of the superiority of your beliefs, it helps to have a sense of proportionality when doing so. I know that this seems rich coming from a citizen of the United States, a country that never knew a disproportion it didn’t like, but be assured that I speak to you as someone thoroughly fatigued by any and all disproportion, not only those inflicted against my fellow countrymen but those inflicted in our names against others wholly undeserving. To put it bluntly, I speak as someone who is tired of seeing people get killed. I’ve not seen very many compared to others, I admit, but I’ve seen enough at a reasonable enough distance to know that whatever good anyone thinks will come out of it just won’t.

Perhaps you’d think it out of line of me to presume that you’d kill anybody. Perhaps you’re convinced that people you seek to persuade will very clearly see the very same light you saw and fall in line with no bloodshed or other force necessary. I think you and I both know that that is the highest order of bullshit. Whatever the content of your belief, your fervor will be stoked so early and often that it may well eclipse the former. It will very likely be stoked by people who casually disregard your worldview. It will certainly be stoked by people who willfully disregard it, indeed, who disregard it with vulgarity and vehemence, with insensitivity and antipathy. Perhaps they do not seek to harm you personally, but you may feel wounded all the same. How dare they persist in flouting The Truth? How dare they belittle and ridicule that to which you’ve so dedicated your time and energy? These people are beyond persuasion, you’ll conclude, they are beyond redemption, and so making an example of them will surely make more sense to you. Against vile words and images you’ll take action and your point will be made.

Even if you haven’t made up your mind on that point, I offer only this suggestion: don’t. Don’t make an example out of anyone for expressing this or that crude criticism. Don’t threaten and don’t kill, if not for the sake of your victims then at least for the sake of yourself and whose name under which you do it. It will not only fail, it will elicit negative results. Your cause, for one, will be regarded outwardly as unjust, even malignant if it isn’t already, but more crucially your actions will be responded to, and likely overtaken, by the very sentiment you hoped to stifle. Your vulgar, locally renowned target will go national, even international; its subversive infamy will be imbued with an almost knightly heroism. Innumerable people of all stripes, of all backgrounds and views, will go out, into the cold if necessary, to express solidarity with it and defend its right to be as vile as it wishes.

It’s perverse, really, that it would take you killing someone to remind everyone else of freedom’s presence. Freedom, don’t get me wrong, is every bit as abstract as the ideas to which you’ve clung, hell it might even be more so, yet therein lies its power. You come to us with a mind to impose rigidity and obedience, perhaps more than was intended at that, or worse if we refuse; freedom imposes generosity and presupposes at least some dignity in pretty much everybody. To some it is granted far more easily than others; it was to me and I’d hazard a guess that it was almost equally as much to you. I feel sorry for people who don’t quite grasp that feeling, but in the end there’s only so much time to give to people like you and me when there are others under more trying circumstances and with some responsibility for them attached to us.

You and I are not really all that impressive, valuable or memorable in the grand scheme of things. Maybe we should just be friends.



(Image source)

Celebrating Christmas with ‘goat-based arson’

This is a great story:

In all, something like half the goats built in Gävle since the tradition began have burnt down. Another chunk have been destroyed in some other way. The survival rate for these things is barely one in three.

On, and in 1968 a couple had sex in it, but apparently that time it survived.

There are two lessons here. One is that festive traditions are pretty mutable. The Gävle authorities think the tradition is erecting the giant Yule Goat. Everyone else thinks the tradition is trying to set fire to it. Both these traditions have co-existed happily, sort of, for nearly half a century.

The other lesson is that people really like setting fire to goats.

Private cities around the world

The PanAm Post was kind enough to publish a piece I wrote about private cities around the world. Below is an excerpt.

First, private cities could provide better administration of public goods (e.g. security, roads, sewage, and clean water), because the income of the developer is linked to his ability to attract residents. City owners are incentivized to provide valuable goods and services.+

The second, and more important reason, is that private cities incentivize institutional change. Economic freedom leads to economic growth, which increases the value of the land on which the city resides, benefiting the developer. As such, private-city owners have a strong incentive to lobby their central or state governments for a degree of institutional autonomy to increase their competitiveness.

The Honduran ZEDEs, though not as far along as projects mentioned in the piece have the most potential as they have the most institutional autonomy. Honduras has even inspired their neighbors, El Salvador and Costa Rica to begin to consider laws of their own to allow institutionally autonomous zones.

The spread of private and/or institutionally autonomous cities is happening faster than I expected.

Authoritarianism works!

According to news reports the fascist internationale’s conference in Budapest was cancelled by order of Hungarian President Viktor Orban himself, a man who’s said he wants to end liberal democracy.

So maybe what we’ve got is a right-wing strongman superseding a fascist movement, sort of like what Franco did with the Falangists.

Or is that quite right? The group in question was quoting civil rights hymns after being banned and vowing to carry on — apparently by holding private gathering that was broken up by the cops — could it be that we’re talking about a racial justice organization being suppressed by majoritarian tyranny? We appear to have a glitch in the matrix along these lines, with a Buzzfeed reporter tweeting that the detentions of white nationalists were “fast becoming a Hungarian free speech issue.”

Both interpretations probably give the conference too much credit. Both of their marquee partnerships pulled out or didn’t show; Jobbik and Aleksander Dugin (whom the conference organizer’s wife did translation work for). Though Jobbik still apparently claims it’s not a racist conference.

Anyway, Richard Spencer bet on Hungary, with a right wing among the strongest in Europe, as being hospitable to the sort of ideas that are expressed at your average NPI conference. This was not just incorrect, but as Jobbik pulling out seems to suggest, vastly unrealistic.