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June 21, 2002

Moments of sanity Peggy Noonan, of all people, gets why “Homeland Security” is a lousy name.
…[T]he essence of American patriotism is a felt and spoken love for and fidelity to the ideas and ideals our country represents and was invented to advance—freedom, equality, pluralism. “We hold these truths…” The word Homeland suggests another kind of patriotism—a vaguely European sort. “We have the best Alps, the most elegant language; we make the best cheese, had the bravest generals.” It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest.

When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud.

[10:44 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Moments of sanity:

Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 11:03 AM:

Funny, I've been saying to European friends for years that what what makes the US different is that our country was the first to be invented out of ideas (ideas that came from other places, to be sure, but that didn't find their way into practice until the US started practicing them)-- but I never put that together with the "Homeland" problem. Maybe Bush doesn't get it because he's a Texan-- Texan's have a different relationship to the place that they are from than of the rest of us. And I'm blown away that the person who nails this argument is Peggy Noonan: even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes, but who would have guessed that Peggy Noonan was looking for that particular acorn?

Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 11:32 AM:

I'm not quite sure why y'all are so surprised it's Peggy Noonan saying this. She may be crazy but I never heard anybody accuse her of being stupid. And words are, after all, her business. I just hope somebody in the Administration listens to her, though I can't say I liked most of her suggestions much better. Wasn't Internal Security part of the real name of the Stasi?


Some Sheila ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 11:38 AM:

Re: >>When you say you love America, you're not saying our mud is better than the other guy's mud

"Hey Dennis! There's some lively filth down here!"

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 12:10 PM:

There is a word for "my mud is better than your mud," and it is "nationalism."

"Nationalism" is another narrative subject to being used as the backbone of a confidence game or the paving stones of an apparently strait and narrow garden path to subjugation. The melting pot is cooling, and the jackboots are rising to the surface.

No, seriously, nationalism is a current narrative being used to convince Americans to trade away their freedom for a little temporary security. And having a "Homeland" to protect is a key element of the most authoritarian nationalist narratives.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 12:21 PM:

Mary Kay-

I guess the reason that *I'm* surprised that Peggy Noonan, of all people, would nail anything, is that while she may not be stupid, it is vanishingly rare that she applies her brain to the causes of Light.

Usually she's out there draping bad ideas in red, white, and blue bunting, and otherwise overtaxing herself to find new ways to manufacture consent for the John Wayne's America crowd. That tendency doesn't often admit of being critical of the administration and its ideas, however obliquely. Suggesting that "Homeland Security" is a dumb name, and pointing out why, seems dangerously close to suggesting that W. has fielded a bad idea. I find it all very encouraging, actually.


Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 12:24 PM:


ObSoc.Singles: Marry me?


Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 12:40 PM:

Yep, words are Noonan's business, and she's right about words. She also makes a good case against the notion that "it's just a word" and in favor of the point that words matter.

Too bad bureaucracy is not her business, because in her previous column (linked to from the one that's linked to her) she argues in favor of the new department, whatever its name may be, on the grounds that we need to "Start over. Make it new" and avoid "reinforcing failure."

Someone should tell her that from here it looks like we're taking the same old bureaucracies and shuffling around the organization charts.

Mary Kay Kare: The full name of the Stasi was Staatsicherheit, which is best translated as "State Security".

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 12:53 PM:

Simon: Picking up on a radio discussion from the despicable NPR, it would be nice if just the offices and assignments could be transferred, without the current occupants and assignees. Maybe give office holders the option of finding another job in their current organizations or finding a job in the private sector, with a three-year ineligibility period for Federal jobs.

Ulrika: ObPoly: Sure, as long as it's not just you.

-- Bob

Mary Kay kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 01:58 PM:

Ulrika: Yeah, of course you're right about Noonan. But it just seemed to me so obvious that someone whose business is words would call foul here.

Simon: Thanks. So it wasn't Stasi. But isn't there some such organization whose name translates as Internal Security? Or I am thinking of one of those trashy sf books I read too many of?

Ulrika and Bob: Will I do?


Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 02:21 PM:

I could care less what they are going to call it. It's what this new department is going to do to me that I'm worried about.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 02:32 PM:

Sorry you could care less. As you can see, I disagree. I think that we call the things we make matters.

If you're concerned about what a government department dedicated to defending the country from terrorist attack might do, it makes sense to be concerned about what we decide to call it. It's not the only thing to be concerned about, but it's a leverage point.

It's possible that word-industry professionals overestimate how much words matter. On the other hand, it's also possible that telling a bunch of word-industry professionals that words don't matter is a dodgy proposition at best...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 02:38 PM:

By the way, I want to ask Bill Altreuter to explain how it is that "Texans have a different relationship to the place that they are from than of the rest of us." Aside from this sort of thing, of course:

Our accents are the drawliest, our howdies are the y'alliest,
Our Lone Star flag's the waviest, our fried steak's the cream-graviest

--a phenomenon not, to my knowledge, limited to Texas.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 03:29 PM:

No, Patrick, it's not a leverage point. It's a distraction. Everyone's arguing about the name -- not wheter such a departmant is needed or not, what this department should and should not do, and how this department should interact with other federal departments, with the other two branches of our government, and with the citzens that it supposedly protects.

We can go on and on about how "Homeland Security" reminds us of whatever bad things it does. This helps us how if they name it "The Department of Keeping Us Safe And Warm" -- and then procedes to shred what little is left of civil liberties.

The anology popping up into my head is "Quit arguing about naming the rock about to hit us, and START WORKING ON DEFLECTING THE ROCK."

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 04:01 PM:

"Everyone's arguing about the name -- not whether such a department is needed or not, what this department should and should not do, and how this department should interact with other federal departments, with the other two branches of our government, and with the citizens that it supposedly protects."

Goodness. I would say that some people (not "everyone") are arguing about the name -- and that most of those people are also discussing some or all of the other issues you name. Perhaps we're reading different things.

You point out, correctly, that labels can be used to lie about sinister purposes, but it doesn't seem to me to follow that we should therefore reject concern about labels.

It may be that you're getting just a leeeeetle carried away with categorical assertions here. Starting with the categorical assertion that "everyone" is caught up in a "distraction" which is preventing them from thinking about other issues.

Probably that's not exactly what you mean to imply. But I remember getting the "This is just a distraction, man!" lecture from hard-core New Left types when I was younger. It was malarkey then and it's malarkey now.

As for "the rock about to hit us," this argument works if you truly believe the only rock to worry about is the imminent demise of all civil liberties under the assault of John Ashcroft, etc. I'm 43 years old and I've been hearing all my life that the fascist insect Amerikkka is about to abolish the Bill of Rights. I've also been hearing for a couple of decades that the world is full of bad guys who will one of these days mount a big attack on an American city. One of these things has actually happened. Which one might that be?

I'm all for keeping an eagle eye on this or any Administration. I'm also all for not getting killed. I don't have much respect for the highly spinmeisterish way this Administration has birthed this "Department of Homeland Security" proposal, but there's more discussion to be had. I think the issue of the name is one worth raising, and I don't think those of us who raise it should get the "OH MY GOD! WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU? CAN'T YOU SEE THE SKY IS FALLING?" lecture, as if we were oblivious to all other concerns.

Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 05:55 PM:


Texas chauvinism is a part of the make up of every Lone Star native I have ever met, I think. I never took a course in "New York History" in elementary school (might have been interesting, but that's another story), but "Texas History" is required by statute. When I rent a beach house with friends from all over, it's not the Maryland flag (or the New York flag) that we fly from the deck: if we are with someone from Texas, not only do they have the flag, but putting it up is the first thing they do upon arrival. Do you know any songs about New York? Do you sing them? Texans know loads about Texas, and sing them all the time. (Actually, faced with that, sometimes I sing the song about the Erie Canal.)Nobody I know from Indiana sings "The Banks of the Wabash" habitually.

Texans have a different relationship with the place that they are from, I think. It's not necessarilly a bad thing, but I think it's there. And I think it's interesting.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 06:25 PM:

There are great heaping truckloads of songs about New York, and quite a few of us sing them from time to time.

I'll grant that Texan pride-of-place manifests in different ways than New York pride-of-place, but not that the latter doesn't exist. And then there's Brooklyn pride-of-place, which is yet a different thing. (I had the thought the other week that Brooklyn is the Texas of New York.)

Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 07:53 PM:

Erik: You're doing some slant-wise version of excluding the middle. We are concerned with the erosion of civil liberties. Jordin and I joined the ACLU during the post 9/11 hysteria. We gave his mother a membership too, for Channukah. I know Patrick and Ulrika and the other people posting on this topic are concered about it. (At least, the ones I know personally.) We're also concerned about what it's called and how that reflects the mind of the people doing the naming, and how it might, in the future, affect the minds of the people it's supposed to protect. Words have power especially when you use them for names. Being concerned about one does not mean we are not concerned about the other and I don't see why you think it does.

Bill Altreuter: Note that I grew up in Oklahoma where, in junior high, we were required to take a semester of Oklahoma history. (It's only been a state since 1907, it doesn't have enough for a whole year.) I have also lived in Texas. It is true that Texans are Different, and it is interesting.


Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2002, 11:28 PM:

Patrick, you said:

As for "the rock about to hit us," this argument works if you truly believe the only rock to worry about is the imminent demise of all civil liberties under the assault of John Ashcroft, etc. I'm 43 years old and I've been hearing all my life that the fascist insect Amerikkka is about to abolish the Bill of Rights. I've also been hearing for a couple of decades that the world is full of bad guys who will one of these days mount a big attack on an American city. One of these things has actually happened. Which one might that be?

I would, in fact, say that both have happened, the one after the other. Okay, "abolished" is rhetorical supermaximum overkill; "abrogated openly with no justification" isn't.

Also, I think that the current proposed Department of Homeland Security is a brilliant method for scattering intel while wasting time and effort, completely apart from the issue of the flinch-inducing name.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 12:46 AM:

We had a year of Pennsylvania history in ninth grade. Not one of the greatest moments of the curriculum, but it wasn't because of evil brainwashing. The teacher was lousy -- a wrestling coach who mostly just read from the book. I've always felt that I actually learned more Pa. history from my mom, who was a history buff.

That said, it sometimes seems that they inject people with Texas patriotism when they move down there. It happened to my aunts and uncle, my cousins, even my own brother! All born in Pa. and all now rabid Texans.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 08:17 AM:

While I agree that words are important, and that "Homeland Security" has creepy resonances that could be easily avoided, I'm not sure I believe that it's really worth getting all exercised about. The name is horrible politics (I expect nothing less from this administration), but the damage done by giving it a creepy name to start with is nothing compared to the real damage that could be done by creepy actions down the road.

It's important to remember that "Homeland Security" in and of itself is not an especially creepy phrase (taking the strict dictionary denotation of the meanings). The problem is all in the connotations of "Homeland," with its unfortunate resonances with various European unpleasantnesses of the last century. Had things not gone quite so spectacularly wrong in Europe, or had the people responsible not used "Homeland" in such a creepy way, there wouldn't be a problem with the phrase now.

We could call it "The Department of Cute, Fuzzy Bunnies" now, and if it turns into the American Stasi, future generations will quail at the thought of cheerful baby rabbits.

Calling it "Department of Homeland Security" would seem to augur ill, I agree, but on the other hand, maybe tagging it with such an Orwellian name will serve as a constant reminder that we need to keep this Department on a particularly short leash.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 09:00 AM:

Chad, no, it's not just connotation. As Noonan rightly said, it's an important aspect of the American idea that our connection to being "Americans" isn't about blood and soil. We don't claim special properties for our mud.

As for your last paragraph, are you really arguing that it's creepy language but we should keep it that way to remind us to "keep them on an exceptionally short leash"? That's an idea that manages to be logically overcomplicated, insulting to our intelligence, and notably ineffective all at once. What it reminds me of, more than anything else, is the recurrent political idea that Teresa and I have both, lately, realized that we're firmly against. Which is the notion, in all its variations, that Things Have To Get Worse (which is to say, we have to make them worse, or let them get worse) Before They Can Get Better. You know something? That never works.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 09:07 AM:

Kevin, your post is self-contradicting:

"I would, in fact, say that both have happened, the one after the other. Okay, 'abolished' is rhetorical supermaximum overkill; 'abrogated openly with no justification' isn't."

My point was that I've been hearing abolished for decades, and it hasn't happened. The Bill of Rights has indeed been abrogated many times. It was abrogated in the past, too; by Lincoln and by FDR, to name two famous examples among hundreds.

But the general trend of American society has been to get freer. In other words, the constant claim that a comprehensive American totalitarianism is imminent is, whether or not you dress it up in the forgiving garments of "rhetorical overkill", a falsehood.

Does this mean we shouldn't be constantly on guard against violations of our civil rights, and those of our fellows? It does not. Does it mean that lying in the cause of truth is a really bad idea? It does.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 09:14 AM:

I went to school in a bunch of different states, and all of them had local-history requirements. I think we've established that this isn't unique to Texas.

I do agree that there's a peculiarly intense Texas cult of braggadocio, and we could get into the historical roots of that, or perhaps not. But I'm not sure I buy that Texans have a "relationship to their land" that's all that different from vigorous local chauvinism (with its bad side and, we should remember, good side) elsewhere in North America.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 12:50 PM:

"When you say you love America, you're not saying our mud is better than the other guy's mud." -- interesting statement, and one that I wish was true. Unfortunately, all too often it isn't.

It seems to me -- as a non-American -- that American nationalism is a lot more obvious from the outside. American nationalism seems curiously, innocently, ignorant of its own existence; to such an extent that a level of bumptious jingoism typical of pre-first-world-war Britain isn't considered remarkable or weird.

But there's a dark side to this. "We're number one" has an implicit corollary, one that says "you guys are number two". And some Americans (not readers of Electrolite!) seem to enjoy throwing this in non-American faces. (It's visible in the warblogger community, and really visible in some other weird corners of the net -- Baen's Bar is a good place to go to see it in action.)

Let me reiterate: love of country isn't the problem, the problem is dislike, contempt or hatred for somebody else's. And, to echo Bob Webber, it's that kind of nationalism that seems to be in vogue at the moment.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 04:18 PM:

Peggy Noonan's assertion, that Charlie Stross quotes above, isn't a claim that everyone in America is free of stupid nationalism. It's an assertion that, historically, America has been about an idea that's different from "our ethnic group is number one." Pointing out the several hundred million times that America and Americans have failed to live up this is beside the point, since it isn't a categorical claim of superior virtue.

As to Americans going through a phase of asserting cultural superiority, some of this is in reaction to the kind of fake "multiculturalism" (widespread in the public education system) that discourages any value judgements, warranted or not. Charlie is polite to exempt this crowd from his charge, but I myself have, in the last few months, remarked on the superiority of American culture to that of (for instance) Saudi Arabia. I'm sure some people disapprove of this wild-eyed jingoism on my part. Tough.

I'm sure it's just "bumptuous" of me.

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 04:42 PM:

Given a choice between American culture and Saudi Arabia, I know which I'd take -- even if it involved being strapped down and subjected to Country and Western for an hour every evening. (Clue: that was a joke.)

Nope, Patrick, it's not bumptious jingoism to assert that a society that can tolerate individual diversity and abstract values is superior to a feudal monarchy with a legal system based on received Holy Writ.

But ... the US today is not the best of all possible nations. Nor is it even optimal. A society that imprisons about 1% of its population clearly has problems. (So does one where the government thinks it can give the post office and local hospitals the right to bug phones without a court order -- we're all of us, in all the western liberal democracies, in this mess together.) The big difference between a nation like the USA, or the UK, and one like Saudi Arabia, is that in principle we can make it better without the need for armed revolution. And if ability to adjust successfully to environmental change isn't a key indicator of a culture's relative merit, I don't know what is.


Great big stinking BUT.

We're prisoners of our historical past, even when we're reacting against previous abuses rather than repeating them. Nationalism tested out as being the huge error of European civilization during the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. (Arguably, bits of Europe still haven't recovered -- look at the Balkans for one example, and the EU's timorous inability to respond to same for another example.) Once you start looking at things in terms of national identity, your world view can get skewed so fast it isn't funny. And I'd hate to see the USA -- a country founded on certain very interesting moral and political theories -- fall into the mistakes that drowned so much of Europe in blood a century ago.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 07:15 PM:

I'm sure everyone reading this also reads Talking Point Memo, but in case anyone missed it, Joshua Micah Marshall links today to a Washington Times article which points out that the legislation creating the Department of Fatherland Security currently includes a clause allowing the Secretary of the Department to revoke federal whistleblower protection for its employees. The article also notes that the department's agencies would not be covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

The Washington Times, remember, is the *conservative* Washington newspaper.

has the article.

Patrick: I agree that "abolished" is unlikely, and I guess I misunderstood your point. However, I feel that the abrogation currently being performed is different in type from most previous abrogations because of its brazenness and lack of even an attempt at justification. The Ashcroft Doctrine seems to be "shut up and don't ask questions", which continues to frighten me in a way that early abrogations of the Bill of Rights didn't.

Bill Woods ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 08:29 PM:

I agree with Noonan about "Homeland" Security/Defense. I thought so last fall but all the alternatives I could think of were worse: Commitee for State Security, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Un-American Activities Committee, ... Of Noonan's list, Civil Defense struck me as having a reasonably innocuous pedigree so I guess that's my choice. (Of course, as others have said, the substance is far more important than the name.)

However, I disagree about the other point. America is a set of ideals, and a people, *and* a country. Saying you love America doesn't necessarily mean you're saying that our mud is better than theirs, just that our mud is special (to us) because, well, it's *ours*.

ObSF: "... Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate."

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2002, 11:05 PM:

It seems that if I wrap an URL in angle brackets it doesn't show up. Here's the URL again:


Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2002, 03:58 AM:

Tully: "Sometimes, in places like Seattle or London or the Black Forest in Germany when I have supposed myself happy, I have thought suddenly of this valley and those mountains, which hold their own blue mist in the evening, and my heart has become so hungry that I had to come back. It is a madness really, for all mountains have their mists and the evening voices in all valleys are the same."

Gloriana: "Would you love the mountains if they were part of France or Switzerland?"

Tully: "I believe I would die rather than that."

Gloriana: "Then I know you love Grand Fenwick. It is not just the mountains. It is the country, and the country is in danger."

- Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse That Roared, chapter 2

"Our mud is better than the other guy's mud." Discuss.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2002, 08:36 AM:

Patrick wrote:
>Chad, no, it's not just connotation. As Noonan
>rightly said, it's an important aspect of the
>American idea that our connection to being
>"Americans" isn't about blood and soil. We
>don't claim special properties for our mud.

We don't have to claim "special properties" for our mud to like it better than anyone else's mud, just because it's ours. I think that's the fundamental problem, here: I just don't see the bright-line rule separating "nationalism" (which is bad) from "patriotism" (which is vaguely neutral).

I'll agree that there's something wrong with the ridiculous jingoistic sort of patriotism that holds that foreign products are inferior simply because they're foreign. But I don't see anything wrong with the sort of patriotism which values New York over London simply because one is full of my fellow-citizens and the other is not.

New York City means more to me than Tokyo, even though I've lived in Tokyo and never done more than visit The City. I feel a greater connection to New York, simply because it's part of my country, and full of my countrymen.

And there's a pissant little town out in the middle of the state that means more to me than both NYC and Tokyo put together, because that's where I'm from. Do I value the mud of Scenic Whitney Point, New York more highly than the mud of other cities and countries? Yes, because it's mine in a way that no other place's mud is. Would I call it my "homeland"? Probably not, because of the connotations of "homeland."

I think this is all about the connotation. The Administration was reaching for the "I like this mud better because it's ours" sort of patriotism, and grabbed a word which evokes the "all foreign mud is inferior" sort. Look at the Noonan snippet you quoted approvingly:

>>The word Homeland suggests another kind of
>>patriotism--a vaguely European sort. "We have
>>the best Alps, the most elegant language; we
>>make the best cheese, had the bravest
>>generals." It summons images of men in spiked
>>helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders
>>during Oktoberfest.

That's nothing if not an objection to the connotation. And look at some of the alternatives she suggests. Words like "Mainland" and "Homefront" are nothing but an attempt to find a way to say "Department of Defending Our Mud" without evoking drunken Europeans in Kaiser outfits.

There's a qualitative difference in the minds of most Americans between defending our mud and keeping the peace in Outer Bletchistan. That's why things like the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks are so wrenching-- not just because of the horrific loss of life, but because they happened here, on our mud. That doesn't entail a belief that mud from Manhattan can cure the sick, it's just a result of the fact that things closer to home are more meaningful than those far away. Which is human nature, nothing more.

Do you object to the proposed department's mission, which is essentially to defend our mud (and only our mud) against all threats foreign and domestic? Or do you just object to the creepy name?

>As for your last paragraph, are you really
>arguing that it's creepy language but we
>should keep it that way to remind us to "keep
>them on an exceptionally short leash"? That's
>an idea that manages to be logically
>overcomplicated, insulting to our
>intelligence, and notably ineffective all at

Not to mention flippant.
In other words, no, I wasn't serious.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2002, 03:42 PM:

Charlie Stross heatedly reminds me that "the US today is not the best of all possible nations." In our next exciting episode, Charlie Stross will remind me that racism is bad and peace is good. Also, with luck, that ancient astronauts didn't really build the Pyramids. It's good to have friends to keep one's retarded, wild-eyed, crazed American impulses in check. Ar. Argh. Hulk kill unpatriotic little Scottish people.

Chad Orzel (who has a new blog which I must add to my sidebar -- it's really good) asks me "Do you object to the proposed department's mission, which is essentially to defend our mud (and only our mud) against all threats foreign and domestic? Or do you just object to the creepy name?"

To which I bravely answer "I'm not sure." I certainly don't object to protecting the United States from terrorism. Whether this department will accomplish that; whether this should be regarded primarily as a law-enforcement or a military issue -- well, these seem to me hard questions, and I don't pretend to have an answer to them.

I don't think I have to be sure, however, in order to think that it's a creepy name, and to suspect that the creepy name makes matters worse.

Jim Kalb ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 06:08 PM:

To be attached to a grand universal idea is to believe other ideas are wrong. The two are equivalent, that's why there have been very bitter wars of religion and ideology. To make that kind of attachment the basis of nationality is to insist on conformity at home and imperialism abroad. I don't see what's so great about that.

In contrast, to be attached to a homeland--a particular place and the particular people who live there--is to say nothing much about other homelands, except I suppose by implication to suggest that they are no doubt as good for others as one's own home is for oneself. Homebodies don't typically hate each other.

So I don't think Noonan makes sense on this point. If she did she wouldn't have to rely so heavily on crude anti-European and specifically anti-German prejudices.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 06:33 PM:

An interestingly perverse argument, but how prejudicial is it, really, to observe that Europeans spent a great deal of history killing one another over ethnic distinctions?

The history of a bunch of centuries strongly suggests that ethnic-homeland enthusiasm tends to eventully lead to this sort of thing.

Rather less evidence suggests that valorizing pluralism, tolerance, and (yes, even) multiculturalism inevitably leads to "conformism at home and imperialism abroad." I don't dismiss the danger, but there's far less evidence for a consistent link.

Jim Kalb ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 07:50 PM:

How much have the Europeans killed each other over ethnic distinctions? It's fairly rare for ethnic killings to occur on a large scale in organized societies. Would you call the wars between France and England "ethnic"? Seems odd. The wars of religion? Dynastic struggles? The Napoleonic wars? The First World War? If so, what were the contending ethnic factions? In any case, most of those things had nothing much to do with the idea of a "homeland." To the extent "homeland" has to do with war it has to do with defensive war.

People interpret everything by reference to Nazi Germany, Even that hardly seems an ethnic dispute in any ordinary sense--the Nazis stood for a new order of eternal struggle that used race as a symbol but it's hard to see them and what they did as an expression of some sort of pre-existing ethnic tensions. They were so shocking because they were novel. They weren't talking about homeland, they were talking about Lebensraum and a New Order. Different conceptions.

Most of the political body count over the last century has been attributable to attempts to transform human nature and human society in accordance with universalistic ideals. Neither Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot nor Usama bin Ladin care about ethnicity. So why is it so obviously great to base national identity on ideals?

I agree America has acted better than those people, but if you think conformity and imperialism are not national characteristics you should look into what other people say.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 08:31 PM:

I don't think I suggested at any point that "conformity and imperialism are not national characteristics" of America at various points in its history.

I did suggest that the evidence is sketchy at best that they arise from a excess of "universalistic ideals." I'm pretty suspicious of all totalizing philosophies, and I am very far from any kind of idealist, but to attribute all the "political body count" of the 20th century to them is a handy libel against the benign sorts of idealism that's increasingly popular with defenders of power and privilege. And it's just as ahistoric as any of my own perhaps insufficiently qualified remarks in this thread. Pol Pot didn't "care about ethnicity"? Stalin? Mao? Bin Laden? Pull the other one. Every one of those guys was a cultural and ethnic bigot of the first water, down below the fancy talk.

Do note that I'm not suggesting that your intent is to "defend power and privilege". But also note that in making this qualification, I'm being more careful of your feelings that you were when you blithely imputed that I think something that I don't think at all.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2002, 08:35 PM:

And by the way, your claim that the what the Nazis did--

[...] hardly seems an ethnic dispute in any ordinary sense--the Nazis stood for a new order of eternal struggle that used race as a symbol but it's hard to see them and what they did as an expression of some sort of pre-existing ethnic tensions.

--has got to be in contention for some kind of award for special pleading. To see Nazi Germany in this light, entirely divorced from any history of prior Mitteleuropan anti-Semitism, is to conveniently relegate Nazi race-hatred to the realm of magical viruses from Mars.

Jim Kalb ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2002, 05:14 AM:

I shouldn't have used the "If you think" and apologize. As a conditional clause it doesn't literally attribute any view to you but it does I think tend to be inflammatory.

Mao and Pol Pot mostly murdered their own ethnic people in an attempt to turn their historical ways and culture into something radically different. It seems hard to view such acts as anything like an expression of ethnic and cultural bigotry. I'd say the same about Stalin except that he was a member of a small ethnic and cultural minority. That makes any explanation of what he did--which so far as I know didn't include promoting Georgian supremacy--by reference to e. and c. b. all the harder. As to UBL, Wahhabism (his brand of Islam) is an international movement of radical reform based on strict adherence to formal principles. It believes in a single world community based on those principles. That's not the same as an attachment to a particular people, culture and place, and UBL's followers and operations are in fact quite international. So to reign in my rhetoric, I don't know exactly how much those guys cared about ethnicity but very much doubt that their private feelings on the subject had much to do with their horrendous public acts.

I don't understand the "special pleading" comment. It seems to me Nazi views bear somewhat the relationship to attachment to people and homeland that Bolshevik views bear to attachment to equality and social justice. Rather less of a relationship, actually, since equality and social justice are potentially unlimited in their implications in a way particulars like people and homeland are not.

I also don't really understand your "power and privilege" comment. A ruling class can base its right to rule and thus its power and privilege on almost any sort of appeal. The communists appealed to abolition of exploitation, for example. There are advantages to making the appeal an idealistic one because it broadens the scope of justified power. It seems to me the same applies to pluralism, tolerance, and multiculturalism. On the face of it those ideals strengthen the hand of various sorts of social managers. EU ruling elites favor them, for example, and it is clearly in their interest to do so. That doesn't mean the interests of European people in general are identical. It seems to me right to take such considerations into account in thinking about what is prudent in politics.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2002, 02:03 PM:

Did I just see Jim Kalb say that an organization dedicated to the consolidation of the world in the faith of Islam is not about ethnicity? Did he miss the point that the stationing of US forces in Saudi Arabia was one of the rallying offenses used in an attempt to justify terrorism in the framework of Islam? Did he miss the vicious and consistent antisemitism associated with this organization?

Islam is a religion so immutably tied to homeland geography that one is required to face toward that homeland when praying. If the world were converted, the Islamic Holy Places and the land that contains them would be the most venerated and sacred on the Earth.

And, by the way, the initial causus belli of the Nazi movement was the then-recent rearrangement of borders that German people could be convinced to believe was an assault on their nation which had to be redressed.

I can see why Patrick hasn't bothered to reply a second time.

Jim Kalb ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2002, 03:01 PM:

Thanks to Bob Webber for the issues he raises. It's interesting to talk these things through.

It's true that Islam has holy places--first Mecca, then Medina, then Jerusalem. The effect is that the places the vast majority of the world's Muslims most revere have no connection to their homelands. To me that means that Islam is not a religion that appeals to attachment to homeland. As to the antisemitism, it's mostly religious rather than ethnic. It first arises because the Jews reject Islam--I have no reason to think it applies to Jewish converts to Islam--and attains its current virulence because the Jewish state occupies land that until recently was part of the Dar-ul-Islam. From a Muslim point of view that's an outrage. Usama bin Laden has compared the creation of the Jewish state to the "tragedy of Andalusia"--a.k.a. the Reconquista, which was no triumph for the Jews. I don't see any reason to consider his concerns ethnic rather than religious.

As to Nazism, I agree there's some connection to love of homeland just as there's some connection between Communism and opposition to exploitation. My point is that in both cases to expain the piles of bodies you need to do more than point to those impulses, both of which are far more widespread than Nazism or Communism and both of which are basically good. In the case of Nazism I'd add that Drang nach Osten and Lebensraum are not the same as attachment to one's native ground, and Gleichschaltung, a "New Order," and the Triumph of the Will are not the same as ethnic traditions.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2002, 02:25 PM:

Jim Kalb, I think "light dawns on Marblehead" as we say here in Boston.

Yes, I agree with you that the German-bashing in Noonan's column was inappropriate, and the identification of German ethnicity and actual regional folk traditions with the Nazi movement implicit in her image is quite noxious. I am reminded of my own thoughts, that these terroristic and dictatorial regimes gain their power through a confidence trick played on the population at large.

If memory serves, the Nazi movement did this largely through the "retconning" of a false German homeland based on mythology and Romantic art and music. Essentially, they invented a pan-German nation that pre-existed the invention of the modern German political nation. In the same way, I believe, the Fascists in Italy invented a glorious history back to Rome -- an accomplishment I have heard that the Berlusconi government would like to emulate. Essentially, the history becomes the narrative hook to hang the rest of the confidence trick on.

In the case of al Qaeda, my understanding of the situation is that they are using a religious narrative hook, but one with strong geographic/national overtones. Note how many al Qaeda rank & file seem to be Saudis, and consider to what extent religion and nation might be entangled for a nation containing primary religious sites. But I take your point: I agree that their primary narrative in that case is not the kind of invented nationalism that has proven so toxic.

I am a Canadian and was raised to be a nationalist, to consider that the political nation of Canada was something worthwhile and worth defending, and the traditions of other places as potentially wonderful parts of a Canadian life we all defined together. I can't bring myself to believe that nationalism is any more completely and inherently wrong any more than religion is.

It's when that love of country changes from an absolute to a comparative, "my dirt is better than your dirt," that I start to worry. When I see "our dirt is better than their dirt" as a narrative hook to be used to sell new government spending and new and intrusive powers, I worry that success with the current project will encourage the continued use of the same narrative hook at higher intensities to put over more intrusive government measures.

Since the people running the Republican Party seem to have even less in common with me than the people running the Democratic Party in the freedoms they hold most precious (I rate freedom from public health menaces above freedom of business to create them, for example) and see the Republicans as more likely to be dictatorial, the reaction of Peggy Noonan seems interesting, particularly when she seems so bigoted and reactionary to my somewhat uneducated eye.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2002, 02:27 PM:

Just forget those last few sentences. The actual thought behind them is buried to deep to bother with.

Jim Kalb ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2002, 04:31 PM:

Thanks for the comments. I'm sure there's an ethnic element in bin Laden's doings and in Arab attitudes toward Israel if only because people feel ethnic connections, and politics and religion reflect the whole complex of motives they have. Also I don't question that there were things in pre-existing German national feeling that the Nazis were able to build on. I just don't think that means ethnic or national feelings are bad as such.

Noonan's comments don't surprise me. Many neoconservatives view America as a sort of universal nation defined by universal values. Some of them explicitly take the next step and propose the universal enforcement of those values. After all, if the reason we should obey our government is that it enforces freedom, equality and pluralism, which are universal goods, and if particularities like where we were born or who our parents were are irrelevant, then it's not clear why our government should have less authority in Zanzibar than it does in Dubuque. Here, for example, is a quote from a leading neoconservative:

"In fact, since 'no nation is exempt' from the 'true and unchanging' principles of liberty and justice, American foreign policy can be said to be at war with tyranny in general97though not as urgently as we are at war with dangerously hostile tyrannies, and with a greater chance of using diplomatic and political rather than military means to achieve regime change."
[William Kristol, "Taking the War Beyond Terrorism," Washington Post, January 31, 2002]

So in principle we're at war with every government run on principles other than our own. Comments like Kristol's are part of what makes me so skittish about Noonan's comment.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2002, 09:16 AM:

I just wanted to follow up a bit on your comments about antisemitism in the Middle East. Although I'm not a scholar in this area, my impression is that antisemitism in the region predates Israel, and even British Palestine, and that it is essentially the same hateful human xenophobic reaction as elsewhere in the world. From what I understand, the existence of Israel has an aspect of insult added to injury in that Jews made Israel and have repeatedly defeated attempts by majority-Islam countries to destroy their nation.

Antisemitism (and particularly the Elders of Zion version currently active), in this view, is part of the narrative rationale for Israel's success: the Jews must have secret influences and powers in order to defeat the forces of the One True Religion. Antisemitism was, I think, also a part of the Nazi narrative explaining the troubles of the then-modern world. Once again, part of a confidence trick by which authoritarian movements and regimes gain and keep power.