Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Look Back at Jimmy Carter's Human Rights Speech: 'Morality and Foreign Policy'

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual participatory event for bloggers across the globe.  This year's theme is "human rights," which brought to mind another day in which that topic sparked a global conversation.

Thirty-six years ago, in a speech to college graduates, a new American president launched a worldwide discussion on the question of human rights and how best to promote them.

On May 22, 1977, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address on foreign policy at Notre Dame. Carter’s speech was widely seen and read and was the subject of much commentary.

Jeane Kirkpatrick
Shortly after Carter’s speech was delivered, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) published a book entitled Morality and Foreign Policy: A Symposium on President Carter’s Stance.

That slim volume -- the first book under the imprint of the EPPC, which was then affiliated with Georgetown University -- included nine original essays that reacted directly to Carter’s address and three previously published articles on the general topic of ethics and international relations and, more specifically, the role that the promotion of human rights should play in foreign policy. Contributors included future U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol, and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

It has become something of a commonplace, and a jocular one at that, to make facile comparisons between the Carter and Obama administrations, especially with regard to foreign policy. (The comparisons were raised even before the 2008 election as a warning to voters about Candidate Obama and were accelerated by Obama's premature receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.)

Thus it was somewhat jarring to read this paragraph in the essay by Charles Burton Marshall. Substitute the word “Obama” for “Carter” and this reference to political messianism could have been written yesterday – or next week – rather than in 1977:

“Sooner or later events will demonstrate even to the tight inner circle that the Carter administration no more knows the secret for walking on water around the world than it has a formula for cleansing the public service or any other manifestation of the Old Adam. The self-enthrallment then will cease.”

That oddity aside, the substance of Carter’s speech was meant to lay down a line of demarcation between his administration’s foreign policy and that of previous administrations. As the book’s editor, Ernest W. Lefever, explained in his preface, Carter, “perhaps more than any other president since Woodrow Wilson, has sought to make morality the touchstone of his foreign policy. In so doing he draws upon a persistent and fundamental strand in the American experience. He has emphasized respect for human rights throughout the world, not only as a valued goal, but also as a specific objective of U.S. statecraft.”

Blog Action Day: October 16, 2013
In Carter’s own words at Notre Dame, he stated his belief that “we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence which we have for humane purposes. We can also have a foreign policy that the American people both support and for a change know about and understand.”

In the single phrase that may have, more than any other, thrust Carter’s address into heightened scrutiny, he referred to the “inordinate fear of Communism.”

Given that May 1977 was in the midst of the Cold War, for those who believed the Soviet Union was an authentic threat to the West, the phrase “inordinate fear of Communism” rang untrue. As Eugene Rostow put it in his essay, “American foreign policy during the years between the Second World War and the end of the Vietnam War was not dominated by an ‘inordinate fear of Communism,’ but by a legitimate concern for policies of Soviet expansion and aggression.”

The comments of the contributors to Morality and Foreign Policy were cutting, even as they were respectful and, in some cases, shared the basic hope and optimism that Carter manifested. Re-reading them more than three decades later, it is surprising, given the different historical, diplomatic, and political contexts of the times, how relevant the remarks seem today. Listen to the words and ask yourself if you have not heard similar expressions in the months since January 20, 2009.

For instance, Robert Bartley wrote: “Almost certainly it is a mistake to look to President Carter’s professed morality to explain our concerns about his foreign policy. His version of morality is not that sharp a departure, and on experience so far not that powerful a force in shaping his policies. We would do better to worry about sheer inexperience.”

John P. Roche, then dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, tried to set Carter’s speech in a wider context:

“As a thirty-year veteran who long since reached the conviction that commencement addresses were drafted by computers, I am certain I have heard this one four times. Indeed, had I absorbed it without advance information on the source, I might have attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Goldberg, Harold Stassen, or George McGovern. (At half an hour it was a bit brief for Hubert Humphrey, God bless him.) In short, it was standard commencement pap by an American ‘statesman’: ‘Speech 5c—American Policy, Morality, and the World (for use at a liberal religious school).’”

Roche went on to say: “Part of Mr. Carter’s problem in world politics is the lack of any ideological roots, a weakness which has been buttressed by a McGovernite ‘issues staff’ which sincerely believes that the world began in January 1977, when they took office. In this state of historical amnesia it is hard to deal with the degrees on the scale between ‘good’ and ‘bad.’”

The two contributors most sharply critical of Carter’s speech were Michael Novak and Eugene V. Rostow.

Novak, then a religion professor at Syracuse University, said in his response that it “is a profoundly embarrassing and disturbing speech…. [The] President’s vision is deficient. It is deficient both in realism and fact. It is deficient in its moral vision. The President uses the word moral and its cognates – values, principles, social justice, and the like – very heavily indeed. But he does not use them well.”

He later added: “One of the best ways to create an immoral foreign policy is to try too hard for a moral one.”

'Morality and Foreign Policy'
Rostow, who served in the Johnson Administration’s State Department, wrote that “President Carter’s Notre Dame speech is his most ambitious attempt thus far to define the American national interest in its course. The speech is deeply flawed: inconsistent; incomplete; and excessive in its claims of novelty…. The speech lacks any conception of the relationship between power and morality in international affairs.”

While generally content with the themes underlying President Carter’s remarks, Jeane Kirkpatrick raised six questions demanding clarification or explication. One was: “Why does the President think that ‘a peaceful world cannot exist one third rich and two thirds hungry’? The implication is that the frustration of poor nations causes war. In fact that the notion that poverty causes war doesn’t wash. Poverty causes hardship, suffering, and death … but there is little evidence to support the notion that it causes war… Poverty is abominable, not because it leads to war, but because it perpetuates human misery. We can approach problems of war and poverty more effectively if we are clear about the relationships between them.”

Ronald Berman, once chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, parsed the language of Carter’s speech. “Where the language of this speech is moralistic,” he said, “it tends to have an effect just about the opposite to that intended: By devaluing our past motives it makes our present ones suspicious. How reliable can policy be which is based upon the acceptance of our moral fallibility?”

In a paragraph that timelessly retains its relevance, Charles Burton Marshall, pondering whether disappointment might follow the non-fulfillment of the president’s high-flying rhetoric, noted that the “distinction [between cynicism and skepticism] is important. A cynic shrugs off differences between right and wrong as merely conventional – a sham, as it were. A skeptic acknowledges such differences as real, but regards them to be often complex and subtle, and refuses to arrive at judgments on the basis of declaratory evidence only. Cynicism goes hand in hand with ennui. Skepticism kindles the critical spirit. Every one of us should be skeptical about foreign policy, because that attitude is what helps exact proper performance from those conducting it.”

Understanding the distinction between skepticism and cynicism is important in any context, but in the field of foreign policy, it can mean the difference between success and failure, between freedom and tyranny, and between life and death.

Monday, October 7, 2013

From the Archives: Review of 'The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health, and Society' by Gene Ford

This article originally appeared in The Arlington (Va.) Journal on May 9, 1991, under the title, "The sober truth: The Prohibitionists want to control our lives" and the Roanoke (Va.) Times & World News on May 19, 1991, with the all-caps headline "BOOZE BANS: NEO-PROHIBITIONISM THREATENS OUR FREEDOMS." I have made some minor formatting adjustments so it can appear on the Web for the first time.

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In a recent ("Blitzed," April 22, 1991) New Republic article, Princeton University student Joshua Zimmerman reports that a California school district banned "Little Red Riding Hood" from first-grade classrooms because Grandma has a glass of wine after she is rescued.

He also notes that after a single incident of overdrinking that gave him a bad hangover, a campus counselor told him that he was "teetering on the brink of alcoholism" and should seek treatment.

Fox TV's "Beverly Hills 90210" recently portrayed a similar incident; the teen-age protagonist got drunk once, and by the end of the show he was at an AA meeting.

These are but surface symptoms of a deeper malady affecting American life today: neo-Prohibitionism. Another symptom is the attempt to link alcoholic beverages to illicit drugs -- an inapt analogy heard often in the wake of the drug arrests at the University of Virginia and Radford University.

The net effect is to shame social drinkers, driving the vast majority of drinkers who do not abuse alcohol into social closets. The neo-Prohibitionists are social engineers who want to legislate their moral agenda and increase state control of people's private lives. This is unhealthy, politically unwise and morally reprehensible.

In response to the new Carrie Nations, author and lecturer Gene Ford has written a comprehensive book, The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health, and Society. Ford reviews all the relevant literature on alcohol and human health, and charges that fearmongers have exaggerated the negative health effects of alcohol and buried the research demonstrating alcohol's benefits.

These pseudoscientists have cowed responsible physicians and scientists to the point that few are willing to speak in favor of moderate alcohol use.

One exception is Thomas B. Turner, M.D., former dean of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In his foreword to Ford's book, Dr. Turner notes that "the moderate use of alcoholic beverages has been with us for millennia; so has alcohol abuse. It is important to understand the difference." The new Prohibitionists, it seems, are unable to make that distinction.

Today's alcohol debate is over whether individuals should be allowed to control their own lives, to make personal decisions about their own behavior.

Ford sees the new Prohibitionists as the foot soldiers in a shadow army of totalitarians who seek to increase state control over individual behavior and decision-making.

He asserts that the anti-alcohol studies are skewed and emotionally biased. "New temperance" activists, as he calls them, use "highly selective and bastardized science to single out alcohol . . . to garner public support for their Draconian measures."

"New temperance devotees are classical political progressives wearing the mantle of public health," Ford writes. "Like stern mothers and fathers, they seek Orwellian control over the conduct of your most intimate personal lives. Progressives like to set standards for others. They suggest what you can eat, what you can drink, how you can exercise, the nature of your sexual practices, even what you and your children should read. Since the middle of the past century, when Christian progressivism evolved into a form of political fundamentalism, there has been a strong undercurrent of repression in American society."

Alcohol use and abuse have been with us since prehistoric times - in fact, some anthropologists believe that civilization itself began because prehistoric man abandoned his hunting-and-gathering lifestyle and began planting crops to ferment grains and fruits into alcoholic beverages.

Those early farmers who consumed beer and mead were better nourished than those who simply consumed gruel.

As man advanced technologically, he began to write; the earliest written record we have found is a Sumerian tablet containing a recipe for brewing beer! The Bible, Greek philosophers, and Roman poets all lauded alcoholic beverages. The moderate use of alcohol is something deeply imbedded in our culture.

Banning Red Riding Hood is just the tip of the iceberg. Millions of Americans who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, a cocktail after work or a beer at the ballpark suffer increasing ostracism from a vociferous and vocal minority of social "progressives" whose paternalism tells them that they know better than we about ordering our lives.

They want to expand the government's already broad powers to interfere in our personal decisions, something we must firmly resist.

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Note:  Gene Ford is also the author of The Science of Healthy Drinking (2003); The French Paradox & Drinking for Health (1993); and Ford's ABC's of Wines Brews and Spirits (1996), among other books and articles.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Author Interview: Jesse Walker on 'The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory'

Reason magazine books editor Jesse Walker is author of the recent book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory (HarperCollins, $25.99), which reaches back to the earliest days of American history to examine how conspiracy theories take hold and what kind of influence they have on politics when they fail to fizzle out.

Acknowledging that his new book draws partial inspiration from and is partially a reply to Richard Hofstadter's famous monograph, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Walker explained in an interview with me last month at the Cato Institute that The United States of Paranoia “grew out of a lot of things.”

'Folklore of conspiracy thinking'
He had “been writing stories that touched on these issues for many years. At one point in the book, I quote from interviews I did way back in 1995 for a magazine article.”

In particular, Walker said, he “wanted to explore the folklore of conspiracy thinking in America and just what we can learn from these stories – even the ones that aren't true [and] hat they say about the anxieties and the experiences of the people who believe them.”

Walker acknowledged that conspiracy theories and urban legends “overlap,” but they are not the same thing.

“The two big differences are that sometimes a conspiracy theory is true and, by definition, no urban legend is true,” while “not all urban legends involve conspiracies, but many do.”

He pointed out that “one rich source of material in the book was just looking at the works by the sociologists and anthropologists who collect urban legends and that sort of folklore.”

Anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism
Similarly, while some conspiracy theories have anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic roots, not all do.

“There are a lot of anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which is not to say that anyone who believes in a conspiracy theory shares those bigotries,” Walker explained.

“Of those conspiracy theories that involve scapegoating a group, the three that seem to have the most potent influence in American history were those involving Catholics, blacks, or Indians. Obviously, there are also ones involving Jews, gays, liberals, conservatives, and others, but those were the big three.”

On the other hand, he said, “if I were writing a history of European paranoia, anti-Semitism would be much closer to the core,” adding that there are “a number of anti-Semites in the book,” which focuses on American history.

Even little-known and generally forgotten conspiracy theories can re-emerge unexpectedly, Walker said.

Some of them “will continue to be around and mutate and find new forms. I never would have guessed in the 1980s,” for instance, “that there would be all sorts of rap lyrics about the Illuminati” two decades later.

At my prompting, Walker commented on some well-known conspiracy theories involving President Barack Obama, the AIDS virus, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

One common conspiracy theory of the past few years has been based on the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. This has earned the sobriquet “birtherism,” and includes such elements that Obama was born in Kenya and his official birth certificate from Hawaii is a fake.

Jesse Walker
“There's a lot to unpack there,” Walker said about that theory.

In the book, he said, he gives three reasons for why “birtherism has taken hold and even has believers now, even though it's pretty hard to make the case for it being true at this point.”

The first is a “desire for a magic bullet, something that can win you a political victory without the pain of political persuasion. It's worth noting,” Walker explained, “that birtherism initially caught on among the diehard supporters of Hillary Clinton during the primaries in 2008 before it migrated to the right.”

A second reason “is the fear of the foreign.”

If someone is “afraid of foreign Muslims and [doesn't] like the president, it's easy to be attracted to the idea of the president being foreign and/or a Muslim.”

In general, he continued, “if people who are uncomfortable with the idea of America as a multicultural nation, to them, the President is metaphorically foreign for all sorts of reasons and a conspiracy theory is very good at making the metaphoric into the concrete.”

The third reason, Walker said, is that birtherism is “a way to maintain your respect for the presidency while rejecting a president. If you can say, 'he's a usurper, pretender to the throne' – you actually see these sort of royalist metaphors in a lot of birther literature” – the birther can claim respect for the office if not for the man.

Walker added that he is “not saying that every birther subscribes to all three of those. Those groups overlap.” There are people for whom none of those reasons fit, “but those are three themes that often come up in the birther literature.”

AIDS created by U.S. government?
Another conspiracy that emerged relatively recently was the idea that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus.

There a lot of different AIDS theories, Walker said, but the one he addresses in his book “is the idea that white doctors were injecting black babies with AIDS. You might remember that rumor in the '80s.”

That story is “obviously not true,” he noted, but still “it's easy to see how it could catch on among people who have experienced a long history of high-handed or abusive treatment from the white medical establishment, including some genuine conspiracies, like the Tuskegee Experiment. That sort of lays the ground work for believing other conspiracy theories.”

9/11 truthers
Those who refuse to believe that Islamic-extremist hijackers destroyed the World Trade Center by crashing jet planes into the Twin Towers are known as “9/11 truthers.” They often say that the U.S. government engineered the collapse of the buildings in order to trigger a war and reduce Americans' civil liberties.

The question of 9/11 trutherism is “one that has people have adopted that for so many reasons, I really hate to reduce it to any one or two.”

Sometimes, Walker pointed out, “people say that trutherism is a paralyzing idea because everything is stacked against you. The flip side is that you just have to worry about what's happening in Washington not trying to disentangle what's going on in foreign lands.”

That is not, however, “the only reason that trutherism catches on,” and he addresses some of those other possibilities in his book.

As it happens, Jesse Walker was also a guest of Coy Barefoot on WCHV-FM's “Inside Charlottesville” on August 27, talking about The United States of Paranoia.

(This article is based on two previously published pieces on