Feith purports to explain U.S. prisoner policy

After hearing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith repeatedly included in the anti-war right’s demon litany for the last two years (a litany he seems to be included in mainly because, as his enemies keep telling us, he is a Jew), but never having seen Feith myself on tv or read anything by him, I finally came upon an article by this mystery man, at Opinion Journal, in which he explains the U.S. policy vis à vis the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism. Unfortunately, the piece is obtuse, incoherent, and uninformative. Feith’s main point is that the U.S. does indeed follow the Geneva Convention in its handling of Iraqi prisoners, and that the abuse at Al Ghraib was simply a violation of those rules. But, as we have all heard, apart from the perverted practices at Al Ghraib, the American forces did subject Iraqi prisoners, under the authority of the Defense Department, to various stressful and humiliating conditions short of torture to get them to talk, such as sensory deprivation, leaving them nude in completely darkened cells, standing them against a wall naked, and so on. Such treatment is not allowed under the Geneva Convention. My impression had been that the U.S. regarded the Convention as impracticable because it would prevent us from getting vitally needed information from prisoners about possible attacks against our soldiers. I had also read that the U.S. regarded the meaning of the Convention as ambiguous on key points, leaving the U.S. free to interpret it as it will, while critics of the United States have regarded the U.S. policy as being in violation of the Convention. So how can Feith blandly state that, with the exception of the Abu Ghraib perversions, the U.S. has been fully following the Geneva Convention? He simply does not address—in a manner that is informative in itself or useful to defenders of the administration—the facts and issues of this controversy as they have been presented by the news media.

In this article Feith comes across, not as the sinister neocon mastermind of the antiwar right’s lurid fantasies, but as a rather unimpressive, and not particularly articulate, bureaucrat. I must say that I’ve had the same impression whenever I’ve seen on tv the supposed Ultimate Neocon Israeli-Agent Protocols-of-the-Elders-of-Zion Mastermind himself, Paul Wolfowitz.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 31, 2004 12:10 PM | Send


I think there is a deep-seated need to view our enemy as a person, or as some small collection of persons, rather than as a pervasive ideology. As a result significant parts of the paleo Right attempt to demonize particular individuals or small collections of individuals. In a way there is an almost poignant optimism in that demonization, as if it is thought that defeating or discrediting those particular individuals would mean the staving off of defeat, or even victory.

This is often how anti-Semitism manifests itself too. Jim Kalb has commented that the Jews are often viewed as almost magical in their powers: that some seem to think that if only Jews were removed from the picture then the worst opposition to Christian conservatism would simply evaporate. There is a perverse and very misguided optimism in that sort of narrow view, it seems to me.

I am afraid, Christian brothers, that the enemy we face is far more terrible than that. It is true that Judaism and Christianity have a rocky relationship; and indeed they ought to if they are honest with each other, since they are at bottom opposed in the most important things in this life and the next. They are teleologically incompatible, and one cannot be right without the other being utterly wrong.

But the neocons are in a sense the least of our problems. They are a symptom, not the disease. The disease is not some outside enemy that can be defeated; the disease is on the inside, and the treatment is unequivocal repentance from liberalism.

Posted by: Matt on May 31, 2004 1:44 PM

Matt delivers himself of yet another cogent and moving little essay. He should be blogging for himself. I would be happy to offer him the opportunity at my blog, as a (anonymous or pseudonymous) guest blogger. If you’re interested, Matt, email me.

Posted by: Paul Cella on May 31, 2004 4:48 PM

From what I have heard, Paul Wolfowitz sincerely wants democracy for Iraq and may be working partly out of a guilt trip because he advised us not to help the Shiites and Kurds in their rebellion in 1991 (they got slaughtered as a result). (I read this somewhere on Steve Sailer’s blog; he got it from someone else).
Looking at Paul Wolfowitz, I get the impression of a somewhat more geeky version of Sam Watterston (DA McCoy from Law and Order).
Maybe that is why Perle is especially demonized. His sunken eyes and his slight overweightness make him look a lot more sinister and threatening, and therefore an easier target.

Posted by: Michael Jose on June 1, 2004 5:21 AM

Mr. Jose is wrong on Wolfowitz and the Gulf War. Wolfowitz was beside himself over what Bush did in letting Hussein survive and kill the Shi’ites. It was out of that experience, so I’ve read, that Wolfowitz determined that Hussein must be brought down.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 1, 2004 5:54 AM

Perhaps I was mistaken. But in any case, we agree on the main point that Wolfowitz was motivated by compassion or concern for the Iraqis.

Posted by: Michael Jose on June 1, 2004 11:56 AM

Repentance from liberalism means repentance from what? I wanted to ask Matt this after his suggestive and instructive answer regarding liberalism on another thread that is now retired. He spoke of liberalism there as (1) political egalitarianism, (2) the origin of Marxism, Nazism, etc., and (3) an obstacle to Christianity.

I would like to try to whittle this down further, if possible. First, to be an effective obstacle to Christianity, liberalism probably has to be a religion, rather than a philosophy. As such it may have its own theology and anthropology, but is fundamentally something else more encompassing and involving a deep emotional and imaginative commitment. Second, egalitarianism is so easily dispensable in any circumstances you can name that it is difficult not to see it as a total sham that can be deployed for temporary advantage as the circumstances require. A Nazi speaks for equality among Germans, a Communist speaks for equality of all mankind (after the vermin are exterminated), contemporary liberals defame their fellow Americans in the name of the global community, but the work of such “liberals” is geared more towards destroying the remnants of traditional order for the benefit of a socialist elite than to fostering political equality. Equality is not “of the essence” of liberalism, except in its propaganda.

What is the religion of liberalism? Grass roots right-wingers latch on to the Humanist Manifestoes as important documents. People who read more history may dismiss that, because they have good reason to believe that these documents have had no importance whatsoever in the history or intellectual life of any nation. But here the uninformed activist shows his superior understanding of the issue. The Humanist Manfestoes, marginal as they are, explicitly replace God with Man as the center of human reality (what Eric Gans calls the “scene of representation,” see Chronicles of Love and Resentment.)

Liberalism is primarily directed towards removing God from the center of the scene for all practical purposes, and creating a political cosmos responsible to enlightened Man alone. Preferably, to the liberal, the center will appear empty. But as Bob Dylan wrote, “You gotta serve someone/It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord/You gotta serve someone.” When the veil of emptiness blows aside, the occupant of the liberal center may appear to be the idealized, enlightened, utopian man of liberal propaganda. The reality, though, is that the beautified Man is the Enemy. Liberalism is really a sentimentalized Satan-worship, which hides its true nature behind a pseudo-Christian humanism. It is primarily resentment of reality, along with the God and the natural order of reality, that advertises itself as a positive, constructive, and benevolent vision.

Repentance from liberalism, in the context of this discussion, thus means openness to the Living God in the field of politics.

Posted by: Bill on June 1, 2004 4:13 PM

In answer to Bill’s post. I suspect a number of us here regard liberalism as a religion. I certainly do. I tend to view it as a counterfeit of Chrsitianity - an Anti-Christianity. Liberalism’s adherents are every bit as fanatical as the Jihadis, and significantly more dangerous. They are absolutely committed to the destruction of Christianity - and make no mistake - Christianity is the ultimate target.

A few years ago, I heard a sermon in which the preacher pointed out that the number six represented man, or mankind, in the Hebrew numerology practiced in Christ’s era - seven being the number for divine perfection. One way of looking at the famous mark of the beast (666) mentioned in Revelation (Apocolypse) would be a religion that made man into God, with 666 being a way of describing 6 trying to make itself into 7, something it can never be. It’s certainly food for thought, at any rate.

Posted by: Carl on June 1, 2004 4:49 PM

Liberalism as a substitute religion is a true description, I think. But it is important to reconcile that with the fact that the vast majority of liberals have historically been believing, practicing Christians (although that may be changing); and that one of liberalism’s basic defense mechanism is to treat itself as *not* a religion that makes substantive demands but rather just a guarantor of a level political playing field, so that substantive ideas don’t come to blows and so that all liberals can practice the religion of their choice, etc.

Liberalism has a number of defense mechanisms that allow it to dodge criticism (including introspective criticism within liberals themselves). One of those is the unprincipled exception. The unprincipled exception is supported by nominalist commitments, as we have previously discussed: in the liberal’s own view nobody else can tell him what he thinks, so if he asserts that gay marriage goes *too far* then that is his perogative, whether this contradicts his liberal commitments or not, and there is no need for him to examine or repent from his liberal commitments themselves because they only mean what he explicitly agrees that they mean.

I am working on a manifesto of sorts that describes my thinking on all of this in detail, including background on how to think about systems of beliefs in general, what sort of system of beliefs liberalism is specifically, some of the common objections and how to deal with them, etc. Perhaps I will take the formidable Paul Cella up on his offer and post it as a guest blog over there, or perhaps Mr. Auster will indulge me and allow me to post it here, or perhaps I will start a blog of my own (though that is less likely), or some combination of the above.

It is, I think, important to stay focused on liberalism as a *political* belief because that is how liberals themselves view it. Liberals themselves do not view liberalism as anti-religion; they simply view liberalism as constraining what liberals see as the tyrannical tendencies of religion in the political realm.

Anyway, it has reached the point where I can’t make my own thinking on all of these things clear in short comments, although my short comments are based in that thinking.

But as for repenting from liberalism? The end result of my thinking is that we have to stop viewing government as a consensual thing that is in place to guarantee freedom and equal rights. Instead we have to acknowledge that earthly authorities like government and the family have responsibility for defending and nurturing the good, the true, and the beautiful; and that our obedience to earthly governments is a duty of birth: it is not something to which we consent nor should it be. Even liberal governments end up acting on these truths in a perverse and twisted way: the difference between an illiberal government and a liberal government rests mainly in the fact that a liberal government cannot even in principle be honest with itself about the end of its activities, whereas an illiberal government can (though by no means always actually is).

Posted by: Matt on June 1, 2004 6:39 PM

Matt writes:

“The end result of my thinking is that we have to stop viewing government as a consensual thing that is in place to guarantee freedom and equal rights. Instead we have to acknowledge that earthly authorities like government and the family have responsibility for defending and nurturing the good, the true, and the beautiful; and that our obedience to earthly governments is a duty of birth: it is not something to which we consent nor should it be.”

This is exciting. Matt is going beyond the critique of liberalism and putting together the elements of a non-liberal theory of government. I look forward to seeing it. However, I remain what might be called a liberal traditionalist. As I’ve written, liberalism can only be non-destructive if it is working within a social order that is not itself liberal. This implies that there is still a place for liberalism, though a subordinate one. I suspect that Matt would regard this as much too liberal, and maybe hopelessly incoherent as well. But government is not a divine science. It is of necessity a tension and a compromise between different aspects of reality.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 2, 2004 12:07 AM

I believe that the Bush administration is being disingenuous. As vile as they may be, Iraqi anti-occupation fighters are clearly covered by the Fourth Gevena convention. The real question is whether the same applies to foreign non-uniformed combattants in Iraq. As these are not lawful combattants, members of a foreign military (as long as we ignore Syrian and Iranian involvement), or Iraqi civilians, they are not protected by the Third or Fourth Geneva Conventions.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration does not distinguish between the differing groups, using the confusion to interrogate Iraqis.

Feith and others cannot make the full legal case as it would show the contradiction in American policy.

Posted by: RonL on June 2, 2004 3:48 AM

But Feith is not conflating foreign fighters and Iraqis. He explicitly said that the U.S. follows the Geneva Convention in dealing with Iraqi prisoners. Which is impossible to believe on the face of it.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 2, 2004 8:14 AM

Mr. Auster writes:
“This implies that there is still a place for liberalism, though a subordinate one. I suspect that Matt would regard this as much too liberal, and maybe hopelessly incoherent as well.”

Indeed. I think the real challenge is in articulating in an illiberal way the positive necessity to keep government in its proper place, to maintain subsidiarity, and to allow for an appropriate degree of self-government in various places in the social heirarchy. To the extent that positive intentions were involved in the creation of political liberalism I think those are the important ones, and the crucial positive task is to articulate those things in a way that nevertheless completely and unequivocally excludes liberalism as a justification (since unlike Mr. Auster I do not believe in the rationally coherent conceivability, let alone the actual possibility in practice, of a benign, stable, subordinate form of liberalism).

I am not sure that I have ultimate and final answers to all of that; my current project is more to put into one place the key elements of the critique of liberalism that has developed at VFR, in my own silly noggin, and elsewhere over the past decade or so, motivated largely out of a desire to stop repeating myself in the age of hyperlinks. But an intellectually honest critique can’t be entirely negative, so it will necessarily contain some notions of how good government contrasts with liberal government.

Posted by: Matt on June 2, 2004 11:42 AM

Readers of VFR (and this thread in particular) might be interested in a new project on the booklog at Chronicles’ site. There will soon start a discussion of Sir Robert Filmer’s ‘Patriarcha’ and the lessons it can teach about the formation of an opposition to liberalism. Look for the posting of 28th May for more information.

Posted by: Adam on June 2, 2004 12:56 PM

Taking liberalism as a “political” belief because that is how liberals view it may concede too much. The assertion may be a rhetorical ploy to prevent the critique of liberalism as a “religion,” and thus make it easier to swallow if its false claims to authority are concealed behind a consensus that it does not make any such claims. If liberalism is in fact a false religion, based on false ideas about man and God, sin and the Devil, then by all means don’t let liberals hide behind the secular facade. Indeed, the assertion that politics exists apart from religion is part of the liberal myth.

The purported secularism of liberalism is part of its false asceticism, which gives up, with coy modesty, substantive goals for the sake of process. “We don’t know where we’ll end up, but if we act in such and such a way, we will have done the right thing.” Thus the destruction of the family, the AIDS holocaust, the erasure of America, the conquest of Vietnam, etc., don’t trouble liberals, because liberal procedures were followed in reaching these substantive results.

Funny how all the process tends toward one result—the destruction of the remnants of traditional society for the benefit of a socialist elite. Because the process orientation is not neutral, I suspect the difference between substance and process is another part of the liberal myth.

I very much look forward to Matt’s manifesto. I think Voegelin’s theory of “representation,” the pre-legal consensus regarding a people’s identity and the manifestation of that identity in a sovereignty, would be of use.

Posted by: Bill on June 2, 2004 2:40 PM

Well, I have agreed that liberalism is objectively a substitute religion. An understanding both of what liberalism is objectively on the outside and of what a liberal thinks of himself on the inside is important though. If it is right that a key tradionalist initiative is repentance from liberalism then the view from the inside is in some ways more important than the view from the outside. I know that for a number of years I was able to rationalize my own remaining vestiges of liberalism by thinking of my views as restriced to politics as a limited realm. It is important for *liberals* - including those of us who had strong liberal committments despite thinking of ourselves as conservatives - to realize that this does not save the day intellectually; that, as Bill says, “the assertion that politics exists apart from religion is part of the liberal myth”. Part of what I am trying to do is understand the liberal myth on its own terms in order to then change perspectives and see what effects it has in objective reality (in that respect it does help a great deal to be an apostate liberal, not that I was ever a particularly good liberal).

The point is to expose how adopting a particular interior system of beliefs manifests itself in objective reality, so we have to have both. It isn’t good enough to dismiss the interior disposition as “dishonest” (even if there is an objective sense in which the interior understanding is false, that is, does not correspond to objective truth) since a liberal wouldn’t be a liberal if he wasn’t really, in fact, a loyal believer in liberalism. If there were no honest liberals then liberalism would have to be a conspiracy in which a few propogandists rule over a few billion dupes. I am afraid that what we really face is a few billion people who honestly hold to an abominable philosophy without any inkling that it is abominable.

Posted by: Matt on June 2, 2004 5:09 PM

Both Matt and Bill have left out of their discussion what I believe to be the most important issue facing conservatives and other patriots in this country.

What I am describing is not an introspective view of “why liberals are what they are and how best to understand them”, though I am sure that is a noble effort. The pressing issue is to combat the Fifth Column (talk show host Michael Savage’s oft-quoted “enemy within”)—impeaching activist feminist judges apppointed by Bill Clinton who in one opinion erase the vote of the People and of Congress, shutting down the ACLU and La Raza using RICO or other means, electing true conservatives like Alabama judge Roy Moore and electing conservatives to our local school boards and local government—and working on building a third party.

I am one who does not believe that “trying to understand liberals or liberalism” is not doing ourselves or the country a whole lot of good. Time is passing and we are losing the country. We know “who” they are—they control most of the press, the federal government, state government and local government and courts. We need “action” (with the help of legal experts like Mark Levin of Landmark Legal)! In my opinion, our problems begin along our Southern Border. When the invasion is stopped and those here illegally are deported or imprisoned, we can begin to take the country back to where it once was.

A relatively new activist organization has sprung up that is doing some of these important things, with particular attention given to the ongoing invasion along the Southerm Border—D. A. King’s The American Resistance at www.theamericanresistance.com. We’ve all heard about Chris Simcox and his Civil Homeland Defense group trying to report illegals invading our country along the Southern Border below Tuscon, AZ.

Posted by: David Levin on June 3, 2004 9:34 AM

Well, it is here that I must disagree with Mr. Levin on priority. There is no doubt an urgent need to move some of the pieces about on the board. The more crucial need, though, and the move that the survival of Western civilization depends upon, is to change to playing a completely different game.

Posted by: Matt on June 3, 2004 9:44 PM

Mr. Auster wrote:
“This implies that there is still a place for liberalism, though a subordinate one. I suspect that Matt would regard this as much too liberal, and maybe hopelessly incoherent as well.”

Here is what I say about moderate, subordinate liberalism in the current draft of an essay I am developing, under the subheading “One Drop or a Whole Ocean”:

“The objection has been raised that this is a one-drop theory of liberalism. Under this understanding even someone who is a practicing Christian, loyal to Church and family, and who places those priorities as political priorities above equal rights, can still be objectively considered a liberal as long as he has a strong (but subordinate) loyalty to liberal principles. Surely one can have a strong loyalty to liberal principles in politics as long as that loyalty is properly subordinate to higher priorities, can he not? A strong loyalty may be more than one drop, but in its proper place in the heirarchy of priorities even a strong loyalty can be reduced to one drop relatively speaking, it is objected. Is this theory then not too extreme a view, and isn’t it possible for liberalism to coexist in a subordinate and practical way with an objective moral order that is independent of the human will?

The answer is objectively no; that a small amount of liberalism is like a small amount of the Ebola virus, and the reason for this is liberalism’s status as the default. Liberalism’s very reasonableness and disdain for dogmatism forms a critical part of its power base. Most actual liberals have personal priorities that are higher than liberalism, and indeed a connotation of the word ‘liberal’ is moderation. When someone adopts an extreme form of modern liberalism he becomes more likely to be called a ‘leftist’, for example, whereas the ‘liberals’ are the compromisers in the moderate middle concerned for freedom and equal rights but not dogmatic about it. When a liberal has a very strong opinion about a particular issue that opinion is likely to trump his liberalism. Although it is in the nature of human beings to try to make their beliefs coherent, when push comes to shove a moderate ordinary liberal may abandon liberalism in the service of a higher priority: this abandonment is an unprincipled exception because it simply trumps liberalism in a particular case, yet it does not lead to the questioning of liberal principles themselves.

Of course as a rule, a particular individual only has a few high priorities out of literally hundreds or thousands of possibile political opinions. Ordinary men are busy and generally only feel strongly about a few political matters at a given time. A Christian liberal may resist an equal right for gays to marry quite firmly, but when it comes to the thousand other issues of the day he will default to what he sees as fostering freedom and equality. As a result the liberal polity fragments into isolated groups who care a great deal about their particular issues drowning in an ocean of liberal defaults. One man’s unprincipled exception to liberalism - a higher priority that in his mind trumps his liberalism, but which does not make him reject his liberalism - is destroyed by another man’s ambivalence. In particular in a democracy, where issues are decided by vast numbers of people making omnibus decisions that tie many issues together, the result is the atomization of everything that is not liberal into isolated leaky lifeboats sinking in an ocean of liberal default.”

Posted by: Matt on June 4, 2004 5:35 PM
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