Issue 47 (2011)

Communitarian Observations

From My Diary

Private meeting. Republican pollster says people love Herman Cain because his ideas are “up to scale.” People feel whether right or wrong, at least they are as big as our problems. Democratic pollster says Obama will do a whole series of small things, such as help some home owners refinance their mortgages and some students to consolidate their loans. These measures will (a) show that he cares and (b) combined, be up to scale. As I see it: not if they look like a shopping list rather than pieces of a whole. “Education, infrastructure, and green jobs” do not a vision make.

In the same meeting, the Democratic pollster explained the Democratic position: “We are also against government but want some government.” One can hardly contain one’s excitement…

Asked whether it might hurt the Democrats that they keep offering cuts in Medicare and even Social Security, the pollster responded that Democrats made such gestures only to show that the GOP will not accept even these cuts if they are combined with tax increases. This is what is meant by cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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According to Steve Jobs’s sister, his last words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” He must have seen the design of the afterlife and–atypically–found it quite satisfactory.

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The new Martin Sheen movie The Way is one of those small, indie movies. It is much stronger on social than on spiritual redemption. Still, it beats most of what one finds on screen at home or in movie theaters. The movie reminded me of a conversation I had with Father Neuhaus in the offices of First Things. He was extolling the mental health benefits of being religious, suggesting that my devotion meter was not nearly as high as it ought to be. I teased him and said, “Father Neuhaus, you are not suggesting that one should become religious for utilitarian reasons?” He responded, “For those who do not have a revelation, you give reasons.” The four characters who set out on the spiritual journey in the movie all have ulterior motives, and they never quite find a revelation

* * *

When I was serving as a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, 1987-1989, I was invited to participate in a faculty-only seminar on the conditions under which lying might be ethnical (which led to a book by Arthur Applbaum called Ethics for Adversaries). I was told that among the other participants, I was supposed to pay special attention to a young hotshot working on his MD and PhD, who was “very, very impressive.” He had one of those names you have a hard time telling which is front and which is back—Ezekiel Emanuel. (I later found out that he has two equally high-achieving brothers, one of whom is now the mayor of Chicago.) Anyhow, Ezekiel is now writing a very worthwhile series of articles for the Sunday New York Times—and he is a communitarian!

Put the Elderly on Ice?

No one has come out yet and explicitly suggested that old folks like me (I am about to turn 83) should be treated the way the Eskimos, as folklore has it, used to treat theirs: put on an ice floe and left to float away into the sunset. We are, however, coming dangerously close.

A recent study by Dr. Alvin C. Kwok and his colleagues finds that surgery is common in the last year, month, and week of life. Eighty-year-olds have a 35% chance of going under the knife in the last year of their lives; nearly one out of five Medicare recipients has surgery in their last month, and one in 10 in their last week.

Read the rest at For further discussion, see The Political Use of Moral Language.


I was sixty when diagnosed stage 4 colon cancer which had spread to the liver and left lung before being diagnosed. I was told that a cure was not an option, that I had 6months to two years max to live and that further surgery was a waste of time. That was in 1996 and one year of chemo and 7 surgeries later. I had surgery last month and I am having radiation. I have no significant restrictions and only mild shortness of breath from a loss of one lobe of each lung.

Age is irrelevant and any attempt to set treatment based on calendar years is absurd. Life is terminal. We all want the exact same thing no matter our age. We all want the highest quality of life possible for the longest time possible. Age limits don’t determine that. At 75 I do everything I did at 55 although a bit slower. I’m certainly not ready for an ice floe or ,for that matter, the old folk farm. Let my Dr, my wife and me decide when enough is enough. People are not statistics and shouldn’t be treated as such.


i have worked in a nursing homes…and let me tell you, many, many elderly are allowed to live way too long with absolutely no quality of life.  sometimes the best medical care is no medical care.


How about we address the other side of the coin.  Let those that want to die, die.  I watched my grandmother struggle with Alzheimers disease for 10 years or more,  I am making the choice that I will NOT go through that, nor put my family through it.  I wish to choose the time and place of my death without resorting to something as messy and traumatic to the family as a gunshot.

We need to understand that we are going to die, and allow people to choose their own way, not have it chosen for them by the government or an insurance agency.


China Furthers Washington’s Cause in the South Sea

China has been troubling its neighbors lately, and that makes it easier for President Obama to court Asian nations. Little has alarmed the nations that share a border with China more than the 2010 declaration that much of the South China Sea falls in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). They note that China has increased naval patrols in the area, pressured foreign energy companies to halt operations in contested waters, and imposed fishing bans on parts of the sea. Senator Jim Webb notes “the growing number of nations around the South China Sea…voicing serious concerns about China’s pattern of intimidation.”

Read the rest at The National Interest.

No Fiscal Federalism without Community Building

European officials are seeking to solve the grand design failure of the Euro-Zone by constructing a major facade right on top of the gaping fault line. From a sociological viewpoint, the main defect of the Euro-Zone is not that it created a common currency without forming the institutions that can fashion a common fiscal policy—but that the citizens of nations involved neither understood nor agreed that their economic fate would be conjoined. To now fashion a European finance ministry with powers to make the member nations heed zone-wide fiscal policies (e.g. keep their deficits below a defined level or veto specific spending by the national governments)—to introduce fiscal federalism—will provide some of the needed institutions but not the essential consensus on which such policies ought to draw. It is only this kind of consensus that can provide the new institutions with the essential legitimacy they require.

Read the rest at the 2011 Dahrendorf Symposium blog.

GPS Should Be Fair Game in Police Probes

The Supreme Court is about to hold hearings on whether the police need a warrant to attach a GPS tracker to a suspect’s car and trace its movements while it is in a public space. (The case at hand, United States v. Jones, concerns a major drug dealer, and the police could not use the data collected while his car was parked in his garage.)

The intense debate the case has already elicited among legal scholars, civil rights and libertarian activists, and those particularly concerned with public safety and national security is largely focused on the question: what would the Founding Fathers have said about the case? As I see it, at least equal weight should be accorded to the question: How well are our public authorities doing in their dealings with criminals?

Read the rest on


This is a pretty weak article.  It makes no mention that the police have to physically attach something to your car in order to track you via GPS.  That is what I see as the main point for needing a warrant.  In order to track your movements, the police actually need to tamper with your private property.  That should have to go past a judge first.


The author left out a huge concern – politicians and lawyers are justly famous for “give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile”.   If we allow tracking without a warrant then it is inevitable that sooner or later we’ll all be tracked all the time.


“Criminals can do it, so police ought to be able to do it.”  BRILLIANT!  Because that’s exactly what we ought to aspire for: a Nation in which the police are no better than criminals.


In Defense of the Patriot Act

Read at the National Interest.

No Regional Exit from Afghanistan

Read at The National Interest.

Recent Publications

“The New Normal.” Sociological Forum. 26.4 (December 2011) p. 779-789.

The Great Recession has caused many Americans to reevaluate their consumption-rich way of life. In response to the shrinking economy, they have spent less, saved more, and simplified their lives. This essay asks whether people will seek a return to their prerecession lifestyles—in particular a return to making the acquisition and consumption of consumer goods a major source of meaning and contentment— as soon as their economic condition allows or whether they will make their more austere lives their ‘‘new normal.’’ It evaluates existing research on contentment and suggests that if instead of choosing to return to their ‘‘old normal,’’ Americans learn to derive satisfaction from nonconsumerist sources, in particular social relations and transcendental activities (i.e., religious, contemplative, and cultural activities), they may find the new normal quite acceptable.

“Should We Support Illiberal Religious Democracies?” The Political Quarterly, 82.2 (October-December 2011) p. 567-573.

The terms on which the United States will agree to settle the conflict in Afghanistan during the on-again/off -again negotiations with the Taliban reflect a much greater issue that America faces in the Middle East: will it support only those who seek to establish democratic regimes that also respect individual rights (for instance, the nascent coalition of secular parties in Egypt and the Congress for the Republic and similar emerging parties in Tunisia), or also ally itself with the often much more powerful groups that may be democratic but are likely to foster regimes based on shari’a law?

“No Passport Needed.” Canadian Naval Review. 7.3 (Fall 2011) p. 10-14.

What do Al Qaeda and the US Department of Homeland Security have in common? They obsess about airlines and ignore the fact that US shorelines – some 95,000 miles (152,888 kilometres) – are wide open.

I Read

The Christian Science Monitor’s Editor’s Blog looks at the role illiberal moderates may play in Egypt. For more about illiberal moderates, click here.

In the New York Times Book Review, Ted Fishman reviewsSusan Jacoby’s Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Age. Jacoby argues most Americans are overly optimistic about the quality of life they can achieve as they enter old age: “At 85 or 90—whatever satisfactions may still lie ahead—only a fool or someone who has led an extraordinarily unhappy life can imagine that the best years are still to come.” Fishman, though accepting of Jacoby’s basic premise, thinks she is too quick to dismiss reasons to be hopeful.

Thomas Friedman finds parallels between the situations in the United States and India. Grass-roots reform movements have arisen in both countries. In India, the anger is directed at illegal bribery; in America, people are protesting the form legalized by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision.

The New York Times reports that after a satirical French newspaper published a controversial issue “guest edited” by Muhammad (and featuring a cartoon of the prophet on the cover), the paper’s offices were burned down and its website was hacked and replaced with Islamist slogans. Despite the paper’s controversial subject matter, politicians and organizations from across the ideological spectrum banded together to condemn the extremist attacks.

From Our Mailbox

Comments from the last newsletter

I think that “Islamocracy” is a tad inflammatory as a moniker, but otherwise I agree completely.  You might add that the first amendment’s ban on the “establishment of religion” was intended to cover only the federal government.  Massachusetts had an established church (supported by taxpayers) until just before the Civil War.  The Supreme Court began to stretch the first amendment (and other rights amendments) to cover the states only slowly, piece by piece, after the Civil War, through the 14th amendment.   Several advanced democracies today also have established churches in this taxpayer sense.

Jane Mansbridge

I could not agree more with your analysis.  Separation of church and state in the US is a myth, and not just because the US Government routes some social program funding through religious organizations.  From “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, to the annual prayer breakfast attended by the President and virtually the entire congress, to the “Red Mass,” where the Catholic Church blesses the supreme court justices (and, some would say, gives them their marching orders for the year), to the constant invocation of the Christian deity, sometimes Judaeo-Christian deity, in the speeches and campaign literature of politicians, Americans’ majority religion permeates our politics and our private lives.  I see no reason why the United States should not be able to work constructively with democratic states that invoke similar manifestations of their own religion into their politics and political life.

Barry Blechman

Distinguished Fellow

The Stimson Center

I could not disagree more with Prof. Etzioni about “illiberal moderates,” including the Tunisian Islamists, since that peculiar formulation fails to distinguish between two different and crucially important types of moderation: moderation of goals and moderation of means. Most people who are “illiberal” do not (by definition) espouse genuinely moderate goals, and indeed often promote extremist ideologies and agendas. That is certainly the case with all Islamists, even those who are willing to exploit democratic processes and procedures in order to come to power (just as Marxist-Leninist and fascist groups have often done, typically with disastrous results for everyone else). For that very reason, it is easy for movements and parties with essentially “illiberal” goals to shift tactics and embrace extremist methods such as violence, as has all too often happened in the past. Hence their “moderation of means,” i.e., rejection of violence for tactical reasons – rather than for deep-rooted philosophical reasons – may well end up being a purely temporary expedient.

The real lessons that should have been learned following the uncritical introduction of democratic processes in places like Gaza, Iraq, and Tunisia – and which, one can predict, will likely occur in Egypt and Libya as well – is that it is a serious delusion to assume that the institutionalization of such processes will necessarily lead to the establishment of genuinely democratic, pluralistic societies. On the contrary, if democratic values have not first been inculcated in the citizens of such countries, a process that usually takes generations, the result will normally be the election of parties with intrinsically anti-democratic agendas, like the Islamists. Although we may have to live with the results of those unfortunate elections and deal with the resulting “illiberal” governments, we should do nothing whatsoever to whitewash, justify, or support them. On the contrary, we should instead be offering our support – overtly or covertly – to genuinely democratic and pluralistic forces in those countries, however tiny and marginal they may be at the present time…

If Western intellectuals think that Islamist electoral victories are so promising, perhaps they should move to the countries governed by Islamists. They will soon discover, as indigenous liberals and secularists have, just how grim it is to live in “illiberal” societies ruled by such governments.

Jeffrey M. Bale, Ph.D.
Director, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Project

Associate Professor, Graduate School of International Policy and Management

Monterey Institute of International Studies

Monterey, CA

As a student of Chinese foreign policy who has worked on and off on the issue for the USG, I would conclude that your respondent errs.

As you suggest, the CCP government in Beijing sees attempts to promote human rights and democracy as direct threats to CCP legitimacy and has no intention of supporting those initiatives. Instead, the CCP government goal is make a world safe for authoritarianism, a position Beijing rationalizes as global democracy, an international arena which is not prejudiced against actors which are authoritarian. The CCP regime would like to throw out the authoritarian/democracy binary and replace it with good government versus bad government where China is the former (its stimulus package has greatly aided the world’s poor) and the US is the latter, the cause of the present global economic crisis.

Your respondent’s claim that liberal forces must win is somewhere between a wishful illusion and unwillingness to take the rise of a world power, authoritarian China seriously. While none of us know the future, I think China is winning and the cause of democracy, as in the post-WW I world, is losing.

China tries both to use existing IOs for its own narrow purposes (it is not revisionist) and also to build and strengthen alternative IOs (SCO, ARF etc.) where the power of the US and the democracies do not get in the way of CCP regime purposes, China has no intention of signing up for a liberal world order).

Edward Friedman

Specialist in Chinese foreign policy

Professor Emeritus

University of Wisconsin, Madison


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Edited by Julia Milton.