Tuesday, May 15, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

Reading David Brooks, the ultra-right New York Times op-eder, never fails to amuse. He is able to take the simplest facts and twist them around to such a degree that they come out looking like the exact opposite of what they really mean. A recent case in point is his article on Tony Blair (NYT 5-11-07) which he entitled “The Human Community.”

His opening sentence reflects the “the conventional view” about Tony Blair, a view that is, incidentally, true so far as it goes-- i.e., Tony Blair “was a talented leader whose career was sadly over shadowed by Iraq.” Brooks thinks this view “is absurd.”

Brooks says that Blair wasn’t making an error of judgment when he went into Iraq along with Bush. His decision “grew out of the essence of who he is.” And that would be? Well Tariq Ali says Blair is a second rate politician with a third rate mind. That is one kind of essence.

He jumped into a war that was the result of lies and is responsible, along with Bush, for hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. That is the essence of who he is. Now Brooks will pull out the baloney to try and turn this sad and rotten essence into one of shining purity. God will even play a role (via a theologian) in the redemption of a man with the essence of a mass murderer.

We are told that Blair believes that globalization is making us all more dependent on one another and that “the world will flourish only if the international community enforces shared, universal values.” Such values, I presume, as waging wars of aggression and occupation on other people’s countries without the sanction of the UN and clearly in violation of the wishes of the international community.

Actions speak louder than words. Blair believes nothing at all about a world of shared, universal values. He has his own values and if the world begs to differ, too bad.

Where do his values come from? It all began long ago when little Tony was 11 years old. His father had a stroke and Tony was led to the theologian John Macmurray. Brooks quotes Blair. “If you really want to understand what I’m all about you have to take a look at a guy called John Macmurray. It’s all there.”

So, lets take a look. By way of preface I can only say that the late John Macmurray would not take comfort in the thought that he was the inspiration for a war criminal.

There are certain themes running through the theology of Macmurray. One is that action should prevail over thinking. First comes the act, then reflection. Well, Blair did this in Iraq. First invade, then think about the consequences. It's not really a very good philosophy, or in Macmurray's case "theology."

Macmurray has written that science "is characteristically Christian." He calls it, "the intellectual life of faith." But science deals with the physical world and empirical evidence. Faith deals with hopes and unseen non-empirical pseudo-entities. This is also characteristic of Blair who believes in "Iraqi democracy" with reference to a militia dominated fundamentalist Iraqi government. Faith based politics, yes, scientific understanding, no.

Macmurray also bases his thinking on the "God of the Hebrews" (the genocidal demon that was worshiped in Old Testament days) not the God of the Greeks (Zeus had a libido problem but he didn't engage in genocide.) I think philosophical reason is really meant with respect to the Greeks.

More positively, Macmurray was interested in the "human community." For him ""community means a "common life" through religion while "society" means a "common purpose" to be found through "politics." Like many Islamists (and Blair's buddy George Bush), Macmurray thinks politics should be suborned to religion. If Blair is really a Macmurryite he is a strange ally for the US which was founded on the separation of church and state. Maybe not so strange since Britain has a state church and president Bush, in complete violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution has tried to break down the wall of separation between church and state.

Macmurray says life has two aspects. The first is the realm of the "functional" workaday world in which we live, it is a sphere of inequality (this view is amenable to conservative status quo thinking). The second is the realm of the "personal" where human equality reigns. In other words, as human persons we are all equal, but in the real world don't forget to salute officers and bow and scrape before your betters. Or, as Macmurray puts it: "The functional life is for the personal life: the personal life is through the functional life."

One of the great values celebrated by Macmurray is that of "freedom." And now we get to Brooks again, and the "essence" of Tony Blair. Macmurray tells us that: "We can preserve our freedom only by sharing it."

Tariq Ali is right. Only a third rate intellect would interpret this lofty theological abstraction as a license to wage an armed crusade against another people bringing them death and destruction and calling it "freedom."

This is how Brooks tries to dress up Blair's criminality and wretched chauvinistic beliefs. He quotes Blair on the war and aftermath of 9/11: "This is not a clash between civilizations. It is a clash about civilization [i.e., we are civilized. our enemies are uncivilized]. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world [such as being able to launch aggressive wars of conquest] and those who reject its existence." Yes indeed. Tony Blair's world of war and death, which he shares with president Bush, should be rejected, it is definitely about civilization and Blair is no spokesman for the side of the civilized.

Brooks now outdoes himself in illogicality in describing how Blair concluded he must support Bush's middle eastern crusade. Blair "concluded that Britain had to combat those who would divide the human community even without the support of the multilateral institutions that he cherished."

But the multilateral institutions are the institutions that "the human community" has devised in order to help preserve itself from war and misadventure. What Brooks is saying is that Blair decided he must combat the human community to save the human community. Third rate thinking at its best. Brooks's baloney, on the other hand, is first rate.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.


FSJL said...

That's a very good summary of the case, Tom. Brooks, as usual, is trying to make lemonade when he doesn't even have lemons.

Iraq has become the tar-baby of tar-babies as it clings to its creators and cannot be got rid of. Aznar found that out. Blair found that out. And George W. Bush is finding that out.

FSJL said...

Of course, I haven't seen Charles Krauthammer's take on events. That one's likely to be the exact opposite of whatever happens to be the case.