Saturday, September 1, 2007

Ode to Ike; the Zen of Golf

Critics of Consumer Cult Critics(yours truly) always state that we want every American to become Silas Marners, live in hovels and don sackcloth for clothing as we count our money stowed away in coffee cans. Far from that! Actually, what I personally envision is close to what we had in the 1950s when Papa Ike was running the Show: we had our gadgets, a car in every garage but Yanks had Savings accounts,also. 'What is Above, is Below'(again). President Eisenhower, people must remember, was a true *fiscal conservative*( not a fake one like most GOPers are presently): Ike looked on everything in the Budget with a administrative accountant's eye - including the Pentagon. There was nothing of this later gnosticism of Reagan about him that somehow, over-spending on Defense is not detrimental to the health of the Budget, but domestic spending is wasteful and inflationary. Eisenhower had the horse sense to know that the Cold War would ultimately bankrupt us, and Ike had wisdom. That is why following the death of Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles - Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz couldn't hold a candle to that bastard - Eisenhower began pursing the policy of detente' with the USSR and hence, his famous Farewell Address warning Americans of the 'military-industrial complex'. We didn't listen to Ike and we got what we have now. Eisenhower, one of the architects of the NATO alliance, admonished incoming President John F. Kennedy in January of 1961 that the time had come for the United States to gradually disengage from this military alliance. You know, Ike was a Five Star General, and if anyone in that period and thereafter had a grasp of military entanglements, the pluses and minuses, it was him.

Contrary to the belief of Adlai Stevenson democrats, Ike did much more in his eight years in the Executive Office than play friggin' Golf. This is what an Adlai Stevenson liberal, Fred Greenstein, demonstrated in his book about the statecraft of Eisenhower, The Hidden Hand Presidency. Eisenhower cultivated the public persona of a smiling face with a five-iron, the optimistic panache that everything was Okay. He looked and acted like anyone's benevolent Grandpa. Nixon in later life remarked that America had no idea that behind the scenes, Ike had a devious streak(Nixon should know all about that); off the Golf Course, Eisenhower burned a lot of midnight oil and this was all part of his asymmetrical rule, his refusal to engage personalities directly. Like George Washington, Eisenhower wanted to appear above politics. Privately, he'd call in Cabinet members and slap wrists when need be, dress them down like the old General that he was. Few knew the ends and outs of bureaucracy like he did. Let's face it: the man held the Allied Coalition together in WW2, and no other general from either side could had done it. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who seldom gave anyone besides Bernard Montgomery praise, admitted as such. The key to Ike and his commanding respect is that when he gave his Word - it was gold. His famous Grin was genuine, but hell hath no fury when one crossed Ike and got his dander raised. Eisenhower had a fierce temper that he kept cloaked from the public, but it was like a sudden thunderstorm, and he was not one to carry long-term grudges against someone. Many people say that 'hate is not part of my vocabulary'(some of these types are some of the most prolific haters, actually), and this is true of Eisenhower. Nixon, his Vice President - no stranger to hatred - remarked that Ike had no concept of the term and didn't understand it. Ike was both a responsible statesman and also a benevolent human being - rare in the political arena.

Dwight D. Eisenhower had his faults and big ones like anyone. He listened to Dulles too much and actually enabled the growth of the military-industrial complex/National Security State by looking the other way on CIA shenanigans in Iran, Guatemala and elsewhere. The Domino Theory was erroneous. But his finest hour was in 1956 when he refused to directly engage the USSR over Hungary and in no uncertain terms he told the British-French-Israeli tag team on the Suez Canal to back-off - such prevented the USA-USSR from going to nuclear war and ending human civilization. The John Birch Society called Ike a 'Communist' because he didn't think that turning the Earth into a radioactive crater was a good idea. Go figure, consider the source....

As I previously remarked to my virtual friend, Howard J. Harrison, over at 'The Economic Nationalist', the 1950s under Papa Ike was perhaps the last decade of the 'American System' economics - even with the antithesis of Bretton Woods: internal improvements(the Interstate/Autobahnen Plan), fiscal responsibility;Ike believed in Carey's harmony of interests as well. Eisenhower admired rich industrialists and brought some of them into his Administration, and they are those he cultivated as golfing partners. But unlike 'Republicans' today, Ike accepted the social-market of the New Deal and thought those who wanted to destroy the social-safety net were correctly, STUPID! Not that he was a Guns n' Butter liberal either - Ike was at heart a conservative and spoke in nostalgia and wistfully of small-town America, like Abilene, Kansas that he grew up in, and he was a firm believer and practitioner of the old Protestant Work Ethic. Yet, he knew that not everyone could enjoy the benefits of this, and some people were born with strikes against them that they could not overcome. Again, noblesse oblique. Eisenhower was neither a Calvin Coolidge nor a Great Society patron. Out of all the post WW2 presidents of the USofA, Ike came the closest to finding the Synthesis in national economic policy.....

The reader must know that I am a bit bias since like Ike(no pun), I am also a Kansan. Visiting his Presidential Library in Abilene is like a pilgrimage site that Roman Catholics have to Lourdes and Rome. He's the Sunflower State's Guy that rose above the detrimental reputation of 'Hayseeds &Methodists'( coined by that bigoted, classist slug, Free Market Bolshevik & Nazi sympathiser - HL Mencken) and made good in the realm of the City Slickers, and he was the best that Kansas ever produced for the United States of America in the political arena - Bob Dole could not shine Ike's shoes, because Bob Dole lacked the certain essential ingredient that Ike had - Great-Souled Man.

Few Presidents could look the Founding Fathers in the eye and say that they passed muster. Dwight D. Eisenhower was one who could, and he would smile when he said it.....


Howard J. Harrison said...

Although born before Eisenhower left office, I have no personal recollection of his presidency. Do your comments come from recollection of the time or from later reading?

Your bibliography seems pretty extensive (one wishes that the typical news reporter would read so much before writing). I still think that you might edit the blog into a manuscript for a book. The illumination-to-word count ratio of your writings is unusually high.

Now let me turn to a topic on which I will argue against you. The blog has several times, in various ways, advanced the notion that spirituality and morality can be separated from the practice of the Judeo-Christian religions. In a Western context, I do not believe that this is true. Moreover, I do not think that there is any substantial evidence or---better yet---experience to support the hypothesis. I think that there are a lot of Westerners who wish for various reasons that the hypothesis were true, who spend a lot of time and effort congratulating one another for their enlightened, post-Christian views; but wishing does not make it so.

Did you ever read Robert Heinlein back in the day? Mr. Heinlein unfortunately was a nonbeliever, but he always understood the pivotal role Christianity plays in our civilization, and said so. The protagonists in his books reflected tended to reflect his view in the matter. He seemed to think it important.

Arguments on the topic tend quickly to turn tendentious. They tend not to convince anyone who is not already convinced. I respect this. However, I do not know what Western civilization is, unless it is Graeco-Roman civilization, softened and strengthened by two thousand years of Christianity, practiced principally by the descendants of the people of the European part of the empire's Latin-speaking half and of the northern barbarians who ultimately destroyed the empire. Robert Heinlein, who unfortunately did not believe in Christ, always understood this, and said so. Christianity is indispensable. Without it, there is no West as we know it.

Admittedly, a thoughtful case has been made by Gibbon in his 18th-century Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and by others, that the Graeco-Roman West existed before Christianity and therefore that Christianity cannot be indispensable. Laying aside the question as to whether Christianity is true, regarding it only in the civilizational context, I believe that the case is mistaken on two grounds. Even Gibbon suspected as much. It was Gibbon himself who reluctantly conceded the mistake.

Firstly, there was indeed a pre-Christian Graeco-Roman civilization. It was deep, vast, glorious---and it was not a separate civilization from ours; the sensibilities of a Gracchus or a Cicero are far easier for a modern Westerner to understand than are those of, say, the prime minister of modern-day Japan. However, the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman civilization no longer exists, nor has it for many centuries. You cannot today just remove the Christianity from Western civilization and get the old Graeco-Roman back.

Secondly, the transition from pre-Christian to Christian Western civilization plunged the West into a long Dark Age. To call the transition brutal would rank among the great understatements of history. Mr. Heinlein absolutely was not prepared to plunge Western civilization into another dark age to remove the Christianity from it. Heinlein was right.

It is not denied that today's churches are sometimes funky, that they suffer too many prudes and busybodies in the pews, that they provide havens for a certain peculiar kind of oddball, that too many of their pastors lack conviction behind their sermons, that some of the churches display a pinched regard for minor doctrinal differences against other denominations. The old saw about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin is overwroght, but it survives to this day because the warning it gives has a kernel of truth to it. Clergy can be money-grubbers. Laity often gossip. What else is new?

But the churches are not the point. They are merely the medium. There is something ephemeral that emerges from all this churching. One cannot put one's finger on it, but it is in the air, everywhere in the West. It is not morality as such (there are plenty of sinners in the pews; church is supposed to be for sinners, after all). It is not family values as such (the story of the vicar caught in bed with the deacon's wife is almost as old as the story of Cain and Abel). It is not anything one can easily name, but one notices it once it is gone. It's like high-school football without the cheerleaders. It just isn't the same. Again, refer to Heinlein. He understood it.

Howard J. Harrison said...

The topic has got me thinking, and I want to add one more remark. My comments above regard the role of Christianity in the West; this remark regards the role of secularism in the West.

A healthy regard for the value of the Judeo-Christian religion should not induce one to conclude that secularism were the enemy of Western civilization. It is not the enemy. It is an integral element. In fact it is a main pillar. Western civilization is not a monastery! To believe that secularism were the enemy of Western civilization, one would have to ignore the broad sweep of history. The story of the rise of the West, which one might date 1453 through 1914, is shadowed at every step by the rise of Western secularism.

One is reminded from time to time of the Lord's admonition to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. What is remarkable in the context of the present discussion is not that the Lord said it---He said a lot of things which no one seems to think much about these days: about the ritual uncleanness (uncleanliness?) of women during a certain time of month; about smearing the calf's blood (or was it the kid's?) on the horns of the altar; about coveting menservants and maidservants; about (I observe without ridicule) marching seven times around the walls of Jericho, felling the walls with a trumpet blast, and slaughtering everyone inside---no, what is remarkable is the tenacious cultural currency of the admonition to render unto Caesar. The admonition is not remarkable so much because it is in the Bible as it is because we and many generations of our forebears have reminded one another from time to time that it is in the Bible, and that we have discussed at length what it means.

What a right secularist understands and respects is the proper role of religion. In the West, religion and secularism are as oil and vinegar; they don't mix, exactly, but they do go together. The West is not the West without the one or the other. Both are main pillars. Without either, the roof falls in.

Howard J. Harrison said...

Normally one does not bother to correct typos in a post already submitted, but this typo changes the meaning materially. I typed, "the Judeo-Christian religion," which makes about as much sense as typing "the city of Texas." Of course, Judeo-Christianity is a tradition encompassing many religions. I meant to type "the Judeo-Christian religions."

Redoubt10 said...

I wasn't born in the 1950s, so everything about Ike and that decade comes from historical reading and recollections of those who are old enough to remember it(though some overly romanticizes it;there were problems in the Fifties as any decade has).The gist is that when it comes to Presidents, Eisenhower was our last 'good one',imo.

As for the religion stuff, I am not a partisan of leveling the Christian religion from the West, if that is what you think(?). My premesis is that 'spitituality' and exoteric religion are often divorced from one another. We had the 'Age of Faith' in the Middle Ages, but there was little of the Sermon of the Mount about this Christendom - though the medieval period wasn't pitch black 'dark', it was primarily an age of psychic and physical terrorism on the populace from the eccleasitical powers that ran it. Spiritual movements such as the Cathars and others were ruthlessly wiped out as heretical, and if a person lived alone and had a cat and didn't quite fit the mode of humanity - often to the fire they'd go. This is why I can't find truck with the Fantasy crowd who have, even those who should know better, a pollyannish view of this era.

That the West would had been better off if remained with the old paganism of Greece and Rome, and/or adopted Mithra instead of 'Christ' as it's avatar/savior - who can say for sure one way or another. The West is stuck with Jesus as long as it remains, but his disciples often times or not do not strike me as being particular spiritual beings; in personal recollection, I can count the 'Christians' who act like the message of the Gospels on one hand, and the majority of those few I think were just naturally good people with or without any religious adherence.

Was always a bit of a hold-out to Sci-Fi(except for 'Star Trek' re-runs and Frank Herbert's 'Dune' series), and have just read Heinlein in pieces.Frankly, I found his writing style boring.

Anonymous said...

I like Ike.

Heinlein is not a particular favorite of mine - I think Poul Anderson did a much better job of articulating complex moral and ethical questions from a classically conservative perspective. And his writing was much more polished - I recommend _Ensign Flandry_, or _A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows_.

Howard: one may as well go the third step and simply say 'Judeo-Christo-Islamic' or 'Abrahamic' - I suspect we are both highly critical of Islam (my views are similar to those of liberal Muslims like Irshad Manji), however, it would be a mistake to neglect it in your summation.