The satisfying aspect of Niall Ferguson’s latest book can be described the same way as the unsatisfying aspect: I wanted more. The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die comes in at well under 200 pages of large, widely-spaced type, including notes, and is in every way a highly readable book. It is based on a series of BBC lectures. Ferguson has adhered to the wise speaker’s rule, which is the same as Polonius’—that brevity is the soul of wit. For books, this is not always the best rule. In many ways The Great Degeneration is yet the latest example…
“Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.
The Obama Administration tried buffering last week’s announcement that it is reducing the US Army’s size to below its levels of 1940 (when the world’s population was less than one third what it is today) by suggesting that it would concentrate on mastery of the sea and of space.
President Obama’s claim of executive omnipotence (“I can do whatever I want”) merely brought attention to the constitution under which we have been living: The chief, and those whom he appoints directly and indirectly, are not obliged to any law. Congressmen and senators too, free from votes for which they can be held responsible, can enjoy their rank among brokers of the profit and prestige, of the Trillions, which the modern administrative state dispenses. Obligations exist only among this vast public sector’s functionaries and beneficiaries — the ruling class.
The January Liberty Forum seeks to recover perhaps a forgotten connection between the Bill of Rights and the structural limitations on power in the Constitution. Patrick Garry leads off with an essay that answers the question: What should be the focus of the Bill of Rights? Responses to follow from Ed Erler, Michael Ramsey, and Ken Bowling. Our Books section this week features Alex Pollock's review of Greenspan's The Map and the Territory. The current Liberty Law Talk is with 2013 Bradley Prize recipient Yuval Levin on his new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right…
Well before incurring 2013’s embarrassments vis a vis Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran, Obama &co. had lost confidence in their ability to deal with the problems coming America’s way from the Middle East. Long since having blurred the lines between “politics as a game of perception and policy as the pursuit of national objectives” (Bret Stephens), and trying to cut their PR losses at home, the Obamians decided to “pivot” US policy away from the Middle East to more tractable and important regions – principally the Western Pacific.
Frank Buckley is the editor of a new collection of essays entitled The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, which features great scholars in business law, class actions, securities, regulatory law, among other subjects, who look into the ways America has departed from its pivotal commitment to the rule of law. The essays are oriented around the idea that America may be alone among western nations in the variety of ways it is descending from the rule of law. On this point, Buckley opens by suggesting that such a departure might be directly tied to our lagging economic recovery:
More recently, America itself has suffered from an economic decline, and this book asks . . . whether a decline in the rule of law has contributed to this. America sends experts to lecture people in other countries about the importance of the rule of law, but in doing so, do we fail to recognize the beam in our own eye?
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman created a stir when he offered the following comments: “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century… . Our one-party democracy is worse.”
I am reluctant to offer criteria for what it takes to be “a reasonably enlightened group of people,” but if Western academic legal theory and political philosophy stand in for what Friedman’s group believes, then we ought to be cautious in our optimism, to say the least. After all, their position is at times murky, and at times at odds with the American constitutional order. On pressing issues, Chinese academics assiduously studying American court cases, published journal articles, academic books, etc. may find an endorsement of China’s policies, not a repudiation of them. Far from “speaking truth to power,” Western academics may simply have nothing to say.
Dragons and pandas are oft-used metaphors when the West, including the United States, discusses China and its implications on national and international politics. I have lamented about the overuse of dragons in reference to China in the past, though I must admit: I sometimes succumb to the easy trap myself, particularly in the classroom. The use of dragon or panda as a metaphor for China is a simplistic means of conveying meaning toward the country: the former connotes a dangerous, potentially harmful China, perhaps to itself and nation-states around the world; the latter, a soft, cuddly China, otherwise friendly to its…