September 20, 2002
To Make Us Love Our Country

A strangely unsourced passage purporting to be from some right-wing commentator crossed my desk today:

I'm sorry but I pay for those soldiers to fight in a volunteer army. They are servants of people like me who will never fight. Yes, servants of civil masters. And they will do what they are told by people who would never go to war. That's called a democracy.

I hate it when the misdeeds of right-wing politicians and the miswords of right-wing ideologues serve as object lessons pointing out the deep truths of the great right-wing thinkers. I hated it when Richard Nixon's desire to try to get an overheated low-unemployment economy in the runup to the 1972 election served as an object lesson of the truth of Milton Friedman's fears that "activist" stabilization policy could lead to a destructive political business cycle. I hated it when Ronald Reagan's blowing American fiscal policy sky-high and slowing economic growth for a decade served as an object lesson of the reality of James Buchanan's fears that the American political system was too myopic to cope with any budget principle more complex than "balanced budgets are good."

And I hate it when right-wing ideologues complete misperception of the bond between us and our soldiers--their mistaking of them for our mercenary tools--reinforces Edmund Burke's warnings about the dangers inherent in a social system ruled by exchange and by self-interest to the derogation of charity, honor, or solidarity.

Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are not our servants. They are not our employees (although we do (under)pay them). They do not put their lives in harm's way out of selfish calculations of self-interest. They do not do what they do because we pay them.

They are our defenders. And we respect and honor them.

Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France ...the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.... [The] mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancient chivalry; and the principle.... if it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great.... All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal... and... incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.... On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his own private speculations or can spare to them from his own private interests.... Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part of the commonwealth... To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely...

Posted by DeLong at September 20, 2002 10:51 PM | Trackback

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Totally reprehensible comment by whatever unsourced hack made it. But if you are going to spend time rebutting the stupidest things that insignificant righties say, you're days will be full. Wasted, but full. Anyway, the subject of the failed Government bond auction in Japan awaits your eagle eye!

Nice weekend,

Posted by: Tom Maguire on September 21, 2002 08:26 AM

Regarding this quote, I made the point in Atrios' comments section that it is really easy to go to war when you see the miitary as nothing but mercenaries, instead of as your relatives, friends or lovers. The down-side of no draft.

Having spent 20 years in the US Air Force, no one is there for the money. They are there for love of country, patriotism and duty.

Posted by: Majkia on September 21, 2002 08:32 AM

To which, as I recall, Tom Paine (1737-1809) replied:

At the time Mr. Burke made his violent speech last winter in the English Parliament against the French Revolution and the National Assembly, I was in Paris, and had written to him but a short time before to inform him how prosperously matters were going on. Soon after this I saw his advertisement of the Pamphlet he intended to publish. As the attack was to be made in a language but little studied, and less understood in France, and as everything suffers by translation, I promised some of the friends of the Revolution in that country that whenever Mr. Burke's Pamphlet came forth, I would answer it. This appeared to me the more necessary to be done, when I saw the flagrant misrepresentations which Mr. Burke's Pamphlet contains; and that while it is an outrageous abuse on the French Revolution, and the principles of Liberty, it is an imposition on the rest of the world. . . > [Rights of Man (1792)]

However, Edmund Burke turned out to be the better judge of events. Tom Paine, finally digusted with developments in France sought refuge on your side of the Atlantic, given the risk of imprisonment or worse in Britain, to settle in New York where he lived to the end of his days.

What strikes me above all are the remarkably perceptive insights of so many of the leading sages of the 18th century on both sides of the Atlantic, including not just the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution but Adam Smith and David Hume - both Scots - and Edmund Burke, who came to Britain from Ireland. For all the inspiring claim to inalienable rights staked out in the DOI to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Burke recognised that "liberty too must be limited to be possessed." (1777)

It really is extraordinary how many current academic papers on monetary theory or adjustment to external disequilibria still invoke passages from an essay Of Money (1752) by Hume. Moral philosophers are still discussing from whence ethical principles derive and we have this passage from Hume:

[Of the Original Contract (1748)]

Posted by: Bob Briant (UK) on September 21, 2002 09:12 AM

Omitted quote from Hume: Of the Original Contract (1748):

Posted by: Bob Briant (UK) on September 21, 2002 09:32 AM

All moral duties may be divided into two kinds. The first are those to which men are impelled by a natural instinct ... which operates on them, independent of all ideas of obligation, and of all views either to public or private utility. Of this nature are love of children, gratitude to benefactors, pity to the unfortunate. ... The second kind of moral duties are such as are not supported by any original instinct of man but are performed entirely from a sense of obligation, when we consider the necessities of human society, and the impossibility of supporting it, if these duties were neglected. ....Though an appeal to general opinion may justly, in the speculative sciences of metaphysics, natural philosophy, or astronomy, be deemed unfair or inconclusive, yet in all questions with regard to morals, as well as criticism, there is really no other standard ...

Posted by: on September 21, 2002 10:35 AM

I think the quote is attributed to Andrew Sullyvan by Sullywatch. He would have writen (or said?) that on Media Whores Online. That's as far as it makes sense for me to research this kind of crap.

Sorry to spoil the fun, but if it's from Sully you can expect to be... silly. %-)

Personally, I don't even see the question. We all have jobs that we take seriously because they all contribute to make our society what it is. And, thank the gods, it's not yet morally reprensible to be paid to be a soldier, a fireman, a professor, a factory worker, a surgeon or a business man etc. And thank the gods, people like us don't serve in the army, because we wouldn't be very helpful...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on September 21, 2002 02:42 PM

I want to share an experience of mine. The father of an ex-girlfriend of my is a polican in Belgium. More than a decade ago he got beaten up while trying to prevent an Arab youth form getting beaten up himself. I told him how, is spite of my natural tendency as a left-winger to dislike all things order, I was in fact secretely admirative of people like him to be doing the job they were doing. He looked bewildered for a second and replied "Jean-Philippe, I do the job I do because I have a family to feed."

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on September 21, 2002 02:53 PM

Jean-Philippe - You probably meant: The father of an ex-girlfriend of MINE is a POLICEMAN in Belgium. :)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on September 21, 2002 07:30 PM

One of the "points" of democracy was to make the notion of honor thoroughly obsolete. Indeed, democracies are founded on skepticism; so while the unnamed source is somewhat over the top, we have no more obligation to respect military personnel than we have an obligation to respect members of the legislative, executive or judicial branches. Who among us respects McNamara or Westmoreland? And where's that quote by Schumpeter regarding the dubiousness of the claim that there is indeed something to which the notion of "the national interest" refers? Obedience is for children.....

Posted by: Ian on September 22, 2002 03:40 PM

'Who among us respects McNamara or Westmoreland?'

Who among us respects Eisenhower?

Posted by: Jason McCullough on September 23, 2002 12:05 AM

Could it be that what Sulli was actually reacting to some Generals' nervousness about how careless Washington's hawks, most never having served in the army, are about invading Irak? His mistake would be then to think that this war is democratic... rather than disrespect for America's service people.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on October 11, 2002 12:02 AM
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