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Friday, November 03, 2006


Beyond the Condottieri

posted by Razib Khan at Friday, November 03, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
In relation to religious conservatives, a commenter (who also reads my other blog) offers:
Amen brother. We have to fight them legally now, or we will be fighting them in the Second American Revolution when we have to try to restore the Constitution.

I responded with a laugh and a quip. My friends are all secular liberals, and I always laugh at them when they use charged rhetoric, because the reality is that they weren't born fighting and they haven't learned fighting. The reality is that many elite liberals, those for whom college is a right of passage and not a privilege, there is normative contempt for soldiers and their lumpen culture. There is an aversion to violence as a solution to any problem, a culture which does not address or face the reality that not all conflicts are amenable to rational compromise. The reality is that the United States officer corps is now solidly Republican in orientation (last I heard it was around 4/5). In the citizenry the ownership of guns and a reflex toward belligerence when faced with threat is not concentrated amongst the liberal bourgeois. When I have been confronted by friends who can express nothing but contempt for the vast swath of conventional conservative Americans I can only caution them: these are the men with guns, to them your necks are bare and only their idolatry for the Constitution, the secular Bible, keeps the peace. Tread carefully!

Violence is a solution of very last resort. But, force is an option we must avail ourselves us to prepare and keep the peace, that is the nature of things in this world of ours. Instead since the 1960s the progressive elites have withdrawn from the world of arms and those bloody patriarchal values, and in their place has arisen a caste of Condottieri who owe fealty to one party, a caste of mercenaries who churn themselves out of the broad mass of Americans. A few years ago I was having a discussion with a very liberal friend of mine, and from the perspective of an apathetic libertarian I offered to him that perhaps the Democratic party, and the liberals who spearhead it, are simply constitutionally incapable of the Machiavellian and brutal competition which modern politics has become. I used terms like "feminized," but it really isn't a sensibility tied to sex. Consider that with the rise of gunpowder the noble castes of Europe turned away from valor at arms on the plains of battle toward more refinement, a cultivation of letters and manners. And yet these same men were the same stock from which arose the officers to lead soldiers into battle, they were multi-dimensional figures, they understood that the republic of letters and that of arms were dependent upon each other. But today the elite has bifurcated, the Condottieri caste are throwbacks to medieval values, a faith one god and emperor, unflinching loyalty and mannered coarseness, while the liberal establishment has taken the republic of letters to its logical conclusion and excised the blood and brutality from the equation. We are a society of specialists, focused on our own expertise, and this is simply one manifestation of that tendency. But the republics and empires of the past have flourished when generalists who could dodge and move with the punches that reality invariably sent their way were at the helm.

Which is why the rise of Jim Web gives me hope. The author of Born Fighting, Web is a son of the Condottieri caste who is also a warrior of the pen. He does not revel in anti-intellectualism and lacks no boldness of mind, and yet at the same time he believes that with privilege comes responsibility and the brutality of battle has an honor all its own, that war is an evil which nevertheless can enoble the unfortunates who are involuntarily drawn into its maelstrom. I have been using the term Condottieri and alluding to mercenaries consciously, because the modern Republican party is one of merchant princes who assemble and move their figurative and literal armies to enrich themselves at the expense of the body politic. In many ways the Democratic party is little different, and yet Web offers the hope that a new generation of righteous and upright men who value proper conduct over personal enrichment may arise, who live their lives not for the trinkets of the consumer society but the glory of god and peace of the republic.


Razib -

There is a grain of truth here, but it is no more than a grain.

The US is a mixed bag socially. Some folks embrace gun culture, some don't. Some are more belligerent than others. There is, perhaps, some correlation between membership in either of these groups and military service, particularly since the end of the draft.

That's about all I'm prepared to give you.

Regarding the professional military, I'd say they probably include more registered Republicans than Democrats. I'd also say those folks are not all that political, and that they view themselves as serious professionals whose responsibility is the defense of the nation as a whole, and who very specifically see it as their sacred duty to stay the hell out of political disputes. In spite of my credentials as a card-carrying liberal, I would never, in a million years, imagine that any of those folks would remotely view my "neck as bare", and they would take offense at anyone saying or thinking that they did. They're serious people, they see their responsibilities as a sacred duty, they have and deserve my respect and that of any decent American, and they do not deserve to be tarred with the brush of yahooism.

Plus, there are a damned generous number of Democrats among them. Look at who's running for office this year.

In terms of "establishments", both the liberal and conservative "establishments", which is to say folks who are in positions of privilege and power, and who have a platform from which to articulate the received wisdom of their respective camps, appear to my eye to be equally lacking in folks with military service on their resume. In this country, if you have the dough and the clout, you generally don't serve, no matter what your party affiliation is.

In terms of political leadership, in the 109th Congress Republicans have a slight edge in percentage of veterans in the House (30% to Dem's 22%), and a smaller edge in the Senate (37% to Dem's 32%). Statistically noticeable, but nothing that represents either a wholesale embrace or eschewal of arms.

IMO it's fair to say that areas of the country which embrace gun culture and a more belligerent stance generally also tend to be politically conservative. If you mistake that for some kind of liberal unwillingness to defend what we value, the suprise will be yours.

In my travels through the blogosphere, I have frequently encountered all too many yahoos who bray about how "conservatives have all the guns", "liberals are afraid to/don't know how to fight", or the like. I invite any of them to come up here to chilly Massachusetts and try it on. I assure you, none of them will.

Talking ain't doing.

I think you spend too much time with academics.



Talking ain't doing.

I think you spend too much time with academics.

i've lived in 80% repub and do live in an 80% dem area. talks the same (with ideological filter). but the latter are definitely more pussyish when it comes to physical violence.


Hey Razib -

I'm not sure exactly what point you're trying to prove here.

Democrats don't get in enough bar fights? Not enough Democrats who think Charlton Heston is their President? Not enough blue state folks playing commando on the weekend? I'd say that makes them the adults in the room. If that gets up a red state nose, too bad.

Liberals have no balls? Bring it on. Start with me.

I'm probably one of the biggest lefties you're likely to encounter. My old man taught me to shoot, and I have some martial arts background. I have no problem with guns, and I'm a second amendment hawk. Don't own a gun, because I don't need one, and I have no gun fetish. Haven't been in an actual fistfight since I was a kid. I call that maturity.

If big talk and bonehead chest-thumping is your thing, go hang with the red state folks, you'll get your fill. Think I'm looking down my nose at the "lumpenproles"? I'm not. It's a definite cultural difference, and I know which side of that fence I live on.

If, however, you seriously think, for one moment, that "liberals" are going to let anyone push them around physically, intimidate them through threats of violence, or in any way whatsoever give ground due to any form of intimidation, at all, guess again.

Conservatives like to talk big about how tough they are, what pussies liberals are, and how they're going to kick their soft teeth down their throat. That last is a somewhat famous quote, and it's from a somewhat famous poser.

Screw that. If you think I'm wrong, try it on.

Talking ain't doing.

On the "condottieri" issue, specifically, you go a great disservice to the US military to compare them to mercenaries, or to imply that they are not committed to the defense of everyone in the US, conservative, liberal, or otherwise. I don't know if you know any of those guys, or have had any dealings with them, but I have. They're responsible people, not knuckleheads. That's all I have to say on that topic.

Thanks -


dude, you need to chill. i don't care about you. the fact is that 4/5 of the officer corps are registered republicans. this is a new thing within the last generation.

Conservatives like to talk big about how tough they are, what pussies liberals are, and how they're going to kick their soft teeth down their throat. That last is a somewhat famous quote, and it's from a somewhat famous poser.

of course they do, but it's because it is rooted in part in fact. look at the freikorps in the 1920s in germany, or the terror that right-wing death squads and militaries have ushered in in as diverse a locales as chile and turkey.

On the "condottieri" issue, specifically, you go a great disservice to the US military to compare them to mercenaries, or to imply that they are not committed to the defense of everyone in the US, conservative, liberal, or otherwise. I don't know if you know any of those guys, or have had any dealings with them, but I have. They're responsible people, not knuckleheads. That's all I have to say on that topic.

they're people. we have a lot of built up capital in our republic that prevents us from degenerating into a military junta, but i don't think that it is out of the bounds of possibility within the lives of people today that something like a coup could happen. when the army does not reflect a representative slice of the polity, then that is far more likely to happen.

the pussyishness problem isn't something that's just observed by republicans or conservatives. most of my friends, liberals all, will admit that there is an issue here. why are the people at kos so obsessed with 'fighting dems'?


Hey Razib -

A couple of comments.

First, I have no idea what you are talking about when you refer to the "liberal establishment". Care to elaborate?

Second, your characterization of "liberals" as "pussies" is the exact analogue of the mythical "liberal" who looks down his nose at the "lumpen" members of the military. It's an ignorant prejudice, and I'm suprised to find it here.

As an aside, the only people I hear talking about the military in the derogatory way you cite are rich, privileged yacht club Republicans, and jerks like Kissinger and Andrew Sullivan.

Some facts to ponder:

We're not on the verge of a military coup. The US mililtary is not, and has no desire to be, a mercenary condottieri, carrying out the plans of their Republican overlords.

Troops arriving home from overseas are not spinning off bands of reactionary freikorps. Home-grown terror squads have not yet made an appearance on these shores.

If you sincerely believe, as you appear to, that politically liberal people are going to let their opposites win the day through physical threats or intimidation, you don't know jack. You really don't.

I think you mistake rhetoric for reality, and, perhaps, the attitudes of your acquaintances with something like a norm.

I live in a solidly liberal town, in a solidly liberal part of the country. There are 20,000 people in my town. We have about a dozen folks serving overseas right now, and have probably had two or three times that number serve in Iraq and Afghanistan overall. We've had one man killed in Afghanistan, and a man wounded in Iraq. The man who was killed comes from a local family that has had members in every war this country has been in, from the Revolution to now. The entire town turned out for his funeral.

Last time I checked the state with the highest per-capita casualty rate in our current pair of wars was liberal, socialist-Congressman, gay-civil-union, hippy-paradise Vermont.

I don't know where you live, but around here liberals have no problem with the military or military service, and aren't afraid to fight when fighting is needed. Maybe you need to broaden your social circle.

As far as whether I need to chill or not, as long as garbage like this keeps popping up, I will not chill, because it only encourages loudmouths, boneheads, and bullies.



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