The Real News of the Month

August 2006
Volume 12, Number 8

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
Subscription Rates.
 Print version: $44.95 per year. For special discounted
subscription offers and e-mail subscriptions see, or call the publisher's office.

Address: SOBRAN'S, P.O. Box 1383, Vienna, VA 22183-1383
Fax: 703-281-6617      Website:
Publisher's Office: 703-255-2211 or
Foreign Subscriptions (print version only): Add $1.25 per
 issue for Canada and Mexico; all other foreign
 countries, add $1.75 per issue.
Credit Card Orders: Call 1-800-513-5053. Allow
 4-6 weeks for delivery of your first issue.

-> Triumphs of Democracy
-> Publisher's Note
-> Christians and Private Property
The Sobran Forum
-> Tribes, Veils, and Democracy
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
"Reactionary Utopian" Columns Reprinted in This Issue


Triumphs of Democracy
(page 1)


     As I write, yet another war has erupted in the 
Middle East, and Condoleezza Rice, an enthusiast of the 
continuing war in Iraq, has been dispatched to try to 
negotiate peace. Setting aside any sense of irony and 
hypocrisy in that venture, anyone can see that she has 
her work cut out for her. The failure of her mission, 
needless to say, is a certainty.

     Both sides, the Israelis and Iran-backed Hezbollah, 
want war and won't accept peace on any terms the United 
States can propose. Both can give so many reasons and 
provocations for fighting that it is hard to imagine any 
incentives for them to stop at this point. The most we 
can hope for is that the United States won't be drawn 
further into another conflict it has done so much to 

     As all the observers have already observed ad 
nauseam, the United States has long since destroyed, 
through its partiality to the state of Israel, any 
possibility of acting as a mediator with the Muslims. 
Both the Bush administration and Congress have lost no 
time in supporting the Israelis' devastating assault on 
Lebanon, which the rest of the world has almost 
unanimously condemned as "disproportionate." And the 
United States, while piously deploring the violence, 
immediately rushed a new supply of rockets to Israel.

     How the Israelis should have responded to 
Hezbollah's rocket attacks on their cities is a good 
question, and my own first reaction was to make 
allowances for them, until I read that they had launched 
their own assault =before= those attacks. Now I can only 
marvel at this administration's ability to make any 
situation, however grim, even worse.

     Condemning "isolationism," the Bush team has 
achieved one thing: the isolation of America with Israel. 
{{ Even Tony Blair must be having second thoughts about 
making himself such a reliable ally to this rogue 
superpower, which makes even the unmourned Soviet Union 
seem a model of prudence and forbearance. Meanwhile, Abe 
Foxman, Charles Krauthammer, and the rest of the Amen 
Corner have been explaining why the Israelis are right 
again. }}

     The reason men like Washington, Jefferson, and 
Hamilton urged Americans to resist "entangling alliances" 
was not that they were xenophobic, but that they 
understood that there are often strong motives, moral and 
otherwise, for intervention abroad. But even the highest 
of motives might be contrary to American interests.

     {{ In those days the chief danger they saw was U.S. 
embroilment in European wars, especially those of France 
and England. They would have been utterly incredulous at 
the idea of American intervention in the Middle East. 
Even Tocqueville's prediction of conflict between America 
and Russia would have seemed far-fetched. }}

     But the United States has long since abandoned the 
once-revered principle of neutrality. George W. Bush, 
surpassing even Woodrow Wilson in moralistic fatuity, has 
all but declared war on Evil, proclaiming "global 
democratic revolution." That is, only democracy can be 
truly legitimate; with the proviso, of course, that only 
the United States can decide what counts as truly 

     As I've noted elsewhere, this comfortably simple 
notion, no less than Marxism-Leninism, would serve as a 
pretext for eternal war and revolution. And in fact it 
has already proved impossible to apply consistently. 
Recent democratic elections in the Muslim world -- in 
Algeria, Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon, for example -- have 
produced results unacceptable to the United States and 
Israel. Even conquered Iraq has proved hard to 
democratize to American specifications.

     In America, we used to be taught, moments of crisis 
elicit great leaders. We last heard it shortly after 
September 11, 2001. One minor consolation of the latest 
conflagrations in the Middle East is that this old saw 
will finally be retired for good.

Publisher's Note
(page 2)

Dear loyal subscriber,

     I am pleased to announce that cartoonist Baloo will 
now be adding his original and creative illustrations to 

     Baloo, the pen name of Rex May, has drawn cartoons 
REVIEW. in addition to some well-known syndicated 
features and church publications.

     A retired postal worker, Rex May received his B.A. 
in Russian language and literature and M.A. in English 
from Indiana State University. He did a stint in the 
Army, assigned to the language school and Army 
Intelligence between undergraduate and graduate school. 
In the mid 1970s he began writing for NATIONAL LAMPOON 
and started gagwriting for freelance and syndicated 
columnists. By the end of the 1970s, he was drawing 
cartoons for a variety of magazines and syndicated 

     Joe Sobran thinks that Baloo's "visual style is 
distinctive and instantly recognizable." I hope you like 
it as well.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fran Griffin

P.S. You can see some of his other cartoons at

See biographical sketch and photo of Rex May (Baloo) at:

Christians and Private Property
(pages 3-4)

     "Thou shalt not steal." This Commandment establishes 
private property as a fundamental institution of moral 
and social order. Property has generally been understood 
in the West as a foundation of human dignity, personal 
freedom, and the common good.

     The modern enemies of the West have seen this 
clearly: the abolition of private property is the first 
item on the agenda of Marxist regimes, which totally deny 
its legitimacy. In practice this means not that nobody 
owns anything, but that the state owns everything -- and 
everybody. Trotsky cynically appreciated the utility of 
state ownership from the perspective of totalitarian 
power: "In a country where the state is the sole 
employer, opposition means death by slow starvation."

     But property has always been a problematic 
institution for Christians, who are enjoined by Christ to 
renounce material happiness, to share with the needy, and 
to be "poor in spirit." To many Christians this now seems 
to mean helpless acquiescence in the destruction of 
property rights, which they somehow feel are too base to 
be worthy of defense. Property has been vulgarly 
associated with simple greed.

     And there is no denying the crassness and greed that 
are so evident in capitalist societies. But we should 
bear in mind that some champions of private property have 
been sharply critical of capitalism; the two terms are 
not, as the Scholastics would say, "convertible." The 
Distributist movement, to which G.K. Chesterton and 
Hilaire Belloc belonged, held that capitalism actually 
undermines private property by depersonalizing it and 
allowing its concentration in a few hands, while leaving 
masses of people dispossessed. Chesterton made the point 
with his usual pungency: "It is the negation of private 
property that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the 
farms in one estate; just as it would be the negation of 
marriage if he had all our wives in one harem."

     I can pretend to neither learning nor even a fixed 
conviction on the matter. I do think the Distributists 
are worth listening to. They rejected not only 
capitalism, but also the purported remedies of 
collectivism, which they saw as a vengeance on capitalism 
rather than a correction of its faults. Their ideal was a 
social order in which everyone had some property of his 
own, not necessarily an equal division, but at least a 
reasonable minimum. And Alexis de Tocqueville thought the 
stability of American society was due to the circumstance 
that nearly everyone owned property, and everyone 
therefore respected everyone else's property rights. The 
Distributist ideal is therefore at least not utopian. In 
fact, Chesterton and Belloc insisted it had been realized 
often in Catholic Europe.

     A few points are worth bearing in mind. Greed is a 
moral rather than a quantitative matter. The Baltimore 
Catechism I studied as a boy defined greed (I think it 
was called "covetousness") as the inordinate desire for 
possessions, but the inordinacy had to do with something 
quite distinct from the =amount= of wealth coveted. It 
meant seeking happiness through possessions alone, and as 
such meant, I suppose, a form of despair, of failing to 
aspire to one's proper happiness in God. It also meant, 
more earthily, being willing to gain wealth by illicit 
means such as fraud or theft.

     Furthermore, it is clearly a mistake to identify 
greed simply with capitalism. This is a very widespread 
mistake, usually accompanied nowadays by the 
complementary mistake of associating state ownership with 
altruism and compassion. As the political philosopher 
Kenneth Minogue points out, the individualist 

      may well be altruistic to the point of
      self-abnegation; he merely wishes to choose
      his own way of acting. Similarly, egoism and
      selfishness can appear in the most communally
      minded people.... There is, in other words, no
      logical relationship whatever between a right
      on the one hand, and a motive (such as egoism)
      on the other.

The distinction is brought home concretely by the selfish 
privileges of the "New Class" of Communist rulers, with 
their limousines and dachas which, though nominally owned 
by "the people," are actually accessible only to the few.

     Many eminent Christians in recent times have fallen 
into the error of supposing that collectivist societies 
approximate the Christian vision of universal sharing. 
But in fact Communist societies, with their chronic 
shortages, generate ferocious competition among people 
who can hardly afford to be ashamed of their corruption 
(and whom we ought not to judge too harshly). It is 
possible to make a whole population poor; making it poor 
in spirit is an entirely different matter.

     Even a redoubtable conservative writer of our day, 
George Will, comes perilously close to identifying the 
public sector with public-spiritedness and the private 
sector (as we now call it) with private "desires" and 
"appetites." But it is obviously possible for the public 
sector, even in a democracy, to become an arena of greed 
in which some citizens demand benefits for themselves to 
be paid for, ultimately, out of the pockets of other 
citizens. The French economist and moralist Frederic 
Bastiat cautioned us to see whether the state does for 
one citizen at the expense of others what that citizen 
could not do for himself without committing a crime. The 
state without justice, St. Augustine says, is a band of 

     What are the just claims of the state upon our 
wealth? This is the crucial question, and I do not 
propose to answer it here. But surely there must be some 
specifiable limits and criteria, or the state will simply 
overwhelm us. It is dangerous to justify the state's 
claims in terms of its alleged beneficent motives; it is 
also irrational. A bank robber may have good motives; it 
is his means that are illicit. Vague appeals to 
"compassion" (and invidious accusations against opponents 
that they =lack= compassion) are no substitute for 
reasoned argument.

     But neither should we settle for the apparently 
reasonable but deeply inadequate argument of capitalism's 
defenders, such as the supply-side economists, that a 
free market produces greater wealth and opportunity than 
do the alternatives. This is evidently true, as far as it 
goes; but it remains, at bottom, a utilitarian argument 
that tells us nothing about what is good for man. Very 
few conservatives of our day have been bold enough to 
make a robust defense of private property for its own 
sake. Usually they tell us how to get more wealth and 
avoid the dangers of collectivism, without telling us why 
that wealth is ultimately desirable beyond gratifying 
such desires as we may already happen to have. The moral 
high ground is thus left to socialists, who at least 
purport to offer a substantive ideal. The two sides talk 
past each other.

     Those who associate property with greed might be 
surprised to learn that the Founders of the American 
Republic associated property with virtue. Their concern 
was not merely to protect what was already possessed, but 
more particularly to protect what James Madison called 
"different and unequal faculties of acquiring property." 
One of the great reforms of the "bourgeois" era of the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to open the way 
for the =acquisition= of property against the hereditary 
interests who preferred to preserve the status quo.

     To men such as Madison, the acquisition of property 
through lawful means required the virtues of providence 
and industry, while the possession of property tended to 
make people rooted, responsible, and independent. It is 
easy to deride this idea, but before we ridicule its 
excesses we ought to consider whether our society has not 
neglected its element of profound truth and gone too far 
in the opposite direction.

     In fact we should set aside current prejudices so 
far as to realize that private property is actually an 
=obstacle= to greed. It forces people to earn wealth by 
their own efforts rather than to take by simple marauding 
or sophisticated political manipulation what properly 
belongs to others. This is, to be sure, a limited sort of 
virtue, but the power of the state and society to produce 
higher virtues is also extremely limited. The best, in 
this case charity, can be the enemy of the good, in this 
case a peaceful social order in which everyone's ordinary 
rights are respected without regard to his spiritual 

     Public affectations of high motives can pose a real 
danger to the only kinds of political good attainable on 
earth. Communism affects a disembodied and universal 
benevolence, and produces instead an aggressive and 
rapacious ruling power. This lesson seems very hard to 
learn, and it cannot be claimed that Christians on the 
whole have learned it very well. When invited to "speak 
out" on social and economic issues, they very often fall 
into the trap of demanding an impossibly idealistic 
order, a Kingdom of God on Earth, which they are too 
willing to see where it does not exist.

     If Christians have a duty to offer social criticism, 
they ought, in my judgment, to warn particularly against 
the prevalent spiritual dangers besetting their 
contemporaries. This means they ought to remind their 
fellow citizens of the distinction between realizable 
ideals and spiritually arrogant fantasies. It seems to me 
that the almost friendless institution of private 
property, which however answers to deep and permanent 
human needs, expresses that distinction very well. By 
recovering the understanding that property is a positive 
good as well as a barrier against tyranny, we can help 
show a guiltily materialistic society a way to the 
happiness for which God made us.

[This essay originally appeared in CENTER JOURNAL (Fall 
1983) of Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Indiana.]


Tribes, Veils, and Democracy:
Understanding Muslim Societies
by Jon Basil Utley

See photo and description of Jon Utley at:

(pages 5-6)

     Understanding much of the Muslim world can be helped 
by reviewing BRAVEHEART, Mel Gibson's classic movie of 
Scottish freedom fighters. It shows how the clan 
chieftains were always ready to betray William Wallace 
and his Scottish nationalists for their narrow tribal 
concerns, and how the English king could so easily bribe 
and manipulate them. Such a knowledge of tribal cultures 
has been missing in Washington.

     In chaotic, invasion-prone lands, loyalty to 
families and tribes was the only way most individuals 
could have even a modicum of security and safety. The 
system evolved from man's earliest history. A family or 
tribe would avenge murder, rape, or theft done to its 
members. Every outsider knew this and so thought twice 
about doing possible harm. Clan and tribal support also 
served as a form of life insurance. Children of dead 
parents would be looked after. The Middle East, with its 
open borders and constant invasions, developed the 
strongest forms of this tribalism long before Mohammed's 
time. The Old Testament well exemplifies historic 

     The second major reason for tribalism in 
poverty-stricken societies was to keep wealth within the 
family. Intermarriage among cousins meant fewer heirs, so 
wealth was not divided among so many descendants or 
dissipated to outsiders; marriages were arranged with 
people who were trustworthy and already known. Love with 
an outsider would distort clan growth, and every effort 
was made to keep young women from meeting any strangers. 
Brutal examples of enforcement are typified by the 
occasional story of young liberated Muslim women even in 
Europe who are threatened or even murdered by their 
fathers or brothers for dating outsiders.

     Veils first evolved in Iran. The seclusion of women 
was first reported by Herodotus in his history of the 
Greek invasions as a Persian custom. Keeping women 
secluded was also a display of wealth, as it was possible 
only for wealthier men. The poor Bedouins could not 
afford to seclude their women, as they needed their work, 
so veils were much less common.

     In Iraq since the invasion, we have learned that 
Saddam really ruled through the tribes by bribing or 
giving special favors to the leaders, much as the English 
king in BRAVEHEART did with Scottish clan chiefs. A 
tribal elder had authority over his tribe, and it was 
culturally acceptable for him to control its money and 
resources. In Saudi Arabia, until recently it was 
considered traditional for the king to receive and 
dispense all the oil royalties. But he in turn had the 
obligation to look after his tribe, and every week he 
held an audience during which the poorest could visit him 
and ask for help or money.

The "Romeo and Juliet" revolution

     In an article entitled "Cousin Marriage Conundrum" 
in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE (January 13, 2003), Steve 
Sailer explained how approximately 50 per cent of 
marriages in Iraq took place between first or second 
cousins. (The rate for Americans is .2 per cent, while 
for Pakistanis in England it is 60 per cent.) The author 
argues that the Muslim world never experienced the "Romeo 
and Juliet" revolution, namely, the romantic practices 
through which Europe evolved away from tribalism. Also, 
in Europe the Catholic Church condemned marriage between 
first cousins. Yet even a hundred years ago, marriage 
between second and third cousins was still common. The 
daughter of a friend of my uncle's from England once told 
me that even until the First World War her father's 
generation did most socializing with their cousins.

     Referring to government and culture, Sailer 
explains, "By fostering intense family loyalties and 
strong nepotistic urges, inbreeding makes the development 
of civil society more difficult." He quotes Randall 

      Extended families that are incredibly tightly 
      bound are really the enemy of civil society 
      because the alliances of family override any 
      consideration of fairness to people in the 
      larger society. Yet, this obvious fact is 
      missing from 99% of the discussions about what 
      is wrong with the Middle East. How can we 
      transform Iraq into a modern liberal 
      democracy if every government worker sees a 
      government job as a route to helping out his 
      clan at the expense of other clans?

     Sailer also explains how this affects business 
structures -- larger corporations, for example, "tend to 
be rife with goldbricking, corruption, and nepotism, all 
because their employees don't trust each other to show 
their highest loyalty to the firm rather than their own 
extended families" -- as well as military actions, where 
troops mistrust fellow soldiers from different clans. 
This is a reason Middle Eastern armies are so 
incompetent. The Ottoman Empire did not even develop 
limited-liability corporate laws, a foundation for wealth 
creation in Europe, because most business was either 
government or family. Another side of cousin marriage was 
constant conflicts and wars. People hated and wanted 
vengeance against neighboring tribes and clans more than 
they feared foreign conquest. Although clan loyalty is a 
reason that Muslim lands have been so easily conquered by 
outsiders, it also explains why they are very successful 
guerillas. Bravery, loyalty, and trust among families and 
clans make them formidable fighters, as the British 
learned long ago in Afghanistan. 

Understanding Paradise 

     Poverty-stricken peoples and those who go abroad to 
live in alien cultures, e.g., Europe, are also more 
receptive to fundamentalist religion as a familiar 
cultural anchor. It was in Istanbul that I first really 
understood Heaven for early believers. Thinking about how 
the Muslim paradise seems focused (to us Westerners) on 
sensual pleasures for males, I asked a female Islamic 
scholar what women would find in Paradise. She told me 
how miserable life in the deserts was during most of 
human history -- invasions, disease, constant hunger, 
brutality, dictators, murder, rape -- "nasty, brutish, 
and short," in the words of Thomas Hobbes. Just having 
enough food, living in beautiful green gardens, going to 
sleep with safety, living with justice, being together 
with loved ones -- that was enough, that alone would be 
Paradise. Such an understanding makes it irrelevant to 
ask what one would "do" in Paradise, much less, as an 
American child today might ask, whether the Internet and 
cell phones exist there. Even today, this type of 
paradise can look pretty good for many poor Muslims. 

Building democracy

     Building democracy in such lands is obviously a very 
slow process. It can come about with education, economic 
prosperity, social intermingling in cities, and so on, 
but very slowly. This is why the rule of law is now 
considered by economists to be more important than 
democracy, why the successful transitions to modern 
society have come about only in countries where a "good" 
semi-dictator or ruler has stayed in power long enough to 
effect the change. "Justice" is a very basic part of 
Muslim teachings and so lends itself to the rule of law. 
The modern societies in Asia have all experienced stable 
government and laws first, then economic development and 
more freedom. 

     America's promotion of democracy is all too often 
framed in terms of elections and majority rule. Rarely do 
we hear the proponents of democracy in Washington explain 
dispersal of power, protection of minority rights, legal 
restraints on majority rule, and so on. It is, of course, 
patently ridiculous to argue that because people can 
vote, usually along tribal lines, as happened in Iraq, 
that a society is therefore democratic. Instead, strong 
federalism should be a major objective. An interesting 
article by Robert Pringle (WILSON QUARTERLY, "Mali's 
Unlikely Democracy"; Spring 2006), explains that 
democracy is working in Muslim Mali mainly because of 
much local autonomy.

     America can't install democracy in foreign 
countries, much less create one with bribes and bombs. 
What it can do is provide a framework for international 
rule of law, stability, and an example for foreign 
nations. Of course, the attack on Iraq has undermined all 
of this, but America is still seen as an ideal by 

[A version of this article originally appeared on the 
website ( and is 
used here with the permission of Justin Raimondo, editor.  
Jon Basil Utley, a long-time SOBRAN'S Charter Subscriber, 
is associate publisher of THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, and 
Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. 
He has written for the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW on foreign 
nationalism and is director of Americans Against World 
Empire (]


ONE OF THE HORRORS of this horrible summer has been the 
suspicion that -- dare one say it? -- Al Gore may be 
right about global warming. Fawning talk-show hosts have 
been hailing his movie, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, as 
"nonpartisan" and "apolitical," whose thesis we all can, 
and must, rally around. Apolitical? Yes, if a vast 
increase of government power and a total surrender of 
liberty, without precedent in history, are apolitical, I 
guess that's true. (page 7)

GUIDED BY THE NEOCONS, the Bush administration has 
become, in destroying Iraq and igniting the entire Middle 
East, Iran's best friend. Among its many incidental 
achievements it may congratulate itself on the renascense 
of the Democratic Party, which stands ready to recapture 
both houses of Congress and tighten its hold on the U.S. 
Supreme Court. I can't applaud the coming change, but it 
can't be any worse than the last six years. (Can it?) 
(page 10)

SURPRISE! Up in Massachusetts, the first lesbian couple 
to be united in unholy matrimony has split up. (page 12)


REPRINTED COLUMNS ("The Reactionary Utopian")
(pages 7-12)

* Gibson's Offense (August 3, 2006)

* The Bush Revolution (July 27, 2006)

* It Can't Transpire Here (July 20, 2006)

* The Irving Danger (February 23, 2006)

* Irving Loses Again (February 21, 2006)

* The Reluctant Emancipator (December 14, 2006)

All articles are written by Joe Sobran, except where

You may forward this newsletter if you include the 
following subscription and copyright information:

Subscribe to the Sobran E-Package. 
or for details and samples
or call 800-513-5053.

Copyright (c) 2006 by The Vere Company -- 
All rights reserved.
Distributed by the Griffin Internet Syndicate with permission.