Three strategies

  1. Being an adherent of traditionalist conservatism doesn’t restrict one to any particular position on a number of issues, including most aspects of economic, health, foreign, and environmental policy.  Therefore, we should not risk being wrong or making enemies unnecessarily by taking any positions on these matters qua conservatives.  Let’s stick with what we know, and for the rest just enunciate general principles, leaving the applications to others’ imaginations.
  2. The fact that traditionalist conservatism doesn’t yet have a well worked out agenda for economic and foreign policy (and whatever else) is an embarrassment.  It’s the job of a political philosophy to tell rulers how to rule, and we’re not doing that.  We need our own army of experts who can take our basic principles and work out their applications for the various specialties/policy areas.
  3. Our job is to fight liberalism on every front and provide a platform for those marginalized by the Left.  Under the assumption that the Left generally operates against our goals, if they say A, we should usually say not-A.

Did I leave anything out?  I vacillate between 1 and 2 myself.

Without Christianity

A while back, John Zmirak wrote an article on Inside Catholic/Crisis magazine titled What if Herod wins?  Zmirak invites us to indulge the following mental exercise:  how would your beliefs about this life be different if you lived in an alternate reality where Herod succeeded in killing the infant Jesus, and there is no Christian religion.  For this exercise, I believe we are to assume (although it is unlikely) that everything else in the modern world is about the same–just take out Christ.  After thinking about it, Zmirak basically tells us that absent revelation, he would become a liberal utilitarian.

Probably he’s right, but not because of any innate attraction of liberalism itself–even for an Austrian school-adled brain like Zmirak’s.  He should remember that he lives in a radically liberal society and is immersed in liberal propaganda.  If we really want to know what humanity’s ideological “default” settings are, we should look at other, and especially ancient, civilizations.  It wasn’t any of the civilizations where Christianity was absent, but the civilization where it was present but rejected, that spawned liberalism.

I wonder what I would be if I weren’t a Christian.  I wouldn’t be a liberal; my rejection of that position isn’t revelation-based.  Maybe I’d be a Confucian, or a Stoic, or a Platonist.  I’m a little bit of those things already.

What to do when you’re not an expert

Bill brings up one of the reoccurring topics on this blog:  how should we form opinions on subjects about which we are not experts?  However knowledgeable we think we are, this is a live problem for all of us.  He writes

Everybody can’t be an expert on everything. Most people aren’t bright enough to be an expert on any scholarly topic at all. The heuristic “The Left is vigorously asserting A; therefore, not-A” seems like a very reasonable heuristic to me. Do you have some alternative heuristic which can be applied by an IQ 90 member of the public lacking specialized knowledge? One that will approximate the truth better? Certainly it can’t be trust the experts.

Drieu replies

In areas related to the natural sciences, yes you should defer to what the vast majority of scientists in the field claim, especially if your own amount of scientific knowledge is limited. If you have a problem stomaching this, then another option is to *keep your mouth shut*.  In the social sciences, I can understand having some qualms….

In a previous post on the topic “When is one entitled to an opinion?“, I said

I would say that opinions come in different weights, each with a different cost.  On the one hand, there are impressions, the less expensive but not free opinions.  A man may express an opinion at a party that life in the universe is common, that Christianity brought down the Roman Empire, that we should go back to the gold standard, or whatever.  I would expect such a man to be able to give me some reason why he holds this belief.  I would also expect him to be able to give me a reasonable account of the alternative views on the subject–what they are and why one might hold them.  If he couldn’t do that, I would consider that he had just made an ass of himself by mouthing off on a topic about which he obviously knows nothing.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t think less of him if he were unfamiliar with the specialized literature on the subject, or even if there were some major arguments on the subject with which he was unfamiliar.  Life is short; nobody has time to be an expert on everything.  If our man at the party can give some justification for his impressions, I think he’s entitled to them.

I have different expectations for the serious advocate–the man who writes books, gives lectures, or publicly debates on a certain topic.  I think it’s fair to expect such a man to know his stuff–all the major arguments both on his own side and on the others, the technicalities of his subject, its history, and so forth.  I think we’re entitled to expect advocates to have done their homework, and they should be embarrassed if it comes out that they haven’t….

Here’s another of my opinions about opinions, one that might be less welcome to some of my readers.  It is said that the argument from authority is the weakest of arguments, but I say that the strength of this argument grows with one’s own ignorance.  If you don’t know anything about a subject, you’d better trust the experts.  “Because the experts say so” is a pretty strong reason, if the subject in question is one where there is real expertise (e.g. the hard sciences).  I hold people who doubt evolution, the big bang, or [the existence of] global warming to higher epistemic standards than I do people who accept the consensus opinion.  If you’re going to disagree with all the experts in a field, you’d better know your stuff, or you’re going to make a fool of yourself, and I don’t want to be standing next to you when it happens.

What about Bill’s point point that experts are biased and so not to be trusted?  For the social sciences, I think this is a big issue, so much so that I routinely dismiss sociological “findings” that sound too implausible and ideologically motivated.  For example, whenever a study purporting to demonstrate white racism, I assume the authors are PC hacks.  We all know perfectly well the worshipful, self-abasing attitude toward negroes that pervades all political factions of white society.  Like Drieu, I don’t regard social scientists as real experts; they’re just propagandists.  Still, I try not to let my world-view rely too heavily on my opinions on subjects about which I am uninformed.  I don’t have to disprove demonstrations of black oppression, because none of my major beliefs would be challenged even if it were true.

In the natural sciences, there is real expertise.  That’s one reason I’m more inclined to trust natural scientists when they’re talking about natural science.  Another reason they’re probably more trustworthy is that  they’re findings almost never have direct political significance.  To take our most recent example, nothing climate scientists could find would really address the correctness of liberalism vs conservatism as political ideologies.

Climate change: why should conservatives care?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the IPCC’s most favored projections are true, and the global average temperature is going to rise by around 3 degrees during this century if we don’t take drastic measures soon.  Would that be so bad?  After all, it’s a rare day that I imagine would have been awful if it would have been three degrees warmer.  It would be a freakish coincidence, would it not, if human prosperity depended on the Earth having a temperature within a few degree range and–lo and behold–the world just happens to lie in this tiny range?  How could we have been so lucky as to have been born into a perfect-temperature planet?  This argument, however, has the same flaw as the philosophe‘s arguments over government.  The latter always argued about what arrangement men who were starting from scratch would form, even though this was not the situation any modern nation faced.  They all inherited a pre-existing populace, with its distinct history and traditions, and the real problem was how to best accommodate this particular people.  Similarly, humanity is not shopping from outer space for an ideal planet.  We have already settled here and built our cultures and livelihoods around a specific set of regional climates.  A 3 degree warmer planet might be better in some absolute sense, but make such a shift now, and our existing farms will be in the wrong places or growing the wrong crops for the new climate; our people will no longer be living in the most habitable spots; our cities will no longer be ideally distant from the coasts.  Readjustments would have to be made, and they would be painful and, I’ll argue, culturally destructive.

Using a more quantitative cost-benefit analysis, Jim Manzi in a very smart article has argued that the economic benefits of to future world GDP (1-5% of 22nd century GDP) from averting warming don’t justify the hit to current world GDP from aggressive action, at least if one uses a sensible discount rate. (Dollars today are worth more than dollars tomorrow, because dollars today generate interest.)  It would be better to let 75% of the warming happen and use the money we saved by not stopping this to ameliorate its effects.

As Manzi himself acknowledges, his world GDP measure doesn’t capture everything.  Non-economic values aren’t counted, and the proposed costs and benefits will be far from evenly distributed.  Let us consider the issue of farm productivity.  Increased CO2 will actually make plants grow better, which will be a boon to agriculture–the net agricultural yield may actually increase.  High latitudes will also benefit from warming, while equatorial regions will suffer from increased drought.  More specifically:

Fischer et al. (2002b) quantified regional impacts and concluded that globally there will be major gains in potential agricultural land by 2080, particularly in North America (20-50%) and the Russian Federation (40-70%), but losses of up to 9% in sub-Saharan Africa. The regions likely to face the biggest challenges in food security are Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia, particularly south Asia (FAO, 2006).


Yields of grains and other crops could decrease substantially across the African continent because of increased frequency of drought, even if potential production increases due to increases in CO2 concentrations. Some crops (e.g., maize) could be discontinued in some areas. Livestock production would suffer due to deteriorated rangeland quality and changes in area from rangeland to unproductive shrub land and desert.


According to Murdiyarso (2000), rice production in Asia could decline by 3.8% during the current century. Similarly, a 2°C increase in mean air temperature could decrease rice yield by about 0.75 tonne/ha in India and rain-fed rice yield in China by 5-12% (Lin et al., 2005). Areas suitable for growing wheat could decrease in large portions of south Asia and the southern part of east Asia (Fischer et al., 2002b). For example, without the CO2 fertilisation effect, a 0.5°C increase in winter temperature would reduce wheat yield by 0.45 ton/ha in India (Kalra et al., 2003) and rain-fed wheat yield by 4-7% in China by 2050. However, wheat production in both countries would increase by between 7% and 25% in 2050 if the CO2 fertilisation effect is taken into account (Lin et al., 2005).

A comment on an earlier thread claimed that a carbon tax, or cap-and-trade, treaty would amount to a transfer of wealth from the first to the third world.  What we see here is that unrestricted fossil fuel emissions really amounts to a transfer of wealth from the third to the first world.  For some time, it’s been common to refer to the 1st and 3rd worlds as the global “north” and “south”.  A better distinction would be between high and low latitudes, the global “poles” and “equator”.  The former, which comprise the richer nations of the earth (or, at least, “poles” vs “equator” captures this distinction better than “north” vs “south”) have both profited the most from fossil fuel use, and they stand to have their climates actually improved by the resulting warming.  (It’s cold near the poles.)  Equatorial peoples, already living in greater poverty and danger of starvation, suffer greater heat and drought.

Why should we care what happens to the Africans?

  1. They’re human beings.
  2. They won’t stay put.  Humanitarian crises will send them storming the citadel of Europe.  Shall we keep them out?  How dare we, given that we caused their suffering?  Even if we do try, we will fail, just as the Romans did with their barbarians.  Europe will be overwhelmed and Africanized.  The process has arguably already begun.

Suppose we ignore for the moment the really dire possibilities.  Let’s consider climate changes that don’t amount to humanitarian disasters.  We conservatives are concerned with preserving not only people, but cultures.  For conservative historians like Christopher Dawson, a culture is a sort of hylemorphic union of the formal principle of religion and the material principle of a specific land.  Change the religion or change the land–what crops are grown and what animals hunted–and you have a new culture.  Should the Eskimos be grateful to us for warming their climate, making their (admittedly difficult) traditional way of life impossible?  For we Americans, the cultural changes will not be so dramatic, but they may still be profound.  Imagine shifting the nation’s farmlands north by an unknown amount on a map.  The effect on regional cultures could be profound.

I conclude, then, that a conservative should weigh the negative effects of climate change more strongly than an individualist.

Climate change: observations

1) Average Surface Temperature

There is robust evidence for a 0.8 degree increase in the global surface temperature since preindustrial times, confirmed by four independent analyses.  The ten hottest years on record all come after 1997.  Temperature measurement sites cover the globe sufficiently finely (angular separation of about one degree) to allow accurate averages.  Two objections have been raised to these results.  First, it is claimed that they may be skewed by the presence of some measurement sites in urban heat islands.  This is a legitimate concern, but it is adequately countered in the averaging process, which rejects measurements in urban areas if they disagree with neighboring rural measurements.  Besides, if one rejects urban sites altogether and uses only uncontaminated rural sites, the warming trend is stronger.  Another objection is that satellite data failed to confirm a warming trend in the mid-atmosphere over the last couple of decades.  This was indeed a notable discrepancy, but it is now generally accepted that it came from imperfections in the statistical analysis of the satellite data.  A more recent analysis incorporating both satellite and balloon data confirms mid-altitude warming.  (The stratosphere, on the other hand, has cooled significantly over the same period that the troposphere has warmed.  As we will see, this is a robust prediction of greenhouse effect models and is inconsistent with warming by an increase in solar radiation.)

Average surface temperature of the Earth (averages from direct measurements)

 In the data above, we see significant short-term variations on top of a clear overall trend.  It would thus be reckless to read too much into the apparent stall in heating over the past decade (which is still, you’ll recall, the warmest since direct measurements began).  In fact, given that solar irradiance is going through a trough, the real notable fact is that the world isn’t cooling.  (The difference in solar forcing between peak and trough is roughly the same as a little over a decade of CO2 dumping at expected rates, according to models whose veracity we will consider later.)

Solar irradiance

The most notable thing about the above curve is that it does not track the surface temperature.

2) Ocean Heating

Ultimately, ocean temperature is a far better measure of global warming than surface air temperature, since the ocean stores far more heat than the atmosphere.  The heat content of the ocean shows an unmistakable warming trend:

Ocean heat energy

 This has led to an accompanying rise in sea levels


Glaciers and ice caps are melting in many places, although regional variations are large.

Greenhouse gases

The average concentration of carbon dioxide (usually thought to be the ultimate driver behind changes in the atmosphere’s infrared opacity, i.e. increases in other greenhouse gases like water vapor are thought to be caused by heating from CO2 increase) has increased from 260-280ppm before the Industrial revolution (according to ice core measurements staying within this range for millennia) to 391 today, and rapidly increasing.  Humans emit more than enough to  account for this (indicating that carbon trapping by oceans, plants, or whatever has slightly accelerated, so that we don’t bear the full brunt of whatever the effects would otherwise be of our emissions).

Climate history

Past temperatures can be estimated indirectly from tree rings, ice core bubbles, and other markers.  However, these measurements seem to me much more uncertain than the above results.  In order to avoid diversion into unnecessary controversy, I will not discuss or refer to them.  I will also not discuss the claim, plausible but not definitely established, that global warming is or will make extreme weather phenomena more common (e.g. stronger hurricanes).


The 1970-2000 warming seems undeniable.  Even if the methodology of one of these measurements were questionable, it is quite implausible that all of them are wrong while remaining consistent with each other.  If, for example. someone thinks the surface land temperature measures are flawed or manipulated, how does he explain the ocean temperature, sea level, glacier, permafrost, upper atmosphere, etc. results, all of which corroborate the basic warming theory?

The important questions, to be addressed in successive posts, are

  1. What’s causing the warming?
  2. To what degree will warming continue in the future?
  3. How bad will the effects be?
  4. If we’re causing it, are the effects bad enough to offset the cost of stopping it?
On climate change (First Principles)

The Dalai Lama’s final betrayal

With a fit of PC, the Lalai Lama is retiring and taking down the theocracy with him:

“It has nothing to do with resignation, or health reasons, only with insight,” he said in a recent interview with SPIEGEL in the French city of Toulouse, where he was giving lectures on Buddhism, before traveling to Germany this week as the guest of the Hessian state government in the western city of Wiesbaden. “I have taken a close look at all forms of government. A democratic parliament with an elected prime minister is the only modern and functioning one. Monarchy: yesterday. Theocracy: from the day before yesterday. I believe in the separation of church and state. But what sort of a hypocrite would I be if I didn’t draw any conclusions from this realization?”

For centuries, the Dalai Lama was, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Tibetans, both the secular and spiritual leader of his people. The current holder of the office already introduced democratic structures while in exile, but they were reforms from the top down, and he always had the last word. Now he has resigned from his secular duties, including his right to dismiss ministers and shape the course of negotiations with Beijing. He also intends to significantly reduce his spiritual duties and address the search for a successor — “male or female,” as he says….

The curtain has fallen. A theocracy is coming to an end, and it is doing so peacefully and without bloodshed. A god is going into retirement.

So the one person charged with preserving the Tibetan constitution has decided to shelf it, chucking his country’s entire political (not to mention spiritual) tradition and turning his country into yet one more copy of England.  Does he imagine that the theocratic monarchy was his private property?  What else would give him the right to abolish it?

The Spiegel writer then goes on to remind us what an odious religion Buddhism is:

Buddhism has become the fashionable religion, from Los Angeles to London, just as the monk Padmasambhava predicted more than 1,200 years ago: “When the iron bird flies, when horses run on wheels, the king will come to the land of the red man.” The Germans are particularly enamored of Tibetan Buddhism, with their dozens of Tibetan centers and tens of thousands of Dalai Lama disciples, who see the Asian faith as the most appealing world religion, and one that generally does not look down on people of other faiths. It preaches peacefulness instead of inquisition, persuasion through meditation instead of missionary evangelism and the hope of attaining Nirvana instead of the threat of jihad, and it treats guilt and sin as concepts from a different, more punishing religious tradition and man as the sole creator of his own fate. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Yes, I just can’t imagine what might go wrong with abolishing people’s sense of guilt for evil actions.  (H.T. Alte)

Why keep having Catholic hospitals?

Of course, I agree with Christopher Haley that a law forcing people to support evil acts like contraception is an abomination.  It would be so even if there were no Catholics in America, since contraception and abortion violate the natural law.  So I was all ready to join in his freedom-of-religion crusade, but then this tripped me up:

The impact of Catholic institutions currently far exceeds the number of Catholics in America; Catholic hospitals, for instance, took well over 100 million visits and admissions in 2009, while there are just over 68 million Catholics in America. The doctors, nurses, and staff at Catholic hospitals are not primarily Catholic, and most importantly, the patients are not primarily Catholic. Catholic Charities USA, one of many Catholic charities, alone served almost 10 million people in 2009; the US Conference of Catholic Bishops oversees the federal program to serve victims of human trafficking and sex slavery; the list goes on—and none of these services “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.”

So, Catholic hospitals are not run for Catholics, and they’re not even run by Catholics.  In this case, what’s the point of having the Church involved at all?  It seems like it’s not Catholics performing corporal works of mercy any more, but bishops holding some (probably nominal) administrative role while non-Catholics perform corporal works of mercy.

There was a time when all of this made sense, when rural areas lacked hospitals, and the Catholic Church, with her army of cheap celibate female labor was the only institution that could respond.  America owes a big debt to the Church for creating her hospital network, but it doesn’t make sense anymore, and the bishops should be looking for a way out.  Communities still need those hospitals, but the episcopacy would be better off with a check and a freeing from unneeded responsibilities.

Also, why the hell is the USCCB running a federal program on sex trafficking?  I ask this as someone who would like Catholicism to eventually become the state religion.  Maybe the fact that “none of these services ‘has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.’ ” should make us worry that there’s been some serious mission creep in the American Church.  Come to think of it, how many services does the Church have that actually do have the inculcation of religious values as their purpose?