Clausewitz in Middle-Earth: Although the setting feels medieval, the War of the Ring is recognizably a modern war. (Graham Macaleer, 5/24/24, Law & Liberty)

Clausewitz recommends war planners identify “the ultimate substance of enemy strength,” to find the “single center of gravity” of the enemy’s combat power. For Sauron, this is the One Ring and its place of origin, the fires of Mount Doom. Gandalf and Lord Elrond are clear-eyed: the West’s only hope is to get the Ring to Mount Doom and have it thrown into its fires. Clausewitz approves: “In war, the subjugation of the enemy is the end, and the destruction of his fighting forces the means.” About this concept, Clausewitz writes, “A center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely. It presents the most effective target for a blow; furthermore, the heaviest blow is that struck by the center of gravity. The same holds true in war.” The Ring is the center of gravity of Sauron’s army, and, for the allies, Frodo is most able to deliver the “heaviest blow.”

The rootedness of Hobbits, twinned with Frodo’s patience and open, compassionate spirit, is “where the mass [of the West] is concentrated most densely.” Rootedness secures cohesion—a property under constant threat in war—and the moral forces so basic to combat power, according to Clausewitz. This is what leads Elves to dub Frodo “Elf-friend.” Frodo sets out on his quest for love of the Shire, but it is his gentleness towards Gollum, and his ability to grasp the higher things hinted at in Gandalf’s words about Sméagol, that gain final victory. It is a strategic advantage to the West that they know Sauron’s center of gravity, but he is ignorant of theirs. He only learns of the existence of the Shire late, once the die of the war is already cast, and he takes no time to learn its character, preoccupied as he is with finding the Ring’s whereabouts. The same ignorance undermines Saruman. He mocks Gandalf for his interest in the ways of the Shirelings, but it is Hobbits that trigger the Last March of the Ents.

In a letter, Tolkien says of Frodo:

Frodo undertook his quest out of love. … His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way, and to go as far on the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. He did that. I do not myself see that the breaking of his mind and will under demonic pressure after torment was any more a moral failure than the breaking of his body would have been—say, by being strangled by Gollum, or crushed by a falling rock.

Clausewitz says all war is a series of duels and it is striking that Tolkien depicts the duel between Sauron and Frodo in terms of gravity. Long time bearer of the Ring, Gollum goes about on all fours—“Look at him! Like a nasty crawling spider on a wall. … Like some large prowling thing of insect-kind”—and Frodo is drawn to the ground, increasingly hunched over by the weight of the Ring about his neck. “In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards.” Ultimately, Frodo will be prostrate on the ground, unable any longer to contend with the Dark Lord. This is when Sam, the gardener—expert in raising things from the soil—lifts Frodo up and carries him to Mount Doom.

Why Reagan vs the USSR was never a fair fight.


Conservation Is for Conservatives: Francis Schaeffer wouldn’t recognize the religious right he helped create, not least when it comes to environmentalism. (John Murdock, MAY 24, 2024, Plough)

Russell Kirk, whose The Conservative Mind remains a classic text of the modern right, once said: “The issue of environmental quality is one which transcends traditional political boundaries. It is a cause which can attract, and very sincerely, liberals, conservatives, radicals, reactionaries, freaks, and middle class straights.” While some conservatives such as Roger Scruton, author of How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, still demonstrate the truth of Kirk’s sentiment, a squeamishness about being seen with liberals has led most to abandon the field. What’s more, many now feel it is their duty to disparage those conservatives who stayed behind.

Political tribalism split apart concerns that, as Schaeffer demonstrated, can be held consistently and passionately within a biblical worldview. Schaeffer wrote of once going out of his way to compliment the residents of a lushly landscaped hippie commune which stood on the other side of a deep valley from a treeless Christian school campus he was visiting. Those who warmly greeted him noted that he was the first to come from “across the ravine.” In the decades since, the chasm between socially conservative evangelicals and planet-conserving environmentalists has only grown wider. […]

Can we then just ignore politics if we hike the Appalachian Trail, switch to pastured eggs and grass-fed beef, wrap our water heater, and put solar panels on the roof? Not quite. Even if too much emphasis has been put on politics during recent decades, in a democratic republic Christians do not have the option of simply washing their hands of public affairs.

Of course, the relationship of Christians to politics has often been a point of friction between Anabaptists and the more politically engaged wings of Christianity. Some would argue that we serve Christ better by being “the quiet in the land” rather than by putting signs in our hands. Perhaps the tension is overstated, though. Ron Sider, for example, has spent decades as an Anabaptist activist, and has done so without contorting his beliefs to toe a party line. Operating primarily in political circles on the left, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action has nevertheless continued to affirm the importance of things such as evangelism, unborn life, and traditional marriage. Though one may disagree with some of Sider’s political priorities and policy suggestions, his witness bespeaks a man striving first for fidelity to the kingdom, not a party.

Sider told Christianity Today in 1992 of a trip to Switzerland he initiated after being criticized by the post-Schaeffer leadership at L’Abri. Unable to crack their perception that he was a dangerous man, an exasperated Sider later lamented, “Francis Schaeffer – I’m so close to him!” At least on the protection of unborn children and the care of creation, the views of the godfather of the evangelical left and the godfather of the religious right were indeed rather close. It is time for their political progeny to get close again. Instead of arm-wrestling with itself, the body of Christ should be extending both hands to a broken culture and a broken ­creation.

Dominion imposes responsibilities.


For many American Jews protesting for Palestinians, activism is a journey rooted in their Jewish values (Atalia Omer, 5/21/24, Religion News Service)

When I asked Rebekah – a pseudonym for a college student in the American South whom I interviewed for my book – how she understood her Jewishness, she told me: “I have always maintained that the basis for my activism was my Jewish ideals, the radical equality I had absorbed at home.”

For Rebekah and many other American Jews, the cultural memory of the Holocaust, and the common refrain “Never Again,” inspires their activism for Palestinian rights.

“Growing up in Hebrew schools, you grow up with the nightmarish Holocaust films,” she stressed. “The conclusion of this education should have been clear: ‘You can’t do it to another group of people!’”

This lesson is reflected in the cry “Never again to anyone,” heard at demonstrations over the past few months.


Reflections on Revolutions: a review of Age of Revolutions by Fareed Zakaria (Max J. Prowant, 5/21/24, Law & Liberty)

According to Zakaria, we are living in a revolutionary age, both in our domestic politics and in the world at large. Domestically, the traditional left-right divide is changing. For decades, the dividing line between left and right was economic in nature; conservatives wanted tax cuts, deregulation, and a smaller federal government whereas liberals wanted to preserve and expand a host of entitlement programs. Both, however, operated within a broad liberal framework that located the ends of government in the protection of individual rights. That is no longer the case. The divide now concerns the “open” versus “closed” societies where moral and ideational issues are more determinant of a person’s vote than tax cuts and spending. Internationally we are seeing a similar “revolution” against the US-backed liberal order uniting the world through free trade, collective action, and easy immigration. This revolution, led by an array of demagogues and populists, prefers tighter borders and national identity instead of globalism.

Resistance to the moral obligations that are imposed by our having been Created is understandable, but futile. It’s particularly hard to convince young people, who are brought up in our diverse society, that some of their friends are qualitatively lesser.


Shogun and the Universal Truths of Fusionism (Matthew Malec, May 2024, Fusion)

One of conservatism’s great virtues is that it understands that human nature is flawed and no one is infallible. Plans that come from the top down should be debated and even viewed skeptically. At its best, conservatism starts with the family, then builds out to civil society, and only then to a limited government that gives these smaller units the space they need to thrive. There is no (earthly) savior lying in wait. Whether coming from populists or post-liberals, we should be wary of any calls for regime change or working outside of the constitutional system that has served us well for nearly 250 years. When conservatism loses its skepticism and begins to look toward utopia, it has already lost.

The only answer to the challenges conservatism faces is a revitalized fusionism that focuses on limiting government and objective morality while working within our constitutional framework. Fusionists must cling tight to first principles, including distrust of human nature, and maintaining the ever-precarious balance between respecting individual rights and ensuring people have the communities they need for true fulfillment. If we do not step up, something else will fill the void, and it may well be a Toranaga-esque figure with little respect for rights and a thirst for power.


‘My songs spread like herpes’: why did satirical genius Tom Lehrer swap worldwide fame for obscurity?: In the 1950s and 60s, his songs stunned and delighted listeners with their irreverence, wit and nihilism. Then he gave it all up to teach mathematics. Lehrer is still alive at 96 – so I went in search of answers (Francis Beckett, 22 May 2024, The Guardian)

I didn’t know then that Lehrer had started out, six years earlier, by paying to have his own record cut because the record companies were shocked by his songs, and selling the LP to fellow students at Harvard. This early samizdat recording was the underground success of the decade with almost no publicity effort from Lehrer – “My songs spread slowly, like herpes, rather than Ebola,” he later recalled.

At that time, Lehrer’s principal accomplishment was that he was a mathematics prodigy who had entered Harvard aged 15, in 1943, taken a first class degree aged 18 and a master’s a year later. Born into a New York Jewish family in 1928, Lehrer had, he has said, every advantage: piano lessons, an expensive school that could get him into Harvard, and “the Broadway of Danny Kaye and Cole Porter”.

In the next year or two, Ed Monaghan introduced me to other comedians who were turning the complacent world of American comedy on its head: Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce. “What these so-called ‘sickniks’ dispense,” wrote Time magazine in July 1959, “is partly social criticism liberally laced with cyanide, partly a Charles Addams kind of jolly ghoulishness, and partly a personal and highly disturbing hostility toward all the world.”

But in 1960, the year after I discovered him, Lehrer stopped writing and performing, although he briefly re-emerged in 1965 to write new songs for the US version of the satirical British show That Was the Week That Was.


How to win in Ukraine: pour it on, and don’t worry about escalation: The Biden administration has been too cautious. There’s still time to change that. (ANDREW RADIN | MAY 22, 2024, Defense One)

Shifting U.S. policy in several areas would improve Ukraine’s military situation with minimal risk of Russian escalation. First, the United States could rescind its insistence that U.S.-provided munitions only be used on Ukrainian soil, and stop pressing Ukraine to refrain from attacks on Russian territory. Given that Ukraine suffers daily casualties from attacks on purely civilian targets, retaliation against Russian infrastructure is more than fair game and can help to even Ukraine’s odds by degrading Russia’s logistical capacity. Ukraine would bear the brunt of any Russian response, but Kyiv is prepared to take that risk.

Second, the United States could expand its visible U.S. military presence in Ukraine. Western advisors need to be in Ukraine to understand the status and needs of Ukraine’s forces to provide the necessary qualitative superiority. Increases in U.S. advisors or even trainers can be distinguished from any kind of combat role. If, tragically, U.S personnel were to be killed in a Russian attack, the Biden administration would have significant latitude to control its response.

Third, the United States should look to expand its operations in space and cyberspace in response Russia’s cyber attacks against U.S. space providers and jamming against NATO allies. In a recent RAND report on strategic stability in space, we argue that reversible actions like jamming are useful options for the United States because can signal to an adversary and provide an additional threat of punishment without increasing the scope of conflict. Given Russia’s use of space communications, for example, such actions also can have a temporary operational benefit. Russia could escalate with increased cyber attacks or other activities in response but would risk exposing their exploits and losing the opportunity to use such attacks in the future.

Additional U.S. action could also catalyze other allies to increase their support, as allies traditionally look to the United States for leadership. Germany would not provide Leopard tanks until the United States provided Abrams. Perhaps further U.S. support would lead to Germany to provide Taurus, its own long-range cruise missile. From a narrow U.S. perspective, greater U.S. involvement is an opportunity to test new capabilities and gain experience helping a partner facing a numerically superior foe. Such experience could be very relevant for helping Taiwan resist Chinese aggression.

To be sure, avoiding direct military conflict with Russia is of paramount interest.

No, it isn’t. That’s the mistake we made in the Cold War. Destroy the oil fields and challenge Vlad to respond. He’d last as long as Saddam.


Beyond Schmitt (John Ehrett, 5/20/24, Ad Fontes)

Unlike Vermeule, these Protestant thinkers are not drawn to Schmitt because of his fascination with executive administration. Instead, many Protestant commentators on Schmitt take up a theme far more basic to his thought: his claim that the essence of the “political” is the distinction between “friend” and “enemy.”

There is, of course, a sense in which this definition is trivially true. If there were no disagreements between people, there would be no “politics” in any familiar sense of the term. But it is the sheer bleakness of Schmitt’s characterization of the “enemy” that distinguishes his paradigm. In his best-known work, The Concept of the Political, Schmitt argues that the distinction is not just descriptive of, but constitutive of, politics as such.[6] That is to say, in the strictest sense politics is not merely about the organized human pursuit of some common good or other. It requires, at its root, an other destined for destruction.

Schmitt makes the matter quite clear: the “enemy” is one whom one seeks to annihilate. Concepts of “friend” and “enemy,” on Schmitt’s model, “receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. “War is the existential negation of the enemy.”[7] An irreducibly violent agonism, which must inform how leaders and citizens alike relate to external “others,” lies at the very heart of politics as such.

If Schmitt is right, then anyone engaged in the business of politics must ask a fateful question: Who, then, is my enemy?

The very question—an inversion of the parable of the Good Samaritan—rings odd to Christian ears. What about Jesus’s command to love your enemies? It seems strange to identify individuals (functionally) excluded from the horizon of Christian concern.

Identitarianism is anti-Christian.


Israel Does Not Know How To End the Gaza War: Military and political analysts now say the conflict is unwinnable, but no one has an exit plan (Lisa Goldman, May 21, 2024, New/Lines)

Israel is in a “plonter.” The Hebrew word, which translates as a knot that defies untangling, is often used to describe an intractable situation. It’s a word one hears frequently from Israeli political commentators these days, as the army grinds through its seventh month of war in Gaza without having achieved the two goals stated at the outset of the campaign — the destruction of Hamas’ military capacity and the release of the captives. Now the prevailing opinion of establishment experts — journalists, policy specialists, senior military veterans — is that those goals are unachievable and the war unwinnable.

But neither the political leadership nor the army’s high command has thought of an exit strategy, let alone a plan for the day after — assuming there will be a cease-fire at some point. From the Israeli perspective, all the options are bad. A return to the status quo ante, with Hamas resuming its governance of Gaza, is not on the table. Even if the reinstatement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party as the governing body in Gaza were desirable, the obstacles are practically insurmountable (in 2007 Hamas engineered a violent putsch to oust Fatah’s leadership from Gaza). Among Palestinians, the PA is widely considered to be corrupt and ineffective, with no authority to govern. Israel’s far right wants to reestablish the military bases and settlements that were evacuated in 2005; the army’s senior command has vociferously rejected this idea. But no Israeli leader has offered a practical suggestion that would fill the power vacuum created by the war. Nor has the United States or any other outside body offered a workable, practical solution. And so the world watches as the war drags on and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza grows more acute.

You can’t exterminate Hamas without exterminating the Palestinians, since it is the political party they support. (Abraham Lincoln did not get rid of the Democrats, just the Confederacy.)

The Palestinians, like every other people, are endowed with the right to self-determination. Recognize the nation and let them elect Barghouti president with a Hamas legislature.