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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

August 2017

"Palace Intrigues" in Art and History.


Governing well is not easy, and governing well under a democracy is not the most efficient system. The ancient Greeks, such as Plato, tried to imagine how to set up a republic, speculating with his friends what running an ideal society should require. It is obvious that the most efficient system of government is a dictatorship; however, that efficiency is trumped when the dictator has a bad character. There are few "philosopher kings" in history; far more, even when beginning with good i more...

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Humor Can Bring Down a State

One characteristic of nasty governments?theocracies, dictatorships, and authoritarian monarchies is that they have no sense of humor. The one thing that can put a frightening government on the defensive is to know that their subjects are laughing at them.

In Jacques Barzun?s final book, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2000), he tracks the fall of the French monarchy and the French Revolution to the point where the French elites had no fear of makin more...

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True Believers, The World?s Nightmares


"True Believers," by their very process, discard any effort at critical thinking. Whatever they "believe" cannot, and is not, challenged. The world, unfortunately, has many "true believers" who create misery for their fellow humans.

I have just finished reading Kati Marton?s book, True Believer: Stalin?s Last American Spy, which is the true account of an American who became a spy for the USSR and got away with deceiving our government at the highest levels of power. Noel F more...

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America?s Long Religious Heritage


Unlike the rest of the developed world, which is either tepid on religion or is fiercely secular (France) or actively hostile (China), the United States can still be called a religious country. What is different about our religious history is that we have never had a state religion and we try to protect religious freedom (freedom to practice without government intrusion). Furthermore, our lack of a formal state religion has given rise to some very original new religions, such as Church o more...

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The Role of Language in Politics


A fascinating issue arose during our recent Presidential election campaign, and continues today. Many good, ordinary people fell in love with the candidate who "talked just like they do." News Hour on PBS found two Texas cafes, one in a small town, the other in Austin. The customers were all Texans, all who apparently loved their state and their country, but their answers to the reporter's questions seemed to come from two different worlds.

The customers in the small town more...

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The Arc of History


As a historian, I share with former President Obama the idea that there is such a thing as "the arc of history." What is meant by this is that human beings have very gradually changed over the centuries from small clans and tribes who had to fight tooth and claw to survive to a global society, much of which has common (and largely American) values.

We no longer throw our adolescent girls into a volcano to calm the rage of the volcano god. Most of us no longer regard women more...

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December 2016

America?s History of Isolationism or Engagement.

November 11, 1918, was Armistice Day. On that date a century ago, World War I ended with a cease fire. The clear loser, Germany, collapsed in exhaustion after fighting on two fronts: France and Britain on one end and Russia on the other. The war was stalemated until the United States, very late in the war, entered on the side of France and Britain and won it. Although we do not make much of this holiday, it is still terribly important to the British and French, who lost a whole generation of yo more...

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Culture Matters Part 1


In August, I wrote several columns on how culture matters, both domestically and internationally. I have long doubted that the issue is as much racial differences as it is the practices and values of various cultures. Our recent election was a perfect demonstration of a cultural clash that shocked the world.

The US is going through the same conflict that we are seeing around the world: democratic institutions are losing the support that they have had for a long time. We kn more...

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E Pluribus Unum?


This Latin slogan describes the intentions of our founding father: that out of many colonies would come one nation. We Americans are very proud of this idea, and many think that we invented it. However, considering that the slogan is Latin, the ancient Romans certainly thought of it, as did others before them.

The small, scattered tribes of Homo Sapiens peopling Africa never looked beyond their tribes, related by blood. But as our ancestors left Africa and peopled the worl more...

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Discrediting Wikileaks is Overdue!


On October 17, no doubt under US pressure, the Ecuador Embassy housing Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, cut off his Internet access. About time!

Wikileaks has many supporters in the left-wing of our country and, of course, among the salivating press. This organization began as a righteous outing of political misdeeds by giving whistle blowers an opportunity to condemn what they considered commercial or government secrets. Who doesn?t admire a whistle blower, someone m more...

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It Can?t Happen Here?

e are just two weeks from the US Presidential election, far too late to change minds. However, many level-headed people around the country take comfort in the thought that American government is designed with so many checks and balances that nothing really drastic can happen. Others say that their "change agent," Donald Trump, will just shake up the government a little.

The saving grace in this country is that the president does not have dictatorial powers. No, he cannot single-h more...

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Populism Is No Way to Rule.

It is good advice to hide your wallet when you hear "Power to the People." Our founding fathers knew what "populism" could look like, and deliberately designed our government to keep popular passions at bay. We have representative, not direct democracy government; two bodies in Congress: House of Representatives and Senate; presidential vetoes to override Congress; and Supreme Court decisions to protect us from unjust legislation. It is not a perfect system, but it is better than most other syst more...

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May 2016

Book Review on Communism's Founding Tyrants

James DeMeo: "The Hidden History of Communism's Founding Tyrants, in their Own Words: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky: Genocide Quotes."
Laina Farhat-Holzman, Reviewer.

Because historic memories in the United States tend to be short, there has been a resurgence of romanticism about Marx and Lenin by those who believe that Stalin's Communism perverted what was intended to be a benign philosophy of creating a just world. Many people on the far left of the political spectrum hol more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 2 of 2)


A country as insignificant as Saudi Arabia before oil would have mattered little to the world. In the 1950s, as oil wealth began to pour in, the Saudi princes wanted the same sorts of conspicuous consumption enjoyed by other world millionaires. When they first brought in automobiles (for themselves), the Wahhabi clergy were outraged, considering camels good enough for pious Muslims. Cameras and, later, television, were also on their list of harmful items for Saudi culture.

more...

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What is a Patriot?


The first mention of love of country occurred in Rome, under the Republic. The slogan was: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and proper to die for one?s country. The better translation is to give one?s life for one?s country.

During our own country?s birth, during the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale, an American spy captured by the British, said before his execution: " I regret having but but one life to give for my country."

The definition more...

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How Our Presidents Promote Tolerance

The United States was founded just as the European Enlightenment swept through. The Enlightenment occurred after two centuries of religious wars had exhausted not only Europe?s population, but also its intellectuals. Ordinary people were not theologians; they simply retreated to the various sects accepted by their families or rulers. Southern Europeans remained Catholic, while the more economically progressive north (England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and northern Germany) and their rulers favored more...

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October 2015

Afghan Problems


With so many urgent events around the world, Afghanistan is not one we wanted to see again. But its problems do not go away, nor can they with Pakistan next door. We are still there, 10,000 to remain, but with an essential task of trying to train a national defense force so that Afghanistan will not revert to its failed Muslim state position under the Taliban.

Training the Afghan army is much like rolling a rock up a hill. Not only are a majority of soldiers illiterate, b more...

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September 2015

Whose Fault is the Immigrant Crisis?


Wouldn't you know that the moment any crisis occurs in the world that the usual commentators would blame the United States? Amy Goodman's recent column blamed the chaos in the Middle East on the US and Europeans sending arms to the region. Others, many on the political left, have blamed the crisis entirely on the disastrous aftermath of our Iraq invasion. However, I have not seen any of these critics pinning blame on the total failure of governance and religion in the Muslim World itself more...

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Torture Is Not In America?s Best Interests.

Americans are debating several complex moral issues:
? Does torture produce essential information at a time of terror activity?
? Does torture do moral damage to the torturers themselves?
? Does imminent danger warrant violating US law?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The 9/11 attack really frightened this country and the government went into emergency mode to find out if more attacks were on the way. This is the ticking bomb theory: do anything nece more...

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September 2014

Conflicting Views of the President's Foreign Policy



Journalists often gang up on our presidents. Dwight Eisenhower was dismissed as an inarticulate golf-playing do-nothing by the political elites of his time. In reality, he adeptly handled the earlier years of the Cold War and set forth policies that saw us through a half century. Lyndon Johnson saddled himself with the Vietnam War and was reviled by journalists, academics, and the young, leaving office as a failure. Today, we realize what an astonishing president he was: an unlik more...

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Do They Need Mosquito Nets or Law and Order?


Despite what we hear about crime, the American crime rate declined during this past decade and few Americans have ever experienced violent crime. The same is true in Western Europe, with the exception, in both societies, of certain inner-city neighborhoods.

In this country, Black and Hispanic gangs fueled by drugs, drug money, and no future, terrorize their neighbors and, often, their schoolmates. The police try, but as in New York, their efforts to stop and search likely more...

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Nelson Mandela Soared Above The Real World.


In late December, the remarkable Nelson Mandela died at 95, leaving behind many admirers, but few followers in governance. His funeral brought together world leaders---astonishing, considering that half a century ago, he was imprisoned as a terrorist by the apartheid South African government. But most remarkable was his release from prison, his forgiveness for those who had harmed him, and his leadership as the first Black president of South Africa. He established a model of racial tole more...

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December 2013

Can We Legislate Against Sin?

From the beginning of human society, control of behavior was essential to cohesion. You cannot have a community of human beings living in anarchy; they would be at each other's throats. Nor can you have an individual surviving for long in isolation. We are tribal, and need each other to survive.

There are several ways to control behavior: first, training the children with rules, rewards (affection), and punishment; brute force from leaders (or male punishments on women who defy ru more...

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September 2013

Is the US the World's Policeman?

The question comes up in public discussions all the time: Why should we be the world's policemen? Of course we are not the world's policemen, but we do play an enormous role in serving as a de facto government in a world that, without us, would have no governance at all. The opposite of governance is anarchy, a non-system that makes life like that of the European Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. Rome, like the United States, did far more good than harm to the world it governed.

more...

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The Urban-Rural Conflict is Central to Today's Global Dysfunction.


Civilization began with the rise of cities (civilization means city building), some 5,000 years ago. To have such institutions as irrigation systems, professional armies, specialized priesthood, and professional artisans, population concentration is essential. Villages cannot produce such specialization.

Cities have always appealed to the ambitious, who love the colorful energy of city life, and refugees from the no-longer viable countryside. Successful cities attract tale more...

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December 2012

Peace On Earth Is a Real Challenge.

American foreign policy has almost always been bipartisan. Responsible Democrats and Republicans faced the contentious Cold War together for half a century, successfully, as the outcome illustrated. But foreign policy is always the most difficult of issues for the American public to fully understand. It is difficult to deal with countries that we really cannot like, but must deal with anyway.

o Europe. Despite the efforts of elite Europeans to create something like a United State more...

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The Real Benghazi Problem Is Not Being Addressed.

What happened or did not happen when our consulate in Benghazi was attacked has become a contentious and partisan issue. This horrible attack on a diplomatic urban outpost is not the first in our dealings with the Muslim world. The international standards that foreign diplomats must be protected by the host country have been violated a number of times since the 19th century, not only for American but also to British diplomats, and only in Muslim countries.

The British Embassy was more...

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The Saudis Have A “Modest Proposal” for Women

In 1951, Philip Wylie, an American social critic, wrote a novel called The Disappearance. In this fantasy, something happens in the cosmos, a spasm of some sort, that resulted in the disappearance of each gender from the other, both living in parallel worlds. It is always fascinating to contemplate how men and women would manage alone, a fantasy as old as ancient Greece, whose mythology included the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors who managed very well without men.

Men withou more...

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September 2012

Are Israel and the US Really Locking Horns Over Iran?


Foreign policy issues should not be a factor in election campaigns; we need to tell the world that we are united on issues beyond domestic politics. However, it is too difficult for presidential campaigns to resist stirring things up. Mitt Romney did this in unwise remarks about US policy during the orchestrated riots in Libya and Egypt.

Today, a hot issue is Iran, which has lied, cheated, and continued to work toward producing a nuclear capability that frightens its nei more...

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Wikileaks Is In Terminal Decline


The most consequential Anarchist attack on the Western world may be in meltdown. The Anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were responsible for the assassination of a number of world leaders, the last of which led to World War I. This movement hoped to destroy the established governments of the day so that a “new and better” world could emerge. Their mission did not spell out what kind of better world that would be, but these ideologues believed, with little evidence, more...

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Egypt Has Post-Election Blues.


A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on Egypt’s “Arab Spring” and their recent round of elections. The speaker was optimistic about this process, and noted a number of “accomplishments” that Egyptians should regard with pride:

• A tyrannical dictator removed
• A relatively free and fair election held
• A member of the Muslim Brotherhood elected (Accomplishment?)
• The military promise to yield to civilian rule
• Treaty more...

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Facts Have Nothing to Do With Righteous Belief!


Our society is in the throes of irrational movements on both ends of the political spectrum. The far right attack science and the far left deny the dangers of Militant Islam. Lewis Carroll made fun of this sort of mindset in Alice In Wonderland:

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said 'one can't believe impossible things.'

'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. more...

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Now the Pentagon is Being Muzzled for Being “Critical of Islam.”


The Pentagon is where military preparedness is fostered. In our system of government, the military is subordinated to civilian control, which is as it should be. They are not, as in so many countries, our bosses who maintain that position through fear. However, there are factions in this country that would like to see the military defanged, and, if possible, disbanded.

How convenient it would be for Anarchists, Islamists, and any nation states that would like to see us ren more...

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Should the New York Security Police Be Called Off?

Several reporters have received the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for their investigation of the New York Police Department “spying” on Muslim communities. These reporters claim Muslims are being “unfairly profiled” and their privacy violated. Should we make the police stop their spying? Do we want no profiling at all, in the name of “fairness?”

The first duty of all government is to protect people from violence and criminal activity. Most of us, even those champions more...

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The European Uprisings of 1848 Reverberate in Today’s Arab Spring

Americans are accustomed to thinking that our 1776 revolution was the model for all others. This may account for the wacky optimism of Western journalists cheering on the street demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. They assumed these demonstrations would truly give rise to American style democracy. They now see that this is not so.

Those of us who were less enthusiastic can justify our pessimism by noting what’s going on in Libya (revenge and lawlessness) and in Syria, more...

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Fear and Loathing or Analysis and Perspective?

There are two ways to analyze the violent eruption of global terrorist attacks that have marked the past three decades: analyze the nature of the threat and the culture supporting it, or blame it all on the evils of Western colonialism and American militarism. The latter analysis is the choice of the “politically correct,” who say that terrorism is as rampant in the West as it is in the Muslim world. A truth check, however, will tell us that for every Western terrorist (such as Timothy McVei more...

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What Is America’s “Worldview?”


How we vote, behave, and think is based on our view of the world. Whether consciously or not, we all have beliefs about human nature, and these views shape us. These worldviews are the product of our various religions and the experiences of our European, Asian, or African ancestors. They fall into the following categories:

• Man is basically evil (sinful), and must be restrained by firm governance;
• Man is born innocent and good, and learns evil from society; more...

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Attacking the British Embassy is an Iranian Rite of Passage.


On December 1, Iranian thugs attacked the British Embassy in Tehran in hours-long violence. This recalled the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in 1979, holding American diplomats hostage for 444 days. When the 1979 assault happened, right after the Iranian Revolution, the Revolutionary Government initially denied complicity (which may have been true). However, in short order, the Ayatollah decided to take credit for this act.

This time, the Iranian press claimed tha more...

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Arab Spring Is a Conflict between Religion and Nationalism.


The enthusiasm for the Arab Spring and its birth of democracy in the Middle East gives me heartburn. What we hoped is not what we got. Now, as disillusion sets in, not only ours, but also that of the young demonstrators (particularly young women) who shed their own blood in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, we need to see what the optimists missed.

We have again mistaken voting for democracy. Although people who have never had choices love to vote, they really do not like choices more...

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November 2011

Power to the People! Round Up the Usual Suspects!


Whenever you hear “Power to the People,” check youry wallet. At college, I remember the silly panty raids of an earlier generation who just let off steam and did something mildly outrageous. Today's “People Power” is not as innocent.

Democracy today is not having a good run. Although citizens vote for their representatives and leaders, many feel somehow disenfranchised. The problem is almost universal, except for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, in more...

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June 2011

For Girls, Idealism Can Be Deadly.


President Kennedy urged American youth to consider a stint in the Peace Corps where they could help the world's poor and spread American values. Thousands have heeded this call, and for many, their time abroad was a valuable learning experience. But for many others, mostly young women, there was a big problem that was swept under the carpet until now: rape.

The idea that women and men are equally human and entitled to equal opportunities and dignity is very new. The Unit more...

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How Goes Democracy Around the World?

Democracy Project. The United States has long had a “democracy project.” After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson tried to establish an organization that would midwife newly freed colonies into democracies. He was instrumental in establishing the first “World Government,” the League of Nations, but a key Senator prevented the US from joining. That organization without us had even less teeth than today's United Nations.

At the end of World War II, the US has once more p more...

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Why Do We Hate Government?

Democrats and Republicans have different ideas (in theory) of what government should do. Both believe that, as our founding father James Madison noted, if men were angels, they would need no government. But since they are not, they need government to control the unangelic among us---and government needs to control itself as well. Government is not given a free hand to rule. In our system, we have multiple checks and balances so that no one sector of government can become a dictatorship of unlimi more...

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