That’s all, folks.
But don’t go away empty-handed. See “Favorite Posts“. It’s a gateway to several weeks, months, or years of good reading.
That’s all, folks.
But don’t go away empty-handed. See “Favorite Posts“. It’s a gateway to several weeks, months, or years of good reading.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter dismays the left and elates the right. Why? Because of the expectation that Twitter will henceforth stop censoring “misinformation”, that is, facts and arguments that subvert the tenets of wokeism. Chief among those tenets are:
There’s much more (see this, for example), but you get the idea.
Imagine what the worlds of politics, journalism, entertainment, advertising, and employment would be like if conservatives had been as successful at suppressing the ideas of wokeism as wokeists have been successful at suppressing their ideological opponents’ views. If you liked the 1950s, you’d love the absence of wokeism.
Wokeism has succeeded largely because of the mistaken idea, held by many on the right. that absolute freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Absolute freedom of speech is the devil’s playground. It fosters the operation of an intellectual version of Gresham’s law: Bad ideas drive out good ones. This perversion of the “marketplace of ideas” is reinforced by the government’s (i.e., the left’s) command of public
education indoctrination; the legalistic trick (known as section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) that allows leftist information brokers to suppress conservative views; and the removal of all constraints on what the left-dominated media may present as “entertainment” and “news”. The latter two instruments of left-wing subversion were and are enabled by free-speech absolutists on the right.
I have elsewhere and at length (e.g., here and here) explained and explored the wrongness and consequences of free-speech absolutism. Here, I will focus on the question posed by the title of this post: Why freedom of speech, that is, what is the good of it?
Has it ever occurred to you that there is no such thing as “free speech”? Think of the many times you that have held back or softened your views out of consideration for the feelings of others, out of fear that you couldn’t adequately defend your views, or because you feared the repercussions of candidly stating your views (e.g., derision, outrage, ostracism, and violence)?
Free speech — speaking one’s mind without restraint at all times and in all places — is the province of innocents and madmen. For most human beings, speech approaches (and sometimes attains) openness and candor only among intimates. Even then — when marriages, romances, and friendships fail — the limitations of openness and candor (“free speech”) become apparent.
Even among academics who work in fields that are supposedly objective (e.g., the “hard sciences” and mathematics) there are rivalries, jealousies, and political differences that stand in the way of openness and candor. It’s not that academics don’t say what they really think; they are notorious for doing so. It’s that the purported objective of free speech — the pursuit of truth through the competition of ideas — is unlikely to be attained when hypotheses and facts are skewed by academicians’ biases. A leading example of this phenomenon is the
scientific consensus group-think about “climate change“, which is a shining example of a hypothesis that has been disproved by evidence but survives and thrives on ignorance and emotionalism. (As do many other ruinous manifestations of “free speech”, such as recycling, “green” energy, anti-COVID masking, the innocence of Trayvon Martin, and the saintliness of George Floyd.)
Freedom of speech, at bottom, is really the freedom to express an opinion (or emotion), however wrong-headed and socially acceptable that opinion may be. And, to reiterate, there is no guarantee that the mythical “marketplace of ideas” will favor opinions that foster social comity or scientific truth. To the contrary, given the left’s dominance of the “marketplace of ideas”, favored opinions will be (and are) those that foster social discord and hysterical attachments to pseudo-scientific fraudulence.
Freedom of speech therefore favors irrationality and emotionalism. It does not — as evidenced by the current state of America — favor truth, justice, or the general well-being of the citizenry.
What is the alternative? It is certainly not Biden’s
disinformation czardom ministry of truth, which will only make things worse.
Stay tuned …
What is Putin’s strategic objective for Russia? I believe it is a “greater Russia” which is strong enough economically and militarily to (a) leverage its natural resources to its economic advantage and (b) play hardball successfully when NATO or its key members try to thwart Putin’s economic aims. “Greater Russia” must therefore include key regions of Ukraine — or perhaps Ukraine entirely — because of Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea and its natural resources (e.g., the Donbas). One way to think of the invasion of Ukraine is as a complement to Russia’s de facto control of Crimea, which is consistent with the “greater Russia” objective.
In view of that, an invasion of Ukraine was almost inevitable. The NATO-Ukraine flirtation made it a certainty. Putin judged — correctly (thus far) — that neither NATO as a whole or the US (perhaps in concert with some other members of NATO) would intervene directly with combat forces. His nuke-rattling is probably an unnecessary bit of breast-beating because US/NATO wouldn’t risk direct combat that might lead to the use of nukes. Putin will resort to tactical nukes (though probably in a limited way) only if (a) he is in danger of failing to secure at least key portions of Ukraine and (b) that failure is clearly (to him) the result of US/NATO assistance to Ukraine (which includes but isn’t limited to intelligence sharing).
If Putin fails, it may well be because Russia’s armed forces aren’t up to the task. But would Putin come to that assessment, or would he blame the US/NATO? I suspect that he would do the latter, which means that intelligence sharing (among other things) is probably a bad thing.
The smart move for US/NATO is twofold. First, continue to lambaste Putin publicly so that his role as the “bad guy” is (mostly) unquestioned in the West. Second, continue to help Ukraine (to do otherwise would be bad p.r. and a overt sign of weakness). But US/NATO would take care to avoid actions that might cause Putin to conclude that he failed because of US/NATO interference. (I don’t suggest that course of action lightly, but a temporary loss is better than a permanent one. I am reminded here of Churchill’s decision not to warn the citizens of Coventry about a massive air raid because doing so probably would have compromised the Ultra program and resulted in a far greater loss of Allied lives in the course of World War II, if not defeat for the Allies.)
By the same token, it is imperative that the US/NATO grow some backbone and let Putin know that what he has in mind for “greater Russia” is matched by NATO’s commitment to the security of its member nations. Letting Putin know means (a) policy declarations to that effect, (b) firm commitments to building up NATO’s military strength (Europe still needs to pull more weight), and the “natural” expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden. (Does Putin really want to go to war over the inclusion in NATO of Sweden and Finland? I doubt it. Their admission to NATO would be a clear signal to Putin that he might have a free hand in “greater Russia”, but that’s it.)
In sum, though it pains me to admit it, I’m suggesting something like a new Iron Curtain, where the curtain is (mainly) designed and built by the West. The new status quo would resemble that of the 1950s and 1960s, when the US/NATO declined to interfere in matters behind the original Iron Curtain (e.g., the suppression of the 1956 uprising in Hungary and the “Prague Spring” of 1968). But the new Iron Curtain would be a semipermeable membrane, allowing trade with Russia where it is mutually beneficial. And, with a sufficient show of strength by US/NATO, the new status quo wouldn’t engender constant dread about what Russia might do with its nuclear arsenal.
Among the proofs that we [humans] were not made for happiness but on the contrary often seek out its opposite is the fact that so many of us follow the news closely, though we know it will make us wretched to do so. We pretend that we have a need to be informed and are shocked when we meet someone who hasn’t the faintest idea of what is going on in the world. How can he bear to be so ignorant, how can he be so indifferent? It is our duty as citizens of a democracy to be informed, or to inform ourselves, even at the cost of our own misery; because, of course, news rarely gives us reasons to rejoice.
Economic news is almost always bad. The currency is too strong or too weak, never just right. The interest rate is too high or too low. Inflation is worryingly slow or fast. Natural resources are running out or no longer needed, and all the equipment to obtain them is redundant. Too much is imported and not enough exported, or vice versa. The minimum wage is too generous or too mean or should not exist at all. Shares are overvalued or undervalued, but however they are valued, the next crash is round the corner—though, of course, no exact date can be put upon it, which somehow makes the anxiety all the greater.
Political news, especially in relation to foreign affairs, is yet worse. The leaders of even the best countries are scoundrels, otherwise they wouldn’t be leaders. They are incompetent in everything except self-advancement and self-preservation. They don’t care a fig for the man in the street (of whom one is one). Whoever replaces them, however, will be even worse. Not for nothing did Gibbon tell us that “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”
The main point:
For the vast majority of those who follow the news, there is nothing they can do about it. They follow the news not because, by doing so, they might make it better, or because they will base any personal decisions on it, but because they are addicted. Somerset Maugham pointed out that great readers often read because they have the equivalent of withdrawal symptoms (in this case, boredom) if their eyes do not fall on print for any length of time, and they would rather read a railway timetable or the label of the ingredients of a prepared food that they have never eaten than nothing at all. “Of that lamentable company am I,” said Maugham—and so am I.
People are addicted to news that has a deleterious psychological effect on them but that they are impotent to affect [emphasis added].
I scan several dozen blogs a day and occasionally dip below a headline on Fox News if the subject interests me. But I am in search only of tidbits of interest (e.g., more examples of governmental malfeasance, more studies that debunk “climate change”, more proof that official reactions to the coronavirus were wrong-headed, more evidence that the election of 2020 was rigged to unseat Trump). In general, I eschew “news” (usually propaganda) about current events for the reason a vampire eschews sunlight: It shrivels my soul.
Regarding the pandemic, I wrote this last year about U.S. politicians (mostly Democrats):
It has been assumed that the citizenry would be best served through governmental edicts such as mask-wearing, social distancing, lockdowns, and, ultimately, involuntary vaccinations.
But there is an alternative hypothesis: Such measures have merely delayed the inevitable and made it worse by creating the conditions for the evolution of more contagious and perhaps deadlier strains of the coronavirus. Under that hypothesis, if the first stage of the coronavirus had been allowed to run rampant, herd immunity would have been achieved. The most vulnerable among us would have died or suffered at length before recovering (and then, perhaps, only partially). But that would have happened in any case.
Widespread exposure to the disease would have meant the natural immunization of most of the populace through exposure to the coronavirus and the development of antibodies through that exposure — which, for most of the populace, isn’t lethal or debilitating.
Natural immunization (and thus herd immunity) didn’t happen because of mask-wearing, social distancing, lockdowns, and forced vaccinations (governmentally encouraged, even if nominally private). And so, the coronavirus is becoming deadlier instead of dying out on its own.
In the end, millions of people will have suffered and died needlessly because politicians and bureaucrats couldn’t (and can’t) resist the urge to do something — and because they have the power to make something happen.
You have probably read recent reports about how the draconian approach taken by U.S. officials was extremely counterproductive. Here are some relevant excerpts from a Washington Monthly article:
While most countries imposed draconian restrictions, there was an exception: Sweden. Early in the pandemic, Swedish schools and offices closed briefly but then reopened. Restaurants never closed. Businesses stayed open. Kids under 16 went to school.
That stood in contrast to the U.S. By April 2020, the CDC and the National Institutes of Health recommended far-reaching lockdowns that threw millions of Americans out of work. A kind of groupthink set in. In print and on social media, colleagues attacked experts who advocated a less draconian approach. Some received obscene emails and death threats. Within the scientific community, opposition to the dominant narrative was castigated and censored, cutting off what should have been vigorous debate and analysis.
In this intolerant atmosphere, Sweden’s “light touch,” as it is often referred to by scientists and policy makers, was deemed a disaster. “Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale,” carped The New York Times. Reuters reported, “Sweden’s COVID Infections Among Highest in Europe, With ‘No Sign Of Decrease.’” Medical journals published equally damning reports of Sweden’s folly.
But Sweden seems to have been right. Countries that took the severe route to stem the virus might want to look at the evidence found in a little-known 2021 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The researchers found that among 11 wealthy peer nations, Sweden was the only one with no excess mortality among individuals under 75. None, zero, zip.
That’s not to say that Sweden had no deaths from COVID. It did. But it appears to have avoided the collateral damage that lockdowns wreaked in other countries. The Kaiser study wisely looked at excess mortality, rather than the more commonly used metric of COVID deaths. This means that researchers examined mortality rates from all causes of death in the 11 countries before the pandemic and compared those rates to mortality from all causes during the pandemic. If a country averaged 1 million deaths per year before the pandemic but had 1.3 million deaths in 2020, excess mortality would be 30 percent….
The Kaiser results might seem surprising, but other data have confirmed them. As of February, Our World in Data, a database maintained by the University of Oxford, shows that Sweden continues to have low excess mortality, now slightly lower than Germany, which had strict lockdowns. Another study found no increased mortality in Sweden in those under 70. Most recently, a Swedish commission evaluating the country’s pandemic response determined that although it was slow to protect the elderly and others at heightened risk from COVID in the initial stages, its laissez-faire approach was broadly correct….
One of the most pernicious effects of lockdowns was the loss of social support, which contributed to a dramatic rise in deaths related to alcohol and drug abuse. According to a recent report in the medical journal JAMA, even before the pandemic such “deaths of despair” were already high and rising rapidly in the U.S., but not in other industrialized countries. Lockdowns sent those numbers soaring.
The U.S. response to COVID was the worst of both worlds. Shutting down businesses and closing everything from gyms to nightclubs shielded younger Americans at low risk of COVID but did little to protect the vulnerable. School closures meant chaos for kids and stymied their learning and social development. These effects are widely considered so devastating that they will linger for years to come. While the U.S. was shutting down schools to protect kids, Swedish children were safe even with school doors wide open. According to a 2021 research letter, there wasn’t a single COVID death among Swedish children, despite schools remaining open for children under 16….
Of the potential years of life lost in the U.S., 30 percent were among Blacks and another 31 percent were among Hispanics; both rates are far higher than the demographics’ share of the population. Lockdowns were especially hard on young workers and their families. According to the Kaiser report, among those who died in 2020, people lost an average of 14 years of life in the U.S. versus eight years lost in peer countries. In other words, the young were more likely to die in the U.S. than in other countries, and many of those deaths were likely due to lockdowns rather than COVID.
And that ain’t all. There’s also this working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which concludes:
The first estimates of the effects of COVID-19 on the number of business owners from nationally representative April 2020 CPS data indicate dramatic early-stage reductions in small business activity. The number of active business owners in the United States plunged from 15.0 million to 11.7 million over the crucial two-month window from February to April 2020. No other one-, two- or even 12-month window of time has ever shown such a large change in business activity. For comparison, from the start to end of the Great Recession the number of business owners decreased by 730,000 representing only a 5 percent reduction. In general, business ownership is relatively steady over the business cycle (Fairlie 2013; Parker 2018). The loss of 3.3 million business owners (or 22 percent) was comprised of large drops in important subgroups such as owners working roughly two days per week (28 percent), owners working four days a week (31 percent), and incorporated businesses (20 percent).
And that was two years ago, before the political panic had spawned a destructive tsunami of draconian measures.
The fixation on containing the coronavirus to the exclusion of other — more important — objectives reminds me of Frédéric Bastiat‘s parable of the broken window: “That Which We See and That Which We Do Not See“. It is a lesson about opportunity costs. The opportunity costs of tilting against the windmill of COVID-19 were and are vast and largely irreparable social and economic losses.
Jean Curthoys, “Did We Make Things Worse [with mass vaccinations]?” [Yes!], Spectator Australia, May 2, 2022
Leslie Eastman, “New Study Shows Face Mask Usage Did Not Correlate With Better Outcomes“, Legal Insurrection, May 6, 2022
Years ago I eviscerated Steven Pinker’s fatuous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker’s thesis is that human beings, on the whole, (or in “civilized” Western societies) are becoming kinder and gentler because of:
Why is all of that wrong? Go to my post and read for yourself.
Or watch the horrendous events in Ukraine, if you have the stomach for it.
A correspondent took me to task for suggesting that NATO’s leaders bear some responsibility for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine:
This is all on [Putin]. He and Russia could have turned to the West, become part of Europe, even joined the EU. Instead he has leaned on [Peter the Great’s] 300-year-old idea of a great Russian empire and imagined the rest of the world is preventing him from realizing it. I think even Peter would have joined Europe. (See Peter Massie’s terrific biography—reads like a novel—of Peter the Great and note Peter’s deep interest in things European and bringing Russia into Europe.) NATO is a threat to Putin because he wants that empire back.
“NATO is a threat to Putin because he wants that empire back.” Exactly. Was that a secret? I don’t think so. It’s not news to me, so it should not have been news to all the “great thinkers” who advise NATO’s leaders. Given that, it’s reasonable to ask whether NATO’s leaders considered the possible consequences of the pas-de-deux between Ukraine and NATO, which had been gaining momentum in the years and months before Russia attacked Ukraine.
So, yes, Putin is directly responsible for the attack on Ukraine and for harboring the feelings that caused him to launch it. But NATO’s leaders are responsible for not having foreseen the consequences of their courtship of Ukraine. Or, if having foreseen them, for not having made plans to do more than bluster and sanction while Ukrainians suffer the consequences of the war that the NATO-Ukraine courtship provoked.
And if the whole thing blows up into a war that costs the lives of NATO troops and (perhaps) eventually the lives of civilians in Western Europe and the U.S. (if it comes to nukes), NATO’s leaders should be drawn and quartered for not having been prepared to avert those consequences. They should have asked themselves, for example, what practical difference would it make if Ukraine were an official member of NATO, given the long-standing enmity between Ukraine and Russia.
All of this is preaching from the sidelines with the benefit of hindsight. But NATO’s leaders seek the responsibility to defend and protect us. Putin is one of the bad guys from whom we need protection. If we (citizens of NATO countries) are protected in the end, it will be at a very high cost (in Ukranian lives and economic consequences) — a cost that can’t possibly justify the psychic benefits of baiting Putin.
I share your assessment of Putin. But he’s not the only player in the “game” that has played out into the slaughter of Ukranians and possibly much worse.
P.S. If NATO leaders aren’t to blame for Putin’s aggression, who or what is? This article seems to cover all the bases: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/18329/russia-putin-ukraine-invasion.
I observed, in November 2020, that there is no connection between CO2 emissions and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This suggests that emissions have little or no effect on the concentration of CO2. A recent post at WUWT notes that emissions hit a record high in 2021. What the post doesn’t address is the relationship between emissions and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
See for yourself. Here’s the WUWT graph of emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes:
Here’s the record of atmospheric CO2:
It’s obvious that CO2 has been rising monotonically, with regular seasonal variations, while emissions have been rising irregularly — even declining and holding steady at times. This relationship (or lack thereof) supports the thesis that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is the result of warming, not its cause.
Dr. Roy Spencer, in a post at his eponymous blog, writes:
[T]he greatest correlations are found with global (or tropical) surface temperature changes and estimated yearly anthropogenic emissions. Curiously, reversing the direction of causation between surface temperature and CO2 (yearly changes in SST [dSST/dt] being caused by increasing CO2) yields a very low correlation.
That is to say, temperature changes seem to drive CO2 levels, not the other way around (which is the conventional view).
Sources for CO2 levels:
Related reading: Clyde Spencer, “Anthropogenic CO2 and the Expected Results from Eliminating It” [zero, zilch, zip, nada], Watts Up With That?, March 22, 2022
For those few readers who might wonder where I was from November 22, 2021, until March 2, 2022:
My wife and I made the mistake of moving into an all-inclusive 55+ residential community. All-inclusive, in this case, comprehended three meals a day of steadily declining quality. (The decline halted only when quality hit rock-bottom.) All-inclusive also encompassed prolonged, daily pounding on our ceilings by the woman who lived above us and couldn’t travel 10 feet without bounding like a kangaroo. There were other things, too, such as the football-field trek to the nearest elevator, which gave my wife’s aching knees more punishment than she could stand, and the Dickensian gloom produced by a combination of low ceilings, too few windows and a northern exposure.
We remedied those defects by buying a light, bright, much quieter condo in a vastly better location, and by relying mainly on prepared meals and restaurant fare, both of which are vastly superior to the slop doled out by the “chef” at our former abode. The real-estate purchase is not only a good investment (for our heirs) but also has vastly reduced our living expenses (also to the benefit of our heirs).
Anyway, as we settle into our new quarters and recover from a second move in four months, I may find the time to do more than dash off a brief post like today’s “Thoughts for the Day”. Or I may just satisfy my blogging urge by dashing off a brief post more often than quarterly.
Time, as they say, will tell.
Racists of old believed that their superiority licensed them to suppress and kill persons of other races.
Today’s “anti-racists” believe that the inferiority of blacks in intelligence — and thus in income and wealth — licenses them to penalize and suppress persons of other races. (Some “anti-racists” would even resort to genocide.)
There is a parallel in the treatment of men, especially (but not exclusively) in the effort to advance women in fields where they are inherently inferior.
It has now been 58 years since the shocking day on which John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. I will not recount my memory of the events of that day and the several which followed it, but I will refer you to some relevant posts that touch on my memory of the fateful day, and of JFK’s legacy and place in history:
ORIGINAL OF MAY 29, 2021, EDITED AND RE-POSTED
Blacks, on average, lag whites in income and wealth, and are disproportionately targeted by law-enforcement. All of this is due to white racism.
White culture — including the tenet of racial equality under the law and the importance of dispassionate, scientific inquire — must be rejected because it is all tainted with racism. Rejection means the suppression of whites and white culture so that blacks may reach their true potential.
In fact, the true potential of blacks is determined by their intelligence and their culture.
Blacks, on average, are less intelligent than whites, and black culture (in America) fosters violence, disdain for education, and family dysfunction to a greater degree than is true for whites, on average. (But that, somehow, is whitey’s fault.)
Where will this lead? Right where Dov Fischer predicts it will lead:
[T]he same disadvantaged groups who today rely on blaming instead of self-help will then be at the same exact rung on the social order that they are today, just as 50 years of racism-free society and Great Society “entitlements” have not accomplished equality of results today, even as newcomers from Asia entered this country these past 50 and 60 years and leap-frogged those already here.
Blacks, on the whole, are not where they are because of whitey, but because of their genes and culture.
Change upsets settled relationships. If change is mutually agreed, the parties to it are more likely than not to have anticipated and planned for its effects. If change is imposed, the imposing parties will have only a dim view of its effects and the parties imposed upon will have only scant knowledge of its likely effects; in neither case will the effects of change be well anticipated or planned for.
Opposition to change is a wise first-order response.
Chuck DeVore wanders through the tumultuous history of the U.S. in the 1780s and 1790s in search of evidence to buttress his view that a national divorce is a bad idea. Specifically,
Breaking up is hard enough — creating a new government that can both secure liberty and survive is even harder.
No one who writes seriously about a national divorce (a.k.a., voluntary partition) would claim that it would be easily accomplished, or that the aftermath would be smooth sailing. But the prospect of turbulence shouldn’t deter those of us who believe that a national divorce is the only peaceful way to secure something like liberty for the citizens of a majority of the disunited States of America.
In any event, DeVore focuses on the wrong period of American history. The relevant period is the 1770s, when the political leaders of the thirteen colonies (“the united States of America”) declared that
when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
That, dear readers, is the relevant historical parallel.
DeVore veers from irrelevant history to an irrelevant prescription for undoing the long train of abuses and susurpations that has issued from Washington for more than a century:
[L]et us strive to repair the nation we have.
Returning to the Constitution would be a great first step. The surest route to doing that would be to end federal primacy over state power via restoring the original meaning of the Commerce Clause, while forcing Congress to legislate rather than hiding behind unelected bureaucrats by rediscovering the nondelegation doctrine.
This is nonsense upon stilts, to apply Bentham’s diagnosis to a somewhat different political perversion. The last thing that the abusers and usurpers of the real Constitution will allow is a return to it and to its many limits on the central government (the real Commerce Clause being just one of them).
The only solution, for lovers of liberty, is a national divorce, which could be accomplished without bloodshed. To do that, however, requires concerted action by the top elected officials of a significant number of States. What is a significant number in this case? Republicans have complete control of the governorships and legislatures of 23 States. A coalition of two-thirds to three-fourths of those States (i.e., 16 or more) would be a significant fraction (about one-third of the number of States in the present disunion).
How would such a coalition proceed to declare its independence of the presently constituted United States of America? The details are here (scroll down to F. Secession).
Would the central government try to prevent secession by 16 or more States? Almost certainly, but not through all-out war — at first. The most likely counter-strategy would be to take the matter to the Supreme Court, where a majority of justices would rule that secession is unconstitutional, despite strong arguments to the contrary (see F. Secession at the link above). Further, the central government would have manufacture “evidence” that the governments of the seceding States are not “republican”, giving the Court another straw to grasp in its eagerness not to incur the wrath of Congress (and suffer the indignity of being “stacked”). So the Court’s ruling would not only invalidate secession but also declare the governments of the seceding States to be illegitimate.
With such a ruling in hand, the central government would recognize provisional governments for the seceding States, governments whose executives and legislatures consist of dissenting citizens of the seceding States. Resistance by a seceding State to the installation of a provisional government would give the central government an excuse to use force to install that government and enforce its edicts. (The president would invoke the Insurrection Act.) Capitulation by one or two seceding States would discourage the rest, and the central government would reassert itself as the de facto government of every State, as it is now for all practical purposes.
How, then, could secession be made to work? The next time there is a Republican president and the GOP has a firm grip on Congress, which could come as soon as 2025, the central government should stand aside while the secession movement plays out. The GOP-controlled States, by the same token, must act vigorously to set themselves up under a new (i.e., old) Constitution so that their independence is secured the next time the pendulum swings back to the Democrat party. And the pendulum would surely swing back in succeeding elections, given the absence of a large number of GOP-controlled States from the diminished union.
But so what? The deed would have been done and a significant fraction of Americans would be living in something more like liberty. Half a loaf, in this case especially, is vastly superior to none.
What about the citizens of GOP-controlled States of the old union that didn’t secede when given the opportunity to do so unopposed? And what about the citizens of Blue States who chafe under leftist dictatorships? They might well be stuck in the old union — which is likely to be more oppressive than ever. But that won’t preclude the new union from welcoming immigrants from the old one — if they pass rigorous ideological background checks. (Why repeat the experience of once-conservative Southern States, like Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, which succumbed to the allure of economic growth and were inundated by carpetbaggers, or Texas, which is always on the verge of succumbing?)
What about the common defense and trade between the old and new unions, which are the only aspects of disunion that might be problematic? (The new union can print enough money to provide Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for those who are already dependent on such things, or soon will be, and give due notice the everyone else that the feeding trough won’t be refilled after a date certain.) I would expect the government of the old union to act foolishly and spitefully by (a) drastically reducing its defense spending and (b) erecting onerous trade barriers between the two Americas, including strict controls on the exportation of computer technology, products, and services to the new union.
The good news is that the creation of a new union means that its government could make a fresh start on defense and trade.
Meaning no disrespect to the members of today’s armed forces, I must say that those forces are mainly irrelevant to the defense of Americans and their overseas interests. This is a subject that deserves a long blog post devoted to it, and perhaps I will someday publish such a post. For now, I’ll just say that America’s defense forces ought to exploit America’s technological superiority and become far less focused on the relics of the past: huge ships, heavily armored army divisions, supersonic aircraft, and amphibious forces. For a lot less money, America could confound its enemies — near and far — in ways that Israel is exploring.
Trade is a two-way street (in fact, a multi-dimensional street that carries traffic in many directions). If the leaders of the old union want to curtail trade with the new union and make their citizens even worse off than they will become by tilting at the “climate change” windmill, so be it. The entrepreneurial spirit and know-how of the new America will readily take up the slack of diminished trade with the old regime. Computer technology, products, and services are easily replicated, to the extent that they need replication. (The States of the new union, “elite” opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, will have their share of people who are quite as capable as the geeks of Washington State and California.)
So, unlike Chuck DeVore, I say this about a national divorce: Bring it on! If I’m not on the right side of the divide when it happens, I will try my damnedest to get there before I’m too old to move again.
Readership of this blog is at an all-time low.
It’s mainly my fault I suppose, because I’ve been unable (and sometimes unwilling) to post for long stretches of time. Out of sight out of mind.
I have also failed to deliver fresh content, preferring instead to rehash themes that are especially important to me. I should say theme: the left’s unremitting and increasingly successful attempt to eradicate liberty in the United States.
What would Jimmy Durante have me do? Stay or go? Slog on despite minuscule numbers of visitors and page views, or fold my tent and steal silently away?
Durante didn’t come to a conclusion, as far as I can tell. Nor, if he had done so, should it guide me in this quandary, which is my own to resolve.
I have a post in the pipeline. I will finish it, publish it, and then decide what to do with this blog.
I recently renewed my Virginia citizenship after a lapse of 18 years. It’s great to be back in the Old Dominion, especially given the prospect of a Republican governor and a Republican House of Delegates come January. There’s also a good chance that next year’s Senate elections will give the GOP complete control of the Virginia legislature.
Gratifying as the resurgence of Virginia’s GOP may be, I’m not ready to declare Virginia’s return to Red-ness. For one thing, there’s an underlying trend toward Blue-ness, which shows up in Virginia’s presidential election results:
Derived from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. The series for Virginia begins with the gubernatorial election of 1949,which is the earliest for which Leip as posted popular-vote tallies.
The GOP’s edge in the presidential election peaked in 1968, the year of George Wallace, who (in the South) siphoned votes from the Democrat candidate. If 1968 doesn’t suit as a peak year, because of the Wallace effect, then the peak certainly occurred in 1984, with the re-election of Ronald Reagan. In either case, the GOP candidate’s share of Virginia’s presidential vote has been in decline for decades, and seems unlikely to recover unless there is a nationwide shift away from the Democrat party. Such a shift might occur, given the Dems’ suicide pact with the far-left, but cooler heads may yet prevail among party leaders.
It’s true that the downswing in the GOP’s hold on Virginia’s governorship hasn’t been as pronounced — which supports Tip O’Neill’s observation that all politics are local. But the GOP’s edge in the past has been much greater than the razor-thin victory eked out by Glenn Youngkin in the recent election.
Nor is that victory especially impressive when the swing toward the GOP in 2021 is compared with earlier swings:
What probably happened in the 2021 election is what seems to have been happening since the early 1970s. The Virginia gubernatorial election reflects a typical “mid-term” reaction to the previous year’s presidential election. When the GOP presidential candidate racks up a gain relative to the showing of the GOP candidate four years earlier (a positive “swing”), the GOP gubernatorial candidate racks up a loss relative to the showing of the GOP candidate four years earlier (a negative “swing”). And conversely.
So, I won’t count the GOP’s Virginia chickens until they hatch. But, in the meantime, I will savor the (hope of) restoration of some sanity to Virginia’s politics.
Theodore Dalrymple, in a typically brilliant column, “First Slowly, Then Quickly“, traces the corruption of language and values pertaining to the subject of sex; for example:
In a publication aimed at dermatologists, the Dermatology Times, we read in an article devoted to the treatment of the skin in transgender patients the following:
Patients of reproductive potential who are not…abstinent with penis-containing partners, 2 forms of contraception are required.
In other words, women who would like to be men but still have their ovaries and wombs can become pregnant by sexual intercourse with fertile men, the latter now being known as “penis-containing” persons….
At the same time as we are enjoined to think of biological sex as unimportant to the point of nonexistence, and to believe that men who can have babies by penis-containers are men in precisely the same sense that Tarzan was a man….
There are several wider cultural trends discernible in the current agitation over transsexualism, or whatever name one wishes to give it…
The first cultural trend is an increasing reluctance to accept any limitation whatsoever to the satisfaction of one’s desires that are placed by circumstances beyond one’s control, that is to say an exaggerated or exacerbated Prometheanism: You can be anything you want, without limitation, and therefore you do not have to accept anything you were born with as ineluctable….
The second trend is to magical thinking, despite the supposed rationality of our age and its vaunted defeat of superstition. We believe that we can change reality by means of mere verbal incantations…. Thus, if we go on saying long enough that women who take male hormones are men, and outlaw the opposite proposition, such women will become men.
The third trend is the worship of power. The object of deliberate language change is not to improve the state of the world, or even anyone’s state of mind, but the exertion and consolidation of power for its own sake….
The fourth trend is centralization of the marginal; that is to say, a marginal phenomenon such as transsexualism comes to occupy the center of intellectual attention. To employ a different metaphor, the tail wags the dog.
The fifth trend is to the increasing spinelessness or cowardice of much of the intelligentsia, who in this case have proved themselves astonishingly easy to intimidate, a pack of intellectual Neville Chamberlains (but Chamberlain had more excuse, for he had lived through the horror of the First World War, which he did not want to repeat). Nothing has proved too absurd for this intelligentsia to swallow; indeed, the swallowing of absurdity is easier for the intelligentsia than others, for rationalization is their métier. There is no point in being an intellectual if you think only what everyone else thinks.
Which leads to this:
The most important question is, What next?—for there will be a next, because transgressive reform is what gives meaning to life in the absence of any other meaning. My money is on incest, against which there is no rational argument these days, given the availability of birth control and abortion and the moral authority of mutual consent.
Dalrymple’s answer applies only to matters sexual. But his observations have broader implications for the fate of the West. The alarming reluctance among “wokesters” to accept natural limitations, magical thinking, centralization of the marginal, and spinelessness have burrowed into the social and economic fabric of the West. And encourage its subjugation by enemies who scoff at such “woke” delusions as transgenderism, “climate change”, “equity”, and the rest of the left’s “woke” agenda.
In America, these delusions have been accumulating since the onset of the so-called Progressive Era in the 1890s. That naissance (it was nothing like a renaissance) occurred on the (figurative) eve of my maternal grandparents’ marriage. My maternal grandmother was born in 1880 and lived to the age of 96. I was close to her from my early childhood until her death in 1977, when I was 36 years old..
She was a typical American woman of her generation, and of at least one generation to follow. She worked at a menial job until her marriage, bore and raised ten children, never traveled more than 150 miles from her home (until a late-life trip to visit a son in Florida), cooked on a wood-burning stove and lived without indoor plumbing until she was 70, never owned a TV set, and never drove a car. (For more about Grandma and her progeny, see this, this, and this.)
No thanks to the Progressive Era and all that it unleashed, the America of today isn’t my grandmother’s America. Nor is it my mother’s America. Nor is it the America that I grew up in.
What is it? And what happened to make it the way that it is?
Before I try to describe the America of today and explain how it came to be, I must try to describe what it was for most Americans in the first five decades of the twentieth century:
Life, for a significant fraction of the populace — a fraction that dwindled, swelled in the 1930s, and then dwindled sharply — was a fragile thing. It was threatened by disease, malnutrition, injury, lack of adequate shelter, and much else that (as of now) has been “conquered” by economic and scientific progress. (Economic progress occurred in spite of government action — see, for example, this, this, this, and this. Scientific progress has become regress, witness the government-funded plague known as Covid-19 and the wholesale hysteria known as “climate change”.)
Physical labor was central to life and fraught with dangers that were taken in stride.
Family ties were crucial because of the foregoing.
Religious belief was taken for granted and the central tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition guided behavior (with the usual lapses that are endemic to human nature).
The vicissitudes of life and shared religious beliefs made community (but not communism) a real thing (not a faux construct fostered by “social” media).
Social life centered on family, church, and community.
Entertainment was largely home-made and wholesome.
One’s income and wealth were one’s own responsibility.
The super-rich promoted the arts, not thought control.
Immigrants entered the country legally and studied America’s Constitution and history to become citizens. (They weren’t allowed in the back door and released into the general population to burden taxpayers.)
Fairness was striking a deal and sticking to it (not claiming to be “owed” something because of one’s color, creed, or gender-confusion).
Sex was a fact of life, and there were only two sexes.
Homosexuality was an aberration that undercut the social fabric and was accordingly viewed as something to be shunned.
Race and racial differences (cultural, economic, criminal) were facts of life, not a “social construct”.
Crime was punished, quickly and with all due severity.
College was a privilege for the brightest, not a “right” to be thrown at millions who were unfit for it.
Politicians, despite their tendency toward mendacity and venality, were by-and-large to be trusted, as long as their power was circumscribed.
Washington was a far-off place (metaphorically if not geographically) that had little to do with daily life.
What’s wrong with that list? Nothing, as far as I can see. It’s anchored in reality.
How, then, did America come to be run by a cabal of super-rich “oligarchs”, politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and “journalists” who sneer at the list and reject it, in deed if not in word?
It happened one step backward at a time. America’s old culture, along with much of its liberty and (less visibly) its prosperity, was lost step by step through a combination of chicanery (by the left) and compromise (by “centrists” and conservative dupes). The process — the culmination of which is “wokeness” — has a long history and deep roots. Those roots are not in Marxism, socialism, atheism, or any of the other left-wing “isms” (appalling and dangerous they may be). They are, as I explain here, in (classical) liberalism, the supposed bulwark of liberty and prosperity.
An “ism” is only as effective as its adherents. The adherents of (classical) liberalism are especially ineffective in the defense of liberty because they are blinded by their own rhetoric. Take Deirdre McCloskey, for example, whom Arnold Kling quotes approvingly in a piece that I eviscerated recently:
The quality of life you personally lead, dear reader, is better than the lives of your thirty-two great-great-great-great grandparents. I’ll speak for myself. An Irish peasant woman digging pratties in her lazybed in 1805 or a Norwegian farmer of thirty acres of rock soil in Dimmelsvik in 1800 or the American daughter of poor English people in 1795 had brutish and short lives. Many of them could not read. Their horizons were narrow. Their lives were toilsome and bitter….
Richer and more urban people, contrary to what the magazines of opinion sometimes suggest, are less materialistic, less violent, less superficial than poor and rural people. Because people in capitalist countries already possess the material, they are less attached to their possessions than people in poor countries. And because they have more to lose from a society of violence, they resist it.
… The richer, more urban, more bourgeois people… have larger, not smaller, spiritual lives than their ancestors of the pastoral. They have more, not fewer, real friends than their great-great-great-great grandparents in “closed-corporate” villages. They have broader, not narrower, choices of identity than the one imposed on them by the country, custom, language, and religion of their birth. They have deeper, not shallower, contacts with the transcendent of art or science or God, and sometimes even of nature, than the superstitious peasants and haunted hunter-gatherers from whom we all descend.4
That drips with smugness and condescension. And it wildly mischaracterizes the wealthy “elites” who have taken charge in the West. As I will discuss, there is noting spiritual about them.
McCloskey, who is an economist of some note, should know better than to make what amounts to interpersonal utility comparisons. She writes as if she were able to evaluate the “utility” of the dead and weigh it against the “utility” of the living. No such evaluation is possible, even for the living. The dead are beyond reach, of course, but they certainly weren’t able to weigh their circumstances against the unpredictable circumstances of their descendants and find themselves wanting — materially or spiritually — relative to those as-yet-unborn descendants.
All that McCloskey has told is is that she (formerly he) views his/her way of life as superior to that of the unwashed masses, living and dead. Further, holding that view — which is typical of liberals classical and modern (i.e., statists) — he/she obviously believes that the superior way of life should be adopted by the unwashed — for their own good, of course. (If this isn’t to be accomplished by force, as statists would prefer, then by education and example. This would include, but not be limited to, choosing a new sexual identity if one is deluded enough to believe that he/she was “assigned” the wrong one at birth.)
It is hard to tell McCloskey’s attitude from that of a member of the “woke” elite, though he/she undoubtedly deny being such a person. I am willing to bet, however, that most of McCloskey’s ilk (if not he/she him/herself) voted enthusiastically for “moderate” Joe Biden because rude, crude Donald Trump offended their tender sensibilities (and threatened their statist agenda). And they did so knowing that Biden, despite his self-proclaimed “moderation”, was and is allied with leftists whose statist ambitions for the United States are an affront to every tenet of classical liberalism, not the least of which is freedom of speech. Shallowness, thy name is (classical) liberalism (when it is not never-Trump “conservativism”.)
What is a “wokester”, then? A “wokester” is someone with an anti-American agenda has become impatient with such trifles as freedom of speech and due process of law for those who oppose that agenda. Here is Bari Weiss on the subject:
Let me offer the briefest overview of the core beliefs of the Woke Revolution, which are abundantly clear to anyone willing to look past the hashtags and the jargon.
It begins by stipulating that the forces of justice and progress are in a war against backwardness and tyranny. And in a war, the normal rules of the game must be suspended. Indeed, this ideology would argue that those rules are not just obstacles to justice, but tools of oppression. They are the master’s tools. And the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.
So the tools themselves are not just replaced but repudiated. And in so doing, persuasion—the purpose of argument—is replaced with public shaming. Moral complexity is replaced with moral certainty. Facts are replaced with feelings.
Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion, with exclusion.
In this ideology, speech is violence. But violence, when carried out by the right people in pursuit of a just cause, is not violence at all. In this ideology, bullying is wrong, unless you are bullying the right people, in which case it’s very, very good. In this ideology, education is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about reeducating them in what to think. In this ideology, the need to feel safe trumps the need to speak truthfully.
In this ideology, if you do not tweet the right tweet or share the right slogan, your whole life can be ruined. Just ask Tiffany Riley, a Vermont school principal who was fired—fired—because she said she supports black lives but not the organization Black Lives Matter.
In this ideology, the past cannot be understood on its own terms, but must be judged through the morals and mores of the present. It is why statues of Grant and Washington are being torn down. And it is why William Peris, a UCLA lecturer and an Air Force veteran, was investigated for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” out loud in class.
In this ideology, intentions don’t matter. That is why Emmanuel Cafferty, a Hispanic utility worker at San Diego Gas and Electric, was fired for making what someone said he thought was a white-supremacist hand gesture—when in fact he was cracking his knuckles out of his car window.
In this ideology, the equality of opportunity is replaced with equality of outcome as a measure of fairness. If everyone doesn’t finish the race at the same time, the course must have been defective. Thus, the argument to get rid of the SAT. Or the admissions tests for public schools like Stuyvesant in New York or Lowell in San Francisco.
In this ideology, you are guilty for the sins of your fathers. In other words: You are not you. You are only a mere avatar of your race or your religion or your class. That is why third-graders in Cupertino, California, were asked to rate themselves in terms of their power and privilege. In third grade.
In this system, we are all placed neatly on a spectrum of “privileged” to “oppressed.” We are ranked somewhere on this spectrum in different categories: race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. Then we are given an overall score, based on the sum of these rankings. Having privilege means that your character and your ideas are tainted. This is why, one high-schooler in New York tells me, students in his school are told, “If you are white and male, you are second in line to speak.” This is considered a normal and necessary redistribution of power.
Racism has been redefined. It is no longer about discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin. Racism is any system that allows for disparate outcomes between racial groups. If disparity is present, as the high priest of this ideology, Ibram X. Kendi, has explained, racism is present. According to this totalizing new view, we are all either racist or anti-racist. To be a Good Person and not a Bad Person, you must be an “anti-racist.” There is no neutrality. There is no such thing as “not racist.”
Most important: In this revolution, skeptics of any part of this radical ideology are recast as heretics. Those who do not abide by every single aspect of its creed are tarnished as bigots, subjected to boycotts and their work to political litmus tests. The Enlightenment, as the critic Edward Rothstein has put it, has been replaced by the exorcism.
What we call “cancel culture” is really the justice system of this revolution. And the goal of the cancellations is not merely to punish the person being cancelled. The goal is to send a message to everyone else: Step out of line and you are next.
It has worked. A recent CATO study found that 62 percent of Americans are afraid to voice their true views. Nearly a quarter of American academics endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences.
It has worked because it is the culmination of a decades of indoctrination in public schools and universities — indoctrination that derides and denies the America that I described earlier. It has worked because wealthy “elites” in positions of power — academic power, corporate power, media power, and governmental power — are among the indoctrinated are able to make it work. And if they are not indoctrinated, they are willing and able to make it work for their own enrichment and power.
Why would they do that? For the perquisites of being in power and being allied with the all-powerful state. Here, for example, is Theodore Dalyrmple, writing about Britain (though he could just as well be writing about America or another other rich Western nation):
Britain has pioneered and is now a world leader in a phenomenon that might be called legalized corruption or corruption without breaking the law. This allows private looting of funds raised by taxation and government borrowing on an unprecedented scale. Combined with the moral and intellectual corruption of such services as the police, who indulge in para-police activities such as eliminating hatred from the human breast while ignoring burglaries, arson, and assault, value for money has become a concept without meaning or application….
The state, said Bastiat, is the means by which everybody seeks to live at everyone else’s expense. (You need not believe that this is the only function of the state to see the truth, or strong element of truth, in Bastiat’s dictum.) But in the past what most people wanted from the state was a secure living and a decent pension rather than a pharaonic scale of living. In Britain, at least, Mrs. Thatcher opened the Pandora’s box of bureaucratic ambition, and out flew all those soi-disant chief executives, directors of operations, deputy directors of business development, etc., and now they will never return where they belong.
Seen in this light, the recent shindig or orgy [“climate change” conference] in Glasgow becomes rather more intelligible. There were 400 private jets said to have landed, like a swarm of bees (or is it vultures?) at Glasgow airport, for this event. It would be instructive to know how many of the owners of those jets owed their wealth in large part to favors done them by governments. Not all, probably, but many. We do not live in a liberal order, at least not liberal in the classical economic sense, but in a corporatist one, or one rather like the apartheid regime in South Africa, with its socialism and positive discrimination for one race. No doubt corporatism is to some extent inevitable because of the complexity of modern technology, which we cannot, or do not wish to, do without, but at least let us get our terminology right.
Michael Rectenwald goes beyond venality into dystopia:
According to Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the 4-IR [fourth Industrial Revolution] follows the first, second, and third Industrial Revolutions—the mechanical, electrical, and digital, respectively. The 4-IR builds on the digital revolution, but Schwab sees the 4-IR as an exponential takeoff and convergence of existing and emerging fields, including Big Data; artificial intelligence; machine learning; quantum computing; and genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. The consequence is the merging of the physical, digital, and biological worlds. The blurring of these categories ultimately challenges the very ontologies by which we understand ourselves and the world, including “what it means to be human.”5….
[I]f existing 4-IR developments are any indication of the future, then Schwab’s enthusiasm is misplaced, and the 4-IR is misrepresented. These developments already include internet algorithms that feed users prescribed news and advertisements and downrank or exclude banned content; algorithms that censor social media content and consign “dangerous” individuals and organizations to digital gulags; apps that track and trace covid suspects and report violators to the police; robot police with QR code scanners to identify and round up dissenters; and smart cities where everyone is a digital entity to be monitored, surveilled, and recorded, while data on their every move is collected, collated, stored, and attached to a digital identity and social credit score….
Many positive developments may come from the 4-IR, but unless it is taken out of the hands of the corporate-socialist technocrats, it will constitute a virtual prison.
Under the Great Reset governance model, states and favored corporations form “public-private partnerships” in control of governance. The configuration yields a corporate-state hybrid largely unaccountable to the constituents of national governments….
In Google Archipelago, I argued that leftist authoritarianism is the political ideology and modus operandi of what I call Big Digital, and that Big Digital is the leading edge of an emerging world system. Big Digital is the communications, ideological, and technological arm of an emerging corporate socialism. The Great Reset is the name that has since been given to the project of establishing this world system.
Just as Klaus Schwab and the WEF hoped, the covid crisis has accelerated the development of the Great Reset’s corporate-socialist statism. Developments advancing the Great Reset agenda include the Federal Reserve’s unrestrained printing of money, the subsequent inflation, the increasing taxation on everything imaginable, the increased dependence on the state, the supply chain crisis, the restrictions and job losses due to vaccine mandates, and the prospect of personal carbon allowances.10 Altogether, these and other such policies constitute a coordinated attack on the majority. Ironically, they also represent the “fairness” aspect of the Great Reset—if we properly understand fairness to mean leveling the economic status of the “average American” with those in less “privileged” regions. And this is one of the functions of woke ideology11—to make the majority in developed countries feel unworthy of their “privileged” lifestyles and consumption patterns, which the elite are in the process of resetting to a reduced and static new normal.
Over the past twenty-one months, the response to the covid-19 scourge has consolidated the monopolistic corporations’ grip on the economy on top, while advancing “actually-existing socialism” below. In partnership with Big Tech, Big Pharma, the legacy media, national and international health agencies, and compliant populations, hitherto “democratic” Western states are increasingly being transformed into totalitarian regimes modeled after China, seemingly overnight. I need not provide a litany of the tyranny and abuses. You can read about them on alternative news sites—until you can no longer read about them even there.12
The Great Reset, then, is not merely a conspiracy theory; it is an open, avowed, and planned project, and it is well underway.
As Rahm Emanuel infamously said, never let a serious crisis go to waste. In other words, exploit it to the hilt in order to increase the power and scope of government.
Therein lies the story of the dissolution of America (and the West). Trust in government, whether sincere or cynical, has displaced personal responsibility, which was — with other aspects of virtue — the mainspring of the American character. The mainspring wore down under the pressure of Progressivism, the crisis that was the Great Depression, the growth of government spawned by that crisis, the false sense of security generated by the welfare state, and — paradoxically — just enough prosperity (for which proponents of the welfare state falsely claim credit) to make Americans (figuratively and too often literally) fat, dumb, and happy.
Economic security — or the illusion of it — is an enemy of liberty. And the failure of liberty eventually brings about the failure of economic security because “Big Brother” destroys the initiative (springing from personal responsibility) that makes possible true prosperity, which the printing of money cannot sustain.
“Big Brother” not only destroys personal responsibility, he also destroys the communal esprit that is animated by mutual trust, respect, and beneficial cooperation. In other words “Big Brother” destroys the essence of liberty. And, to that end, “Big Brother” has become the manservant of “wokeness”.
Other related posts:
Social Norms and Liberty
Facets of Liberty
1963: The Year Zero
Election 2020: Liberty Is at Stake
Thinking about Thinking and Other Things — Beliefs, Herds, and Oppression
Centrism:The Path to Dystopia
That’s the title question of an essay by Arnold Kling, a sensible economist with whom I usually agree. Not this time, however.
Kling begins with Patrick Dineen’s Why Liberalism Failed. In Kling’s account of Dineen’s argument, modern liberalism (state-interventionism) is an outgrowth of classical liberalism (individualism). Evidently, Dineen takes that view because classical liberralism doesn’t account for civic virtue, and it is a lack of civic virtue (i.e., community) that invites statism.Near the end of the essay, Kling says that
I would not concede that liberalism has failed. But it certainly seems to be going through a rough patch, and we can still wonder why this is the case.
Kling is wrong — the “rough patch” is nothing less than the death of liberalism at the hands of its natural enemies: statists. But liberalism bore the seeds of its own destruction, as Dineen evidently believes, and as I will argue in what follows.
Civic virtue, to my way of thinking, is really just an aspect virtue: general adherence to widely accepted social norms (including religious ones). Adherence to those norms, among other things, binds a community in mutual trust, respect, and beneficial cooperation. That, by the way, is liberty, which isn’t a free-floating essence that can be attained by putting words on paper but a modus vivendi that can only be attained by continued adherence to social norms.
Anyway, here is Kling, commenting on and quoting Dineen:
According to Deneen, classical philosophers focused on the importance of virtue. Individuals must have the virtue of self-restraint to function well in personal realms. They must have civic virtue to have thriving communities.
Liberalism, Deneen argues, disregards this need for virtue.
The classical and Christian emphasis upon virtue and the cultivation of self-limitation and self-rule relied upon reinforcing norms and social structures arrayed extensively throughout political, social, religious, economic, and familial life. What were viewed as the essential supports for a training in virtue—and hence, preconditions for liberty from tyranny—came to be viewed as sources of oppression, arbitrariness, and limitation. (page 25)
Instead, he says,
A succession of thinkers in subsequent decades and centuries [have been] redefining liberty as the liberation of humans from established authority, emancipation from arbitrary culture and tradition, and the expansion of human power and dominion over nature through advancing scientific inquiry and economic prosperity. (page 27)
Deneen says that liberalism departed from classical and Christian values.
What was new is that the default basis for evaluating institutions, society, affiliations, memberships and even personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one’s choices upon the community, one’s obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God. (pages 33-34)
In Deneen’s view, liberalism’s faith in the free market, constitutional government, and science led us to tolerate and even to encourage purely self-interested behavior on the part of individuals. We trust that economic cohesiveness will come from the incentives that operate in the free market. Political cohesiveness we believe will be ensured by checks and balances embedded in an electoral process that functions under a constitution. Challenges posed by our natural environment we think will be met by scientific discovery and technology. But Deneen thinks we’re wrong.
And you (liberals) are wrong because markets, constitutions, and science are amoral formalisms. What’s “good” is what works, or seems to work. The shallowness of that conceit can be seen in the contrast between prostitution (a market transaction) and marriage (a non-market commitment for the vast majority of Westerners). If prostitution were to become a substitute for marriage, what would happen to the emotional bonds and moral commitments that (for the most part) typify marriages and families? What would the loss of those bonds commitments mean for economic and social relations between people generally?
Well, we are seeing the answer unfold before our eyes, as marriage becomes rarer and the bearing of children becomes an inconvenience to be prevented murderous means.
The shallowness of the conceit that what is “good is what works can be seen more generally in a correct understanding of liberalism as it was defined by one of its leading proponents, John Stuart Mill. I have written about Mill’s philosophical folly many times. (There is a list of links at the end of this post.) The following is based from my first essay about Mill, “On Liberty“.
Mill, in On Liberty (1869), offers a definition of liberty which has nothing to do with the real thing (see above):
It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.
That description, strangely, follows Mill’s prescription for the realization of liberty, which is his “harm principle” beloved of both libertarians and modern liberals. It is as if Mill began with the harm principle in mind, then concocted a description of liberty to justify it.
In any event, the source of liberalism’s failure can be found in the harm principle:
That principle is [according to Mill], that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
Given the individualistic thrust of this passage and the surrounding text, the only plausible interpretation of the harm principle is as follows: An individual may do as he pleases, as long as he does not believe that he is causing harm to others. That is Mill’s prescription for liberty. It is, in fact, an invitation to license and anarchy.
Libertarians and liberals, even those who claim to reject license and anarchy, embrace the harm principle, for all of its simple-mindedness.
Enter Theodore Dalrymple, writing in his In Praise of Prejudice:
The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas:
It has long been an objection to Mill that, except for the anchorite in the Syrian desert who subsists on honey and locusts, no man is an island (and even an anchorite may have a mother who is disappointed by her son’s choice of career); and therefore that the smallest of his acts may have some impact or consequences for others. If one amends the [harm] principle to take that part of a man’s conduct that concerns principally himself, rather than only himself, one will be left with endless and insoluble disputes as to which part of his conduct that is….
But, as the great historian Lord Acton said, “Ideas have a radiation and development, an ancestry and posterity of their own, in which men play the part of godfathers and godmothers more than that of legitimate parents.” Who can doubt that many people have forgotten, for very obvious reasons, Mill’s qualifications of personal sovereignty, namely that it applies to conduct that “merely concerns himself”?
The main appeal of On Liberty to libertarians and modern liberals is Mill’s defense of conduct that (in his view) only offends social norms:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.
Thus Mill rejects the enforcement of social norms, “except [in] a few of the most obvious cases,” by either the state or “society.” Lest anyone mistake Mill’s position, he expands on it a few paragraphs later:
These are good reasons for remonstrating with [a person who acts contrary to social custom], or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil [including social censure] in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
In Mill’s usage, “calculated” means “intended.” By that logic, which is implicit throughout On Liberty, an individual is (except in “a few of the most obvious cases”) a law unto himself, and may do as he pleases as long as he believes (or claims to believe) that his conduct is not harmful to others.
Mill’s bias against the enforcement of social norms, in all but a few “obvious cases” (murder? theft? rape?), ignores the civilizing influence of those norms. That influence is of no account to Mill, as Dalrymple explains:
For Mill, custom is an evil that is the principle obstruction to progress and moral improvement, and its group on society is so strong that originality, unconventionality, and rebellion against it are goods in themselves, irrespective of their actual content. The man who flouts a convention ipso facto raises society from its torpor and lets everyone know that there are different, and better, ways of doing things. The more such people there are, the greater the likelihood of progress….
Of radical evil, in which the [twentieth] century was to abound, [Mill] has nothing to say, and therefore he had no idea that a mania for progress could result in its very antithesis, or that some defense against such radical evil, of which the commission was not possible without the co-operation and participation of many men, was necessary. The abandonment of customary restraint and inverted moral prejudice was not necessarily followed by improvement.
There is a high price to be paid for the blind rejection of long-standing social norms, whether by individuals, organized groups, legislatures, or courts wishing to “do their own thing”, exact “social justice”, make life “fair”, or just “shake things up” for the sake of doing so. The price is liberty; that is, the destruction of social norms that make it possible for people to live in mutual trust, respect, and beneficial cooperation.
So, yes, liberalism — even of the antique kind that was preached by Mill and his ilk, and more or less supported by Western governments until statist “isms” began to hold sway — does destroy liberty. It does so by undermining social norms, which then requires an ever-enlarged state to do what strong communities could do for themselves. States inevitable fail, but statists are clever arguers for the proposition that failure requires more state action. And so it goes until true community — and thus true liberty — has been ground under the heel of the state.
A correspondent sent me a link to a video about Greenland ice core records. He called the video an eye opener, which is rather surprising to me because the man is a trained scientist and an experienced analyst of quantitative data. The video wasn’t at all an eye-opener for me. Here is my reply to the correspondent:
I began to look seriously at global warming ~2005, and used to write extensively about it. The info provided in the video is consistent with other observations, including icc-core measurements taken at Vostok, Antarctica. Here’s a related post, which includes the Vostok readings and much more: http://libertycorner.blogspot.com/2007/08/more-climate-stuff.html. Some of the other evidence that I have accrued is summarized here: https://politicsandprosperity.com/climate-change/.
Findings like those presented in the video seem to have no effect on the politics of “climate change”. It is a chimera, concocted by “scientists” who manipulate complex models (which have almost no predictive power) and, on the basis of those models, constantly adjust historical temperature readings to comport with what should have happened according to the models. (Thus “proving” the correctness of the models.) This kind of manipulation is widely known and well documented, as is the predictive failure of the models. But there is a “climate change” industry — a government-academic-media complex if you will — that has a life of its own, and it has transformed what should be a scientific issue into a secular religion. Due in no small part to the leftist leanings of public-school and university educators, tens of millions of American children and young adults have been brainwashed into believing that Earth is headed for a fiery denouement if “evil” things like fossil fuels aren’t banned. Being impressionable — not to mention scientifically and economically illiterate — they don’t question the pseudo-science that underlies “climate change” or the consider the economic consequences of drastic anti-warming measures, which would yield (at best) a lowering of Earth’s average temperature by ~0.1 degree by 2100 in exchange for a return to the horse-and-buggy age.
Here’s what I left unsaid:
The only possible way to defeat the “climate change” industry is to elect politicians who firmly reject its “intellectual” foundations and its draconian prescriptions. There was one such politician who managed to claw his way to the top in the U.S., but he was turned out of office, due in large part to the efforts a powerful cabal (https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/) which is heavily invested in an all-powerful central government that can shape the U.S. to its liking. It didn’t help that the politician was rude and crude, which turned off fastidious voters (like you) who didn’t think about or care about the consequences of a Democrat return to power.
End of rant.
A post by Arnold Kling (askblog) reminds me of a post of mine from 2009. Kling begins noting the Nobel prize that was awarded to David Card and two others. It was Card and his late collaborator, Alan Krueger, who “proved” that the minimum wage doesn’t cause unemployment.
Kling notes that
Noah Smith goes way overboard in praise of the new laureates. He makes it sound as though the results that David Card and Alan Krueger claimed about the minimum wage were only controversial because they were surprising. But they were also controversial because they were wrong.
Here is the abstract of the paper to which the second link in the block quotation leads:
We re-evaluate the evidence from Card and Krueger’s (1994) New Jersey-Pennsylvania minimum wage experiment, using new data based on actual payroll records from 230 Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, and Roy Rogers restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We compare results using these payroll data to those using CK’s data, which were collected by telephone surveys. We have two findings to report. First, the data collected by CK appear to indicate greater employment variation over the eight-month period between their surveys than do the payroll data. For example, in the full sample the standard deviation of employment change in CK’s data is three times as large as that in the payroll data. Second, estimates of the employment effect of the New Jersey minimum wage increase from the payroll data lead to the opposite conclusion from that reached by CK. For comparable sets of restaurants, differences-in-differences estimates using CK’s data imply that the New Jersey minimum wage increase (of 18.8 percent) resulted in an employment increase of 17.6 percent relative to the Pennsylvania control group, an elasticity of 0.93. In contrast, estimates based on the payroll data suggest that the New Jersey minimum wage increase led to a 4.6 percent decrease in employment in New Jersey relative to the Pennsylvania control group. This decrease is statistically significant at the five-percent level and implies an elasticity of employment with respect to the minimum wage of -0.24.
That’s far from the only time that Card and Krueger’s “proof” has been demolished.
I joined the bandwagon in 2009, with an analysis documented in this post, which ends thus:
On the basis of the robust results [derived from data for 1959 – 2009,] I draw the following conclusions:
- The baseline unemployment rate for 16-19 YO [year-olds] is about 9 percent.
- Unemployment around the baseline changes by about 1.5 percentage points for every percentage-point change in the unemployment rate for 20+ YO.
- The minimum wage, when effective, raises the unemployment rate for 16-19 YO by 0.6 percentage points.
Therefore, given the current number of 16 to 19 year old males in the labor force (about 3.3 million), some 20,000 will lose or fail to find jobs because of yesterday’s boost in the minimum wage. Yes, 20,000 is a small fraction of 3.3 million (0.6 percent), but it is a real, heartbreaking number — 20,000 young men for whom almost any hourly wage would be a blessing.
But the “bleeding hearts” who insist on setting a minimum wage, and raising it periodically, don’t care about those 20,000 young men — they only care about their cheaply won reputation for “compassion.”
The minimum wage is just another blow to liberty and prosperity from the left, which holds that Americans must be impoverished to battle the chimera of anthropogenic global warming, that police (who protect the poor as well as the rich) must be defunded, that people should be paid not to work, that the expression of views contrary to leftist dogma is criminal, and that human life may be disposed of like garbage.