James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism

James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism was published in 1964. Had I read Burnham’s book then I would have agreed with his description of “liberalism”, as it was at the time, for I was one of the breed. I would not have agreed with Burnham’s prognosis of suicide. But I hadn’t yet seen what I would see in the following five-plus decades.

Burnham correctly foresaw that “liberalism” would lead to a kind of suicide. But he (unsurprisingly) failed to foresee the nasty turn that “liberalism” would take in America, and the fratricide (figurative, I hope) that looms on the horizon. It is that fratricide, if “liberalism” emerges triumphant, which will lead to suicide at the hands of external enemies. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Burnham (1905-1987) was, according to Wikipedia,

an American philosopher and political theorist. Burnham was a prominent Trotskyist activist in the 1930s…. Burnham left Marxism and became a public intellectual of the American conservative movement. His book, The Managerial Revolution, published in 1941, speculated on the fate of capitalism. Burnham was also an editor and a regular contributor to the American conservative publication, National Review.

There was much more to Burnham than that, according to Matthew Continetti’s “James Burnham: A Visionary Like No Other” (National Review, March 26, 2015):

By the early 1950s Burnham’s departure from liberalism had become irreparable. He did not rule out the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, he warned of a “fifth column” of Soviet infiltrators operating in the West, he dismissed pieties involving the ballot box, equality, education, and free speech, and his attitude toward Joseph McCarthy was much too ambivalent for the bourgeois liberals within his social circle. So he left….

The defection was finalized when Burnham agreed to join William F. Buckley Jr. in the creation of National Review in 1955. A quarter century later, Buckley would say of Burnham, “Beyond any question, he has been the dominant intellectual influence in the development of this journal.”

At NR, Burnham was the first person to speak at editorial meetings. He wrote a regular column on foreign affairs, penned numerous unsigned editorials and items for “The Week,” edited the biweekly National Review Bulletin newsletter, and was understood to be in charge of the magazine whenever Buckley was traveling, which was often.

As for Suicide of the West, in which Burnham forecast the eponymous demise at the hands of dmodern “liberalism”, Continetti says this:

What is liberalism? Burnham identifies 19 of its assumptions. His list … is still relevant…. He is uninterested in refuting liberalism — indeed, he does not believe such a refutation possible. “The question of the truth or falsity of an ideology is in any case of minor importance,” he writes. “Human beings believe an ideology, as a rule, not because they are convinced rationally that it is true but because it satisfies psychological and social needs and serves, or seems to serve, individual or group interests.”

Guilt is the psychological need satisfied by liberalism. Not only is man a fallen creature, according to Burnham; man is conscious of his fallen nature. And such awareness produces in him existential dread, unease about the world, a restlessness that manifests itself in enthusiastic activity. What soothes this dread for most people in most places at most times is religion. Christianity, for instance, “faces the reality of guilt, provides an adequate explanation of it, and offers a resolution of the anxiety to which it inevitably gives rise.”

But modern society, especially educated society, is secular. The religious answer is ignored, regarded as a private affair, attacked and subverted. What is an affluent and credentialed and professional and secular man to do? “Liberalism,” Burnham writes, “permits him to translate his guilt into the egalitarian, anti-discrimination, democratist, peace-seeking liberal principles, and to transform his guilty feeling into” a “passion for reform.”

Liberalism for Burnham is a form of political religion. It responds to the tragic facts of life by denying those facts and substituting myths. “Thanks to the reassuring provisions of the liberal ideology,” he writes, “I can go about my ordinary business and meanwhile take sufficient account of my moral duties by affirming my loyalty to the correct egalitarian principles, voting for the correct candidates, praising the activists and contributing to their defense funds when they get into trouble, and joining promptly in the outcry against reactionaries who pop up now and then in a desperate effort to preserve power and privilege.”

Here is Continetti’s money paragraph:

Whether it is the Soviet Union, Third World insurgents, the criminal underclass, student revolutionaries, Vladimir Putin, the Ayatollah, the Castro brothers, or Hamas, whether it is rioters, drug pushers, or pornographers, liberalism offers reasons to justify, sympathize with, and appease the agents of violence and disorder and decline. Acting like a narcotic, it enables the intellectual “to leave the real world and take refuge in that better world of his ideology where tigers purr like kittens and turn in their claws to the United Nations.” Which is why Burnham called liberalism “suicidal”: It “permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution.”

Burnham was right about the moral rot inherent in the tenets of “liberalism”. And he was right to see that the rot would lead to a kind of suicide, namely, surrender to or conquest by the enemies of liberty. But the route to that suicide is somewhat different than the one envisioned by Burnham.

At the present rate — which neither Burnham nor anyone else could have foreseen in 1964 — America will first surrender to its internal enemy: the virulent leftism that has grown out of 1964’s “liberalism”. (Burnham foreshadows the transition in chapter 11, “Pas d’Ennemi à Gauche” — there Is no enemy to the left. Therefore, except in quotations where a writer uses “liberal” and its variants, I will hereinafter use “left” and its variants.)

The subsequent surrender to some coalition of external enemies will be de facto, a de jure surrender being beside the point when America has already become a moral and economic wasteland at the hands the left.

A surrender to the likes of Russia and China, whose imperialistic ambitions are undisguised, will be easy enough for the left to accept and foster. The left’s present anti-Russia rhetoric and opposition to a “trade war” with China are merely opportunistic, anti-Trump ploys. In the end, when the left triumphs over the body politic, it will revert to its usual moral relativism, reject a robust national defense as “dangerously provocative”, and consign America to vassalage. This need not be outright political subjugation; meek compliance with the social and economic regimes of the superior powers on America’s flanks will do nicely — for the superior powers and cowering leftists, that is.

It is time to give some space to Burnham. To begin at the end, here is Burnham’s prognosis, taken from chapter 16, “The Function of Liberalism”:

Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide. When once this … is understood, everything about liberalism— the beliefs, emotions and values associated with it, the nature of its enchantment, its practical record, its future— falls into place….

… There is a really dazzling ingenuity in the liberal explanations of defeat as victory, abandonment as loyalty, timidity as courage, withdrawal as advance. The liberal ideologues proceed in a manner long familiar to both religion and psychology: by constructing a new reality of their own, a transcendental world, where the soul may take refuge from the prosaic, unpleasant world of space and time. In that new and better world, the abandonment of a million of one’s own countrymen and the capitulation to a band of ferocious terrorists become transformed into what is called “liberation.” The loss of control over the strategic axis of the Great Continent [FDR’s surrender of Eastern Europe to the USSR] becomes a vindication of universal law…. The failure to retaliate against gross insults and injuries to envoys, citizens and property becomes a proof of maturity and political wisdom. [Remember, this is 1964, before the self-inflicted defeat in Vietnam, the bug-outs from Lebanon and Somalia, the attacks on the homeland in 2001, the debacle in Benghazi, the substitution of defeat for victory in Iraq, and much more.] …

Domestic tribulations yield as readily as do foreign to the magical transformation. At the beginning of September 1963, at a moment when the nation’s constitutional and social fabric was being torn by generalized racial conflict [urban race riots] that was posing issues impossible to settle and therefore certain to become graver and more dangerous over the coming years [as it did], the American Psychological Foundation held a large conference in Philadelphia. The New York Times (September 2, 1963) singled out for report the address in which Professor Gordon W. Allport of Harvard explained that the “racial demonstrations in America are basically a sign of good national emotional health…. It is easy to imagine Professor Allport in late Roman days, explaining how the animals in the Colosseum are generally a playful lot…. You are worried, citizens, about an active enemy beachhead situated within our strategic periphery? Just let Richard Rovere run the matter through his ideological converter, and you will be relieved to discover that the Cuban situation is, on the absolute contrary, a blessing to be grateful for….

… Mr. Rovere’s incantations, though they have a rather wide public reverberation, are at several layers remove from the inner seats of power. Professor Walt Whitman Rostow, as chief of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, has stood close to the very center, and has for some years been there in spirit through his books and memoranda. In his most prestigious work, The Stages of Growth…. Professor Rostow assures us that every society, when “the pre-conditions for take-off” along the industrial path appear, moves upward in a sequence of stages that culminates in “maturity” and “the age of high-mass consumption.” That consummation duly arrived at, the aggressive habits of the immature society are discarded, and the populace seeks peace and order in which to pursue its mature goals of more autos, suburban houses and babies. It is no coincidence, you may be sure, since this is why the work exists, that Professor Rostow’s most volubly discussed example is the Soviet Union, which, it turns out, is soon to cross, granted forbearance and help from us, that final hump into the peaceful promised land of cars and toddlers.

… Translated from the ideological, what Professor Rostow is saying is: “The stronger our enemy gets, the better for us; and if he gets strong enough— preferably as strong as we or stronger— we shall have nothing to worry about.” Nobody needs to be told what a ridiculous statement that is. But what Professor Rostow is up to has nothing to do with truth and falsity about the real world. He is brewing a drug to enable our minds and his own to leave the real world and take refuge in that better world of his ideology where tigers purr like kittens and turn in their claws to the United Nations.

It is as if a man, struck with a mortal disease, were able to say and to believe, as the flush of the fever spread over his face, “Ah, the glow of health returning!”; as his flesh wasted away, “At least I am able to trim down that paunch the doctor always warned me about!”; as a finger dropped off with gangrene or leprosy, “Now I won’t have that bothersome job of trimming those nails every week!” Liberalism permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution; and this function its formulas will enable it to serve right through to the very end, if matters turn out that way: for even if Western civilization is wholly vanquished or altogether collapses, we or our children will be able to see that ending, by the light of the principles of liberalism, not as a final defeat, but as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization that has risen above the parochial distinctions, divisions and discriminations of the past.

America arrives at this resigned state because of the nature of leftism. Here, in paraphrase (with my parenthetical commentary), are the 19 tenets (assumptions) of leftism alluded to by Continetti, which Burnham details in chapters 3, 4, and 5 (“Human Nature and the Good Society”, “The Universal Dialogue”, and “Equality and Welfare”):

1. Man’s nature is not fixed but changing, with an indefinitely large potential for positive development. (See commentary on 16.)

2. The leftist is a rationalist. The rationalist never doubts the power of his “reason”.

3. It follows from 1 and 2 that there is nothing in human nature to block achievement of the good society, given the application of “reason”. (The “good society”, of course, is society as the leftist wishes it to be, regardless of the limitations of nature and human nature, which the leftist ignores or wills away by concocting impracticable “solutions”.)

4. Only “bad” institutions, “bad” ideas, and “bad” people (i.e., those who wish to decide for themselves) stand in the way of the achievement of the good society, that is, “progress”.

5. Most long-established institutions, ideas, and and modes of conduct are “bad” because they stand in the way of “progress”.

6. “Bad” ideas can be eliminated by universal, rationally grounded education. (This project has led to the indoctrination of generations of Americans in “progressive” ideas by public-school teachers, college professors, and the “entertainment” and “news” media.)

7. “Bad” institutions can be eliminated or made powerless (by governmental suppression or co-option) at the behest of (indoctrinated) voters, (under the rubric of “democracy”).

8. The elimination of “bad” ideas and “bad” institutions will alleviate the evils of society: crime, delinquency, war, hunger, unemployment, etc. It follows as a corollary that there is no rational basis for “blaming” criminals for their crimes, etc. They are the products of the ideas and institutions that leftism will erase.

9. The elimination of “bad” ideas requires universal and absolute freedom of opinion in the schoolroom — above a certain academic level — and in universities. (This assumption has gone by the boards, freedom of opinion having delivered the academy — and much else — safely into the hands of leftists. Now it is necessary to suppress “bad” ideas, lest they push “democracy” in the wrong direction. And not just “bad” ideas in the present, but also “bad” ideas from the past.)

10. Politics is education generalized: a school in which all voters are the pupils. Absolute freedom of speech is therefore essential if politics is deliver humanity from the evils of “bad” ideas and institutions. (This assumption has gone by the boards for the reason stated in my commentary on 9. “Bad” ideas are being suppressed by institutions with actual state power — tax-funded schools and universities, the Supreme Court [e.g., freedom from religion], and State and local governments [e.g., hate-crime laws, suppression of those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex “marriage”]. And by those with state-like power — the information-cum-social-media complex (Google, Facebook, et al.)

11. Why should there be almost-absolute freedom of speech if “reason” leads us to the truth? Because we cannot be certain that we know the truth — if, indeed, there is any such thing as objective truth. (Here, again, the impetus for freedom of speech — which gave leftism its foothold — has given way to the triumphant rise of leftism in the academy, the media, etc. Freedom of speech now means “freedom” not to be contradicted by ideas that run counter to leftist dogma.)

12. Government ought instantly to reflect the will of the (properly indoctrinated) democratic majority. (Mediating institutions and the norms fostered by them must be suppressed because they obstruct the realization of leftist dogma.)

13. There is no need for the realization of leftist dogma to stop at the water’s edge. Long-standing institutions and cultural differences being of no account, world government (reflecting the will of an avaricious majority of mankind) is desirable and attainable.

14. All men (and women) are brothers (and sisters) under the skin, given their essential attributes of plasticity and rationality. (See commentaries on 15 and 16.)

15. It follows that tribalism, patriotism, and social hierarchies and distinctions can and should be swept away. (As Orwell said, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Leftists are consummate tribalists, witness their intramural virtue-signaling. They are patriotic about their imaginary world of “progress”, boundary-less comradeship, and freedom from the past. They — and their protegees — stand above the unwashed, in their own minds. Consider, for example, the virtue-signaling that is involved in erasing traces of the Confederacy, espousing same-sex marriage, and so on, ad nauseum.)

16. Another corollary of the foregoing is that subgroups of humanity defined by color, race, sex, or other physical or physiological attributes do not differ in their potential. (This, like much that precedes it, relies on the “blank slate” theory of the human mind. The blank-slate theory has been thoroughly debunked by a leftist no less — Steven Pinker. Leftism to the contrary notwithstanding, race and gender figure mightily in the potential and achievements of human beings.)

17. Given the innate goodness and perfectibility of mankind, and the anti-“progressive” nature of long-standing institutions (especially religion), there is no room in lefitism for religion. (This laughable proposition ignores the fact that leftism is a religion-substitute in which the banal theories of left-wing intellectuals are inculcated by public education, etc., etc., etc.)

18. War is wrong because it substitutes coercion and force for “reason”, and disrupts the effort to bind all people in their common humanity. Warriors and those who support military preparedness are therefore despicable. (This attitude was evident during the Clinton and Obama administrations, and is found generally among leftists. Their fixation on the horrors of war and the fate of warriors is nothing but an reflexive anti-war message disguised as “compassion”.)

19. Unlike the proto-liberals of the 19th century, leftists insist that the entry of government into nearly every phase of social and economic life aids rather than hinders the attainment of the good life and the good society. (This is an admission against perfectibility and rationality, and an assumption that a government consisting of imperfect and irrational human beings is somehow capable of doing what human beings cannot otherwise do cooperatively for their mutual benefit. It is an argument for that most illiberal of things: governmental coercion.)

All of this is ideological, as opposed to realistic. Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions, posits two opposing visions: the unconstrained vision of left-wing ideology, and the constrained (realistic) vision of conservatism. In chapter 2, Sowell writes:

The dichotomy between constrained and unconstrained visions is based on whether or not inherent limitations of man are among the key elements included in each vision…. These different ways of conceiving man and the world lead not merely to different conclusions but to sharply divergent, often diametrically opposed, conclusions on issues ranging from justice to war.

Burnham, in his chapter 6 (“Ideological Thinking”), illustrates the point concretely, for pages on end. Toward the end of the chapter, Burnham writes:

It is a characteristic of ideological thinking, whatever the given ideology, that it cannot be refuted by logical analysis or empirical evidence. Actually, the internal logical structure of a developed ideology is usually quite good anyway, rather like the logical structure of paranoiac obsessions, which ideologies resemble in other ways also; and when a logical gap appears — as happened to liberalism in the doctrinal shift from limited to welfare state — sufficient ingenuity can always patch it up again…. The ideology is a way of interpreting the world, an attitude toward the world and a method for dealing with the world. So long as I adhere faithfully to the ideology there is no specific happening, no observation or experiment that can unmistakably contradict it. I can always adjust my categories and my attitude to allow for whatever it is that happens or that I observe; if necessary I can shut my eyes.

There is much more of the same in chapter 7 (“A Critical Note in Passing”), where Burnham contrasts each of the 19 tenets of leftism with its conservative (realistic) counterpart. He does this in parallel lists: the l-list (leftist) and the x-list (conservative). Burnham then writes that

there is a difference in structure as well as content between the two sets of nineteen taken in their entirety.

The l-list is the verbalization of a single, more or less systematic ideology: the ideology of modern liberalism. The x-list, though it perhaps has a recognizably “conservative” cast, does not constitute an ideology, not any ideology at all. The nineteen x-beliefs are related much more loosely to each other, both logically and psychologically, than the nineteen l-beliefs.

That’s as it should be in a comparison of an idealized world and the real one.

Burnham closes the chapter by focusing on the delusional and suicidal nature of leftism:

The findings of the modern scientific study of genetics seem to strike a multiple blow at the liberal conception of man and his prospects. The fixity of unit characteristics, their biological transmission through the genes according to mathematical laws of probability, and the non-inheritability of acquired characteristics combine to reinforce the non-liberal belief that human nature has a permanent sub-stratum, that there are ineradicable differences among men not traceable to social circumstance, and that there are limits, often quite low, to what even the most perfect education could accomplish. Genetics certainly gives no support to any doctrine holding that education and social reform could transform man into a creature so radically different from what he has been as would be the case if he dropped his aggressive, destructive and other troublemaking traits. The conclusions to be drawn from genetics would, indeed, seem to be even more drastically counter to the liberal faith in secular progress….

Because the ideology of modern liberalism has become so powerful an influence in contemporary American thought and conduct, it is worth noting that the liberal doctrine of human nature is sharply at variance with the view that prevailed among the Founding Fathers of the republic….

Ignorance, liberal doctrine tells us, is in the last analysis the only obstacle to the good society— peaceful, free, just, prosperous and happy; and ignorance can be dispelled by a rational education accepting the axioms of academic freedom and free speech. Even the problem of reforming bad institutions is secondary to education, because once education overcomes ignorance, then men— men as defined by liberal ideology— will know what is wrong with the institutions, and will take steps to correct them. What do the facts show?

The facts show plainly that there are many obstacles on the road to the good society that are at least as formidable as ignorance: obstacles, such as I have cited, innate to the human organism and psyche; obstacles planted in the physical nature around us; the accumulated weight of history that unavoidably presses on all of us….

Athens was the most educated society of the ancient world and in some respects of all time; and Athens fell as much from inner decay as from external foes. Germany has been the most literate, the most thoroughly educated nation of the twentieth century; and Germany bred Hitler, Nazism and the gas chambers….

In the United States, all of our children go to school; but in many of our cities they are much worse behaved and more dangerous to society than their unschooled ancestors of a few generations ago….

There are a number of other practical dilemmas that modern liberalism cannot avoid. Take, as one additional example, the meaning of the liberal declaration against social hierarchies, segregation, discrimination, against what sets one group of men apart from others. Certainly some sorts of discrimination are of a kind that seems cruel and unjust to almost everyone. But the trouble is that human beings— the human beings of the real world— are hierarchical and segregating and discriminating animals. There has never been a human society anywhere, at any time, from the most primitive tribe to the freest republic to the most civilized empire, in which there have not been segregations, discriminations and groupings: into young and old, male and female, warrior and peasant, slave and citizen, black and brown and white, believer and unbeliever, tall and short, rich and poor, egghead and blockhead. There is always apartheid— the South African word means merely “apartness”— in some degree, on some basis or other. Even in college there are clubs and fraternities, freshmen and seniors, athletes and brains, chess players and beer drinkers and aesthetes. Prison and concentration camp are no different from other forms of human society. The French writer David Rousset, who was for some years an inmate of Nazi concentration camps, wrote a brilliant study of what he called “The Concentrationary Universe.” Its main point is to record the existence within the camps of the same patterns of social division and discrimination that exist in the outside world; and his findings have been confirmed by many ex-inmates of the Soviet camps.

Now the fact that social discriminations always exist does not justify this particular discrimination, whatever it may be. Perhaps we ought to get rid of this one, or at least try to mitigate its degree. But it shows that the attempt to get rid of all discriminations, all apartheid, is illusory. The undiscriminating effort to end all discrimination must necessarily fail. Either the old groupings remain, perhaps with new protective disguises; or they are replaced by new and different types of discrimination that may be worse than the old: party member and outsider; bureaucrat and plain citizen; college graduate and non-graduate; secret policeman and concentration camp candidate.

As Simon Mawer says in The Gospel of Judas,

the universe is not a very liberal place. That is what the modern world seems not to understand….

How might the delusional tenets of leftism lead to the suicide of the West, and of America in particular? The path should be obvious. America’s legacy is that of a limited central government standing guard over civil society — the mediating institutions (family, church, club, community, etc.) that promulgate and enforce Northern European social norms, as they were at the time of America’s founding and for some generations afterward. (I don’t mean to imply that the observance of such norms is restricted to persons of Northern European descent.)

Among the norms were (and still are in many places):

  • hard work and self-reliance, rewarded by the right to acquire, keep, and voluntarily distribute the fruits of one’s labor
  • charity and consideration for others as voluntary acts manifesting good character and social bonds
  • a preference for the tried-and-true over the novel, with an evident willingness to adopt and adapt the novel, where it demonstrates improvement
  • modesty in demeanor and conduct, that is, observance of the customs of one’s kinship-cultural-ethic group (which are also open to demonstrably harmless or beneficial change)
  • rootedness in one’s kinship-culutural-ethnic group, which manifests itself in patriotism when the nation is generally composed of (or at least dominated by) groups with congruent ethics
  • willingness and readiness to defend self, kith and kin (in a racial or ethnic sense), and way of life.

I daresay that today’s patriots hew to America as it was and could be, as opposed to what it has become at the hands of leftists.

What has it become? For huge swaths of the populace, it has become the opposite of the norms listed above. Even where there is rootedness in one’s kinship-cultural-ethnic group, it doesn’t support nationalistic patriotism if members of the group either see themselves as outsiders or reject Northern European mores.

Leftism, especially beginning with Progressivism in the late 1800s, has deliberately and steadily erased the moral legacy of Northern Europe — even among (perhaps especially among) persons of Northern European descent. This is due, in great part, to the unrelenting efforts of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex over several decades. Long gone are the days when school began with the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. Binding rituals like those, and more, have been cut from the social fabric, rendering it weak and threadbare.

How could it happen? The fundamental reason is that Americans — like Westerners generally — are spoiled children of capitalism:

Before the onset of the welfare state in the 1930s, there were two ways to survive: work hard or accept whatever charity came your way. And there was only one way for most persons to thrive: work hard. That all changed after World War II, when power-lusting politicians sold an all-too-willing-to-believe electorate a false and dangerous bill of goods, namely, that government is the source of prosperity. It is not, and never has been.

That’s the economic case. The social case is similar. As the bonds of family, church, and other mediating institutions become less and less necessary to survival, they are more easily rejected. And rejected along with them are the social norms that reflect accumulated wisdom, the observance of which breeds mutual trust, respect, and forbearance. No wonder there are respectable observers who see civil war on the horizon.

It thus becomes easy to believe in and practice things that undermine prosperity and social comity. And in the absence of existential challenges, those things become believed and practiced widely because they are widely believed and practiced. This is also known as an information cascade, or more familiarly, a bandwagon effect.

The bandwagon in this case took some decades to get rolling, but get rolling it did. And so the 19 tenets of leftism became articles of faith across the deeply influential information-entertainment-media-academic complex — and thence to anyone and everyone who seeks the approval of the powers-that-be in that complex. Approval-seekers include (but are far from limited to) not only the aforementioned public-school teachers (and their impressionable pupils), but also managers of mid-sized to huge businesses who (unlike small-business owners) aren’t scrambling to keep themselves and their families afloat.

Add …

  • politicians, who — at the higher levels of government — are nothing but professional office-holders who preach “equality”, “social justice”, and even “economic fairness” because it costs them nothing and yields power and perquisites
  • legions of bureaucrats whose jobs depend on big government
  • masses of people for whom self-reliance is just an old-fashioned idea, thanks to big government
  • greater masses of people who are simply gullible and unthinking

… and you have the better (or worse) part of the nation committed to leftism.

What it all adds up to, as I have suggested, is the elevation of myths and hopes over hard-won norms and harsh realities. In that respect, Burnham’s own realism failed him at the end of Suicide, where he writes with undue and uncharacteristic optimism:

But of course the final collapse of the West is not yet inevitable; the report of its death would be premature…. There are a few small signs, here and there, that liberalism may already have started fading. Perhaps this book is one of them.

But it wasn’t to be.

In fact, the publication of Burnham’s book coincided with the resurgence of leftism in America. The electoral thrashing of an avowed conservative, Barry Goldwater, in 1964 opened the way for LBJ’s Great Society. The next several years marked the onset of America’s social, political, economic, and cultural downfall, which I have addressed here and in many other posts; for example:

Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

The 1960s and early 1970s were a tantrum-throwing time, and many of the tantrum-throwers moved into positions of power, influence, and wealth, having learned from the success of their main ventures: the end of the draft and the removal of Nixon from office. They schooled their psychological descendants well, and sometimes literally on college campuses. Their successors on the campuses of today — students, faculty, and administrators — carry on the tradition of reacting with violent hostility toward persons and ideas that they oppose, and supporting draconian punishments for infractions of their norms and edicts. (For myriad examples, see The College Fix.)

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on. All of these are to be combated by state action that deprives citizens of economic and social liberties.

In particular danger are the freedoms of speech and association. The purported beneficiaries of the campaign to destroy those freedoms are “oppressed minorities” (women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, the gender-confused, etc.) and the easily offended. The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is speech that is acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech”, and must be stamped out. Freedom of association is bigotry, except when it is practiced by leftists in anti-male, anti-conservative, pro-ethnic, and pro-racial causes. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. We now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which Judeo-Christian morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity. The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, the speed at which it is going to hell seems to have accelerated since the Charleston church shooting and the legal validation of  same-sex “marriage” in 2015. It’s a revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

It will resemble the Fall of Rome. The barbarians are already within, and will not defend America — or what little is left of it. They won’t even think it necessary because they reject America as it was meant to be.


Related reading:

Selwyn Duke, “Leftists Are Now Advocating Racial Segregation“, The New American, September 10, 2018

Jeffrey S. Flier,”As a Former Dean of Harvard Medical School, I Question Brown’s Failure to Defend Lisa Littman“, Quillette, August 31, 2018

Theodore P. Hill, “Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole“, Quillette, September 7, 2018

James Kirkpatrick, “Michael Hart’s The Rise and Fall of the United States: An Indispensable History for the Historic American Nation“, VDARE.com, September 7, 2018

Joy Pullmann, “Explosive Ivy League Study Repressed For Finding Transgender Kids May Be A Social Contagion“, The Federalist, August 31, 2018

James R. Rogers, “The Federalist‘s Heart of Darkness“, Law and Liberty, August 7, 2018

Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, London and New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015

Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, London: All Points Books (Macmillan), 2018

Ilya Somin, “Jeffrey Rosen on ‘Madison’s Nightmare’“, The Volokh Conspiracy, September 15, 2018

Related pages and posts:

Constitution: Myths and Realities (see especially “The Framers’ Fatal Error”)
Economic Growth Since World War II
Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact
Leftism
Spygate

Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Decline
Two-Percent Tyranny
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Polarization and De-facto Partition
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Leftist Condescension
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
Equality
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Whence Polarization?
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
The Lesson of Alfie Evans
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
Freedom of Speech: Getting It Right
Justice Thomas on Masterpiece Cakeshop
Suicide or Destiny?
“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling
Freedom of Speech, to What End?
Conservatism vs. Ideology
O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment

Word Spark

I downloaded Word Spark to my Fire tablet on March 19. (It’s also available for iOS and Android devices.) There are 600 puzzles in all, grouped in 30 packs of 20 puzzles each. Working at the rate of about 4 puzzles a day, I completed the 600th puzzle today.* That puts me among the 0.02 percent of Word Spark users who have completed the entire set.

This is a game for you if you have a good vocabulary (though arcane words are avoided), are good at pattern recognition, and are tenacious. That last condition is the crucial one. It separates the doers (conservatives) from the theoreticians (leftists).

The puzzles consist of letters arranged in squares, beginning with 4 x 4 squares and going up to 7 x 7 squares. Here’s 6 x 6 puzzle:

Here’s how to play the game:

1. Trace contiguous letters to form words. There are many possible words, but only a specific set of correct ones for each puzzle. Almost all of the words are singular common nouns and adjectives. There are many words that can also be used as verbs (e.g., park, scratch, walk). Rarely is there a word that is used only as a verb; proper nouns are equally rare; and adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions aren’t used at all (as far as I can recall). You will save a lot of time by confining yourself to singular common nouns and adjectives. Don’t bother with plurals, they aren’t used.

2. When a correct word is traced, the letters of the word move to the corresponding group of spaces below the array. (There are five correct words and corresponding groups of spaces in the image above.)

3. If a correct word includes letters that are below the top of the array, the letters above drop to fill the gaps left when the letters of the correct word drop to the answer spaces. This is important because…

4. To complete a puzzle it is necessary not only to find the correct words but also to trace them in the correct order. Finding a later word before an earlier one may make it impossible to find the earlier one because of the rearrangement of letters, as described above. You may be alerted of this by the counter-clockwise movement of the reload button, but you may not be alerted — the game seems to be quirky about these alerts. If you are stuck, make an ordered list of the words you’ve found (noting any gaps between them), and hit the reload button. Sometimes it’s necessary to do this several times during the course of a puzzle, especially at the end. Forming a correct word with the “wrong” letter(s) will throw everything off. (A “wrong” letter is a letter that belongs in the word but is chosen from the wrong cell in the array of letters. There’s often more than one way of tracing out a correct word, and it’s easy to chose the wrong way.)

5. If you are really stuck, use a hint. (A hint gives you the first letter of a word; you’re on your own after that.) You start out with 50 of them and gain 3 for every 20-pack that you complete. You can also gain a hint a day (until you reach the last 2 puzzles) by playing a 4 x 4 daily-exercise puzzle. (I didn’t discover this feature until I was in the next-to-last 20-pack of puzzles.) You can also buy hints, though I didn’t have to do that. You should have plenty of hints to work with if you start doing the daily-exercise puzzle when you start playing Word Spark. Beware: Using hints too frequently may cause you to lose your edge, with the result that you have to use more hints. I found that I resorted to hints more often when I started earning an extra hint a day.
__________
* Proof:

The solution to the 600th puzzle is:

ENVELOPE
LOSS
COCONUT
SHOCK
SPIDER
ORANGE
SCREEN
HARVEST

This isn’t a spoiler. If you’re sharp enough and tenacious enough to reach the 600th puzzle, you will be able to figure this out on your own.

The Renaming Mania Hits a New Low

I live in Austin, Texas. That is to say, I am physically present in Austin most of the time, but spiritually distant from it. One of the reasons for my spiritual distance is evident in the recent suggestion by the city’s ethics office to rename Austin because its namesake, Stephen F. Austin, was “conflicted” about slavery. (Abraham Lincoln was un-conflicted in his disdain for blacks, but that somehow isn’t held against him.)

“Austin” is just a name, like “dung” and “rattlesnake”. The full name of its namesake rarely passes through the mind of an Austiner. (“Austinite” is preferred, but it seems pretentious to me, like “Manhattanite”. “Sodomite” has a certain ring, however.) Still less frequently will an Austiner give a thought to S.F. Austin’s “conflicted” views about slavery. Only in the fevered imagination of a left-wing Austiner (which is most of them), will the views of a man who died three years before Austin acquired its name be taken as a besmirchment of the upstanding city’s pure, virtue-signaling character. (It is hard to find a city away from the Left Coast whose denizens — that’s the word — are more puffed about their city and its mythical virtues. See this post and the list at the bottom of it.)

Anyway, back to the renaming mania.

With all of the disappeared statutes, street names, names of buildings and institutions — things formerly known as Davis, Jefferson, Jackson (Andy and Stonewall), Lee, etc. etc., etc. — why have Washington and Lincoln survived? Washington was a slave-owner; Lincoln, as I have intimated, held blacks in low esteem despite his (belated) anti-slavery views.

Mine is not to reason why, or why not. Mine is to suggest that all of this unpleasantness might be avoided if all persons, places, and things were assigned unique, randomly generated alphanumeric codes.

Or perhaps new unpleasantness would simply erupt because of objections if an alphanumeric code includes certain number sequences (666, for example) or letter sequences like RWR, GWB, or DJT.

You can please some of the people none of the time (i.e., leftists). They are just born to bitch.

Suicide or Destiny?

The list of related reading at the bottom of this post is updated occasionally.

The suicide to which I refer is the so-called suicide of the West, about which Jonah Goldberg has written an eponymous book. This is from Goldberg’s essay based on the book, “Suicide of the West” (National Review, April 12, 2018):

Almost everything about modernity, progress, and enlightened society emerged in the last 300 years. If the last 200,000 years of humanity were one year, nearly all material progress came in the last 14 hours. In the West, and everywhere that followed our example, incomes rose, lifespans grew, toil lessened, energy and water became ubiquitous commodities.

Virtually every objective, empirical measure that capitalism’s critics value improved with the emergence of Western liberal-democratic capitalism. Did it happen overnight? Sadly, no. But in evolutionary terms, it did….

Of course, material prosperity isn’t everything. But the progress didn’t stop there. Rapes, deaths by violence and disease, slavery, illiteracy, torture have all declined massively, while rights for women, minorities, the disabled have expanded dramatically. And, with the exception of slavery, which is a more recent human innovation made possible by the agricultural revolution, material misery was natural and normal for us. Then suddenly, almost overnight, that changed.

What happened? We stumbled into a different world. Following sociologist Robin Fox and historian Ernest Gellner, I call this different world “the Miracle.”…

Why stress that the Miracle was both unnatural and accidental? Because Western civilization generally, and America particularly, is on a suicidal path. The threats are many, but beneath them all is one constant, eternal seducer: human nature. Modernity often assumes that we’ve conquered human nature as much as we’ve conquered the natural world. The truth is we’ve done neither….

The Founders closely studied human nature, recognizing the dangers of despots and despotic majorities alike. They knew that humans would coalesce around common interests, forming “factions.” They also understood that you can’t repeal human nature. So, unlike their French contemporaries, they didn’t try. Instead, they established our system of separated powers and enumerated rights so that no faction, including a passionate majority, could use the state’s power against other factions.

But the Founders’ vision assumed many preconditions, the two most important of which were the people’s virtue and the role of civil society. “The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people,” George Washington argued.

People learn virtue first and most importantly from family, and then from the myriad institutions family introduces them to: churches, schools, associations, etc. Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians, Hannah Arendt observed: “We call them children.” Civil society, starting with the family, civilizes barbarians, providing meaning, belonging, and virtue.

But here’s the hitch. When that ecosystem breaks down, people still seek meaning and belonging. And it is breaking down. Its corruption comes from reasons too numerous and complex to detail here, but they include family breakdown, mass immigration, the war on assimilation, and the rise of virtual communities pretending to replace real ones.

First, the market, as Joseph Schumpeter argued, maximizes efficiency with relentless rationality, tending to break down the sinews of tradition and the foundations of civil society that enable and instill virtue. Yet those pre-rational virtues make capitalism possible in the first place.

Second, capitalism also creates a mass class of resentful intellectuals, artists, journalists, and bureaucrats who are professionally, psychologically, and ideologically committed to undermining capitalism’s legitimacy (as noted by Schumpeter and James Burnham, the author of another book titled “Suicide of the West”). This adversarial elite is its own coalition.

Thus, people increasingly look to Washington and national politics for meaning and belonging they can’t find at home. As Mary Eberstadt recently argued, the rise in identity politics coincided with family breakdown, as alienated youth looked to the artificial tribes of racial or sexual solidarity for meaning. Populism, which always wants the national government to solve local problems, is in vogue on left and right precisely because local institutions and civil society generally no longer do their jobs. Indeed, populism is its own tribalism, because “We the People” invariably means “my people.” As Jan-Werner Müller notes in his book What Is Populism?: “Populism is always a form of identity politics.”

A video at the 2012 Democratic National Convention proclaimed that “government is the only thing we all belong to.” For conservatives, this was Orwellian. But for many Americans, it was an invitation to belong. That was the subtext of “The Life of Julia” and President Obama’s call for Americans to emulate SEAL Team Six and strive in unison — towards his goals….

The American Founding’s glory is that those English colonists took their cousins’ tradition, purified it into a political ideology, and extended it farther than the English ever dreamed. And they wrote it down, thank God. The Founding didn’t apply these principles as universally as its rhetoric implied. But that rhetoric was transformative. When the Declaration of Independence was written, some dismissed the beginning as flowery boilerplate; what mattered was the ending: Independence! But the boilerplate became a creed, and America’s story is the story of that creed — those mere words — unfolding to its logical conclusion….

It seems axiomatic to me that whatever words can create, they can destroy. And ingratitude is the destroyer’s form. We teach children that the moral of the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg is the danger of greed. But the real moral of the story is ingratitude. A farmer finds an animal, which promises to make him richer than he ever imagined. But rather than nurture and protect this miracle, he resents it for not doing more. In one version, the farmer demands two golden eggs per day. When the goose politely demurs, he kills it out of a sense of entitlement — the opposite of gratitude.

The Miracle is our goose. And rather than be grateful for it, our schools, our culture, and many of our politicians say we should resent it for not doing more. Conservatism is a form of gratitude, because we conserve only what we are grateful for. Our society is talking itself out of gratitude for the Miracle and teaching our children resentment. Our culture affirms our feelings as the most authentic sources of truth when they are merely the expressions of instincts, and considers the Miracle a code word for white privilege, greed, and oppression.

This is corruption. And it is a choice. Collectively, we are embracing entitlement over gratitude. That is suicidal.

I would put it this way: About 300 years ago there arose in the West the idea of innate equality and inalienable rights. At the same time, and not coincidentally, there arose the notion of economic betterment through free markets. The two concepts — political and economic liberty — are in fact inseparable. One cannot have economic liberty without political liberty; political liberty — the ownership of oneself — implies the ownership of the fruits of one’s own labor and the right to strive for prosperity. This latter striving, as Adam Smith pointed out, works not only for the betterment of the striver but also for the betterment of those who engage in trade with him. The forces of statism are on the march (and have been for a long time). The likely result is the loss of liberty and the vibrancy and prosperity that arises from it.

I want to be clear about liberty. It is not a spiritual state of bliss. It is, as I have written,

a modus vivendi, not the result of a rational political scheme. Though a rational political scheme, such as the one laid out in the Constitution of the United States, could promote liberty.

The key to a libertarian modus vivendi is the evolutionary development and widespread observance of social norms that foster peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Liberty, in sum, is not an easy thing to attain or preserve because it depends on social comity: mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual forbearance. These are hard to inculcate and sustain in the relatively small groupings of civil society (family, church, club, etc.). They are almost impossible to attain or sustain in a large, diverse nation-state. Interests clash and factions clamor and claw for ascendancy over other factions. (It is called tribalism, and even anti-tribalists are tribal in their striving to impose their values on others). The Constitution, as Goldberg implies, has proved unequal to the task of preserving liberty, for reasons to which I will come.

I invoke the Constitution deliberately. This essay is about the United States, not the West in general. (Goldberg gets to the same destination after a while.) Much of the West has already committed “suicide” by replacing old-fashioned (“classical“) liberalism with oppressive statism. The U.S. is far down the same path. The issue at hand, therefore, is whether America’s “suicide” can be avoided.

Perhaps, but only if the demise of liberty is a choice. It may not be a choice, however, as Goldberg unwittingly admits when he writes about human nature.

On that point I turn to John Daniel Davidson, writing in “The West Isn’t Committing Suicide, It’s Dying of Natural Causes” (The Federalist, May 18, 2018):

Perhaps the Miracle, wondrous as it is, needs more than just our gratitude to sustain it. Perhaps the only thing that can sustain it is an older order, one that predates liberal democratic capitalism and gave it its vitality in the first place. Maybe the only way forward is to go back and rediscover the things we left behind at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

Goldberg is not very interested in all of that. He does not ask whether there might be some contradictions at the heart of the liberal order, whether it might contain within it the seeds of its undoing. Instead, Goldberg makes his stand on rather narrow grounds. He posits that the Enlightenment Miracle can be defended in purely secular, utilitarian terms, which he supposes are the only terms skeptics of liberal democratic capitalism will accept.

That forces him to treat the various illiberal ideologies that came out of Enlightenment thought (like communism) as nothing more than a kind of tribalism rather than a natural consequence of the hyper-rational scientism embedded in the liberal order itself. As Richard M. Reinsch II noted last week in an excellent review of Goldberg’s book over at Law and Liberty, “If you are going to set the Enlightenment Miracle as the standard of human excellence, one that we are losing, you must also clearly state the dialectic it introduces of an exaltation of reason, power, and science that can become something rather illiberal.”

That is to say, we mustn’t kid ourselves about the Miracle. We have to be honest, not just about its benefits but also its costs….

What about science and medical progress? What about the eradication of disease? What about technological advances? Isn’t man’s conquest of nature a good thing? Hasn’t the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and the invention of liberal democratic capitalism done more to alleviate poverty and create wealth than anything in human history? Shouldn’t we preserve this liberal order and pass it on to future generations? Shouldn’t we inculcate in our children a profound sense of gratitude for all this abundance and prosperity?

This is precisely Goldberg’s argument. Yes, he says, man’s conquest of nature is a good thing. It’s the same species of argument raised earlier this year in reaction to Patrick Deneen’s book, “Why Liberalism Failed,” which calls into question the entire philosophical system that gave us the Miracle….

[Deneen] is not chiefly interested in the problems of the modern progressive era or the contemporary political Left. He isn’t alarmed merely by political tribalism and the fraying of the social order. Those things are symptoms, not the cause, of the illness he’s diagnosing. Even the social order at its liberal best—the Miracle itself—is part of the illness.

Deneen’s argument reaches back to the foundations of the liberal order in the sixteenth  and seventeenth centuries—prior to the appearance of the Miracle, in Goldberg’s telling—when a series of thinkers embarked on a fundamentally revisionist project “whose central aim was to disassemble what they concluded were irrational religious and social norms in the pursuit of civil peace that might in turn foster stability and prosperity, and eventually individual liberty of conscience and action.”

The project worked, as Goldberg has chronicled at length, but only up to a point. Today, says Deneen, liberalism is a 500-year-old experiment that has run its course and now “generates endemic pathologies more rapidly and pervasively than it is able to produce Band-Aids and veils to cover them.”

Taking the long view of history, Deneen’s book could be understood as an extension of Lewis’s argument in “The Abolition of Man.” The replacement of moral philosophy and religion with liberalism and applied science has begun, in our lifetimes, to manifest the dangers that Lewis warned about. Deneen, writing more than a half-century after Lewis, declares that the entire liberal project manifestly has failed.

Yes, the Miracle gave us capitalism and democracy, but it also gave us hyper-individualism, scientism, and communism. It gave us liberty and universal suffrage, but it also gave us abortion, euthanasia, and transgenderism. The abolition of man was written into the Enlightenment, in other words, and the suicide of the West that Goldberg warns us about isn’t really a suicide at all, because it isn’t really a choice: we aren’t committing suicide, we’re dying of natural causes.

Goldberg is correct that we have lost our sense of gratitude, that we don’t really feel like things are as good as all that. But a large part of the reason is that the liberal order itself has robbed us of our ability to articulate what constitutes human happiness. We have freedom, we have immense wealth, but we have nothing to tell us what we should do with it, nothing to tell us what is good.

R.R. Reno, in “The Smell of Death” (First Things, May 31, 2018), comes at it this way:

At every level, our elites oppose traditional regulation of behavior based on clear moral norms, preferring a therapeutic and bureaucratic approach. They seek to decriminalize marijuana. They have deconstructed male and female roles for children. They correct anyone who speaks of “sex,” preferring to speak of “gender,” which they insist is “socially constructed.” They have ushered in a view of free speech that makes it impossible to prevent middle school boys from watching pornography on their smart phones. They insist upon a political correctness that rejects moral correctness.

The upshot is American culture circa 2018. Our ideal is a liquid world of self-definition, characterized by plenary acceptance and mutual affirmation. In practice, the children of our elites are fortunate: Their families and schools carefully socialize them into the disciplines of twenty-first-century meritocratic success while preaching openness, inclusion, and diversity. But the rest are not so fortunate. Most Americans gasp for air as they tread water. More and more drown….

Liberalism has always been an elite project of deregulation. In the nineteenth century, it sought to deregulate pre-modern economies and old patterns of social hierarchy. It worked to the advantage of the talented, enterprising, and ambitious, who soon supplanted the hereditary aristocracy.

In the last half-century, liberalism has focused on deregulating personal life. This, too, has been an elite priority. It makes options available to those with the resources to exploit them. But it has created a world in which disordered souls kill themselves with drugs and alcohol—and in which those harboring murderous thoughts feel free to act upon them.

The penultimate word goes to Malcolm Pollack (“The Magic Feather“, Motus Mentis, July 6, 2018):

Our friend Bill Vallicella quoted this, from Michael Anton, on Independence Day:

For the founders, government has one fundamental purpose: to protect person and property from conquest, violence, theft and other dangers foreign and domestic. The secure enjoyment of life, liberty and property enables the “pursuit of happiness.” Government cannot make us happy, but it can give us the safety we need as the condition for happiness. It does so by securing our rights, which nature grants but leaves to us to enforce, through the establishment of just government, limited in its powers and focused on its core responsibility.

Bill approves, and adds:

This is an excellent statement. Good government secures our rights; it does not grant them. Whether they come from nature, or from God, or from nature qua divine creation are further questions that can be left to the philosophers. The main thing is that our rights are not up for democratic grabs, nor are they subject to the whims of any bunch of elitists that manages to insinuate itself into power.

I agree all round. I hope that my recent engagement with Mr. Anton about the ontology of our fundamental rights did not give readers the impression that I doubt for a moment the importance of Americans believing they possess them, or of the essential obligation of government to secure them (or of the people to overthrow a government that won’t).

My concerns are whether the popular basis for this critically important belief is sustainable in an era of radical and corrosive secular doubt (and continuing assault on those rights), and whether the apparently irresistible tendency of democracy to descend into faction, mobs, and tyranny was in fact a “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding. I am inclined to think it was, but historical contingency and inevitability are nearly impossible to parse with any certainty.

Arnold Kling (“Get the Story Straight“, Library of Economics and Liberty, July 9, 2018) is more succinct:

Lest we fall back into a state of primitive tribalism, we need to understand the story of the Miracle. We need to understand that it is unnatural, and we should be grateful for the norms and institutions that restrained human nature in order to make the Miracle possible.

All of the writers I have quoted are on to something, about which I have written in “Constitution: Myths and Realities“. I call it the Framers’ fatal error.

The Framers’ held a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (see Madison’s Federalist No. 51 and Hamilton’s Federalist No. 81). The Constitution’s wonderful design — containment of a strictly limited central government through horizontal and vertical separation of powers — worked rather well until the Progressive Era. The design then cracked under the strain of greed and the will to power, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The design then broke during the New Deal, which opened the floodgates to violations of constitutional restraint (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare,  the vast expansion of economic regulation, and the destruction of civilizing social norms), as the Supreme Court has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

In sum, the “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding is human nature, against which no libertarian constitution is proof unless it is enforced resolutely by a benign power.

Barring that, it is may be too late to rescue liberty in America. I am especially pessimistic because of the unraveling of social comity since the 1960s, and by a related development: the frontal assault on freedom of speech, which is the final constitutional bulwark against oppression.

Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

The 1960s and early 1970s were a tantrum-throwing time, and many of the tantrum-throwers moved into positions of power, influence, and wealth, having learned from the success of their main ventures: the end of the draft and the removal of Nixon from office. They schooled their psychological descendants well, and sometimes literally on college campuses. Their successors on the campuses of today — students, faculty, and administrators — carry on the tradition of reacting with violent hostility toward persons and ideas that they oppose, and supporting draconian punishments for infractions of their norms and edicts. (For myriad examples, see The College Fix.)

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on. All of these are to be combated by state action that deprives citizens of economic and social liberties.

In particular danger are the freedoms of speech and association. The purported beneficiaries of the campaign to destroy those freedoms are “oppressed minorities” (women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, the gender-confused, etc.) and the easily offended. The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is speech that is acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech”, and must be stamped out. Freedom of association is bigotry, except when it is practiced by leftists in anti-male, anti-conservative, pro-ethnic, and pro-racial causes. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. We now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which Judeo-Christian morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity. The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, the speed at which it is going to hell seems to have accelerated since the Charleston church shooting and the legal validation of  same-sex “marriage” in 2015. It’s a revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

And it is possible that nothing can prevent it because it is written in human nature; specifically, a penchant for the kind of mass hysteria that seems to dominate campuses, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the Democrat Party.

Christopher Booker describes this phenomenon presciently in his book about England and America of the 1950s and 1960s, The Neophiliacs (1970):

[T]here is no dream so powerful as one generated and subscribed to by a whole mass of people simultaneously — one of those mass projections of innumerable individual neuroses which we may call a group fantasy. This is why the twentieth century has equally been dominated by every possible variety of collective make-believe — whether expressed through mass political movements and forms of nationalism, or through mass social movements….

Any group fantasy is in some sense a symptom of social disintegration, of the breaking down of the balance and harmony between individuals, classes, generations, the sexes, or even nations. For the organic relationships of a stable and secure community, in which everyone may unself-consciously exist in his own separate place and right, a group fantasy substitutes the elusive glamor of identification with a fantasy community, of being swept along as part of a uniform mass united in a common cause. But the individuals making up the mass are not, of course, united in any real sense, except through their common dress, catch phrases, slogans, and stereotyped attitudes. Behind their conformist exteriors they remain individually as insecure as ever — and indeed become even more so, for the collective dream, such as that expressed through mass advertising or the more hysterical forms of fashion, is continually aggravating their fantasy-selves and appealing to them through their insecurities to merge themselves in the mass ever more completely….

This was the phenomenon of mass psychology which was portrayed in an extreme version by George Orwell in his 1984…. But in fact the pattern described was that of every group fantasy; exactly the same that we can see, for instance, in the teen age subculture of the fifties and sixties, … or that of the left-wing progressive intellectuals, with their dream heroes such as D. H. Lawrence or Che Guevera and their ritual abuse of the “reactionaries”….

… Obviously no single development in history has done more to promote both social disintegration and unnatural conformity than the advance and ubiquity of machines and technology. Not only must the whole pressure of an industrialized, urbanized, mechanized society tend to weld its members into an ever more rootless uniform mass, by the very nature of its impersonal organization and of the processes of mass-production and standardization. But in addition the twentieth century has also provided two other factors to aggravate and to feed the general neurosis; the first being the image-conveying apparatus of films, radio, television, advertising, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines; the second the feverishly increased pace of life, from communications and transport to the bewildering speed of change and innovation, all of which has created a profound subconscious restlessness which neurotically demands to be assuaged by more speed and more change of every kind….

The essence of fantasy is that it feeds on a succession of sensations or unresolved images, each one of which arouses anticipation, followed by inevitable frustration, leading to the demand for a new image to be put in its place. But the very fact that each sensation is fundamentally unsatisfying means that the fantasy itself becomes progressively more jaded…. And so we arrive at the fantasy spiral.

Whatever pattern of fantasy we choose to look at … she shall find that it is straining through a spiral of increasingly powerful sensations toward some kind of climax…. What happens therefore is simply that, in its pursuit of the elusive image of life, freedom, and self-assertion, the fantasy pushes on in an ever-mounting spiral of demand, ever more violent, more dream-like and fragmentary, and ever more destructive of the framework of order. Further and further pushes the fantasy, always in pursuit of the elusive climax, always further from reality — until it is actually bringing about the very opposite of its aims.

That, of course, is what will happen when the left and its dupes bring down the Constitution and all that it was meant to stand for: the protection of citizens and their voluntary institutions and relationships from predators, including not least governmental predators and the factions they represent.

The Constitution, in short, was meant to shield Americans from human nature. But it seems all too likely that human nature will destroy the shield.

Thus my call for a “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.


Related reading:
Fred Reed, “The Symptoms Worsen”, Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015
Christopher Booker, Global Warming: A Case Study in Groupthink, Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018
Michael Mann, “Have Wars and Violence Declined?“, Theory and Society, February 2018
John Gray, “Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War”, The Guardian, March 13, 2015
Nikita Vladimirov, “Scholar Traces Current Campus Intolerance to 60’s Radicals“, Campus Reform, March 14, 2018
Nick Spencer, “Enlightenment and Progress: Why Steven Pinker Is Wrong” Mercatornet, March 19, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Deja Vu on Campus?“, PowerLine, April 15, 2018
William A. Nitze, “The Tech Giants Must Be Stopped“, The American Conservative, April 16, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Jonah’s Suicide Hotline, and All That Stuff“, PowerLine, May 15, 2018
Jeff Groom, “40 Years Ago Today: When Solzhenitsyn Schooled Harvard“, The American Conservative, June 8, 2018
Graham Allison, “The Myth of the Liberal Order: From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom“, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “The America That Howard Zinn Made“, The American Conservative, July 10, 2018
Mary Eberstadt, “Two Nations, Revisited“, National Affairs, Summer 2018

Related posts and pages:
Constitution: Myths and Realities
Leftism
The Psychologist Who Played God
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Society and the State
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
1963: The Year Zero
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
Turning Points
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
Down the Memory Hole
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Abortion Q and A
Whence Polarization?
Negative Rights, Etc.
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Order vs. Authority
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
Rage on the Left
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and Leviathan

What’s With the Pink?

Women are no different than men, right? They can do everything men can do, right? (Wrong, but I’ll let it pass for now.)

Why, then, do feminists and their eunuchs among the male of the species insist on using pink to signify femininity?

Pink when it’s time to remind everyone about breast cancer. (As if reminders were needed.)

Pink to protest the elevation to the presidency of the worst male chauvinist since Bill Clinton, who was the worse one since LBJ, who was the worst one since FDR, and so on. (There should be retroactive protests of most of the male-chauvinist presidents from Harding onward, but that won’t happen because most of them were Democrats.)

Now comes pink for Mother’s (or is it Mothers’ or Mothers?) Day; thus:

After finishing a column for tomorrow I turned on the Rays game with the sound muted so I could monitor it while reading. What I found was disturbing. No, not that the Rays were trailing 17-1. That may be disturbing in New York or Boston, not even surprising here. But I see that, in honor of Mother’s Day, Rays and Orioles players are kitted out in a motley assortment of pink shoes, pink hats, pink batting gloves, pink undershirts, pink sweat-bands, even, God help us, pink bats. So I switched over to the Marlins/Braves game. Same desecration there, which I gather is MLB-wide today….

[S]urely Major League Baseball could have found a way to give a tip of the baseball cap to moms without the indignity of putting grown men in pink outfits. I just can’t watch it. I’m sure even plenty of moms, especially players’ moms, are put off by this marketing overkill. How could the players’ pit-bull agents have allowed this? Isn’t there anything in contemporary contracts about dignity? Where’s the take-no-prisoners players’ union? [Larry Thornberry, “It’s Undignified and I’ll Have None of It“, The Spectacle Blog, May 13, 2018]

Eunuchs, as I said.

The wearing of pink reminds people of the differences between the sexes (genders, in neo-speak), so how can it be allowed and encouraged? Well, it’s okay if pinkness is imposed on men (males). But heaven forbid that a girl (female) baby should be dressed in pink. Sexism! Toxic masculinity! Rank stereotyping! Call 911, it must be against the law!

“Holidays” I Can Do Without

The subject comes to mind because today is Earth Day, a quasi-religious day of observance for (mostly) irreligious types who claim to revere science but wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the hindquarters. It leads the list of irrelevant and concocted “holidays” that are mainly occasions for silliness (sometimes serious silliness, as on Earth Day), filling air time, selling greeting cards, and pandering to political correctness.

Others of its kind include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, KwanzaaRosa Parks Day, Harriet Tubman Day, Malcolm X Day, Juneteenth, African New Year, Groundhog Day, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, International Women’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Arbor Day, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Helen Keller Day, Father’s Day, Women’s Equality Day, Grandparent’s Day, German-American Day, and Leif Erikson Day.

I have nothing against Washington’s Birthday, which honors a man who should be honored. But I object strenuously to its popular name, Presidents’ Day, which submerges Washington in a presidential pool that includes the anti-patriotic likes of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Presidents’ Day belongs with the list in the preceding paragraph; it has become an occasion for selling automobiles, appliances, and furniture.

Even More about Names

In previous posts about first names, I addressed names that had shifted from male to female, presidents’ surnames used as first names, the changing popularity of my grandparents’ first names, and the changing popularity of my high-school classmates’ first names.

I was reminded of those older posts (published in 2006, 2008, and 2012) by an analysis of gender-fluidity in names, that is, names which are becoming more neutral rather than being given mainly to boys or girls. The author, one Nikhil Sonnad,

calculated a “genderedness score” for every American baby name—and for the country on the whole. The score goes from zero to one. A zero means a name is perfectly non-gendered. That is to say, exactly half of the babies with that name are boys, and the other half are girls. A one, meanwhile, means the name is used exclusively for one gender. So a lower score means a name is more gender-neutral, and less biased.

How is it “biased” to use a boy’s name for a boy and a girl’s name for a girl? That statement should be damned to PC hell, along with the idea that gender is “assigned” at birth. It’s not assigned, it just is, except in rare instances. And it’s immutable, regardless of what the PC witch-doctors profess to believe.

Anyway, Sonnad continues:

The overall genderedness score was 0.97 in 1920, meaning nearly every kid had a name that was used almost exclusively for just boys or just girls. The score is falling, though. It hit 0.946 in 2016, the most recent year the SSA has name data for.

I’m gratified to learn that the generedness score is still almost 1. I’m further gratified to note that the genderedness score has dropped in the past, and then rebounded:

Part of the apparent decline in genderedness may be due to the fact that the Social Security database used by the author covers only the top 1,000 names of each sex in each year. The variety of names grows with population, so the top 1,000 isn’t as inclusive now as it used to be (see below). And gendereless or ambiguous names are undoubtedly rising in popularity (for now) because baby-naming is a faddish thing, like transgenderism.

The variety of names grows not only because of population growth but also because of its changing composition. There are many more Spanish names and Hispanic babies than 10, 20, or 30 years ago — and vastly more than there were 100 years ago. Also, blacks have increasingly branched out into African, pseudo-African, and black-redneck names — names that are identifiably black, but not always identifiably male or female (by whites, at least).

So the real news isn’t the rise of gender-ambiguous names, but the growing variety of names, which I will show in two ways. First, using the same Social Security database as Sonnad, I constructed the following tables. They list the 10 most popular baby names (male and female) for equidistant 17-year intervals spanning the 136 years between the first year (1880) and most recent year (2016) included in the database. The tables also show the percentages of male and female babies given those names in each of the years. (Right click to view enlarged image in a new tab.)


Source: Go here and scroll to the search tool at the bottom of the page (on the left).

Note the general decline in the percentages. Being in the top 10 these days is almost meaningless compared with being in the top 10 through the 1940s or 1950s.  Note also the generally lower percentages for girls’ names than for boys’ names until 2016. Girls have long had a greater variety of names, though boys are finally catching up.

The following graphs (derived from the same source) illustrate the same points. They also highlight the relative stability in the number of names until the 1950s and 1960s, when the percentages of babies with names in the top 10, 100, and 1,000 really began to dive.

Returning to the lists of names, I note that many of the recent top-10 names are throwbacks; the 19th century is “in” again. There are some old top-10 names that have fallen from popularity for good reason — they are grating, if not ugly; for example, Frank (Frank is a wiener; Francis is okay), Henry (better as Henri or Enrico), George (fit only for a king), Walter (a plumber’s name), Donald (rhymes with Ronald, as in McDonald), Richard (you know the nickname), Minnie (little fish), Bertha (as in “Big Bertha”), Florence (with the pursed lips), Ethel (ditto), and Dorothy, Shirley, and Doris (so 1930s and 1940s).

Anyway, those are my prejudices. What are yours?

Recommended Reading

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 1)

 

On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 2)

 

We the People and Other American Myths (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 3)

 

Americana, Etc.: Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 4)

Pronoun Profusion

I could have called this post “Pronoun Confusion”, given what I found at Wikipedia:

And here:

I suppose there are other variations, but I quit digging before I became terminally confused. (UPDATE: Here are some new variations hot off the web. Read ’em and weep.)

It used to be that a person didn’t care what he (the generic kind) was called, as long as he wasn’t called late for dinner. That’s a tired joke, of course. People do care what they’re called, but it’s usually when they’re called something demeaning (e.g., “hey, you” to a general, “Harvey” to a doctor you don’t know as a friend) or insulting (e.g., “jerk” and worse).

I guess it’s insulting to (some) persons who have “chosen” a sex other than the one that they were born with (not “assigned at birth”) to be mistaken for persons of that sex. But give me a break. How am I supposed to know that you’re “really” a man if you look like a woman who’s trying to look like a man, or you’re “really” a woman who looks like a man who’s trying to look like a woman?

Sane persons — which is about 98 percent of the population, aside from posturing leftists and the gender-confused — are by definition in touch with reality. The traditional pronouns given in the first part of the Wikipedia table reflect that reality. They cover everything. I therefore reject all that follows, in the name of accuracy, clarity, and simplicity. (I would invoke Occam’s razor, but that might be taken as an endorsement of genital mutilation.)

So here’s the deal. If you don’t want to be called “he” or “she”, or any of their cognates, I will comply politely and use “you”, “your”, “yours”, or “yourself” when speaking or writing  to you. When speaking or writing about one of you, I will use “it”, “its”, or “itself”; for more than one of you, I will use “they”, “them”, “their”, “theirs”, or “themselves”.

There’s absolutely nothing insulting about such neutral usages. If you believe that there is, please consider the possibility that you are nuts (whether or not you have any). But don’t insult my intelligence by trying to make me believe that you’ve acquired a gender other than the one you were born with — or none at all.


Related reading:
Gregory Cochran, “Transsexuals“, West Hunter, May 8, 2013
Gregory Cochran, “Internal Contradictions“, West Hunter, December 12, 2015


Related posts:
1963: The Year Zero
The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences
Some Notes about Psychology and Intelligence

 

Courtship or Molestation?

Several weeks ago I happened upon a statement by Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ) about an blog post that he published in November 2017, which became a cause célèbre:

(That is the entire blog post, as reproduced in Alex Macon’s “UT-Arlington Professor: ‘What’s the Big Deal’ About Adult Men Dating Underage Girls?“, Dmagazine.com, November 30, 2017.)

There is presumably a connection between that post and the demise of Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ’s eponymous blog), where it was posted. But it is to KBJ’s credit that he quickly resumed blogging at Just Philosophy, and wasn’t cowed by the notoriety resulting from his post.

But I must say that my own reaction was similar to that of KBJ’s detractors:

I was trying to find a way into Keith Burgess-Jackson’s eponymous blog, which seems to have been closed to public view since he defended Roy Moore’s courtship of a 14-year-old person. (Perhaps Moore might have been cut some slack by a segment of the vast left-wing conspiracy had the person been a male.)

That is to say, I read KBJ’s post as a defense of Roy Moore’s “courtship” of a 14-year-old girl (or young woman). KBJ argues strenuously in his statement that he wasn’t defending Moore, who had been accused of more than “courting” the young woman. This account, from Wikipedia, refers to reportage that predates KBJ’s post:

On November 9, 2017, The Washington Post outlined an account of a woman, Leigh Corfman, who said that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32 years old.[18] Corfman said that Moore met her and her mother in the hallway of the county courthouse, where Moore was working as an assistant district attorney, and offered to sit with Corfman while her mother went into a courtroom to testify.[18] Corfman said that during that discussion he asked for her phone number, which she gave him, they later went on two dates, for each date he picked her up in his car around the corner from her house and drove her to his house, and on the first date he “told her how pretty she was and kissed her”. On a second date, Moore allegedly “took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes … touched her over her bra and underpants … and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear”.[18]

The incident, as described by Ms. Corfman, doesn’t resemble courtship as I have understood it in my lifetime, and I am older than KBJ and Roy Moore. Christian minister Patricia Bootsma explains that

in contrast to the modern conception of dating, in “courtship, time together in groups with family or friends is encouraged, and there is oversight by and accountability to parents or mentors”.[7] She further states that with courtship, “commitment happens before intimacy”.[7]

That is courtship, and I’m surprised when an erudite man who uses language precisely (i.e., KBJ) doesn’t know the difference between it and “making out“, which is more or less what Moore was (allegedly) bent on doing. Perhaps KBJ picked up the term from another news story, or perhaps he chose to use it as a euphemism for the acts described in the Post‘s story (which were repeated throughout the news media).

But I can understand the objections to KBJ’s post because (a) the story wasn’t about “courtship”, it was about a 32-year-old man (allegedly) making sexual advances to a 14-year-old girl-woman. Moreover, the alleged behavior took place in 1979, not in 1922, when KBJ’s maternal grandparents were “courting” or courting, as the case may be.

In 1922, legislative battles about age-of-consent laws had only recently been settled (for the most part):

While the general age of consent is now set between 16 and 18 in all U.S. states, the age of consent has widely varied across the country in the past. In 1880, the age of consent was set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7.[2] The ages of consent were raised across the U.S. during the late 19th century and the early 20th century.[3][4] By 1920 ages of consent generally rose to 16-18 and small adjustments to these laws occurred after 1920. As of 2015 the final state to raise its age of general consent was Hawaii, which changed it from 14 to 16 in 2001.[5]

By contrast, Alabama’s age of consent (which was 10 in 1880) had been 16 since 1920. Sexual behavior that might have been deemed acceptable in 1922, when old ways were a fresh memory, was surely beyond the pale in 1979 — 59 years after Alabama’s age of consent had been raised to 16.

So to answer KBJ’s question: It was a very big deal if Moore had in fact done the things that he is accused of having done with a 14-year-old girl-woman. Things were different in 1979 than in 1922. As someone who is older than KBJ, I will even say that things were nearly as different in 1979 as they were in 2017. The Mad Men days were by 1979 almost a faint memory. (Not in Hollywood, politics, or the upper echelons of the business world, but the Mad Men days never ended there — or not until recently, maybe. I’m talking about the workaday world of real people, when sexual harassment had by 1979 become widely frowned on, if not always suppressed.)

KBJ’s outrage about “people imposing their own moral standards on people of the past” is obviously misplaced. Because of that, any reasonable reader — even a leftist — could conclude that KBJ was attempting to excuse Moore’s alleged behavior.

I can’t quote portions of KBJ’s long, copyrighted statement because of the terms of the copyright (“Publishable in Its Entirety or Not at All”). I will just say that it struck me as an after-the-fact justification of a reflexive defense of Roy Moore (widely considered a conservative) by a conservative blogger who is (rightly) exasperated by the torrent of abuse that is heaped continuously on (actual and self-styled) conservatives.

Having said all of that, I should add that I am very much a fan of KBJ. I’m glad that he quickly resumed blogging, despite the barrage of criticism that was aimed at him — much of it, I’m sure, by leftists who attacked him reflexively because of his conservatism.

Trump vs. Obama on Taxes

In January 2013, Congress passed and Barack Obama jubilantly signed what The Wall Street Journal called “the largest tax increase in the past two decades”:

More than three-quarters of American households would see a tax increase from their 2012 tax levels, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.

In December 2017, Congress passed and Donald Trump jubilantly signed a bill that cut corporate income taxes and almost every taxpayer’s federal income taxes.

If you take the view taxpayers’ money really belongs to the government — as “liberals” are wont to do — you would have to concede that Mr. Obama was niggardly toward taxpayers, in comparison with Mr. Trump.


Related posts:
Ignorance Abounds
Defending the Offensive

Modernism in Austin

Tout Austin (i.e., Austin’s civic and cultural elites) turned out for the grand opening of the late Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”, described and depicted here as a chapel of light for “contemplation”. Not contemplation, mind you, but “contemplation”, which must be something akin to “mindfulness“.

Kelly’s “chapel” has taken up residence at the Blanton Museum of Art, which belongs to the University of Texas at Austin. (The prepositional modifier is the official but unnecessary place designator for the intellectual and social blight known as UT).

What does “Austin” look like? This:

Impressive, no? No, not impressive.

About a mile away — an easy walk or bike ride for a contemplative student, faculty member, or taxpayer — is a real work of art, Austin’s Cathedral of St. Mary:

To quote myself:

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the various arts became an “inside game”. Painters, sculptors, composers (of “serious” music), and choreographers began to create works not for the enjoyment of audiences but for the sake of exploring “new” forms. Given that the various arts had been perfected by the early 1900s (at the outside), the only way to explore “new” forms was to regress toward primitive ones — toward a lack of structure…. Aside from its baneful influence on many true artists, the regression toward the primitive has enabled persons of inferior talent (and none) to call themselves “artists”. Thus modernism is banal when it is not ugly.

Painters, sculptors, etc., have been encouraged in their efforts to explore “new” forms by critics, by advocates of change and rebellion for its own sake (e.g., “liberals” and “bohemians”), and by undiscriminating patrons, anxious to be au courant. Critics have a special stake in modernism because they are needed to “explain” its incomprehensibility and ugliness to the unwashed.

The unwashed have nevertheless rebelled against modernism, and so its practitioners and defenders have responded with condescension, one form of which is the challenge to be “open minded” (i.e., to tolerate the second-rate and nonsensical). A good example of condescension is heard on Composers Datebook, a syndicated feature that runs on some NPR stations. Every Composers Datebook program closes by “reminding you that all music was once new.” As if to lump Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.

All music, painting, sculpture, and dance were once new, but new doesn’t necessarily mean good. Much (most?) of what has been produced since 1900 (if not before) is inferior, self-indulgent crap.

This Is a Test

Scott McKay writes:

Thursday saw a media firestorm erupt over a Washington Post report that amid a White House meeting with several members of Congress working on a compromise having to do with the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, President Trump asked why America should have to take in so many immigrants from “s***hole countries” rather than people from places like Norway.

The Post article isn’t exactly the finest example of American journalism, identifying as its source no one actually in the room to confirm what Trump supposedly said but instead naming two anonymous people who were “briefed on the meeting.”

I won’t get into the truth or falsity of the reporting. I suspect that it’s true. And it doesn’t bother me in the least if President Trump characterized some countries as s***holes. They are, and for two very good reasons: the low intelligence of their populations and their anti-libertarian governments (which make the U.S. seem like an anarcho-capitalist’s paradise).

Why are so many people (leftists, that is) upset? Because calling a s***hole a s***hole is a sin against cant and hypocrisy, in which the left specializes.

Here’s the test: If you were forced to live in another country, would you choose Norway or Haiti? Any sensible person — and perhaps even a leftist — would choose Norway.


Related posts:
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
Leftist Condescension

A Glimmer of Hope on the Education Front

Gregory Cochran (West Hunter) points to an item from 2014 that gives the annual distribution of bachelor’s degrees by field of study for 1970-2011. (I would say “major”, but many of the categories encompass several related majors.) I extracted the values for 1970, 1990, and 2011, and assigned a “hardness” value to each field of study:

The distribution of degrees seems to have been shifting away from “soft” fields to “middling” and “hard” ones:

The number of graduates has increased with time, of course, so there are still more soft bachelor’s degrees being granted now than in 1970. But the shift toward harder fields is comforting because soft fields seem to attract squishy-minded leftists in disproportionate numbers.

The graph suggests that the college-educated workforce of the future will be somewhat less dominated by squishy-minded leftists than it has been since 1970. It was around then that many of the flower-children and radicals of the 1960s graduated and went on to positions of power and prominence in the media, the academy, and politics.

It’s faint hope for a future that’s less dominated by leftists than the recent past and present — but it is hope.

CAVEATS:

1. The results shown in the graph are sensitive to my designation of each field’s level of “hardness”. If you disagree with any of those assignments, let me know and I’ll change the inputs and see what difference they make. The table and graph are in a spreadsheet, and changes in the table will instantly show up as changes in the graph.

2. The decline of “soft” fields is due mainly to the sharp decline of Education as a percentage of all bachelor’s degrees, which occurred between 1971 and 1985. To the extent that some Education majors migrated to STEM fields, the overall shift toward “hard” fields is overstated. A prospective teacher who happens to major in math is probably of less-squishy stock than a prospective teacher who happens to major in English, History, or similar “soft” fields — but he is likely to be more squishy than the math major who intends to pursue an advanced degree in his field, and to “do” rather than teach at any level.

“Capitalism” Is a Dirty Word

Dyspepsia Generation points to a piece at reason.com, which explains that capitalism is a Marxist coinage. In fact, capitalism

is what the Dutch call a geuzennaam—a word assigned by one’s sneering enemies, such as Quaker or Tory or Whig, but later adopted proudly by the victims themselves.

I have long viewed it that way. Capitalism conjures the greedy, coupon-clipping, fat-cat of Monopoly:

Thus did a board-game that vaulted to popularity during the Great Depression signify the identification of capitalism with another “bad thing”: monopoly. And, more recently, capitalism has been conjoined with yet another “bad thing”: income inequality.

 

In fact, capitalism

is a misnomer for the system of free markets that could deliver abundant prosperity and happiness, were markets left free. Free does not mean unfettered; competition for the favor of consumers exerts strong discipline on markets. And laws against theft, deception, and fraud would serve amply to keep markets honest, the worrying classes to the contrary notwithstanding.

What the defenders of capitalism are defending — or should be — is voluntary, market-based exchange. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, but that’s no excuse for continuing to use a Marxist smear-word for the best of all possible economic systems.


Related posts:
More Commandments of Economics (#13 and #19)
Monopoly and the General Welfare
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Economic Mobility Is Alive and Well in America
The Essence of Economics
“Rent” Is Indispensable

Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, A New Kind of Justice

Not all bad behavior is, or should be, the subject of official investigation, prosecution, and punishment. It should be enough, in the vast majority of cases, to stop bad behavior and discourage its repetition by simply saying “no”, administering a spanking, or subjecting the miscreant to social scorn.

These time-honored methods gave way decades ago to the sob-sister school of pseudo-psychology, which instructs all and sundry that it is harmful to young psyches to say “no” without a long explanation (couched in psychological rather than moral terms), to spank (or otherwise administer corporal punishment), or to squelch “creativity” (i.e., mischief-making) by any method of communication, from frowning to screaming.

It should therefore come as no surprise that several generations of persons born after World War II — which includes almost all of today’s practicing politicians, lawyer, judges, and celebrities — have lacked the benefit of moral guidance. What they seem to have learned is not to eschew bad behavior, but to feign contrition for it when caught. Pseudo-contrition can be made to seem genuine by a method-acting technique: converting mortification for being caught into sorrow for having committed the offending deed.

Meanwhile, the broader system of justice, which encompasses the kinds of social censure discussed above, is shifting away from the inculcation of traditional morality (which would reinforce “white privilege” and “patriarchy”) and becoming a delivery vehicle for socio-political vengeance. This perversion seemed to have peaked with the Obama-Holder regime’s penchant for launching federal investigations of shootings by police when the persons shot were black, under the rubric of “civil rights”, and with the refusal of campus and municipal officials to curb violence committed by leftists and their protégés (e.g., Antifa and BLM).

But the perversion of justice has reached a new low with the wave of public accusations of sexual misconduct fomented by the #MeToo campaign,

to denounce sexual assault and harassment, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. The phrase, long used in this sense by social activist Tarana Burke, was popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged women to tweet it to publicize experiences to demonstrate the widespread nature of misogynistic behavior.

Dozens of prominent or high-ranking men in politics, entertainment, and business have been accused of various acts of sexual misconduct. Many of them have lost their jobs as a result of the accusations. Roy Moore probably lost the special election in Alabama because of the accusations. It is a widely held view on the left that Donald Trump should lose his job because of accusations that have been leveled against him, and also because he’s a creepy loud-mouth who mainly takes a conservative political stance and is a “racist” to boot. (“Racist” is the go-to word for leftists who want to open the southern border to more waves of future Democrat voters.)

In other words, there’s a new crime on the block: sexual misconduct. It consists not only of actual crimes — such as rape — that ought to be prosecuted, and have been prosecuted since long before the #MeToo campaign. It also consists of any perceived sexism or slight on the part of a male toward a female.

This new, ill-defined crime is in the mind of the beholder. She may perceive a crime simply because she hates men or finds it psychologically satisfying to think of them as the enemy — along with Republicans, Israelis, “the rich” (one of which she may well be), climate-change “deniers”, NASCAR fans, and on and on.

In fact, it’s the old double-standard at work: Misogyny (real or imagined) is bad, but man-hating is good. Or so it has become among many women (and their male sycophants) who, with unintentional irony, call themselves “liberal” and “progressive”.  It is illiberal in the extreme to deprive someone of life, liberty, property, or a job based on mere accusations, but that is what is happening. It is regressive in the extreme to wage war against half the population (minus the mental cuckolds who are their allies) when it is the half of the population that does the really hard and dangerous jobs that make it possible for them to live in a hypocritical state of comfort and security.

So, despite my schadenfreude about the comeuppance of many left-wing males (most of whom probably deserve it), I am unenthusiastic about this latest incarnation of the Salem witch-trials. It is too much of a piece with the many memes that have captured the fickle attentions of neurotic leftists in recent decades, years, months, weeks, and days; for example, eugenics, prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forces segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sexed dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, smoking, gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only of straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc.

Each “good” can be attained and each “bad” averted simply by enacting laws, regulations, and punishments. Though nature and human nature are not so easily controlled (let alone changed), the neurotic appetite for action can be sated temporarily by the mere enactment of laws, regulations, and punishments. And when these have been piled one on top of the other for decades, the results are as predicted by conservatives and libertarians: the suppression of liberty and economic growth.

There’s real crime for you.


Related posts:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
In Defense of Marriage
The Left
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
More about Merit Goods
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Fighting Modernity
Defining Liberty
The Culture War
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
Ruminations on the Left in America
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Academic Ignorance
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
If Men Were Angels
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Liberty in Chains
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Disposition and Ideology
Much Ado about the Unknown and Unknowable
A (Long) Footnote about Science
Down the Memory Hole
The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools
Cakes and Liberty

The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools

You may have read stories about the difficulty of tests given to public-school students in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the questions would have challenged even the brighter seniors in today’s schools. This anecdotal evidence suggests that educational standards were generally much higher in the public schools of yore than they are now. One reason, I suspect, is the dumbing-down of schools that probably accompanied the social and legal push to keep children in school through the 12th grade.

In Michigan, when my father was of school age, it wasn’t uncommon for children (especially boys) to drop out after the 8th grade. High school, in those days, seemed to be considered preparatory for college. Boys like my father, who was intelligent but of a poor family, weren’t considered college material and would often drop out after completing the 8th grade in order to go to work, perhaps even to learn a trade that would pay more than they could earn from manual labor. (When my father dropped out, the Great Depression was at its depth and it was all the more necessary for him to take whatever job he could get, to help support his family.)

The prep-school thesis came to me when I was browsing old yearbooks and found a yearbook for 1921 in which my high-school principal is pictured as a high-school senior. (It was the high school that my father would have attended had he gone beyond the 8th grade.) One page of the yearbook gives a list of the 1920 graduates and tells what each of them is doing (e.g., attending the University of Michigan, working at a particular factory, at home without a job). Here are some things I gleaned from the page:

The class of 1920 consisted of 28 males and 50 females. This is an improbable male-female ratio, which supports my thesis that dropping out to work was common among males. (Most male members of the class of 1920 would have been only 16 at the end of World War I ended, so it is unlikely that the war had more than a minute effect on the number of males who reached graduation age.)

A year after graduation, two-thirds of the males (19 of the 28) were enrolled in college (mostly at the University of Michigan), and another one was attending a technical school in Chicago. That two-thirds of the males were in college in 1921, long before the insane push for universal higher education, support the idea that most males who went to high school were considered college material.

Of the 50 females, only 8 were definitely in college, with 5 of them at teachers’ colleges (then called “normal schools”). Several others gave locations that might have indicated college attendance (e.g., Oberlin, Albion). But there were at most 14 collegians among the 50 females.

Two females were already teaching, presumably in small, rural schools. But the fact that they were teaching at the age of 19 (not uncommon in the “old days”) is testimony to the quality of high-school education in those days. It also says a lot about the needless inflation of standards for teaching young children.

It pains me to think of the tens of millions of young persons — male and female alike — who have been pushed into high school, and then into college, instead of being allowed to find their own way in life. They have been denied the opportunity to learn a trade through apprenticeship, or just by working hard; the opportunity to learn self-reliance and responsibility; and the opportunity to contribute more to the well-being of others than most of them will contribute by going to college.

Smaller high-school enrollments would also mean fewer public-school teachers and administrators to feed at the public trough and fuel the expensive (and largely fruitless) war among school systems to see which one can spend the most per pupil.  Fewer students pushed into college would also mean fewer college-professors and administrators to feed at the public trough, and to spew their pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

The best thing about smaller high-school enrollments would be the reduction in the number of impressionable young persons who are indoctrinated in left-wing views by high-school teachers, and then by college professors.


Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
The Higher-Education Bubble
The Public-School Swindle
Is College for Everyone?
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

Where’s the Outrage?

UPDATE (11/18/17): It’s only fair to note that in the three days since I posted this I haven’t seen any objections to the Wumo strip. It’s either too funny for outrage or not on the radar of the easily outraged — perhaps both.

This funny Wumo strip, though dated November 3, appeared in today’s papers:

I expect Wumo and/or many of the newspapers to apologize abjectly for giving offense to transgendered persons. Those who are secure in their adopted sexual identity will find it funny. But there will howls of outrage from “liberals”, whose search for “victims” to defend is never-ending.

American Dialects

Some time ago I posted “A Guide to the Pronunciation of General American English“. Recently, I came across a useful adjunct: “North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns“.

If you scroll down the page, you’ll find a list of links to samples of the speech patterns of various regions. I was amused to hear Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, in this YouTube video clip. It’s almost like hearing myself — another native of the central and southeastern parts of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

What that clip and others illustrate is that a broad pattern of pronunciation (e.g., General American English) is overlaid with many sub-regional variations in the form of accents and emphases.

Larry Page’s accent, for example, has a nasal and breathy (or reedy) quality. He might say TOE-MAY-TOE instead of TOE-MAH-TOE, but the way in which he says it will be different than the way it sounds coming from the mouth of an Iowan.

Further, in many parts of the Upper Midwest (certainly including parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) there is a tendency to end a sentence on an ascending tone, as if a question were being asked even though the sentence is declarative. Again, the sentence may end with TOE-MAY-TOE instead of TOE-MAH-TOE, but it will have a distinctly different sound than TOE-MAY-TOE placed elsewhere in a sentence and TOE-MAY-TOE pronounced at the end of a sentence by an Iowan.