More Presidential Trivia

The modern presidency began with the adored “activist”, Teddy Roosevelt. From TR to the present, there have been only four (of twenty) presidents who first competed in a general election as a candidate for the presidency: Taft, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Trump. Trump is alone in having had no previous governmental service before becoming president. There’s no moral to this story. Make of it what you will.

(See also “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“, to which this commentary has been added.)

That “Hurtful” Betsy Ross Flag

Fox News has the latest:

Two Democratic hopefuls have expressed their support for Nike after the sportswear company pulled sneakers featuring the Betsy Ross-designed American flag ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. The company did so after former NFL quarterback and Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick raised concerns about the shoes.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro told CBS News on Wednesday that he was “glad to see” Nike remove the shoes from the shelves, comparing the “painful” symbol to the Confederate flag.

“There are a lot of things in our history that are still very painful,” Castro explained. As an example, he cited “the Confederate flag that still flies in some places and is used as a symbol.”\

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke also approved of Nike’s decision, noting that “white nationalist groups” have “appropriated” the Betsy Ross flag.

“I think its really important to take into account the impression that kind of symbol would have for many of our fellow Americans,” he said,  according to Jewish Insider senior political reporter Ben Jacobs.

As I understand it, the Betsy Ross flag, which became the symbol of the rebellious, united States (i.e., Colonies) in 1777, is “hurtful” because it dates from an era when slavery was legal in what became the United States. How that historical fact is “hurtful” to anyone is beyond me. The fact of slavery is reprehensible, but a flag that merely denotes America’s struggle for independence from Britain really has nothing to do with slavery, except in the slippery way that “social justice” warriors have just invented. (Clearly, they are running low on ideas.)

Well, if the Betsy Ross flag is “hurtful” to professional virtue-signalers and malcontents, it is certainly — and more legitimately — hurtful to me. I am a direct descendant of a man who, with three of his sons (one of whom I am also directly descended from), fought on the British side in the Revolutionary War. They had settled in the Colony of Pennsylvania in the 1750s and, perhaps not unwisely, chose to defend the Crown against presumptuous rebels like George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and 53 other signatories of the Declaration of Independence — all of whom used to be called patriots. (Washington, Jefferson, and many other signatories owned slaves, but that wasn’t why they rebelled; slavery was then still legal throughout the British Empire.)

In any event, because my ancestors were Loyalists, they fled to Canada at the end of the war. And from then until the birth of my father in the United States more than 130 years later, the ancestors in my paternal line of descent were Canadian and therefore (nominally, at least) subjects of the British monarch.

So if anyone has a right to be offended by the Betsy Ross flag, it is I. But I am not offended by the flag, though I am deeply offended by the useless twits who profess to be offended by it.

The Fall of America

Victor Davis Hanson, like many others before him (and like) me, sees the unraveling of America portended by Petronius’s The Satyricon (ca. 60 AD):

Certain themes … are timeless and still resonate today.

The abrupt transition from a society of rural homesteaders into metropolitan coastal hubs had created two Romes. One world was a sophisticated and cosmopolitan network of traders, schemers, investors, academics, and deep-state imperial cronies. Their seaside corridors were not so much Roman as Mediterranean. And they saw themselves more as “citizens of the world” than as mere Roman citizens.

In the novel, vast, unprecedented wealth had produced license. On-the-make urbanites suck up and flatter the childless rich in hopes of being given estates rather than earning their own money….

[The] novel’s accepted norms are pornography, gratuitous violence, sexual promiscuity, transgenderism, delayed marriage, childlessness, fear of aging, homelessness, social climbing, ostentatious materialism, prolonged adolescence, and scamming and conning in lieu of working.

The characters are fixated on expensive fashion, exotic foods, and pretentious name-dropping. They are the lucky inheritors of a dynamic Roman infrastructure that had globalized three continents. Rome had incorporated the shores of the Mediterranean under uniform law, science, institutions—all kept in check by Roman bureaucracy and the overwhelming power of the legions, many of them populated by non-Romans.

Never in the history of civilization had a generation become so wealthy and leisured, so eager to gratify every conceivable appetite—and yet so bored and unhappy.

But there was also a second Rome in the shadows. Occasionally the hipster antiheroes of the novel bump into old-fashioned rustics, shopkeepers, and legionaries. They are what we might now call the ridiculed “deplorables” and “clingers.”…

Globalization had enriched and united non-Romans into a world culture. That was an admirable feat. But such homogenization also attenuated the very customs, traditions, and values that had led to such astounding Roman success in the first place….

But the new empire also diluted a noble and unique Roman agrarianism. It eroded nationalism and patriotism. The empire’s wealth, size, and lack of cohesion ultimately diminished Roman unity, as well as traditional marriage, child-bearing, and autonomy….

[W]ide reading ensures erudition and sophistication, and helps science supplant superstition. But sometimes education is also ambiguous. Students become idle, pretentious loafers. Professors are no different from loud pedants. Writers are trite and boring. Elite pundits sound like gasbags.

Petronius seems to imply that whatever the Rome of his time was, it was likely not sustainable—but would at least be quite exciting in its splendid decline.

Petronius also argues that with too much rapid material progress comes moral regress. His final warning might be especially troubling for the current generation of Western Europeans and Americans. Even as we brag of globalizing the world and enriching the West materially and culturally, we are losing our soul in the process.

Getting married, raising families, staying in one place, still working with our hands, and postponing gratification may be seen as boring and out of date. But nearly 2,000 years later, all of that is what still keeps civilization alive.

Hanson omits — because Petronious’s prescience was limited — the end game, in which the glory that was Rome was extinguished by internal rot, military failure, and invasion. The first of those — internal rot –is well underway in the United States, “thanks” to the Democrat Party. The second — military failure — has become more or less a habit since the Korean War — a habit that will resume with the eventual return to power of the Democrat Party. The third — invasion — probably will be accomplished in bloodless form by the determination of China’s leadership, when a Democrat administration (having disarmed the country) accedes to military and economic coercion.

And, ironically (but blessedly) that will put paid to the kinds of excesses that Democrats have fostered in their zeal for (evanescent) power: pornography, gratuitous violence, sexual promiscuity, transgenderism, delayed marriage, childlessness, fear of aging, homelessness, social climbing, ostentatious materialism, prolonged adolescence, and scamming and conning in lieu of working.

America’s virtual state of servitude will also put paid to the last vestiges of liberty in the land, though they would have eventually disappeared under Democrat rule.

End of a Generation

The so-called greatest generation has died out in my family, as it soon will die out across the land. The recent death of my mother-in-law at age 98 removed from the scene the last of my wife’s and my parents and their siblings: 26 of them in all.

Their birth years ranged from 1903 to 1922. There were, oddly, 18 males as against only 8 females, and the disparity held for all four sets of siblings:

7 to 3 for my mother’s set

2 to 1 for my father’s set

5 to 3 for my wife’s mother’s set

4 to 1 for my wife’s father’s set.

Only one of the 26 died before reaching adulthood (my father’s younger brother at 18 months). Two others (also males) died relatively young. One of my mother’s brothers died just a few weeks before his 40th birthday as a result of a jeep accident (he was on active duty in the Coast Guard). One of my wife’s mother’s brothers died at age 48 as a long delayed result of a blow to the head by a police truncheon.

The other 15 males lived to ages ranging from 65 to 96, with an average age at death of 77 years. The 8 females lived to ages ranging from 69 to 99, with an average age at death of 87 years. The longest-lived of the males was the only one to pass the 90 mark. Four of the females lived into their 90s, dying at ages 91, 96, 98, and 99.

All of the 25 who reached adulthood also married. Only two of them had a marriage end in divorce. All of them were raised in near-poverty or in somewhat comfortable circumstances that vanished with the onset of the Great Depression. All of them worked hard, whether in the home or outside of it; none of them went on welfare; most of the men and two of the women served in uniform during World War II.

Thus passeth a generation sui generis.

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill….

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology (“The Hill“)

Peak Civilization

The fate of most human endeavors is that they reach a peak of attainment, which is then followed by a decline due to excess on the one hand and neglect on the other hand. “Classical” music is a favorite example of mine. The form peaked around the turn of the 20th century, then went over the top into — variously — cacophony, atonality, and arrythmic confusion. The best of contemporary “classical” music is merely derivative of the form as it was at its peak.

So it is with myriad endeavors, the most important of which is the endeavor of rational inquiry. In the West, rational inquiry seems to have peaked in the early 1960s. I needn’t remind you of the subsequent descent: mobs, riots, the din of “entertainment”, quasi-religious movements from hippiedom to “climate change”, and on and on into the night.

It all makes me glad that I came of age in the 1950s, when civilized discourse was still possible and scientists were dedicated to the pursuit of truth, not the projection of their hopes, fears, and feelings.

Not with a Bang

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men

It’s also the way that America is ending. Yes, there are verbal fireworks aplenty, but there will not be a “hot” civil war. The country that my parents and grandparents knew and loved — the country of my youth in the 1940s and 1950s — is just fading away.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing if the remaking of America were a gradual, voluntary process, leading to time-tested changes for the better. But that isn’t the case. The very soul of America has been and is being ripped out by the government that was meant to protect that soul, and by movements that government not only tolerates but fosters.

Before I go further, I should explain what I mean by America, which is not the same thing as the geopolitical entity known as the United States, though the two were tightly linked for a long time.

America was a relatively homogeneous cultural order that fostered mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual forbearance — or far more of those things than one might expect in a nation as populous and far-flung as the United States. Those things — conjoined with a Constitution that has been under assault since the New Deal — made America a land of liberty. That is to say, they fostered real liberty, which isn’t an unattainable state of bliss but an actual (and imperfect) condition of peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

The attainment of this condition depends on social comity, which depends in turn on (a) genetic kinship and (b) the inculcation and enforcement of social norms, especially the norms that define harm.

All of that is going by the boards because the emerging cultural order is almost diametrically opposite that which prevailed in America. The new dispensation includes:

  • casual sex
  • serial cohabitation
  • subsidized illegitimacy
  • abortion on demand
  • easy divorce
  • legions of non-mothering mothers
  • concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males
  • gender-confusion as a burgeoning norm
  • “alternative lifestyles” that foster disease, promiscuity, and familial instability
  • normalization of drug abuse
  • forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights)
  • suppression of religion
  • rampant obscenity
  • identity politics on steroids
  • illegal immigration as a “right”
  • “free stuff” from government (Social Security was meant to be self-supporting)
  • America as the enemy
  • all of this (and more) as gospel to influential elites whose own lives are modeled mostly on old America.

As the culture has rotted, so have the ties that bound America.

The rot has occurred to the accompaniment of cacophony. Cultural coarsening begets loud and inconsiderate vulgarity. Worse than that is the cluttering of the ether with the vehement and belligerent propaganda, most of it aimed at taking down America.

The advocates of the new dispensation haven’t quite finished the job of dismantling America. But that day isn’t far off. Complete victory for the enemies of America is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court (of the packing of it), the dogmas of the anti-American culture will become the law of the land; for example:

Billions and trillions of dollars will be wasted on various “green” projects, including but far from limited to the complete replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, with the resulting impoverishment of most Americans, except for comfortable elites who press such policies).

It will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as abortion, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. These cherished beliefs will be mandated for school and college curricula, and enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Islam will be held up as a model of unity and tolerance.

Reverse discrimination in favor of females, blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, and other “protected” groups will be required and enforced with a vengeance. But “protections” will not apply to members of such groups who are suspected of harboring libertarian or conservative impulses.

Sexual misconduct (as defined by the “victim”) will become a crime, and any male person may be found guilty of it on the uncorroborated testimony of any female who claims to have been the victim of an unwanted glance, touch (even if accidental), innuendo (as perceived by the victim), etc.

There will be parallel treatment of the “crimes” of racism, anti-Islamism, nativism, and genderism.

All health care in the United States will be subject to review by a national, single-payer agency of the central government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons. The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

The regulatory regime will rebound with a vengeance, contaminating every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline as their real prices rise as a fraction of incomes.

The dire economic effects of single-payer health care and regulation will be compounded by massive increases in other kinds of government spending (defense excepted). The real rate of economic growth will approach zero.

The United States will maintain token armed forces, mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings. Given its economically destructive independence from foreign oil and its depressed economy, it will become a simulacrum of the USSR and Mao’s China — and not a rival to the new superpowers, Russia and China, which will largely ignore it as long as it doesn’t interfere in their pillaging of respective spheres of influence. A policy of non-interference (i.e., tacit collusion) will be the order of the era in Washington.

Though it would hardly be necessary to rig elections in favor of Democrats, given the flood of illegal immigrants who will pour into the country and enjoy voting rights, a way will be found to do just that. The most likely method will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., abortion, unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so, given what has happened in recent decades and the cultural revolutionaries’ tightening grip on the Democrat party. What I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government.

Will the defenders of liberty rally to keep it from happening? Perhaps, but I fear that they will not have a lot of popular support, for three reasons:

First, there is the problem of asymmetrical ideological warfare, which favors the party that says “nice” things and promises “free” things.

Second, What has happened thus far — mainly since the 1960s — has happened slowly enough that it seems “natural” to too many Americans. They are like fish in water who cannot grasp the idea of life in a different medium.

Third, although change for the worse has accelerated in recent years, it has occurred mainly in forums that seem inconsequential to most Americans, for example, in academic fights about free speech, in the politically correct speeches of Hollywood stars, and in culture wars that are conducted mainly in the blogosphere. The unisex-bathroom issue seems to have faded as quickly as it arose, mainly because it really affects so few people. The latest gun-control mania may well subside — though it has reached new heights of hysteria — but it is only one battle in the broader war being waged by the left. And most Americans lack the political and historical knowledge to understand that there really is a civil war underway — just not a “hot” one.

Is a reversal possible? Possible, yes, but unlikely. The rot is too deeply entrenched. Public schools and universities are cesspools of anti-Americanism. The affluent elites of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex are in the saddle. Republican politicians, for the most part, are of no help because they are more interested on preserving their comfortable sinecures than in defending America or the Constitution.

On that note, I will take a break from blogging — perhaps forever. I urge you to read one of my early posts, “Reveries“, for a taste of what America means to me. As for my blogging legacy, please see “A Summing Up“, which links to dozens of posts and pages that amplify and support this post.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Voltaire, Candide


Related reading:

Michael Anton, “What We Still Have to Lose“, American Greatness, February 10, 2019

Rod Dreher, “Benedict Option FAQ“, The American Conservative, October 6, 2015

Roger Kimball, “Shall We Defend Our Common History?“, Imprimis, February 2019

Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Cultural Engineers“, newgeography, January 26, 2019

Daniel Oliver, “Where Has All the Culture Gone?“, The Federalist, February 8, 2019

Malcolm Pollack, “On Civil War“, Motus Mentis, March 7, 2019

Fred Reed, “The White Man’s Burden: Reflections on the Custodial State“, Fred on Everything, January 17, 2019

Gilbert T. Sewall, “The Diminishing Authority of the Bourgeois Culture“, The American Conservative, February 4, 2019

Bob Unger, “Requiem for America“, The New American, January 24, 2019

A Summing Up

This post has been updated and moved to “Favorite Posts“.

“The Little Drummer Girl” and War

My wife and I recently watched a six-episode, made-for-TV adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl, a novel by John Le Carré‘ that was published in 1983. The story

follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who intends to kill Khalil – a Palestinian terrorist who is bombing Jewish-related targets in Europe, particularly Germany – and Charlie, an English actress and double agent working on behalf of the Israelis….

Kurtz … recruits Charlie, a “21 or 22-year-old” radical left-wing English actress, as part of an elaborate scheme to discover the whereabouts of Khalil… Joseph is Charlie’s case officer. Khalil’s younger brother Salim is abducted, interrogated, and killed by Kurtz’s unit. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie to make Khalil believe that Charlie and Salim are lovers. When Khalil discovers the affair and contacts Charlie, the Israelis are able to track him down.

Charlie is taken to Palestinian refugee camps to be trained as a bomber. She becomes more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and her divided loyalties bring her close to collapse. Charlie is sent on a mission to place a bomb at a lecture given by an Israeli moderate whose peace proposals are not to Khalil’s liking. She carries out the mission under the Israelis’ supervision. As a result, Joseph kills Khalil. Charlie subsequently has a mental breakdown caused by the strain of her mission and her own internal contradictions.

I recall that the 1984 feature-film version was widely thought to be pro-Palestinian and, therefore, anti-Israeli.

Neither my wife nor I have seen the 1984 film. She has read the novel, though she doesn’t remember much about it. I haven’t read the novel. I therefore came to the made-for-TV series with little baggage, though I feared that it might prove to be anti-Israeli propaganda. I will render a verdict later in this post, after considering some relevant evidence about the novel and feature film.

According to a piece in The New York Times, published soon after the release of the feature film, the novel and film were meant to be neutral:

The main problem in attempting to remain faithful to the book was dealing with what the filmmakers saw as its political balance – striving to be even-handed in the portrayal of Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a violent struggle for their respective causes and survival in the super- charged, highly sensitive arena of current history involving the ongoing agony of the Middle East.

”We weren’t making a political film,” said [director George Roy] Hill. ”We have no political ax to grind. We were making a suspense story that happened to have a political background. But we wanted to be true to the book, which we believe to be even-handed. The book shows the Palestinians for the first time in a human light. Up until then, they were seen as bloodthirsty monsters.”…

Like the book, the film does humanize the Palestinians and, perhaps because of the medium itself which makes them and their ultimate decimation visually and painfully real to the audience, it seems likely that the film will engender even more controversy than did the book.

Mr. Le Carre thinks controversy arose because the Palestinians never had a fair hearing in the United States. ”It is true,” he said, ”that some people think that it is heretical, anti-Semitic and probably even anti- American to suggest that there is even anything to be said for the Palestinian side.”

The novelist has continued to arouse passions by publishing some articles sympathetic to the Palestinians after the Shatila massacre in 1982. Nevertheless, he denies that this makes him anti-Israeli. ”It’s almost a vulgarity to confuse a balance of compassion with a want of sympathy for Israel,” he said. ”If I had written the book later, after the full extent of the Israeli operation was known, I would have made it angrier. But I begin and I end, believe it or not, as a tremendous supporter of a concept of Israel.”…

Indeed, the movie does not proclaim itself explicitly on one side or the other. A catalog of the ills shown suffered by each side would probably add up to a fairly even score….

But still, making the movie called for tremendous amounts of surgery and, in some cases, amputation….

The change in Charlie’s character is interesting because Mr. Le Carre had specified in his original contract that Charlie be played by an English actress. ”We were unable to find a suitable English actress,” Mr. Hill said. ”When I first spoke to Diane about the part we discussed the possibility of playing it with an English accent. But then I saw the advantage of making her American – to isolate her even more from the European community. This difference, and her more advanced age, makes the whole ending scene more moving, gives it more impact. By the end she can no longer act, she can’t pretend. She has been destroyed.”…

While the changes in Charlie’s personality added a dimension, the changes in Kurtz’s removed an aspect of his character – a moral one.

In the book, Kurtz, the master-spy, has many of the same doubts as Joseph, the agent Charlie loves. The two resolve their doubts in different ways. Kurtz pushes past them by working to stop the Palestinians even if in the process he has to act against his own conscience….

In the movie Mr. Kinski, who has previously played many fierce and even demonic characters, plays Kurtz as a hard-liner. He becomes a super-efficient agent with a touch of fanaticism, who resolutely brushes away all moral qualms. The effect is to make the Israelis seem like a ruthlessly moving machine pitted against the more vulnerable Palestinians.

Mr. Le Carre originally objected to the casting of Mr. Kinski because ”I thought he carried too much baggage with him.” He said he thinks his own Kurtz is probably ”more Israeli” and not as harsh. Mr. Hill said the casting choice was made for dramatic reasons. It would have been boring, he maintains, to have on screen two characters as similar as Joseph and Kurtz. But it’s one example of how a change made for dramatic impact can subtly change the film’s psychological effect.

It would seem that the crucial casting of Kinski as Kurtz gave the film an anti-Israeli tone — intended or not — even if the novel was meant to be neutral, as Le Carré‘ insists. The made-for-TV series struck me as truer to the spirit of the novel, as Le Carré‘ describes it.

The TV series can be viewed superficially, as just another story with some compelling characters, suspenseful sequences, and a conclusive climax. The series can also seem pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, depending on the stance you bring to your viewing.

I admit to having been staunchly pro-Israeli for a long time, but on reflection I conclude that the TV series conveys a pro-Israeli message — and more.

Charlie’s pangs of conscience after the killings of Khalil and his henchpersons are short-lived. She retreats to a seaside resort, recovers quickly, and reconciles with Joseph. I see these anti-climactic events as indicative of a pro-Israeli slant. Although the anti-climactic events might have been contrived merely to give the series a happy ending, they rather obviously (though subtly) endorse the rightness of the cause to which Charlie was recruited.

The series also conveys, even more subtly, this crucial message: One cannot win a war — or stave off defeat — by being less than ruthless. It’s probably true that most Palestinians, like most Israelis, are just “ordinary people” trying to get on with daily life. But that doesn’t negate the reality of the unrelenting Arab-Muslim effort to terrorize and kill Israelis and to undermine Israel as a sovereign state.

The need for ruthlessness is a lesson that American leaders seemed to have learned in World War II, but which their successors failed to apply in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1990-91 Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Related posts:
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Pacifism
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited
The Folly of Pacifism (III)

GHWB

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018) is the new leader in the clubhouse. That is to say, he is now the oldest member of the Dead Presidents Club, at the age of 94.47 years.

GHWB replaced Gerald Ford, who made it to 93.45. Ford replaced Ronald Reagan, who made it to 93.33.

Jimmy (now 94.17) will replace GHWB if he lives to March 25, 2019.

John Adams (90.67) and Herbert Hoover (90.19) are the other occupants of the club’s exclusive 90+ room. As many members of the club (5) lived into their 90s as lived into their 80s.

Will Jimmy make it 6 to 5, or will he become the club’s first centenarian? He already holds the record for having outlived his presidency. He’s almost at the 38-year mark, well beyond Hoover’s 31.63. The only president of the past half-century who was worse than Carter is Obama, who will probably break Carter’s miserable record for post-presidential pestilence.

For more in this vein, see the updated version of “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“.

55 Years Ago — And Today

From “Where Were You?“, which I posted seven years ago:

I have long since repented of my admiration for JFK (e.g., here). But my repentance is irrelevant to this story. The events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, burned into my brain a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life….

I have come to see that the emotions that stirred in me 48 years ago were foolish ones. The greatest tragedy of JFK’s passing was LBJ’s succession to the presidency. LBJ’s cynical use of JFK’s memory helped him to unleash policies that have divided America and threaten to bankrupt it.

From “Who Shot JFK, and Why?“:

What about the thesis advanced by James B. Reston Jr. that Oswald’s real target was Connally? Possibly, inasmuch as Oswald wasn’t a sniper-class shooter. Here’s a scenario that’s consistent with the timing of events in Dealey Plaza: Oswald can tell that his first shot missed his target. He got off a quick second shot, which hit JFK, who’s in line with Connally, passed through JFK and hit Connally. There was no obvious, dramatic reaction from Connally, even though he was hit. So Oswald fired a quick third shot, which hit Kennedy in the back of the head instead of hitting Connally, who by that time had slumped into his wife’s lap. (Go here for the Warren Commission’s chronology of the shots and their effects.)…

Reston could be right, but we’ll never know if he is or isn’t. The truth of the matter died with Oswald on November 24, 1963. In any event, if Reston is right, it would mean that there was no conspiracy to murder JFK.

The only conspiracy theory that might still be worth considering is the idea that Oswald was gunning for JFK because he was somehow maneuvered into doing so by LBJ, the CIA, Fidel Castro, the Mafia, or the Russians. (See, for example, Philip Shenon’s “‘Maybe We Missed Something’: Warren Commission Insider Publicly Concedes That JFK Assassination Was Likely a Conspiracy,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2014, republished in The National Post.) The murder of Oswald by Ruby conveniently plays into that theory. But I say that the burden of proof is on conspiracy theorists, for whom the obvious is not titillating enough. The obvious is Oswald — a leftist loser and less-than-honorably discharged Marine with a chip on his shoulder, a domineering mother, an unhappy home life, and a menial job.

From “1963: The Year Zero“:

If, like me, you were an adult when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may think of his death as a watershed moment in American history. I say this not because I’m an admirer of Kennedy the man (I am not), but because American history seemed to turn a corner when Kennedy was murdered….

This petite histoire begins with the Vietnam War and its disastrous mishandling by LBJ, its betrayal by the media, and its spawning of the politics of noise. “Protests” in public spaces and on campuses are a main feature of the politics of noise. In the new age of instant and sympathetic media attention to “protests,” civil and university authorities often refuse to enforce order. The media portray obstructive and destructive disorder as “free speech.” Thus do “protestors” learn that they can, with impunity, inconvenience and cow the masses who simply want to get on with their lives and work….

LBJ’s “Great Society” marked the resurgence of FDR’s New Deal — with a vengeance — and the beginning of a long decline of America’s economic vitality….

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 unnecessarily crushed property rights, along with freedom of association, to what end? So that a violent, dependent, Democrat-voting underclass could arise from the Great Society? So that future generations of privilege-seekers could cry “discrimination” if anyone dares to denigrate their “lifestyles”?…

The war on defense has been accompanied by a war on science. The party that proclaims itself the party of science is anything but that. It is the party of superstitious, Luddite anti-science. Witness the embrace of extreme environmentalism, the arrogance of proclamations that AGW is “settled science,” unjustified fear of genetically modified foodstuffs, the implausible doctrine that race is nothing but a social construct, and on and on.

With respect to the nation’s moral well-being, the most destructive war of all has been the culture war, which assuredly began in the 1960s. 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….

Then there is the campaign to curtail freedom of speech. This purported beneficiaries of the campaign are the gender-confused and the easily offended (thus “microagressions” and “trigger warnings”). The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is all right if it’s acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech,” and must be stamped out. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty….

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity….


Related reading:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Did 1968 Win the Culture War?“, American Greatness, November 22, 2018

Will Lloyd, “How the Myth of JFK Tortured the Democratic Party for 55 Years“, Spectator USA, November 22. 2018

Jamie Palmer, “My Misspent Years of Conspiricism“, Quillette, November 22, 2018

Enough, Already!

In “Trump Defies Gravity“, and other posts about electoral trends, I contrast President Trump’s approval ratings with and those of his predecessor, over whom the media fawned ad nauseum. As I often note, Trump’s ratings are higher than Obama’s, despite the anti-Trump hysteria in which most of the media engage.

A new page at this blog, “Trump Coverage” A Chronology“, summarizes events related to Donald Trump’s presidency that have drawn media attention. The chronology is taken from Wikipedia‘s pages about newsworthy events in the United States during 2016, 2017, and 2018.

The summary begins with the aftermath of the election of November 8, 2016. Not all of the events listed in Wikipedia‘s chronologies occurred in the U.S., which leads me to wonder why the “migrant caravans” of 2018 aren’t included. They were and are clearly aimed at challenging Trump’s stance on immigration, and provoking incidents that cast Trump in a bad light.

At any rate, the tone of Wikipedia‘s narratives — which I copied verbatim — reflects the one-sided, negative, and apocalyptic coverage that bombards those Americans who bother to read or view mainstream media outlets.

V-J Day Stirs Memories

V-J Day in the United States commemorates the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces, and the end of World War II. The surrender ceremony took place on September 2, 1945 (the date in Japan), beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tokyo time. The ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay, aboard U.S.S. Missouri, and was presided over by General Douglas MacArthur:

Though it was actually September 1 in the United States at the time of the ceremony, V-J Day is traditionally observed in the U.S. on September 2.

The Monday after the surrender was Labor Day in the U.S. And in those more civilized times (barbarous wars aside), school began on the day after Labor Day.

On September 4, 1945 (the day after Labor Day), I entered kindergarten at the age of 4-2/3 years. Here’s the school that I attended:

PolkSch

In those innocent days, students got to school and back home by walking. Here’s the route that I followed as a kindergartener:

Route to Polk School

A 4-year-old walking several blocks between home and school, usually alone most of the way? Unheard of today, it seems. But that was a different time, in many ways.

For more, see “The Passing of Red-Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life“.

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

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)

Lincoln Was Wrong

Michael Stokes Paulsen and his son Luke opine:

[A]t the heart of the Civil War, the crisis that triggered it, and the changes that it brought were enormous constitutional issues. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Civil War was fought over the meaning of the Constitution, and over who would have the ultimate power to decide that meaning. The Civil War decided—on the battlefields rather than in the courts—the most important constitutional questions in our nation’s history: the nature of the Union under the Constitution, the status and future of slavery, the powers of the national government versus the states, the supremacy of the Constitution, and the wartime powers of the president as commander in chief. It was the Civil War, not any subsequent judicial decision, that “overruled” the Supreme Court’s atrocious decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford creating a national constitutional right to own slaves….

The United States is the nation it is today because of Lincoln’s unwavering commitment to the Constitution as governing a single, permanent nation and forbidding secession. Lincoln’s vision of Union is so thoroughly accepted today that we forget how hotly disputed it was for the first seventy years of our nation’s history. The result was hardly inevitable. Lincoln’s vision and resolve saved the nation. Lincoln’s nationalist views have shaped every issue of federalism and sovereignty for the past one hundred fifty years. Compared with the constitutional issues over which the Civil War was fought, today’s disputes over federal- versus-state power are minor-league ball played out on a field framed by Lincoln’s prevailing constitutional vision of the United States as one nation, indivisible.

On the president’s constitutional duty: Lincoln understood his oath to impose an absolute personal moral and legal duty not to cave in to wrong, destructive views of the Constitution. He fought on the campaign trail for his understanding of Union and of the authority of the national government to limit the spread of slavery. Once in office, he understood his oath to impose on him an irreducible moral and legal duty of faithful execution of the laws, throughout the Union. It was a duty he could not abandon for any reason. [“The Great Interpreter”, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Research Paper No. 15-09, April 17, 2017]

Whence Lincoln’s view of the Union? This is from the Paulsens’ book, The Constitution: An Introduction:

Lincoln was firmly persuaded that secession was unconstitutional. Immediately upon taking office as President, in his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln— a careful constitutional lawyer— laid out in public his argument as to why secession was unconstitutional: The Constitution was the supreme law of the land, governing all the states. The Constitution did not provide that states could withdraw from the Union, and to infer such a right was contrary to the letter and spirit of the document. The Constitution’s Preamble announced the objective of forming a “more perfect Union” of the states than had existed under the Articles of Confederation, which themselves had said that the Union would be “perpetual.” Moreover, the Constitution created a true national government, not a mere “compact,” league, or confederacy— in fact, it explicitly forbade states from entering into alliances, confederacies, or treaties outside of national authority. The people of the United States, taken as a whole, were sovereign, not the states.

It followed from these views, Lincoln argued, that “no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.” Purported secession was simply an illegal— unconstitutional— rebellion against the Union.

Lincoln’s position, which the Paulsens seem to applaud, is flawed at its root. The Constitution did not incorporate the Articles of Confederation, it supplanted them. The “perpetual Union” of the Articles vanished into thin air upon the adoption of the Constitution. Moreover, the “more perfect Union” of the Constitution’s preamble is merely aspirational, as are the desiderata that follow it:

establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

“More perfect”, if it means anything, means that the Constitution created a central government where there was none before. The Constitution is silent about perpetuity. It is silent about secession. Therefore, one must turn elsewhere to find (or reject) a legal basis for secession, but not to the Civil War.

The Civil War “decided” the issue of secession in the same way that World War I “decided” the future of war. It was the “war to end all wars”, was it not? Therefore, tens of millions of deaths to the contrary notwithstanding, there have been no wars since the Armistice of 1918. By the same logic, the thief who steals your car or the vandal who defaces your home or the scam artist who takes your life savings has “decided” that you don’t own a car, or that your home should be ugly, or that your savings are really his. Thus does might make right, as the Paulsens would have it.

There is in fact a perfectly obvious and straightforward case for unilateral secession, which I have made elsewhere, including “A Resolution of Secession”. You should read all of it if you are a rabid secessionist — or a rabid anti-secessionist. Here are some key passages:

The Constitution is a contract — a compact in the language of the Framers. The parties to the compact are not only the States but also the central government….

Lest there be any question about the status of the Constitution as a compact, we turn to James Madison, who is often called the Father of the Constitution. Madison, in a letter to Daniel Webster dated March 15, 1833, addresses

the question whether the Constitution of the U.S. was formed by the people or by the States, now under a theoretic discussion by animated partizans.

Madison continues:

It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as imbodied into the several states, who were parties to it and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity….

[I]n The Federalist No. 39, which informed the debates in the various States about ratification….

Madison leaves no doubt about the continued sovereignty of each State and its people. The remaining question is this: On what grounds, if any, may a State withdraw from the compact into which it entered voluntarily?

There is a judicial myth — articulated by a majority of the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1869) — that States may not withdraw from the compact because the union of States is perpetual….

The Court’s reasoning is born of mysticism, not legality. Similar reasoning might have been used — and was used — to assert that the Colonies were inseparable from Great Britain. And yet, some of the people of the Colonies put an end to the union of the Colonies and Great Britain, on the moral principle that the Colonies were not obliged to remain in an abusive relationship. That moral principle is all the more compelling in the case of the union known as the United States, which — mysticism aside — is nothing more than the creature of the States, as authorized by the people thereof.

In fact, the Constitution supplanted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, by the will of only nine of the thirteen States….

[I]n a letter to Alexander Rives dated January 1, 1833, Madison says that

[a] rightful secession requires the consent of the others [other States], or an abuse of the compact, absolving the seceding party from the obligations imposed by it.

An abuse of the compact most assuredly necessitates withdrawal from it, on the principle of the preservation of liberty, especially if that abuse has been persistent and shows no signs of abating. The abuse, in this instance, has been and is being committed by the central government.

The central government is both a creature of the Constitution and a de facto party to it, as co-sovereign with the States and supreme in its realm of enumerated and limited powers. One of those powers enables the Supreme Court of the United States to decide “cases and controversies” arising under the Constitution, which alone makes the central government a responsible party. More generally, the high officials of the central government acknowledge the central government’s role as a party to the compact — and the limited powers vested in them — when they take oaths of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution.

Many of those high officials have nevertheless have committed myriad abuses of the central government’s enumerated and limited powers. The abuses are far too numerous to list in their entirety. The following examples amply justify the withdrawal of the State of _______________ from the compact….

We, therefore, the representatives of the people of _______________ do solemnly publish and declare that this State ought to be free and independent; that it is absolved from all allegiance to the government of the United States; that all political connection between it and government of the United States is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent State it has full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.


See “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.

The JFK Standard

I believe that the media’s treatment of a president has more to do with his party affiliation and various “cosmetic” factors than with his policies or executive competence. To test this hypothesis (unscientifically), I constructed a table listing six factors, and gave JFK a 10 for each of them. (He was the last president to enjoy an extended honeymoon with the media, and it had to have been based more on “cosmetic” factors than anything else.) I then quickly assigned relative scores to each of JFK’s successors — and didn’t go back to change any scores. I didn’t add the scores until I had assigned every president a score for all six factors. Here’s the result:

Given the media’s long-standing bias toward Democrats, I arbitrarily gave each Democrat 10 points for party affiliation, as against zero for the Republicans. “Looks,” “wit,” and “elegance” (as seen through the eyes of the media) should be self-explanatory. “Wife” and “children” refer to contemporaneous media perceptions of each president’s wife and child or children. Jackie was the perfect First Lady, from the standpoint of looks, poise, and “culture.” And Caroline and John Jr. epitomized “adorable,” unlike the older and often unattractive (or notorious) offspring of later presidents.

I’d say that the total scores are a good indication of the relative treatment — favorable, middling, and unfavorable — given each president by the media.


Related:
Facts about Presidents
Is Character Really an Issue?
Blindsided by the Truth
Rating the Presidents, Again
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
1963: The Year Zero

Presidents and War

This post is prompted by a recent exchange with former think-tank colleagues about H.R. McMaster‘s Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’ve just started it, having until now steadfastly eschewed rehashes of the Vietnam War since its ignominious end. My assessment of LBJ’s handling of the Vietnam War is based entirely on my knowledge of the war as it unfolded and unraveled, and subsequent reflections on that knowledge. I’ll review McMaster’s book in a later post.

The president’s role as commander-in-chief is a two-edged sword. It was wielded ably by Lincoln and FDR (until the end-game in Europe), and badly by Truman, LBJ, Bush I, Bush II, and Obama.

Starting with Bush II, I believe that he made the right strategic decision, which was to bring the Middle East under control instead of leaving it hostage to the whims of Saddam. (Some will say that Saddam was contained, but — in my view — he was a threat to the Middle East if not to the U.S. as long as he was in power.) That may not have been what Bush intended, but that’s what he could have achieved, and would have achieved if he had committed the forces necessary to bring Iraq firmly under control. Instead, he followed Rumsfeld’s do-it-on-the-cheap advice for too long. Anyway, Bush got bogged down, much as LBJ had done with his “signalling” and gradualism in Vietnam. The 2007 surge might have turned things around, but Bush had run out of political capital and couldn’t commit the forces needed to stabilize Iraq for the long haul (and neutralize Iran), even if he had wanted to.

Obama then followed his anti-colonial impulses and converted potential stability into the mess that we see today.

Bush I set it all up when he declined the golden opportunity to depose Saddam in 1991.

Truman’s handling of the Korean War could be defended as making the best of a bad situation. But Truman’s decision to accept a stalemate instead of taking on the Chinese, as MacArthur urged, was a strategic miscalculation of the first order. It signaled to Russia and China the unwillingness of U.S. leaders to push back against Communist expansion. LBJ reinforced that signal in Vietnam. It took Reagan, who pursued a defense buildup in the face of chicken-little screams from the defeatist left, to push the USSR to its breaking point.

To paraphrase Andy Granatelli, you can pay now or pay later, but pay you will. I fear that the long-run price of the defense build-down under Obama will be high.

The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump

I don’t believe it but — according to many leftists, Democrats, pundits, and media outlets — Donald Trump is a fascist, a Nazi, a Hitler-in-the making. That’s the scare story that’s been peddled since it began to look as if Trump had a serious chance of becoming the GOP nominee. (Please excuse the superfluity of synonyms for “leftists” in the first sentence.)

There’s something about Republicans that causes leftists to invoke the “H” word — Hitler, that is — and its close substitutes: Nazi and fascist. I have a little story that illustrates the tendency and suggests its cause. I was visiting Austin years ago and fell into a discussion with my brother-in-law and his wife, who were and are both ardent leftists and active in local Democrat politics. They had recently moved to the affluent Northwest Hills section of the city, ostensibly to enable their daughter to attend the schools in that part of the city, which are by reputation better than the ones in South Austin, where they had been living. Northwest Hills is mostly white; many of the whites are Jewish; and the non-white population is mainly of East Asian origin and descent. Blacks and Hispanics are seldom seen in Northwest Hills, except as employees of the city and businesses in the area, and as nannies and yard men. South Austin is much less affluent than Northwest Hills, and far more heavily populated by Hispanics.

The brother-in-law and his wife were apologetic about their move. Though they didn’t put it this way, they had revealed themselves as hypocrites about ethnic diversity and their supposed sympathy with the “less fortunate.” But their hypocrisy was excused by their concern for their daughter’s education. (A classic example of leftist hypocrisy, in the same mold as Democrat presidents — Clinton and Obama most recently — who sent their children to private schools in mostly black D.C.) They were especially chagrined because they (and their leftist ilk) referred to the denizens of their new neighborhood the Northwest Nazis. The appellation arose from the fact that Northwest Hills was then (and still is) markedly more Republican than the surrounding parts of heavily Democrat Austin.

I thought to myself at the time, how utterly wrong-headed it is for leftists — who are ardent fans of dictatorial statism — to refer to Republicans as Nazis. Republicans generally oppose the left’s dictatorial schemes. (I chose to keep my observation to myself rather than incite a fruitless and possibly acrimonious discussion). But leftists like my brother-in-law and his wife — who are given to equating Republicans with fascists, Nazis, and Hitlers — are themselves ardent proponents of the expansion of the fascistic state that has been erected, almost without pause, since the New Deal. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) It’s Through the Looking Glass logic:

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

The “logic” of applying such labels as Hitler, fascist, and Nazi to Republicans strikes me as psychological projection. That’s not a new explanation, but it’s a sound one, as you’ll see.

The following quotations are excerpted from two blog posts (here and here) by Australian psychologist John J. Ray, who has done a lot of research and writing about the left and its delusions:

I have been looking at the differences between the Left and the Right of politics since 1968, when I submitted my Master’s dissertation  on that subject.  And my aim has been to understand WHY Leftists behave like SoBs so much of the time. How is it that implementing Leftist policies always results in harm and destruction of some sort, if not mass murder?

So my interest has been not only in Leftist claims and policies but also in their underlying psychology.  I think, in fact, that it is only at the psychological level that Leftism can be understood.  And, in that, I find myself in a degree of agreement with Leftist psychologists.  Leftists never stop offering accounts of the psychology of conservatives, adverse accounts, of course. It is one of the more popular fields of research in psychology.  So Leftists are most emphatic that you need to delve into the psychological realm to understand politics.  In any argument on the facts they will be defeated by conservatives so impugning the motives of their opponent is essentially all that they have left.

I am VERY familiar with the Leftist claims in that regard. Most of my 200+ academic journal articles were devoted to showing that the research they relied on in support of their claims was flawed, often hilariously so.

But there was one redeeming feature in their research.  In purporting to describe conservatives they usually were quite clearly describing themselves!  An accusation that they never seem able to let go of, despite much contrary evidence, is that conservatives are “authoritarian”….

*     *     *

The concept of “authoritarianism” as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists.  They cannot leave it alone.  It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called “The authoritaian personality” under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother — Adorno.

The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the ’60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here.

In the first half of his first book in 1981, “Bob” Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded.  He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.

That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however.  Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters — which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism.  The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists!  Right wing Communists??  For more on Altemeyer’s confusions see here. Or more concisely here.

So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions — e.g here.

But … Leftist psychologists did not give up.  A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept.  And reading their “new” theory is like a trip back into the 1940’s.  Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable  fear.

The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory.  The key word is “unreasonable”.  How much fear is “unreasonable”?  Is all fear “unreasonable”?  Obviously not.  Fear is an important survival mechanism.  We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it.  And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists.  Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear.  So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough.  They do not fear the “unforeseen” and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.

So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality.  They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear.  So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.

So why all the mental muddle from them?  Why does the old “authoritarianism” catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept?  Why have they not learnt from its past failures?  Easy:  It’s all Freudian projection.  They see their own faults in conservatives.  The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves.  Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left.  The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives.  What could be more authoritarian than Obama’s aim to “fundamentally transform” America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.

It’s true that conservatives have respect for authority, which isn’t the same thing as authoritarianism. Respect for authority, where it’s earned by authority, means respect for the civilizing norms that are represented in a lawful institution when it acts within its traditional bounds. For example, conservatives respect presidents when they strive to restore and sustain the constitutional order; conservatives therefore disrespect presidents who blatantly violate that order.

What about Mussolini and Hitler, who are usually thought of as right-wing dictators and therefore labeled as conservative? I return to John Ray, who has this to say about Mussolini:

Let us listen initially to some reflections on the early days of Fascism by Mussolini himself — first published in 1935 (See the third chapter in Greene, 1968).

“If the bourgeoisie think they will find lightning conductors in us they are the more deceived; we must start work at once …. We want to accustom the working class to real and effectual leadership“.

And that was Mussolini quoting his own words from the early Fascist days. So while Mussolini had by that time (in his 30s) come to reject the Marxist idea of a class-war, he still saw himself as anti-bourgeois and as a saviour and leader of the workers. What modern-day Leftist could not identify with that?…

“If the 19th century has been the century of the individual (for liberalism means individualism), it may be conjectured that this is the century of the State.

This is Mussolini’s famous prophecy about the 20th century in the Enciclopedia Italiana….

“Laissez faire is out of date.”

To this day the basic free market doctrine of “laissez faire” is virtually a swear-word to most Leftists. Quoted from Smith (1967, p. 87)….

And Mussolini’s “Fascist Manifesto” of 1919 (full translation by Vox Day here) includes in Fascist policy such socialist gems as (I quote):
* The nationalization of all the arms and explosives factories.
* A strong progressive tax on capital that will truly expropriate a portion of all wealth.
* The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor.
* The formation of a National Council of experts for labor, for industy, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made from the collective professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a General Commission with ministerial powers.
* A minimum wage.
* The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions.

Elsewhere, Ray says this about Mussolini and his aims:

“Fascism” is a term that was originally coined by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I. Lenin in Russia made somewhat different adaptations of Marxism to the conditions in Russia during the same period and his adaptations came to be called Marxism/Leninism. Mussolini stayed closer to Marx in that he felt that Italy had to go through a capitalist stage before it could reach socialism whereas Lenin attempted to push Russia straight from semi-feudalism into socialism. Mussolini’s principal modification of Marxism was his rejection of the notion of class war, something that put him decisively at odds with Lenin’s “Reds”….

Mussolini’s ideas and system were very influential and he had many imitators — not the least of which was Adolf Hitler….

…Mussolini was quite intellectual and his thinking was in fact much more up-to-date than that would suggest. He was certainly influenced by Marx and the ancient world but he had a whole range of ideas that extended beyond that. And where did he turn for up-to-date ideas? To America, of course! And the American ideas that influenced him were in fact hard to miss. They were the ideas of the American “Progressives”. And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States — Woodrow Wilson….

Ray takes up FDR’s resemblance to Mussolini, and defers to Srdja Trifkovic’s “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,” which includes these observations:

Genuine conservatives … may argue that FDR and Mussolini were in fact rather similar. They will point out both men’s obsessive focus on strong, centralized government structures, their demagoguery, and especially their attempt to overcome the dynamics of social and economic conflict through the institutions of the corporate state.

For all their apparent similarities, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a more deleterious figure than Benito Mussolini, and his legacy proved to be more damaging to America than Il Duce’s was to Italy. This is not a case of good versus bad, or of two equal evils, but of bad versus even worse: Roosevelt was a more efficient, and certainly more successful, fascist than Mussolini.

(See my “FDR and Fascism” and also follow the links therein.)

As for Hitler, I return to John Ray and his monograph, “Hitler Was a Socialist“:

It is very easy to miss complexities in the the politics of the past and thus draw wrong conclusions about them. To understand the politics of the past we need to set aside for a time our own way of looking at things and try to see how the people involved at the time saw it all. Doing so is an almost essential step if we wish to understand the similarities and differences between Nazism and Marxism/Leninism. The following excerpt from James P. O’Donnell’s THE BUNKER (1978, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 261-262) is instructive. O’Donnell is quoting Artur Axmann, the Nazi youth leader, recalling a conversation with Goebbels in the Hitler bunker on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, the same day Goebbels and his wife would kill themselves after she killed their children.

“Goebbels stood up to greet me. He soon launched into lively memories of our old street-fighting days in Berlin-Wedding, from nineteen twenty-eight to thirty-three. He recalled how we had clobbered the Berlin Communists and the Socialists into submission, to the tune of the “Horst Wessel” marching song, on their old home ground.He said one of the great accomplishments of the Hitler regime had been to win the German workers over almost totally to the national cause. We had made patriots of the workers, he said, as the Kaiser had dismally failed to do. This, he kept repeating, had been one of the real triumphs of the movement. We Nazis were a non-Marxist yet revolutionary party, anticapitalist, antibourgeois, antireactionary….

Starch-collared men like Chancellor Heinrich Bruening had called us the “Brown Bolsheviks,” and their bourgeois instincts were not wrong.

It seems inconceivable to modern minds that just a few differences between two similar ideologies — Marxism and Nazism — could have been sufficient cause for great enmity between those two ideologies. But the differences concerned were important to the people involved at the time. Marxism was class-based and Nazism was nationally based but otherwise they were very similar. That’s what people said and thought at the time and that explains what they did and how they did it.

And a quote from Hitler himself:

“Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.”

…Consider this description by Edward Feser of someone who would have been a pretty good Presidential candidate for the modern-day U.S. Democratic party:

He had been something of a bohemian in his youth, and always regarded young people and their idealism as the key to progress and the overcoming of outmoded prejudices. And he was widely admired by the young people of his country, many of whom belonged to organizations devoted to practicing and propagating his teachings. He had a lifelong passion for music, art, and architecture, and was even something of a painter. He rejected what he regarded as petty bourgeois moral hang-ups, and he and his girlfriend “lived together” for years. He counted a number of homosexuals as friends and collaborators, and took the view that a man’s personal morals were none of his business; some scholars of his life believe that he himself may have been homosexual or bisexual. He was ahead of his time where a number of contemporary progressive causes are concerned: he disliked smoking, regarding it as a serious danger to public health, and took steps to combat it; he was a vegetarian and animal lover; he enacted tough gun control laws; and he advocated euthanasia for the incurably ill.

He championed the rights of workers, regarded capitalist society as brutal and unjust, and sought a third way between communism and the free market. In this regard, he and his associates greatly admired the strong steps taken by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to take large-scale economic decision-making out of private hands and put it into those of government planning agencies. His aim was to institute a brand of socialism that avoided the inefficiencies that plagued the Soviet variety, and many former communists found his program highly congenial. He deplored the selfish individualism he took to be endemic to modern Western society, and wanted to replace it with an ethic of self-sacrifice: “As Christ proclaimed ‘love one another’,” he said, “so our call — ‘people’s community,’ ‘public need before private greed,’ ‘communally-minded social consciousness’ — rings out.! This call will echo throughout the world!”

The reference to Christ notwithstanding, he was not personally a Christian, regarding the Catholicism he was baptized into as an irrational superstition. In fact he admired Islam more than Christianity, and he and his policies were highly respected by many of the Muslims of his day. He and his associates had a special distaste for the Catholic Church and, given a choice, preferred modern liberalized Protestantism, taking the view that the best form of Christianity would be one that forsook the traditional other-worldly focus on personal salvation and accommodated itself to the requirements of a program for social justice to be implemented by the state. They also considered the possibility that Christianity might eventually have to be abandoned altogether in favor of a return to paganism, a worldview many of them saw as more humane and truer to the heritage of their people. For he and his associates believed strongly that a people’s ethnic and racial heritage was what mattered most. Some endorsed a kind of cultural relativism according to which what is true or false and right or wrong in some sense depends on one’s ethnic worldview, and especially on what best promotes the well-being of one’s ethnic group

There is surely no doubt that the man Feser describes sounds very much like a mainstream Leftist by current standards. But who is the man concerned? It is a historically accurate description of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a socialist in his own day but he would even be a mainstream socialist in MOST ways today. Feser does not mention Hitler’s antisemitism above, of course, but that too seems once again to have become mainstream among the Western-world Left in the early years of the 21st century.

I have barely scratched the surface of Ray’s writings about fascism, Nazism, and the left. Based on the writings of Ray (and others), and on my own observations, I have no doubt that the American left — from Woodrow Wilson (if not Teddy Roosevelt) to the present day — is aligned with the political aims of Mussolini and Hitler.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few dictators who may rightly be called conservatives because of their defense of traditional institutions and their willingness to suppress real threats to those institutions, namely, socialism and communism. Franco and Pinochet spring to mind as leading examples of such dictators. But compared with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, they were rank amateurs in the arts of repression and murder. Had they not come to power, the people of Spain and Chile would have suffered under regimes similar to those of Castro and Chavez, which have impoverished and repressed the people of Cuba and Venezuela.

What about Donald Trump? Based on his appointments to date — with the possible exception of Steve Bannon — he seems to be taking a solidly conservative line. He isn’t building a government of bomb-throwers, but rather a government of staunch conservatives who, taken together, have a good chance at rebuilding America’s status in the world while dismantling much of Obama’s egregious “legacy”: onerous energy regulations (due to Obama’s embrace of the AGW hoax), Obamacare, the push for a higher minimum wage, opposition to school choice, racial politics in the Justice Department, the reinflation of the low-income housing bubble, and other meddlesome manifestations of Obama’s hopey-changey war on America.

I said some nasty things about Trump during his campaigns for the GOP nomination and the presidency. On the basis of his performance since the election, it seems likely that I was wrong about him as a prospective president (though perhaps not as a person). Like so many of his critics, I was put off by his vulgarity, his seeming dismissal of constitutional values, his “liberal” reputation, and his apparent ignorance of the details of many issues. All of that may have been well-designed electoral camouflage — a way of distracting the left-dominated media while he smuggled in a conservative agenda that could restore America’s standing in the world, revitalize its economy, and reweave its shredded liberty.

Will Donald Trump be a perfect president, if perfection is measured by adherence to the Constitution? Probably not, but who has been? It now seems likely, however, that Trump will be a far less fascistic president than Barack Obama has been and Hillary Clinton would have been. He will certainly be far less fascistic than the academic thought-police, whose demise cannot come too soon for the sake of liberty.

In sum, Trump’s emerging agenda seems to resemble my own decidedly conservative one.