Conservatism, Society, and the End of America

To be wary or skeptical of that which is different is not a matter of close-mindedness, hate, racism, or other such “evil” tendencies. Wariness and skepticism, rather, are deep-seated and salutary survival instincts. They are evolved psychological responses analogous to the physiological phenomenon of foreign-body reaction.

Wariness and skepticism are the basis of conservatism: the preference for ideas, methods, materials, and customs which have been repeatedly tested in the acid of use. Conservatism is the opposite of novelty for novelty’s sake, thrill-seeking, and hope-based change — from which stem many an unwanted consequence.

Society, properly understood, is conservative. A society is an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another. No one who gives it much thought would say that America is or ever was a society. The word is used too loosely. But America was, from the aftermath of the Civil War until the early 1960s, at least, an interlocking set of societies, bound more or less tightly by shared social norms (not the least of them being an unashamed belief in the Judeo-Christian God), a common language (most immigrants sought to assimilate), pride in what “America” stood for (remember the Pledge of Allegiance?), and a willingness to defend a nation under the Constitution and laws of which Americans enjoyed a great deal more freedom and prosperity than the denizens of most other nations.

“Liberalism” of the kind fomented by the Enlightenment, by political philosophers like J.S. Mill, and by today’s leftists (including most so-called libertarians), is insidiously destructive of society. “Liberalism” denigrates and attacks the things that bind people, most notably social norms (which include religious ones) and patriotism. (Leftists, ironically, attack identification with America and its history — much of it proud — while touting the virtues of various and sundry identity groups.)

It is no great exaggeration to say that America is no more. Where once upon a time products could be sold by appealing to “baseball, mom, hot dogs, and apple pie”, the slogan would now invite scorn and ridicule throughout much of the land, and especially on the two Left Coasts.

America (taking it as a collective for the moment) has lost its soul, like continental Europe and the British Isles before it. By soul, I mean the common beliefs and norms that bound most Americans as Americans.

There are still remnants of “Old America” where “baseball, mom, hot dogs, and apple pie” hold appeal — especially when coupled with God. But the left, with the connivance of the internet-media-academic complex, has marginalized “Old America”. Even to speak of traditional marriage, personal responsibility, limited government, color-blind justice, the importance of two-parent families, genetic inheritance, performance-based advancement, religion as a civilizing influence, science as a method (not a producer of “truth” to be worshiped), etc., is to be branded a far-right, fanatic who is unfit to hold public office and who should be publicly and vocally scolded (or worse) as a privileged white racist, sexist, homophobe, transphobe, Islamophobe, hater, and science-denier.

How did it happen? How did “Old America” spawn something that is its opposite, nay, its enemy? How did “Old America” spawn forces of suppression that daily seem to grow more powerful in their ability to ostracize, penalize, and dictate to the rest of us? How did this new dispensation come to dominate the institutions that shape culture: academia, public education, (many) churches, the media (including “news” and “entertainment”), and much of the political machinery of America?

I would say these three things, for a start:

Prosperity has separated most Americans from the “real life” and thus from the need for wariness and caution.

The decades-long dominance of leftist ideas in most public schools has fostered the emergence of the left-biased and vastly influential information-entertainment-media-academic complex.

Politicians, whose power has been elevated to undreamed of heights by the abrogation of the Constitution, have joined the leftward throng, when they haven’t been leading it. In particular, government has subverted conservative ideals (marriage before family, hard work rather than handouts and crime, etc.).

I believe that the situation is irredeemable. Many interconnected trends are at work, and they will not cease their work unless they are interrupted by a cataclysm of some kind that forces most Americans to confront “real life” and cooperate in survival.

Why Populism Is Popular

Affluent “elites” are well-insulated from the consequences of the policies that they promote and enact. Sometimes the elites justify those policies because they are “good” for an amorphous aggregation (“the country”, “the people”, GDP). Thus, for example, elites favor “free trade” and “open borders” because some they (supposedly) result in a net gain in GDP. That the gain is net of the losses incurred by many taxpayers and victims of crime is irrelevant to the elites.

And when elites are promoting “social justice” they favor policies that are best for a particular group, to the exclusion of other groups. It doesn’t start that way, but that’s how it ends up, because the easiest way to “make things right” for a particular group is to penalize others, as in “affirmative action”, “affordable (tax-funded) housing”, suppression of speech, etc.

You get the idea. Elites stroke their own egos in the pursuit of abstract measures of “good”, and disdain those who are harmed, calling them — among many things — “bitter clingers”, “deplorables”, and denizens of “flyover country”.

I have been guilty of elitism, but I am cured of it. I have joined the no-longer-silent majority. No-longer-silent thanks to Donald Trump — praise be!

(See also “Modern Utilitarianism“, “Rethinking Free Trade“, and “Rooted in the Real World of Real People“.)

The Enlightenment’s Fatal Flaw

The fatal flaw is the reliance on reason. As Wikipedia puts it,

The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of knowledge….

Where reason is

the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and adapting or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information.

So much of life is — of necessity — conducted in a realm beyond “reason”, where instincts and customs come into play in a universe that is but dimly understood.

By contrast, as the Wikipedia article admits, the Enlightenment — like its contemporary manifestations in pseudo-science (e.g., Malthusianism, Marxism, “climate change”), politics (e.g., “social justice”), and many other endeavors — relies on reductionism, which is

the practice of oversimplifying a complex idea or issue to the point of minimizing or distorting it.

Reason relies on verbalization (or its mathematical equivalent), but words (and numbers) fail us:

Love, to take a leading example, is a feeling that just is. The why and wherefore of it is beyond our ability to understand and explain. Some of the feelings attached to it can be expressed in prose, poetry, and song, but those are superficial expressions that don’t capture the depth of love and why it exists.

The world of science is of no real help. Even if feelings of love could be expressed in scientific terms — the action of hormone A on brain region X — that would be worse than useless. It would reduce love to chemistry, when we know that there’s more to it than that. Why, for example, is hormone A activated by the presence or thought of person M but not person N, even when they’re identical twins?

The world of science is of no real help about “getting to the bottom of things.” Science is an infinite regress. S is explained in terms of T, which is explained in terms of U, which is explained in terms of V, and on and on. For example, there was the “indivisible” atom, which turned out to consist of electrons, protons, and neutrons. But electrons have turned out to be more complicated than originally believed, and protons and neutrons have been found to be made of smaller particles with distinctive characteristics. So it’s reasonable to ask if all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible. Perhaps there other more-elementary particles yet to be hypothesized and discovered. And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, scientists will still be unable to explain what those particles really “are.”

Reason is valuable when it consists of the narrow application of logic to hard facts. But it has almost nothing to do with most of life — and especially not with politics.

Just as words fail us, so has the Enlightenment and much of what came in its wake.

As exemplified by this “child of the enlightenment”:

Child of the enlightenment

(See also “In Praise of Prejudice” and “We, the Children of the Enlightenment“.)

Further Thoughts about Utilitarianism

I am staunchly anti-utilitarian, as I explain at length in this post. But I have argued elsewhere (e.g., here) against government-designed rules that favor the few at the expense of the many. Does that make me a hypocrite?

No. Because I am also against government-designed rules that favor the many at the expense of the few. Both kinds of rules are abhorrent to me because they are government-designed. (I say “government-designed” because there are many rules imposed by government — the prohibition of murder, for example — which merely enforce long-standing social norms. Government-designed rules aren’t strictly government designed; they usually arise from efforts by interest groups to benefit themselves regardless of, or in spite of, long-standing social norms.)

To be clear, when I use the word “favor” I’m thinking not of rules that are meant to protect the vast majority of people from the small minority of them who are predators. “Favor” doesn’t come into it. To “favor” one group over another is to give privileges to that group which impose burdens on others. The prohibition of murder, for example, doesn’t “favor” victims; it denies (or attempts to deny) predators the “privilege” of victimizing others. (For much more, see “The Invention of Rights“.)

So when I rail against two-percent tyranny — the granting of privileges for small segments of the populace — it’s not that I’m making a utilitarian judgment about those privileges (i.e., 98 percent outweighs 2 percent). Rather, it’s because of the privileges themselves.

Such privileges may seem to be born of common sense (e.g., bike lanes keep bicyclists out of traffic lanes; the legalization of same-sex marriage merely extends the institution of marriage, which is a “good thing”). But, as government-designed rules, they signal that the beneficiaries deserve special treatment. Thus, for example, bicyclists push the envelope by riding the white line between the bike lane and the traffic lane. Same-sex couples (emboldened by other government-designed rules) use their status to attack and (financially) destroy businesses that prefer not to honor same-sex “marriage” or same-sex relationships.

In the latter case, a government-designed definition of marriage fosters the subversion of a long-recognized right: freedom of association. Same-sex couples have that freedom, but they seek to deny it to those who prefer not to associate with them.

(See also “How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression“.)

The Left-Libertarian Axis

I long ago concluded that the path to liberty is found in conservatism, not in what is called “libertarianism”. By conservatism I mean the disposition to rely on the tried-and-true, which doesn’t preclude a willingness to innovate but does insist that the acceptance of innovation must be voluntary. (See “Social Norms and Liberty” and the posts listed at the end. “True Libertarianism, One More Time” and “Why Conservatism Works” are especially relevant here.)

Among many reasons for my rejection of “libertarianism” is its essential similarity to leftism, both ideologically and in its implementation.

The ideological similarity is evident in Arnold Kling‘s three-axes model, which he explains in The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divide. Here are some relevant passages:

In politics, I claim that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians are like tribes speaking different languages. The language that resonates with one tribe does not connect with the others. As a result, political discussions do not lead to agreement. Instead, most political commentary serves to increase polarization. The points that people make do not open the minds of people on the other side. They serve to close the minds of the people on one’s own side.

Which political language do you speak? Of course, your own views are carefully nuanced, and you would never limit yourself to speaking in a limited language. So think of one of your favorite political commentators, an insightful individual with whom you generally agree. Which of the following statements would that commentator most likely make?

(P) [Progressive] My heroes are people who have stood up for the underprivileged. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the oppression of women, minorities, and the poor.

(C) [Conservative] My heroes are people who have stood up for Western values. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization.

(L) [Libertarian] My heroes are people who have stood up for individual rights. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to government taking away people’s ability to make their own choices….

I call this the three-axes model of political communication. A progressive will communicate along the oppressor-oppressed axis, framing issues in terms of the (P) dichotomy. A conservative will communicate along the civilization-barbarism axis, framing issues in terms of the (C) dichotomy. A libertarian will communicate along the liberty-coercion axis, framing issues in terms of the (L) dichotomy….

If there is a real difference between P and L, I cannot find it. “Liberty-coercion” is just another way of saying “oppressor-oppressed”. One who isn’t oppressed is therefore (in the view of the “progressive”) enjoying liberty, or is at least one step closer to it.

The operational similarity between leftism and “libertarianism” is the enthusiasm shown by many “libertarians” for government intervention when it advances their particular causes. The following passages, lifted from an old post of mine, elaborate on the ideological and operational similarities of leftism and “libertarianism”.

Some “libertarians” have become apologists for PCness. Will Wilkinson, for example, suggests that

most PC episodes mocked and derided by the right are not state impositions. They are generally episodes of the voluntary social enforcement of relatively newly established moral/cultural norms.

Wilkinson grossly simplifies the complex dynamics of PCness. His so-called “newly established … norms” are, in fact, norms that have been embraced by insular élites (e.g., academics and think-tank denizens like Wilksinson) and then foisted upon “the masses” by the élites in charge of government and government-controlled institutions (e.g., tax-funded universities). Thus it is no surprise that proposals to allow same-sex marriage fare poorly when they are submitted to voters. Similarly, the “right” to an abortion, almost four decades after Roe v. Wade, remains far from universally accepted and meets greater popular resistance with the passage of time.

Roderick Long is another “libertarian” who endorses PCness:

Another issue that inflames many libertarians against political correctness is the issue of speech codes on campuses. Yes, many speech codes are daft. But should people really enjoy exactly the same freedom of speech on university property that they would rightfully enjoy on their own property? Why, exactly?

If the answer is that the purposes of a university are best served by an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas — is there no validity to the claim that certain kinds of speech might tend, through an intimidating effect, to undermine just such an atmosphere?…

At my university [Auburn], several white fraternity members were recently disciplined for dressing up, some in Klan costumes and others in blackface, and enacting a mock lynching. Is the university guilty of violating their freedom of expression? I can’t see that it is. Certainly those students have a natural right to dress up as they please and engage in whatever playacting they like, so long as they conduct themselves peacefully. But there is no natural right to be a student at Auburn University.

Long — who describes himself as a “left-libertarian market anarchist” (whatever that is) — makes a clever but fallacious argument. The purposes of a university have nothing to do with the case. Speech is speech, except when it really isn’t speech, as in sit-ins (trespass), child pornography (sexual exploitation of minors), and divulging military secrets (treason, in fact if not in name).

Long is rightly disgusted by the actions of the fraternity members he mentions, but disgust does not excuse the suppression of speech by a State university. It is true that there is no “natural right” to be a student at Auburn, but there is, likewise, no “natural right” not to be offended.

Steven Horwitz is a kindred spirit:

Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty.

Well, some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, together with its progeny — the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 and 1991 — did advance liberty, but many parts did not. A principled libertarian would acknowledge that, and parse the Acts into their libertarian and anti-libertarian components. A moral scold who really, really wants the state to impose his attitudes on others would presume — as Horwitz does — to weigh legitimate gains (e.g., voting rights) against unconscionable losses (e.g., property rights and freedom of association). But presumptuousness comes naturally to Horwitz because he — like Lindsey, Wilkinson, and Long — stands high above reality, in his ivory tower.

Wilkinson is sympatico with Horwitz in the matter of state action:

Government attempts to guarantee the worth of our liberties by recognizing positive rights to a minimum income or certain services like health care often (but not always) undermine the framework of market and civil institutions most likely to enhance liberty over the long run, and should be limited. But this is really an empirical question about what really does maximize individuals’ chances of formulating and realizing meaningful projects and lives.

Within this framework, racism, sexism, etc., which strongly limit the useful exercise of liberty are clear evils. Now, I am ambivalent about whether the state ought to step in and do anything about it.

Wilkinson, like Horwitz, is quite willing to submit to the state (or have others do so), where state action passes some kind of cost-benefit test. (See “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.”)

In any event, what more could the state do than it has done already? Well, there is always “hate crime” legislation, which (as Nat Hentoff points out) is tantamount to “thought crime” legislation. Perhaps that would satisfy Long, Horwitz, Wilkinson, and their brethren on the “libertarian” left. And, if that doesn’t do the trick, there is always Richard Thaler’s “libertarian” paternalism (with its statist slant), and Cass Sunstein’s proposal for policing thought on the internet. Sunstein, at least, doesn’t pretend to be a libertarian.

Where is libertarianism to be found? In conservatism, of all places, because it is a reality-based political philosophy.

But what does conservatism have to do with libertarianism? I have in various posts essayed an answer to that question (here, here, here, and here, for example), but now I turn the floor over to John Kekes, who toward the end of “What Is Conservatism?” says this:

The traditionalism of conservatives excludes both the view that political arrangements that foster individual autonomy should take precedence over those that foster social authority and the reverse view that favours arrangements that promote social authority at the expense of individual autonomy. Traditionalists acknowledge the importance of both autonomy and authority, but they regard them as inseparable, interdependent, and equally necessary. The legitimate claims of both may be satisfied by the participation of individuals in the various traditions of their society. Good political arrangements protect these traditions and the freedom to participate in them by limiting the government’s authority to interfere with either.

Therein lies true libertarianism — true because it is attainable. Left-libertarians believe, foolishly, that liberty is to be found in the rejection of social norms. Liberty would be the first victim of the brave new disorder that they wish for.

Idealism Is Dangerous

Leftists and libertarians are deluded idealists. Deluded, because they imagine a world that cannot be, given nature and human nature. And so they promote causes that are doomed to fail, at great cost in treasure and something far more important: mutual trust, respect, and forbearance. Those are the pillars of true liberty, which is peaceful, voluntary, mutually beneficial coexistence.

Libertarianism’s Fundamental Flaw

It seeks to “liberate” mankind by obliterating the very rules of behavior than enable mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust, respect, and forbearance.

Libertarianism is therefore akin to leftism, but naively so. Leftists stand ready to pick up the pieces after they have destroyed the social and economic fabric of civilization. Libertarians will simply wander around in a daze, wondering what happened to the bulwarks of their comfortable existence — until they are liquidated by leftists.

Conservatism vs. Extremism

Conservatism, properly understood, is the polar opposite of extremism. Conservatism is the practice of observing and defending those time-tested social norms that bind people through mutual trust, respect, and forbearance. Extremism is the destruction of those norms by using the vast power of the state and the academic-media-information technology complex.

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“.

Peak Leftism?

Leftists used to be somewhat subtle in their efforts to win the hearts of the populace. I would say minds, too, but leftism is an emotional, delusional stance — not a reasoned or scientific one, leftist propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding. Whereas conservatism is about learning from experience, which requires personal responsibility and teaches self-reliance, leftism gives primacy to “hope” (blind faith) and “change” (for its own sake), shirks personal responsibility, and teaches reliance on government.

Now, leftism — a.k.a. fascism in the name of utopianism — seems to reach new heights of hysteria every day. Gone is the appearance of sweet reason and “compassion”. Fangs are bared, cudgels are in motion, bullets are flying.

Isn’t this bound to end, to “burn itself out”? Not necessarily. Consider the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler’s rise to power, and the Chinese Communist Revolution. What do they have in common with each other and with the not-so-stealthy revolution that has been taking place in America?

For one thing, the historical movements succeeded in overthrowing the established political order — for better and (usually) for worse. The ongoing stealth revolution has done so, too, but mainly by exploiting the established order’s rules, that is, by co-opting and subverting the legislative, executive, and judicial functions. The First Amendment, to take a leading example, has been exploited by the media to subvert America’s defenses; exploited by purveyors of filth and decadence to subvert social norms against such filth and decadence; and exploited by purveyors of anti-constitutional measures to advance those measures through asymmetrical ideological warfare.

The present and historical revolutions have several things in common:

  • “intellectuals” who enunciate the revolution’s aims
  • active, visible, and vocal hard-core followers who are prepared to sacrifice (and even to die) for the cause
  • fringe followers who support the cause (by word, deed, or vote) because they believe in it, or come to believe in it because of social pressure to do so
  • “financiers” who lend substantial material support to the cause because they believe in it or stand to benefit from its success.

The not-so-stealthy revolution in America is unlike the historical ones because its participants — for the most part — are not considered subversive, or cannot be treated as subversive under prevailing legal norms. One of those norms, as mentioned above, is an overly broad interpretation of the First Amendment, which empowers the enemies of liberty. Defenders of liberty, on the other hand, are being suppressed by universities and social media, acting with state-like power.

More generally, there has been an almost unrelenting assault on the Constitution, the design of which was intended to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to … our Posterity”. The stage for this assault was set when, in the words of Bertrand de Jouvenel,

the government at Washington … launch[ed] a war such as Europe had never yet seen to crush the attempt of the Southern States to form themselves into a separate unity.

As in so many instances since the Civil War, the government at Washington wrapped itself in a mantle of holiness (i.e, anti-slavery) to impose a decidedly unholy agenda on the nation. The agenda in the case of the Civil War was the destruction of the co-sovereign relationship between the States and central government that was at the heart of the Constitution. The government at Washington thereafter, and by various means, has

  • arrogated to itself power that belongs to the States under the Constitution — power which is most evident in the alphabet soup of agencies doing things that aren’t contemplated in the Constitution
  • usurped rights belonging to the people, including, but far from limited to, freedom of association and peaceful use of one’s property
  • undermined civilizing social norms, including but far from limited to, religious observances that do not constitute an establishment of religion, and the peremptory redefinition of marriage.

These power grabs have sometimes been executed boldly, and with the support of broad masses of people — especially but not exclusively during the Progressive Era, and under the aegis of the New Deal and the Great Society. But since the Progressive Era there has been a general accretion of power, often through subtle regulatory aggression, even during Republican administrations.

Given the great successes enjoyed by the enemies of liberty — by the left, that is — why the present hysteria? The unrelenting “resistance” to Trump. The phony sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh. The “hate whitey” campaign, to which many white leftists subscribe. The “hate” hoaxes perpetrated by their supposed (leftist) victims. The increasingly obvious pro-left bias that pervades most “news” media. The promises by congressional Democrats of post-election retribution against Republicans. And on and on.

The hysteria stems from a fear of losing ground. There is a ratchet effect in politics that has worked to the left’s advantage for more than a century. What if the ratchet effect were reversed, obviously and decisively, by the efforts of one man — a man whom the left (and dupes on the right) have done their best to thwart and discredit? Would this not embolden more advocates of liberty to speak and act boldly — to reject the compromising, emasculated, collaborationist “conservatism” of the Bushes, McCain, and Romney?

It probably would. And that’s what the left fears. And its fears are evident in the present hysteria.

That’s why today’s elections are so important. Today may well mark a turning point in the not-so-stealthy revolution. If the GOP holds the House and Senate, Trump will have been vindicated. He will have more allies (outside of Congress if not within it) in his battles to build a judiciary of constitutionalists; to fend off the cultural and electoral threat from south of the border, to rebuild America’s defenses and pursue a pro-American foreign policy, and generally to put the forces of liberty on the offensive for a change.

P.S. (on the morning after election day): The Dems have won a majority in the House, though a narrow one. Meanwhile, the GOP has increased its majority in the Senate. That is the better half of the loaf because control of the Senate means that Trump can continue to remake the judiciary in a conservative image. Further, the House will be perceived as the obstructionist body for the next two years, setting the stage for a GOP restoration there. Barring the unforeseeable, a largely successful Trump presidency will set the stage for Republican dominance in 2020.

True Populism

Populism, according to Wikipedia,

refers to a range of approaches which emphasise the role of “the people” and often juxtapose this group against “the elite”. There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time. Few politicians or political groups describe themselves as “populists”, and in political discourse the term is often applied to others pejoratively….

[T]he ideational approach … defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force against “the elite”, who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving. Populists differ in how “the people” are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present “the elite” as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, all of which are depicted as a homogenous entity and accused of placing the interests of other groups—such as foreign countries or immigrants—above the interests of “the people”. According to this approach, populism is a thin-ideology which is combined with other, more substantial thick ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.

Just as “the elite” isn’t homogeneous, neither is “the people”. True populism therefore demands a decentralized polity, according to the principle of subsidiarity:

[M]atters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.

This is a conservative principle because deciding matters locally means that they are usually handled in accordance with social norms that prevail locally, and which reflect local conditions. This is in contrast with one-size-fits-all “solutions” imposed by distant officials who have no appreciation of local knowledge and norms, and who — in any event — are usually hostile to those things.

Subsidiarity is also, in theory, a libertarian principle. Too many self-styled libertarians, however, are quick to abandon the principle in favor of state-imposed rules that favor their views about how “society” should be organized. Thus — and to the detriment of social comity and stability — we have state-imposed abortion, a state-imposed edict to honor same-sex “marriage”, state-imposed “tolerance” of unsafe sexual acts, the rending of families by lax divorce laws, and on and on.

It is populist resentment of elite dominance that enabled Trump’s electoral victory. “Drain the swamp” is a good part of it. The rest is mainly a desire for the preservation (or restoration) of traditional American culture, the protection of which requires selective immigration and strong defenses.

The principle and spirit of populism — and its enemies — is captured by Bertrand de Jouvenel in his 1945 epic, On Power: The Natural History of its Growth:

Every Power is sure to attack centrifugal tendencies. But the behaviour of democratic Power offers in this respect some peculiar features of a striking kind. It claims its mission to be that of liberating man from the constraints put on him by the old Power, which was the more or less direct descendant of conquest. But that did not stop the Convention from guillotining the Federalists [in the French Revolution], the English Parliament from wiping out, in some of the bloodiest repressions of history, the separatist nationalism in Ireland, or the government at Washington from launching a war such as Europe had never yet seen to crush the attempt of the Southern States to form themselves into a separate unity….

This hostility to the formation of smaller communities is inconsistent with the claim to have inaugurated government of the people by itself, for clearly a government answers more closely to that description in smaller communities than in larger. Only in smaller communities can citizens choose their ruler directly from men whom they know personally. Only in them can justification be found for the encomium pronounced by Montesquieu:

The people is well fitted to choose …. The people knows well whether a man has often seen active service and what successes he has won: therefore it is well equipped to choose a general. It knows whether a judge attends to his duties; whether most people leave his court satisfied; whether or not he is corrupt: therein is knowledge sufficient for it to elect a praetor…. These are all facts which make a public square a better-informed place than the palace of a king.

But the new men whom the popular voice has made masters of the imperium have never shown any inclination to a regime of that kind. It was distasteful to them, as the heirs of the monarchical authority, to fritter away their estate on subordinating themselves. On the contrary, strong in the strength of a new legitimacy, their one aim was to increase it. Against the federalist conception [the Abbe] Sieyès [1748-1836] was their mouthpiece: “… a general administration which, starting from a common centre, will reach uniformly to the remotest parts of the Empire — a body of laws which, through its elements are provided by the body of citizens, takes bodily form at as distant a level as that of the National Assembly, to whom alone it belongs to interpret the general wish, that wish which thereafter falls with all the weight of an irresistible force on those very wills which have joined in the formation of it.” [Liberty Press edition (1993), pp. 286-288, links added, emphasis in original]

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

A Flawed Ideological Taxonomy

UPDATED, 11/04/18

Arnold Kling points to

a study by Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon, helpfully summarized by Yascha Mounk, who writes,

According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Hawkins et al. devised this ideological taxonomy, which they call The Hidden Tribes of America (percentages refer to the sample of almost 8,000 persons on which the results are based):

Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry (8%).

Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious (11%).

Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned (15%).

Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial (26%).

Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant (15%).

Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic (19%).

Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic (6%).

The “wings” — or “extremes” — consist of Progressive Activists (on the left) and Traditional and Devoted Conservatives (on the right). The groups in between, according to the authors, make up the “exhausted majority”. Who are they? This is from the executive summary of the paper:

These are people who believe that Americans have more in common than that which divides them. While they differ on important issues, they feel exhausted by the division in the United States. They believe that compromise is necessary in politics, as in other parts of life, and want to see the country come together and solve its problems.

Kling questions the authors’ ideological taxonomy:

I am skeptical of this breakdown. Where do African-Americans or Hispanics fit? Libertarians and others who with some beliefs that align left and other beliefs that align right?

I also question the taxonomy because I don’t fit into it neatly. I am:

Highly engaged (by blogging), secular, cosmopolitan, angry (about the intrusive role of government) — Progressive Activist

Older, retired, rational, cautious (which is really a Traditional Conservative trait) — Traditional Liberal

Distrustful (mainly of politicians and their promises), disillusioned (about governance in America) — Passive Liberal

Distrustful (mainly of politicians and their promises), patriotic — Politically Disengaged

Patriotic, moralistic (Judeo-Christian morality as traditionally observed in America: marriage before children, etc.) — Traditional Conservative

White, retired, highly engaged (by blogging) uncompromising, patriotic — Devoted Conservative.

What am I, really? A traditional conservative (small “t”, small “c”).

In any event, I don’t understand the authors’ designation of Traditional Conservatives as part of the “extreme” on the right. Traditional Conservatives, as define by the authors, are no more “extreme” than Traditional Liberals. And it wasn’t long ago — 1990, say — that Traditional Conservatives were a main part of the “mainstream”.  Further, I expect Traditional Conservatives to be just as “exhausted” as any other group in the “exhausted majority”. If there are “wings”, they are the highly engaged ones: Progressive Activists and Devoted Conservatives (whatever that means).

The authors offer a tantalizing thesis, which Kling pounces on:

The old left/right spectrum, based on the role of government and markets, is being supplanted by a new polarization between ‘open’ cosmopolitan values and ‘closed’ nationalist values.

This observation has superficial appeal, but it comes up short — like the authors’ political taxonomy.

The left-right spectrum is based on much more than the role of government and markets. The juxtaposition suggests that the left favors government over markets, while the right favors markets over government. By that definition, so-called libertarians belong on the right. The fact that they do not consider themselves as being on the right — but are floating in an exalted state above the fray — points to one flaw in the simplistic government vs. markets. metric.

The left-right divide is also about the role of civilizing social institutions — family, church, club, etc. — which inculcate social norms and enforce them through social means. (Leaving government as the enforcer and defender of last resort.) The left wants a different set of social norms than those that have arisen voluntarily and slowly — by trial and error — over the eons. (The battles over same-sex marriage and transgendersism are but two of the many that have pitted and continue to pit left vs. right.)

The left wants government to enforce its version of social norms, mainly because they’re not the norms of their ancestors. (Leftism is an extension of adolescent rebellion.) The right believes that social institutions should continue to do the job. In this matter, so-called libertarians often align with the left. (Government is the villain of libertarian ideology, except when it isn’t.)

There are other differences, too, which are addressed at length in many of the items listed below (especially those marked with an asterisk, which directly address ideological distinctions). The starkest difference these days (other than in matters sexual) has to do with sovereignty. Leftists are all for unfettered immigration and generally against maintaining strong defenses. Those positions are consistent with their disdain for the European Judeo-Christian culture upon which America was founded, and which is responsible for its economic and social (yes, social) vitality.

In their dangerous flirtation with socialistic one-worldism, leftists are spoiled children of capitalism. They believe that they can flirt with impunity because they are protected by the police and defense forces that they disdain, and cosseted by the capitalism that they profess to despise.

In the end, if leftists succeed in destroying society and disarming the forces that protect them, their comeuppance at the hands of the string-pullers behind the mob will be richly deserved. But, unfortunately, everyone else will go down with them.

UPDATE:

I took the quiz on which Hawkins et al. base their findings. I am, according to the underlying algorithm, a “Traditional Conservative”. But to echo Arnold Kling: Ugh! What a terrible survey instrument. It’s a terrible as the terrible taxonomy discussed above.


Related pages and posts (items marked * specifically address ideological distinctions):

Leftism
Social Norms and Liberty

The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
* Parsing Political Philosophy
* Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
* True Libertarianism, One More Time
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Culture War
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
* Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
* My View of Libertarianism
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
A Dose of Reality
Immigration and Crime
God-Like Minds
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
* Another Look at Political Labels
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
* Consistent Conservatism
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World
FDR and Fascism: More Data
Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited
* Rescuing Conservatism
If Men Were Angels
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Immigration Blues
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
My View of Mill, Endorsed
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Suicide or Destiny?
“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling
* Conservatism vs. Ideology
O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment
James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism
Do We “Belong” to Government?

James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism

I will occasionally add items to the list of related readings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Continetti’s money paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Simon Mawer says in The Gospel of Judas,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add …

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

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

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

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

But it wasn’t to be.

In fact, the publication of Burnham’s book coincided with the resurgence of leftism in America. (For an excellent analysis of leftism as it is today, see the article by the Winegards in the reading list, below.) The electoral thrashing of an avowed conservative, Barry Goldwater, in 1964 opened the way for LBJ’s Great Society. The next several years marked the onset of America’s social, political, economic, and cultural downfall, which I have addressed here and in many other posts; for example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

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


Related reading:

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

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

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

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

Scott S. Powell, “The Whirlwind Is Already Here“, The American Spectator, September 5, 2018

Dennis Prager, “Explaining the Left, Part IV: Leftist Contempt for Middle-Class Values“, The Patriot Post, October 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Vallicella, “The Left’s Attack on Merit“, Maverick Philosopher, September 30, 2018 (see especially the quotation from Richard Weaver)

Bo Winegard and Ben Winegard, “The Preachers of the Great Awokening“, Quillette, September 21, 2018

Related pages and posts:

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

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

O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment

is not an historical period, but a process of social, psychological or spiritual development, unbound to time or place. Immanuel Kant defines “enlightenment” in his famous contribution to debate on the question in an essay entitled “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” Expressing convictions shared among Enlightenment thinkers of widely divergent doctrines, Kant identifies enlightenment with the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of one’s own reason and experience. Enlightenment philosophy tends to stand in tension with established religion, insofar as the release from self-incurred immaturity in this age, daring to think for oneself, awakening one’s intellectual powers, generally requires opposing the role of established religion in directing thought and action. The faith of the Enlightenment – if one may call it that – is that the process of enlightenment, of becoming progressively self-directed in thought and action through the awakening of one’s intellectual powers, leads ultimately to a better, more fulfilled human existence.

The Enlightenment’s great flaw — probably fatal to Western civilization — is found in the contrast between the two passages that are highlighted in bold, italic type. I will not go on at length about the Enlightenment because I have addressed it elsewhere, directly and by implication (e.g., here, here, here, here, eighth item here, here, here, and here).

Suffice it to say that the Enlightenment is fixated on “reason”, which all too often is flawed logic applied to false “facts” and piled upon prejudice. It rejects, when it does not ignore, the wisdom that resides in tradition. It scorns the civilizing norms represented in tradition, norms upon which liberty depends, despite the false and contrary “logic” of “enlightened” thinkers like John Stuart Mill.

Here is an apt passage from Richard Fernandez’s review of Michael Walsh’s The Fiery Angel:

Deleting God, patriotism, heroic myths and taboos and all the “useless stuff” from Western culture turns out to be as harmless as navigating to the system folder (like C:\Windows\System32), “selecting all,” and pressing delete. Far from being clever, it leads to consequences far greater than anyone anticipated.

The Enlightenment reminds me of O.J. Simpson’s bloody glove. A single “fact” — that the glove seemed tight on O.J.’s hand — was instrumental in the acquittal of Simpson in the murder of his ex-wife and a friend of hers. This sliver of unreasonable doubt obscured the overwhelming evidence against Simpson. Later, he was found responsible for the murders in a civil trial, and then all but admitted his guilt in a book.

And so it is with “reason” and Western civilization. The pillars that have supported it and given it great economic and social strength are being destroyed, one at a time. Each move, as it is made, is portrayed (by its advocates) as “logical” and “reasonable” — and even consistent with liberty.

As I wrote 11 years ago,

Robin Hanson makes a mistake [here] that is common to “rationalists”: He examines every thread of human behavior for “reasonableness.”

It is the fabric of human behavior that matters, not each thread. Any thread, if pulled out of the fabric, might look defective under the microscope of “reason.” But pulling threads out of a fabric — one at a time — can weaken a strong and richly textured tapestry.

Whether a particular society is, in fact, a “strong and richly textured tapestry” is for its members to determine, through voice and exit. The “reasonableness” of a society’s norms (if they are voluntarily evolved) should be judged by whether those norms — on the whole — foster liberty (as explained here), not by the whether each norm, taken in isolation, is “reasonable” to a pundit inveighing from on high.

UPDATE (11/01/07): Hanson has updated his post…. But he digs himself a deeper, rationalistic hole when he says

I’ll now only complain about [Russ Roberts’s] bias to hold his previous beliefs to a lower standard than he holds posssible alternatives.

He should complain, rather, about his own, too-easy willingness to reject the wisdom of inherited beliefs on the basis of statistical analysis.

The Age of Enlightenment is the age of empty logic and the nirvana fallacy.


Related reading: Nathaniel Blake, “Why Reason Turned Into A Dead End For Enlightenment Philosophy“, The Federalist, September 24, 2018

Conservatism vs. Ideology

In “Rescuing Conservatism” I distinguish between “true” conservatives — persons who are conservative by disposition, not ideology, — and faux conservatives — bloviators like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Savage.

I go on to say that

[in] the conservative view, government would … be limited to making and enforcing the few rules that are required to adjudicate what [Michael] Oakeshott calls “collisions.” And there are always foreign and domestic predators who are beyond the effective reach of voluntary social institutions and must be dealt with by a superior force.

By thus limiting government to the roles of referee and defender of last resort, civil society is allowed to flourish, both economically and socially. Social conservatism is analogous to the market liberalism of libertarian economics. The price signals that help to organize economic production have their counterpart in the “market” for social behavior (which really encompasses economic behavior). Behavior which is seen to advance a group’s well-being is encouraged; behavior which is seen to degrade a group’s well-being is discouraged.

Taking a stance about the proper scope of government might seem to be an ideological position. And it is one, in the hands of anarchists, who imagine that their “ought” — no government (of any kind) — can be transformed into an “is”. The conceit of anarchism is that human beings are always peacefully cooperative and never driven by power-lust.

Government of some kind is as inevitable as conflict and the urge to control others. It is therefore better to form an accountable state — and strive to keep it accountable — than to have one thrust upon you.

The argument for government, as I have just posed it, isn’t ideological. It doesn’t begin with a particular view about the need for government, or the lack of such a need. It simply takes human nature into account and argues that government is inevitable. Given its inevitability, it is better to take the bull by the horns and shape it in a way that serves the interests of the persons subject to it.

Most sentient beings of the human persuasion, having better or more urgent things to do with their time, skip over the argument for government and go directly to the power it ought to have. Again, this isn’t necessarily a matter of ideology, a prefabricated belief in what “ought” to be. But it has become primarily a matter of ideology, for the reasons given by Joseph Sobran in his “Pensees: Notes for the Reactionary of Tomorrow“. (Sobran, despite his egregious blind spot regarding the Holocaust, was a brilliant thinker and writer.) Sobran writes:

Most of the world is a mystery. Consciousness is a little clearing in a vast forest; every individual has his own special relation to the area of mystery, his own little discoveries to impart. Discovery is by definition unpredictable, and it is absurd for the state to foreclose the process of learning. There are moods when we are too exhausted to imagine that there is still more to be learned; an ideology is a system of ideas that wants to end the explorations we are constantly making at the margin of consciousness, and to declare all the mysteries solved. This is like the congressman who introduced a bill a century ago to close the U.S. Patent Office, on the ground that every possible invention had already been invented.

And so, as a result of the system of indoctrination known as public education — with reinforcement from the internet-media-academic complex — most Americans (like most human beings) have adopted this ready-made belief: Government exists not just to protect citizens and their beneficially cooperative behavior, but also to “solve their problems” — as those problems are defined by government officials and parties with vested interests in the adoption of certain “solutions”.  (This is nothing new, of course. Go here and read “The Framers’ Fatal Error”.)

The ready-made belief is an ideology. Or, rather, it is a meta-ideology which has been sliced and diced into a range of specific ideologies (many of the inchoate) about the proper scope of government power.

The range of ideologies includes some that have been called conservative. That is to say, there are conservative ideologies, as distinct from conservatism, which is a disposition. James Burnham addresses that distinction, and others, in Suicide of the West (1964):

As a rule it is not the several values (ideals, goals) to which a man adheres that reveal most about his character and conduct, but rather the order of priority in which the values are arranged. It tells us little about John Doe to know that for him life is an important value. So it is for nearly all men; not quite all, but nearly all. But we will have learned much about John if we find out whether life is for him a value more important than any other; or, if not, what other value is more important than life. Better Red than Dead? . . . Liberty or Death? . . . Death before Dishonor? . . . My life, that another may live? . . .

Suppose that we use the term “Liberty” to designate national independence and self-government — the meaning that was presumably in Patrick Henry’s mind; “Freedom,” to designate the freedom, or liberties, of the individual; “Justice,” to mean distributive justice of a more or less social welfare sort — that is, a reasonable amount of material well-being for everyone along with an absence of gross exploitation or discrimination; 1 and “Peace,” to signify the absence of large-scale warfare among major powers.

Liberty, Freedom and Justice are the three primary social values or goals that have been approved or at least professed by nearly everybody — not quite everybody, but nearly everybody — in Western civilization, whatever the political philosophy or program, since the Renaissance. The fourth — Peace — has moved into the front rank during the present century, especially since the advent of nuclear weapons.

Most people want, or think they want, all four of these values; but, the way the world goes, it is not possible to realize the four equally on all occasions. One value must be subordinated or sacrificed to another, or others. Whether we wish to or not, each of us is compelled for practical purposes to arrange the four values in a certain hierarchy — if liberals will permit the word — or order of priority.

For the older liberalism of the nineteenth century [as epitomized by John Stuart Mill], the standard order, starting with the value that was regarded as the most important, was:

Freedom
Liberty
Justice
Peace

For twentieth-century liberalism up to a decade or so after the First World War [i.e., Progressivism], the order became:

Justice
Freedom
Liberty
Peace

From that time until after the Second World War, the last two tended to shift positions, so that the liberal ranking became:

Justice
Freedom
Peace
Liberty

Since the coming into being of full-scale nuclear systems, the standard liberal order has become:

Peace
Justice
Freedom
Liberty

This evolution expresses summarily the rise in the relative importance, for liberalism, of the ideas of social reform and the Welfare State, and the gradual shift of stress from national sovereignty to internationalism.

The significance of these ratings becomes more marked when we contrast them with non-liberal orders. For example, the form of contemporary self-styled conservatism that is really a kind of right-wing anarchism [i.e., standard libertarianism] accepts an order that is the same as that of nineteenth-century liberalism, except for a displacement of Peace:

Freedom
Peace
Liberty
Justice

However, this ideology (for this form of conservatism is also an ideology) grades the last three so much below the first that they must almost be thought of as belonging to a different scale; and it tends to interpret Freedom primarily in terms of laissez faire economics.

The form of contemporary conservatism that might be called traditional — which is not an ideology [emphasis added] — would not judge, or feel, that there is any fixed order of priority for the major social values. Under the specific circumstances of this specific time, it would probably rate the four here under consideration as:

Liberty
Freedom
Peace
Justice

I would say that this is now the standard leftist (“liberal”) ordering of the four values:

Justice – Peace

Freedom – Liberty

With a huge gap between the first pair and the second pair.

Burnham’s ranking of the values of ideological “conservatism” (i.e., standard libertarianism) seems to fit today’s “libertarians”. (The “sneer quotes” are explained in some of the posts listed below.)

Most important, Burnham correctly characterizes conservatism as a non-ideology and hesitantly ranks the values of conservatives of the day (early 1960s). Speaking for myself, he has it right, and not just for the early 1960s. Burnham’s ranking aligns with what I call rightminarchism. It is an ideology that seems to fit the conservative disposition comfortably.

As argued in many of the items listed below, conservatism is true libertarianism. Indeed, many so-called libertarians seek to impose particular values on the populace, even going so far as to enlist the power of the state to that end.


Related page and posts:
Social Norms and Liberty
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Understanding Hayek
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
More About Social Norms and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Disposition and Ideology
My View of Mill, Endorsed
Order vs. Authority
Suicide or Destiny?

“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling

I am reading the real Suicide of the West (1964), by James Burnham — as opposed to Jonah Goldberg’s ersatz (2018) version. I will in due course publish a review of Burnham’s book. It will be a long review because the book if chock-full of wisdom and spot-on observations.

Burnham’s book is subtitled An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, though it is far more than an essay. By “liberalism” Burnham means the modern kind that gradually replaced the “classical” kind in the 19th and 20th centuries. (See my post, “Inventing Liberalism“.) Burnham’s explanation of the change is one of the topics I will take up in my review.

In the meantime, I can’t resist quoting Burnham on the subject of virtue-signaling. He doesn’t use that term, which seems to be of recent vintage, but he describes the phenomenon perfectly:

Let us consider the situation of a member of our affluent society, and let us assume him to be from the more rather than less affluent half, who is no longer deeply committed in spirit to the interlocked Christian doctrines of Original Sin, the Incarnation and Redemption, which constitute the Christian solution. His guilt nevertheless exists; he is conscious of it, and feels the anxiety that it generates. What is he going to do about it, and think about it?

Liberalism permits him to translate his guilt into the egalitarian, anti-discrimination, democratist, peace-seeking liberal principles, and to transform his guilty feeling into that “passion for reform” of which Professor [J. Salwyn] Schapiro speaks [in Liberalism: Its Meaning and History]. If he is an activist, he can actually sign on as a slum clearer, Freedom Rider, Ban the Bomber or Peace Corpsman, or join a Dr. Schweitzer or Dr. Dooley in the jungle. But activists of that literal sort are always a minority. The more significant achievement of liberalism, by which it confirms its claim to being considered a major ideology, is its ability to handle the problem of guilt for large numbers of persons without costing them undue personal inconvenience. This it does by elevating the problem to representational, symbolic and institutional levels. It is not necessary for me to go in person to the slum, jungle, prison, Southern restaurant, state house or voting precinct and there take a direct hand in accomplishing the reform that will unblock the road to peace, justice and well-being. Thanks to the reassuring provisions of the liberal ideology, I can go about my ordinary business and meanwhile take sufficient account of my moral duties by affirming my loyalty to the correct egalitarian principles, voting for the correct candidates, praising the activists and contributing to their defense funds when they get into trouble, and joining promptly in the outcry against reactionaries who pop up now and then in a desperate effort to preserve power and privilege.

“Liberalism”, as Burnham defines it in Suicide of the West, has changed in some particulars since 1964, particulars that I will address in my review. But, in the main, Burnham has nailed it, as “they” say nowadays. If you are in the market for a sound analysis of “liberalism”, skip Goldberg and go with Burnham.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXII)

This is a long-overdue entry; the previous one was posted on October 4, 2017. Accordingly, it is a long entry, consisting of these parts:

Censorship and Left-Wing Bias on the Web

The Real Collusion Story

“Suicide” of the West

Evolution, Intelligence, and Race

Will the Real Fascists Please Stand Up?

Consciousness

Empathy Is Over-Rated

“Nudging”



CENSORSHIP AND LEFT-WING BIAS ON THE WEB

It’s a hot topic these days. See, for example, this, this, this, this, and this. Also, this, which addresses Google’s slanting of search results about climate research. YouTube is at it, too.

A lot of libertarian and conservative commentators are loath to demand governmental intervention because the censorship is being committed by private companies: Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, et al. Some libertarians and conservatives are hopeful that libertarian-conservative options will be successful (e.g., George Gilder). I am skeptical. I have seen and tried some of those options, and they aren’t in the same league as the left-wingers, which have pretty well locked up users and advertisers. (It’s called path-dependence.) And even if they finally succeed in snapping up a respectable share of the information market, the damage will have been done; libertarians and conservatives will have been marginalized, criminalized, and suppressed.

The time to roll out the big guns is now, as I explain here:

Given the influence that Google and the other members of the left-wing information-technology oligarchy exert in this country, that oligarchy is tantamount to a state apparatus….

These information-entertainment-media-academic institutions are important components of what I call the vast left-wing conspiracy in America. Their purpose and effect is the subversion of the traditional norms that made America a uniquely free, prosperous, and vibrant nation….

What will happen in America if that conspiracy succeeds in completely overthrowing “bourgeois culture”? The left will frog-march America in whatever utopian direction captures its “feelings” (but not its reason) at the moment…

Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American 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, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land….

[It is therefore necessary to] enforce the First Amendment against information-entertainment-media-academic complex. This would begin with action against high-profile targets (e.g., Google and a few large universities that accept federal money). That should be enough to bring the others into line. If it isn’t, keep working down the list until the miscreants cry uncle.

What kind of action do I have in mind?…

Executive action against state actors to enforce the First Amendment:

Amendment I to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”.

Major entities in the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries have exerted their power to suppress speech because of its content. (See appended documentation.) The collective actions of these entities — many of them government- licensed and government-funded — effectively constitute a governmental violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech (See Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) and Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946).)

And so on. Read all about it here.



THE REAL COLLUSION STORY

Not quite as hot, but still in the news, is Spygate. Collusion among the White House, CIA, and FBI (a) to use the Trump-Russia collusion story to swing the 2016 election to Clinton, and (b) failing that, to cripple Trump’s presidency and provide grounds for removing him from office. The latest twist in the story is offered by Byron York:

Emails in 2016 between former British spy Christopher Steele and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr suggest Steele was deeply concerned about the legal status of a Putin-linked Russian oligarch, and at times seemed to be advocating on the oligarch’s behalf, in the same time period Steele worked on collecting the Russia-related allegations against Donald Trump that came to be known as the Trump dossier. The emails show Steele and Ohr were in frequent contact, that they intermingled talk about Steele’s research and the oligarch’s affairs, and that Glenn Simpson, head of the dirt-digging group Fusion GPS that hired Steele to compile the dossier, was also part of the ongoing conversation….

The newly-released Ohr-Steele-Simpson emails are just one part of the dossier story. But if nothing else, they show that there is still much for the public to learn about the complex and far-reaching effort behind it.

My take is here. The post includes a long list of related — and enlightening — reading, to which I’ve just added York’s piece.



“SUICIDE” OF THE WEST

Less “newsy”, but a hot topic on the web a few weeks back, is Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It received mixed reviews. It is also the subject of an excellent non-review by Hubert Collins.

Here’s my take:

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.

See also my review essay on James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.



EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE, AND RACE

Evolution is closely related to and intertwined with intelligence and race. Two posts and a page of mine (here, here, and here) delve some of the complexities. The latter of the two posts draws on David Stove‘s critique of evolutionary theory, “So You Think You Are a Darwinian?“.

Fred Reed is far more entertaining than Stove, and no less convincing. His most recent columns on evolution are here and here. In the first of the two, he writes this:

What are some of the problems with official Darwinism? First, the spontaneous generation of life has not been replicated…. Nor has anyone assembled in the laboratory a chemical structure able to metabolize, reproduce, and thus to evolve. It has not been shown to be mathematically possible….

Sooner or later, a hypothesis must be either confirmed or abandoned. Which? When? Doesn’t science require evidence, reproducibility, demonstrated theoretical possibility? These do not exist….

Other serious problems with the official story: Missing intermediate fossils–”missing links”– stubbornly remain missing. “Punctuated equilibrium,” a theory of sudden rapid evolution invented to explain the lack of fossil evidence, seems unable to generate genetic information fast enough. Many proteins bear no resemblance to any others and therefore cannot have evolved from them. On and on.

Finally, the more complex an event, the less likely it is to  occur by chance. Over the years, cellular mechanisms have been found to be  ever more complex…. Recently with the discovery of epigenetics, complexity has taken a great leap upward. (For anyone wanting to subject himself to such things, there is The Epigenetics Revolution. It is not light reading.)

Worth noting is that  that the mantra of evolutionists, that “in millions and millions and billions of years something must have evolved”–does not necessarily hold water. We have all heard of Sir James Jeans assertion that a monkey, typing randomly, would eventually produce all the books in the British Museum. (Actually he would not produce a single chapter in the accepted age of the universe, but never mind.) A strong case can be made that spontaneous generation is similarly of mathematically vanishing probability. If evolutionists could prove the contrary, they would immensely strengthen their case. They haven’t….

Suppose that you saw an actual monkey pecking at a keyboard and, on examining his output, saw that he was typing, page after page, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with no errors.

You would suspect fraud, for instance that the typewriter was really a computer programmed with Tom. But no, on inspection you find that it is a genuine typewriter. Well then, you think, the monkey must be a robot, with Tom in RAM. But  this too turns out to be wrong: The monkey in fact is one. After exhaustive examination, you are forced to conclude that Bonzo really is typing at random.

Yet he is producing Tom Sawyer. This being impossible, you would have to conclude that something was going on that you did not understand.

Much of biology is similar. For a zygote, barely visible, to turn into a baby is astronomically improbable, a suicidal assault on Murphy’s Law. Reading embryology makes this apparent. (Texts are prohibitively expensive, but Life Unfolding serves.) Yet every step in the process is in accord with chemical principles.

This doesn’t make sense. Not, anyway, unless one concludes that something deeper is going on that we do not understand. This brings to mind several adages that might serve to ameliorate our considerable arrogance. As Haldane said, “The world is not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think.” Or Fred’s Principle, “The smartest of a large number of hamsters is still a hamster.”

We may be too full of ourselves.

On the subject of race, Fred is no racist, but he is a realist; for example:

We have black football players refusing to stand for the national anthem.  They think that young black males are being hunted down by cops. Actually of  course black males are hunting each other down in droves but black football players apparently have no objection to this. They do not themselves convincingly suffer discrimination. Where else can you get paid six million green ones a year for grabbing something and running? Maybe in a district of jewelers.

The non-standing is racial hostility to whites. The large drop in attendance of games, of television viewership, is racial blowback by whites. Millions of whites are thinking, that, if America doesn’t suit them, football players can afford a ticket to Kenya. While this line of reasoning is tempting, it doesn’t really address the problem and so would be a waste of time.

But what, really, is the problem?

It is one that dare not raise its head: that blacks cannot compete with whites, Asians, or Latin-Americans. Is there counter-evidence? This leaves them in an incurable state of resentment and thus hostility. I think we all know this: Blacks know it, whites know it, liberals know it, and conservatives know it. If any doubt this, the truth would be easy enough to determine with carefully done tests. [Which have been done.] The furious resistance to the very idea of measuring intelligence suggests awareness of the likely outcome. You don’t avoid a test if you expect good results.

So we do nothing while things worsen and the world looks on astounded. We have mob attacks by Black Lives Matter, the never-ending Knockout Game, flash mobs looting stores and subway trains, occasional burning cities, and we do nothing. Which makes sense, because there is nothing to be done short of restructuring the country.

Absolute, obvious, unacknowledged disaster.

Regarding which: Do we really want, any of us, what we are doing? In particular, has anyone asked ordinary blacks, not black pols and race hustlers. “Do you really want to live among whites, or would you prefer a safe middle-class black neighborhood? Do your kids want to go to school with whites? If so, why? Do you want them to? Why? Would you prefer black schools to decide what and how to teach your children? Keeping whites out of it? Would you prefer having only black police in your neighborhood?”

And the big one: “Do you, and the people you actually know in your neighborhood, really want integration? Or is it something imposed on you by oreo pols and white ideologues?”

But these are things we must never think, never ask.

Which brings me to my most recent post about blacks and crime, which is here. As for restructuring the country, Lincoln saw what was needed.

The touchy matter of intelligence — its heritability and therefore its racial component — is never far from my thoughts. I commend to you Gregory Hood’s excellent piece, “Forbidden Research: How the Study of Intelligence is Crippled by Ideology“. Hood mentions some of the scientists whose work I have cited in my writings about intelligence and its racial component. See this page, for example, which give links to several related posts and excerpts of relevant research about intelligence. (See also the first part of Fred Reed’s post “Darwin’s Vigilantes, Richard Sternberg, and Conventional Pseudoscience“.)

As for the racial component, my most recent post on the subject (which provides links to related posts) addresses the question “Why study race and intelligence?”. Here’s why:

Affirmative action and similar race-based preferences are harmful to blacks. But those preferences persist because most Americans do not understand that there are inherent racial differences that prevent blacks, on the whole, from doing as well as whites (and Asians) in school and in jobs that require above-average intelligence. But magical thinkers (like [Professor John] McWhorter) want to deny reality. He admits to being driven by hope: “I have always hoped the black–white IQ gap was due to environmental causes.”…

Magical thinking — which is rife on the left — plays into the hands of politicians, most of whom couldn’t care less about the truth. They just want the votes of those blacks who relish being told, time and again, that they are “down” because they are “victims”, and Big Daddy government will come to their rescue. But unless you are the unusual black of above-average intelligence, or the more usual black who has exceptional athletic skills, dependence on Big Daddy is self-defeating because (like a drug addiction) it only leads to more of the same. The destructive cycle of dependency can be broken only by willful resistance to the junk being peddled by cynical politicians.

It is for the sake of blacks that the truth about race and intelligence ought to be pursued — and widely publicized. If they read and hear the truth often enough, perhaps they will begin to realize that the best way to better themselves is to make the best of available opportunities instead of moaning abut racism and relying on preferences and handouts.



WILL THE REAL FASCISTS PLEASE STAND UP?

I may puke if I hear Trump called a fascist one more time. As I observe here,

[t]he idea … that Trump is the new Hitler and WaPo [The Washington Post] and its brethren will keep us out of the gas chambers by daring to utter the truth (not)…. is complete balderdash, inasmuch as WaPo and its ilk are enthusiastic hand-maidens of “liberal” fascism.

“Liberals” who call conservatives “fascists” are simply engaging in psychological projection. This is a point that I address at length here.

As for Mr. Trump, I call on Shawn Mitchell:

A lot of public intellectuals and writers are pushing an alarming thesis: President Trump is a menace to the American Republic and a threat to American liberties. The criticism is not exclusively partisan; it’s shared by prominent conservatives, liberals, and libertarians….

Because so many elites believe Trump should be impeached, or at least shunned and rendered impotent, it’s important to agree on terms for serious discussion. Authoritarian means demanding absolute obedience to a designated authority. It means that somewhere, someone, has unlimited power. Turning the focus to Trump, after 15 months in office, it’s impossible to assign him any of those descriptions….

…[T]here are no concentration camps or political arrests. Rather, the #Resistance ranges from fervent to rabid. Hollywood and media’s brightest stars regularly gather at galas to crudely declare their contempt for Trump and his deplorable supporters. Academics and reporters lodged in elite faculty lounges and ivory towers regularly malign his brains, judgment, and temperament. Activists gather in thousands on the streets to denounce Trump and his voters. None of these people believe Trump is an autocrat, or, if they do they are ignorant of the word’s meaning. None fear for their lives, liberty, or property.

Still, other elites pile on. Federal judges provide legal backup, contriving frivolous theories to block administrations moves. Some rule Trump lacks even the authority to undo by executive order things Obama himself introduced by executive order. Governors from states like California, Oregon and New York announce they will not cooperate with administration policy (current law, really) on immigration, the environment, and other issues.

Amidst such widespread rebellion, waged with impunity against the constitutionally elected president, the critics’ dark warnings that America faces a dictator are more than wrong; they are surreal and damnable. They are what amounts to the howl of that half the nation still refusing to accept election results it dislikes.

Conceding Trump lacks an inmate or body count, critics still offer theories to categorize him in genus monsterus. The main arguments cite Trump’s patented belligerent personality and undisciplined tweets, his use of executive orders; his alleged obstruction in firing James Comey and criticizing Robert Mueller, his blasts at the media, and his immigration policies. These attacks weigh less than the paper they might be printed on.

Trump’s personality doubtless is sui generis for national office. If he doesn’t occasionally offend listeners they probably aren’t listening. But so what? Personality is not policy. A sensibility is not a platform, and bluster and spittle are not coercive state action. The Human Jerk-o-meter could measure Trump in the 99th percentile, and the effect would not change one law, eliminate one right, or jail one critic.

Executive Orders are misunderstood. All modern presidents used them. There is nothing wrong in concept with executive orders. Some are constitutional some are not. What matters is whether they direct executive priorities within U.S. statutes or try to push authority beyond the law to change the rights and duties of citizens. For example, a president might order the EPA to focus on the Clean Air Act more than the Clean Water Act, or vice versa. That is fine. But, if a president orders the EPA to regulate how much people can water their lawns or what kind of lawns to plant, the president is trying to legislate and create new controls. That is unconstitutional.

Many of Obama’s executive orders were transgressive and unconstitutional. Most of Trump’s executive orders are within the law, and constitutional. However that debate turns out, though, it is silly to argue the issue implicates authoritarianism.

The partisan arguments over Trump’s response to the special counsel also miss key points. Presidents have authority to fire subordinates. The recommendation authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provides abundant reason for Trump to have fired James Comey, who increasingly is seen as a bitter anti-Trump campaigner. As for Robert Mueller, criticizing is not usurping. Mueller’s investigation continues, but now readily is perceived as a target shoot, unmoored from the original accusations about Russia, in search of any reason to draw blood from Trump. Criticizing that is not dictatorial, it is reasonable.

No doubt Trump criticizes the media more than many modern presidents. But criticism is not oppression. It attacks not freedom of the press but the credibility of the press. That is civically uncomfortable, but the fact is, the war of words between Trump and the media is mutual. The media attacks Trump constantly, ferociously and very often inaccurately as Mollie Hemingway and Glenn Greenwald document from different political perspectives. Trump fighting back is not asserting government control. It is just challenging media assumptions and narratives in a way no president ever has. Reporters don’t like it, so they call it oppression. They are crybabies.

Finally, the accusation that Trump wants to enforce the border under current U.S. laws, as well as better vet immigration from a handful of failed states in the Middle East with significant militant activity hardly makes him a tyrant. Voters elected Trump to step up border enforcement. Scrutinizing immigrants from a handful of countries with known terrorist networks is not a “Muslim ban.” The idea insults the intelligence since there are about 65 majority Muslim countries the order does not touch.

Trump is not Hitler. Critics’ attacks are policy disputes, not examples of authoritarianism. The debate is driven by sore losers who are willing to erode norms that have preserved the republic for 240 years.

Amen.



CONSCIOUSNESS

For a complete change of pace I turn to a post by Bill Vallicella about consciousness:

This is an addendum to Thomas Nagel on the Mind-Body Problem. In that entry I set forth a problem in the philosophy of mind, pouring it into the mold of an aporetic triad:

1) Conscious experience is not an illusion.

2) Conscious experience has an essentially subjective character that purely physical processes do not share.

3) The only acceptable explanation of conscious experience is in terms of physical properties alone.

Note first that the three propositions are collectively inconsistent: they cannot all be true.  Any two limbs entail the negation of the remaining one. Note second that each limb exerts a strong pull on our acceptance. But we cannot accept them all because they are logically incompatible.

This is one hard nut to crack.  So hard that many, following David Chalmers, call it, or something very much like it, the Hard Problem in the philosophy of mind.  It is so hard that it drives some into the loony bin. I am thinking of Daniel Dennett and those who have the chutzpah to deny (1)….

Sophistry aside, we either reject (2) or we reject (3).  Nagel and I accept (1) and (2) and reject (3). Those of a  scientistic stripe accept (1) and (3) and reject (2)….

I conclude that if our aporetic triad has a solution, the solution is by rejecting (3).

Vallicella reaches his conclusion by subtle argumentation, which I will not attempt to parse in this space.

My view is that (2) is false because the subjective character of conscious experience is an illusion that arises from the physical properties of the central nervous system. Consciousness itself is not an illusion. I accept (1) and (3). For more, see this and this.



EMPATHY IS OVER-RATED

Andrew Scull addresses empathy:

The basic sense in which most of us use “empathy” is analogous to what Adam Smith called “sympathy”: the capacity we possess (or can develop) to see the world through the eyes of another, to “place ourselves in his situation . . . and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence from some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them”….

In making moral choices, many would claim that empathy in this sense makes us more likely to care about others and to consider their interests when choosing our own course of action….

Conversely, understanding others’ feelings doesn’t necessarily lead one to treating them better. On the contrary: the best torturers are those who can anticipate and intuit what their victims most fear, and tailor their actions accordingly. Here, Bloom effectively invokes the case of Winston Smith’s torturer O’Brien in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, who is able to divine the former’s greatest dread, his fear of rats, and then use it to destroy him.

Guest blogger L.P. addressed empathy in several posts: here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is from the fourth of those posts:

Pro-empathy people think less empathetic people are “monsters.” However, as discussed in part 2 of this series, Baron-Cohen, Kevin Dutton in The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and other researchers establish that empathetic people, particularly psychopaths who have both affective and cognitive empathy, can be “monsters” too.

In fact, Kevin Dutton’s point about psychopaths generally being able to blend in and take on the appearance of the average person makes it obvious that they must have substantial emotional intelligence (linked to cognitive empathy) and experience of others’ feelings in order to mirror others so well….

Another point to consider however, as mentioned in part 1, is that those who try to empathize with others by imagining how they would experience another’s situation aren’t truly empathetic. They’re just projecting their own feelings onto others. This brings to mind Jonathan Haidt’s study on morality and political orientation. On the “Identification with All of Humanity Scale,” liberals most strongly endorsed the dimension regarding identification with “everyone around the world.” (See page 25 of “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology.”) How can anyone empathize with billions of persons about whom one knows nothing, and a great number of whom are anything but liberal?

Haidt’s finding is a terrific example of problems with self-evaluation and self-reported data – liberals overestimating themselves in this case. I’m not judgmental about not understanding everyone in the world. There are plenty of people I don’t understand either. However, I don’t think people who overestimate their ability to understand people should be in a position that allows them to tamper with, or try to “improve,” the lives of people they don’t understand….

I conclude by quoting C. Daniel Batson who acknowledges the prevailing bias when it comes to evaluating altruism as a virtue. This is from his paper, “Empathy-Induced Altruistic Motivation,” written for the Inaugural Herzliya Symposium on Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior:

[W]hereas there are clear social sanctions against unbridled self-interest, there are not clear sanctions against altruism. As a result, altruism can at times pose a greater threat to the common good than does egoism.



“NUDGING”

I have addressed Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “libertarian” paternalism and “nudging in many posts. (See this post, the list at the bottom of it, and this post.) Nothing that I have written — clever and incisive as it may be — rivals Deirdre McCloskey’s take on Thaler’s non-Nobel prize, “The Applied Theory of Bossing“:

Thaler is distinguished but not brilliant, which is par for the course. He works on “behavioral finance,” the study of mistakes people make when they talk to their stock broker. He can be counted as the second winner for “behavioral economics,” after the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. His prize was for the study of mistakes people make when they buy milk….

Once Thaler has established that you are in myriad ways irrational it’s much easier to argue, as he has, vigorously—in his academic research, in popular books, and now in a column for The New York Times—that you are too stupid to be treated as a free adult. You need, in the coinage of Thaler’s book, co-authored with the law professor and Obama adviser Cass Sunstein, to be “nudged.” Thaler and Sunstein call it “libertarian paternalism.”*…

Wikipedia lists fully 257 cognitive biases. In the category of decision-making biases alone there are anchoring, the availability heuristic, the bandwagon effect, the baseline fallacy, choice-supportive bias, confirmation bias, belief-revision conservatism, courtesy bias, and on and on. According to the psychologists, it’s a miracle you can get across the street.

For Thaler, every one of the biases is a reason not to trust people to make their own choices about money. It’s an old routine in economics. Since 1848, one expert after another has set up shop finding “imperfections” in the market economy that Smith and Mill and Bastiat had come to understand as a pretty good system for supporting human flourishing….

How to convince people to stand still for being bossed around like children? Answer: Persuade them that they are idiots compared with the great and good in charge. That was the conservative yet socialist program of Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel as part of a duo that included an actual economist named Vernon Smith…. It is Thaler’s program, too.

Like with the psychologist’s list of biases, though, nowhere has anyone shown that the imperfections in the market amount to much in damaging the economy overall. People do get across the street. Income per head since 1848 has increased by a factor of 20 or 30….

The amiable Joe Stiglitz says that whenever there is a “spillover” — my ugly dress offending your delicate eyes, say — the government should step in. A Federal Bureau of Dresses, rather like the one Saudi Arabia has. In common with Thaler and Krugman and most other economists since 1848, Stiglitz does not know how much his imagined spillovers reduce national income overall, or whether the government is good at preventing the spill. I reckon it’s about as good as the Army Corps of Engineers was in Katrina.

Thaler, in short, melds the list of psychological biases with the list of economic imperfections. It is his worthy scientific accomplishment. His conclusion, unsupported by evidence?

It’s bad for us to be free.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred to Thaler’s philosophy as “paternalistic libertarianism.” The correct term is “libertarian paternalism.”

No, the correct term is paternalism.

I will end on that note.

Perfect vs. Good

One of the many things — perhaps the essential thing — that separates conservatives and leftists (“liberals“) is their outlook on life. (You can also call it temperament or disposition.)

Leftists seem to be addicted to bad news. Injustice and disaster are everywhere. Why? Because they see life through the lens of what should be, in an unattainable, perfect world. In their zeal to right “wrongs” — most of which are just Nature and benign human nature in action — they create bigger problems: sluggish economic growth, racial resentment, loss of property rights, suppression of speech, etc. etc. etc.

The leftist mentality exemplifies the adage that “perfect is the enemy of good“. The conservative instinctively knows this. He achieves the good by starting with what exists and improving it in ways that do not defy Nature or human nature. (The latter includes some predilections that are scorned by — and shared by — leftists; for example, ambition, acquisitiveness, and “tribalism”.)

It is the sad fate of conservatives to be cast as “mean” and “selfish” for resisting the left’s nostrums, even despite their demonstrable damage to social comity and economic well-being.

Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?

TWO DIMENSIONS OF POLITICAL THOUGHT

The political views of left and right* should be understood as ideological and psychological phenomena. Left and right aren’t distinguished just by what people think, but more deeply by why people think as they do. Some people just see the world differently than others. And that fundamental difference is reinforced and magnified by identifying with a particular political camp, imbibing the views that issue from it, and seeking out evidence for those views to the exclusion of contrary evidence (confirmation bias).

Why is the key to the irreconcilability of hard leftism and staunch conservatism.  What matters, but it is a less definitive discriminator between left and right because what people think is more malleable.

WHAT IS A MOVEABLE FEAST

What people think is influenced heavily by family, friends, neighbors, church, club, co-workers, professional colleagues, and so on. The urge to belong and the need for approval have a lot to do with what one says to others. The need for cognitive consonance pushes people in the direction of “believing” what they say. Thus it is easy to say what meets with the approval of one’s key social groups, to move one’s opinions as the opinions of the groups move, to believe that those opinions are correct, to seize on supporting “evidence” (anecdotes, slanted news, etc.), and to reject information that doesn’t support one’s opinions.

An introvert is more likely to seek facts — or what he takes to be facts — than to be swayed by groupthink in forming his views. By the same token, it is probably easier for an introvert to change his views than it is for an extravert to do so. In any event, a person who is open to new ideas, and whose social milieu changes in character, may find that his views evolve with time. He may also be struck by an insight (“mugged by reality”) to the same effect.

There is also the kind of person who is temperamentally unsuited to the political views that he holds as a matter of social conditioning. That kind of person, unlike the person whose views are matched to his temperament, will be more open to alternative ideas and to insights that may reshape his views.

Overlaid on social influences are signals emitted by authoritative sources. For many persons, the morality of a particular behavior (e.g., divorce, abortion, same-sex “marriage”) depends on how that behavior is depicted in news and entertainment media, or is treated as a matter of law.

Though a person who is temperamentally predisposed to conservatism, or leftism, is unlikely to switch sides for any of the reasons discussed thus far, there is what I call the “squishy center” of the electorate that swings many an election — and thus government policy.

For example, every week since the first inauguration of Barack Obama, Rasmussen Reports** has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the “right direction” or being on the “wrong track”. During Obama’s tenure, the percentage of respondents saying “right direction” ranged from 13 to 43; the percentages for “wrong track” ranged from 51 to 80. If voters were consistent, a majority would have said “right direction” and a minority would have said “wrong track” since the inauguration of Donald Trump. But “right direction” has garnered only 29 to 47 percent thus far in Trump’s presidency, while “wrong track” is still almost always in the majority, at 47 to 65 percent.

Here’s my interpretation: Hard leftists said “right direction” when Obama was in the White House; staunch conservatives have been saying “right direction” since Trump moved into the White House; and the “squishy center” has all the while been swinging from one side to the other, depending on passing events.

Scraping away the squishy center, I estimate that about one-third of the electorate is hard left and about one-third is staunchly conservative; thus:

Figure 3

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of what people think. Bandwagon effects are powerful politically. I am convinced, for example, that Justice Kennedy’s 5-4 majority opinion in favor of same-sex “marriage” (Obergefell v. Hodges) signaled to the squishy center that being on the “right side of history” means siding with the libertines of the left against long-standing social norms.

Obergefell v. Hodges certainly emboldened the hard left. As I put it on the day of Justice Kennedy’s fateful ruling,

for every person who insists on exercising his rights, there will be at least as many (and probably more) who will be cowed, shamed, and forced by the state into silence and compliance with the new dispensation. And the more who are cowed, shamed, and forced into silence and compliance, the fewer who will assert their rights. Thus will the vestiges of liberty vanish.

Just look at the increasingly anti-male, anti-white, anti-conservative, anti-free-speech behavior on the part of Facebook Google, the other left-dominated social media, and much of academia. It has gone from threatening to frightening in the past three years.

GETTING TO WHY: A PRELIMINARY EXPLANATION

There is something deeper than social conformity at work among the hard left and staunch right. That something rules out reconciliation.

My earlier attempt at pinpointing the essential difference between left and right is here. I say, in part, that

“Liberals” are more neurotic than conservatives. That is, “liberals” have a “tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability.”…

Anxious persons are eager to sacrifice better but less certain outcomes — the fruits of liberty — for “safe” ones. Anxious persons project their anxieties onto others, and put their trust in exploitative politicians who play on their anxieties even if they don’t share them. This combination of anxieties and power-lust yields “social safety net” programs and regulations aimed at reducing risks and deterring risk-taking.. At the same time, American “liberals” — being spoiled children of capitalism — have acquired a paradoxical aversion to the very things that would ensure their security: swift and sure domestic justice, potent and demonstrably ready armed forces.

Conservatives tend toward conscientiousness more than liberals do; that is, they “display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations.” (This paper summarizes previous research and arrives at the same conclusion about the positive correlation between conscientiousness and conservatism.) In other words, conservatives (by which I don’t mean yahoos) gather relevant facts, think things through, assess the risks involved in various courses of action, and choose to take risks (or not) accordingly. When conservatives choose to take risks, they do so after providing for the possibility of failure (e.g., through insurance and cash reserves). Confident, self-reliant conservatives are hindered by governmental intrusions imposed at the behest of anxious “liberals.” All that conservatives need from government is protection from domestic and foreign predators. What they get from government is too little protection and too much interference.

A DEEPER LOOK AT WHY

My hypothesis is consistent with that of Stephen Messenger (who blogs at The Independent Whig). Messenger’s hypothesis, which builds on the work of Jonathan Haidt, is spelled out in a recent article at Quillette, “Towards a Cognitive Theory of Politics“. Here’s some of it:

In brief, my theory holds that the political Left and Right are best understood as psychological profiles featuring different combinations of ‘moral foundations’ … and cognitive style…. To define ideologies in terms of beliefs, values, etc., is to confuse cause and effect.

Moral foundations are evolved psychological mechanisms of social perception, subconscious intuitive cognition, and conscious reasoning described by Haidt in The Righteous Mind….

Haidt allows that there are probably many moral foundations, but he has focused his efforts on identifying the most powerful. He’s identified six so far, summarized as follows in The Righteous Mind on pages 178-179 unless otherwise noted:

  • Care/Harm (sensitivity to signs of suffering and need)
  • Fairness/Cheating (sensitivity to indications that another person is likely to be a good or bad partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism)
  • Liberty/Oppression (sensitivity to, and resentment of, attempted domination)
  • Loyalty/Betrayal (sensitivity to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player)
  • Authority/Subversion (sensitivity to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position)
  • Sanctity/Degradation (sensitivity to pathogens, parasites, and other threats that spread by physical tough or proximity)….

He calls the first three foundations the “individualizing” foundations because their main emphasis is on the autonomy and well-being of the individual. The latter three are “binding” foundations because they help individuals form cooperative groups for the mutual benefit of all members….

Cognitive styles … are ways of thinking; operating systems, if you will, like Windows and iOS, that process information received from the social environment. There are two predominant cognitive styles, traced through 2,400 years of human history by Arthur Herman in his book The Cave and the Light: Plato and Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, in which Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for each, summarized in the following two short passages:

Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things.  They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world. Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter. The difference was that Plato’s forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without it. (p. 61)

The twentieth century’s greatest ideological conflicts do mark the violent unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian view of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives (p.539-540)

Plato thought that everything in the real world is but a pale imitation of its ideal self, and it is the role of the enlightened among us to help us see the ideal and to help steer society toward it. This is the style of thinking behind RFK’s “I dream things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” President Obama’s “Fundamentally Transform,” and even Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism.

Aristotle agreed that we should always strive to improve the human condition, but argued that the real world in which we live sets practical limits on what’s achievable. The human mind is not infinitely capable, nor is human nature infinitely malleable. If we’re not mindful of such limitations, or if we try to ‘fix’ them, our good intentions can end up doing more harm than good and lead us down the proverbial road to hell.

These two cognitive styles can be thought of, respectively, as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and holistic. In The Righteous Mind, Haidt describes the peculiarities of WEIRD individuals, as follows:

WEIRD people think more analytically (detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object). (p. 113)

[WEIRD thinkers tend to] see a world full of separate objects rather than relationships. (p. 113)

Putting this all together, it makes sense that WEIRD philosophers since Kant and Mill have mostly generated moral systems that are individualistic, rule-based, and universalist. (p. 113-114)

Worldwide, this kind of thinking is a statistical outlier because most people and cultures think holistically.3 Holistic thinkers tend to see a world full of relationships rather than objects, and they have a stronger tendency toward consilience. As Haidt explains:

When holistic thinkers in a non-WEIRD culture write about morality, we get something more like the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms and anecdotes that can’t be reduced to a single rule. (p. 114)

WEIRD Platonic rationalism and holistic Aristotelian empiricism can be thought of as the two ends of a spectrum of cognitive styles. Few people are at the extremes; most are somewhere in between.

The psychological profiles of Left and Right differ in the degree to which they tend to favor the cognitive styles and the moral foundations. A series of studies of cognitive styles has found that “liberals think more analytically (more WEIRD) than conservatives”:

[L]iberals think more analytically (an element of WEIRD thought) than moderates and conservatives. Study 3 replicates this finding in the very different political culture of China, although it held only for people in more modernized urban centers. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures.4

Haidt’s studies of moral foundations show that liberals tend to employ the individualizing foundations and, of those, mostly the care/harm foundation, whereas conservatives tend to use of all of them equally. There’s no conservative foundation that’s not also a liberal foundation but, for all practical purposes, half of the conservative foundations are unavailable to liberal social cognition. The graphic below comes from Haidt’s TED Talk [link added], and it shows that this pattern holds true in every culture studied on every continent, suggesting it is a human universal.

….

In sum, the liberal psychological profile tends toward the Platonic cognitive style combined with the three-foundation moral matrix.  The conservative profile leans toward the Aristotelian cognitive style with the all-foundation moral matrix. The libertarian profile seems to be made up of the Aristotelian style combined with a moral matrix that emphasizes liberty/oppression more than the other foundations. [Ed. note: So-called libertarians are like realists who view the world through a pinhole instead of a picture window.]

As I have argued before, concepts like liberty, equality, justice, and fairness take on different—even mutually exclusive—meanings depending on which psychological profile is interpreting them. The Left’s bias toward outcome-based conceptions of ‘positive’ liberty seems to follow naturally from its profile of Platonic rationalism focused on the moral foundation of care. The Right’s tendency to favor process-based conceptions of ‘negative’ liberty follows from its profile of Aristotelian empiricism in combination with all of the moral foundations.

It’s almost as if Left and Right are speaking different languages, in which each uses the same words but attaches starkly different meanings to them. Both sides agree that liberty is a great thing, but because neither side realizes that their understanding of it is different from that of the other they talk past one another, or worse, assume their opponent is stupid, ignorant, or wicked due to the failure to grasp concepts that in their own minds are self-evident.

The American economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell describes the way these two profiles have played out in the real world since the late 1700s in his book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Liberal psychology is reflected by thinkers like Godwin, Condorcet, Mill, Laski, Voltaire, Paine, Holbach, Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and G.B. Shaw. The conservative profile is seen in the likes of Smith, Burke, Hamilton, Malthus, Hayek, and Hobbes.

A Cognitive Theory of Politics can help us to improve our understanding historical events. For example, Sowell observes that the liberal ‘vision,’ or psychological profile, can be seen as the engine of the French Revolution. Jonathan Haidt made the same observation in a lecture he gave at the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research (CCARE) entitled “When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege.” In contrast, Sowell argues that the American founding was a fundamentally conservative movement. A reading of The Federalist Papers through the lens of the Cognitive Theory of Politics bears him out, and Burke—who supported the American Revolution but opposed the French Revolution—would probably agree….

… The political polarization of America described by Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart is best understood as a self-sorting of the population based primarily on cognitive styles.

SYNTHESIS AND CONCLUSION

Putting it all together, leftists are attached mainly to the moral foundation of harm/care because of their nueroticism. But they pursue security for themselves and those to whom they are neurotically attached — various “victim” groups — by seizing upon idealized solutions. The apotheosis of those idealized solutions is big government, which has the magical power — in the left’s idealization of it — to right all wrongs without a misstep. (Defense is excluded from the magical thinking of the left because the need to defend the nation implies that America is worth defending, but it isn’t — to the leftist — because it falls so far short of his idea of perfection. Defense is also exempted because it draws resources from the things that would make America more perfect in the fascistic mind: socialized medicine, a guaranteed income, free day-care, free college for all, and on and on.)

Staunch conservatives, on the other hand, know that government is flawed because its leaders and minions are fallible human beings. Further, it is impossible for government to possess all of the information required to make better decisions than people can make for themselves through mutually beneficial cooperation. That cooperation occurs in the myriad institutions of civil society, which include but are far from limited to markets for the exchange of products and services. Staunch conservatives — who can also be called right-minarchists or libertarian conservatives — therefore decry the expansion of government power beyond that which is required to protect civil society from domestic and foreign predators.

Messenger, despite those fundamental differences, is hopeful about a reconciliation between left and right:

A Cognitive Theory of Politics offers a new lens through which we can better understand human history and more clearly see ourselves and each other. Using this tool, we can better understand how we got to where we are, what’s happening to us now, and the available paths forward. A more accurate, science-based, universal understanding of the ‘Social Animal’ (humans) by the social animal might break the language barrier between Left and Right and provide a common foundation of knowledge from which productive debate can ensue.

I disagree. Hard leftists and staunch conservatives are “wired” differently, as Haidt has shown, and as Messenger has acknowledged.

The staunch conservative sees civil society as a whole, understands that it is unitary, knows that it is self-correcting because people learn from experience, and accepts its outcomes as the best that can be attained in a real world of real people.

The leftist can’t see the forest for the trees. He sees particular outcomes that displease him, and is willing to use the power of government to rearrange civil society in an effort to “remedy” those outcomes. He doesn’t understand, or care, that the results will be worse: a weaker economy, fewer jobs for those most in need of them, more racial tension, more broken families, and so on, up to and including an irremediably polarized nation.

Moreover, because leftists are at bottom self-centered, they cannot tolerate dissent. Dissent from a leftist regime is ultimately dealt with by suppression and violence. What we see now on campuses and in social media is merely a foretaste of what will happen if the left succeeds in its aim of seizing firm control of America. All else will follow from that.

This leads to an obvious conclusion: Left and right — the hard left and staunch conservatism, in particular — are irreconcilable. They are in fact locked in a death-struggle over the future of America. The squishy center is along for the ride, and will change its tune (what it says) and allegiance opportunistically, in the hope that it will end up on the “right side of history”.
__________
* Given the actual stances of those who are usually identified as “left” and “right”, there is absurdity in a conventional characterization of the left-right political spectrum like this:

Generally, the left-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism”, while the right-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism”.

The truth of the matter is almost 180 degrees from the caricature presented above. But Wikipedia is the source, so what do you expect?

I have explained many times (e.g., here) that the left is fascistic, while the right — excluding its yahoo component and some of its so-called libertarian component — is liberty-loving. (Liberty is properly defined as an attainable modus vivendi rather than an imaginary nirvana). So the real question of the title should be: Can American fascism and (true) anti-fascism be reconciled?

But I have refrained from using the “f” word, despite its lexical accuracy, and stuck with “left” and “right” despite the erroneous association of conservatism (i.e., the right) with authoritarianism (i.e., fascism). Just remember that “right” is often used to mean “correct”, and if anything is correct when it comes to striving for liberty, it is conservatism.

** I cite Rasmussen Reports because of its good track record — here and here, for example. Its polls are usually more favorable toward Republicans. Though the polls are generally accurate, they are out of step with the majority of polls, which are biased toward Democrats. This  has caused Rasmussen Reports to be labeled “Republican-leaning”, as the other polls weren’t “Democrat-leaning”. There is a parallel with the labeling of Fox News as a “conservative” outlet (though it isn’t always), while the other major TV news outlets laughably claim to be neutral.


Related posts:
Libertarian-Conservatives Are from the Earth, Liberals Are from the Moon
The Worriers
More about the Worrying Classes
Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Society and the State
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Getting Liberty Wrong
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Turning Points
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Self-Made Victims
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
How’s Your (Implicit) Attitude?
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Andrew Sullivan Almost Gets It
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Pronoun Profusion
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
My View of Mill, Endorsed
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
The Lesson of Alfie Evans
Order vs. Authority