The Shallowness of Secular Ethical Systems

This post is prompted by a recent offering from Irfan Khawaja, who styles himself an ex-libertarian and tries to explain his apostasy. Khawaja abandoned libertarianism (or his version of it) because it implies a stance toward government spending that isn’t consistent with the desideratum of another ethical system.

Rather than get bogged down in the details of Khawaja’s dilemma, I will merely point out what should be obvious to him (and to millions of other true believers in this or that ethical system): Any system that optimizes on a particular desideratum (e.g., minimal coercion, maximum “social” welfare by some standard) will clash with at least one other system that optimizes a different desideratum.

Further, the various desiderata usually are overly broad. And when the desiderata are defined narrowly, what emerges is not a single, refined desideratum but two or more. Which means that there are more ethical systems and more opportunities for clashes between systems. Those clashes sometimes occur between systems that claim to optimize on the same (broad) desideratum. (I will later take up an example.)

What are the broad and refined desiderata of various ethical systems? The following list is a start, though it is surely incomplete:

  • Liberty

Freedom from all restraint

Freedom from governmental restraint

Freedom to do as one chooses, consistent with traditional social norms (some of which may be enforced by government)

Freedom to do as one chooses, regardless of one’s endowment of intelligence, talent, effort, wealth, etc.

  • Equality

Equal treatment under the law

Economic equality, regardless of one’s intelligence, talent, effort, wealth, etc.

Economic and social equality, regardless of one’s intelligence, talent, effort, wealth, etc.

  • Democracy

Participation in governmental decisions through the election of officials whose powers are limited to those deemed necessary to provide for the defense of innocent citizens from force and fraud

Participation in governmental decisions through the election of officials who have the power to bring about economic and social equality

Governmental outcomes that enact the “will of the people” (i.e., the desiderata of each group that propounds this kind of democracy)

  • Human welfare

The maximization of the sum of all human happiness, perhaps with some lower limit on the amount of happiness enjoyed by those least able to provide for themselves

The maximization of the sum of all human happiness, as above, but only with respect to specific phenomena viewed as threats (e.g., “climate change”, “overpopulation”, resource depletion)

  • Animal welfare (including but far from limited to human welfare)

Special protections for animals to prevent their mistreatment

Legal recognition of animals (or some of them) as “persons” with the same legal rights as human beings

No use of animals to satisfy human wants (e.g., food, clothing, shelter)

It would be pedantic of me to explain the many irreconcilable clashes between the main headings, between the subsidiary interpretations under each main heading, and between the subsidiary interpretations under the various main headings. They should be obvious to you.

But I will show that even a subsidiary interpretation of a broad desideratum can be rife with internal inconsistencies. Bear with me while I entertain you with a few examples, based on Khawaja’s dilemma — the conflict between his versions of welfarism and libertarianism.

Welfarism, according to Khawaja, means that a government policy, or a change in government policy, should result in no net loss of lives. This implies that that it is all right if X lives are lost, as long as Y lives are gained, where Y is greater than X. Which is utilitarianism on steroids — or, in the words of Jeremy Bentham (the godfather of utilitarianism), nonsense upon stilts (Bentham’s summary dismissal of the doctrine of natural rights). To see why, consider that the blogger’s desideratum could be accomplished by a ruthless dictator who kills people by the millions, while requiring those spared to procreate at a rate much higher than normal. Nirvana (not!).

A broader approach to welfare, and one that is more commonly adopted, is an appeal to the (fictional) social-welfare function. I have written about it many times. All I need do here, by way of dismissal, is to summarize it metaphorically: Sam obtains great pleasure from harming other people. And if Sam punches Joe in the nose, humanity is better off (that is, social welfare is increased) if Sam’s pleasure exceeds Joe’s pain. It should take you a nanosecond to understand why that is nonsense upon stilts.

In case it took you longer than a nanosecond, here’s the nonsense: How does one measure the pleasure and pain of disparate persons? How does one then sum those (impossible) measurements?

More prosaically: If you are Joe, and not a masochist, do you really believe that Sam’s pleasure somehow cancels your pain or compensates for it in the grand scheme of things? Do you really believe that there is a scoreboard in the sky that keeps track of such things? If your answer to both questions is “no”, you should ask yourself what gives anyone the wisdom to decree that Sam’s punch causes an increase in social welfare. The philosopher’s PhD? You were punched in the nose. You know that Sam’s pleasure doesn’t cancel or compensate for your pain. The philosopher (or politician or economist) who claims (or implies) that there is a social-welfare function is either a fool (the philosopher or economist) or a charlatan (the politician).

I turn now to libertarianism, which almost defies analysis because of its manifold variations and internal contradictions (some of which I will illustrate). But Khawaja’s account of it as a prohibition on the initiation of force (the non-aggression principle, a.k.a. the harm principle) is a good entry point. It is clear that Khawaja understands force to include government coercion of taxpayers to fund government programs. That’s an easy one for most libertarians, but Khawaja balks because the prohibition of government coercion might mean the curtailment of government programs that save lives. (Khawaja thus reveals himself to have been a consequentialist libertarian, that is, one who favors liberty because of its expected results, not necessarily because it represents a moral imperative. This is yet another fault line within libertarianism, but I won’t explore it here.)

Khawaja cites the example of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) program that might cure cystic fibrosis or alleviate its symptoms. But Khawaja neglects the crucial matter of opportunity cost (a strange omission for a consequentialist). Those whose taxes fund government programs usually aren’t those who benefit from them. Taxpayers have other uses for their money, including investments in scientific and technological advances that improve and lengthen life. The NIH (for one) has no monopoly on life-saving and life-enhancing research. To put it succinctly, Khawaja has fallen into the intellectual trap described by Frédéric Bastiat, which is to focus on that which is seen (the particular benefits of government programs) and to ignore the unseen (the things that could be done instead through private action, including — not trivially — the satisfaction of personal wants). When the problem is viewed in that way, most libertarians would scoff at Khawaja’s narrow view of libertarianism.

Here’s a tougher issue for libertarians (the extreme pacifists among them excluded): Does the prohibition on the initiation of force extend to preemptive self-defense against an armed thug who is clearly bent on doing harm? If it does, then libertarianism is unadulterated hogwash.

Let’s grant that libertarianism allows for preemptive self-defense, where the potential victim (or his agent) is at liberty to decide whether preemption is warranted by the threat. Let’s grant, further, that the right of preemptive self-defense includes the right to be prepared for self-defense, because there is always the possibility of a sudden attack by a thug, armed robber, or deranged person. Thus the right to bear arms at all times, and in all places should be unrestricted (unabridged, in the language of the Second Amendment).

Along comes Nervous Nellie, who claims that the sight of all of those armed people around her makes her fear for her life. But instead of arming herself, Nellie petitions government for the confiscation of all firearms from private persons. The granting of Nellie’s petition would constrain the ability of others to defend themselves against (a) private persons who hide their firearms successfully; (b) private persons who resort to other lethal means of attacking other persons, and (c) armed government agents who abuse their power.

The resulting dilemma can’t be resolved by appeal to the non-aggression principle. The principle is violated if the right of self-defense is violated, and (some would argue) it is also violated if Nellie lives in fear for her life because the right of self-defense is upheld.

Moreover, the ability of government to decide whether persons may be armed — indeed, the very existence of government — violates the non-aggression principle. But without government the non-aggression principle may be violated more often.

Thus we see more conflicts, all of which take place wholly within the confines of libertarianism, broadly understood.

The examples could go on an on, but enough is enough. The point is that ethical systems that seek to optimize on a single desideratum, however refined and qualified it might be, inevitably clash with other ethical systems. Those clashes illustrate Kurt Gödel‘s incompleteness theorems:

Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system capable of modelling basic arithmetic….

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers. For any such consistent formal system, there will always be statements about natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

There is the view that Gödel’s theorems aren’t applicable in fields outside of mathematical logic. But any quest for ethical certainties necessarily involves logic, however flawed it might be.

Persons who devise and purvey ethical systems, assuming their good intentions (often a bad assumption), are simply fixated on particular aspects of human behavior rather than taking it whole. (They cannot see the forest because they are crawling on the ground, inspecting tree roots.)

Given such myopia, you might wonder how humanity manages to coexist cooperatively and peacefully as much as it does. Yes, there are many places on the globe where conflict is occasioned by what could be called differences of opinion about ultimate desiderata (including religious ones). But most human beings (though a shrinking majority, I fear) don’t give a hoot about optimizing on a particular desideratum. That is to say, most human beings aren’t fanatical about a particular cause or belief. And even when they are, they mostly live among like persons or keep their views to themselves and do at least the minimum that is required to live in peace with those around them.

It is the same for persons who are less fixated (or not at all) on a particular cause or belief. Daily life, with its challenges and occasional pleasures, is enough for them. In the United States, at least, fanaticism seems to be confined mainly to capitalism’s spoiled children (of all ages), whether they be ultra-rich “socialists”, affluent never-Trumpers, faux-scientists and their acolytes who foresee a climatic apocalypse, subsidized students (e.g., this lot), and multitudes of other arrant knights (and dames) errant.

Atheists are fond of saying that religion is evil because it spawns hatred and violence. Such sentiments would be met with bitter laughter from the hundreds of millions of victims of atheistic communism, were not most of them dead or still captive to the ethical system known variously as socialism and communism, which promises social and economic equality but delivers social repression and economic want. Religion (in the West, at least) is a key facet of liberty.

Which brings me to the point of this essay. When I use “liberty” I don’t mean the sterile desideratum of so-called libertarians (who can’t agree among themselves about its meaning or prerequisites). What I mean is the mundane business of living among others, getting along with them (or ignoring them, if that proves best), treating them with respect or forbearance, and observing the norms of behavior that will cause them to treat you with respect or forbearance.

It is that — and not the fanatical (unto hysterical) rallying around the various desiderata of cramped ethical systems — which makes for social comity and economic progress. The problem with silver bullets (Dr. Ehrlich’s “magic” one being a notable exception) is that they ricochet, causing more harm than good — often nothing but harm, even to those whom they are meant to help.


Related pages and posts:

Climate Change
Economic Growth Since World War II
Leftism
Modeling and Science
Social Norms and Liberty

On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Democracy and Liberty
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Why Conservatism Works
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
My View of Libertarianism
The Principles of Actionable Harm
More About Social Norms and Liberty
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World
Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
My View of Mill, Endorsed
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and Leviathan
Suicide or Destiny?
O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment
James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism
True Populism
Libertarianism’s Fatal Flaw
The Golden Rule and Social Norms
The Left-Libertarian Axis
Rooted in the Real World of Real People
Consequentialism
Conservatism, Society, and the End of America
Conservatism vs. Leftism and “Libertarianism” on the Moral Dimension
Free Markets and Democracy
“Libertarianism”, the Autism Spectrum, and Ayn Rand
Tragic Capitalism
A Paradox for Liberals
Rawls vs. Reality
The Subtle Authoritarianism of the “Liberal Order”
Liberty: Constitutional Obligations and the Role of Religion
Society, Culture, and America’s Future

Society, Culture, and America’s Future

There is much lamentation (from the right, at least) about the disintegration of American society, the culture war being waged by the left, and the future of America. I have done more than my share of lamenting. The purpose of this post isn’t to increase this blog’s lamentation quotient (though it probably will do that), but to take a step back and consider the meanings of “society” and “culture” as they apply to America. After having done that, I will consider the implications for the future of America.

Society and culture are intertwined. Society is usually defined as

an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

Culture is the collection of customs, rituals, and norms (religious and secular) that give a society its identity, and the observance of which marks individual persons as members of that society; thus:

Culture is the protection and nurturing of an identity that marks out how a given group (national, racial, social or whatever) ritualizes and cultivates its identity, gives it form and significance, and defines individuals as members of that group. Culture is not about what we do but the manner in which we do it and how a group defines itself by embellishing the gifts of nature.

Changes in society lead to changes in culture, and conversely. A good example, but hardly the only one of its kind, is Hitler’s exploitation of aspects of traditional German culture to build unblinking allegiance to Germany and to its leader (führer). The trait of fastidiousness was exploited to support the removal of “unclean” elements: Communists, Jews, Gypsys, and persons with mental and physical defects.

Societies and cultures in America can be likened to its topography. There are mountains, hills, rolling countryside, and flat land. The difference between a huge mountain and a somewhat smaller one is imperceptible — they are both mountains. But at some arbitrary point, a hump on the surface of the earth is called a hill instead of a mountain. This regression continues until hills are replaced by rolling countryside, and rolling countryside is replaced by flat land. There are no definite lines of demarcation between these various features, but the viewer usually knows which of them he is looking at.

Thus a person can tell the difference between a society-cum-culture that consists of impoverished inner-city blacks and one that revolves around a posh, all-white enclave. There are gradations between the two, and myriad overlapping memberships among those gradations, but the two are as distinct as the Rocky Mountains and the flatness of Florida.

Between the extremes, there are, of course, some distinct societal-cultural groupings; for example: Orthodox Jewish sects, Amish and Mennonite settlements, intellectually and culturally insular academic archipelagos, the remnants of enclaves formed by immigrants from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and communities of later immigrants from Asia and Central America. But — to sustain the metaphor — America for a long time had been mainly flat land, which spanned not only the earliest (non-Indian) settlers and their descendants but also most of the descendants of the European immigrants.

To change the metaphor, the societal and cultural landscape of America was for a very long time largely amorphous, which was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the interchangeability of the units meant that the divisions between them weren’t as deep as those between, say, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland and Eire (before the Republic went secular), the Basques and their neighbors, or the Kurds and the Turks. (The Civil War and its long aftermath of regional antipathy wouldn’t have happened but for the rabble-rousing rhetoric of pro-slavery and anti-slavery elites.)

The curse was that the growth of mass media (movies, radio, TV) and the advent of social media enabled rapid cultural change — change that hadn’t been tested in the acid of use and adopted because it made life better. It was change for the sake of change, which is a luxury afforded the beneficiaries of capitalism.

Take “noise”, for example — and by “noise” I mean sound, light, and motion — usually in combination. There are pockets of serenity to be sure, but the amorphous majority wallows in noise: in homes with blaring TVs; in stores, bars, clubs, and restaurants with blaring music, TVs, and light displays; in movies (which seem to be dominated by explosive computer graphics), in sports arenas (from Olympic and major-league venues down to minor-league venues, universities, and schools); and on an on.

I remember well the days before incessant noise. It wasn’t just that the electro-mechanical sources of noise were far less prevalent in those days, it was also that people simply weren’t as noisy (or demonstrative).

The prevalence of noise is telling evidence of the role of mass media in cultural change. Where culture is “thin” (the vestiges of the past have worn away) it is susceptible of outside influence. And where culture is thin, the edges of society are indistinct — one flows seamlessly into another. Thus the ease with which huge swaths of the amorphous majority were seduced, not just by noise but by leftist propaganda. The seduction was aided greatly by the parallel, taxpayer-funded efforts of public-school “educators” and the professoriate.

Thus did the amorphous majority bifurcate. (I locate the beginning of the bifurcation in the 1960s.) Those who haven’t been seduced by leftist propaganda have instead become resistant to it. This resistance to nanny-statism — the real resistance in America — seems to be anchored by members of that rapidly dwindling lot: adherents and practitioners of religion, especially between the two Left Coasts.

That they are also adherents of traditional social norms (e.g., marriage can only be between a man and a woman), upholders of the Second Amendment, and (largely) “blue collar” makes them a target of sneering (e.g., Barack Obama who called them “bitter clingers”; Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables”). That kind of sneering is a a socially divisive form of superiority-signaling, a result of which was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

As the faux-resistance against Trump continues, for reasons detailed here, the wedge between the two halves of the once-amorphous mass is driven deeper by the clamor. Continued sneering would add impetus, but vote-hungry Democrats have (for now) curtailed it (and even made populist noises) in the hope of luring some malleable voters to the dark side if the impeachment plot fails.

But the end of the faux-resistance — one way or another — will not reunite the once-amorphous mass. The sneering, which persists on the dark side, will continue. Legislative, executive, and judicial efforts to impose the left’s agenda on the whole of America will persist. Despite all of that the real resistance might even despite the inevitable conversions to the dark side among the weak-willed. Or it might not, for a reason to which I will come.

The real resistance, it should be noted, pre-dates Trump’s emergence onto the political scene, and could be seen in the candidacies of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace. The real resistance finally made itself felt, electorally, by putting Ronald Reagan into the White House, though his efforts to roll back nanny-statism were hampered by a solid Democrat majority in the House. There was more success later, during the Tea Party era, which enabled congressional resistance to Obama’s leftist agenda. And then, just when the Tea Party movement seemed to have faded away, Trump revived it — in spirit if not in name.

The question is whether a new leader will emerge to ensure the continuation of the real resistance after Trump — whether he leaves the scene by impeachment and conviction, by failure of re-election, or at the end of a second term.

The answer is that as long as sizeable portion of the populace remains attached to traditional norms — mainly including religion — there will be a movement in search of and in need of a leader. But the movement will lose potency if such a leader fails to emerge.

Were that to happen, something like the old, amorphous society might re-form, but along lines that the remnant of the old, amorphous society wouldn’t recognize. In a reprise of the Third Reich, the freedoms of association, speech, and religious would have been bulldozed with such force that only the hardiest of souls would resist going over to the dark side. And their resistance would have to be covert.

Paradoxically, 1984 may lie in the not-too-distant future, not 35 years in the past. When the nation is ruled by one party (guess which one), footvoting will no longer be possible and the nation will settle into a darker version of the Californian dystopia.

The Subtle Authoritarianism of the “Liberal Order”

There is a smug kind of person whom I know well, having been trained in the economics of control; having worked for more than thirty years with economists, engineers, mathematicians, statisticians, and others whose penchant it was to find the “best” solution to every problem; and having known (too many) “right thinking” persons whose first reaction to every disaster, sob story, and inconvenience is that government experts should make it stop (liberty, unintended consequences, and costs are of no importance).

A small sample of the smuggies’ certainties: “Efficient” means of transportation (e.g., fast intercity trains, urban light rail) should be provide by government (i.e., taxpayers) because they’re obviously the “best” way to move people, the revealed preferences of consumers (and voters) to the contrary notwithstanding. Cities should be zoned to encourage density (because, you know, cities are “cool”, “climate change”, yadayadyada), the preference of actual people (and evidence against “climate change”) to the contrary notwithstanding.

The list goes on and on. You can easily add to it even if you haven’t had your morning coffee.

The kind of smug person who holds such views holds them for many reasons: peer influence, virtue-signaling, educated incapacity, public-school and university indoctrination, and good old-fashioned snobbery (the “deplorables” must be made to do what’s in their own interest). Most such persons are also financially comfortable — too comfortable, obviously, because they seem to have nothing better to do with their money than to pay the higher taxes that inevitably result from their electoral choices: candidates who believe that government is the answer; bond issues and other ballot measures that enable politicians to spend more money to “fix” things. The less-comfortable contingent (e.g., school teachers and low-level government employees) go along to get along and because they must believe that government is good, just as a young child must believe in Santa Claus.

The agenda and constituency of the “liberal order” parallel those of the so-called liberal international order, which Sumantra Maitra addresses in a review article, “The End Times of the Liberal Order“? (Spectator USA, October 26, 2018):

A liberal order is not natural. Robert Kagan admits as much in his new bookThe Jungle Grows Back, when he writes that the ‘the creation of the liberal order has been an act of defiance against both history and human nature’. Nor is a liberal order an ‘order’, or liberal in nature. It is a sort of hegemonic or imperial peace.

Nothing wrong with that, of course; peace, any peace, is important. Unfortunately, it is the liberal part, which causes the problem. An internationalist, utopian worldview, liberalism is full of crusaderly zeal, constantly ‘going abroad in search of monsters to destroy’. Liberal internationalists badly want to shape the world. When given the chance, they do manage to shape the world, very badly indeed….

[John] Mearsheimer’s The Great Delusion claims that liberalism itself is paradoxical. It supports tolerance, but it is a universalist paradigm, deeply committed to borderless values. There cannot be any compromise or cooperation, because everything, everywhere is an existential battle. This causes conflict both at home and abroad. Domestically, liberalism divides a nation into good and bad people, and leads to a clash of cultures. Internationally, it leads to never-ending wars.

Encore: Domestically, liberalism divides a nation into good and bad people, and leads to a clash of cultures.

The clash of cultures was started and sustained by so-called liberals, the smug people described above. It is they who — firmly believing themselves to be smarter, on the the side of science, and on the side of history — have chosen to be the aggressors in the culture war.

Hillary Clinton’s remark about Trump’s “deplorables” ripped the mask from the “liberal” pretension to tolerance and reason. Clinton’s remark was tantamount to a declaration of war against the self-appointed champion of the “deplorables”: Donald Trump. And war it has been. much of it waged by deep-state “liberals” who cannot entertain the possibility that they are on the wrong side of history, and who will do anything — anything — to make history conform to their smug expectations of it.


Related reading:

Joel Kotkin, “Elites Against Western Civilization“, City Journal, October 3, 2019 (examples of the smug worldview, from a non-smug academic)

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Globalist Mindset: They Hate You“, American Greatness, December 16, 2018 (more, from another non-smug academic)

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Military-Intellegence Complex“, American Greatness, November 3, 2019 (even more)

Lyle H. Rossiter Jr., M.D. “The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness“, Townhall, December 4, 2006 (a psychiatrist’s diagnosis confirms mine)

Related pages and posts (focusing on various aspects of delusional “liberalism”):

Abortion Q & A
Climate Change
Economic Growth Since World War II (see especially The Rahn Curve in Action)
Leftism
Modeling and Science
Political Ideologies
Spygate (a.k.a. Russiagate)

Hurricane Hysteria
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
“Science is Real”
“Liberalism”: Trying to Have It Both Ways
Understanding the Resistance: The Enemies Within
Intellectuals and Authoritarianism
More Unsettled Science
Homelessness
Leninthink and Left-Think
More Unsettled Science
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXIV) (especially The Transgender Trap: A Political Nightmare Becomes Reality and Assortative Mating, Income Inequality, and the Crocodile Tears of “Progressives”)
Climate Hysteria
Rawls vs. Reality

Rawls vs. Reality

I have never understood the high esteem in which John Rawls‘s “original position” is held by many who profess political philosophy. Well, I understand that the original position supports redistribution of income and wealth — a concept beloved of the overpaid faux-socialist professoriate — but it is a logical and empirical absurdity that shouldn’t be esteemed by anyone who thinks about it rigorously. (Which tells me a lot about the intelligence, rigor, and honesty of those who pay homage to it.)

What is the original position? According to Wikipedia it is

a hypothetical situation developed by … Rawls as a thought experiment to replace the imagery of a savage state of nature of prior political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes.

In the original position, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: their ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, Conception of the Good (an individual’s idea of how to lead a good life). This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.

As a thought experiment, the original position is a hypothetical position designed to accurately reflect what principles of justice would be manifest in a society premised on free and fair cooperation between citizens, including respect for liberty, and an interest in reciprocity.

In the state of nature, it might be argued that certain persons (the strong and talented) would be able to coerce others (the weak and disabled) by virtue of the fact that the stronger and more talented would fare better in the state of nature. This coercion is sometimes thought to invalidate any contractual arrangement occurring in the state of nature. In the original position, however, representatives of citizens are placed behind a “veil of ignorance”, depriving the representatives of information about the individuating characteristics of the citizens they represent. Thus, the representative parties would be unaware of the talents and abilities, ethnicity and gender, religion or belief system of the citizens they represent. As a result, they lack the information with which to threaten their fellows and thus invalidate the social contract they are attempting to agree to….

Rawls specifies that the parties in the original position are concerned only with citizens’ share of what he calls primary social goods, which include basic rights as well as economic and social advantages. Rawls also argues that the representatives in the original position would adopt the maximin rule as their principle for evaluating the choices before them. Borrowed from game theory, maximin stands for maximizing the minimum, i.e., making the choice that produces the highest payoff for the least advantaged position. Thus, maximin in the original position represents a formulation of social equality.

The social contract, citizens in a state of nature contract with each other to establish a state of civil society. For example, in the Lockean state of nature, the parties agree to establish a civil society in which the government has limited powers and the duty to protect the persons and property of citizens. In the original position, the representative parties select principles of justice that are to govern the basic structure of society. Rawls argues that the representative parties in the original position would select two principles of justice:

  1. Each citizen is guaranteed a fully adequate scheme of basic liberties, which is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all others;
  2. Social and economic inequalities must satisfy two conditions:
    • to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged (the difference principle);
    • attached to positions and offices open to all.

The reason that the least well off member gets benefited is that it is assumed that under the veil of ignorance, under original position, people will be risk-averse. This implies that everyone is afraid of being part of the poor members of society, so the social contract is constructed to help the least well off members.

There are objections aplenty to Rawls’s creaky construction, some of which are cited in the Wikipedia piece:

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick argues that, while the original position may be the just starting point, any inequalities derived from that distribution by means of free exchange are equally just, and that any re-distributive tax is an infringement on people’s liberty. He also argues that Rawls’s application of the maximin rule to the original position is risk aversion taken to its extreme, and is therefore unsuitable even to those behind the veil of ignorance.

In Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong, Iain King argues that people in the original position should not be risk-averse, leading them to adopt the Help Principle (Help someone if your help is worth more to them than it is to you) rather than maximin.

In Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Michael Sandel has criticized Rawls’s notion of veil of ignorance, pointing out that it is impossible, for an individual, to completely prescind from [his] beliefs and convictions … as … required by Rawls’s thought experiment.

There is some merit in those objections, but they they don’t get to the root error of Rawls’s concoction. For that’s what it is, a concoction that has nothing to do with real people in the real world. The original position is an exercise in moral masturbation.

To begin at the beginning, the ostensible aim of Rawls’s formulation is to outline the “rules” by which a society can attain social justice — or, more accurately, social justice as Rawls defines it. (In what follows, when I refer to social justice in the context of Rawls’s formulation, the reader should mentally add the qualifier “as Rawls defines it”.)

Rawls presumably didn’t believe that there could be an original position, let alone a veil of ignorance. So his real aim must have been to construct a template for the attainment of social justice. The actual position of a society could then (somehow) be compared with the template to determine what government policies would move society toward the Rawlsian ideal.

Clearly, Rawls believed that his template could be justified only if he arrived at it through what he thought would be a set of unexceptionable assumptions. Otherwise, he could simply have promulgated the template (the maximin distribution of primary social goods), and left it at that. But to have done so would have been to take a merely political position, not one that pretends to rest on deep principles and solid logic.

What are those principles, and what is the logic that leads to Rawls’s template for a just society? Because there is no such thing as an original position or veil of ignorance, Rawls assumes (implicitly) that the members of a society should want social justice to prevail, and should behave accordingly, or authorize government to behave accordingly on their behalf. The idea is to make it all happen without coercion, as if the maximin rule were obviously the correct route to social justice.

To make it happen without coercion, Rawls must adopt unrealistic assumptions about the citizens of his imaginary society: pervasive ignorance of one’s own situation and extreme risk-aversion. Absent those constraints, some kind of coercion would be required for the members of the society to agree on the maximin rule. Effectively, then, Rawls assumes the conclusion toward which he was aiming all along, namely, that the maximin rule should govern society’s treatment of what he calls primary social goods — or, rather, government’s treatment of those goods, as it enforces the consensus of a society of identical members.

What is that treatment? This, as I understand it:

  • Guarantee each citizen a fully adequate scheme of basic liberties, which is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all others.
  • Tolerate only those inequalities with respect to social and economic outcomes that yield the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged.
  • Tolerate only those inequalities that derive from positions and offices that are open to all citizens.

Rawls’s scheme is superficially attractive to anyone who understands that forced equality is inimical to economic progress (not to mention social comity and liberty), and that it harms the least-advantaged (because they “share” in a smaller “pie”) as well as those who would otherwise be among the more-advantaged. Similarly, the idea that all citizens have the same basic rights and social advantages seems unexceptionable.

But many hard questions lurk beneath the surface of Rawls’s plausible concoction.

What is an adequate scheme of basic liberties? The two weasel-words — “adequate” and “basic” — mean that the scheme can be whatever government officials would prefer it to be, unless the clone-like populace defines the scheme in advance. But the populace can’t be clone-like, except in Rawls’s imagination, so government can’t be constrained by a definition of basic liberties that is conceived in the original position. Thus government must (and certainly will) adopt a scheme that reflects the outcome of intra-governmental bargaining (satisficing various popular and bureaucratic interests) — not a scheme that is the consensus of a clone-like citizenry lusting after social justice.

Do basic liberties entail equal rights under law? Yes, and they have been enshrined in American law for a century-and-a-half. Or have they? It seems that rights are a constantly evolving and malleable body of entitlements, which presently (in the view of many) include (inter alia) the right to defecate on public property, the right to be given addictive drugs, the right not to be offended or “triggered” emotionally, and the right not to be shunned by persons whose preferences don’t run to sodomy and “gender fluidity”.

The failure to provide equal rights– whatever they may be at the moment — isn’t a failure that can be remedied by magically reverting to the original position, where actual human beings aren’t to be found. The rights of the moment must be enforced by government. But government enforcement necessarily involves coercion, and certainly involves arbitrariness of a kind that might even offend Rawls. For government, in the real world, is a blunt instrument wielded by politicians and bureaucrats who strike crude bargains on behalf of the sundry interest groups to which they are beholden.

Turning to economic inequality, how does one define the least-advantaged? Are the least-advantaged those whose incomes fall below a certain level? For how long? Who defines the level? If raising incomes to that level reduces the rewards of economically productive work (e.g., invention, innovation, investment, entrepreneurship) through taxation, and thereby reduces the opportunities available to the least-advantaged, by what complex computation will the “right” level of taxation by determined? Surely not by citizens in the original position, operating behind the veil of ignorance, nor — it must be admitted — by government, the true nature of which is summarized in the final sentence of the preceding paragraph.

And what about wealth? How much wealth? Wealth at what stage of one’s life? When a person is still new to the work force but, like most workers, will earn more and accrue wealth? What about wealth that may be passed from generation to generation? Or is such wealth something that isn’t open to all and therefore forbidden? And if it is forbidden, what does that do to the incentives of wealth-builders to do things that advance economic growth, which benefits all citizens including the least-advantaged?

In both cases — income and wealth — we are dealing in arbitrary distinctions that must fall to government to decide, and to enforce by coercion. There is no question of deciding such things in the original position, even behind a veil of ignorance, unless the citizenry consists entirely of Rawls’s omniscient clones.

I must ask, further, why the least-advantaged — if they could be defined objectively and consistently — should be denied incentives to earn more income and build wealth? (Redistribution schemes do just that.) Is that social justice? No, it’s a particular kind of social justice that sees only the present and condescends toward the least-advantaged (whoever they might be).

What about the least-advantaged socially? If social status is directly correlated with income or wealth, there is no need to delve deeper. But if it is something else, the question arises: What is it, how can it be measured, and how can it be adjusted so that the least-advantaged are raised to some minimal level of social standing? How is that level defined and who defines it? Surely not Rawls’s clones operating in complete ignorance of such things. The task therefore, and again, must fall to government, the failings and coerciveness of which I have already addressed adequately.

Why should the least-advantaged on any dimension, if they can be defined, have privileges (i.e., government interventions in their favor) that are denied and harmful to the rest of the citizenry? Favoring the least-advantaged is, of course, “the right thing to do”. So all that Rawls accomplished by his convoluted, pristine “reasoning” was to make a plausible (but deeply flawed) case for something like the welfare state that already exists in the United States and most of the world. As for his conception of liberty and equal rights, Rawls cleverly justifies trampling on the liberty and equal rights of the more-advantaged by inventing like-minded clones who “authorize” the state to trample away.

Rawls put a lot of hard labor into his justification for welfare-statism in the service of “social justice”. The real thing, which was staring him in the face, amounts to this: Government intervenes in voluntarily cooperative social and economic arrangements only to protect citizens from force and fraud, where those terms are defined by long-standing social norms and applied by (not reworked or negated by) legislative, executive, and judicial acts. Which norms? The ones that prevailed in America before the 1960s would do just fine, as long as laws forbidding intimidation and violence were uniformly enforced across the land.

Perfection? Of course not, but attainable. The Framers of the original Constitution did a remarkable job of creating a template by which real human beings (not Rawls’s clones) could live in harmony and prosperity. Real human beings have a penchant for disharmony, waste, fraud, and abuse — but they’re all we have to work with.

Political Ideologies

I have just published a new page, “Political Ideologies”. Here’s the introduction:

Political ideologies proceed in a circle. Beginning arbitrarily with conservatism and moving clockwise, there are roughly the following broad types of ideology: conservatism, anti-statism (libertarianism), and statism. Statism is roughly divided into left-statism (“liberalism”or “progressivism”, left-populism) and right-statism (faux conservatism, right-populism). Left-statism and right-statism are distinguishable by their stated goals and constituencies.

By statism, I mean the idea that government should do more than merely defend the people from force and fraud. Conservatism and libertarianism are both anti-statist, but there is a subtle and crucial difference between them, which I will explain.

Not everyone has a coherent ideology of a kind that I discuss below. Far from it. There is much vacillation between left-statism and right-statism. And there is what I call the squishy center of the electorate which is easily swayed by promises and strongly influenced by bandwagon effects. In general, there is what one writer calls clientelism:

the distribution of resources by political power through an agreement in which politicians – the patrons – make this allocation dependent on the political support of the beneficiaries – their clients. Clientelism emerges at the intersection of political power with social and economic activity.

Politicians themselves are prone to stating ideological positions to which they don’t adhere, out of moral cowardice and a strong preference for power over principle. Republicans have been especially noteworthy in this respect. Democrats simply try to do what they promise to do — increase the power of government (albeit at vast but unmentioned economic and social cost).

In what follows, I will ignore the squishy center and the politics of expediency. I will focus on the various ideologies, the contrasts between them, and the populist allure of left-statism and right-statism. Because the two statisms are so much alike under the skin, I will start with conservatism and work around the circle to them. Conservatism gets more attention than the other ideologies because it is intellectually richer.

Go here for the rest.

Leninthink and Left-think

The following passages from Gary Saul Morson’s “Leninthink” (The New Criterion, October 2019) speak volumes about today’s brand of leftism:

In [Lenin’s] view, Marx’s greatest contribution was not the idea of the class struggle but “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and as far back as 1906 Lenin had defined dictatorship as “nothing other than power which is totally unlimited by any laws, totally unrestrained by absolutely any rules, and based directly on force.”

*   *   *

For us, the word “politics” means a process of give and take, but for Lenin it’s we take, and you give. From this it follows that one must take maximum advantage of one’s position. If the enemy is weak enough to be destroyed, and one stops simply at one’s initial demands, one is objectively helping the enemy, which makes one a traitor.

*   *   *

If there is one sort of person Lenin truly hated more than any other, it is—to use some of his more printable adjectives—the squishy, squeamish, spineless, dull-witted liberal reformer.

*   *   *

If by law one means a code that binds the state as well as the individual, specifies what is and is not permitted, and eliminates arbitrariness, then Lenin entirely rejected law as “bourgeois.”…  Recall that he defined the dictatorship of the proletariat as rule based entirely on force absolutely unrestrained by any law.

*   *   *

Lenin’s language, no less than his ethics, served as a model, taught in Soviet schools and recommended in books with titles like Lenin’s Language and On Lenin’s Polemical Art. In Lenin’s view, a true revolutionary did not establish the correctness of his beliefs by appealing to evidence or logic, as if there were some standards of truthfulness above social classes. Rather, one engaged in “blackening an opponent’s mug so well it takes him ages to get it clean again.” Nikolay Valentinov, a Bolshevik who knew Lenin well before becoming disillusioned, reports him saying: “There is only one answer to revisionism: smash its face in!”

*   *   *

No concessions, compromises, exceptions, or acts of leniency; everything must be totally uniform, absolutely the same, unqualifiedly unqualified.

*   *   *

Critics objected that Lenin argued by mere assertion. He disproved a position simply by showing it contradicted what he believed. In his attack on the epistemology of Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius, for instance, every argument contrary to dialectical materialism is rejected for that reason alone. Valentinov, who saw Lenin frequently when he was crafting this treatise, reports that Lenin at most glanced through their works for a few hours. It was easy enough to attribute to them views they did not hold, associate them with disreputable people they had never heard of, or ascribe political purposes they had never imagined. These were Lenin’s usual techniques, and he made no bones about it.

Opponents objected that Lenin lied without compunction, and it is easy to find quotations in which he says—as he did to the Bolshevik leader Karl Radek—“Who told you a historian has to establish the truth?” Yes, we are contradicting what we said before, he told Radek, and when it is useful to reverse positions again, we will.

*   *   *

Lenin did not just invent a new kind of party, he also laid the basis for what would come to be known in official parlance as “partiinost’,” literally Partyness, in the sense of Party-mindedness….

… The true Party member cares for nothing but the Party. It is his family, his community, his church. And according to Marxism-Leninism, everything it did was guaranteed to be correct.

*   *   *

[The prominent Bolshevik Yuri] Pyatakov grasped Lenin’s idea that coercion is not a last resort but the first principle of Party action. Changing human nature, producing boundless prosperity, overcoming death itself: all these miracles could be achieved because the Party was the first organization ever to pursue coercion without limits.

*   *   *

Many former Communists describe their belated recognition that experienced Party members do not seem to believe what they profess…. It gradually dawned on [Richard Wright] that the Party takes stances not because it cares about them—although it may—but because it is useful for the Party to do so.

Doing so may help recruit new members, as its stance on race had gotten Wright to join. But after a while a shrewd member learned, without having been explicitly told, that loyalty belonged not to an issue, not even to justice broadly conceived, but to the Party itself. Issues would be raised or dismissed as needed.

*   *   *

I remarked to one colleague, who called herself a Marxist-Leninist, that it only made things worse when she told obvious falsehoods in departmental meetings. Surely, such unprincipled behavior must bring discredit to your own position, I pleaded.

Her reply brought me back to my childhood [as a son of a party member]. I quote it word-for-word: “You stick to your principles, and I’ll stick to mine.” From a Leninist perspective, a liberal, a Christian, or any type of idealist only ties his hands by refraining from doing whatever works. She meant: we Leninists will win because we know better than to do that.

In the end, leftism is about power — unchallenged power to do whatever it is that must be done.

Understanding the “Resistance”: The Enemies Within

There have been, since the 1960s, significant changes in the culture of America. Those changes have been led by a complex consisting of the management of big corporations (especially but not exclusively Big Tech), the crypto-authoritarians of academia, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and affluent adherents of  “hip” urban culture on the two Left Coasts. The changes include but are far from limited to the breakdown of long-standing, civilizing, and uniting norms. These are notably (but far from exclusively) traditional marriage and family formation, religious observance, self-reliance, gender identity, respect for the law (including immigration law), pride in America’s history, and adherence to the rules of politics even when you are on the losing end of an election.

Most of the changes haven’t occurred through cultural diffusion, trial and error, and general acceptance of what seems to be a change for the better. No, most of the changes have been foisted on the public at large through legislative, executive, and judicial “activism” by the disciples of radical guru Saul Alinsky (e.g., Barack Obama), who got their start in the anti-war riots of the 1960s and 1970s. They and their successors then cloaked themselves in respectability (e.g., by obtaining Ivy League degrees) to infiltrate and subvert the established order.

How were those disciples bred? Through the public-education system, the universities, and the mass media. The upside-down norms of the new order became gospel to the disciples. Thus the Constitution is bad, free markets are bad, freedom of association (for thee) is bad, self-defense (for thee) is bad, defense of the country must not get in the way of “social justice”, socialism and socialized medicine (for thee) are good, a long list of “victims” of “society” must be elevated, compensated, and celebrated regardless of their criminality and lack of ability.

And the disciples of the new dispensation must do whatever it takes to achieve their aims. Even if it means tearing up long-accepted rules, from those inculcated through religion to those written in the Constitution. Even if it means aggression beyond beyond strident expression of views to the suppression of unwelcome views, “outing” those who don’t subscribe to those views, and assaulting perceived enemies — physically and verbally.

All of this is the product of a no-longer-stealthy revolution fomented by a vast, left-wing conspiracy. One aspect of this movement has been the unrelenting attempt to subvert the 2016 election and reverse its outcome. Thus the fraud known as Spygate (a.k.a. Russiagate) and the renewed drive to impeach Trump, engineered with the help of a former Biden staffer.

Why such a hysterical and persistent reaction to the outcome of the 2016 election?  (The morally corrupt, all-out effort to block the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh was a loud echo of that reaction.) Because the election of 2016 had promised to be the election to end all elections — the election that might have all-but-assured the the ascendancy of the left in America, with the Supreme Court as a strategic high ground.

But Trump — through his budget priorities, deregulatory efforts, and selection of constitutionalist judges — has made a good start on undoing Obama’s great leap forward in the left’s century-long march toward its vision of Utopia. The left cannot allow this to continue, for if Trump succeeds (and a second term might cement his success), its vile work could be undone.

There has been, in short, a secession — not of States (though some of them act that way), but of a broad and powerful alliance, many of whose members serve in government. They constitute a foreign presence in the midst of “real Americans“.

They are barbarians inside the gate, and must be thought of as enemies.

Conservatism vs. “Libertarianism” and Leftism on the Moral Dimension

I said this recently:

Conservatives rightly defend free markets because they exemplify the learning from trial and error that underlies the wisdom of voluntarily evolved social norms — norms that bind a people in mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.

Conservatives also rightly condemn free markets — or some of the produce of free markets — because that produce is often destructive of social norms.

What about “libertarianism”* and leftism? So-called libertarians, if they are being intellectually consistent, will tell you that it doesn’t matter what markets produce (as long as the are truly free ones). What matters, in their view, is whether the produce of markets isn’t used to cause harm to others. (I have elsewhere addressed the vacuousness and fatuousness of the harm principle.) Therein lies a conundrum — or perhaps a paradox — for if the produce of markets can be used to cause harm, that is, used in immoral ways, the produce (and the act of producing it) may be immoral, that is, inherently and unambiguously harmful.

Guns aren’t a good example because they can be (and are) used in peaceful and productive or neutral ways (e.g., hunting for food, target-shooting for the enjoyment of it). Their use in self-defense and in wars against enemies, though not peaceful, is productive for the persons and nations engaged in defensive actions. (A war that contains elements of offense — even preemption — may nevertheless be defensive.)

Child pornography, on the other hand, is rightly outlawed because the production of it involves either (a) forcible participation by children or (b) the exploitation of “willing” children who are too young and inexperienced in life to know that they are subjecting themselves to physical and emotional dangers. Inasmuch as the produce (child pornography) can result only from an immoral process (physical or emotional coercion), the produce is therefore inherently and unambiguously immoral. I will leave it to the reader to find similar examples.

Here, I will turn in a different direction and tread on controversial ground by saying that the so-called marketplace of ideas sometimes yields inherently and unambiguously immoral outcomes:

Unlike true markets, where competition usually eliminates sellers whose products and services are found wanting, the competition of ideas often leads to the broad acceptance of superstitions, crackpot notions, and plausible but mistaken theories. These often find their way into government policy, where they are imposed on citizens and taxpayers for the psychic benefit of politicians and bureaucrats and the monetary benefit of their cronies.

The “marketplace” of ideas is replete with vendors who are crackpots, charlatans, and petty tyrants. They run rampant in the media, academia, and government.

If that were the only example of odious outcomes, it would be more than enough to convince me (if I needed convincing) that “libertarians” are dangerously naive. They are the kind of people who believe that disputes can and will be resolved peacefully through the application of “reason”, when they live in a world where most of the evidence runs in the other direction. They are as Lord Halifax — Winston Churchill’s first foreign secretary — was to Churchill: whimpering appeasers vs. defiant defenders of civilization.

The willingness of leftists (especially office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks) to accept market outcomes is easier to analyze. Despite their preference for government dictation of market outcomes, they are willing to accept those outcomes as long as they comport with what should be, as leftists happen to see it at the moment. Leftists are notoriously unsteady in their views of what should be, because those views are contrived to yield power. Today’s incessant attacks on “racism”, “inequality”, and “sexism” are aimed at disarming the (rather too reluctant and gentlemanly) defenders of liberty (which isn’t synonymous with the unfettered operation of markets).

Power is the ultimate value of leftist office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks. The inner compass of that ilk — regardless of posturing to the contrary — points toward power, not morality. Rank-and-file leftists — most of them probably sincere in their moral views — are merely useful idiots who lend their voices, votes, and money (often unwittingly) to the cause of repression.

Leftism, in short, exploits the inherent immorality of the “marketplace of ideas”.

Is it any wonder that leftism almost always triumphs over “libertarianism” and conservatism? Leftism is the cajoling adult who convinces the unwitting child to partake of physically and psychologically harmful sexual activity.


* I have used “sneer quotes” because “libertarianism” is a shallow ideology. True libertarianism is found in tradistional conservatism. (See “What Is Libertarianism?” and “True Libertarianism, One More Time“, for example.)

(See also “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, “An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, and “The Left-Libertarian Axis“.)

“That’s Not Who We Are”

I had been thinking recently about that meaningless phrase, and along came Bill Vallicella’s post to incite this one. As BV says, it’s a stock leftist exclamation. I don’t know when or where it originated. But I recall that it was used a lot on The West Wing, about which I say this in “Sorkin’s Left-Wing Propaganda Machine“:

I endured The West Wing for its snappy dialogue and semi-accurate though cartoonish, depictions of inside politics. But by the end of the series, I had tired of the show’s incessant propagandizing for leftist causes….

[The] snappy dialogue and semi-engaging stories unfold in the service of bigger government. And, of course, bigger is better because Aaron Sorkin makes it look that way: a wise president, crammed full of encyclopedic knowledge; staffers whose IQs must qualify them for the Triple Nine Society, and whose wit crackles like lightning in an Oklahoma thunderstorm; evil Republicans whose goal in life is to stand in the way of technocratic progress (national bankruptcy and the loss of individual freedom don’t rate a mention); and a plethora of “worthy” causes that the West-Wingers seek to advance, without regard for national bankruptcy and individual freedom.

The “hero” of The West Wing is President Josiah Bartlet[t], who — as played by Martin Sheen — is an amalgam of Bill Clinton (without the sexual deviancy), Charles Van Doren (without the venality), and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (without the height).

Getting back to”That’s not who we are”, it refers to any policy that runs afoul of leftist orthodoxy: executing murderers, expecting people to work for a living, killing terrorists with the benefit of a jury trial, etc., etc., etc.

When you hear “That’s not who we are” you can be sure that whatever it refers to is a legitimate defense of liberty. An honest leftist (oxymoron alert) would say of liberty: “That’s not who we (leftists) are.”

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.

The Fatal Flaw of “Liberalism” …

… is that it rejects high standards and the application of those standards (e.g., profitability, actual accountability, high test scores). “Liberals” purport to have high moral standards, as exemplified in the term “social justice”. But those “standards” are nothing but excuses for abysmal performance, criminality, and other socially and economically destructive acts.

“Liberalism”: Trying to Have It Both Ways

“Liberals” are loath to face realities like these:

Handouts to the homeless encourage homelessness.

Disability benefits yield more “disabled” persons.

Softer punishments mean more crime.

Higher tax rates stunt economic growth …. the list is almost endless.

The “liberal” program is the triumph of hope over common sense. It is and always has been a recipe for social and economic disaster.

The Fourth Great Awakening

Be sure to see the related-reading list at the end of this post.

If you pay much attention to the posturings of the left — and how could you not? — you probably have concluded that leftism is a quasi-religious* cult.

Leftism, as we know it today, is quasi-religious because of its strongly moralistic bent, given its readiness to condemn anything that can be associated (by leftists) with white supremacy/white privilege/racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, climate-change denialism, elitism, etc., etc., etc. (Condemnation of elitism, coming from leftist elites, epitomizes irony.)

Leftism of yore was aimed mainly at the realization of a material heaven on Earth through communism, socialism, and various forms of income and wealth redistribution. Today’s leftism, without having abandoned the objective of economic equality (or less inequality), has conjoined that objective to social equality.

In both cases, the left rejects the obvious fact that inequality is due mainly to innate differences that have deep roots in genetic inheritance, as influenced by eons of selection for traits deemed socially and economically desirable. It is possible to have equality under the law (though not when the law is written to favor certain groups), but that is the end of it. Leftists implicitly acknowledge this through their insufferably paternalistic words and deeds.

Leftists nevertheless try to impose economic and social equality because it is their desideratum. It is their religion-substitute, if you will. Why is this so? What drives leftists? I refer you to “Leftism” for at least some of the answers.

Force is necessarily required to attain equality, which is otherwise unattainable. The force wielded by government is supplemented by the power and influence of oligopolistic institutions controlled by leftists: public schools, universities, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the information-technology industry. It has never been truer that knowledge (or, more properly, propaganda) is power.

The imposition of social and economic equality (or something nearer to it than is possible in a state of liberty), requires the abasement of those who are deemed superior (elite leftists excluded, of course). Leftism, in other words, embodies an inherently envious, vindictive, and destructive worldview. As a quasi-religion, leftism is in a league with militant Islam. The bombs and guns are at hand in the arsenal of the state, just not deployed on a massive scale — yet.

The rise of militant leftism eerily echoes the First, Second, and Third Great Awakenings, which were Protestant religious revivals. The Wikipedia article about the Third Great Awakening says that it

was marked by religious activism in American history and spans the late 1850s to the early 20th century. It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong element of social activism. It gathered strength from the postmillennial belief that the Second Coming of Christ would occur after mankind had reformed the entire earth. It was affiliated with the Social Gospel Movement, which applied Christianity to social issues and gained its force from the awakening, as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.

The era saw the adoption of a number of moral causes, such as the abolition of slavery and prohibition.

The delineation of historical epochs is arbitrary, Movements such as the one described above don’t appear from nowhere, and don’t suddenly or completely end. Born-Again Christianity, which overlaps and parallels the Great Awakenings, has been around for at least 300 years, and was prominent in the U.S. in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It is still going strong, though less prominently than a few decades ago.

The same is true of the Progressive movement, which “officially” lasted from the 1880s to the 1920s. That version of Progressivism attracted many religious figures and personages of a strong religious bent. William Jennings Bryan, for example, was not just a politician who held high office and ran thrice for the presidency as a Democrat. He injected his religious fervor into his practice of politics, which set the stage for his late-life role as a Bible-thumping anti-evolutionist. (Movie buffs will remember Fredric March’s portrayal of Bryan as the “villain” of the Scopes trial in Inherit the Wind.)

The Progressive movement, though it seemed to end in the 1920s, never really died. Its agenda, has in fact been adopted wholesale, in law and by a vast majority of the populace. The New Deal had a lot to do with it, but not everything by any means. Politicians before and after FDR rose to power and held onto it by discovering “problems” and promising to “solve” them. These “problems” have ranged from the so-called trusts (monopolies and cartels) of the late 19th century — trusts that in fact made the lives of working Americans easier — to the so-called crisis of “climate change” to the seemingly endless litany of perceived “injustices” due to skin color, gender, place of birth, and so on. (Genetic inheritance and personal responsibility are of no account to a person who has the time and inclination to find injustice everywhere, except among groups that he condescends to see as oppressed.) Those few “progressive” causes that seemed to have failed, such as prohibition and eugenics, merely resurfaced in the anti-tobacco, anti-sex (of the normal kind), and pro-abortion movements.

The zombie-like nature of Progressivism is openly (if unwittingly) acknowledged by leftists. Having rejected “liberal” as a besmirched label, most of them now proudly call themselves “progressives”, albeit uncapitalized ones. So-called progressives are distinguishable from overt socialists only in their wise refusal to embrace all-out socialism, inasmuch as they are mostly from the upper echelons of the income and wealth distributions. But as affluent children of capitalism, they are willing to embrace some amount of income redistribution, just as long as their huge homes, gas-guzzling vehicles, and gross consumerism aren’t jeopardized.

The standard-issue progressive is nevertheless indistinguishable from a socialist in his unextinguishable faith in the power of the state to create heaven on Earth. Thus we have the Fourth Great Awakening.

It is, however, an Awakening with a decidedly anti-theistic ethos, and an especially anti-Christian one. The anti-Christian, neo-Pharisees of the left believe that it is right for the state to impose Christian charity, Christian “love” for one’s neighbor (as long as the neighbor is gender-confused or of another land, race, or ethnicity). Coerced “charity” is not charity, of course, but the contradiction that is lost on “progressives”.

There’s a lot more to “progressivism” than “charity”, of course. But all of its causes have the same thing in common: the worship of Power to attain the nirvana of social and economic equality (as long as the elites remain more equal than the rest).
___________

* I say “quasi-religious” because of my respect for Bill Vallicella’s arguments about the misuse of “religion” as a descriptor of a secular worldview. Vallicella rejects “religion” as a label for a worldview that doesn’t satisfy his seven point definition of religion, which begins with this:

The belief that there is what William James calls an “unseen order.” (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53)  This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions.  It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection.  It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents.

A religion, in Vallicella’s view, must be founded on a belief in a supernatural being — a being that is, if nothing else, responsible for the creation and design of the sensible (material) order. All else, in Vallicella’s view, flows from that belief; thus:

[T]here is a supreme good for humans and that “our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves” to the “unseen order.” (Varieties, p. 53) …

[W]e are morally deficient, and … this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order….

[O]ur moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.

[A]djustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.

[H]elp from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.

[T]he sensible order … is ontologically and axiologically derivative.  It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.


Related reading:

Graham Dennis, “Pawns in Tabloid Kingdom of Likes“, The Public Discourse, November 19, 2018

Ross Douthat, “The Huxley Trap“, The New York Times, November 18, 2018

Jim Goad, “Talking Down to the Blacks“, Taki’s Magazine, December 3, 2018

Thomas Jackson, “The Religion of anti-Racism“, American Renaissance, April 1999

Arnold Kling, “Social Justice and Moral Tribalism“, askblog, January 7, 2019

Theodore Kupfer, “What’s the Matter with White Liberals?“, National Review, November 29, 2018

Gerald J. Russello, “Our New Religion“, City Journal, December 6, 2018

Gilbert T. Sewall, “Pitrim Sirokin Revisited“, The American Conservative, January 8, 2019

Andrew Sullivan, “America’s New Religions“, New York, December 7, 2018 (the springboard for Vallicella’s post referred to above)

Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers, “The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists“, Quillette, December 3, 2018

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.

Teachable Moments

EPISODE 1

Friend: Johnny shouldn’t play so rough with that cat, it will scratch him.

“Liberal” parent: Johnny is just exploring his boundaries.

Johnny: SCREAM!

“Liberal” parent: Bad kitty. Johnny didn’t mean to hurt you, he was just being himself.

Soon-to-be ex-friend: Kitty was just being herself — and defending herself.

EPISODE 2

Parent: Johnny, where are you going?

Johnny: Out.

Parent: What are you going to do?

Johnny: Nothing.

Parent: When will you be home?

Johnny: I don’t know.

“Liberal” parent: Well, have a good time. It’s important to explore your boundaries.

Parent who actually cares about Johnny: Your answers are unacceptable. You’re grounded until you are honest with me. I may not be able to keep you from getting in trouble, but I can at least warn you of some of the dangers you might face. You’ll hate me now, but you’ll thank me in the long run — and I want you to live long enough to become a parent and behave responsibly toward your children, as I’m doing.

EPISODE 3

“Liberal” voter: I’m going to vote for the city’s proposed bond issues.

Friend: Why?

“Liberal” voter: Because the city will be able to do good things for residents if the bonds are approved.

Friend: What has happened to your property taxes over the past 10 years?

“Liberal” voter: They’ve more than doubled.

Friend: Why do you suppose they’ve doubled?

“Liberal” voter: Beats me, I’m no accountant.

Friend: You don’t suppose they’ve more than doubled because of the bond issues that have been approved in the past 10 years?

“Liberal” voter: Could be, but think of all the great things the city has done.

Friend: For you?

“Liberal” voter: Not for me, but for the disadvantaged people of this city. There are affordable housing projects and subsidies, for example.

Soon-to-be ex-friend: Did you ever stop to think that do-good voting has lots of unintended consequences? Hasn’t housing become less affordable because of the taxes engendered by bond issues? Aren’t affordable-housing tracts high-crime areas? Don’t larger city payrolls soak up much of the revenues from bonds? Couldn’t you have made substantial charitable contributions if your taxes hadn’t more than doubled in the past 10 years? What about your own children and their college educations, which have become exorbitantly expensive? Do you value the welfare of strangers — which won’t be affect much by the city’s programs — over the welfare of your own children. Do you believe that poor people are incapable of working hard and saving money to afford better housing, just as you and your parents did, or do you believe that they should be taught dependency on government? In summary, do you ever think before you vote, or do you just vote to feel good about yourself?

EPISODE 4

Generic “liberal”: I hope the migrant caravan reaches the U.S. border and overwhelms the government’s efforts to stop it.

Friend: Why do you hope that?

Generic “liberal”: Well, for one thing, borders are arbitrary. Everyone has the right to go anywhere in the world in an effort to benefit himself or herself.

Friend: You don’t believe in the sovereignty of the United States and the duty of the government to defend the territory of the United States? You don’t believe that illegal immigrants (to call them what they are) place a burden on America’s social infrastructure, a burden that taxpayers must bear — most of whom never reap the supposed benefits of immigration? You don’t believe that immigrant hordes include a disproportionate number of criminals, many of whom have been known to commit violent crimes against U.S. citizens? You don’t believe that the effect of mass, low-skill immigration is to reduce the wages and employment prospects of the economically disadvantaged Americans about whom you care so much?

Generic “liberal”: Well, all I know is that people have a right to go anywhere in search of betterment.

Soon-to-be ex-friend: So its okay if an illegal immigrant squats in your house, eats your food, and uses your credit cards?

Generic “liberal”: That’s different.

Soon-to-be ex-friend: No, it’s the same. You think it’s different because you’re wealthy enough not to be bothered by somewhat higher taxes — unlike the residents of your city who are being squeezed out by higher taxes. You live and work in places where you’re unlikely to be a victim of a violent immigrant. Your high-paying won’t be jeopardized by an influx of illegal immigrants. You are just a hypocrite.

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?

Do We “Belong” to Government?

A video that played during the Democrat National Convention in 2012 includes this infamous line: “Government is the only thing we all belong to.” I used to reject as literal-minded the kind of interpretation offered by Chris Christie:

I watched [the video] and I didn’t find a whole lot noteworthy about it, except for this: the Democratic National Convention, this is what they said about what Democrats believe. They said, ‘Government is the only thing we all belong to.’

Now I want you to listen to that again. I’m gonna say it slowly. I want you to listen to it again. This is what the Democrats under Barack Obama believe: ‘Government is the only thing we all belong to.’…

[T]he Constitution doesn’t start by saying, ‘We the government,’ does it? It says, ‘We the people.’ All power and authority emanates from the people, and that power and authority, which through that document and our other laws we delegate to the government is the power and authority they have. They belong to us.

You see, that’s what we believed from the founding of our country, but Barack Obama believes something very, very different. He absolutely believes we belong to him. He believes that we are just pawns to be moved around his giant chessboard of government. He’s gonna pick the winners and the losers.

In my guile, I ascribed a different meaning to the statement: “We the people” belong to government in the same way that a Rotarian belongs to the Rotary Club, a Boy Scout belongs to the Boy Scouts, etc. That is, “we the people” are members of a huge club known as the government of the United States. “Our” membership in the club ensures that it works for “our” collective benefit.

Not that I agreed with that interpretation. What would happen to you if you stopped paying your “dues”, that is, your taxes? You wouldn’t be kicked out of the club, you’d be put in a special place that the club maintains for recalcitrant members: prison. It’s a crazy kind of club that admits new members who don’t pay dues, and who sponge off other members. I’m talking about illegal immigrants, of course.

But I was wrong, and Christie was right, as I will come to.

First, I must point out the vast difference between love of country and “belonging” to the apparatus that runs it.

There are patriots who love the United States and swear allegiance to it. But their love is love of country, not love of government. In particular, it’s love of “old America” — still alive (or fondly remembered) in many places:

Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid. The inhabitants of Old America were against “entitlements” (charity was real and not accepted lightly); for punishment (as opposed to excuses about poverty, etc.); overtly religious or respectful of religion (and, in either case, generally respectful of the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them); personally responsible (stuff happens, and it is rarely someone else’s fault); polite, respectful, and helpful to strangers (who are polite and respectful); patriotic (the U.S. was better than other countries and not beholden to international organizations, wars were fought to victory); and anti-statist (even if communitarian in a voluntary way). Living on the dole, weirdness for its own sake, open hostility to religion, habitual criminality, “shacking up,” and homosexuality were disgraceful aberrations, not “lifestyles” to be tolerated, celebrated, or privileged.

All of that has long been under attack by leftists of the kind who believe that we all “belong” to government in the way that Chris Christie understood. Government is leftists’ poor substitute for the social and cultural richness of real America. It is their religion-substitute, as well.

Hegel saw it coming:

The State subsumes family and civil society and fulfills them…. An individual’s “supreme duty is to be a member of the state”…. Members of a Hegelian State are happy even to sacrifice their lives for the State.

As Bertrand de Jouvenel puts it,

[Hegel’s] novel conception of society had momentous consequences. The idea of the common good now gets a completely different content from its former one. It is no longer a question simply of helping each individual to realize his own private good … but of achieving a social good of much less definite character…. [A]ll is changed when the rights that belong to individuals … give place to an ever more exalted morality which must needs be realized in society….

… There is now a collective being, which is of far greater importance than individuals: clearly, then, the right transcendent of sovereignty belongs to non other. It is the sovereignty of the nation which is, as has often been stressed, a very different thing from the sovereignty of the people…. [S]ociety fulfills itself as a whole only to the extent that partakers of it know themselves for members and see it in their end; from which it follows logically that those only who have attained to this knowledge are steering society toward its fulfillment. In them is all guidance and leadership; the general will coincides with their will only; theirs is the general will. [On Power: The Natural History of its Growth, Liberty Press edition (1993), pp. 54-55]

So, yes, it is true that in the left’s view we do “belong” to government. Not the government “of the people”, but the government of the administrative state championed by Woodrow Wilson:

Wilson insisted that “administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics” and that “general laws which direct these things to be done are as obviously outside of and above administration.” He likened administration to a machine that functions independent of the changing mood of its leaders. Such a line of demarcation is intended to focus responsibility for actions taken on the people or persons in charge. As Wilson put it, “public attention must be easily directed, in each case of good or bad administration, to just the man deserving of praise or blame. There is no danger in power, if only it be not irresponsible. If it be divided, dealt out in share to many, it is obscured”. Essentially, he contended that the items under the discretion of administration must be limited in scope, as to not block, nullify, obfuscate, or modify the implementation of governmental decree made by the executive branch.

Which suits leftists as long as the decrees are theirs, and do not inconvenience them too much. Leftists have this way of believing that they will survive the “revolution”, unlike their counterparts in the France of the 1790s and the Russia of Lenin and Stalin. The tragedy is that they will take the rest of us with them.


Related pages and posts:

Leftism
Leftism: A Bibliography

Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“We the People” and Big Government
An Ideal World
James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism

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

A Day to Remember

Jamie Glazov remembers 9/11:

[M]any of the leftists around me in my neighborhood and community had very little trouble expressing their glee about Al Qaeda’ strike on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

I remember a leftist friend (who is no longer a friend) uttering the platitude — so often uttered by leftists — that “we” had it coming. Disgusting.

Over the years, I have written several times about the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath. Here are some excerpts:

9/11 and Pearl Harbor — Victory in the war on terror will not come in another year or two, but it will surely come if we persist — and only if we persist. Our persistence will be tested by more bloody acts, inside and outside our borders. Those acts will test our resolve to “provide for the common defence”.

Will we fight the enemy or try to appease him? I am not confident of the answer. The United States of 2004 lacks the moral fiber of the United States of 1941.

September 11: A Remembrance — Our thoughts for the next several hours were with our daughter, whom we knew was at work in the adjacent World Financial Center when the planes struck the World Trade Center. Was her office struck by debris? Did she flee her building only to be struck by or trapped in debris? Had she smothered in the huge cloud of dust that enveloped lower Manhattan as the Twin Towers collapsed? Because telephone communications were badly disrupted, we didn’t learn for several hours that she had made it home safely.

Our good fortune was not shared by tens of thousands of other persons: the grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, lovers, and good friends of the 3,000 who died that day in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and western Pennsylvania.

Never forgive, never forget, never relent.

September 11: A Postscript for “Peace Lovers” — Americans are targets simply because we’re Americans. Our main enemy — Osama bin Laden and his ilk — chose to be our enemy long before 9/11, and long before you began marching for “peace in our time”….

Oh, but you just want peace. Well, I want peace, too, but a peace that’s on my terms, not the enemy’s. Tell me your plan for achieving a peace that isn’t the peace of the grave. Tell me how you would deal with the reality that we have a vicious enemy who would impoverish us if he cannot enslave us. Tell me how marching for peace, instead of killing the enemy, advances the cause of a peace that’s worth having.

September 11: Five Years On — I have reserved a special place in hell for those politicians, pundits, journalists, celebrities, and bloggers (especially Leftists and anarcho-libertarians) who criticize the war effort simply for the sake of criticizing it, who exude schadenfreude when there is bad news from the front or when the administration suffers a political or judicial setback in its efforts to combat terrorists, and who are able to indulge themselves precisely because they live in a nation that affords them that luxury. It is not a luxury they would enjoy under Leftist or Islamist rule.

A time of war is a time for constructive criticism, for being on the same team and helping that team win by offering ideas about how to win the war. When your country loses a war, you do not win. In fact, you cannot win, unless you choose to join the other side — and the other side chooses to accept you. But, as always, be careful what you wish for.

September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity” — I reluctantly watched George W. Bush’s post-9/11 speech before a joint session of Congress. I say “reluctantly” because I cannot abide the posturing, pomposity, and wrong-headedness that are the usual ingredients of political speeches — even speeches that follow events like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the atrocities of 9/11. (Churchill’s rallying speeches during World War II are another thing: masterworks of inspirational oratory.) …

… The vigorous and evidently sincere applause that greeted Bush’s applause lines — applause that arose from Democrats as well as Republicans — seemed to confirm the prevailing view that Americans (or their political leaders, at least) were defiantly united in the fight against terrorism.

But I noted then, and have never forgotten, the behavior of Hillary Clinton, who was a freshman senator. Some of Clinton’s behavior is captured in this video clip, from 11:44 to 12: 14. The segment opens with Bush saying

Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments. And you know what, we’re not going to allow it.

The assemblage then rises in applause. The camera zooms to Hillary Clinton, who seems aware of it and stares at the camera briefly while applauding tepidly. (Compare her self-centered reaction with that of the noted camera-hog Chuck Shumer, who is standing next to her, applauding vigorously, and looking toward Bush.) Clinton then turns away from the camera and, while still applauding tepidly, directs a smirk at someone near her. I also noted — but cannot readily find on video — similar behavior, include eye-rolling, at the conclusion of Bush’s speech….

[Clinton’s] behavior on January 20, 2011, signaled that the war on terror would become a partisan feast for Democrats and head-in-the clouds pseudo-libertarians. And it became just that.

New Pages

In case you haven’t noticed the list in the right sidebar, I have converted several classic posts to pages, for ease of access. Some have new names; many combine several posts on the same subject:

Abortion Q & A

Climate Change

Constitution: Myths and Realities

Economic Growth Since World War II

Intelligence

Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact

Leftism

Movies

Spygate