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

Conservatism vs. Ideology

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

I go on to say that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom
Liberty
Justice
Peace

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

Justice
Freedom
Liberty
Peace

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

Justice
Freedom
Peace
Liberty

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

Peace
Justice
Freedom
Liberty

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

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

Freedom
Peace
Liberty
Justice

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

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

Liberty
Freedom
Peace
Justice

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

Justice – Peace

Freedom – Liberty

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

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

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

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


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

“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXII)

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

Censorship and Left-Wing Bias on the Web

The Real Collusion Story

“Suicide” of the West

Evolution, Intelligence, and Race

Will the Real Fascists Please Stand Up?

Consciousness

Empathy Is Over-Rated

“Nudging”



CENSORSHIP AND LEFT-WING BIAS ON THE WEB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land….

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

What kind of action do I have in mind?…

Executive action against state actors to enforce the First Amendment:

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

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

And so on. Read all about it here.



THE REAL COLLUSION STORY

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

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

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

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



“SUICIDE” OF THE WEST

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

Here’s my take:

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

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

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



EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE, AND RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may be too full of ourselves.

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

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

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

But what, really, is the problem?

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

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

Absolute, obvious, unacknowledged disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WILL THE REAL FASCISTS PLEASE STAND UP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.



CONSCIOUSNESS

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

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

1) Conscious experience is not an illusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



EMPATHY IS OVER-RATED

Andrew Scull addresses empathy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



“NUDGING”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s bad for us to be free.

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

No, the correct term is paternalism.

I will end on that note.

Suicide or Destiny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill approves, and adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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