Politics Feed

"Discussion is pointless and dialogue is dead."

Out for a walk Sunday evening, I was brooding about the state of politics and culture in the U.S., and my personal frustration at the complete closed-mindedness of many of the liberals I know. Sure, there are many, many on the right who are equally closed-minded. But for the most part I'm not trying to argue with them (although I have reason to think that my first and so far only "un-friending" on Facebook was a result of my mocking Donald Trump). And anyway those who are that way are mostly not educated people (or should I say "educated"?) who have a great deal invested in an image of themselves as being above all smart, reasonable, and tolerant, so I find their visceral reactions more forgiveable. What frustrates me most about many liberals is that they think of themselves as the intelligent, thoughtful, rational, open-minded side of this quarrel. And within some limits they are. But where conservatives are concerned their mental processes often revert to the same raw bigotry that they decry in racists. In a sad parallel, the most egregious example of this also has to do with race: the instantaneous reflexive labeling of any right-wing person or group as racist, regardless of or even in spite of the evidence (e.g. right-wing support for Ben Carson).

What had me thinking along these lines was an Internet "meme" which credits Obama with "saving the country" in spite of "unprecedented racism and hatred." Saving the country from what? It didn't say (not that there was space to do so--Internet memes have replaced bumper stickers for simple-minded sloganeering). A right-minded person wouldn't need to be told, and therefore anyone who asks to be told is not a right-minded person. Where is the evidence that opposition to Obama is primarily driven by racism? If you have to ask, you're probably incapable of understanding, and by virtue of raising the question have placed yourself under justifiable suspicion of being racist, or at minimum "racially insensitive." 

And I was thinking about how someone on the right--me, for instance--would have an almost equal-but-opposite reaction to the meme, considering the statement laughable, believing in fact that Obama's presidency has done enormous harm to the country, and moreover that the reading of the widespread opposition to him as racist is itself an instance of the harm. I don't believe he would ever have been elected if he had not been officially black; he benefited greatly from the desire of white people, and not only white liberals, to feel good about themselves by voting for a black man. And he actually started out with a certain amount of good will from people who didn't vote for him, because of the hope of racial reconciliation his election represented. 

Well, so much for that.

I ended up pondering, as I often do these days, the fact that the division between what we can loosely call the right and the left has reached a point where the two sides can't even talk to each other. (The role that the Internet has played in exacerbating the hostility is considerable, I think, but that's a topic for another day.)

So I sat down at my computer and looked in on Facebook, and one of the first things I saw was a link to this post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker from which the title of this post is taken. He's talking about moral disputes, not so much political ones, although the two are very much connected these days.

When such irrationality prevails it is impossible to have a discussion. There are no moorings. There is no foundation for a discussion. The only way one prevails in an argument where there is this atmosphere, is to shout louder than the other person, and finally to hit the other person. 

And a week or so I'd read a similar thought from Michael Gerson, speaking of politics, specifically of the president's rhetoric on gun control.

But it matters when the president of the United States decides that democratic persuasion is a fool’s game. It encourages the kind of will-to-power politics we see on the left and right. In this view, opponents are evil — entirely beyond the normal instruments of reason and good faith. So the only option is the collection and exercise of power.

When the main players in our politics give up on deliberative democracy, it feels like some Rubicon is being crossed. 

Indeed it does. I've thought for a long time that the country has reached a degree of division which is going to be very difficult or impossible to resolve, and I'm running across more and more people who who are of the same mind. It isn't only conservatives. I've seen similar comments on left-wing web sites, generally in a tone of rage. And I certainly don't see any sign on the left that any compromise or reconciliation is being considered, except in the sense that Obama generally means it, i.e., that the opposition should quit fighting.

For forty years or so we've talked about being in a culture war, but it's only a war because it involves more than culture: it involves law and governance and mutually exclusive demands of them. Two cultures might be able to coexist within a framework acceptable to both--and perhaps the American system should accommodate that, up to a point, a point where the two are operating on such different philosophical bases that they can't agree on the framework. And that's the point we've reached. It's more and more clear that whether or not that coexistence is possible in principle, it isn't going to be possible in practice. Some say that this war has already been won by the progressives, who are now enforcing their will on the losers. But that may not be so easy. The losers may not be the ruling class--they do not possess the dominant institutions--the government, the press, the academy, the entertainment industry. But there are an awful lot of them, and they're pretty angry. I wouldn't bet much on the proposition that the United States as we know it will exist a hundred years from now.

Speaking of anger: I think the idea of Donald Trump as president is preposterous, and will no doubt continue to think so even if it comes to pass. But to dismiss his support as "hate"--and of course, always, "racism"--is to fail to grasp what is really happening. Here's a good piece by William Voegeli at the Claremont Review on that topic:

Demagoguery flourishes when democracy falters. A disreputable, irresponsible figure like Donald Trump gets a hearing when the reputable, responsible people in charge of things turn out to be self-satisfied and self-deluded. The best way to fortify Trump’s presidential campaign is to insist his followers’ grievances are simply illegitimate, bigoted, and ignorant. The best way to defeat it is to argue that their justified demands for competent, serious governance deserve a statesman, not a showman.

Food For Thought On the Paris Attacks

When some calamity like this happens, I generally don't remark on it here or on Facebook. Unless I personally know someone affected, it seems like an empty gesture. Does anyone reading this care one way or the other if I express my sympathy for the victims? I doubt it. But of course I have been reading about it and thinking about it. This piece by Richard Fernandez seems especially interesting to me. Is it an accurate description of the situation? Maybe. 

A lot of people are expressing surprise at the attacks. I'm only surprised that there haven't been more such over the past fifteen years or so. Either Western governments have been pretty adept at stopping them, or the jihadists have not really been trying.

"The Triumph of Drivel"

I don't know anything about Canadian politics or the real significance of the newly-elected premier. But this piece by David Warren says some insightful things that are as applicable to our political culture as to our neighbor's.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by “drivel.” I could write, “lies,” but these are only possible to those who have criteria for the truth. Drivel is what people talk who have no such criteria. “Bullshit” is the interchangeable term. The fact that what they’re saying may be true, or untrue, is of no significance to them. It is enough that it sounds plausible. The truthful man knows when he is lying; the post-modern neither knows nor cares. He can believe himself “good,” as drivellers will do, because truth doesn’t come into it.

The old-style politician told knowing lies. The new-style politician does not know what “lies” are. He uses the term rhetorically, against anything he does not want to hear. The old-style politician would back down when confronted with the truth. The new-style politician does not know what you are talking about. He assumes you are only trash-talking him.


Wendell Berry and Pope Francis

Thanks to Rob G for the link to this piece at First Things connecting Laudato Si and the thought of Wendell Berry. I am one of those whom the author mentions as being disappointed by a number of Berry's recent statements on same-sex marriage, not only the content but the tone. Nevertheless, one must try not to be merely reactionary, and these views don't negate the good things he's said over the years.

As I remarked in a comment, I'm now ready to read Laudato Si, some of the fuss having died down. I 'm sorry to say that I ordered a hardback copy via Amazon. I wanted it and Roman Guardini's End of the Modern World, and thought I would order both from their publishers rather than Amazon. But before I could order from ISI, the publishers of the Guardini book, I had to go through a registration process that included giving them my phone number, and I balked. So I went back to Amazon, and then threw the encyclical into the same order. If only Amazon weren't so dadgum convenient....

"Notoriously dismal"

James Dickey (poet, 1923-1997, and author of the novel Deliverance): "The history of poets pronouncing on public issues is notoriously dismal."

Dickey is quoted by Neo-neocon in a post on the topic of poets, celebrities, and politics. I agree entirely with Dickey, and it's slightly painful to say so, because I've always been inclined to credit artists with some sort of special insight into cultural and political affairs, and decades of exposure to demonstrated idiocy have not completely rid me of the impulse. Besides, I'm an occasional poet and constant reader given to making my own quite definite political statements, which of course I believe to be more insightful than most.

And if it's mistaken with respect to poets, who generally are (or were?) at least men of letters capable of reflection, it's completely off the wall with respect to celebrities, entertainers, and in general those involved in the performing arts. I think the latter are not only, as Dickey says, no more qualified than anyone else to make political pronouncements, but perhaps less, because they tend to see everything as an occasion for dramatic passion.

The elevation of artists and intellectuals to some sort of prophetic status in a spurious religion seems pretty clearly related to the decline of Christianity's role in our culture. Neo-neocon focuses on Shelley, who was among the first artists to assume this status. I credit myself with having disliked Shelley as a personality almost as soon as I knew anything about him. He seems now an early entrant in what has become a long line of radicals of privileged background who preach universal benevolence and tear an unrepentantly destructive path through life. I left this comment at Neo's:

Looking back now, it occurs to me that my early dislike of Shelley presaged my conservative cultural and political turn.

For me, Shelley’s most telling legacy was a remark made by Mary Shelley years after the tumult and the shouting had died. The person who claimed to have heard it relayed it to Matthew Arnold, who preserved it. Mrs. Shelley was looking for a suitable school for her son and asked the advice of a friend, who said “Oh, send him somewhere where they will teach him to think for himself.” Mrs. Shelley answered, “Teach him to think for himself? Oh, my God, teach him rather to think like other people!”

It also strikes me as the legacy of many revolutionary movements, such as the one of the 1960s.

The story about Mrs. Shelley is found in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, a wonderful book.

Ravages of Climate Change

I found this poor creature, apparently some terribly malformed waterfowl, perhaps an infant, washed up on the beach a few days ago. It couldn't have lived very long, having apparently no internal organs at all. And of course I  immediately thought: Climate change!


I'm not completely inventing this fear, either.

I've always described myself as agnostic on the question, but I lean more and more toward skepticism. I suspect this alarmism is going to be laughed at fifty or a hundred years from now. It's not that I don't believe that there has been a warming trend since 1880; if the people who study such things say that's what the measurements show, they're probably right, though I wonder if we really can attribute that much precision to measurements which purport to tell us temperature across the entire surface of the world. I'm willing to believe that human activity is at least partly responsible for it. 

But we're talking about less than one Celsius degrees, less than one and a half Fahrenheit degrees. The attribution of all manner of calamities to that amount of change is simply implausible on its face, and the manifestly emotional-religious fervor of the climate change activists, as well as the fact that their proposed responses happen to match what they wanted to do anyway, suggests that skepticism is warranted. It's not a good sign that they now respond to doubters by branding them as Very Bad People, possibly cut from the same cloth as Holocaust deniers, which in turn puts one only a step away from being a Nazi.

I wonder, too, if anyone really believes we can fine-tune the global climate in the way that seems implied by the clamor for action. Suppose we took some drastic action, and it lowered the global temperature. What if we didn't get it exactly right, and the temperature dropped by .8C from its apparently optimal 1880 level? Wouldn't that be a crisis, too?

A Bruised Reed

You may have seen the story at The Daily Beast in which Ana Marie Cox explains why she's coming out as a Christian. It's a touching statement, and my first thought was I hope the bruised reed won't be broken.

I thought I recognized Cox's name. She was the originator of a blog called Wonkette, which I recall reading a few times ten years or so when blogs were still fairly new. I didn't like it. If I remember correctly it was mainly the sort of liberal snark with which I have very little patience, even less now than then. The tone of this piece--open, direct, humble--could hardly be more different from what I recall of Wonkette. I would really like to know more about her conversion.

The bruised reed reference, as everyone who reads this blog probably knows, is to Matthew 12:20, which in turn is a reference to Isaiah 4:23 (and no, I don't have those citations in my head--I looked them up):

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

I've never been entirely sure what that means in its context, but the image of someone taking care not to break a fragile thing always comes to mind when I meet or hear of someone coming into the faith from outside. I always fear for them a little.

Who might do the breaking here? Well, it could be her secular leftist peers--it's hard, obviously, to go against the consensus of your friends and family. But much more disturbing is the possibility that it could be us, her fellow Christians. There are a lot of ways we could do this, of course, starting with basic old-time self-righteousness and the normal failure of Christians to live up to their calling. The one that really worries me in this case, though, is the association of Christianity and right-wing politics. There are far too many Christians who think that the one requires the other.

I'm a conservative myself ("conservative but not right-wing," I like to say) and am confident that my political views are compatible with the principles of my faith. That doesn't mean that the two are one. I'm always a little surprised when I come across someone who seems to believe that conservatism follows necessarily from Christianity. It shouldn't even need to be said that one can be on the political left and still be a faithful Christian. But it does, in some circles at least. 

There are good reasons in the history of the past hundred years for the association of orthodox Christianity and conservative politics. But we should never mistake that accident of history with ultimate principles. In the end--another thing that really shouldn't need to be said--the faith always transcends all earthly political views. And for that matter, no set of political opinions really encompasses the whole truth about even mundane matters. 

Say a prayer for Ana Marie Cox. 

(Out of curiosity, I looked to see if Wonkette is still active. It is, under new management, and seems to have gone from snarky to venomous.)

A Further Note On That Last Post

It's odd that white liberals so often use "white" as a pejorative: "Old, white, wrinkled, and angry." There's some sort of cultural self-hatred involved there. I suppose that  sneering at white people is a way of separating themselves from what they dislike so much, and establishing their superiority to it. And maybe it's also a desire to ingratiate themselves with non-whites.

Nobody Wants to Hear the State of the Union Speech

Except diehard loyalists of the incumbent party. Nor should they, it seems. I suppose most of us, or at least those of us who aspire to be Informed Citizens, think of it as something we should pay attention to, but really have no interest in, and will be entirely unaffected by, except for a certain amount of vexation proportional to our dislike of the current chief executive.

Well, we shouldn't feel guilty about it, says Charles Cooke of National Review: yes, it's in the Constitution, but its current use as a platform for grandstanding by the president is a distortion of its intent. Cooke is one of those British immigrants who are more in sympathy with American ideals than most Americans are.

That the practice that Jefferson strangled was eventually resuscitated by that outspoken enemy of republican virtue, President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, should frankly worry anybody who is concerned about the maintenance of political balance in America. Champions of the legislature might be alarmed, too, to learn that, after the infinitely laudable Calvin Coolidge had reversed Wilson’s course, the spoken address was brought back once again by the most imperial of all America’s imperial presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

 Ignore it with a clear conscience.

The Ferguson Verdict

To believe that Darren Wilson was guilty of murder, you have to believe either that a very extensive conspiracy to lie about the evidence exists, or that facts and law are irrelevant when "the community" feels very strongly about something,  or both. It looks to me like most of the outrage over the verdict is an emotion-drenched muddle of both, except that even those ideas don't seem to be conscious and explicit. That's not surprising, as neither bears much examination. The first requires fabricated autopsy results, the cooperation of the three black jurors, and many other implausibilities. The second is nothing more or less than the advocacy of mob rule, which almost no one will openly advocate, but many seem to want.

To talk this way--to try to bring reason to bear on the situation--is to be "insensitive" (if not actively racist), to be "a white guy who just doesn't get it." But one can sympathize with the injustices, past and present, suffered by black people in this country and not budge a fraction of an inch away from reverence for the rule of law. The establishment in practice, however flawed, of a government of laws, not men, is the greatest achievement of Anglo-American civilization. It's under both implicit and explicit attack now, and I have serious doubts as to whether it will exist except nominally a hundred years from now.

This scream from a writer at Salon is an example of the explicit attack. On some deep level having to do with the alienation black people feel in a white society, her rage has some foundation, but it has none in the facts of the Ferguson case; on that level it is hardly even sane: "The law stepped to a podium yesterday, under cover of night,  to tell us that it reserves the right to slaughter black men with impunity...." The president's recent action on immigration, and his justification for it--"Congress won't act, so I must"--is an example of the implicit, or at least less explicit. Both instances reveal a desire to cast aside the slow work of practical reason required by the rule of law, and go directly where one's wishes say to go. Tyrants and mobs are generally of very much the same mind.

Revolutionary Hopes

You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, they tell us, but while the eggs are surely broken, the omelet is never made.

--Gary Saul Morson

Morson, a professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University, makes that remark in a New Criterion piece about Alexander Herzen, a strange German-Russian writer of whom I knew no more than his name until I read this piece, an overview of his life and work (not online, unfortunately). 

I don't know that I agree that the omelet is never made. The one promised and envisioned by the revolutionaries certainly is not, and the result has often been much worse than no omelet at all. But there may be an omelet of sorts. I wonder sometimes: what would France have been if the Revolution had not happened? No doubt some novelist has written an alternative history based on that idea.


Israel and the Press

I've only written about Israel a few times here. Actually I couldn't remember having done so at all, but since I've been doing this since 2004, and have accumulated over 2500 posts, I know I can't entirely trust my memory on that sort of thing, so I checked, and there were a couple of brief posts in 2006 (here and here). I generally avoid taking strong stands on questions where matters of fact are all-important and I don't think I have an adequate grasp of them. And the question of Israel and the Palestinians is one of those. My more or less instinctive sympathy tends toward Israel, but one of the few things I feel pretty sure of regarding that situation is that there are two sides to the story.

I can't help noticing, though, that news and commentary on that conflict generally focus far more on Israel, and especially on news that reflects badly on Israel, than on any of the other issues involved. Beyond that, news about Israel is given far more attention than it would seem to deserve based on any objective appraisal of its size and role in world affairs. That role, as Israel seems to see it as far as I can tell, is simply to continue to exist. And while in Israel's case that is not an uncontroversial view, the attention does seem excessive. Moreover, while I don't think the coverage is wholly anti-Israel, it certainly seems to focus more on the rights and wrongs of Israel's behavior than on the situation to which Israel is responding. 

A week or two ago someone posted on Facebook this story by Matti Friedman in The Tablet about this phenomenon, and it's well worth reading. The writer speaks from experience as a former Associated Press reporter. Here's a lengthy excerpt in which he describes the journalistic practice:

To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.

The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

The piece is long, going not only into the disproportionate amount of coverage but its deliberate slanting, and I won't try to summarize all that, but I repeat: if you're interested in the question at all, it's well worth reading. 

It got me to thinking about the peculiar focus on Israel among certain elements of the left. Even if you take the worst-case appraisal of Israel's faults, the fact that there is a very vocal movement attempting to turn Israel into an international pariah--the BDS movement ("Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions")--has always puzzled me. There are, as far as I know, no similar movements on the left toward ostracizing governments which have truly deserved it, such as the various despotisms of the Middle East. Nor does the enormous death toll of intra-Muslim conflicts currently in progress throughout that region seem to bring much impassioned condemnation of the participants, but rather blame for the West for having created the situation in the first place. There's something to that, but it seems odd to make it the problem, when the more immediate driver is the most brutal sort of struggle for power.

The author of the Tablet piece believes that the exaggerated emphasis and blame heaped on Israel is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. And I don't have any trouble believing that that's a factor, especially in countries with a long history of it. 

But there's something else at work, too, something having to do with the moral status assigned to victimhood in the post-Christian West, most especially to victims of Euro-American civilization. Many wrongs were perpetrated by that civilization, and sympathy for the victims of those wrongs by the descendants and inheritors of those who committed them is a good thing. But there's a point, reached a long time ago by many, where it becomes pathological, unable or unwilling to recognize the virtues of its own past or the vices of its victims. And Israel, by virtue of the place of Jews in that culturally Christian civilization, and of the role of Western powers in the creation and support of Israel, is seen as an outpost of the oppressor, one of the last remaining in the one-time colonial lands. (But if Israel is said to have no right to exist because its borders were drawn by the colonial powers, why not also others, such as Iraq? Would there be any nation-states in the modern sense at all in that region if not for colonial impositions?)

One of the features of this view is that it attributes little or no active will or capacity for action to the victims; they can only react to the actions of the oppressors, like the balls in a pinball machine, and are not assigned serious moral responsibility. The focus on Israel is thus a back-handed compliment to Israel, and a back-handed insult to the Palestinians. Israel, insofar as it is a part of the liberal democratic-commercial Western order, has responsibilities, and is held to a high standard of conduct. There are no similar expectations of the Palestinians. One of the few memorable things George W. Bush ever said (and presumably they were someone else's words) was his reference to "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

I shouldn't discuss this topic at all without acknowledging that there is, at least in the U.S., a right-wing view that pretty much absolves Israel of any blame for anything, sees the Palestinians, and Arabs or Muslims at large, as monsters, and is at least as simplistic as the BDS movement. But that's a different set of errors, made for different reasons.

Orwell Reviews Hitler

Speaking of Orwell, I ran across this a few days ago: his review of Mein Kampf. Quite interesting. It was written after the beginning of the war, though; what would have been really interesting would have been a review written before Hitler's true nature and intentions had become indisputably clear. The opening paragraph is nevertheless striking:

It is a sign of the speed at which events are moving that Hurst and Blackett's unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, published only a year ago, is edited from a pro-Hitler angle.


I Really Must Read More Orwell

England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.

The USA has of course long since been added to this list. I don't know if it's true of other one-time parts of the Empire or not. Left-wing American intellectuals, and the far larger coterie of left-wingers who like to think of themselves as smarter than everyone else, have been predominantly of this mind for several decades now.

The passage from Orwell above is quoted in this piece in the Telegraph about the role of leftist contempt for their own countrymen in enabling, among other things, the horrendous organized sexual abuse, including out-and-out rape, of white girls by Pakistani Muslim men in Rotherham. 

We don’t need to rehearse the facts. We’ve all read them, and reeled away in horror. The interesting question is how and why would any country allow the racialised gang-rape of its own daughters?

Why? Because too many in that country, especially on the Left, most especially in the Labour Party, despise their own ordinary people: the white working classes.

Take this comment by Jack Straw, Labour MP for Blackburn, and Home Secretary from 1997-2001, when the Rotherham atrocities were beginning. “The English are potentially very aggressive, very violent.” It is almost unimaginable that any senior politician would say this of his own people in America, Russia or France. Yet here it comes straight out of the mouth of a very senior politician indeed – along with many other expressions of Guardianista sneering: at the white working classes with their “chav culture”, “BNP values”, “Gillian Duffy bigotry” and so forth.

What kind of message does Straw’s statement send to everyone else? It says that the English are dislikeable, that they are to be feared, and contained, to be treated with contempt. It says that the ordinary English are a nasty race who need to be diluted by mass immigration; it says, in particular, that poor white English people are especially worthless.

It is not, however, at all "unimaginable that any senior politician would say this of his own people in America, Russia or France." I can't think of any examples quite as straightforward as Straw's from senior politicians, but among the left at large, especially the wealthy and those in academia, journalism, and entertainment, such talk is normal. And does anyone doubt that, for instance, Hillary Clinton is privately of similar mind? (The remark about mass immigration is particularly applicable here, when so many left-wing voices clearly see the diminishment of white America as desirable in itself.) There is evidence that President Obama's own views, unedited, and among those whom he considers his peers, which is to say wealthy liberals, are similar, as suggested by the famous "bitter clingers" remarks, never meant to be made public:

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Obama was actually trying to express sympathy for working-class people here, which perhaps makes his lack of comprehension of them even more obtuse. The sad fact is that snobbery is a major component of liberal-leftism in this country. I'm sure there are leftists out there who really know and do not despise most of their fellow-countrymen, especially working-class whites, but they have almost no visible presence in the public face of liberalism. (Look, I found one.)

The Telegraph writer quotes Orwell again:

...who once said that, however silly or sentimental, English patriotism is “a comelier thing than the shallow self-righteousness of the left-wing intelligentsia”.

"Comelier"--yes, a good choice of word. Decades ago, the casting off of my own youthful leftism began in part with the same recognition. I became disgusted by the disgust my fellow leftists evidenced toward their own country and countrymen. Another important factor was simply empirical: I began to suspect that leftist diagnoses of our problems were not very accurate, and leftist policies not generally the best solutions, or even workable.

Not that most of the right's are adequate, either.

An Unusual Approach to the Trouble in Ferguson, Missouri

From Neoneocon:

I continue to reserve judgment, however, until the forensic evidence comes in. There’s a lot more to be learned about the facts in this case.

Waiting to learn the facts before coming to a conclusion? It's not the Internet Way. You're supposed to respond instantly with outrage to a story like this, stake out your position on the right or the left, and stick to it, loudly.

It is, however, supposed to be the way of the American justice system. However much or often the ideal may be compromised or betrayed, it's what we're supposed to strive for. And it really ought to be the way of journalism, especially of journalism that prides itself on caring about the truth. From what I've seen, the media are behaving somewhat more responsibly than they often do with regard to racial conflict--than they did, for instance, in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.

Something that really struck me forcefully about that was the lynch-mob mentality that immediately took possession of the left, including a great many journalists. A liberal friend of mine remarked that the situation was "just like Scottsboro." (If you don't recognize the reference, here's the Wikipedia article). She had a point, but not the one she intended. She meant to compare Martin to the Scottsboro Boys, whose guilt was assumed because of their race. But it was really the other way around; it was Zimmerman whose guilt was assumed by a mob purely because of his race.

As far as I could tell, no one who asserted that Zimmerman acted out of racist motives ever felt the need to justify the assertion. The mere fact that he was, for propaganda purposes, white (amended to "white hispanic" when his ancestry became known), was thought sufficient. No evidence was necessary, nor did anyone make any effort to produce it. This is very often true of the charge of racism in general--merely to assert it is considered enough to put the burden of proof on the accused, and since it's impossible to prove that one is not a racist, the dirt tends to stick.

Zimmerman was "white," Martin was black, therefore Zimmerman must have been racist, and motivated by racism to shoot a defenseless teenager. The false accusation against the Scottsboro Boys was believed because white people believed that that was simply the way black people behaved. Zimmerman was held by many black people and apparently all white liberals to have wilfully murdered Martin, in the legal sense,  because that was simply the way white people behaved. There's a word for that.

Very few people know exactly what happened in Ferguson. I doubt very much that the policeman simply took out his gun and shot an unarmed teenager without provocation. Maybe he lost his temper, maybe he panicked; it certainly looks like he made a grave mistake. To the extent that he was culpable, he should pay for it. But those who go around saying, as they did in the Martin case, that we are in the grip of a crisis in which white people can murder black people on a whim with no consequence are either hysterics or liars deliberately attempting to inflame racial passions. The legal system ought to resolve the question, but I doubt that that any legal resolution short of life in prison for the cop--Brown's parents have called for the death penalty--will satisfy that mob mentality.

There is one good thing in all this. Well, a couple, really: it's heartening to see some of the black community in Ferguson attempting to discourage the rioting, and putting themselves in the street to defend businesses from the rioters. And it seems that people on all sides are increasingly disturbed by the militarization of the police. This ought to scare everybody:


"Flossie hates peace"

Someone posted on Facebook a link to this imaginary dialogue between John Lennon and Yoko Ono, "John Lennon Writes Imagine". It's funny, but even funnier was this comment, from someone who signed herself "FlOssieraptor":

I've hated that song since I was a kid. When I was at school we had a music teacher who wore crumpled linen suits and had affairs with the sixth formers and Imagine was his favourite ever song. If we'd behaved ourselves and not set off the example tune on the keyboards he would let us sing it. The first time he did this, he said we were going to be using the 'brotherhood AND SISTERHOOD of man' version (because he was teaching in a girls school and wanted to be right on). Without thinking I said 'oh come ON,' and he turned these sad, pitying eyes to me, and then said to the rest of the class 'well I guess Flossie hates peace.'

And so do I, apparently, as I try not to miss an opportunity to say how much I dislike the lyrics of "Imagine."

Equally apropos, though unamusing, was the comment from "emdash":

I nearly dissolved into a sea of rage when I watched "The Killing Fields" and saw they used "Imagine" over the closing credits. HEY YOU KNOW WHO WAS TRYING TO "IMAGINE NO POSSESSIONS?" POL FRICKING POT. 

The Disembodied Revolution

I'm going through the Sunday Night Journal entries, making my final selection of those to be included in a book (not a real book, just a self-published one), and ran across this quotation from E. Michael Jones, which struck me as worth repeating. The context is a discussion of Wagner:

The revolutionary agenda espoused by both Wagner and Bakunin was so politically diffuse that no political reform could have accomplished it. As a result, it is only natural that its political death would only release its revolutionary soul into freer flights of fantasy, where its disembodied soul was free to posit conditions that it was safe to say could never find incorporation in any political system anywhere…..a revolution which was essentially metaphysical in its scope.

Jones's work is a mixed bag at best, tending toward the fanatical as I recall, but that's about as good a capsule summary as I've seen of something that's been happening in leftist politics since the mid-1960s. Independently of its specific positions, with which I don't always disagree, it's a quasi-religion. And contrary to what Jones suggests at least in this fragment, the impossibility of implementing hasn't made it less appealing as a vision, though it probably increases the rage produced by the continual disappointment of its hopes.

My following comment from the post is not bad, either:

I used to be puzzled by affluent and privileged people who complained that they were not free, because there never seemed to be anything in particular that they wanted to do or to have that was not already available to them. But their complaints were quite sincere; they would feel themselves oppressed as long as it was possible for anything to be other than they wished it to be. The dream of an earthly life free from the limits of the human condition is still very much with us (Imagine there’s no heaven…).

(The whole post, "Is Wagner Bad For You?", is here, by the way.)

A Few More Notes on the Hobby Lobby Business

All amusement and horror at things like Hillary Clinton's weird spiel aside, the thing that bothers me most about the left's reaction to any major Supreme Court decision, whether they consider it a win or a loss for their side, is a seriously messed-up notion of what the Court is. I first noticed this (and wrote about it in Caelum et Terra) over twenty years ago. It's the idea that the Court is a sort of council of tribal elders who, when there is a disagreement among the people, put their wise old heads together and decide what is right: nine Solomons. Or, as I put it in that CetT piece, nine popes without a God.

Here's Charles Cooke, at National Review Online: 

One cannot help but wonder whether [Nicholas] Kristof and [Harry] Reid are aware of what the Supreme Court actually does — which, as anybody who has even a fleeting grasp of American civics knows, is not to set American policy, on health or anything else, but to interpret and uphold the law. In this particular case, the justices were called to judge whether a mandate that was pushed out by the Obama administration in 2012 was in conflict with another law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was added to the books in 1992. This being so, the degree to which those who decided the case are “experts on women’s health” is wholly immaterial. The justices are jurists not doctors — they are nine appointed attorneys whose role in the American settlement is to provide legal answers to legal questions. 


Cooke is English, and clearly understands the American system a lot better than many of us do.

Cooke and Kevin Williamson are two young(er) writers who have been making National Review more interesting recently. They're sharp-witted and write engagingly. Here's Williamson on the whole folly of making health care the responsibility of the employer and the state;  it's a snarky piece, and generally I try to avoid indulging in snark, or propagating it, but this instance pretty much cries out for it:

Progressives mad about Hobby Lobby started a campaign under the motto: “Not my boss’s business.” But Obamacare makes it — pardon me for noticing — literally your boss’s business. And I don’t mean “literally” the way Joe Biden uses it; I mean “literally” the way literally literate people use it. The alternative is this: Your money, your pills, your call. If what you care about is access to contraception, then that’s a pretty good model. If what you care about is using the levers of the state to force moral uniformity on the entire country so that atavistic Evangelical types have to knuckle under to your demands — well, you lost.


I don't particulary like that "well, you lost"--chances are excellent that it will be we who lose next time.  But what precedes it is accurate. I've been thinking (and saying) for some years now that only a willingness to allow legitimate diversity on questions like this will keep the country from coming apart.

And by the way: isn't "Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries" about the most nonesensical slogan ever to achieve wide popularity?

Have We Ever Seen Such Craziness?

I'm referring to the left's reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision. I freely admit to being biased, and I know one side's impassioned hyperbole is the other's barking madness. But it isn't just the craziness of what's being said; it's also who's saying it. Here, for starters, is the former first lady, former senator (D-NY), former Secretary of State, and potential next president:


I submit that it is difficult to connect what she says here to reality. What is she actually referring to? A Supreme Court decision that allowed--based on a law passed in the 1990s, sponsored by Democrats and signed into law by Mrs. Clinton's husband--a company to decline to include in insurance coverage for its employees certain drugs and devices that are widely believed to function by inducing very early abortions. The items in question are still available and are not terribly expensive. Moreover, the dark age to which she fears the decision returns us, or leads us, is exactly the state of affairs of just a few years ago, before the HHS issued its ill-advised "mandate."

Reasonable people can differ about whether the decision was correct or not. But to claim that the Supreme Court's finding that a company is within the law in not purchasing something for its employees is a declaration of intent by most of the Christians and most of the Republicans in the country to subjugate the entire female sex is either unhinged, or an extremely cynical (but unfortunately very effective) effort at whipping unthinking people into a frenzy. Does Mrs. Clinton know she is spouting nonsense, or does she believe it? Either way, it's bad news for the nation. 

I know, people on the right have said many crazy things. But when I try to appraise the level of craziness in a somewhat detached manner, I can't come up with a right-wing phenomenon that ranks with this one. Consider: 

1) Distance from reality: there is a popular "meme"--a picture with a caption--being circulated which claims that because of this decision "corporations are people, but women are not." And an awful lot of people seem to be under the impression that the Supreme Court has allowed Hobby Lobby to forbid that its employees use contraception. 

2) Degree of illogic: the whole idea that someone else's refusal to buy something for me is the same as preventing me from obtaining it at all. What can you say to someone to whom the irrationality of that is not immediately apparent? There might be a case for it if what was at stake was an extremely expensive cure for cancer. But these are things that anyone but the desperately poor can afford if they want them, and there are reportedly government subsidies for them.

Maybe the most incoherent bit is the instantly popular slogan: "Not my boss's business." No, it isn't, really--so why do you think your boss should pay for it?

3) Level of emotional intensity: "frenzy" is not an inaccurate word for a lot of what I'm hearing. Here's a collection of tweets full of incoherent rage and threats. And here is a Democratic congresswoman, and head of the Democratic National Committee, asserting that Republicans want to "reach into a woman's body."


Unfortunately she's probably right that this will be a very useful campaign issue for the Democrats.

4) Prominence and ostensible respectability of the persons emitting the noise: see the two examples above, and add to the list the vast majority of mainstream journalists and pundits. And, no doubt, most of the entertainment industry, although the people labelled "celebrities" whose reactions I've seen were mostly unknown to me.

The Democrats' "War on Women" tactic is, ethically and intellectually, as offensive as the racist demagoguery of the segregationists of old. And they'll probably be rewarded for it. In a perverse way, the comparison is comforting: we survived and triumphed over the segregationists, and maybe we'll do the same with these demagogues. 

Crazy Folks

The other day my wife was talking about a friend who posts on Facebook a constant stream of simple-minded political remarks, much of it simply asserting the other side to be very bad people. "She's a great person," I said--which she is--"but you just have to accept that when it comes to politics she's crazy, and deal with her on that basis."

Having said that, I started thinking about the number of people I know to whom this applies. Really, and sadly, it's most of the people who have very strong political convictions, and these days it seems that most people do. There are some you can have a conversation with, but so many of them can only throw at you the sound bites and strawmen that are current with whichever side they're on. If you don't agree with them--and I generally disagree to at least some extent with all of them--you can either get into an unpleasant and frustrating argument, or try to change the subject, or simply make your getaway, whether that means backing out of an online discussion or a physical escape at a social event.  

Has it always been this way? I think the counsel against discussing religion and politics in social settings has been around for a long time. And it certainly isn't a brand-new thing, because Walker Percy satirized it in Love in the Ruins. That was written at the end of the '60s, and I think the syndrome had gotten considerably worse over the preceding five or six years, with the polarization of the old more-or-less conservative middle-class culture and the new cultural leftism: the conflict became then not just a difference of views about specific issues but a deep disagreement about fundamentals--a religious division, for all practical purposes.

Someone or other has called our present environment a culture of outrage. And outrage is certainly what you get with the crazy folks, the ones you really shouldn't talk politics with. Face to face, they almost seem to swell up, and their voices rise and get that barking or baying tone.

The Internet has made it worse, if only by bringing people into more frequent contact, and by allowing them to get indignant without the inhibiting effect of personal contact. I claim credit for seeing this before the web existed, when the Internet was only Usenet, a much more limited and limiting environment. I described it in a piece for Caelum et Terra called "Global Metropolis." The culture we were developing, I said, using Usenet as a harbinger, was looking less like a village, where everybody knows everybody else, than like a big city, where people congregate in great numbers at close proximity but remain strangers, frequently hostile strangers.

I guess we've always had, for instance, the cranky family member of whom everybody says "Don't get him started" on some subject or other. But it's begining to feel like we're becoming a nation of fanatical aunts and uncles whom one really shouldn't get started. I'm trying not to be one of them. But don't get me started.

Reparations for Slavery and Segregation?

This lengthy piece in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations," is getting a good bit of attention, and deservedly so. Coates (I wonder how his first name is pronounced) is an intelligent and thoughtful man, and I think he makes a pretty strong moral case for reparations from the U.S. government to the descendants of slaves. Moreover, he writes very well. It's a powerful statement, and you really should read it before drawing a conclusion on the question.

Any decent person will be appalled and angered by the oppression Coates details. And it is not just a rehearsal of stories about slavery, with which we are all familiar, but of things that have taken place much more recently, and not just in the South but in, for instance, Chicago--tactics deliberately undertaken to keep blacks in segregated neighborhoods and, much worse, to cheat them of what little wealth they managed to get hold of. The case for some sort of attempt to make restitution is, as I say, strong.

But in the end I remain unconvinced that the proposal is a good idea, or even workable. Or rather I should say I don't think it's a good idea because I don't think it's workable, and would probably do a good deal of harm. 

I'm speaking there of the idea of material reparations. But that's not what Coates wants, really. Early in the piece he dismisses the practical concerns in favor of making the moral case. Later on he seems to see the material reparations as principally a means toward a deeper end, or perhaps even only a symbol of it:

And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.

Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

If only. That would be a price worth paying if it could actually purchase the healing he describes. But I don't think spiritual renewal can be obtained by any means other than spiritual renewal. 

And yet...it is a persuasive case. And unlike most white Americans I know that some of my ancestors were slave owners, and so I have a sense of real personal involvement in the history. I'll be thinking about this for a while. I could change my mind if I heard a really plausible and effective plan for implementing the idea. 

(N.B., he might have left out the Confederate flag dig, which as a matter of rhetoric is not well-chosen.  There's plenty of justification for it, but there are also plenty of people for whom the flag is a cultural symbol displayed without any particular racist intent, and reconciliation would require leaving them alone. I don't think the flag should fly from public buildings, but let's not try to stamp it out.)

Fascism and Communism, Again

Leafing through a year-old issue of The New Criterion the other day, I came across a book review I'd forgotten. It's very relevant to something I wrote here back in March, "Socialism, National and International", in which I talked about the socialist element of Nazism. (I can never decide whether to say "Nazism" (or nazism) or "fascism" in this context, but one naturally tends to focus on German fascism because its monstrousness was so extreme compared to others.) The book is The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century, and the author is Vladimir Tismaneanu. The reviewer, Paul Hollander says this:

It takes determination and formidable erudition to wade into the controversies which for several decades have enveloped and often obscured the concept of totalitarianism....

Tismaneanu has undertaken to demonstrate that the concept is meaningful and to elucidate the significant similarities (without ignoring the differences) between Nazism and Soviet communism—similarities which are at the heart of the idea of totalitarianism as well as its most contentious attribute.

And I discover the following quotation from Tismaneanu in his Wikipedia entry:

I was also discovering a theme which was to puzzle me throughout my professional career: the relation between communism, fascism, anti-communism and anti-fascism; in short, I was growing aware that, as has been demonstrated by François Furet, the relationship between the two totalitarian movements, viscerally hostile to the values and institutions of liberal democracy, was the fundamental historical issue of the 20th century.

I'm inclined to agree with that "fundamental historical issue" assessment, at least if you confine history to politics and external events rather than ideas. It's a question that has occupied me a good deal since I shed my youthful leftism,  in particular the question of why Western liberals have remained so indulgent of communism. And it does seem true that the totalitarian mentality, rather than any economic program, that constitutes the most fundamental common element between the two systems.  I don't read many books on politics, but I may read this one. The entire review is online here.


I Simply Do Not Believe This

Climate change is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy, sneezy, costly and dangerous, according to a comprehensive federal scientific report released Tuesday.

So says the San Jose Mercury-News apropos a new National Climate Assessment report. Perhaps the actual report is not as excited as the journalism, but from what I've seen of headlines today this piece is fairly typical.

I am quite willing to believe that the overall average temperature of the earth has gone up slightly in the past 100 years or so. I'm willing to believe that human activity is at least part of the reason. But it is abundantly clear that political and quasi-religious convictions are very influential on the climate-change activism side, and if I remain skeptical that the phenomenon is really so terribly serious and dangerous, that's part of the reason. I am not equipped to judge "the science" (when did that annoying term replace "the research"?), but anyone can see that there's a whole lot of emotionalism wrapped up with it, and that makes me skeptical.

"The science" may indeed show warming. But the specific evidence cited for warming's ill effects appears to be selected to fit the prediction. When we have an exceptionally cold winter, we're told that "weather is not climate," which is true. But when there is a drought in California, it seems that weather is climate after all. And you simply aren't going to persuade me that there has been a dramatic change in my local climate, because I have lived in it for some decades now, and there hasn't. Of course that says little about the global picture, but it illustrates the problem with the strategy of anecdotal alarmism. Around ten years ago we on the Gulf Coast had a spate of severe hurricanes, Katrina being the worst. We were assured that climate change was the cause, and that the storms would continue to grow worse and more frequent. Now we've had nine years of very much milder and fewer ones. That certainly doesn't disprove the warming argument, but it just as certainly doesn't support it.

Exaggeration and emotionalism do not belong in science, and they're counter-productive as a strategy when they produce dire predictions that aren't fulfilled. This article is not even a prediction, it's an attempt to paint the situation as verging on disaster now, when it plainly is not. Maybe the activists think apocalyptic talk is the only way to mobilize people. And maybe it works on some. But it isn't working on me. It only makes me skeptical--especially when the claims have become so broad that any severe weather at all, even a blizzard, is claimed as evidence for the theory.

Socialism, National and International

(This is not a very Lenten-spirited post, and I admit I've been slow this year to orient myself toward Lent. But I wrote most of it a couple of weeks ago, and want to get it out of the way and go on to other things.)

I've thought for a long time that communism and nazism, far from being the opposites that they are generally portrayed as being, are more similar than different, and are essentially variants of the same totalitarian impulse that arose in opposition to liberalism and capitalism in the late 19th century: if not brothers, then first cousins.  It seems to me a very broad but nevertheless justifiable one-sentence summary of the difference to say that communism was international socialism, and nazism was, as it styled itself, national socialism--Nationalsozialismus. I don't think the word "socialism" is mere filler in the latter. Hitler himself was capable of saying things like this:

We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions. (quoted in the Wikipedia article on Nazism)

It is true that communists and fascists hated each other with a murderous hatred, but that doesn't mean they had nothing in common. The left does not appreciate at all having attention drawn to this, as Daniel Hannan notes:

Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.

So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring....

In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption.

Click here to read the whole column.

Intrigued by that reference to Goebbels, I did a little searching, and found a fascinating document, a 1929 pamphlet written by Goebbels, in which he explains both the nationalist and socialist components of his ideology, as well as its anti-Semitism. His indictment of capitalism could be included in a leftist manifesto, and for that matter many a Catholic-distributist one, without so much as a letter being changed--well, apart from the fact that the twentieth century is now over:

The worker in a capitalist state — and that is his deepest misfortune — is no longer a living human being, a creator, a maker.

He has become a machine. A number, a cog in the machine without sense or understanding. He is alienated from what he produces. Labor is for him only a way to survive, not a path to higher blessings, not a joy, not something in which to take pride, or satisfaction, or encouragement, or a way to build character.

We are a workers’ party because we see in the coming battle between finance and labor the beginning and the end of the structure of the twentieth century. We are on the side of labor and against finance. 

(Emphases in the original.) You can read the whole pamphlet here.

This is of more than academic or historical interest because contemporary conservatives continue to be tarred with the fascist association, though they never had the least sympathy with fascism. In this country--I don't know about others--there are in fact more communists on the left than there are fascists on the right: there are some pretty nasty folks on the extremes  of the right, certainly, but they mainly want to be let alone; they want to get out from under the national government, not strengthen and consolidate it. But liberals and of course those further toward the left remain indulgent, and even sympathetic, toward communism, and yet remain unsullied, in their own eyes at least. Consider this aside in Jay Nordlinger's New Criterion music column:

In our program notes for the evening, we read, “Medtner, like Rachmaninoff, was unsympathetic to the Bolshevik regime and left Russia in 1921.” I don’t want to make too much of this, and the analogy is inexact, but try to imagine this sentence, please: “Schoenberg was unsympathetic to the Nazi regime and left Germany in 1933.”

Yes, try. It puts the whole thing in a very clear light.

Of course there are a great many important differences between communism and fascism or nazism. Fascism became less socialistic, in the ordinary sense, as it came to power. And communism, with its rhetoric of equality and justice, tends to attract a better sort of sympathizer than does fascism. But if we judge by their records there is little to choose between them, and those who think themselves on a higher moral plane in despising national, while indulging international, socialism objectively misjudge their position.


The thinking worker comes to Hitler.


What Killed JFK?

I say "what" because the conventional liberal belief about John F. Kennedy's assassination tends to make the question "what" rather than "who," then wind itself back to "who" again, but not to Lee Harvey Oswald, whose guilt is inconvenient.

In order to avoid the generally accepted fact that Kennedy was killed by a left-winger, liberals have been required either to embrace unprovable and often very far-fetched speculations about the real killer(s)[1], or to engage in something close to Orwell's "doublethink." In the latter, it can be admitted that Oswald pulled the trigger, but the real killer is held to be a set of abstractions--"hate," "extremism," "intolerance." These became incarnate in the city of Dallas as a "climate of hatred" which, by a mystical influence, became the real assassin, with Oswald himself only its puppet. And since there are a lot of right-wingers in Dallas, and right-wingers are full of hate, they must have been the principal generators of the evil climate. And therefore Kennedy was actually a victim of the right; the enemies of liberalism g0t the blame, and the leftward end of the political spectrum remained untainted by the intramural murder of one its less radical members regarded as a hero.[2]

It's a neat study in the psychology of evasion. And it's still very much alive, as various "news" stories about the assassination showed on the occasion of its 50th anniversary last fall. Pundits do not ask whether leftist politics can overcome the stigma of the assassination, but whether the city of Dallas can. Right-wingers never can, of course.

That was going to be the introduction to a link to a detailed description in the March issue of The New Criterion of how the myth began to take shape immediately upon Kennedy's death. However, the piece, by James Piereson, is not online, so I'll have to content myself with a couple of quotations from it. Describing a news story on the front page of The New York Times flanked by an editorial by then-Washington-bureau-chief James Reston, Piereson notes that

Two narratives of the assassination were thus juxtaposed on the front page of The New York Times on the day after the event. One was based upon the facts, which pointed to Oswald as the assassin and to the Cold War as the general context in which the event should be understood. The other was a political narrative, entirely divorced from the facts, that pointed to "extremists on the Right" and a national culture of violence[3] as the culprits in the assassination. According to Reston's interpretation, the assassination arose from domestic issues, with the civil rights crusade front and center.

The attentive reader would have noticed that there was a conflict between the two narratives such that both could not be true. He may have wondered which one would prevail in the days ahead as investigators sorted out the facts. If so, then he did not have to wait very long for an answer.

He goes on to quote various pundits and politicians, starting with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, blaming bigots in general and segregationists in particular for the crime.

The JFK assassination was thus an event in the Cold War, but it was interpreted by the liberal leadership of the nation as an event in the civil rights crusade. This interpretation sowed endless confusion as to the motives of the assassination and the meaning of the event. It made no logical sense to claim that Kennedy was a martyr in the cause of civil rights while acknowledging that the assassin was a Communist and a supporter of Fidel Castro. In deciding which of the two should go--the facts or the interpretation--many decided to eliminate the facts, or at least to ignore them.

That is certainly true of, for instance, this book review, and presumably of the book itself. It could almost be called unhinged in its focus on who did not kill Kennedy. It's as if a camper in Yellowstone or Yosemite had been killed by a mountain lion, and the rangers agreed not to mention the mountain lion, but to issue grave warnings about the danger of bears.

[1] Not that I am unwilling to consider the possibility that we weren't told the truth, or the whole truth. But if you're going to blame someone besides Oswald for the crime, you ought to have some definite evidence. And most of those who blame the right offer either nothing, contenting themselves with innuendo, or elaborate speculations that gave rise to the derogatory phrase "conspiracy theory," and that convince no one else.

[2] Not that I think most liberal journalists at the time were explicitly sympathetic to Oswald's Marxism, but they were indulgent toward the far left in a way that they never were toward the right. And the subsequent decade saw them moving further left, with more reason to embrace the myth.

[3] Not that it's absurd to link the assassination to a national culture of violence, because we are indeed a fairly violent nation, but most of our violence is not especially political (e.g. the long-standing high level of criminal violence in our big cities).

Yes, He Can! (2)

Neo-neocon again, on the Obama administration's use of the IRS against its opponents:

So Nixon is convicted in the eyes of the public for what appears to have been largely thoughtcrime, whereas the Obama administration and its handmaidens such as Lois Lerner get off seemingly free (so far) for the actual crime. Obama’s much greater success compared to earlier efforts appears to be due to several factors: greater drive, boldness, and scope; public ignorance/apathy; the coverup attempts by much of the MSM; and the simpatico political persuasion of much of the IRS.

Read the whole thing.

Yes, He Can!

Neo-neocon has come to a sobering realization:

And so if you are audacious enough (and your name is Barack Obama) you can fool most of the people most of the time. And your supporters will defend you for it, as long as you’re not lying to them about some pet issue of theirs.

This is not a discovery that bodes well for the country. It’s one of those things that, once seen, cannot be unseen. With the press behind you and the wind at your back, you can do just about anything.

Yes, he can! Read the whole thing.

(You remember "Yes, we can," don't you?)

A Hierarchy of Victimhood

I was a little disappointed when the January issue of  The New Criterion arrived and I saw that a large chunk of it was occupied by a symposium called "Reagan, Thatcher, and the Special Relationship." "That sounds a bit dull," I thought. (The "special relationship" is that between the United States and Great Britain, and with the English-speaking nations generally.) Much of it, however, has proven to be quite interesting. I am skeptical that any sort of serious renewal can be expected in nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. which are so far gone in cultural deterioration, but I'd like to think it's a possibility, because I think that on balance Anglo-American civilization has been a force for good in the world--in worldly terms, at any rate; I'm not prepared to make guesses about how many souls have been saved in Spain's colonies vs. England's.

One of the pieces in the symposium is by Daniel Hannan, of whom I've heard good things, but I had not until now actually read anything by him. In a piece called "The Right Side of History" he explores the question of why patriotism is a virtue (and I do I think it's a virtue, in proper perspective) associated mainly with conservatives in the English-speaking world. The whole essay is available online, and I recommend it, but I want to quote this passage, which I think is a good description of how another virtue, sympathy for the weak, has become perverse on the left.

The liberal Support for the underdog is balanced by other tendencies in conservatives, such as respect for sanctity. In Leftists, it is not. Once you grasp this difference, all the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions of the Leftist outlook make sense. It explains why liberals think that immigration and multiculturalism are a good thing in Western democracies, but a bad thing in, say, the Amazon rain forest. It explains how people can simultaneously demand equality between the sexes and quotas for women. It explains why Israel is seen as right when fighting the British but wrong when fighting the Palestinians.

History becomes a hierarchy of victimhood. The narrative is fitted around sympathy for downtrodden people. The same group can be either oppressors or oppressed depending on the context. Hispanic Americans, for example, are ranked between Anglos and Native Americans. When they were settling Mexico, they were the bad guys; when they were being annexed by the United States, they were the good guys.

All historians, of course, have their prejudices. My purpose is simply to explain why national pride in Anglo-American culture is so concentrated on one side of the political spectrum. The answer, quite simply, is that there are very few scenarios in which the Anglosphere peoples can be cast as the underdogs....

Anti-American and anti-British agitators around the world have taken up nationalist language—the only nationalism of which English-speaking progressives generally approve. George Orwell wrote disparagingly of “the masochism of the English Left”: its readiness to ally with any cause, however vile, provided it was sufficiently anti-British. 

Poor white Americans provide another example. As, say, miners or sharecroppers exploited by capitalists and landowners, they are victims and an almost saintly level of virtue is attributed to them. As bearers of racial prejudice, or even of simple traditional Christian moral principles, they are evil, governed mainly by irrational hatreds--"bitter" and "clinging to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them." (Everybody recognizes that quote, right?)

The truth of course is that both their virtues and their defects coexist, as they do in every group and every individual. Naive idealizing of the other is an equal-but-opposite reaction to the idealizing one's own nation or culture. I've often thought that liberal anti-Americanism has a masochistic element, and am pleased to find Orwell making a similar observation. As is so often the case, a worthy impulse unbalanced by other virtues becomes unhealthy.

Pete Seeger, RIP

Dead at 94. One of my early encounters with the folk music movement of the early '60s was this song by Tom Paxton, sung, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, by Seeger. There was a little clock radio in the room I shared with my brother at home in north Alabama, and I often listened to it at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I could pick up Chicago's WLS at night, and on Sunday nights there was a folk program. It's an extraordinarily vivid memory, of Seeger's clear simple voice and the poignant tune and lyrics sounding out in the dark.


Seeger's memory will always be a little tainted for me by his communism, and his clear sympathy for it that remained long after he had formally broken with it, something a wise man ought to have put behind him after the truth was known beyond any doubt. But he was like many, many others on the leftward end of the political spectrum in that. The music and his love for it remain.